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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Lost for Words Bookshop

The Lost for Words turned out to be a pleasure.  While I'm usually tempted and often enjoy books about bookshops, Lost for Words was more than I expected.

The Lost for Words Bookshop, a used bookshop, comforts and shelters Loveday Cardew. Sometimes she may be at a loss for words, but words are not lost on Loveday, and her love of books has sustained her for over half her life. 

When Loveday's family is destroyed, she ends up in foster care and the loss of her family results in a happy and friendly child becoming an isolated and reclusive teen.  

At fifteen, however, a visit to the Lost for Words bookshop provides a sanctuary when Archie, the owner, offers her a job.  Ten years later, Loveday continues her mostly self-imposed and unsociable existence with Archie as her only real friend.

On her way to work one day, she picks up a book that has been lost or discarded and posts a "found" sign in the bookshop window--an inciting incident that will change the course of her life.

The story is told in past and present, and the traumatic events that destroyed her family are revealed in small doses.  In the present, boxes of used books begin arriving that connect to Loveday's past, a new relationship offers the opportunity for Loveday to expand her life beyond her small flat and the bookshop, and a past relationship becomes threatening.

I was expecting bit of romantic chic lit, but found a more thoughtful coming of age tale.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Bibliophile/Contemporary.  First published, 2017; June 19, 2018.  Print length:  304 pages.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Mix of Genres

The Last Trial by Robert Bailey proved even better than the first book in the series.  I really liked The Professor, the first book, but somehow missed the second in the series.  This is a legal thriller, but most of the book is about the crime, the characters, and the attempt to discover evidence of innocence. 

The main characters, Professor Tom McMurtrie and Bo Haynes, will have you rooting for them and worrying about them as they involve themselves in a dangerous situation.  Rick Drake, McMurtrie's partner, plays a smaller part in this book because of a personal tragedy. 

Football fans will find a comforting element as both the fictional McMurtrie and Bo Haynes played for the legendary Bear Bryant.  Real players like Jo Namath and Kenny Stabler who also played for Alabama under Bear Bryant get a mention for verisimilitude.  

I really liked this one and will have to get a copy of Between Black and White.  

From the description:  Former law professor Tom McMurtrie has brought killers to justice, and taken on some of the most infamous cases in Alabama’s history. Now he’s tackling his greatest challenge.
McMurtrie’s old nemesis, Jack Willistone, is found dead on the banks of the Black Warrior River. Willistone had his share of enemies, but all evidence points to a forgotten, broken woman as the killer. At the urging of the suspect’s desperate fourteen-year-old daughter, McMurtrie agrees to take the case.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Legal Thriller.  May 8, 2018.  Print length: 400 pages.

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews was recommended by Literary Feline who has been following the series.  It was something of a palate cleanser after the drama of The Last Trial to switch to a light and fun romp with werewolves, vampires, other magical creatures, and a sentient Bed and Breakfast.

Dina is the Inn Keeper who manages the Victorian B & B (The Gertrude Hunt) for otherworldly creatures.  She's a feisty woman who wants her Inn to be a success, but has some difficulty abiding by the traditional neutrality of Inn Keepers-- especially when some monstrous creature begins killing neighborhood dogs.  

Dina has a back story that is introduced and will be influential in future books, but mostly this is a kind of mashup of urban fantasy and science fiction with a light touch and plenty of humor.

I look forward to Sweep in Peace.  Yep, Dina has a magic broom.  :)

Kindle Unlimited.

Fantasy/Science Fiction.  2013.  Print length:  235 pages.

Alter Ego by Brian Freeman is the 9th book in the Jonathan Stride series, but the first one I've read.  

A film crew is making a movie of one of Stride's old cases and Stride is invited to the set.  Watching the filming is a little problematic for Jonathan because it reminds him of the terrible case in which he was able to save only the last victim.

The actor playing Jonathan Stride in the movie is a Hollywood legend and the screenwriter is the son of the man convicted of the murders.  While Jonathan is initially impressed with the actor's apparent warmth, he quickly realizes that career and image mean more to Dean Casperson than anything else.  

When an intern goes missing from the set, Jonathan is asked to find her.  As events develop, there are actually two story lines that may or may not be connected and plenty of twists and turns.  

Alter Ego functioned perfectly well as a stand alone.   I'm interested in more about Serena, Cat, and Maggie Bei, but only because I know they have been part of earlier books.  Their characters are pretty well-defined in this novel, but since I liked them, I will be checking on earlier novels.  There is also a character that is evidently a lead in another series (Cab Bolton), but helps Maggie when she is in Florida.

Read in March.  


Police Procedural.  May 1, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.  

