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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

 Devastated by the loss of the fishing industry, the folks of the small Newfoundland village of Big Running gradually abandoned their homes to find work elsewhere.  The Connors, however, have hung on, trying to wait for the cod to return to their waters.  Our Homesick Songs is a beautiful tale of  tradition, the power of songs, and mythic family stories.  Loved it.

The above paragraph is from a short mention I made of this book on my other blog, and I intended to write a longer review here, but really, that paragraph encapsulates my feelings.

The writing style is a little unusual, but it doesn't take long to adjust and become part of the story.  Hooper's style works beautifully, almost melodically.  
The characters are wonderful--all of them, but Finn and Cora are especially inspiring for their faith in a future they go about working for in different ways.

I savored the experience of reading this magical and ultimately hopeful tale of a vanishing way of life and the struggles to hold on.  It is one of my favorite books this year.

Highly Recommended.

Read in May; blog review scheduled for July 31.

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

Literary Fiction.  August 14, 2018.  Print length:  336 pages.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mazes and Labyrinths

Mazes and labyrinths have such mystery attached to them--from the fear of being lost and confused in a maze...

 to the meditative process of walking a labyrinth as a spiritual exercise.  

I found this article that examines the way writers use the concept:  Myths, Monsters, and the Maze: How Writers Fell in Love with the Labyrinth.  You have to scroll way down to get to the parts that interested me, but it begins with a gift from a guide in Knossos (Mrs. Grammatiki) to a little girl (the author, Charlotte Higgins) and how years later, the guide and the grown woman began a fascinating correspondence about mazes and authors.  

I didn't realize the etymology of the word clue.

"The Minotaur’s lair in Chaucer’s The Legend of Good Women is “crinkled to and fro”, and “shapen as the mase is wroght”. To find his way through it, Theseus must use the “clewe of twyne” that Ariadne gives him. The word “clewe” derives from Old English cliwen or cleowen, meaning a rounded mass, or a ball of thread. Eventually it became our word “clue”. It lost its material significance, and retained only its metaphorical meaning. But still, there it is, hidden but present: the clewe is in the clue (and the clue is in the clewe). Every step towards solving a mystery, or a crime, or a puzzle, or the riddle of the self, is a length of yarn tossed us by the helping hand of Ariadne."

There is an interesting discussion of Stanley Kubric's The Shining and the three mazes:  the hedge, the model, and the hotel itself...and young Danny as a Labyrinth walker.  

The correspondence between Charlotte Higgins and Mrs. Grammatiki began with letters and then became emails:
In her last email to me, Mrs Grammatiki wrote this: “I sometimes imagine that Daedalus, when he designed his labyrinth, must have re-created the ridges and convoluted folds of his own brain in the form of a building, as if it were a self-portrait. Do you not find that an image of the human brain resembles a labyrinth? And if Daedalus’s labyrinth is a diagram of the brain, it is therefore also a symbol of the imagination. It represents the manner in which humans make associations, one thought following another in a long procession, from the edge to the centre to the end. Stories have this comfort to them: they have a beginning and an end. They find a way out of the labyrinth.”
 How I love the idea of the brain as a labyrinth!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson (and some interesting links)

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson is set in the same world as The Remnant Chronicles.  I've now caught up with all the books in The Remnant Chronicles.  Although Dance of Thieves started a little slow, when it kicked in, I couldn't put it down.

A YA fantasy with romance and adventure, likable characters, and secret missions.  The relationship between Kazi and Jase begins with anger and suspicion and quickly proceeds to secret attraction and respect, but there are suspicions even as they learn to trust each other.  Dance of Thieves is a YA novel with a certain innocent charm.

The pacing varies, and there are a few sections that could have been more concisely rendered, but truthfully, I didn't mind much as it was a world I became committed to and didn't want to end.

The plot is completed in one sense, but the last chapter is a kind of brief "preview" of what will provide the complication in the next book.  

Read in June;  blog review scheduled for July 26.

NetGalley/Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

YA Fantasy/Adventure.  August 7, 2018.  Print length:  384 pages.
Interesting Links:

How Minecraft Is Helping Kids Fall in Love with Books    
Read the book, then play the game.

