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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Library Books

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #3).  I like this series largely because of Cormoran and Robin, but the plots keep me interested as well.  

I could have done without the body part delivered to Robin at the beginning--a wee bit too much of an opening, but it does demonstrate how personal the attack is.  And although the leg (uh huh, uh huh, a leg) is sent to Robin, the real target is Cormoran Strike.  

The first dilemma is discovering who hates Strike enough to send him a leg (not overly fond of dismemberment); there are four possibilities that have to be investigated.   

While the police focus on one suspect, Strike and Robin investigate the other three that Strike believes more credible.  Several subplots are entwined with the central plot, and  along the way we also find out more about the backstories of both characters.  In the acknowledgements, Rowling mentions how much she enjoyed writing this installment.  It is certainly more grisly than the previous two books and definitely not Harry Potter.

Library copy.

Mystery/Suspense.  2015.  498 pages.

No Shred of Evidence by Charles Todd.  I've been reading this series since the first one was published in 1994, and I've read quite a few, but not all of the 18 books (mainly the ones my library has purchased) about Inspector Ian Rutledge.

A bit of the background:  Ian Rutledge suffered from shell shock during WWI and continues to do deal with some of the effects.  

Sooo--four young women are boating when they realize a young man is in distress--he can't swim and his boat is rapidly sinking.  They attempt a rescue, but several details are curious. 

As two of the girls attempt to get the young man in the boat without tipping themselves over, a farmer witnesses the situation and swims out to help.  He accuses the young women of trying to kill the young man, and when the group reaches shore, the girls are taken into custody.  Detective Rutledge is called in to investigate.

Because the victim is in a coma, Rutledge needs to find out what actually happened. The girls say they were trying to rescue the young man; the farmer says they were trying to kill him.

There is also a secondary plot involving a mysterious young woman who was staying in the village, but has moved on.  In fact, this young woman never stays in one place for any length of time and is difficult to locate.  Another curious situation.

There are some several holes in the novel, but I enjoyed it.  I'm quite fond of Inspector Rutledge and of Hamish, the young Scot Rutledge was required to execute during the war for refusing to obey an order.  Hamish remains a voice in Rutledge's head, but has received less time as the series has continued.  He is, nevertheless, an important character.  

My favorite in the series remains the first one, A Test of Wills, but I've enjoyed at least 9 of the novels in this series.  The effects of shell shock were so severe that some men never recovered.  The Todds have also co-authored the Bess Crawford series.  

Library copy.

Historical Mystery.  Feb. 2016.  336 pages.

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear.  Another series I've followed since the first book.  Set in the period between the two world wars, the early books deal with some of the same issues the Todds write about concerning the first world war.  The later books begin anticipating the inevitability of WWII--which is what this one does.

Maisie is sent to Munich in 1938 to retrieve a man the British Government believes will be useful in the war effort.  Maisie must navigate Hitler's Munich, a frightening and dangerous place.

I'm not sure where this series is going.  Will Maisie get back to her detective work or continue working for the Secret Service?  

Probably both, but for some reason, I would prefer more on the detective side.  

The later books have been uneven, and I find myself preferring the earlier entries in the series. I like the historic details that have been a part of the series, but Maisie as an undercover or intelligence agent doesn't appeal to me as much as Maisie the detective.

Library copy.

Historical Mystery.  March 2016.  309 pages.  

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Snail Mail, Mail Art

Two books that I've read in the past several months, but haven't reviewed:

Snail Mail by Michele Mackintosh is a fun and crafty book with some good ideas for spicing up mail art and some free stickers, too.

I enjoyed it, and when I'm in the need of a little inspiration, I can check it out again.


Always First Class: The Pleasure of Personal Letters by Lois Barry is about letter writing, not mail art, and is full to the brim with the most wonderful quotes!

