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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lullaby Road by James Anderson and Dark Pines by Will Dean

I missed Anderson's first installment in this trilogy and will have to go back and pick up The Never- Open Desert Diner at some point, but that did not impede my enjoyment of Lullaby Road.  While I realized I had missed a great deal of backstory covered in the first book, Lullaby Road and the episodic adventures of trucker Ben Jones--half Indian, half Jew, raised in foster homes, and inclined to trouble--was engrossing.

Most of Ben's customers in Utah's high desert are a breed apart.  Eccentric, independent, unorthodox, outcasts--from Cowboy Roy to Preacher John and more--the "desert rats" that Ben supplies with everything from water to propane are human curiosities.  

Ben is basically a decent man who gets involved in situations even as he chastises himself for doing so.  Already saddled with taking his neighbor's infant with him on a run, when he stops to fill up his truck, the owner says someone has left a package for him at one of the pumps.  What he finds is a five-year-old child with a note saying that the father is in bad trouble, but trusts Ben to care for his son Juan.  The owner of the station has locked up and won't respond to Ben who demands some answers.  Now he has an infant, a young child who doesn't speak, and a dog on his journey.

This novel is not a straight-forward narrative, it moves from one location and event to another--each populated by oddball characters.  The journey becomes dangerous for several reasons as Ben does his best to deliver infant and child to safety.  A picaresque novel that has some humor and some grim situations and as many stories as Ben has customers.

The conclusion doesn't answer all the questions, and there is one question that will stay on my mind until the third installment.  The answer better be there!

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery?  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages

Dark Pines is as atmospheric as Lullaby Road, but instead of the bleak expansiveness of the desert, the setting is the looming menace of the forest of Utgard near the small town of Gavrik, Sweden.  Both novels have a full contingent of odd characters.

Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter, has returned to Sweden, leaving a more promising arena in London to be closer to her terminally ill mother.  

This must be the year of deaf protagonists for me, and Tuva has some similarities to Caleb Zelic (Resurrection Bay And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic).  Both lost their hearing very young as a result of meningitis, both are determined to pursue the career each has chosen, and both are irritated when people comment that they "sound so normal."  

Tuva, however, is unapologetic about drawing attention to the fact that she doesn't hear well even with her hearing aids and needs to record statements to be certain she hasn't missed anything.  She also takes pleasure in the silence when she removes her hearing aids.   Tuva exhibits none of Caleb's desire to hide his deafness; she accepts her lack of hearing and is comfortable with it.  

When a hunter is killed, the entire town of Gavrik develops an inexorable fear that there will be a recurrence of the Medusa murders that took place in the 90's.  For Tuva, the story may mean a huge step in her career as an investigative journalist.  When a second hunter is murdered, the connection to the Medusa murders is affirmed by the trophies taken.  

A determined and resolute protagonist, Tuva needs to overcome her fear of the malevolent atmosphere of Utgard Forest and the increasing animosity of Gavrik's citizens to pursue her story.

A fine debut by Will Dean and a new and intriguing character in Tuva Moodyson.

NetGalley/Oneworld Publications

Mystery/Suspense.  Jan. 4, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

On Ghost Stories, The Dead House, and Turn of the Screw

The Dead House by Billy O'Callaghan is rather spooky ghost story that has its roots in the Irish potato famine.  When Maggie, an English artist, seeks sanctuary after a brutal attack, she discovers a place in Ireland that seems made to order.  A ramshackle cottage that needs a complete overhaul in a setting that speaks to every fiber of her artistic center...and perhaps, to something else.  

You can read the description elsewhere, but the main characters are Mike, an art dealer in London; Maggie, an artist; and Alison, who has a gallery in Ireland.  The three are tied together through friendship, and in the case of Mike and Ali, something developing into love.  

The frame of the novel is similar to that of Henry James' Turn of the Screw and the book seems to be heavily influenced by James' work--in both content and style.

