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Thursday, June 29, 2017

What's Up, Buttercup?

I'm slowly reading and thinking about each section of The Secret Life of the Mind:  How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides by Mariano Sigman.  A cognitive neuroscientist, Sigman has already had me pondering the ways scientists, psychologists, and linguists approach what goes on in the minds of pre-verbal infants--what they understand and when.  Definitely not the blank slates assumed for so long.  Also intriguing are the moral choices of toddlers.  Then the section on which serves us better in decision making:  rational deliberation or hunches.  And what are hunches really?  Oh, and does our sense of smell influence our choice of mate?  Why would this be inverted in pregnancy?  Curiouser and curiouser!  

Some of what I've read affirms what I've read in previous books, but some information is new and compelling.  I especially like seeing the creative ways different ways theories are tested, especially with infants.  

I have not read a brain book in a while, and I am thoroughly enjoying this one.  Which cover do you prefer?

Buried on the Fens.  Joy Ellis' Nikki Galena series continues to keep me engrossed. An unofficial body is discovered in a cemetery, and a decades old murder appears to be entwined with a more recent one.

Initially, the team believes they are looking at two separate cases, and the recent murder of a well-liked businesswoman must take precedence.  Nikki finds the older murder a fascinating curiosity, but as both investigations proceed, connections are established.

As usual, Ellis' novel works perfectly well as a standalone.  Now, I look forward to the next in either the Nikki Galena or the Rowan Jackson series!

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Police Procedural.  July 10, 2017.   

Perfect Prey is the second in the DI Callanach series, and I have not read the first one.

The Goodreads reviews so far have been mostly 4 and 5 stars, and I would have happily agreed to 4 stars--accept for two things.  The murders were grotesque and unbelievable and Ava's relationship with Joe (or as one reviewer called him, "dickhead").  Oh, you, too, will agree with that designation!

On the other hand, the tension was great, Callanach's character was interesting and unusual, and there were a couple of good twists.  

I have a problem with books that depend on the bizarre and/or the grotesque--but that's my personal perspective. 

 There was plenty in this book to keep me interested, yet I was uncomfortable with the detailed exploitation of violence in Perfect Prey.  Would I read another in the series?  Yes, just to see if violence is a prevailing theme.  I liked Callanach and some of the secondary characters; Ava, not so much, although she was going through an emotionally difficult period.

NetGalley/Avon Books

Police Procedural.  July 27, 2017.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs is a stand-alone novel, not part of the Temperance Brennan series.  Meet Sunday Night, ex-cop and ex-marine, a woman with secrets and and plenty of issues that date back to her childhood.

When a local matriarch's daughter and grandson are killed in a bomb blast, the terrorists take her granddaughter Stella.  It isn't clear whether or not the girl has been killed or is being held captive--all leads have dried up, no body has been found .  Sunnie is hired to find out what happened to the girl and rescue her if she is still alive.  Even is Stella is dead, Opaline Drucker wants those responsible brought to justice.

Sunnie has some experience with cults and hopes to find Stella alive, but discovering more about the cult and its leaders becomes a convoluted path.  
Sunnie needs assistance and gets it from her brother Gus. The backstory of Sunnie and Gus influences the plot in several ways, and I'd like to know more of his story.

Read in March; review scheduled for June ___

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery/Suspense.  July 11, 2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Here and Gone and A Vigil of Spies

An intense thriller, Here and Gone by Haylen Beck will pull you in and keep you glued to the pages.

Audra has taken her two children and gone on the run from an abusive and controlling husband.  Stopped by  a sheriff in Arizona under false pretenses, Audra finds herself placed in the sheriff's vehicle while a female deputy takes her children to a "safe place" until the situation is resolved.

However, when Audra is placed in a cell and asks about her children, the sheriff replies, "What children?"

Audra finds herself in a nightmare.  No one believes her, and it is likely that she will be charged with killing her son and daughter.

Fortunately, Audra has an ally in Danny Lee, who sees the story on the news.  Danny has endured a similar situation in California where his wife was accused of killing their daughter.  

