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Monday, February 25, 2019

The Last Woman in the Forest

The Last Woman in the Forest  by Diane Les Becquets.

Marian Engstrom works with a group that uses rescue dogs to detect scat that indicates species abundance and distribution.  The process allows for monitoring threatened or endangered species around the world.  

On an assignment to northern Alberta, Marian falls in love with Tate.  When they are on separate assignments, word arrives of Tate's death.  Marian is devastated, but as she becomes aware of inconsistencies in Tate's life, she finds herself with questions concerning the unsolved murders of several women.

Needing to have her questions answered and put to rest, she contacts a retired forensic profiler to clear her unwanted suspicions.  The pov shifts between Marian and Nick Sheppard, the profiler hired to resolve Marian's doubts.

The information about training and working with dogs used for conservation purposes is fascinating.  Marian's innate connection with dogs and Nick's deep relationship with his wife add to the depictions of the two main characters.  The suspense is a slow burn, and although you may suspect some of the twists, the novel is compelling.

This is the second novel I've read recently concerning dogs trained to detect scat for conservation purposes.  Christine Carbo's A Sharp Solitude also has a scat detection dog as an important plot element.

Crime Novels about Working Dogs  I haven't read any of these books, but will be keeping them in mind.  The list doesn't include The Last Woman in the Forest, A Sharp Solitude, or Margaret Mizushima's series featuring Robo, but does offer some interesting possibilities featuring working dogs.  

I also intend to look for Les Becsuets first novel Breaking Wild.

Read in September, 2018; review scheduled for February 25, 2019.  

NetGalley/Berkeley Pub.

Suspense.  March 5, 2019.  Print length:  352 pages.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

Her Father's Secret by Sara Blaedel

I read The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel last year and liked it.  

Unlike her Louise Ricks series, Blaedel has set her Ilka Jensen series in Racine, Wisconsin instead of Denmark .  When Ilka was about seven, her father abandoned his family in Denmark and moved to the U.S. where he started a new family.  Ilka never came to terms with the desertion of her beloved father.

When he died, Paul Jensen left his funeral home to Ilka, and she flew to Racine to finalize the estate and maybe find out more about her father.  The first book details her meeting with her father's new family (who reject her) and the problems concerning the sale of the funeral home. Oh, and a disappearing corpse and a decade old murder.

In Her Father's Secret, Ilka  continues to face difficulties involving selling the funeral home.  Worse, there is so little money available that even getting through pre-paid funerals is a challenge.  Ilka has found blackmail letters to her father from a woman named Maggie; someone is following Ilka; a feud between two wealthy and influential men becomes more threatening; Ilka's half-sister is seriously injured and her horses stolen; a woman is killed in a home invasion; and a boatload of uncomfortable and dangerous family secrets make this book much more suspenseful than the first book.  

A couple of unexpected twists at the end make me eager to read the next book.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing
Mystery/Suspense.  Mar. 5, 2019.  Print version: 320 pages.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Boys Who Woke Up Early by A.D. Hopkins

In the little Virginia mountain town of Early in 1959, high school juniors Stony Shelor and Jack Newsome get involved in adventures sometimes humorous and some times very serious.  

from description:  Jack draws Stony into his fantasy of being a private detective, and the two boys start hanging around the county sheriff’s office. Accepted as sources of amusement and free labor, the aspiring gumshoes land their first case after the district attorney’s house is burglarized. Later, the boys hatch an ingenious scheme to help the deputies raid an illegal speakeasy and brothel. All the intrigue feels like fun and games to Jack and Stony until a gunfight with a hillbilly boy almost gets them killed. The stakes rise even higher when the boys find themselves facing off against the Ku Klux Klan.

 I really liked this one:  the writing, the characters, and the plot.  Stony and Jack are friends with completely different personalities, but who complement each other in this story of growing up in the late 1950's in the small town of Early.  There are many episodes that illustrate the different time frame yet evoke timeless situations and there is a current of suspense that works with the overall theme.  

Reading like a memoir, The Boys Who Woke Up Early is an engaging novel that captivated my interest early and held it throughout.

Read in January; review scheduled for Feb. 19.

NetGalley/Imbriflex Books
Coming of Age.  March 3, 2019.  Print length:  256 pages.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

What if you discovered that someone had been writing in your diary, adding comments connected to your own entries?  What if one of your friends had been recently murdered when you discovered the strange entries?

English teacher Claire Cassidy has been researching the life and works of R.M. Holland, the reclusive Victorian writer,  and teaches at the school located on Holland's estate.  When her friend and colleague Ella is murdered, a note with a line from Holland's most well-known work is discovered at the scene.  

If this were not disturbing enough, the notes that begin to appear in Claire's diary are in the same handwriting.

