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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

This is my first book by Belinda Bauer, but I will be looking for more.  Snap had me engrossed from first to last.

When their car breaks down, Jack and his two younger sisters are told to wait while their mother walks to phone for help; it is 1998 and not everyone had cell phones.  Ten minutes turns into hours in the hot car, and finally the children decide to get out and find their mother.  What they find is the dangling receiver of the emergency phone.  Eleven-year-old Jack immediately senses that something has gone terribly wrong.  

A few days later, the body of their pregnant mother is discovered; the family disintegration is rapid.  The father that Jack depended on is unable to cope, and Jack is angry.  Angry at the mother who "left" them and at the father who spends his time crying and who eventually abandons his children to fend for themselves.

Forced into being responsible for his younger sisters, Jack does everything he can think of to prevent authorities from realizing that the three children are now on their own.  The idea of being taken in by social services is unbearable, and Jack finds a kind of security from the most unlikely of sources.  His weird savior is Louis, who introduces Jack to thievery.  Learning to break into homes (Louis knows when the families will be absent), Jack becomes a skilled burglar and Louis acts as the fence.

While still a bit of a hand-to-mouth existence,  Jack is able to keep the family together and fed, and The Goldilocks Burglar frustrates police.  

When Jack is fourteen, he burgles a home that isn't empty and finds a knife that he is certain is the one that killed his mother.  This is the inciting moment that changes the course of the story.

Snap is an unusual mystery filled with intriguing characters.  Some of the characters that I initially disliked unexpectedly grew on me, that alone is a positive.   I found it an engrossing read that slowly connected several different threads.  In spite of the emotional aspect of a young boy doing his best to deal with his grief and the burden of responsibility to his sisters, Bauer manages to include some humor by including the unpredictable elements of human nature and relationships.   

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for June 28.

Highly Recommended.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

July 13, 2018.  Print length:  352 pages.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller.  (I wrote about this on my other blog in April.  I'm just copying and pasting instead of writing another review)  

It was wonderful!  Beautiful prose and a fascinating look at myths and gods from the point of view of Circe, daughter of Helios, who drove his chariot of the sun across the sky each day.  Circe (unloved child, nymph, sorceress, witch) exiled to her island tells her version of the gods and heroes and monsters she knew.  

Circe has a depth that the other, more powerful gods lack.  She has the ability of introspection; she makes mistakes and regrets them.  She resents the power of both the Titans and the Olympians and stands against them as best she can.

Her first rebellion was a kindness to Prometheus when--as a timid child--she brought him nectar in secret.  Prometheus, the god who aided mortals, is aided by the young Circe; a theme develops. 

A few excerpts...

At one point, Circe speaks of her beautiful loom, a gift from Daedalus, innovator and craftsman:  "I have it still.  It sits near my hearth and has even found its way into the songs.  Perhaps that is no surprise, Poets like such symmetries."

  Witch Circe skilled at spinning spells and threads alike, at weaving charms and cloths:  Who am I to spoil an easy hexameter?"  

She recalls a song she has heard of her meeting with Odysseus:  "I was not surprised by the portrait of myself:  the proud witch undone before the hero's sword, kneeling and begging for mercy.  Humbling women seems to be a chief pastime of poets.  As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep."

Later, in a conversation with Penelope, Penelope tells Circe:  "I am from Sparta.  We know about old soldiers there.  The trembling hands, the startling from sleep.  The man who spills his wine every time the trumpets blow."  I like that passage because I never thought of the Greek warriors suffering from PTSD, but of course they did.  
Madeline Miller's Circe is one of my favorite retellings of ancient myths.  I love the way different authors interpret the stories: telling the tales from one POV or another, adhering  to the original or expanding and enhancing incidents, and sometimes, changing outcomes entirely.

There are also some other wonderful retellings available:  The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and Weight by Jeanette Winterson are also great examples of modern mythic retellings; these are much shorter, condensed, but powerful.    Antigo Nick is a campy, amusing modern translation of Antigone by Anne Carson.

Do you have a favorite myth or modern retelling?

Read in April.  Blog post scheduled for June 26.

NetGalley/Little, Brown

Historical Fiction/Myth.  July 10, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Salt Lane by William Shaw

Last year I read Shaw's The Bird Watcher and enjoyed it for several reasons:  the bleak Dungeness setting on the Kent coast, the distinctive characters, the depth of plot.  Salt Lane is also set in Dungeness and DS Alexandra Cupidi continues her struggles to balance work and home life.

Alex isn't an immediately likable character, but she takes the lead role in this latest book, and she grows on you.  Often tactless, she says what she think often without considering the way her words could be received.  She's headstrong and her impulsive nature can make situations more difficult...and dangerous.

An excellent crime novel that tackles some of the current problems that society faces and blends characterization and atmosphere in a first-rate plot.  Two separate cases evolve and intertwine creating a suspenseful and thought-provoking whodunnit...and why.

Alex's partnership with Constable Jill Ferriter is developing into an appealing alliance and her relationship with her mother and her daughter also holds more possibilites.  