The premise is definitely far-fetched, but the fear and anxiety of Audra's plight will keep you disturbed and outraged.  It isn't a mystery:  you know who has taken the children and why--it is the suspense that grips and holds attention. 

Haylen Beck is a pseudonym of Stuart Neville, and Here and Gone is certainly good suspense, but does not compare to the layered depths Neville achieved in The Ghosts of Belfast.  Interesting that Beck/Neville can write so well of Arizona and of his native Belfast. 

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Suspense/Thriller.  June 20, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

A Vigil of Spies by Candace Robb continues the Owen Archer series.  This is one of my very favorite medieval mystery series because of the characters, both real and fictional.  Robb's meticulous blend of historical research, exceptional plotting, and believable characters impress me every time.  It is remarkably easy to enter the world she creates and become immersed in events, real and imagined, of the late 14th c.  

I was first introduced to this series in 2015  with The Apothecary Rose and have followed the series enthusiastically without a  single disappointment.

A Vigil of Spies presents a sea-change in the series as John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York is dying.  His death will leave open his powerful and influential position, and those eager to fill the Archbishopric are scrambling for favor.

Owen Archer is one of several who are concerned about the impending visit of Joan, Princess of Wales, and wife to the heir to the throne.  Joan seeks Thoresby's advice about whom to trust for the safety of her young son.  Edward III is dying, and Joan's husband, Edward, The Black Prince, is also dying.  She fears her young son Richard will become king much too young to rule.  (Richard II did succeed to the throne at ten.)  

There are soon to be a lot of vacancies in the power structure of England, and powerful families scheme as they await their chances.

An accident that proves not to be an accident; a suicide that is not a suicide.  Owen Archer struggles to resolve the situation so that the Archbishop can die in peace.

For anyone who loves historical mysteries, this is one of the best.  Robb's knowledge of the period and ability to bring to life the characters and the time period is exceptional.  There are always historical notes and references at the end and her details of the time are fascinating, but the plots, pacing, and characters are always foremost.  

Highly Recommended.

Kindle Unlimited

Medieval Mystery.  2008; 2015.  Print length:  418 pages.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo

Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo is the first I've read in this series featuring Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police of Painters Mill, Ohio in the midst of Amish country.  Why has it taken me so long to discover this series?

Kate left the Amish community, but her personal knowledge of the people and their customs makes her remarkably suited to her role in law enforcement in an area where the Amish live and flourish.

When Joseph King, sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, escapes--Kate finds herself troubled my memories of the boy Joseph was and their childhood friendship.  Joseph always denied killing his wife, but few believed him, certainly not the jury that convicted him.

Joseph kidnaps his five children, and in an effort to talk him down, Kate discovers that she has some serious questions about whether or not Joseph killed his wife.  When the Swat team kills Joseph, Kate decides that she needs answers to her questions about Joseph's guilt and begins to dig into the events of eight years ago.

An absorbing book for several reasons including a well-crafted plot populated with interesting and well-drawn characters.  I will enjoy going back to pick up previous books in this series!

Read in April; blog post scheduled for June 18

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Police Procedural.  July 11, 2017.  Print version:  320 pages. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last Hack and When the English Fall

I read and recommended Christopher Brookmyre's Bred in the Bone: a Jasmine Sharp and Catherine McLeod Novel in 2014.  Then...I failed to follow up on any of his other books, until I saw The Last Hack as a NetGalley offering, I remembered that I wanted to read more from Brookmyre.

The Last Hack is the most recent in the Jack Parlabane series about about a Scottish investigative journalist who sometimes trips over legality to get his stories.  

At first, I was a little unsure about whether I would be able to engage with this novel; I wasn't sure what was going on.  But I'm glad I gave it a chance because once my mind had accepted the original ambiguity and got a grip on the characters and plot--it was full steam ahead.

Once the novel gets going, the pace is fast and compelling, as are the characters.  Jack Parlabane is trying to get his career back on track when he gets a message from the hacker known as Buzzkill with a threat he can't ignore.

Samantha (Sam) Morpeth struggles to attend school, raise a younger sister with learning disabilities, visit her mother in prison, and find the money to support her sister and herself.