The pervasive sense of the sinister which James achieved is lacking, however, because O'Callaghan breaks it up with Mike's relationship with Ali, lighter episodes that relieve some of the tension.

The writing is often lyrical, but something about the logic goes awry.  Turn of the Screw is ambiguous--is it a ghost story or a psychological deterioration?  The first time I read it in high school, I thought it the most chilling ghost story ever.  On subsequent reads over the years, I recognized the other possibility, which is equally as chilling, perhaps even more so.  The sense of unease remains, the ambiguity remains, and whichever way you read it, Turn of the Screw is a frightening tale.

The Dead House is a ghost story that draws on James' work, but lacks the layers, the Freudian aura, the question of whether or not the young children,  Miles and Flora, have been corrupted by evil, and the story's refusal to take a side, to guide you to one conclusion or another.  Henry James left the interpretation up to the reader, but regardless of how one reads it, the experience is harrowing.  O'Callaghan leaves you with a ghost story that doesn't quite end, almost as if a sequel could be possible.

The Dead House has garnered many positive reviews, but it lacked some mysterious quality that allowed me to "suspend my disbelief."  

For me,  The Turn of the Screw remains the epitome of an excellent ghost story regardless of how you interpret it.  My second favorite is The Broken Girls by Simone St. James which combines a genuine ghost story and a mystery.

NetGalley/Skyhorse Publishing

Paranormal/Ghost Story.  first published 2017; May 2018.  Print length: 224 pages.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

How Do You Feel About...

I know some of you have pondered this question as well:  Why do so many mysteries and thrillers have an overwhelming amount of violence against women?  I'm not going to give up reading some of these books, but I am always relieved when I find an excellent mystery that doesn't have graphic violence or women who are abused/controlled/sexually assaulted/tortured/dismembered as major elements of the story.  

Of course, it does depend, to some degree, on how it is handled. Some authors use the violence as sexual titillation, others avoid that aspect.  Is that why we also love kick-ass women protagonists who can turn the tables?

I found this article encouraging:  The Staunch book prize has been founded to honour books where ‘no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered’

It is an interesting article with comments from Andrew Taylor and Val McDermid about it being easier said than done.  If you read the article tell me what you think.  

Maybe it has been on my mind more lately because of the abuses that have been making the news lately, but ...

Does it seem like the number of books with this focus has increased in recent years?  
How does violence against women in film and novels make you feel?  
Can you think of recent crime/mystery/ suspense novels that you really liked that don't have this as a major plot element?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens and Shadow Play by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Three points of view make up The Other Side of Everything, and the novel's main interest for me has to do more with the characters than the crimes.  The first crime provides an inciting moment that begins changes in outlook.

Bernard, a widower, feels isolated and has little desire to do anything about it.  Amy is an artist who won't paint and her  marriage has been strained by Amy's cancer surgery, depression, and drinking.  And fifteen-year-old Maddie,whose mother just left one day, leaving Maddie, her brother, and her father bewildered and bereft.

In the small Florida community, an elderly woman is brutally killed.  The effect on each of our protagonists is different, but far-reaching.  Then another elderly woman is murdered, the police are making no headway, and the entire  community feels besieged.

I really liked the insight into the three main characters, each one presenting emotional and social problems:  the difficulties of an aging population, the intense trauma of cancer, the feeling of being deserted by someone you love.  And more.

Just an aside-- as Bernard frequently drops into memories of the small community, he remembers an exceptionally cold winter when iguanas froze and fell from trees.  An unusual cold for Florida.  Now, in January, I just read an article about that happening during our current deep freeze!

 Read in January.


Crime/Mystery.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length: 272 pages.

Shadow Play is another well-plotted police procedural from Harrod-Eagles that follows Bill Slider and his team as they investigate the murder of a well-dressed man found in the yard of a car workshop.  First the team must identify the man, then the investigations becomes even more confusing.  

I felt less connected to Slider in this one. but Porson and his malapropisms remain amusing, partly because he is a genuinely supportive boss, and Atherton is making a gradual change from playboy to a more mature character.  