Whenever a second novel in a series appears, I wonder if it will hold up to the first--in this case, it does more than that.  Salt Lane gives promise to more stimulating additions to the series.

 NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Crime/Detective Fiction.  June 26, 2018.  Print length:  464 pages.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Wendy introduced me to this series a while back, and I read and enjoyed Death Below Stairs.  When NetGalley offered Scandal Above Stairs, I wanted to find out what Kat Holloway and Daniel and all of the characters introduced in the first book had been up to!  

I suppose both books can be classified as Victorian cozy mysteries.  The characters are an interesting mixture of above and below stairs, although the main character Kat Holloway is definitely below stairs as she is the cook in a prominent household.  

Daniel...well, Daniel McAdam is a bit of a mystery.  We know he comes from a rough background, but he has the ability to transform himself and be accepted in almost any role, from handyman to gentleman.

I liked that Cynthia and Mr. Thanos (above stairs) get to play a role in solving the mystery in this one and wouldn't mind these two graduating into even larger roles.

Tess is a new addition, and her character also shows promise of evolving.  

When I read Death Below Stairs, I didn't initially realize that Jennifer Ashley and Ashley Gardner were the same person.  I've read and enjoyed Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacy series set in Regency London.  Both historical mystery series develop interesting characters, are well-researched, and are entertaining.  :)

Read in May; blog review scheduled for June 20.

NetGalley/Berkley Publ.

Historical Mystery.  July 3, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages.  

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Providence by Caroline Kepnes

As I read the first few chapters of Caroline Kepnes' Providence, I was delighted and expected to love the book.  But...that didn't happen.

There was an abrupt turning point, and the novel took an unexpected turn that didn't work well for me.

from the description:  Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he's suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Including an H.P. Lovecraft element sounded interesting; however, the way the story proceeded was much less interesting than the initial chapters.  I didn't find it suspenseful, and I plowed through most of it.  

Lovecraft was a strange man, but I've never been particularly interested in reading his work.  I have been interested in the way his pulp fiction influenced other writers, though, which is why I wanted to read Providence.   The love of all things Lovecraftian was one of the weirdest parts of the book--the "love" of all the people who attended the annual Necronomicon festival in Providence and pseudo-philosophical stuff was bizarre.  

There was so much potential, and yet the book wandered around, repeating itself, and never truly examining the most interesting parts about Blair and his experiments.  It will please some people (reviews on NetGalley cover the spectrum), but Providence left me dissatisfied.

NetGalley/Random House

genre?  June 19, 2018.  Print length:  359 pages.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella and Some Links

Lately, I've been in the mood for ghost stories and decided to try Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella which was free on Kindle Unlimited.  

Ghost Gifts was an interesting blend of mystery, ghostly visits, and romance.  Aubrey has inherited a psychic gift and "sees dead people."   Sometimes her gift gives a sense of closure to the ghosts make contact.  But sometimes the connections are dangerous, and Aubrey makes every effort to control her contacts. 

In the present, Aubrey is managing quite well with her job at a local paper dealing with real estate, keeping her unusual talent a secret.   

Then her boss assigns her to work on the shocking discovery of a skeleton found sealed in a wall.  Way out of her usual purview.  Unable to get out of the assignment, Aubrey is partnered with the difficult investigative reporter Levi St. John.    

Aubrey is no shrinking violet;  she has worked hard for a normal life and has attempted to avoid unwanted ghostly contacts, but she has no problem speaking her mind.  Both reporters resist the partnership, but eventually, they work together, and Aubrey's gift turns out to be crucial to solving the murder.

Interesting characters, a well-plotted mystery, subtle clues that entwine characters and events past and present into a complex whole.

Kindle Unlimited.

Mystery/Supernatural.  2016.  Print length:  386 pages.   

I often collect links of interesting articles, then forget about them.  Here are a few that I found on an unfinished draft:  

For readers who enjoy the supernatural, this article on ley lines.

I've been following Steve McCurry's photographic blog for years.  The photos are from every part of the world and cover most human activities along with quotes.  The title is this entry is "To Light a Fire" -- with photographs of readers from Afghanistan to Yugoslavia.  I love his blog.

Wage inequality: A study of more than 2m books has revealed that titles by female authors are on average sold at just over half the price of those written by men. (Source)  The article goes on to say the study was a result of VIDa counts that foun a "skew towards reviews of books by male authors, written by maler reviewers."

Read a Book--it could save your sanity.  From a study by  The Journal of the American Medical Association: "researchers discovered that readers’ risk [of dementia] was significantly lower than non-readers."  YAY!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

What My Sister Knew, The Ghost of Marlow House, and True Fiction

Twins--their similarities, their difference, their relationships--consistently provide fodder for novels.  When you are a singleton, twins are a genuine curiosity, and novelists make the most of our inquisitive nature.  What My Sister Knew by Nina Laurin examines the strained relationship between a pair of fraternal twins.  

