Search This Blog

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back Home and The Cardinal's Sin

The N.O. trip was great fun.  I walked around or read or worked on a little embroidery while Amelia was in her conference sessions from 8:00 to 5:00.  The weather for August in N.O. was unbelievable and everyone was delighted--high 89 and lower humidity than usual. Such luck!  A little more about the trip (and good friends and delicious food) over at Bayou Quilts.  

The Cardinal's Sin by Robert Lane

Have you ever had a word that you've been familiar with most of your life, read repeatedly, and never used?  As I was reading and thinking about this novel, just such a word came to mind.  There were several times I found myself nonplussed.  A little baffled, perplexed.

Some plot background:  Jake Travis works for an undisclosed government agency and is assigned to assassinate an assassin (yep) who has been targeting the loved ones of other special ops agents.  Not the agents themselves, but parents, wives, girlfriends.  Jake is aware that the names of those he cares about could also be on the bad guy's list.  

When he confronts the assassin and kills him, something niggles at him.  His information about place and time is correct, yet something feels off.  As, indeed, it is off.  The man he kills is not the assassin masquerading as a Cardinal, but a genuine Cardinal of the Catholic Church.  Oops!  There is also a missing woman to be found, an accomplice to the assassin, and Jake's difficulties with the woman he loves.

What I liked:  I enjoyed all of the literary allusions.  The author is well-read and obviously took pleasure in inserting quotes and references to literature and the Bible.  The characters were interesting; Morgan and his dead father and their dream conversations intrigued me. Jake is also dealing with dreams of the dead Cardinal. (In fact, this is the third book in a row with a heavy emphasis on dreams and their implications. I wish I could say that my own dreams were Jungian and revelatory,, they are not.)  

What bothered me a bit:  I was often nonplussed by certain juxtapositions and references that interrupted my train of thought and felt like non sequiturs.  Maybe I was zoning out occasionally, but several times, my reading would come to an abrupt halt as I tried to fit things in.  Jake sometimes annoyed me, too, with his over eager questions to Cynthia that cut off her comments and thoughts.  

Overall, I found the novel entertaining with some aspects that really appealed to me, and although this is my first book by this author, I would certainly read more.

NetGalley/Mason Alley Publishing

Thriller/Suspense.  Aug. 4, 2015.  Print length:  368 pages.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Visitant by Megan Chance

The Visitant by Megan Chance

I've read two other books (An Inconvenient Wife, which was interesting because of the diagnosis of "hysteria" in the 19th c, and The Spiritualist, which was less successful) by Chance.  I admit to being fascinating by her topics, but have had difficulty liking any of her characters.

Although  attracted by the idea of a ghost and the treatment of epilepsy in the 1800's, The Visitant was...offensive.  Characters--this time I had no feeling of ambiguity.  Elena annoyed me beyond reason.  Almost everything she said or did was lacking in common sense or worse.  Samuel and Nero were just as weirdly ineffective.  None of the characters seemed appropriate to the time period, and although Chance tried to use the Victorian dichotomies of prudery/repression and science/mysticism to her advantage, she failed to make it work.  

It is easily predictable from the first chapter, there are too many hints that are too obvious, and nothing "develops"-- everything feels either rushed or forced.

I'm not sure if the author was trying for a kind of insta-love romantic triangle or sordid soft-porn; both, I guess.  The characters certainly deserved each other.  While my feelings about the first two novels by Chance that I read were mixed, The Visitant  made me want to wash my brain.

Read in June; Blog post scheduled for August 29. 

NetGalley/Lake Union Publishing

Historical mystery/Supernatural.  Sept. 22, 2015.   

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This and That

Tolkien reading from The Hobbit.

Two books I'd like to read.

A new Lisbeth Salander book by David Lagercrantz continues Stieg Larsson's series!  I'm in for this one.  The Girl in the Spider's Web.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Three Interesting New Titles!

Where Memories Lie by Sibel Hodge.  

Olivia's best friend Katie disappeared twenty-five years ago, leaving behind a bitter note.  One day, Olivia sees a woman who reminds her of Katie, stirring up memories and questions.  Why did Katie leave?  Why has she never gotten in touch?