Read in Oct.; review scheduled for Jan. 25, 2018

NetGalley/Severn House

Police Procedural.  Feb. 1, 2018.  Print length:  224 pages.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Look for Me by Lisa Gardner

In 2016, I read Find Me by Gardner, a dark book, but a fascinating one (reviewed here).  Gardner's D.D. Warren series is one of my favorites, but Find Me was especially intriguing because of the character of Flora Dane.  

Look for Me doubled my enjoyment because Gardner brought back Flora Dane, and (gradually) the disciplined detective D.D. Warren and the "survivor-turned-avenger" Flora Dane are able to work together to solve the murder of a family.

Four members of a family are murdered and a teenage girl is missing.  It is uncertain whether Roxy is also a victim, or perhaps, the guilty party.  This isn't the story of the perfect family, but it is a story of efforts made to overcome some of the dysfunctions that exist.  

I liked Gardner's empathetic approach to the characters and difficulties in the novel.  While often easier to reduce things to black and white, life rarely operates without backstories.  

Here's hoping that Gardner will continue the partnership of D.D. and Flora.  While I enjoyed this series before Flora arrived in Find Me, the undeclared partnership works even better--and I want more of these strong and independent women working together.

(I mentioned this book here back in November as one of the ARCs that I would have to wait to review.)

Read in November; blog review scheduled for  Jan. 23, 2018.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Crime/Police Procedural.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Storm King by Brendan Duffy

The Storm King features Nate McHale, pediatric surgeon and family man, who returns to his hometown of Greystone Lake for the funeral of his first girlfriend.  Lucy disappeared on graduation night and although many assumed she ran away, Nate never believed it.

Told in alternating timelines, the "past is prologue" to the events to come.

When Nate was fourteen, the family car went over a cliff into the lake; Nate's parents and three-year-old brother all drowned, but somehow Nate survived.  The tragedy continues to influence Nate, and his high school years are full of anger at the unfairness of life.  

In the wake of his miraculous survival, people--his best friends included-- view Nate differently. Nate, Tom, Jonny, Owen, and later, Lucy are a tight knit unit, and Nate, the Storm King, is the leader.  Perceived injustices are righted, or more accurately, punished.  Adolescent Nate is not always an admirable character.  

After high school, Nate leaves Greystone Lake for college and attempts to put his high school persona behind him.  He becomes a successful and empathetic pediatric surgeon with a loving wife and an adored child, but when Lucy's body turns up after all these years, Nate returns to his hometown, determined to find out what happened to her.  However, his return to Greystone Lake will force him to acknowledge his own guilt and uncover some disturbing secrets.

The Storm King is not a comfortable read--as the tension ratchets up, you know that some of the mistakes in the past will have far-reaching consequences, and you wish you could step in and shake the boys.  There is a callousness in the "justice" the teenagers meet out in their high school years.  

What comes as a surprise is that there is a new generation of vigilantes--and their targets are Nate, Tom, Jonny, and Owen.  What goes around...

Read in September; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21, 2018.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Psychological Suspense/Mystery.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Rufus Spy by Alys Clare

The Rufus Spy takes place in 1093 and involves Lassair, a young woman with magical gifts.  When two young men are murdered and a third savagely beaten, Lassair, who has returned to her home village, is old friends with the third victim and stays in his home while treating him.  

Within days, Rollo, Lassair's former lover, arrives and requests her help in escaping from a mess he has gotten himself into. Rollo, too, bears a resemblance to the three young men who have been attacked.  He believes he knows who pursues him, but is he correct?  Lassair agrees to pose as his wife and accompany Rollo on his search for King William and his aid.

Lassair, too, is carrying a secret.

I like this series better than Alys Clare's Hawkenlye series and her Gabriel Taverner series and enjoyed Lassair's latest adventure.  Oh, and I like Jack, who is dealing with strange goings on back in Cambridge.        
Read in October; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21.