The Great Thai Cave Escape?  Please Hollywood Don't Do This to Us

Nebraska Tribe Becomes a Solar Power Leader on the Plains

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Deepest Grave and The Last Hours: Historical Mysteries

The Deepest Grave by Jeri Westerson continues the adventures of the Tracker Crispin Guest, a degraded knight whose loyalty to John of Gaunt cost him everything.

From the book description:  "London, 1392. Strange mischief is afoot at St Modwen's Church. Are corpses stalking the graveyard at night, disturbing graves, and dragging coffins?"

I've enjoyed this series and watching Crispin's character become less surly and resentful as he has adapted to the changes in his life.  Of course, with the above teaser about walking corpses, I wasn't about to miss this one.

When Crispin is asked to investigate the revenants, he is a bit torn between skepticism and fear, but skepticism and curiosity win.  Jack, on the other hand, wants no part of the graveyard at night. 

Philippa Walcote (! from Crispin's past) also requires the Tracker's help, and a reluctant Crispin discovers a secret he never expected.  How can the two cases be related?

Despite Crispin's cynical attitude toward holy relics, relics continue to return to him. :)

Read in April; blog review scheduled for July 24.

NetGalley/Severn House

Historical Mystery.  August 1, 2018.  Print length:  224 pages.

From book description:  "June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands. "

I love historical fiction, but have to admit to being surprised that one of my favorite authors of dark psychological fiction has returned with a novel set during the first outbreak of the the plague. The Black Death was, really, the first dystopian situation.  

In The Last Hours, Lady Ann of Develish cuts her estate off from the rest of the world in time to prevent the disease from laying waste to her people.  Lady Ann is a strong character with a better understanding of disease and contagion than most from her years in an abbey before her marriage.  The enforced quarantine gives the people in the Manor a chance to survive.

Safety from the contagion is only part of the problem, however.  As time passes, there is also the threat of starvation.  Eventually, Thaddeus Thurkill and a few adolescents leave the safety of the Manor seeking supplies.

The novel has several stories going on and plenty of well-rounded characters, both good and bad.  This is a story of personalities united in survival mode.  Carrying on the dystopian idea, those infected by the plague are reminiscent of  zombies.  The infected carry death and no one understands how or why.  

I'm always in for survivor stories.

Well-researched, but modern enough in thought and language to create a fascinating tale of the endurance of humanity against the odds. 

The incident in which Thaddeus is frightened by a cat made me curious. From a brief mention I made on my other blog when I finished reading:  An interesting side-note:  The plague has devastated the countryside, entire villages dead or fled.  The Dorset countryside is largely bereft of the living when a character investigates an abandoned building that, unaccountably, has no evidence of rats.  Thaddeus is initially terrified when a strange creature jumps out at him. A demon with strange eyes?  The young man had heard of cats, but never seen one because the Church considered them familiars of witches. 

When I read the section about the Church associating cats with evil, I was surprised.  I'd never heard that before--which is when I did a little research and found plenty of authentication.   The Church at the time preached against cats, which were associated with witches and the devil and were often killed.  In some areas, cats were essentially unknown.  Some authorities believe that the prejudice against cats was one of the reasons the plague was so devastating in certain areas--the rat population had no predators.(from Bayouquilts)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and there is a sequel in the works--but then I love history and historical novels.

Read in March; blog review scheduled for July 24.


Historical Fiction.  August 7, 2018.  Print length:  547 pages.  

OOPS--didn't realize I'd scheduled two posts for the same day! 

The Beauty of Darkness, The Hawthorne Season, and Postcards from a Stranger

The Beauty of Darkness concludes The Remnant Chronicles trilogy.  Of course, as expected, Lia escapes Venda, but things don't necessarily go right after the escape.

Spoilers:  The Komizar is not dead.  It takes Lia a while to admit that the nemesis of her country (and the rest of this imaginary world) didn't die.  

There is relationship drama in this one as politics, duty, and personal feelings conflict.  There are some expected and unexpected situations that hold promise for more in this world.