Parlabane and Sam each find themselves entangled in a blackmail plot and must cooperate, however unwillingly, to survive the threats that could ruin them both.  

Now, I'm going to have to go back and pick up more of this series.  :)

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for June 14

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Mystery/Suspense.  July 4, 2017.

When the English Fall by David Williams gives a decidedly different approach to a dystopian novel.

From the description:  When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath.

Jacob is an Amish father whose daughter has what appear to be epileptic seizures in which she says, "The English fall." The English are what the Amish call those who do not belong to the Amish community, but Jacob and Hannah have no idea what their daughter's words mean.

A disastrous solar storm creates a world-wide EMP, an electromagnetic disturbance that causes planes to fall from the sky, the lights to go out around the world, and hospitals lose power.  The modern world quickly begins to fall apart.

In the initial stages, farmers are more fortunate than city dwellers.  In the Pennsylvania community where Jacob and his family live, the "English" and the Amish are friends and neighbors who are better able to support themselves and who rely on and support each other.  Even they, however, must make huge adjustments as machinery and generators and refrigeration damaged by the storm make life so much more difficult.  Most cars won't start and fuel rapidly becomes a problem for the vehicles that still work.

As expected, violence eventually results when food becomes scarcer and scarcer.  How will the Amish respond to the inevitable violence?

It is surprising to find that for the most part Jacob's journal entries calm the reader.  Jacob is a thoughtful man and his beliefs are solid, so even when he knows what to expect, his responses are troubled but reflective and  thoughtful.  

No solution to the end of the world as we know it is available; there is little hope that there will be a rebuilding of society in any way similar to the one lost during the solar storm.  How people survive will be a matter of personal choice.

The novel contemplates the way in which the Amish, committed to lives of peace, prayer, and non-violence, will respond when confronted by the unavoidable reactions of the hungry, the frightened, and the violent in the aftermath of this disaster.

I like that David Williams takes such a different approach to the dystopian novel.  

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for June 14.

NetGalley/Algonquin Books

Dystopian.  July 11, 2017.  Print length:  256 pages.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

The Witchwood Crown:  The Last King of Osten Ard #1 by Tad Williams continues a fantasy saga first published in 1988.  Whew, that's a long time to wait to continue a series.  I have not read the first three books (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn) of the original trilogy, but since the events in The Witchwood Crown take place thirty years later, it is not a requirement.  

The book is very long, has a huge number of characters and is set in numerous places among several cultures in this fantasy world.  The pacing is sometimes slow, but the slower portions alternate with intensely interesting sections.  

Con:  Some of the characterization is weak, but with so many characters (the list of characters in the back goes on for 25 pages) and with so many different settings with specific plot lines--in-depth characterization of even central characters would be difficult.  

Some of the dialogue is awkward and repetitive, as if to remind the reader what the character had thought or said previously.  

Some of the names (of people or places) feel like gargling, and each time one of these awkward names appeared, it gave me pause, interrupting my engagement with the story long enough to ponder the gawky name.

Particularly in Hayholt, I found a lack of background to explain the behavior of certain characters--mostly involving the king and queen and their relationship and guidance or (lack thereof) of the grandchildren.  I mean, Morgan's "guards" seem the worst kind of influence.  If Simon and Miri have been so concerned with Morgan's drinking and gambling and lack of responsibility (the boy is only seventeen, how long has this behavior been going on?), it feels strange that they have done nothing about it. 

Pro:  In spite of my complaints, I was thoroughly invested in this huge tome of a book.  The parts that were good were very good.  

The book doesn't have the overall sense of continuity and cohesion that some great fantasy writers achieve, and spite of some of the things that bothered me, I was immersed in most of the plot. Usually an ongoing mental conversation about what I perceive as problems in a book will make me lose interest.  That did not happen. Something that I can't quite explain shines through what I perceive as flaws.  Something compelling  above my minor complaints kept me engrossed.