It's uplifting to get a letter--like an 'ooh!' in your mailbox.
            --Kate Spade

Everything is good, even having to write letters, because there are things one can write that one can't say just as there are things one can say that one can't write.
           --May Sarton to Margaret Foote Hawley

I live a solitary life.  My gregariousness is letters...
                                                       ---Donald Hall

I write to my mother every day, and of course in a daily letter you end up telling everything--stories, dreams, recipes, family, politics and the world.  I never read them again.  When I sit down and write while thinking about someone, the writing is much easier.
           ----Isabel Allende
     (who has written to her mother every day for thirty years)


A few examples of incoming mail:

From Wendy--
with a bookmark
a bookmark (front & back)
hand-made by the Marvelous Mouse!

from Suzie--
a cool postcard she found at Jazz Fest

Since this beautiful skyline is in Singapore,
you may have guessed Melody
from Connie, who always has creative envelopes

A couple of outgoing pieces.

Sending letters and postcards has been keeping me remarkably busy!  Many more examples are on my other blog. So much fun to make postcards and envelopes--and even more fun to find something cheerful in my mailbox, sit with a cup of tea, and read the letters!   

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

3 Mysteries

 Gone by T.J. Brearton.  A family has gone missing.  Things are looking bleak as Detective Rondeau and his team consider the possibilities, including murder/suicide or kidnapping.  Or is it a government conspiracy?

Interesting and tense.  There were red herrings, but they were as often for Detective Rondeau as well as for the reader.   

The father of the missing family is a documentary filmmaker, who had recently finished a documentary about factory farming and was investigating toxic waste disposal when the family disappeared.

The novel mentions that factory farming is worse for the environment than any other single factor.  Although I have read similar statements and a few articles before, a little research made me appropriately ill:  11 Facts about Factory Farming, Factory Farming and the Environment, Factory Farming and Human Health, and there is plenty more out there--including the "humane" treatment of animals.  
via Your Food Is Medicine

Anyway--Brearton has a tense novel (although the conclusion was a bit too psychological), but what I mainly took away was more  what occurs in the real world, and it isn't pretty.  Fiction can make the government's role in allowing these abuses more offensive than simply reading articles by environmentalists.

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Mystery/Suspense.  May 2016.  Print length:  212 pages.

By the North Door by Meg Elizabeth Atkins is a strange and creepy novel about a young woman who goes missing. Originally published in 1975, it is both a little old-fashioned and very modern for its time.

Inspector Henry Beaumont has a family connection to the missing woman and makes discovering what happened to her a personal mission outside of his role with the police.

Strange characters and modern witchcraft.

Not sure what I really think about By the North Door, but I wanted to know what happened!

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Mystery/Paranormal.  1975.  2016.  Print length:  182 pages.

Stephen Booth's Cooper & Fry mysteries are uneven; some I've liked a lot, some not so much.  I liked Scared to Live better than the last one I read, partly because Fry, always difficult, is less waspish and irascible in this one.  Cooper, as always, provides the calm and empathetic element, but he has some concerns of his own.

The murder of Rose Shepherd, a recluse, and a house fire that kills a mother and two of her young children initially have no connection. Eventually, however, the two investigations intertwine.

A Bulgarian connection, two separate worries about mental illness, an odious neighbor, baby smuggling, blackmail....  


* I was totally unaware of Schengen countries (borderless countries that don't require a passport)!  I've been to the UK several times, but never to the European continent and was unaware of the treaty in 1990.  

*Booth refers to a meal of homity pie, a dish with potatoes, onions, and leeks, and covered with cheese.  

*He also mentions crantsies, or maidens' garlands, so I checked with Wikipedia and discovered a crant/crantsey/maiden garland:  is a crown-shaped garland used as a funeral memento for, usually female,virgins.

An interesting history of the practice can be found at A Vintage Green Life.

Booth's books always include descriptions of the Peak District sometimes in detail, as he does with the town of Matlock Bath in this novel, or in a simple mention of something that might seem common to him, but unfamiliar to the reader.  :)  I love tid bits.


Mystery/Police Procedural.  2014.  Print length:  594 pages.   

