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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is one of those rare spooky ghost stories that caused me to take reading breaks because of the tension.   I know I've been mentioning this one since August, but I had to wait until closer to publication to post this review.  :)

A story told in two time frames; a boarding school story; a ghost story; a murder mystery--The Broken Girls truly gave me chills.  

In 1950 Vermont, a boarding school for recalcitrant girls (dumped there because they are unwanted or hard to manage) has been haunted since its inception.   The legends, true and/or exaggerated, have been passed down through the decades both orally and through messages in the school's textbooks.  Mary Hand knows--and the generations of girls who have attended Idlewild Hall are all affected by the truths she reveals. 

In 2014, a journalist haunted by the murder of her sister is shocked and disturbed that someone wants to restore Idlewild Hall.  She decides to write a story about the school, and that story leads to more mystery and danger.

Although I am often drawn to ghost stories, most books fail to satisfy or frighten me.  While reading The Broken Girls, I was able to  suspend disbelief and follow the story in past and present with bated breath.

Read in August; blog review scheduled for February, 2018.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing Group

Mystery/Suspense/Supernatural.  March 20, 2018.  Print length:  336 pages.

I really wish this book had been scheduled for publication in October or November, months that seem particularly suitable for ghost stories.  

What are some of your favorite ghost stories?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

On Books and Reading

The Right Book Will Always Keep You Company

I love the quote, of course.

Interesting articles about books and reading:

Lionel Shriver says, "politically correct censorship is damaging fiction"

Why Books and Reading Are More Important than Ever by Will Schwalbe

I use all of the reasons to read that Schwalbe mentions. 
 To relieve stress, general avoidance, anxiety, etc.

Stop Reading Books that You Don't Actually Enjoy  by Nick Douglas

Sometimes I keep reading because I don't have a back up, but usually, 
I add books I'm not enjoying to the DNF  list.

Your Favorite Book Characters Are as Real as You Feel They Are by Claire Fallon
 "A new study performed by The Guardian and researchers from Durham University suggests that they are, in a way. The study found that, for 19 percent of readers surveyed, “the voices of fictional characters stayed with them even when they weren’t reading.” This included readers having thoughts in the voice of specific characters, experiencing narration of their life by a character, or simply having their own thoughts influenced by the tone or perspective of a character. " (from above link)

And, of course, because books are so influential, there is the idea of book banning or censorship.  Blume's quote follows on the ideas that Shriver puts forth in the first link.

It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read.

–Judy Blume

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz and Mr. Flood's Last Resort by Jess Kidd

Mr. Flood's Last Resort by Jess Kidd.  Maud Drennan is a caretaker given the task of helping Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old hoarder, get his life in order so he can stay in his home.  But if you think Cathal's hoarding habits are strange, Maud has frequent conversations with various Saints and appears to be getting messages from...ghosts or the house itself?  

I liked:  Kidd's beautiful prose and her imagination; Maud Drennan, Renata, and Cathal Flood are all great characters; the dialogue; the Saints.  

Not so much:  I think Kidd tends to veer off course; the plot is a bit convoluted and slows down at points.

Kidd has such a gift for creating characters and settings, but the characters are much better done than the plot in this one.  The book showcases her facility with language and characterization, but the storyline needs tightening up. 

NetGalley/Atria Books

Literary Fiction?  Mystery?  May 1, 2018.  Print length: 352 pages.

The Crooked Staircase (Jane Hawk #3) is action-filled suspense from beginning to end.  Jane continues her battle against the conspiracy that plans to "adjust" individuals to eliminate free will and dispose of those who may cause the cabal trouble.

Jane Hawk is one of those kick-ass protagonists that fights the good fight against the evil Techno Arcadians.  You can't help but cheer her on.  

I like:  that Jane Hawk is such a clever and relentless protagonist; that Koontz makes secondary characters interesting and well-rounded.

Wasn't crazy about:  losing characters I like; the weirdness of the crooked staircase toward the end.

Fast-paced and difficult to put down.  You will be up late with this one.

Read in January; review scheduled for February 22.

NetGalley/Random House

Thriller/Suspense.  May 8, 2018.  Print length:  512 pages.  