I found these endorsements of Tad William's original 1988 saga impressive:

“Inspired me to write my own seven-book trilogy.... It's one of my favorite fantasy series.”
—George R. R. Martin, New York Times-bestselling author of The Games of Thrones
“Groundbreaking...changed how people thought of the genre, and paved the way for so much modern fantasy. Including mine.”
—Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times-bestselling author of The Name of the Wind

I will certainly read the next in this series because I need to know how all of these characters and situations evolve.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Fantasy.  June 27, 2017.  Print version:  736 pages.  

Friday, June 09, 2017

Penhale Wood by Julia Thomas

Penhale Wood   

A grieving mother seeks help in finding the nanny who killed her youngest daughter and disappeared. The police investigation a year earlier had been unable to locate Karen Peterson, but Iris is determined to find the woman who killed three-year-old Sophie and pleads with Rob McIntyre to reopen the case.  

McIntyre has his own demons and does not believe that he would do any better now in finding Karen Peterson that during the original investigation a year earlier.  He agrees, reluctantly, to examine the case again, and the two discover a few more faint leads.

A number of too neat coincidences, but an entertaining mystery.  I liked Thomas' The English Boys better, but Penhale Wood kept me engaged throughout.

Read in February; blog review scheduled for June 9, 2017.

NetGalley/Midnight Ink

Mystery/Suspense.  July 8, 2017.    

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

 Another favorite book for the year, and one so different from any of the others!  

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a mash-up that involves characters from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Sherlock HolmesRappacini's Daughter, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, and Dracula.  

From this pantheon of some of my favorite classic science fiction/horror novels, Goss plucks characters like Mr. Hyde and Beatrice Rappacini and creates characters like Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde.  She takes incidents from the original stories and recasts them or concocts "new" information and events.  

And it works!  If you've loved these classics as I have, you will find Gross's novel delightful, but even if you are not familiar with the originals, the story is still fun as these women unite to fight a secret society of power-mad scientists.  

My only complaint is that in the first couple of chapters there are too many unnecessary editorial interruptions as the characters give their opinions about what is being recorded.  Catherine is the main author, but the characters are all present as the story is being written and want to give their thoughts and assessments.  For me, this was too frequent at the beginning and distracted from the plot.

As the story moves on, however, these asides(?) became less frequent and more enjoyable.

What an adventure, what a pleasure this book was!  I can't wait for more from Theodora Gross about these women.  

Digression:  The words "monstrous regiment of women" kept echoing in my head as I read, but I couldn't remember the context.  Oh, yeah, that interfering misogynist who railed against female sovereigns because women had no business taking precedence over men, the repellent John Knox.  In his tract The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women gave his opinion about female sovereigns ("monstrous" meant unnatural and "regiment" meant rule, not a military division).  According to Knox, it was unnatural for women to be heads of state and Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots, and Queen Mary of England had to endure his despicable influence.  Elizabeth I detested him.  Miserable man.

Anyway, the phrase "monstrous regiment of women" works perfectly well with a different slant in this refreshing and amusing book, as Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Montgomery, and Justine Moritz (bride of Frankenstein), a very different Mrs. Poole than the one in Jane Eyre--work with Holmes and Watson to solve the murders of young women in London.  A cadre of unique women who solve crimes.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a winner in my book.

NetGalley/Saga Press

SciFi/Fantasy.  June 20, 2017.  Print version:  416 pages.  

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw is set in the bleak but atmospheric Dungeness, a headland along the Kent coast best known for its two nuclear power stations and its wildlife sanctuary.  The area attracts thousands of birdwatchers each year, and William South is both a birdwatcher and a policeman.

When his friend and neighbor is murdered, South is drawn into the investigation by the newly transferred DS Cupidi.  Shocked that his mild-mannered friend has been so brutally murdered, South soon must accept that he actually knew very little about his friend--and what he thought he knew wasn't actually the case.

Sections about South's childhood in Ireland during the Troubles are interspersed throughout.  When a character from that early period in South's life appears, it doesn't come as a surprise, but how the distant past is connected to the current death of South's friend is puzzling.

"What's past is prologue."  

Read in Nov.; blog post scheduled for June 4, 2017.

NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Crime/Police Procedural.  June 27, 2017.  336 pages.