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Golden Age of Murder and The Wicked Boy

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards provides an absorbing glimpse into the lives of the men and women who wrote crime and detective novels during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction between WWI and WWII.  The three grand dames of this period are Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham--creators of Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Peter Wimsey, and Albert Campion. 

The Detection Club, "an elite but mysterious group of crime writers" was formed in 1930 and initially included 39 members including G.K. Chesterton, Anthony Berkeley, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers.  This community of writers had standards, rules concerning their novels (which they often broke), and a sense of camaraderie.  Edwards explores the source of many of their ideas, the fact that they wrote books together; he details incidents in the authors lives that occurred in their books and delights at the way they had of mentioning their colleagues and their colleagues' books in their own novels. 

Full of fascinating material about the members of the club and the period between the wars, the book entertains as well as informs.  In fact, there is so much significant information that it should perhaps have been two books!  Because the authors were much influenced by real crimes, Edwards spends a good deal of time on those true crime stories that inspired elements of many of their novels.  One crime Edwards spends time on is the murder of a three-year-old child in 1860 that was investigated by Inspector Jonathan Jack Whicher (the prototype for the modern detective) and mentions Kate Summerscale's well-researched The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.

Other than the fact  that there are so many digressions that interrupted the flow, I  loved the insight the book gives and was intrigued by much of what Edwards discovered about the Detection Club and its members.

Edwards gives an introduction explaining how he became interested in crime fiction very young and read all of Christie's books.  Since he is now the president of the Detection Club and a well-known crime writer himself, it is easy to see that his impeccable research began long before he decided to write The Golden Age of Murder.


Nonfiction.  2015.  Print length: 528 pages.
Almost as soon as I finished The Golden Age of Murder, NetGalley offered Kate Summerscale's The Wicked Boy!  I do love serendipity.

I found it strange and a little confusing that the book opens with a Prologue about an event in 1930, but at the very end of the book, the relevance of the incident is revealed.

In 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes killed his mother.  The murder, in and of itself, is shocking, but perhaps even more so is that Robert and his brother Nattie paid the rent and attended cricket matches and coffee shops for ten days as the body of Emily Coombes lay in her bed upstairs.

When the boys could no longer conceal the crime, the nation was shocked by both the matricide and the fact that Robert was so young.  The press coverage was astonishing and virulent.  Our current relationship with the press has many of the same problems, but present day press coverage (at least in the legitimate press),  is actually quite restrained when compared to the newspaper articles in 1895.

Summerscale gives well-documented and compelling accounts of the way the legal system of the time operated.  In the meantime, the press continued its garish coverage of details and possible causes for Robert's behavior--from physiognomy and the shape of Robert's head and features, to insanity, to a "preponderance of brain matter" (this from Robert's father as a diagnosis from the physician who treated Robert's headaches), to the influence of Penny Dreadfuls,  to the school systems that were (gasp) educating the poor.

Summerscale's research of the case and the time period is extensive (and not always relevant to the case at hand), but this tidbit caught my attention:

"In 1892 two Dundee runaways aged twelve and fourteen were apprehended in Newport, Wales, in possession of a revolver, a hundred ball cartridges, a travelling rug and a handwritten document:  'Directions for skedaddle:  Steal the money; go to the station, and get to Glasgow.  Get boat for America.  On arriving there, go to the Black Hills and dig for gold, build huts, and kill buffalo; live there and make a fortune.'"

I can see why Summerscale could not resist including it, even though it is the only truly humorous item in the book.

The opinions about children being pure and innocent had changed by the late 1800's.  Havelock Ellis wrote in 1890 that "Children are naturally egoists; they will commit all enormities...."  Psychiatrist James Crichton-Browne states that children are "diamond editions of very remote ancestors, full of savage whims and impulses...."  And Henry Maudsley, another pre-eminent psychiatrist wrote "Give an infant in arms power in its limbs equal to its passions, and it would be more dangerous than any wild beast."