NetGalley/Severn House

Medieval Mystery.  Feb. 1, 2018.  Print length:  240 pages.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tracee de Hahn's A Well-Timed Murder and Sara Blaedel's The Undertaker's Daughter

Last year I read the first book in the Agnes Luthi series by Tracee de Hahn--Swiss Vendetta which I thoroughly enjoyed.  A Well-Timed Murder is the second in the series.

Injured on her last case, Agnes is still on leave when she is asked by a former colleague to assist in the take-down of a criminal that she had chased in her previous job in financial crimes.  Agnes and her colleague are at the premier watch and jewelry show Baselworld, where the world's most important watch and jewelry brands present their latest work.  And so, as it turns out, is Julien Vallotton, who has come to ask a favor of Agnes.

Julien wants Agnes to check into the death of Guy Chavanon, whose death was listed as accidental.  Guy's daughter, however, believes there is more to her father's death than an allergic reaction.    

Something I never considered is how the introduction of digital time pieces affected the Swiss watch-making industry.  It appears that Guy Chavanon, who had a reputation for big ideas, but little follow-through, may have finally come up with something that might revolutionize the industry.   If so, and many doubt it, money and reputations would be at stake. There are also some goings-on at a distinguished boarding school attended by Guy's young son.

The setting in Switzerland is just one reason I like these books.  :)

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 18, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  352 pages.

The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel is a standalone (or the first in a new series) and not part of her series featuring Louise Rick.  

It differs from Blaedel's other series: it is set in the U.S. rather than in Denmark and  the main character is a school photographer rather than a detective.

Some thirty years ago, Ilka Jensen's father deserted his family, and Ilka is shocked to learn that on her father's death three decades later, he has left her his funeral home in the U.S.  Ilka flies to Racine, Wisconsin to settle the estate.  She plans to sell the funeral home, but also to find out more about the father who deserted his family.   

However, when a body at the funeral home is vandalized, an old unsolved murder interferes with Ilka's plan for a quick sale of the business.

The Undertaker's Daughter is a rather quiet mystery, but an intriguing one.  I liked it and enjoyed the slower pace that had time for information about a business most of us would rather not discuss.  

Blog review scheduled for Jan. 18, 2018

NetGalley/Hachette Book Group

Mystery.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  336 pages.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong

This Fallen Prey is the third book in the Casey Duncan series set in the wilds of Canada.  Although I wasn't much taken with the first book City of the Lost, I liked A Darkness Absolute (second in the series) much better.  The series has continued to grow on me.  This Fallen Prey delivers another intense and action-filled experience.  (I'm not sure why some times the protagonist is sometimes referred to as Casey Duncan and at others as Casey Butler.)

Rockton, small, secluded, and secret, lies deep in the Yukon, but officially, it doesn't exist at all.  To gain admittance to the tiny town of Rockton, requires an application.  Those who are accepted must be willing to live off-the-grid.  No cell phones.  No mail.  No internet.  Few conveniences.  

To take advantage of this refuge, citizens must abandon everything about their old lives and become acquainted with a much more difficult and primitive life style that comes with different kinds of dangers.

As if things in Rockton are not challenging and perilous enough, the council, without forewarning, drop a dangerous serial killer in the town.  Bound and gagged and accompanied by a letter with a detail of his crimes, Oliver Brady must be accommodated for six months.   Brady's arrival upsets the town and its dynamics, both those who know of his crimes and those who don't.  

Is Oliver Brady guilty of the crimes listed in the letter?  Trouble begins immediately and quickly gets worse.

Fast paced and full of action, this one will keep you turning the pages.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 17, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch

I've read many of Charles Finch's Charles Lennox historical mysteries and enjoyed them.  The Woman in the Water is unusual because it details the first investigation by a  very young Lennox, who is determined to become a detective, treading cautiously between youthful hubris and social hierarchies, learning as he goes.