Monday, April 23, 2018

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Julia Heaberlin's novels are set in Texas and radiate her attachment to the state and the wide assortment of people who inhabit it.  My favorite is still Black-Eyed Susans, but Paper Ghosts is and entertaining puzzle involving Grace, a young woman whose beloved older sister disappeared when Grace was twelve.  

Grace has spent the intervening years searching for clues, determined to discover what happened to Rachel.  Carl Feldman, a gifted documentary photographer, was once suspected of the murder of several young women across the state.  Now, he is an old man who suffers from dementia.  

Grace considers Feldman a good possibility to have kidnapped and murdered her sister.  She visits the home where he is being cared for claiming to be his daughter.  He agrees to accompany her on a road trip to visit the locations of some of his eery photographs.  At times, Carl seems a bit lost, at other times, you question the dementia diagnosis and worry about what Grace has gotten herself into.  After all, if Carl is guilty, she has put herself in a dangerous situation.

While parts of the narrative are fascinating, there are some slow and repetitive sections as well.  From Galveston to Marfa, the two tour the locations of missing women and of many of Carl's photographs.

I liked this novel despite some slow spots and an ambiguous conclusion, in which you learn some answers, but by no means all.

Playing Dead, Black-Eyed Susans, and Paper Ghosts, each have a character with dementia. Since there could hardly be a family in America who hasn't felt the heartache of Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, either within their own family or the families of friends and colleagues--it seems appropriate.

Heaberlin's acknowledgements include interesting personal comments about some of the elements that went into the creation of Paper Ghosts, including the grandfather who shot crime scene photographs; her friend, Texas photographer Jill Johnson; and the eery photographs of Keith Carter. 

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

NetGalley/Random House/Ballantine

Mystery/Suspense.  May 15, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza is the first in a series featuring DCI Erica Foster.  There are now six books in the series.

After the death of her husband, DCI Erica Foster is back in a new position.  In fact, she hasn't even found a place to live when her first case begins to take over her life.  

The prologue introduces the victim, her abduction and murder.  A few days later, a young man stumbles on the body of the young socialite in a frozen pond.  Erica has just arrived and hasn't even had time to take her suitcase to a hotel before she must visit the crime scene.

Erica is a strong woman and a capable detective, but she is still dealing with the trauma of her husband's death and her own sense of guilt and responsibility.  Nevertheless, she begins making friends and allies as she initiates  her investigation.  Unfortunately, there is also an officer who wants to see her fail and her superior officer doesn't provide consistent support.   

The victim Andrea Douglas-Brown is the daughter of a millionaire with political clout.  There are similar murders that Erica believes associated with the case, but they are of young immigrant prostitutes, and the powers-that-be don't want a connection that might sully the Douglas-Brown family.  

It is easy to cheer Erica through her challenges and to appreciate the cast of characters that support her in her battle to find the killer despite the opposition from the family and her own department.  

Read in March.  Blog review scheduled for April 20.  

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Police Procedural.  Originally published in 2016; April 24, 2018.  Print length:  396 pages.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

If you enjoyed The Girl with All the Gifts, you will enjoy M.R. Carey's The Boy on the Bridge set ten years earlier.  It is not as fast-paced, but the third person omniscient narrator gives fascinating insight into  the internal thoughts, opinions, and secrets of each of the major characters.

Although Samrina Khan and Stephen Greaves share the limelight as dominant characters, the novel is something of an ensemble cast.  Twelve people, a mixture of military and scientists and one adolescent boy, are sent out from Beacon in the armored vehicle/science lab named the Rosalind Franklin.  Their mission is to find something that will enable humans to survive the hungries, those infected by the Cordyceps plague.  Is there any place where the plague is inhibited by environment?  Any way to develop a cure or vaccine?  

In the close confinement of Rosie, the armored vehicle, tensions mount, personalities clash.  Month after month, the crew faces down hungries, takes samples, perform experiments in the lab, but fail to find any positive information to fight the Cordyceps pathogen, which unchecked, will mean the end of the human race.  

I don't want to say much more because I liked reading it without any spoilers or preconceived ideas.  The book works perfectly well as a standalone.  If you've read The Girl with All the Gifts, you already have insight into the world Carey has created, but it isn't necessary to understand or appreciate The Boy on the Bridge.  

The structure and archetypes are similar to the previous novel, the style is terse and analytical (well, you are privy to the thoughts of military personnel and scientists, not writers or artists),  yet even these these left-brain characters occasionally have their moments, and Carey includes some vivid descriptions of  setting.  I liked the present tense omniscient pov that gave insight into the reasoning of each of the characters, whether I liked the character or not.  

And then there is an epilogue.  Another excellent installment in this dystopian world, and I want more.

Read in January; blog review scheduled for April 17.