Then her father-in-law, a gentle and loving man with Alzheimer's, mentions killing a woman named Georgia, an accident, and the need to protect his family.  Had he made the comment to anyone else, the remark would have been attributed to the delusions AD sufferers often have.  Olivia, however, questions her husband and her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.  They have never heard of a woman named Georgia and find the idea of their gentle father killing anyone ludicrous.

A case of "curiosity killed the cat," Olivia's investigation eventually leads in other directions--to conclusions that can tear a family apart.

The title makes an interesting play on words:  do memories lie in the past or the present?  and are memories lies or truth.  

I really want to make some opinionated comments about this book, but to do so would be revealing too much about the characters and plot.  I wish I had someone with whom to discuss elements of this one.  Tense situations all around--with ethical implications that beg some discussion.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer (I notice that it is also free on Kindle Unlimited)

Mystery/Suspense/Psychological.  Sept. 22, 2015.  Print length:  303 pages.

The Faithful by S.M. Freeman

Kidnapped children with psychic abilities, a weird sect with "end times" goals and eugenic objectives, a dedicated FBI agent haunted by the case of a missing child from early in his career and currently pursuing the cases of other missing children, conspiracies, and more.

The shifts in perspectives are initially a little confusing, but eventually the different characters become compelling and the plot gains clarity.  One character eventually adds a touch of comic relief to this pre-apocalyptic tale. 

Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the journey.

First is a series

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer (another one free on Kindle Unlimited)

Suspense/Paranormal.  2014; Sept. 29, 2015.  Print length:  365 pages.
The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander

If you have enjoyed Alexander's Lady Emily series, you will like this latest addition.  I liked the first 3 books in the series, and then read a couple that didn't excite me as much, but Lady Emily is in fine form in this tenth installment.  (I stopped reading after the 5th one, so I need to do some catching up.)

An engagement party on the French Riviera for Emily's childhood friend Jeremy has a mixed group of old friends and new American acquaintances thrown together.  Emily tries to like Amity Wells, Jeremy's intended, but finds herself alternately sympathetic and annoyed with Amity's behavior.  Is part of the problem an unacknowledged jealousy that Emily will be losing a long-time admirer to  his new love?

When the suicide of one of Jeremy's best friends disrupts and dismays the gathering, what was intended to be a celebration quickly descends into something else entirely. Nerves and tempers are on edge.

I fixed the murderer in my sights.  Then changed my mind.  Then changed it again.  Alexander kept me consistently questioning the situation and the suspects (because, of course, it wasn't a suicide).

Love the setting and the historical elements.  Had to do a little research concerning the man in the iron mask because I was only familiar with the fictitious accounts--such a bizarre historical footnote; one of those real mysteries that will never be solved.  

Anyway, The Adventuress has  a compelling plot, interesting characters, and provides a diverting virtual vacation to the South of France. 

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Historical Mystery.  Oct. 13, 2015.  Print length:  304 pages.  

----  I'm leaving this morning for a short trip to New Orleans.  Amelia has a conference to attend, and I volunteered to keep her company.  She welcomed idea!  Since Chris couldn't go and B.E. has to go to school, she seemed to be happy with her old mother coming along.  French Quarter, Cafe du Monde, and beignets!

I have reviews scheduled through next January, so no problem there, but boy, do I have some good ones to catch up on.  Brenda Chapman's new Stonechild and Roleau mystery Tumbled Graves is great, and so is Kate Morton's The Lake House, and Val McDermid's Splinter the Silence, a new Tony Hill and Carole Jordan installment! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Updraft by Fran Wilde

A fantasy with a difference; an intriguing world above the clouds with tall towers and wings with which to reach them. 

A singular, fascinating world, even if a bit vague in context. Since this is an uncorrected manuscript, the world-building may be better clarified in the final version.  The basis for this world, however, is strong, distinctive, and original.  

Book Description:  In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage. 

The above description is short and intriguing and works so well with the cover.  The characters are imperfect, interesting, and complex-- working in a unique cultural milieu .  

The strong female protagonist is Kirit who eagerly awaits her wing test.  Kirit's mother is an admired and important trader who flies great distances on her trade routes, and Kirit wants nothing more than to follow in her footsteps.  Circumstances and Kirit's failure to observe one of the laws, however, will alter things immeasurably.  Someone or something is determined to influence and manipulate Kirit's own plans for her future.