Sometimes a little slow, I think there were areas that diluted the action; then the conclusion wraps things up in fairly short order, maybe too quickly.  

I'm glad I went back and finished the trilogy as it gave some background to Dance of Thieves, the new series set in the same world.  

Read The Beauty of Darkness in June; blog review scheduled for July 24.


YA/Fantasy.  2016.  Print length: 679 pages.  

The Hawthorne Season by Riccardo Bruni provided an imaginary relief from the heat.  Set in a small Italian town at a time when people are beginning to anticipate the end of winter, there is plenty of snow, numerous secrets, and hidden agendas.

Giulio Rodari has been placed under house arrest at his mother's hotel in the mountains.  Accused of murdering his former girlfriend, Giulio admits to stalking her, but has no memory at all of her murder.  The problem lies in his reaction to alcohol.  Giulio has only drunk alcohol twice in his life, and both times have resulted in loss of memory.

Giulio, an author/illustrator of children's books, doesn't want to believe himself guilty of the crime, and the only way to know for sure is to try to recover the blanks in the hours after he confronted Patrizia in a drunken rage.

Could some of the secrets in his small hometown have any connection? Although Guilio is an important character, there are other characters who are equally important.  The Marshall, Viola, his mother and her friends and frenemies have differing opinions about the possible construction of a waste plant in the middle of their venerated "old woods."  

An odd assortment of characters, small town secrets and rivalries, and a winter setting kept me intrigued from beginning to end.

NetGalley/Amazon Crossing.

Mystery.  Aug. 14, 2018.  Print length:  288 pages.

Cara has been caring for her father who suffers from Alzheimer's.  Her father was a strict and controlling influence in her life, but is now a sad shell of the man he had been.  Cara finally hires help in caring for him, and Mrs. P becomes an important addition to the household.

On discovering a box of postcards in the attic, Cara realizes that her mother did not die when she was two years old as she has always been told.  Stunned, Cara can no longer get any information from her father, but is determined to find out the truth.  Her brother is reluctant to get involved, and Cara realizes that he knows more about the situation than he is willing to reveal.

Determined to discover what led to her mother's absence, Cara pursues the few clues she has.  In the process, she learns some things about herself as well as family secrets.

Well-written and interesting, Postcards from a Stranger covers several absorbing dynamics:  family relationships, caring for a dementia patient, friendships new and old, loneliness and longing.  

Read in June.  Review scheduled for July 24.

NetGalley/Lake Union Publishing

Contemporary Fiction.  August 7, 2018.  Print length:  398 pages.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What Happened that Night by Sandra Block

Sandra Block's What Happened That Night is an intense examination of a brutal crime.  Justice or revenge?

After Harvard senior Dahlia is the victim of a callous rape, she drops out of school suffering from loss of memory and PTSD.  Eventually, she becomes a paralegal, and although the events of that night continue to haunt her, she remains unable to recall who was responsible.

Fortunately, Dahlia does have a good support system with her friends and makes an effort to endure the anger she continues to feel toward her unknown attackers.

Then a video of her rape appears online.  Dahlia is again humiliated, but her rage is fierce.  Now she knows where to begin to make payback for what she has suffered.  James, a co-worker, comes up with a plan....

If not entirely believable, you can't help but sympathize with Dahlia's determination to expose the young men who have gone on to live their lives without any repercussions. And Dahlia was not the only victim.  Of course, when the perpetrators realize that she knows who they are and is intent on unmasking them, they are not going to take it lying down.

Short chapters told from both Dahlia's and Jame's pov keep this novel moving rapidly.

NetGalley/Source Books

Crime/Suspense.  June 5, 2018.  Print length:  352 pages.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Expose by Danielle Girard

Expose is the third book in this series featuring Anna Swartzman, but the first I've read.

What I liked:  Hal.  The forensics.

Not so much:  Women tortured and killed by evil psychopath.  One psychopath isn't enough, so add Anna's ex-lover to the mix.  Oh, and a cliff-hanger.

Although I received this one from NetGalley, all three books in the series are available at KindleUnlimited.  

Read in June.  Blog review scheduled for July 17.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery/Crime.  July 24, 2018.  Print length:  378 pages.