Sometimes young Lennox makes mistakes and looks foolish, but his occasional flashes of insight outstrip his missteps.  He is balancing so much at once: his eagerness and lack of experience; his social life and the derision of many of his peers; his love for Elizabeth with her newly married status; his frustrations with dealing with his housekeeper; his reluctance to take the salary of a Scotland Yard consultant; his father's illness; and his love and jealousy of his brother.

An anonymous letter claiming to have committed the "perfect murder" claims the interest of both Lennox and his friend and valet Graham.  The two spend time each day cutting articles out of the paper and comparing them for possible criminal investigations that might be stepping stones for an aspiring detective.  Then the body of the first victim, a young woman, her body enclosed in a trunk washes ashore.  There are few clues, but Lennox manages to become involved in the investigation (here, family connections help his cause).  The letter writer promises more perfect murders, and Charles races to prevent another murder.

In contrast to the more experienced detective in the later books, it is interesting to see how the young Charles Lennox begins to learn and practice his trade.  

Read in Dec.; blog review scheduled for Feb. 14, 2018.

St. Martin's Press/Minotaur

Historical Mystery.  February 20, 2018.  Print version:  304 pages.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

In the last days of December, I reread Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic and then moved on to And Fire Came Down, the sequel to Viskic's award-winning Australian debut.

I had hoped that Caleb would be in a better place by the time of the second novel, but the traumatic events of the first novel continue to taint Caleb's life in the sequel.

A case of meningitis when Caleb was five left him with profound hearing loss.  In many ways, Caleb has overcome the disability--he wears hearing aids that help him identify some sounds but must depend on lip reading to interpret spoken language.  Impressive, but not always enough even when someone is facing him directly for him to catch everything.  If they mutter or turn away, important elements of conversation can be lost.  This would be frustrating and confusing in normal circumstances, but as Caleb is a PI with a tendency to get involved in dangerous cases, the problem can be treacherous.

Previously, he has depended on his partner to fill in conversational blanks, but in And Fire Came Down, Caleb doesn't have that advantage.  His emotional stability depended on his wife Kat, but they have been separated for nearly two years, and although he thought they were rebuilding their connections, Kat has been gone for four months at the beginning of this installment.  Caleb's pride has often kept him from admitting his deafness, making many situations worse than necessary.  He makes occasional concessions in admitting his lack of hearing--a little progress--but still struggles to keep from acknowledging his disability.

In Melbourne, a depressed Caleb is approached by a young woman who begs for his help; accosted by a man who terrifies her, the young woman attempts to flee and runs in front of a car.  Unable to understand her last words, Caleb determines to find out more.

Who sent her to Caleb?  A note on a receipt leads Caleb back to Resurrection Bay and into another case that will put his own life in danger and the lives of those he cares about.

What makes these books stand out is not simply that the protagonist is deaf, but the way characters deal with all of the complications of life. Personal hubris, marriage, family, community, racial prejudice and violence, social problems from vandalism to drugs--the issues that are pertinent today in any setting or culture become personal in the microcosm of Resurrection Bay.  

Read in Dec.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 14

NetGalley/Bonnier Publishing Australia/Pushkin Press U.S., UK

Crime/PI.  2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor is an intense mystery, part coming of age, part revelation of events children couldn't comprehend or  piece together.

In 1986, Eddie and four friends used chalk drawings as a way of communicating.  Each friend was  different enough to attract incidents of  bullying, and the drawings gave them an almost magical sense of secrecy and protection.  One day, however, a chalk drawing leads the group to a gruesome discovery that taints their childhood and continues to affect them as adults.  Who was responsible for that particular drawing; who led them to discover the body?  Who is the Chalk Man?

Twenty years later, Eddie, the narrator, receives a letter containing a stick figure drawn in chalk.  The past is not always past, to paraphrase Faulkner.  The author moves back and forth in time, alternating between 1986 and 2016.  

Everyone has secrets and when chalk figures appear again in 2016, the group of childhood friends, whose remaining attachments are largely a result of the events of that dreadful summer, find themselves nervous and uncertain.  The reappearance of one of the old friends who wants to write a book about the events of that summer in 1896 sets in motion another calamity.

