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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

I became a great fan of Tami Hoag when I read The Ninth Girl and quickly read and reviewed every other book in the Kovac and Liska series.  The Bitter Season is the fifth in the series.

One reason this series works for me is that in some books detectives Kovac and Liska take center stage while in others, they are in the chorus line--so to speak.  

In The Bitter Season both Kovac and Liska are featured, but Hoag splits them up.  Nikki Liska has gone to the cold case squad so she can spend more time with her young sons, while Sam Kovac must break in a new partner in homicide.  Each misses the comfortable relationship they have had in the past, but must adjust to their new situations.

Katherine Quinn makes a token appearance in this one, as do members of the homicide squad that are familiar from the previous novels.  Hoag keeps the series fresh with the change-ups, but gives us the sense of familiarity any series reader appreciates.  I like Sam's new partner and hope to see more of him in future books.  And I hate having to wait for the next in the series!

Read in November; blog post scheduled for Dec. 29, 2015.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Police Procedural.  Jan. 12, 2016.  Print length:  416 pages.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Some NetGalley Mysteries

Blood Sisters by Graham Masterton.  The fifth in the Katie Maguire series begins with the murder of horses, but escalates to the murders of quite a few others, but specializing in nuns.  The novel glories in brutal and grotesque murders, and I wasn't too impressed with Katie Maguire, either.  Don't think I'll be going back to pick up the earlier books.

If you are Catholic, you might want to give this one a pass.  

NetGalley.  Feb. 1, 2016.

e-Murderer by Joan C. Curtis.  What would you do if you suddenly began receiving e-mails from an anonymous and untraceable person who described the murder of a young woman?  Jenna Scala begins receiving e-mails at work, but addressed to her specifically, describing the death of a coed.  Unable to trace the source and unsure if the messages are genuine or a nasty prank, Jenna takes the messages to her psychiatrist boss who is disinclined to get the police searching for information concerning his clients.  Then the frightening messages become more personal.

Even though the author continues to throw viable suspects at the reader, I pretty much knew the culprit early on.  All the characters are surprisingly clueless, but the premise, if handled a bit more subtly, is a good one for a mystery.

NetGalley.  Dec. 17, 2015.

The Work of a Narrow Mind by Faith Martin.  Hillary Green is a retired officer now working on cold cases as a civilian.  Although I've not read any other books in this long series,  it did not interfere with the story. Hillary's interns couldn't be more different, but both are intent on learning from Hillary's skill and experience.  A couple of storylines in this one.

NetGalley.  Dec. 15, 2015.

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

The Children's Home

A strange book.  I'm at a loss about how to describe it and have conflicted feelings about the content or maybe the presentation of the content.

Morgan Fletcher has been hiding on his secluded estate for years, his face destroyed in some unexplained event, unable to face the reaction people have when they see him.  His companion is a housekeeper who is efficient, kindly, and unaffected by Morgan's appearance.

And then a child mysteriously appears and Morgan and his housekeeper take the child in and care for it.  Then more children appear, the ages varying.  None seem at all put off by Morgan's disfigurement, but...the children are strange.

When one of the children is ill, the local doctor is called in and eventually, he and Morgan become good friends.  The three adults are protective of the children, but Morgan and Dr. Crane are gradually more and more puzzled by their behavior.

The author keeps everything indistinct, ambiguous, mysterious, and increasingly sinister.  At some point I formed some suspicions, which proved to be true, but in the most unexpected and bizarre manner.  I'm not at all sure about how to classify The Children's Home:  parable, allegory, magical realism, psychological suspense, horror...?   I'm not even sure that I liked it.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.  Source
Read in June, 2015; blog review scheduled for Dec. 28, 2016.


Psychological/Fantasy? Jan. 5, 2016.  Print version: 224 pages.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Medieval Mysteries--Owen Archer series by Candace Robb

The Nun's Tale is the third in the series, and the only one that has given me pause.  It is a dark tale, but the inspiration came from a real incident.  Chaucer makes a brief appearance which, given the title, is entirely appropriate.  A lot of interesting historical information and the introduction of some new minor characters who will show up later--but the nun's role bothered me.

The King's Bishop begins with the suspicious death of a page and an accusation against Owen's friend Ned.  Ned has fallen in love with one of Alice Perrer's maids, and Alice gives Ned an alibi by admitting that Ned was with her servant at the time of the murder.  Ned is removed from the scene when assigned to a delegation to a Cistercian abbey in hopes of gaining support for the king's nomination for a bishop.  More murder and political maneuvering ensue.  I felt like the books were back on track with this one.

The Riddle of St. Leonard's is particularly interesting because of two factors:  the return of the plague and a mystery involving the deaths of several corrodians.  Corrodians made donations of money, land, or housing to an abbey or monastery, and in return, received care and accommodation for the rest of their lives.  St. Leonard's provided housing, food, and medical care for its carrodians in the city of York.  Some of the corrodians, however, lived beyond the worth of their endowments and instead of making a profit, the church had to absorb the loss. The practice was being curtailed at the time of the novel.  Lots of twists in this one.

 The Gift of Sanctuary  finds Owen returning to Wales on a mission for the Duke of Lancaster.  Traveling with him are his father-in-law (on pilgrimage), Geoffrey Chaucer (to report on the fortifications in Wales), and the temperamental Brother Michaelo, who has made some drastic changes since the first book.  Again, the characters have depth and unique personalities, but of course, there is a murder and some political deceit as well.

I really like this series of medieval mysteries.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher is a re-imagining of the old Blue Beard tale.