Monday, February 19, 2018

Penric's Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold and Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

Penric's Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold is the fifth (?) in the series, but the first one I've read..  It was a little confusing in the beginning because I didn't have any background for the world Bujold has created.

But once I got a grasp (incomplete, but enough to allow me to feel comfortable) of the world in which the story takes place, I quite enjoyed this novella that combines fantasy and a murder mystery.  Who murdered the temple sorceress, why, and what happened to her demon?

Penric's Fox is set in an interesting world with some intriguing characters. 

read in Dec; review scheduled for Feb. 19

NetGalley/Subterranean Press

Fantasy.  Feb. 28, 2018. Print length:  113 pages.

Lake Silence by Anne Bishop is the 6th in the Others series.  Different location, different characters, but with connections to the characters in earlier books and set in the same world.  I was thrilled to find that the world of the Others was not finished with the Lakeside Courtyard.

However, Lake Silence is only vaguely attached to the characters I loved in the previous books.  New story, new characters, same world with many of the same problems.  If you haven't read the other books, I wouldn't begin with this one as Bishop makes little background of the world available.  

Nevertheless, as a committed fan of the series, I was delighted to immerse myself in the little village in terra indigine controlled territory.   Lake Silence is not as dark (although there is a great deal of violence) and has more humorous incidents than in the previous books.  

From the description:  Set in the country of Thaisia, a present-day alternate North America, the strange and beautiful world of The Others is one where humans live alongside shapeshifters, vampires and a host of beings even more deadly known as the terra indigene. The first five books of The Others have focused on the inhabitants of the Lakeside Courtyard — a private terra indigene communitywhose residents are tasked with keeping watch over the humans in the city.

Bishop’s new novel takes readers to a human village nestled in the terra indigene-controlled Finger Lakes region of Northeast Thaisia. It stars divorcee Victoria “Vicki” DeVine, owner of The Jumble — a small, self-sufficient community located on the shore of Lake Silence. Vicki and the town’s residents soon find themselves caught up in a chilling mystery, after a series of vicious murders rock the small community.

I loved Vicky and her supporters, including Officer Wayne Grimshaw, the highway patrol officer sent to investigate the first murder; Julian Farrow, the owner of the local bookstore, whose back story is briefly covered; Ineke Xavier, who runs the local boardinghouse; and various Others, including Ilya Sanguinati and Agatha Crowgard.  There are many new characters introduced, and I expect they will all continue to have their characters deepen and expand in succeeding books.  

Is the book as good as the first five in the series?  It diverges from the the Lakeside Courtyard and does not have the personal "histories" that the first books have established.  The Lake Silence community is just getting started, but I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of the new folks and getting a feel for the area (humans, terra indigine, Elementals) that develop a different branch of the world of the Others.  

read in January; review scheduled for Feb. 19

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Fantasy/Alternate Reality.  March 6, 2018.  Print length:  416 pages.

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Whisper of Bones by Ellen Hart

Whew, this is the 25th book in the Jane Lawless series, but the first one I've read.

A Whisper of Bones involves PI and restaurateur Jane Lawless--an interesting combination of careers.  

From description:  Britt Ickles doesn't remember much from her only visit to her mother's childhood home when she was a kid, except for playing with her cousin Timmy and the eruption of a sudden family feud. That's why, when she drops by unannounced after years of silence, she's shocked when her aunts tell her Timmy never existed, that she must be confusing him with someone else. But Britt can't shake the feeling that Timmy did exist...and that something horrible has happened to him. Something her aunts want to cover up.

Britt is disbelieving and angry about her aunts response and hires Jane to find out more about the boy she remembers.  Britt's aunts rent rooms in their large old home to help make ends meet, and Jane decides renting a room might help her get to the bottom of the mystery.  

A fire destroys the old detached garage and during the investigation, bones are discovered in the root cellar.  Do they belong to Timmy?  The secrets are many and of long-standing.

An interesting assortment of well-developed characters.