This was an uncorrected manuscript, and I'm sure a good editor could smooth things out a bit, but even without it, the originality and strong characterization make Updraft well worth the effort.  A debut novel for an author who will surely develop a strong fan base.

Read in June.  Blog post scheduled for August 24.  


Sci-Fi/Fantasy.  Sept. 1, 2015.  Print length:  352 pages.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vampires, James Bond, and New Eccentric

New twist to vampire stories?  Our fascination with vampires is endless, and evidently, transforming.

I am enjoying these letters immensely.  Although I have never read a Bond book, the letters tempt me to correct this neglect.  I've been curious about Ian Fleming since reading about his role in Naval Intelligence during WWII, but the letters are opening new perspectives.

What a shame that letters are so seldom written now.  Fleming's letters from his publisher/editors, fans, and friends such as Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Raymond Chandler, and Evelyn Waugh and his responses make fascinating and entertaining reading.

Finally finished another Eccentric character.  I started her in December, but didn't like the way I painted her face.  Nor the re-paints.  She stood looking at me rather balefully for month after month, until I finally found a personality I liked and gave her some clothes.  I've decided to name her Sarah (thanks, Mary, for the suggestion of Sarah, Plain and Tall).  She loves gardening, poetry, and butterflies.  I love that she is finally done!

Her fly-away white hair doesn't show up well, but she is younger than her white hair indicates.

She's Not There by P.J. Parrish

She's Not There

I'm pretty sure I've read something else by P.J. Parrish, but it must have been more than ten years ago, before I started this blog.  

Amelia wakes up in a hospital, injured and hurting, and unable to recall her own name.  Even when she remembers her first name, she has no clue about what happened to her and no memory of anything about her life.   Unable to parse the threat she feels, she nevertheless knows that she is in danger.

A man claiming to be her husband arrives at the hospital, and when he leaves, Amelia quickly dresses and flees. Whatever her circumstances, she has no intention of waiting around to have someone else take charge of her life--the threat she feels is too real.

She is pretty clever about her escape; using instinct and intelligence, she sets out to discover her past for herself.  Unfortunately, a very skillful private investigator is on her trail.

Even though the hints about the bad guy(s) are pretty clear to the reader, Amelia must solve the mystery how she ended up in the hospital without the information the reader has available.  Her memory returns slowly and in odd pieces, and she must untangle the various threads of her life in order to survive.

Suspenseful and twisty.

P.J. Parrish is actually two sisters, Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols. Their books have appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today best seller lists. The series has garnered 11 major crime-fiction awards, and an Edgar® nomination. Parrish has won two Shamus awards, one Anthony and one International Thriller competition. Her books have been published throughout Europe and Asia. Parrish's short stories have also appeared in many anthologies, including two published by Mystery Writers of America, edited by Harlan Coben and the late Stuart Kaminsky. Their stories have also appeared in Akashic Books acclaimed Detroit Noir, and in Ellery Queen Magazine. Most recently, they contributed an essay to a special edition of Edgar Allan Poe's works edited by Michael Connelly.

Read in June; blog post scheduled for Aug. 24

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Suspense/Mystery.  Sept. 8, 2015.  Print length:  384 pages.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Supernatural Mystery, YA Fantasy, and Crime

The Restorer (Graveyard Queen Bk. 1) by Amanda Stevens

I love a good ghost story, and the cover was irresistible.  

Book Description:  My name is Amelia Gray. I'm a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I've always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.

It was OK, but ultimately, not exactly what I wanted.  The mystery held my interest, but the "romance" (not even quite romance and definitely only on Amelia's side) felt awkward.  Amelia is a curiously dull character; the author includes some hints about a mysterious background (like, who were her birth parents?), but not even these hints lift her from the page.  And why would a person who can see ghosts, but must never engage them want to work in cemeteries?

Neither Amelia nor Devlin truly appealed to me, and I need to feel some passion, whether positive or negative, about the characters to become fully immersed in a story.  I think this is one of those novels that should not have been told from the first person pov.  The use of first person has been a failing (at least for me) in a couple of books lately--sometimes first person is perfect, but often it is the main flaw in a narrative.  

Interesting article on interns learning restoration and conservation of cemeteries.