There were a few others who took a different view, but psychologist James Sully believed that the treatment a child received from adults was "decisive in forming their characters and fate."  He also observed that "the young confused fact and fiction."  Sully's opinions were advanced for the time.

I'm almost always intrigued by educational philosophies and standards and was a little stunned by the requirements of the time.  "To achieve this standard [fourth standard], a child needed to recite eighty lines of poetry, read with fluency and expression from a passage chosen the the school inspector, write from dictation..." and much more.  Robert, obviously a bright boy was on the seventh level with even more rigorously stringent requirements and was also liked and respected by his teachers.

At his trial, Robert's lawyer asked one of his teachers if Robert were precocious in attempt to get an insanity plea.   According to the Dictionary of Psychological Medicine very precocious children were"more prone to madness than others."   Grantham was hoping for a verdict of insanity.

This review is getting quite long, so I'm going to try to curtail it a little.

Robert was found guilty by reason of insanity, but you will hate the judge.  Sentenced to Broadmoor, the "fortified criminal lunatic asylum that housed the most notorious killers in Britain," Robert was the youngest inmate there.  Many at the time thought this sentence was possibly worse than hanging.

What surprised me here is that the prevailing philosophy of Broadmoor under superintendent Dr. David Nicolson.  Nicolson humane view of his inmates was unusual, but supported by a few others who were making progress in the area of mental health, especially of the criminally insane.  Much of the information the author has gathered on the asylum at the time might be of use to our own illogical treatment of criminals.  The documented information shows the progressive attitudes of both Nicolson and Richard Brayn, who succeeded Nicolson.  

(digression--Oscar Wilde is mentioned on a couple of occasions in the work, and Nicolson and Brayn were asked to assess Wilde's mental condition.  The two doctors decided that Wilde was not mentally ill, but thanks to their suggestions, Wilde was transferred from Wandsworth prison to Reading gaol and at their recommendation, given "more food, more space, and more books.")

I keep saying I'm going to be brief and then adding more and more.  And this is just barely touching all of the important and significant information.  

The book continues through Robert's release when he was 30 after 17 years in Broadmoor, his emigration to Australia, his exemplary service during WWI, and his life after the war. Even at the beginning of the book, there is very little from Robert himself.  Most of the information comes from transcripts of the investigation and the trial, from his teachers and doctors, from documents at the asylum and from the military, and only at the end, information from one who knew him well.

The motivation for the murder is never truly available.  In the asylum, Robert had learned a skill, kept an allotment and grew fruits and vegetables, played cricket, learned new instruments, and became an excellent chess player.  His war service was courageous.  He could have been hanged for the murder, and there were frequent outcries at the time saying he should have been, but seeing what Robert survived, the circumstances he conquered, and the courage he exhibited as a stretcher bearer during the war makes the horror of the murder recede.

The book is about so much more than a boy who murdered his mother at thirteen--it is about the British social, legal, educational, and mental health systems at the turn of the century.  If you like history, especially Victorian history, I highly recommend The Wicked Boy.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Crime/Nonfiction.  July 12, 2016.  Print length:  352 pages.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Catching Up

In 2012, I read Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas and enjoyed it.  My intention was to follow up with this series, but somehow that didn't happen.  

Recently, I decided to catch up with Celaena, Chaol, and Prince Dorian and ordered Crown of Midnight.  Throne of Glass is one of those books that left a strong enough impression that even four years later gave me no problems feeling right at home with characters and events.  

Crown of Midnight is a YA fantasy that is often brutal, but has such well-developed characters and such a mixture of evil, secrets, friendships, and suspense.  Although I enjoyed the first book, the second book twists so many of the stereotypical elements of the first.  

The sequel is actually much better than the first novel.  Both plot and characters become more complex, more interesting, and more difficult to predict.   

An exciting adventure with plenty of threats to overcome, secrets to unravel, and characters to worry about.


Fantasy.  2013.  Print length:  418 pages.