Intense and twisty, moving from past to present, The Chalk Man is imaginative and cleverly plotted.  An impressive debut that kept me glued to the pages.

Read in Aug.; review scheduled for Jan. 12, 2018.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery/Psychological.  Jan. 9, 2018.  Print length:  280 pages. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke and City of Endless Night by Preston & Child

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke  is a suspenseful and unusual amnesia mystery.   A woman disappears from London.  A woman turns up on a Greek island with no memory of who she is or how she got there.  Are they the same woman?  

Four friends on an annual writing retreat rescue a woman who washed ashore, but difficulties arise almost immediately.  Contact with anyone off island becomes difficult; the group is stranded with limited supplies.  

Meanwhile, back in London, Lochlan is frantic about his missing wife who left their toddler and infant daughter alone.

I Know My Name is not the stereotypical amnesia thriller, but is a clever psychological mystery with several unexpected twists.  Not what I anticipated when I began reading, but all the better for it.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Psychological Suspense.  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  384 pages.

City of Endless Night by Preston & Child allows Detective D'Agosta to take the lead while Special Agent Aloyius Pendergast assumes a smaller role than normal.  Well, Aloyius does have a lot on his mind.

I've been reading these books for such a long time and realize how difficult it must be to keep coming up with fresh ideas for the series.
While I always enjoy revisiting the familiar characters, I haven't found the last few books as much fun as the earlier books.  This may just be because this is #17, and Relic (the first in the series) was published in 1995.  Pendergast has undergone some changes in this long series, but maybe I just love the supernatural and mysterious aspects of the earliest novels.

Not that I will ever refuse to see what is happening in Pendergast's life!

Read in November.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Thriller.  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.  

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Censored: A Literary History of Subversion & Control by Matthew Fellion and Katherine Inglis

Does a book about censorship sound interesting to you?  Do you think it would be a dull, sententious, pedagogical work?  Would you be curious?

I was curious, but had few expectations.  Maybe I did expect certain books to discussed, but I had no idea whether or not the discussions would be interesting or tedious.  As a life-time lover of books and reading, however, censorship and book banning have always been on the periphery of my life.  And I know from the frequent discussions about banned books, that the topic is of interest to most of you.

 Censored presents an eminently readable, well-documented, and well-researched examination of the role of censorship in literature.

The introduction asks, "What harm can words do?  This reasoning can lead to the conclusion that speech should never be restricted because it cannot actually hurt anyone, and that those who believe they have been harmed by speech simply need to grow a thicker skin." 

 It then proceeds to acknowledge that speech can have "tangible effects, though these are rarely easy to predict or control.  The same power that exposes a corrupt government can incite mob violence against a vulnerable person."

And furthermore, "Because speech is powerful, our freedom to speak must be defended from unjust restrictions.  Because speech is powerful, however, that freedom cannot be absolute.  Like action, speech will always raise ethical and legal questions."  That pretty much sums things up:  freedom of speech must be defended and that freedom cannot be absolute.  Yelling fire in a theater doesn't qualify.

And, as we often discover, censoring a work can call more attention to it.  The very act of banning or restricting access tends to make people curious and can backfire on the very concerns trying to suppress it. 

The introduction makes clear that the subject of censorship is a complicated one, and that even the threat of censorship may cause an author to self-censor (a chilling effect that may not even be visible) and this may mean that some books are never written at all.

An interesting example is given in Frances Burney, whose plays were stifled by her father and her mentor, who didn't consider writing for the stage appropriate for a woman.  Burney gets an entire chapter later.

Chapter 1 discusses the English Bibles.  The first translations to English were attempts to make the Bible available to the common people, but doing so could and did lead to charges of heresy and burning at the stake.  From Wycliff to Tyndale, this chapter is engrossing and the battle took many lives.  Even when an English translation was accepted, "people of the 'lower sort' were forbidden to read the Bible altogether." 