Mystery/Supernatural.  2012.  Print version:  368 pages.
The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfield is a YA novel that can't really get beyond some of the stereotypical characteristics of the YA Fantasy genre.  

*Studious girl/Dangerous boy romance
*A prophecy
*Insta-love or attraction
*Demonic villains

I liked that the initial interaction between Taylor (in England) and Sacha (in France) was supposed to be a tutoring relationship over the internet.  This was an opportunity to develop the characters, but was not fully taken advantage of and was too brief.  You just have to imagine that the characters got more out of the interchange than you, as the reader, did.

Secondary characters offered another opportunity to give depth to the story, but felt more like cardboard cutouts in a diorama.  

The novel had a lot of wasted potential.  There are so many good authors in the YA and fantasy genres that  it is necessary to give real dimension to both characters and plot in order to lift a book from OK to something you will remember.  The Secret Fire is OK, but doesn't rise above that. 


YA/Fantasy.  Sept. 3, 2015.  Print version:  357 pages.
The Blissfully Dead by Louise Voss & Mark Edwards.  This is a new crime/police procedural for me. Both authors have written independently as well as in partnership, but this is my first novel by the authors.  The Blissfully Dead is the second in a series featuring DI Patrick Lennon and is one of those novels that introduces a sense of apprehension early on.

It begins with a prologue (I'm going to have to keep track of all the crime novels that begin with a prologue) about a fifteen-year-old girl who is secretly going to meet her idol, a member of the most popular boy band of the season.  Rose is not particularly attractive, but has been extremely active on forums and twitter about the band, and believes she has been singled out because of her dedication as a fan.

You know where this is going.  When her body is discovered, DI Patrick Lennon takes the lead on the case.  Then another young fan is murdered.  Who will be next?

The tension in the novel is heightened by DI Lennon's backstory.  His wife, suffering from postpartum depression nearly killed their infant daughter.  After two and a half years, the doctors consider her ready to come home, but Patrick isn't at all sure of how he feels about the woman he once loved.  There are also some pressures in the workplace that keep Patrick on edge.

The novel deals with social problems that make the news every day, including online bullying, adolescent worship of celebrities, and the abuse of powerful members of the entertainment industry.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Crime/Police Procedural.  Sept. 29, 2015.  Print length:  418 pages.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

The first few pages had me wondering whether or not I was going to like this book, but then--the next few pages pulled me in, and I found myself unable to put The Child Garden down.

On a dark and stormy night (!), Gloria Harkness leaves the care home where her son Nicky resides and almost collides with another car on the isolated road.  To her dismay, the car turns and follows her home.  She hopes she is mistaken, but a knock on her door proves her wrong.  As it turns out, her visitor is Stig Tarrant, a friend from her childhood with a strange story to tell.

He relates several recent events that led him to be on the same road as Glo.  He was supposed to meet April Cowan, an old classmate from the hippy school he attended briefly 28 years ago.  A school that disbanded after the death of ayoung student. April's communications appear vaguely threatening.  Stig is clearly upset by the situation, and Glo can't help but remember the tragedy that occurred decades ago.

Glo decides to accompany Stig  to the huttie, a place of great significance to those who attended the school, to meet April.  April, however, will never meet anyone again; she has apparently committed suicide.  Is Stig being set-up?  Is he telling Glo everything that happened that night nearly 30 years ago?

An unusual story, and the twists kept coming.  What really happened 28 years ago, and what really happened to April?  

I was unexpectedly captivated by Glo, who at the beginning sometimes annoyed me.  I hope others will find this novel as compelling as I did.

:)  I was especially grateful as I've relegated several recent NetGalley offerings to the DNF pile.  

NetGalley/Midnight Ink

Mystery.  Sept. 8, 2015.  Print length:  336 pages.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Lost Codex and Some Thoughts About Political Correctness

The Lost Codex by Alan Jacobson  

I know--if it has something about a lost or ancient manuscript, I'm going to give it a try.  The mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls removed any doubt, and as soon as I dived into it, I saw that there was also a connection to the Aleppo Codex.  Even better!  

(In 2012, I read The Aleppo Codex by Mattie Friedman, a nonfiction account and was blown away by the history of the codex, the mystery of its travels, the intrigues and deceptions, and the difficulties Friedman had in four year pursuit of how the codex made its way to Jerusalem. Fascinated as I was by this excellent work, I was still surprised when my husband (not much of a reader) hijacked The Aleppo Codex for himself and was just as riveted by mysteries concerning the codex.)   