Yep, ordered the next one immediately.  Unexpected events. New characters.  Longer.  

Next one, please.


Fantasy.  2014.  562 pages.

Even longer!

What kind of map must be required to manage all of the characters (major and minor) and plot developments throughout these 4 books?  

Tension increases as the reader has to wonder who will survive the wickedness of the king and the evil he has summoned into their world.  

Manon's character becomes even more intriguing.  Maybe not realistic to see this kind of change in such a short time, but she became a major interest over the course of the last few books and will definitely have a place in the next one.

I love that Maas includes so many strong female characters--I'm even thinking Lysandra deserves a book of her own.

Of course, the three friends from the initial book are still working through betrayals and failures and threats.

Looking forward to the final(?) entry which is due out in September.


Fantasy.  2015.  Print length: 648 pages.

The Body Reader by Anne Frasier features Jude Fontaine, a detective who was kidnapped and held captive for three years before managing to escape.  

Learning to read her captor's body language helped her survive, and even though she comes back to a world a changed person, Jude is determined to get her job back.

Maybe she has something to offer that she didn't have before.

Goodread reviews are extremely positive, but this quote from Publishers Weekly is more on target:  "... Jude persists on her own as connections between cases old and new lead to results both surprising and unlikely."  I added the italics.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Crime/Suspense.  June 21, 2016.  Print length:  289 pages.

Ink and Bone is a paranormal mystery, the first in a series set in The Hollows.  Finley Montgomery has had some problems in her life and has moved to The Hollows to live with her grandmother in order to gain control of her psychic powers.

In short order, Finley finds herself aiding in the investigation of a missing girl.  

A fast read, but the last portion of the book was a little over-the-top for me.


Paranormal Mystery.  June 7, 2016.  Print length:  352 pages

I've read like a crazy person throughout April and still seem to be stuck in that mode.  I still have not caught up on reviews.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Blood Defense and Missing, Presumed

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark.  I have really enjoyed each of the 4 books in Clark's Rachel Knight series, but this is a new series with a very different protagonist.  Both Rachel Knight and Samantha Brinkman are lawyers, but their personalities, their legal roles (Knight is a prosecutor; Brinkman is a defense attorney), and their approaches to the legal system differ drastically. 

Clark begins illustrating the difference between Rachel Knight and Sam Brinkman in the first chapter.  There is also an incident in the second chapter that could be dismissed as a "throw away," but something about "it" reminded me of Checkov's gun trope, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Other subtle hints occur in the course of the book that explain not only that incident, but other events in the past.  

By the time I finished, I knew I'd probably eagerly read the next in the Brinkman series, but mostly to see if I  could decide whether or not I liked the characters enough to continue.    Reviewing the book without giving spoilers is difficult, but Clark's storytelling sometimes overcame my ambivalence about Sam and about some of the developments in the plot.  The twist at the end was one I had picked up on early and that Clark had hinted at throughout--and has a great deal to do with Sam's character.   

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Legal Thriller.  May 1, 2016.  Print length:  400 pages.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.  

Beautiful post-grad student from wealthy, influential family is missing.  Lonely female detective (who spends a lot of time looking for a partner by trying internet dating) is determined to find her. 

I'm OK with a flawed protagonist, but Manon's desire for a partner is too desperate.  I'd rather feel empathy than pity. I also found it difficult to much to like about Edith, the spoiled post-grad student who is missing.  

The discovery of the body of a young black man provides the opportunity for a couple of side-plots and "the twist."  

The pacing is slow and the various plot lines didn't work well for me.

NetGalley/Random House

Police Procedural.  2016.  Print length:  400 pages.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

A Death in Winter by Jim McGrath

A Death in Winter: 1963 by Jim McGrath is not always easy reading.  Set in Handsworth, an inner city area of Birmingham in the Midlands, the novel introduces two unusual and unusually appealing characters:  Constable Clive Clark, who at 5'7" appears to have been accepted in the police force despite the height requirement, and Constable Michael Collins, a probationer from Ireland.  Clark is put in charge of showing Collins the ropes, and the reader quickly gets a sense of character from each man.  The author obviously likes his characters, and there quite a few humorous moments as the two adjust to their partnership.