NetGalley/Orbit Books

Science Fiction/Dystopian.  May 2, 2018.  Print length:  392 pages.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dead Girl Running by Christina Dodd

Dead Girl Running is a strange amalgam of intriguing premise and plot holes.  Another book with a backstory inserted bit by bit into the main plot, Dead Girl Running had me alternating between suspenseful sections and confusion because not everything quite fit together.

I have three confessions to make:

1. I've got the scar of a gunshot on my forehead.
2. I don't remember an entire year of my life.
3. My name is Kellen Adams...and that's half a lie.

After a prologue that didn't appeal to me, I became involved with the characters and plot, only to pull up sharp several times with a "huh?"  Nevertheless, the suspense kept me intrigued until the last 20% of the book that just got too weird.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for April 13, 2018


Mystery.  April 24, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Blue Moon Gardens

We took a trip to Blue Moon Gardens in Texas. They grow their own plants at Blue Moon Gardens so the plants are always in excellent condition.  An added benefit is that they often have plants that I can't find in local nurseries.  

Last year my prize was the pygmy Japanese Maple like this one on their web site:

 Mine pygmy maple isn't as mature as the one above, but nearly a year later, it is coming along.  Unfortunately, the guy who trimmed the shrubs in the fall trimmed up the pygmy maple, too!  It is nice and bushy instead of airy and open :(

 This year we found another Japanese maple that I love, complete with open and airy appearance.  It came home, too. 
Where will it go?  It was already in a heavy pot.
Need to be sure before straining our backs again to put it in place.

We brought home some other plants as well--including two milkweed plants and a firecracker plant--both will attract more butterflies and humming birds.

Since losing the three huge birch trees, we are having to rethink some elements in the garden to deal with more open space and more sun.  Pros and cons to the situation.

When I tire of working in the garden, I'm decorating envelopes and postcards for National Letter Writing Month.  I try to include lines of poetry on each piece of mail to celebrate National Poetry Month.  Matching poems to envelopes or postcards and vice versa can be fun, but it can also be challenging.   

I wanted to use the lines from this Sylvia Plath poem because Mila likes Plath, but I had no idea how to decorate the envelope.  I looked online and at Pinterest for ideas, before I remembered that I had a stamp in my stash with a pagoda!  Perfect.  
from Bayou Quilts, my other blog
On occasion, I actually clean house  and do laundry.  Household chores are not this month's priority, however.  There are more important things to consider, both inside and out.  :)

Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Knowledge: A Richard Jury Novel by Martha Grimes

I've been reading Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series for years.  Her book titles are the names of real pubs in England, but the appeal is mostly in her quirky characters.  Her latest installment is titled The Knowledge, a pub known only to London cabbies.  Although her previous books are based on real places, this one may not be.  If there is no real pub called "The Knowledge," there should be.   

My interest in this one was piqued by "the Knowledge"--"The Knowledge is a series of tests which must be passed by all black cab drivers before they can get a licence to work in the capital.  Black cabbies must study some 320 routes and 25,000 streets and get to know them all by heart. 

They also memorise roughly 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest, from tourist destinations to museums, parks, churches, theatres and schools.

The process typically takes between two and four years to complete and has been described as like having an atlas of London implanted into your brain.
Black cabbie hopefuls must then pass a written test and a series of oral exams before they can get their licence."  (source The Sun)
Early studies have shown that the brains of London black cabdrivers had larger-than-average hippocampi.  New research shows that "that London taxi drivers not only have larger-than-average memory centers in their brains, but also that their intensive training is responsible for the growth."  (source The Scientific American)

OK--enough digression.  This latest Richard Jury novel involves cab drivers and a rag tag bunch of kids who help solve the murder of a young couple.  
from the description:  Robbie Parsons is one of London’s finest, a black cab driver who knows every street, every theater, every landmark in the city by heart. In his backseat is a man with a gun in his hand—a man who brazenly committed a crime in front of the Artemis Club, a rarefied art gallery-cum-casino, then jumped in and ordered Parsons to drive. 
With the murderer as a passenger, Parsons surreptitiously signals other black cab drivers and then the kids get involved in keeping track of the killer's escape.  Later, Jury enlists the aid of Melrose Plant (my favorite character, although he doesn't get as much play as I'd like) and Marshall Trueblood in an attempt to solve all of the twists and turns of the case.  

You must be prepared to accept a less than realistic characterization of the kids, but as usual, Grimes' latest Richard Jury novel is a whirlwind of crime-solving and fun.

Read in February; review scheduled for April 8.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

British Detectives.  April 13, 2018.  Print length:  662 pages.  !? I can't believe it was so many pages--I sped through it!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay

Our Little Secret is a dark love story, a fairy tale, but less Disney and more Grimm.  Well-written, slippery, and engrossing.  I did not "like" it, yet pretty much read it in one sitting.  As I sat with Angela Pettijean whose nick name is LJ or Little John (from her last name) in the interview room, I was uneasy from the beginning.  