Shoot, I'm going to continue digressing (again), but after reading The Atlantic article about trigger warnings and microaggressions, I'm going to give Jacobson's own "trigger warning" that comes in the Acknowledgments:
I approached this book with trepidation because any time you wade into religion and/or geopolitics there's potential for someone to get offended.  That was not my intention.  Any religious commentaries evolved from ideas, discussions with experts, brainstorming "what if" sessions, character motivations, and dramatic potential.  I was not attempting to discredit, support, proselytize, or convince.  In other words, I was telling a fictitious story.  That's the definition of a novel.  (emphasis mine, BTW)
Jacobson also lists the many experts he consulted, including mentioning Mattie Friedman's The Aleppo Codex and a few changes he made to suit the story.

The plot involves terrorist cell activity that threatens the home front of the U.S. and that are connected to a missing Dead Sea Scroll which could threaten Biblical history.  From the U.S., to England, to Paris, to Israel--fast and furious action with Karen Vail, Uzi, and DeSantos, characters from previous novels, working together with a fourth, and not completely trusted, new member of the team. 

From Book Series in Order:  Key to the success of Alan’s books is his primary protagonist, Karen Vail, a smart, tough and funny profiler whose character is modeled from a real life FBI profiler Alan Jacobson had the privilege of working closely with over the several years he spent with the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI.
A Congressional Report about terrorism and Mexican drug cartels.
I started this draft a week or so ago.  Since then, Sam at Bookchase has posted about Anne Rice's article concerning political correctness.  I'm disconcerted and concerned about political correctness changing the way we look at education and educators, comedians, art, and literature.  Are we going to go back and remove all politically incorrect (according to whichever group is offended) books from the library?  Will it determine whose novels get published?  Freedom of speech?  Freedom of thought?

George Orwell quotes from 1984:

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” 

"The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty." (1.1.8) (again, emphasis mine)

"By 2050, earlier, probably – all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron – they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." (1.5.30)

*I had intended to schedule this review for October, but have decided to go ahead and publish it because Jacobson's comment about fiction and the definition of a novel set me off in so many directions about the kind of censorship we need to be apprehensive about in today's world. 

The novel was quite a ride, not always realistic, but full of action and several things to think about, including what is involved in Sharia Law.  I enjoyed this fast-paced novel and was impressed with Jacobson's background and the experts he consulted.

UpDate:  Here is the Atlantic article: The Coddling of the American Mind online.

NetGalley/Open Road Media

Political Suspense/Action.  Nov. 3, 2015.  Print length:  400 pages.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Ivory Vikings:  The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them    

Nancy Marie Brown's book is a true cornucopia, bursting with delicious revelations. Whether your passion is chess, art, archeology, literature or the uncanny and beautiful landscape of Iceland, Ivory Vikings offers rich and original insights by a writer who is as erudite as she is engaging. (Geraldine Brooks, author of CALEB'S CROSSING)

The above description pretty much sums up everything I've thought of to say and so succinctly.

I've always found the Lewis Chessmen beautiful, but have been strangely incurious about their provenance.  Where did they come from originally, who carved them, how did they end up buried on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis?  

Brown's book is a fascinating history of chess and of the Vikings: their art, journeys, medieval sagas and literature, leaders, their economic life, society, religion, and impact. The first 20% of the book, I was highlighting almost every page; there is simply so much of interest.

Brown's theory is that the chessmen were Icelandic (following the lead of Gudmundur Thorarinsson and Einar Einarsson) and she does an excellent job of presenting her evidence, but she doesn't neglect the other prominent theories.

I was enthralled by Brown's beautifully detailed descriptions of the pieces themselves, by the walrus hunts (most of the chess pieces are carved from walrus teeth, a few from whale teeth), the names (Magnus Bare-legs, Ketil Flat-Nose, Harald Fair-Hair, Unn the Deep-Minded, Harald Hard-Rule), the sagas (Tolkien loved the Icelandic sagas and was profoundly influenced by them), and much more.