Just for fun...
Wrong Hands | Cartoons by John Atkinson. ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Measure of Darkness, Spring Shadow, and Summer Storm

A Measure of Darkness (Clay Edison #2)

Last year I read Crime Scene, the first in this series in which father and son collaborate and liked it very much.  (reviewed here)  

Long a fan of the Alex Delaware novels by Jonathan Kellerman and having enjoyed the first in the Clay Edison series, I genuinely looked forward to A Measure of Darkness.  

I'm sorry to say that this one didn't do much for me-- in characterization, plot, or writing.   In some places it seemed to try too hard, in others, not hard enough.  There were a couple of spots that I had to reread because I thought I'd missed something.  

Maybe it was just me because the ratings on Goodreads so far are three 5* and one 4*.  

Read in May; blog review scheduled for July 13.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Crime/Mystery.  July 31, 2018.  Print Length: 352 pages. 

I reviewed Winter Song, the first in this series a while back.  Spring Shadow is the second stand-alone mystery in the Seasons Pass series featuring Houston Homicide Detective Noah Daugherty.  

Noah, who trained as a classical musician, is assigned as  bodyguard/band member for a singer who has been threatened.  Paige is an up-and-comer in the country music business and the mayor doesn't want any bad publicity associated with scheduled outdoor concert--so a reluctant Noah becomes a babysitter for Paige. 

An entertaining mystery that keeps you a little off-balance about Paige's past and the identity and purpose of the stalker. 

Noah and his partner Connor are engaging characters, and we get more personal background about each in this book.  Watching characters gradually develop from book to book keeps a freshness to a series, and the plot is interesting.  While I didn't like it as much as the first book, Spring Shadow kept me involved throughout.

Kindle Unlimited

Crime/Mystery.  2016.  326 pages.

There have been a number of baby food scandals over the years (check Clean Label for some studies that list some of the toxins and heavy metals in various infant products).  Susan C. Muller's Summer Storm bases her mystery on the murder of a CEO of a company whose products target those vulnerable children requiring special diets.

Noah and Connor investigate the original murder, but find themselves bereft of suspects as each person who may have wanted CEO Madlyn Gwinn dead--ends up dead in turn.   

Powerful people attempt to avoid exposure and a hurricane threatens the city as Noah and Connor struggle to unravel this mystery.  Connor, whose wife is expecting their first child, has a personal concern, and Noah, having set himself a deadline associated with his past, is fighting his own demons.

Another good addition to Susan C. Muller's series.

(Stories that bring to light sometimes overlooked news reports intrigue me.  I was shocked at the content of some respected baby foods and infant formulas reviewed by Clean Label.)

Kindle Unlimited.

Crime/Suspense.  2017.  Print length:  288 pages.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Death and Life of Eleanor Parker

I'm a fan of Kerry Wilkinson's Jessica Daniel series and have enjoyed several of his standalone novels.  The Death and Life of Eleanor Parker is the latest standalone to be released, merging mystery, YA, and paranormal.  It feels different from the other standalone novels by Wilkinson, but the premise hooked me from the beginning.

Eleanor wakes up and drags herself from a river.  Her memory of how she got there is a blank, but she is aware that someone held her under the water, drowning her.  She has bruises on her neck and chest marking the efforts of her killer.  

Eleanor can interact with people who see her and talk to her, but she doesn't eat, doesn't sleep, and doesn't feel pain.  She attempts to find out what happened at the party she attended before waking up in the river, trying to discover who was responsible for drowning her.  

A year previously, her brother's girlfriend Sarah was found in the same river.  Her brother Ollie went through a difficult time with the loss of the girl he loved and with the accusations, whispers, and rumors blaming him for Sarah's murder.  Even as Eleanor searches for her own killer, another young girl goes missing, and once again Ollie is under suspicion.

You have to be willing to accept the implausible and just let yourself be entertained.  The "suspension of disbelief" is required for a great deal of fiction, and although I questioned, I continued to enjoy this novel.  

Blog review scheduled for July 10.


Mystery/YA/Paranormal.  June 26, 2018.   