Angela is surprised to find herself being questioned by Detective Novak when Saskia, the wife of Angela's former boyfriend goes missing.  In order to respond to Novak's questions, Angela insists on telling her story her way, beginning ten years previously.  

The story is convoluted.  Love and loss.  Jealousy and betrayal. Poor decisions.  Anyone who reads the news knows that while they may not understand the labyrinthine twists of human behavior, people do strange, impractical, personally destructive things.  

Angela is certain that when Novak understands the way events have unfolded during the past ten years, he will understand and believe her.  But will he?  He allows Angela to tell her story, but obviously doesn't trust her.  Angela's version is the only one we hear, and even as she presents her story, the jealousy is evident.  Saskia interfered with her life, and Angela frankly acknowledges it. trust Angela or not?  And if Angela is not responsible for Saskia's disappearance, who is?

Roz Nay doesn't waste anything; she wraps up this gripping novel in fewer than 300 pages and still tells a complex tale in which none of the characters come off particularly well.  A promising debut from a talented writer.  

Read in February.  Review scheduled for April.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Psychological Suspense.  April 17, 2018. Print length:  272 pages.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Two Reviews and Other Stuff

Are you familiar with Web Sleuths?  I first read about these online amateur sleuths who are involved in solving missing persons and cold cases in a Kathy Reichs novel a couple of years ago.  These armchair detectives have solved a number of crimes or found the identity of "Jane or John Does" and have made the news frequently.  (Boston Globe, BBC, Washington Post)  There are evidently a few online groups with this mission.

When NetGalley offered My Little Eye in which a group of internet true crime enthusiasts take on a serial killer in London, I was eager to try another fictional look at online crime solving.  

From book description:  A young woman is found dead in her bedroom surrounded by rose petals - the latest victim of 'The Lover'. Struggling under the weight of an internal investigation, DI Dominic Bell is no closer to discovering the identity of the killer and time is running out.

As the murders escalate, Clementine Starke joins an online true crime group determined to take justice in their own hands - to catch the killer before the police. Hiding a dark secret, she takes greater risks to find new evidence and infiltrate the group.
As Starke and Bell get closer to cracking the case neither of them realise they're being watched. The killer is closer to them than they think, and he has his next victim - Clementine - firmly in his sights.
The first in a projected series by Stephanie Marland (who also writes as Steph Broadribb), My Little Eye introduces the reclusive Clementine Starke and DI Dominic Bell, who will presumably continue to collaborate in future books.  

I liked 
--the premise involving the online sleuths.  
--Clementine's thesis concerning cuts to police departments and the possibility that civilian online groups might help solve crimes more quickly.

Not so much...
--I found some of the online group interactions puzzling, too antagonistic, or so controlling that I wouldn't have been eager to join them.  It's fiction, but I would have preferred more online camaraderie that could be continued in the next book.
--Serial killers have become a little overdone.  In fiction, most serial killers are attractive or charming and intelligent.  In real life, the majority seem to be not so bright-- and brutal-- without the rose petal stuff.  I'd love to know how many mystery/crime novels feature serial killers.  I know it is a lot.

I wonder what the next installment will be like....  I will give it a try, hoping for more of the web sleuthing.

Read in February.  Blog review scheduled for April 3.

NetGalley/Orion Publishing

Mystery/Thriller.  April 5, 2018.  Print length:  352 pages.

Blood Secrets by Gretta Mulrooney is the second book in her Tyrone Swift series.  Ty is asked to investigate a cold case from fifteen years earlier in which a teenager was so severely beaten that he remains little more than a breathing body.

As in the previous book, there is a case that works as a standalone and a continuing story arc involving Ty's personal life.  

As Ty investigates the sad case of Teddy Bartlett, he uncovers a number of curious circumstances and secrets.  The interviews with individuals who knew Teddy fifteen years ago, both family and friends, gradually reveal some unexpected avenues.  More than one dysfunctional family and relationship in this book, including the problems that are developing in Ty's personal life.

Kindle Unlimited.

Mystery/Detective.  2016.  Print length: 247 pages.

Garden -- I'm suffering from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  It's a real thing (!) and most people have experienced it, especially after unusual exercise.  Digging, trimming, planting, then a day or two later...I can hardly bend over to pick up the book I let slip to the floor.  Once I've bent over, coming back up involves a slow, creaking motion.  

Letters--April is National Card and Letter Writing Month and National Poetry Month.  I'm gearing up to send more letters and postcards this month.  

Mushrooms--I'm still making fabric mushrooms.  I think I may need a new crafty project, but these are fun to make while I watch Netflix or Dramafever shows.