Nevertheless, this is book about some brutal crimes and some depraved individuals.  We think of "grooming" in connection to the internet, but there were earlier methods of grooming young people before sexual abuse. Then, as now, those responsible for the abuse are often from areas of life we assume to be respectable.

When Clark and Collins become involved with the murder of a young girl, the investigation appears to be stymied by someone higher up; just how high up is the question.  Is the pressure coming from the government itself?  

Our intrepid protagonists are not going to give up that easily, but a heavy sense of darkness overhangs elements of the investigation.  Nor do Clark and Collins adhere to legality once the people they love are threatened.  

(I've read many mysteries and crime novels set in the UK, but I believe this is the first I've read actually set in Birmingham, and I realized I knew very little about it other than familiarity with the name of the city.  A little research revealed a long and interesting history.  Both W.H. Auden and J.R.R. Tolkien were brought up in Birmingham and the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements are also associated with the city.) 

McGrath has created some memorable characters and a fascinating book that reveals that in spite of all of the changes that have occurred in the last 50+ years, many things remain the same.  I look forward to more from Jim McGrath.

Read in April; blog review scheduled for May 4.

NetGalley/Troubador Publ.

Crime/Police Procedural.  April 25, 2016.  Print length:  274 pages.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3) by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin concludes The Passage trilogy.  If you've read the previous books in the series, you realize that the books are very long and that there are a great many characters.  The Passage was published in 2010, The Twelve was published in 2012, and this final book will be available May 24, 2016. 

 So...I wish I had reread the series from the beginning before starting The City of Mirrors; there are so many characters and so many years pass between books.  (A suggestion to those of you who are hooked on the series, at least review the first two books before reading the final installment.  :) Another tip:  it is still offered on NetGalley and there is a give-away on Goodreads.)  If you haven't read the earlier books, read them and save this last one for later.

Fortunately, I remembered enough scenes so vividly that the characters and events came back pretty quickly, but I still wished I'd reread the previous books, especially The Passage, which remains my favorite.

OK--The Twelve have been vanquished, and for years, nothing has been heard from Zero. The author brings the reader (not the characters) up-to-date about Zero, devoting nearly 200 pages to filling in his backstory.   Does it evoke empathy?  Is/was Zero an evil monster?

The beginning is a little slow, partly because the reader has to re-acclimate to characters and events, but eventually all of the familiar characters' lives are fleshed out.  

Alicia of the Blades and Amy have disappeared and life in Kerrville has gone on without them.  While the other characters wait and wonder what happened to them, the reader is much more informed.  Years pass; the lives of characters change with the times.  Kerrville grows, then depletes, as years go by without viral activity and people form new settlements and townships, moving outside the walls.  

Peter, Michael, Hollis, Sarah, and Greer's roles also change over the years, and a few new characters are introduced.  People eventually begin to believe/hope the world is safe again.

Lucas Greer has a vision, and he and Michael work to make it happen.  Peter Jaxon continues his role as leader, but in a different capacity.  Children grow up.  

Time, however, is growing short.  Something is coming....

It is easy to become involved with the characters, especially those who have been there since the beginning.  We already feel as if we know these people, and we certainly care what happens to them.

 The premise of a military experiment gone wrong (as explained in the first book) is believable and frightening.  The perversion of science to the point of threatening humanity is certainly not a new theme, and yet Cronin's world-building and character development can place the reader firmly in this dystopian framework.

I'm happy to have this epic trilogy completed and to have the details of so many characters wrapped up.  There were a few things that bothered me, but I'll omit them for now;  I'd like to see how others feel about the novel.   Overall, I'm satisfied.

Read in April; blog post scheduled for May 2

NetGalley/Random House/Ballantine

Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic.  May 24, 2016.  Print length:  624 pages.