Each chapter discusses a particular book and the efforts made to suppress it, and each chapter contains fascinating and often alarming information about the how and why of the process.  

Chapter 2 discusses Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill) by John Cleland.  It begins by relating that--while state prohibitions against topics considered heretical, blasphemous, or seditious--are problems because they "directly challenge religious or secular authority."  But what about writing about sex?  Yep.  Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure first provoked the obscenity law in 1748 and continued to be a problem for more than 200 years.    This chapter is intriguing not only for the challenges to Memoirs, but for the changes in how obscene material has been defined and how the law has been administered in regard to many other books.  

Chapter after Chapter proved interesting and informative.  I've read many, but not all of the books discussed, and reading about both the books I've read and the ones I'm only familiar with because of their having been banned at one time or another proved immensely educational.  

Chapter 21 about Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses.  Riveting.  I thought I was familiar with that case, but learned I only glimpsed the fringes of the impact.  

The Afterword begins with a quote from Hilary Mantel:  "Oppressors don't just want to do their deed, they want to take a bow:  they want their victims to sing their praises."  She adds that the struggles continue, repeating themselves.

The Afterword also reiterates that thought and provides information concerning current efforts at censorship and restriction.  

I can recommend Censored:  A Literary History of Subversion & Control without reservation.  Informative, illuminating, significant, and fascinating.  

NetGalley/McGill-Queen's University Press

Nonfiction.  2017.  Print length:  432 pages

Monday, January 08, 2018

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

Vivian, happily married mother of four, is a Russian analyst with the CIA.  Her assignment to uncover the leaders of a Russian sleeper cell becomes something else entirely when she finally accesses the computer of a suspected Russian operative...and finds pictures of five members of a sleeper cell.  

Her thrilling sense of success is shattered when she realizes one of the pictures is that of her husband Matt.  Instead of immediately notifying her superior, Viv, stunned and disbelieving, hesitates.

Need to Know is a tense and frightening account of a dilemma no one could really expect.  Loyalty to country or family?  Whom to trust?  

I did not know what to expect from this novel, but I could not stop turning the pages.  And the end?  Whoa.

"Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, the last six in counterterrorism. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and from Harvard University. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young kids."

This is not an action thriller.  There is no Jason Bourne.  Need to Know is an espionage novel of another type entirely, yet my heart was in my mouth as I struggled through each tension-laden page.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 8, 2018.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Espionage/Suspense.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length:  304 pages. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Two Books with Difficult Subject Matter

SINthetic by J.T. Nicholas is a dark story that covers some of the dilemmas that arise with scientific advancements.  

From descriptions: "They look like us. Act like us. But they are not human. Created to perform the menial tasks real humans detest, Synths were designed with only a basic intelligence and minimal emotional response. It stands to reason that they have no rights. Like any technology, they are designed for human convenience. Disposable."

“Darkly engrossing, SINthetic shines a stark light on the age-old question, what does it mean to be human?”
—Julie Kagawa, New York Times bestselling author  

I'll mention again that this one is dark and frightening because of the possibilities of genetic engineering, and unfortunately, man's tendency to abuse scientific advancements.  Of course, there has been plenty in the news lately about the way powerful individuals have oppressed and exploited women to give another take on this story.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 5, 2018

NetGalley/Kensington Books

Murder Mystery/Speculative Fiction.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length:  178 pages.  

Breaking Point by Allison Brennan tackles a difficult subject--the sex trade, especially involving underage girls.  Brennan manages  to illustrate this despicable practice in a way that clearly illustrates the horrific abuse without making it titillating.

Bella Caruso is undercover with a trafficking ring, trying to locate one particular girl.  During the rescue of two underage girls, a policeman is murdered, and Bella's position becomes even more dangerous.

Bella's brother JT Caruso turns to Special Agent Lucy Kincaid for help, but Lucy is in a difficult situation with her immediate boss.  Nevertheless, Lucy gets involved and gives all her energy to rescuing Bella...and hopefully, the young girl for whom Bella has been searching.