Read in December, 2017; blog review scheduled for Feb. 16, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

PI Mystery.  Feb. 27, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Letters in the Mail and in Books

Two letter writing challenges take place in February--A Month of Letters and InCoWriMo.  I've done A Month of Letters before, but not this year.  I have been busy with catching up with mail I owed, some postcards to the grand's, a birthday postcard.  I love getting letters in the mail, and I love decorating envelopes and homemade postcards--it brings out the child in me--to cut and paste, paint, collage, etc.  

Finding a letter in mailbox is a treat I never tire of, and while it is exciting to get a decorated envelope, it is the message inside that means the most.  Some of my favorite letters have nothing on the envelope but a canceled stamp and my address, but inside is a handwritten message that catches me up with what is going on in a friend's life.

I'm interested in this book by Nina Sankovitch after reading Leslie Stahl's comment:

How sad to think our children may never get a letter from a friend or a lover, the art of both—the sentiment and penmanship—fading away like an old Polaroid. Nina Sankovitch’s lovely, elegant book about the intimacy of letters is rich with treasures from politicians, soldiers, mothers, prisoners, husbands, and wooers. It is a joy to read, savor, and remember.” – Lesley Stahl

I try to write my grands pretty regularly, mostly with postcards, so they will have had the experience of receiving personal mail addressed to them.  Only one of my grands has ever written back, but I treasure those few letters.  It is difficult to compete with technology, which is why I find the InCoWriMo term "vintage social media" especially appealing.
A postcard to my granddaughter.  

This is an excellent article:  9 Reasons Not to Abandon the Art of the Handwritten Letter

Some of  my favorite  books are written in epistolary style:  Dracula84, Charing Cross Road, Griffin & Sabine, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Historian, Sorcery & Cecelia....  And I enjoy letters written by famous people, and fan letters to authors and the replies, and The Graceful Envelope, and hand illustrated letters on Pinterest, and more mail art on Pinterest.

The next letter writing challenge is in April--The National Card and Letter Writing Month sponsored by the United States Postal Service.  Not that you have to wait to write letters or send cards through the mail.  I like the idea of setting my own challenges--a letter a week or two a month or whenever I feel like it!  :)

Do you write letters or send cards?
Is letter writing really too old-fashioned in the world of email and text messaging?
What are your favorite books about letters or written in the form of letters?

Friday, February 09, 2018

Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley and Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Death Below Stairs was recommended by Wendy, and when I realized that Jennifer Ashley also writes as Ashley Gardner (the author of the  Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries, which I've enjoyed), I was in.  Death Below Stairs is the first in a new series and is a bit cozier than the Captain Lacey series, but it was fun.  The first book sets up characters and situations, and I expect the next installment to be even better.

Kat Holloway is a cook, and with the help of Mrs. Beeton (kind of like the Victorian Martha Stewart), Kat manages delicious meals and a tight kitchen.  It was funny to see her recipes and kitchen techniques taken straight from Mrs. Beeton's Everyday Cookery and Housekeeping Book, while dealing with a murder and a plot against the Crown.

 A Soupcon of Poison is a prequel novella that gives some background on the main characters.  I may get around to it later, but simply for curiosity because Death Below Stairs doesn't actually depend on it and works well enough on its own.  The beginning was a little slow, but once I felt comfortable with the characters and the action picked up, I enjoyed the ride.  I look forward to seeing Kat, Daniel, Lady Cynthia, and Elgin Thanos.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing Group

Historical Mystery.  Jan. 2, 2018.  Print length:  313 pages.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper is the second book in the Aaron Falk series.  I still haven't read The Dry and now am even more eager to.  

From the book description:  When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.
But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.
The missing woman is Alice Russell, who has been helping Falk and Carmen Cooper with their financial investigation of BaileyTennants accountancy firm.  Falk has been pressured to get some contracts from Alice, and in turn, has pressured Alice.  He is worried and feeling that he may be responsible if her disappearance has anything to do with the investigation.

The setting in the bush land of the Giralang Ranges has to be considered a character for its inhospitable terrain and connection with a serial killer from twenty years ago.  But all of the characters come to life, especially the five women who get off lost in the bush, suffer accidents and loss of equipment, and whose personalities and histories begin to clash.