Friday, July 06, 2018

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

"The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them."  --from description

Orphan X is a black ops assassin trained from childhood by an off-the-books government program that, as so many of these secret programs do, goes awry.  When ordered to kill another "orphan,"  Evan Smoak decides the problems in the program run too deep to ignore.  Using the training and finances he has received, Evan builds an untraceable life.  

What to do with the skills he has mastered?  Since he doesn't have an alternate career path, Evan embarks on missions to protect the innocent, his only requirement is that whomever he helps must pass his Nowhere Man name and number to someone else in difficult circumstances.  One mission at a time, Evan pursues the despicable evil-doers.

What I liked:  Exciting and full of adventurous action.  Kind of...action fantasy.

What I disliked:  1)  The emphasis on the aesthetic treatment of alcohol.  I mean, Evan doesn't drink much, but when he does the alcohol is really special--distilled 7 or 9 times, blah, blah, blah.   2)  Too many, too detailed fight scenes.  While realizing the need to establish his fighting skills and variety of techniques, describing it punch by jab becomes filler rather than fun.  I get it.  Hurwitz knows what he's talking about and/or has expert researchers.

OK--so Evan Smoak is a high-tech Jack Reacher.  Hurwitz gets a lot of background and details established in this first book and it is fun when things are moving.  It took me a little while to decide whether or not I liked it because of the excess of information setting up Evan's knowledge of alcohol, martial arts, and weapons, but I did end up enjoying it. Don't we all wish for a superhero kind of vigilante to defeat and punish the bad guys?

Once you accept that this is fantasy-vigilante-hero stuff--Orphan X is great fun.  I liked Evan Smoak and cheered him on, but a lot of bad people die.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Techno-thriller.  2016.  Print length:  367 pages

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Independence Day

Bas Bleu posted 18 Literary Quotes to Celebrate Independence Day 2018.  My favorite is the quote by Peter Marshall: 

“May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” ―Peter Marshall

Each quote gives you something to think about, and in this country divided, we really need to examine what we think freedom and democracy mean.  I may be having trouble finding things to celebrate this year, but stopping to ponder each quote off and on all day may help me remember to hope.

Monday, July 02, 2018

The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

I just read the NetGalley ARC of  Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson, a new series set in the world of The Remnant Chronicles!  I have a review scheduled, but since it will be another year before the next installment, I decided to go back and finish The Remnant Chronicles.  

I read The Kiss of Deception as an ARC in 2014 and got involved with the characters and adventure.  Although I planned to continue the trilogy,  somehow--you know how it goes--I missed the follow up books.

When I finished Dance of Thieves, rather than wait a year for the next adventure, eagerly ordered The Heart of Betrayal.

The Remnant Chronicles in order:

The Kiss of Deception
The Heart of Betrayal
The Beauty of Darkness

In  The Heart of Betrayal,  I was once again immersed in the lives of Lia, Rafe, and Kaden and to a lesser extent Griz, Pauline, Ebon and a few others.  Yes, it is a YA fantasy, and there is a love triangle.  But the political machinations, the greed for power, the world-building, and the suspense!   There is plenty of deception going on in Venda.

Mary E. Pearson is a skilled writer--her descriptions are excellent, and I could visualize so many of the scenes.   I love that she does this without giving you too many details of the characters' appearances.  No washboard abs, although muscles are mentioned (the guys are trained as soldiers or in Kaden's case, as an assassin, so muscles are OK). 

 Lia's description is also limited; we know she is dirty and ragged after the terrifying journey to Venda, but no emphasis on details of her eyes or hair or figure.  Thumbs up on that.  One problem I find with so many YA books is the cliche descriptions--as if young adults are incapable of visualizing better images of the characters.  

Even the love triangle isn't really a triangle.  The Heart of Betrayal is escapism and entertainment mixed with apprehension and suspense.  The villain is chilling, but even he has a bit of a backstory that makes him, not sympathetic, but more understandable.

Short chapters made it difficult to put down.  "Just one more chapter" kind of thing, and I didn't get much done on any of the mundane household chores until I finished!  A great follow-up to The Kiss of Deception.


YA Fantasy.  2015.  Print length: 470 pages.