Good characterization of a plenitude of characters gives this suspenseful novel the depth it needs.  Although there is a lot of backstory referring to events in previous books, these are seamlessly worked in and do not feel like information dumps.

I've only read one other novel by Brennan and the same combination of well-developed characters and suspense applied.  This was one of those books that was difficult to put down, the pace is fast, and I couldn't believe how quickly I read through it.  

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense.  Jan. 30, 2018.  Print length:  448 pages.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

So...why was I initially put off by Two Girls Down?  Because I thought the book was going to end up blaming Jamie Brandt, the single, working class mother of two little girls who were kidnapped.  My mistake.  

Jamie stops at a strip mall to pick up a gift for the birthday party the girls were to attend.  To make it quicker, she runs inside alone.  When Jamie returns, ten-year-old Kylie and eight-year-old Bailey have disappeared.

The police department suffers from budget cuts, lack of leads, and plenty of crime related to drugs.  The investigation is going nowhere, and with each day, Jamie's desperation increases and her hope for the safe return of her daughters diminishes.

Jamie's aunt calls in Alice Vega, a bounty hunter who has had uncanny luck at locating missing children.  Once Alice is on the scene, the book takes a completely different direction from what I thought it would.  Vega enlists Max Caplan, a former policeman who resigned in disgrace, to aid her in locating girls.  At this point, I could scarcely bear to put the book down.  

The chemistry between Vega and Cap is fascinating.  They are both dedicated, but their approaches are distinctly different; eventually, the two are able to meld their divergent methods and make the most of the strengths they individually bring to the investigation.

Louisa Luna excels in bringing the characters and the investigation to life.  I didn't so much anticipate the investigation as follow along with Vega and Cap.  There were unexpected turns, certainly, but I more or less discovered things along with this engrossing pair, getting the hints from them, rather than seeing the connections and wanting to help them see where things were leading.

Boy, I am glad to have returned to Two Girls Down and hope for more of Alice and Cap, who proved uniquely human and engaging.  I kept thinking about what I would have missed if I'd just let this one go because I formed a misguided initial impression.

Blog review scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018.


Mystery/Suspense/Crime.  Jan. 9, 2018.  Print length:  322 pages.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Walking the Bones and The Liar in the Library

My first exposure to Randall Silvis was Two Days Gone, and Walking the Bones picks up the story of Ryan DeMarco as he is still recovering from the death of his friend.  

Walking the Bones begins as a road trip instigated by his girlfriend Jayme, but the cold case of seven young women drags him (kicking and screaming) into investigating who killed the young women and stacked them behind a hidden wall in a church.  

The book was simultaneously interesting and slow.  For me, the most interesting characters were the three elderly "detectives" who involve DeMarco in the case and are treated rather disdainfully.  

The two books featuring Ryan DeMarco are markedly different from Silvis' Blood and Ink, a dark comedy.  All three of the books I've read by Silvis feature his love of literature and skillful descriptions, but my favorite is Blood and Ink with the hapless protagonist, Nick.

Read in Oct.;  blog review scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018.


Crime/Mystery.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length: 464 pages.

I read several of the first Fethering mysteries years ago, but have not kept up with this cozy series.  

When Jude knew Burton St. Clair twenty years ago, he was plain Al and a bit of a womanizer, now he is a well known author with a more sophisticated version of his name.  

Invited to speak at the Fethering library, St. Clair has changed little, except that he now has a more towering ego than ever.  He offers Jude a ride home, makes an advance, is repulsed, and Jude walks home.

St. Clair, however, never leaves the car, and the next day, Jude finds herself suspected of murder.

I fear the most interesting element in this mystery (for me) concerned the challenges British libraries have been facing in recent years.  

Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018.

NetGalley/Severn House

Cozy Mystery.  Jan. 1, 2018.  Print length:  192 pages.