The story separates into two strands, the hikers in a day by day account, and the investigators whose search becomes more and more despairing.  The team-building purpose of the corporate retreat falls apart; secrets and hidden grudges surface as the women struggle through the hostile setting.  Even when four of the women manage to reach help, the question of what happened to Alice remains.  The force of nature is two-fold--that of the natural environment and of the personal natures of the five women.  Compelling reading. 

NetGalley/Flatiron Books

Mystery/Suspense.  Feb. 6, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson was inspired by the Slenderman meme and the resulting real-life case. Mister Tinder, however, is perhaps a more interesting character, charismatic and handsome, but just as deadly.

This is a creepy thriller that held me fast throughout the majority of the book.  Mister Tender, a popular graphic novel created by Alice Hill's father, fascinates a large audience.  Mister Tender, a handsome bartender, listens carefully to the complaints of his customers, then asks what they would be willing to sacrifice to attain what they want.

When Alice was fourteen, she is brutally stabbed by two of her classmates who have not only been influenced by the graphic novels, but have received letters from Mister Tender.  Yet...Mister Tender is a fiction.  Right?

Her father quits writing the novels, her parents eventually separate, and her mother takes Alice and her brother to the U.S.  

In the last two years, Alice has been able to establish herself in better circumstances.  She owns a popular coffee shop and a home, but still suffers from PTSD and severe, disabling panic attacks that can last for hours.

As the yearly anniversary of the attack approaches, Alice discovers that someone is watching her, invading her privacy, and has even established an online site that focuses on Alice and the attack.  The invasion into her life is chilling--the publication of her new name and address and prurient interest in her life terrifies her.

Moving to the U.S., changing her name, and developing her self-defense skills are not protecting Alice from the disturbing sense that things are going from bad to worse.  Very soon, the bad begins to happen and the worse is yet to come.

Even as Alice tries to fight her harrowing circumstances, the knowledge of her watcher is usually a step ahead of her.  

Sinister, full of menace throughout most of the book, Mister Tender's Girl took a few turns at the end that lowered my opinion.  Nevertheless, if you want a book that will keep you glued to the pages, this one will do it.

Read in Jan.:  blog review scheduled for Feb. 7, 2018.

NetGalley/Sourcebooks Landmark

Thriller.  February 13, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Everything Is Lies by Helen Callaghan

Two time periods and a twisty plot keeps Helen Callaghan's Everything Is Lies moving back and forth as a daughter discovers her mother's memoir after Nina MacKenzie's  apparent suicide.

After a call from her mother insisting she come home, Sophia reluctantly returns home the next day to find her father in serious condition and her mother dead.  The police assume that Nina attempted to kill her husband and then committed suicide, but Sophia does not believe it possible that her mother could have harmed Sophia's father or killed herself.

Upon learning that Nina had finally written her memoir, and that the manuscript is missing, Sophia is determined to find and read it.

When she locates her mother's notebooks, she is immersed in a story of Nina's youth and association with a charismatic personality and a house called Morningstar.   

Dark and full of secrets that Sophia could never have imagined about the parents she thought she knew, and yet...there is a final reckoning that is almost too much for Sophia to accept.

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

NetGalley/Penguin UK

Mystery/Suspense.  February 22, 2018.  

Friday, February 02, 2018

No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin

I'm still reading Ursula Le Guin's No Time to Spare.  Slowly.  When Le Guin was eighty-one, she started blogging, and the essays in the book were selected from her blog posts.  She died at eighty-eight on Jan. 22.

I mentioned on my other blog, that I was about half-way through the book when Ursula Le Guin died.  I stopped reading the essays for a while, but have returned to them,  reading one or more every day or so.  Some essays are light and charming--there are several dealing with her new kitten and his personality.  

However, her thoughtful commentary about aging, literature, men and women, the environment, capitalism, advertising/propaganda, and politics--these are the essays that engage me.    They make me think and question.  They require some time spent reflecting or ruminating and probably require more than one reading.

Le Guin's place in the world of speculative fiction is unquestioned; her works are classics that have won award after award and have influenced many other writers of science fiction and fantasy.  About her fiction, Le Guin once said something to the effect that entertainment if well and good, but "does it make them think?"  I've certainly been thinking about her nonfiction essays.

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Nonfiction. Essays.  December, 2017.  Print length:  215 pages.