The dynamic between good-looking, smart, and dominant Eli and his less attractive and bullied sister Addie is cause for unease even during their childhood.  

When Eli, at thirteen, is convicted of a terrible crime, Addie's life does not immediately improve.  Years after the tragedy, however, Addie finally seems set for a better life.  She's in a good relationship and has overcome many personal demons.

Then Eli turns up again, and Addie's world begins disintegrating.  What does his sister know?

Read in May.  Review scheduled for June 5.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Suspense.  June 19, 2018.  Print length:  384 pages.  

The Ghost of Marlow House  is a fun cozy paranormal mystery.  Danielle inherits an old mansion that she hopes to turn into a B&B.  But in addition to the house and furnishings, she quickly realizes that she has also inherited a ghost who doesn't realize he's dead.  

Light and entertaining, The Ghost of Marlow House reminds me a bit of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.   Danielle needs the ghost to move on in order for her B&B plan to work. Eventually she manages to convince Walt Marlow that he is, indeed, dead.  Walt, however, is not ready to leave his home and enter the afterlife and persuades Danielle to investigate his death.

This is the first in a long series and reads as such in several ways, but I found it an entertaining counterbalance to some of the darker mysteries I read.  

Free on Kindle.

Paranormal Mystery.  2016.  Print length:  256 pages.

True Fiction is another book that lands on the light side of the scale.

From the blurb:  When a passenger jet crashes onto the beaches of Waikiki, bestselling thriller writer Ian Ludlow knows the horrific tragedy wasn't an accident.

Years before, the CIA enlisted Ian to dream up terrorism scenarios to prepare the government for nightmares they couldn't imagine. Now one of those schemes has come true, and Ian is the only person alive who knows how it was done...and who is behind the plot. That makes him too dangerous to live.

Comical and yet...I've often wondered, as I'm sure some of you have, if some fictional scenarios have not actually been translated to real life.  The idea that the CIA or terrorists  have taken ideas from fiction doesn't sound that far-fetched to me.  Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

True Fiction offers adventure, suspense, and comedy as Ian Ludlow, nerdy author, must think like his fictional protagonist if he wants to survive.  

Kindle Unlimited

Suspense/Humor.  April 1, 2018.  Print length:  248 pages.

JUST for Fun

We are all influenced by book covers, but take a look at some of the pulp covers of classic literature!  (source: Literary Hub)

Friday, June 01, 2018

Jar of Hearts and The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder

Jar of Hearts is a compelling tale of bad decisions.  When she was sixteen, Georgina (Geo) Shaw falls in love with Calvin James, an older man at twenty-one.  Angela Wong, Geo's best friend, disappears without a trace.  Kaiser Brody, the third in the group of best friends, later becomes a detective determined to catch a serial killer.

from the description:   This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who's been searching for the truth all these years.

Jar of Hearts is an edgy, suspenseful tale that has some grim elements.   While wanting to sympathize with Geo, it is sometimes difficult to do.  Geo is, however, brutally honest with herself.  While she keeps some things secret, she accepts and admits her role in Angela's death.  

The book follows Geo in the past and in the present, and the  events on the night in question are revealed a little at a time.  In the present, a new nightmare is about to begin.

The conclusion bothered me a bit and seemed a bit rushed, but this is an intense book that 
will keep you turning the pages, getting involved with the characters and their situations, and puzzling through your own opinions.

Read in April; blog review scheduled for May 29.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense/Crime.  June 12, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages.

The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder features thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart who is autistic, suffers from prosopagnosia (face blindess), and is a synesthete.   His autism and face blindness (he can't recognize faces and must depend on voices and clothing to identify even his own father) are definite drawbacks, but Jasper thinks of his synesthesia as a wonderful gift.  

Sounds are colors, and Jasper delights in the myriad colors of voices, music, even memories--his mother is cobalt blue.

What I liked:  Jasper.  It is difficult to truly imagine some of his autistic and facial blindness difficulties.  Although his conditions are natural for Jasper, they seem remarkably frightening for the reader.  Imagine only being able to recognize your father and distinguish him from others by the sound of his voice (and for Jasper, the color of his father's voice--a muddy brown) and his clothing.  All of the normal relationships in life would be so slippery!  

I enjoyed Jasper's curious approach to life and his charming character, but Harris also managed to make me imagine the frustrations of living with a bright child with so many complications.  Jasper's father does the best he can for his child, but he is also a single parent who must dress the same way each day to help his son recognize him.

Bee Larkham, the beautiful and unconventional new neighbor, captures the imagination of the entire neighborhood, but not always in a positive way.  She provides the impetus for some unpleasant situations.

Not so much:  The overuse of the color trope can get a little irritating.  There are also places where things drag; the story might be better served if it was a little shorter and tighter.

Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon in the use of an autistic main character.  Sarah Harris has written a book that makes you curious about autism and synesthesia, but you still wonder about how the accuracy/realism of some of the details.

I enjoyed The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder and look forward to what Harris does next book.

Read in March; blog review scheduled for May 29.


Mystery/Coming of Age.  June 12, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.