From the beginning, this eerie novel with Gothic overtones and allusions creates a feeling of unease and uncertainty.  

Without revealing anything, I will note that there was one situation that I found bothered me, but aside from that, the novel kept me glued to the pages, doubting one character after another, and it was not until the author wanted the reader to figure things out that the villain of the piece was clear.

The Stranger Diaries was surprising in several ways, and I loved the Gothic ambiance, the three narrative voices, the connection to the fictional R.M. Holland, and the fact that I didn't solve the puzzle until Griffith's was ready.

The sinister and spooky ambiance was both unsettling and fun--in keeping with a modern Gothic.

The book is a stand-alone, but I'd like to see Elly Griffiths continue this Gothic mystery style or at least give DS Harbinder Kaur another case.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Feb. 18, 2019

NetGalley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Mystery/Gothic.  March 5, 2018.  Print length:  416 pages.

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Merciful Secret by Kendra Elliot and Other Stuff

 This is the third in the Mercy Kirkpatrick series by Kendra Elliot, and I'm still enjoying the series.   Returning late at night from her secret hideaway cabin (Mercy's prepper instincts are too strong to resist), Mercy  almost hits a frightened girl who needs help for her grandmother.   

Following the girl to a cabin deep in the woods, Mercy discovers the grandmother has been brutally attacked and is dying from her wounds. 

How does the murder of the old woman connect to the murder of a well-known judge in Portland?

The "secret" in A Merciful Secret makes an interesting twist to the story.      


The Guardian's Best Recent Crime and Thrillers Review-Roundup    I haven't read any of them although two are on my list. 

A book hostel in Japan where you can sleep in the shelves?   

  Book and Bed Tokyo
I've been doing some more on the white embroidery piece while watching shows on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime.  

Although this is a month of letter writing challenges, I have not been participating in either InCoWriMo (International Correspondence Writers Month) or LetterMo (Month of Letters).  In fact, I'm behind in answering the letters I've recently received, but since my husband is going to be out of town this weekend, I plan to get busy and answer my mail. 

Today will be a pajama day which means reading books, writing letters, maybe some binge-watching and embroidery, and plenty of snacks.  I'm prepared for self-indulgence.  :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler

Seattle detective Livia Lone is tracking down a pedophile ring with the assistance of an FBI hacker.  When startling links to a government agency turn up, Livia is warned off and the investigation closed down.

Outraged, Livia can't decide what to do--until she is targeted by two assassins in what seems to be coincidentally close to the timing of the investigation that was just closed down.

As it turns out, the hit on Livia was first offered to John Rain.  Rain, retired from black ops with a specialty in "natural causes," refused the job. 

I have not read the John Rain series by Eisler and was surprised at how he could bring in so many characters from the series and make it work, but he does.  Even though this is the 10th book in the John Rain series, it functions as a standalone.

Fast-paced and suspenseful, the novel makes the best of a large cast of characters.  

About the author: Barry Mark Eisler is a best-selling American novelist. He is the author of two thriller series, the first featuring anti-hero John Rain, a half-Japanese, half-American former soldier turned freelance assassin, and a second featuring black ops soldier Ben Treven. Wikipedia

And there is also a third series featuring Livia Lone.  The Killer Collective combines the characters from all three series.  It may sound complicated, but it isn't.  The book read quickly, and I couldn't put it down.

Also, of genuine interest to me, was a section of Notes at the end.  For each chapter there are links to articles that provided the inspiration for events in the story.  

Livia's sting was based partly on "The Takeover:  How Police Ended Up Running a Paedophile Site."

Remarks about Pentagon spending:  "Only the Pentagon Could Spend $640 on a Toilet Seat."

Other links on cognitive dissonance, the "hurtcore" subculture, Secret Service scandals (oh, yes, we've read about some of those), a link to Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear:  Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence (a good idea to follow your gut to avoid dangerous situations), Erik Prince's Plan to Privatize the War in Afghanistan which provided the basis for the OGE group, and on and on.  

The links give relevance to the plot, but they are also pretty damn scary because they show the dark side of a lot of things, and I've only listed a few.  

“The fun of Eisler’s super thriller is in the excitement, the chase, and the survival. The Killer Collective binds it together into a blazing adventure of espionage escape fiction, perfect to start the new year.” —New York Journal of Books

Kindle Unlimited.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Ann Cleeves New Series; The Dead Witch on the Bridge and The Familiars

I've enjoyed Ann Cleeves' Shetland series with Jimmy Perez (which she recently concluded) and her Vera Stanhope series (long may it continue), but she also has a new series in the works!  

I've recently finished two witchy books.