Plot Description: Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords—no matter how sinister they may seem—Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.
Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”
With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

The style is similar to fairy tales in maintaining a distance, a kind of disconnect,  from the characters and their situations.  I like Kate Bernheimer's description of character "flatness" (Fairy Tale Is Form, Form Is Fairy Tale) as a way of explaining that distance. 

But as much as I love original tales, one reason I enjoy re-tellings and modern versions is that there is a much more personal take on the characters.  The Seventh Bride somehow manages a little more rounding of characters while still keeping that disconnect.  In the grim, dark elements of this tale there is a feeling of remote observation of events, even though much of the book is first person as related by Rhea.  As a result, I couldn't place the story in either the traditional, abstract camp or the modern, psychological/personal camp.

In attempting a new twist on the traditional Bluebeard tale, the book seems to be trying to hard--especially in the descriptions of the previous wives.  Since I was unable to really identify with Rhea, the protagonist, or find much interest in the previous wives other than their oddity, the book failed to really satisfy me. 

Note:  I am in the minority in my opinion.  Reviews are very favorable.  

"T. Kingfisher is the vaguely absurd pen-name of an author from North Carolina. In another life, as Ursula Vernon, she writes children’s books and weird comics, and has won the Hugo, Sequoyah, Mythopoeic, Nebula and Ursa Major awards, as well as a half-dozen Junior Library Guild selections."
 (via T.

Fairy Tale/YA.  2014; 2015.  Print length:  236 pages.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Two Medieval Mysteries: The Apothecary Rose and The Lady Chapel

After reading several good NetGalley offerings, I started and discarded several more.  Since Medieval mysteries are a sub-genre I relish, I decided to try a new series.  Candace Robb writes the Owen Archer series set in the late 1300's, and having read some good things about the series, I decided to give it a try.

It was, fortunately or unfortunately, a reminder of the potato chip commercial:  "Bet you can't eat just one."  

Candace Robb did PhD studies in  Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature (ABD, all-but-dissertation) and has continued to research the fields thoroughly for each book.  

I love Beowulf , Chaucer, and medieval history.  I still have my Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, although I was required to do very little translation of it for that course in Old English. My copy is a college text edition, nothing like the beautiful original manuscript (which is fortunate, since the cover has teeth marks where our dog Emily decided to taste Old English many years ago).

In the Author's Note at the conclusion of The Apothecary Rose (first in the Owen Archer series), Robb includes quite a bit of interesting information about the use of longbows (6-foot bows that "were capable of penetrating chain mail and had a range of about 275 yards,"  a proficient bowman could shoot 10 or 12 arrows per minute, as opposed to a crossbow's two per minute); the 14th c. city of York, including its importance as an ecclesiastical center;  the long war in France and its consequences; politics of church and state; medical and herbal treatments, etc.  

Some of this was familiar due to my interest in both medieval history and medieval mysteries, but there is always new information and new perspectives on familiar topics.

Robb also has some intriguing comments on the three hats a writer of historical mysteries must wear.  Not all writers of historical mysteries manage all three as well as Robb.  She creates well-developed novels with dynamic characters; gets the chronology right (or explains why some changes are included); makes sure that the places she mentions in the city of York are well-researched and accurate; and avoids superfluous historical detail that doesn't develop the story.  Some of that detail can be found in the Author Notes, and you can easily skip those if you choose.

The Apothecary Rose is set in 1363 in the city of York.  The main character Owen Archer had been the Captain of the Archers under Henry of Lancaster, until losing an eye.  The old Duke found a use for Owen as a spy, but when the old Duke died, Owen found himself having to choose between John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and the new Duke, John of Gaunt.  Thinking that the Archbishop would be a better choice, Owen discovers that politics and self-service trump religion more often than not.  Owen is a little naive, thinks more like a soldier, and does not admire Thoresby's worldliness and easy moral stance.  

When two suspicious deaths occur in the infirmary of St. Mary's Abbey, Thoresby sends Owen in to determine if the deaths are connected and if murder was done.  Although Owen is not aware, the reader knows who is responsible--the mystery is not who, but why. (And I have to admit the why wasn't a complete satisfaction for me.)

An intricate story set in a world of both fact and fiction, with historical detail that aids rather than distracts from the compelling plot and characters.  From the infirmary to the apothecary shop to the machinations of some of the church figures, Robb gripped my imagination and allowed me to immerse myself in another time and place with characters that engaged my interest.  

Purchased.  Read in Nov., 2015.  Blog review scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015.

Medieval Mystery.  1993; 2015.  Print length:  340 pages.  

I immediately ordered the next in the series.

The Lady Chapel takes the title from a thread running through the novels about the real John Thoresby and his determination to complete the Lady Chapel for his tomb.  

A man is murdered and his body left on the steps of York Minster--missing a hand.  The Archbishop once again recruits Owen Archer to solve the mystery, but the body count rises.  An orphan is in danger, the complicated reasons behind the murders involve the wool industry and the financing of a war, and Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, makes an appearance.

Of interest to me:  

--the Town Waits, musicians employed by the city and provided with livery, salary, and silver chains of office.  They were common in every English town up until the beginning of the 19th c., according to Wikipedia.  I'd never heard the term before, but guess they were similar to city sponsored orchestras in the present.  Cool.

--the wool industry and the smuggling and the way Edward III tried to make money for his war in France.  And frequently, went back on his word.

--the fact that the novel began when Robb read an account of the Goldbetter lawsuit and "false monies" from Edward III

All of these things and more are responsible for instigating the plot, yet don't require thorough knowledge.  Robb doesn't bog the story down with unnecessary detail, but I always get a bit sidetracked with history and find Robb's Author Notes fascinating!

Purchased.  Read in Nov., 2015.  Blog review scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015.

Medieval Mystery.  1994; 2015.  Print length:  402 pages.