If you love chess, Norse history, art, or archaeology, you will find Ivory Vikings an engrossing and illuminating read.  Brown is a skillful writer who makes history come alive and a renowned Norse scholar.  Does she prove her point?  While so much is lost in time that Margaret the Adroit cannot be definitely proven to be the creator of the Lewis chessmen, Brown convinced me that the Icelandic theory of origin is the most likely.  

And it doesn't even matter, the information provided is so well researched and documented that regardless of which theory of origin is accurate, the historical journey is a pleasure.

Read in June.  Blog post scheduled for Aug. 17, 2015.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Nonfiction/History.  Sept. 1, 2015.  Print version:  288 pages.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown

A debut novel set in Regency England that includes magic, colonialism, a misogynistic view of women and magic, and two unlikely protagonists.

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers faces a number of challenges:  the loss of magic, the new Sorcerer Royal is a man of color, and insurrection in the ranks.

Zacharias, adopted by the previous Sorcerer Royal, has both supporters and detractors.  His detractors are unhappy with the color of his skin and his lack of a familiar.  Zacharias is a very restrained character, admirable in his sense of integrity, but formal and sober-minded...and a little dull.  

When he meets Prunella Gentlewoman at a school for Gentlewitches (a school designed to curb and/or eliminate the magic of women), he recognizes her remarkable latent talent.  They are opposites in temperament, and Prunella will present Zacharias with both problems and solutions.

Prunella is the more vibrant character, but the character development overall is lacking.  I wanted to like both Prunella and Zacharias more, and I know I was intended to, but they both seemed fitted with "appropriate" personalities and not enough depth.

Sorcerer to the Crown was, in many ways, an intriguing read, but didn't fulfill its promise.

 send link to Penguin
Read in July; blog review scheduled for Aug. 14, 2015.


Fantasy.  Sept. 1, 2015.  Print length:  384 pages.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Broken Grace 

Grace awakes in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury and no memory.  I've read 3 novels, I think, since January in which women with amnesia after a traumatic event must struggle to regain their memories.  They are all in danger, of course, and don't know who to trust.

Not only has Grace suffered serious injuries in a car accident, but Grace's boyfriend has been murdered, and she is a suspect.  When she is released from the hospital, her sister takes her home to the house where they lived growing up.  Grace must build her memories from those who knew her, but some of what she learns makes her very uncomfortable.  There are questions about her parents and her childhood that feel dark and threatening.

Twist at the end that you may or may not expect.  A lot of dysfunction going around. I had trouble buying into both the characters and the storyline.
Nice cover, though.

Read in July.  Blog review scheduled for Aug. 13.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery/Suspense.  Aug. 25, 2015.  Print version:  320 pages.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Sand Men by Christopher Fowler

The Sandmen   by Christopher Fowler

Initially, I was not at all sure what to say about this one.  After reading it, it just seemed completely fantastical, and yet--there were elements that sounded so real that a little investigation was in order.  

Character development is usually very important to me, but I don't think the characters were at all what the author wanted you to think about--the characters really only stand in to tell the behind the scenes story of Dubai.  Even the plot, which veers from an intriguing look at a delusional world that actually exists  to a kind of mythic, murderous cult situation has a point.  

A little bit The Stepford Wives, a little bit Rosemary's Baby, a lot of environmental criticism, and criticism of double standards, slavery, and a warped legal system.

A novel that I almost dismissed when I finished, turned out to be a kind of allegory. Fair warning:  this becomes a rant with a bunch of links.

An indentured, invisible majority

Dubai, together with its emirate neighbors, has achieved the state of the art in the disenfranchisement of labour. In a country that only abolished slavery in 1963, trade unions, most strikes and all agitators are illegal, and 99 per cent of the private-sector workforce are immediately deportable non-citizens. Indeed, the deep thinkers at the American Enterprise and Cato Institutes must salivate when they contemplate the system of classes and entitlements in Dubai.  via Fear and Money in Dubai by Mike Davis
From The Dark Side of Dubai by Johan Hari:   "A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting."
"I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. "I love it here!" she says. "The heat, the malls, the beach!" Does it ever bother you that it's a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. "I try not to see," she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far."   