Gretchen Galway's Dead Witch on a Bridge is the first in a series (Sonoma Witches #1), a kind of cozy witch mystery.  Alma Bellrose failed as a demon hunter for the Protectorate and now lives in the quiet and isolated community of Silverpool in the redwood forest.  

When her former boyfriend is murdered, Alma finds herself in an awkward situation that could (and does) turn dangerous.  Various characters are introduced that will no doubt be further developed in future books, but my favorite is Random, the dog that appears on the morning after the murder and becomes quite attached to and protective of Alma.

The first in this series was fun and has interesting possibilities. :)

NetGalley/ Kobo books
Paranormal/Mystery.  Jan. 15, 2019.  Print length:  340 pages.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls is a much more serious book that takes a fictional look at the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612.  

Most of the characters were real people, and Stacey Halls creates a rich and frightening narrative with the character of Fleetwood Shuttleworth.  Fleetwood, a genuine historical figure (as imagined by Halls) is a fascinating young woman whose character grows and develops throughout the novel.

Having suffered three miscarriages, seventeen-year-old Fleetwood is suffering through her fourth pregnancy, ill and frightened that she will once again loses the baby.  After finding a letter written to her husband by a doctor who examined her, Fleetwood realizes that she may not survive this pregnancy, and her fear and distress is heightened.

 When Fleetwood meets Alice Grey, she discovers that the young woman is a midwife.  In her desperation, she insists on hiring Alice to care for her and to deliver her child, bucking the advice of others who believe a more experienced midwife should be engaged.  

In the meantime, Alizon Device is arrested and accused of murder by witchcraft.  Much like in the Salem witch trials, the frenzy of accusations increased and spread.  

As she loses trust in almost everyone else, Fleetwood comes to trust Alice Grey,  and when Alice is also caught up in the accusations and imprisoned, Fleetwood is determined to save her.

What resonates so strongly in the book is the role of women--obedient wives, powerless over their own wealth; the importance of producing an heir and the dangers of childbirth; women whose opinions are ignored, and who are easily blamed for things that have natural causes.   

Initially, I was distressed and worried by Fleetwood's vulnerability, but the book moved
 into a compelling story as Fleetwood and Alice work together to insure Fleetwood's health and a successful childbirth.   Then Fleetwood does her best to prevent Alice from facing the gallows after her arrest. 

There is also an understated, but intriguing element of the supernatural that gives some ambiguity to the story.  I liked the way this was hinted at, rather than emphasized.

Interesting tidbit:  Sharon Bolton's The Craftsman is a suspenseful modern take on Pendle Hill and the witches.

Historical Fiction.  Feb. 19, 2019.  Print length:  352 pages.

Monday, February 04, 2019

The Vanishing Season; The House of Secrets

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen is a debut novel that introduces Abby Hathaway, who now goes by the name of Ellery to keep her privacy in tact.  As a child, Abby was kidnapped and tortured before being rescued by a young FBI agent.  She is the only victim of a serial killer who survived.

As an adult, Ellery changes her name, moves to Massachusetts, and joins a police force in a small town.  Keeping her life as private as possible shields her from an onslaught of journalists who might want to revisit her kidnapping and rescue.

But as birthday cards begin showing up with cryptic messages, Ellery becomes increasingly uneasy.  And near the time of each birthday card, a local disappearance occurs.  Unable to get the local police chief interested without giving herself away, Ellery contacts the FBI agent who rescued her with her concerns that a new disappearance will be occurring soon.

I suspected the villain, and I didn't find him especially believable, but an interesting first novel from Joanna Schaffhausen.

The cover of this one bothers me.  Does anyone else think the cover is a little weird--under the word season?

ARC in the mail.
Crime/ Mystery.  2017.  274 pages.

Originally published in 2016 as Weeping in the Wings, the book is being republished under the new title of The House of Secrets.  

From description:  Sarah Bennett has two secrets: she sees ghosts, and she is in love with a spy.
When Sarah takes a job with occult expert Dr Matthew Geisler, he promises to help her understand the sorrowful spirit that seems to have attached itself to her.

I can't resist a ghost story and this one had several interesting features as the setting is during WWII at a home converted into a psychiatric hospital.  However, a lot of the more interesting possibilities were overlooked and the characters felt one-dimensional.  There was too much going on:  ghostly presence, espionage angle, psychiatric facility and mental illness, family dysfunction, a runaway bride, gas-lighting, romance, etc., etc.  

If only one or two of these aspects had received more attention and some of the others eliminated, I would have enjoyed it more.  Another problem for me is that this is the second book in the series, and there are many references to events in the first book which I have not read.  I felt really left out of background material.

Paranormal/Mystery.  2016; April 2019.  Print length:  252 pages.

Just for fun:  Mr. Bean in the Art Gallery

 Check the above link for more silliness.