I would have preferred the book to have avoided the cult aspect--the truth is horrifying enough. Perhaps even more so (i.e.  a Norwegian woman was raped and reported the incident to the police. She was tried and convicted of having had sex outside of marriage and sentenced to 16 months in prison.  Thanks to the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, she has since been pardoned.   You can find out more here and here.  Marte Dalelv was also fired after reporting the rape; her employer?  Janet Jackson's billionaire husband Wisam Almana.

At the same time that a rape victim can be arrested, prostitution thrives and is "overlooked" by enforcers of sharia law.  A Guide to Brothels in Dubai.  

Just one more link, this one is to an NPR transcript about the refrigerated beaches, but look up the other environmental issues for yourselves.  The more I read, the more offended I become.

I've developed a deep disgust for this playground of excesses, and had I not read Fowler's novel, I would never have given this city a second thought. It is appalling that so many celebrities vacation and perform in Dubai, where Human Rights have no place.  Shouldn't they be responsible for vetting the places they choose to entertain?  


Suspense/Thriller/and enough truth to make you ill.  Oct. 6, 2015.  Print length:  320 pages.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Hunter is a YA novel that spans several genres--science fiction, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, mythology, and fantasy.

Joyeaux Charmand has been raised as a Hunter in a mountain monastery.  Her training began early and has been assiduously cultivated by skilled Masters.  At fifteen, she is summoned from the reclusive monastery to the city of Apex where she expects to employ her skills protecting the citizens. What she discovers is that there is more to her new profession than simply protecting the citizens and that there are political undercurrents that must be navigated.

The world building was excellent, and the character development was as well. Survival/magical skills are the metier of a select few whose superior talents are both inherent and trained--following the theme of several well-known YA novels in recent years.  It also uses the "reality show" motif; devoted fans, ratings, and celebrity status throw Joy for a loop when she first arrives.

Reviews of this one are startlingly opposing, which surprised me as I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Is there a derivative element?  Yes, but there are only so many stories to tell and the manner of telling is often extremely varied.  Christopher Booker says there are 7 basic plots: 

  1. Overcoming the Monster (an antagonistic force--which may or may not be an actual monster--which is as old as Beowulf and recent as The Hunger Games)
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth
(I realize I'm digressing, but Robert Tobias says there are 20 Master Plots and there is always Man vs Nature, Man vs Man, vs machine, vs god or religion, vs self, etc.)

Recently, the YA novel genre has embraced Booker's Overcoming the Monster plot, with some novels doing it better than others.  When I finished the book, I was quite pleased with Lackey's telling and was surprised to see such dichotomy in the Goodreads reviews.  One star and five stars with emphatic opinions.  I would assign it 4 stars; I think its intended audience is for the younger end of the YA scale, but that didn't impair my enjoyment.

I admit to finding the beginning a bit slow and deliberately vague, but once past that initial portion, Hunter was fun and exciting with characters that interested me.

Post scheduled for Aug. 11.

NetGalley/Disney Hyperion

Middle School/YA.  Sept. 1, 2015.  Print version:  384 pages.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

The Murderer's Daughter

I have read quite a few of Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels over the years and enjoyed them. The Murderer's Daughter, however, is either a stand-alone or the first in a new series.  

Grace Blades is a survivor in every sense of the word.  Her first years teach her not to count on her parents who are barely cognizant of her presence.  When a domestic quarrel turns deadly when Grace is five, she must learn to adapt and find a way to get along in various foster situations. Grace, a remarkably gifted child, learns to cope and eventually to thrive when she finally lands in the safety net provided by a loving couple.

Grace's brilliance carries her far and fast, and she has built a solid reputation as a psychologist who is unusually successful with patients who have endured major physical or emotional trauma.  Then a chance encounter at an upscale hotel bar begins a life-threatening situation rooted in events from the past.

The story shifts back and forth between past and  present, giving plenty of background about the circumstances of Grace's childhood and adolescence.  The alternating timelines reveal much about the way Grace lives in the present.  She is  a strong, independent character, but there is always a sense of isolation and wariness.  As good as she is with her patients, her private life is mostly a solitary one.

The pace is better in the chapters concerning her past; the chapters in the present are mostly concerned with the research she is doing as she attempts to nail the bad guy.

This novel feels different from previous Kellerman novels, lacking the lurid violence of the Delaware series, and although Alex Delaware receives a couple of mentions, he never becomes involved in the novel.  

Grace reminds me of a better adjusted Kathy Mallory (from the Mallory series by Carol O'Connell; if you are familiar with that series, you might enjoy this article--"Watching Mallory Grow a Soul").  Grace Blade could never have been described as a "baby sociopath" as Mallory was as a child, but both had horrific childhood events to overcome, both are brilliant women, and while both Grace and Mallory have achieved success in their careers, both still deal with emotional and social consequences from their pasts.

This is not an action driven novel, yet I never lost interest or felt that the novel dragged.  The end, however, was rushed and somehow...didn't feel quite right.  That being said, I found myself immersed in this novel from the beginning and hope for more of Dr. Grace Blades.  If Alex Delaware isn't a part of future novels, so be it, but maybe Milo Sturgis could lend a hand.

Read in July.  Blog review scheduled for Aug. 10, 2015.

 NetGalley/Random House/Ballantine

Mystery/Psychological.  Aug. 18, 2015.  Print version:  384 pages.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

WWI, Shell Shock, and Virgins

I've long had an interest in WWI, probably first engendered by the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen (first read and loved when in high school).  

Novels about WWI have only added to that interest, developed it, and inspired further research--so easy to do with the internet when something arouses curiosity.  All Quiet on the Western Front, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, the first books in the Maisie Dobbs series, Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series (both deal with WWI), Speller's The Return of Captain John Emmett, Anita Shreve's Stella Bain, R.F. Delderfield's To Serve Them All Their Days, Mike Mignola and Christoper Golden's Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire  (allegorical), and others that I can't recall right now have all covered various aspects of the first World War.

Many of the books above mention shell shock, which I've always equated with PTSD; recently, however, I watched a documentary about shell shock with film footage of WWI victims that exhibited seriously different symptoms, as well as similar ones.  The documentary has footage made by doctors and psychiatrists at the time.  It is heartbreaking and distressing and clearly shows some of the horrors of trench warfare.  

Western Front Casualties
July–December 1916[Note 3]
Frenchc. 434,000
c. 947,289
Germanc. 719,000
Grand totalc. 1,666,289
The statistics are dreadful.   The Battle of the Somme (from July 1-November 18, 1916), saw, on the first day, over 57,000 U.K. deaths.  On the first day.  

Add to that the deaths of the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, French, and German casualties, and it is impossible to imagine the misery and horror that existed after only one day.
A battlefield populated by the dead and dying.

The Western Front Casualties (shown on the right) gives total casualties of the Battle of the Somme that lasted from July to Nov.  Over a million and a half men died, German and Allied.

Among the Allies, the losses of the U.K. are especially dramatic because of its small size. The U.K. (50, 346 sq. miles) is slightly smaller than the state of Louisiana (51,843 sq. miles)--that awareness gives some idea of the devastation to British forces during only one battle.  There were also the battles of Tannenberg, Marnes, Verdun, Arras, Galliopoli, Ypres.... 

I'm always stunned when looking at this kind of statistical information.  Magnify these deaths by the survivors who loved these men.  Then add the physically wounded and those who suffered from shell shock.  Although the problems with shell shock occurred as early as 1914, after the Somme, 35,000 men were diagnosed.  

Both Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were treated for shell shock.  The bitterness is Sassoon's "Survivors" is evident.

32. Survivors 
NO doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
  Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’—
  These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed         5
  Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
  Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
Craiglockart. October, 1917.

Naturally, as I read different articles, I find other aspects that interest me.  Novels often mention the shortage of men in the U.K. after the war, but here is an excerpt from a startling article I found in the Daily Mail:  Condemned to Be Virgins.

They dreamt of love, marriage and children. But, as a new book reveals, the Great War robbed two million women of the men they would have married, leading many into relationships which could only be whispered about...

One hazy morning in 1917 the senior mistress of Bournemouth High School For Girls stood up in front of the assembled sixth form and announced to her hushed audience: 

"I have come to tell you a terrible fact.

"Only one out of ten of you girls can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistical fact.

"Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed. You will have to make your way in the world as best you can.

"The war has made more openings for women than there were before. But there will still be a lot of prejudice. You will have to fight. You will have to struggle."

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

I've added Singled Out,  a nonfiction, historical account to my wishlist.  And a link to some of the best of WWI poetry.
What are your favorite WWI books?  Either fact, fiction, or poetry.