Search This Blog

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Undefeated by Una McCormack

Una McCormack's science fiction novella was a thought-provoking surprise.  Monica Greatorex, a famous journalist, is contemplating the six decades of her life, the condition of the world she grew up in, the changes that have taken place,  the politics of the known worlds...and their repercussions.

She's traveled widely, reporting on wars, migration, and suffering, and now she is returning to the almost abandoned world that sheltered and cosseted her until she was twelve.  

As millions of refugees are fleeing to the Commonwealth and the Core, Monica heads the other way, despite knowing that "they are coming."  She is accompanied by her jenjer Gale, a genetically modified human being, Monica has a one-way ticket to Sienna, and from there, she will go to Torello, her small hometown.

The jenjer are mentioned, but not truly explained.  They are indentured servants, taken for granted, reliant on medication.  Until the conclusion, they are kept quite vague.  The technique works well--I was immediately curious, wanting more information, and  subtly prepared for what would come.  

On Monica's arrival to her childhood planet and small hometown, her memories immediately surface, giving her more clarity, more detail of past circumstances, and more understanding of how the Commonwealth insured its own decline.  The reflection on her childhood understanding of events has had a subconscious effect on her life that she only confronts and clearly comprehends at sixty.  

McCormack's understated approach to Monica's life refuses to give an overly emotional account of what will be the end of the worlds as Monica has known them.  Monica the journalist is in action, not writing and recording, but prepared to bear witness.

The beginning is slow and cryptic, but as soon as Monica and Gale arrive in Torello, the story takes a curious and more intriguing turn as we view events through the eyes of twelve-year-old Monnie. 

I definitely want more of Una McCormack.  

Science Fiction/Contemporary relevance.  May 14, 2019.  Print length:  112 pages

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Lovely and the Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and The Scholar by Dervla McTierney

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a new author for me.  Have any of you read her books?  She is evidently a prolific YA author (The Fixer and The Naturals are most mentioned).

The Lovely and the Lost may be the start of a new series.

from description:  Kira Bennett’s earliest memories are of living alone and wild in the woods. She has no idea how long she was on her own or what she had to do to survive, but she remembers the moment that Cady Bennett and one of her search-and-rescue dogs found her perfectly. Adopted into the Bennett family, Kira still struggles with human interaction years later, but she excels at the family business: search-and-rescue. Along with Cady’s son, Jude, and their neighbor, Free, Kira works alongside Cady to train the world’s most elite search-and-rescue dogs. Someday, all three teenagers hope to put their skills to use, finding the lost and bringing them home.

Both the idea of a child who lived wild before being adopted and the search and rescue dogs intrigued me.  I liked all three quirky adolescents as well.   Kira's struggle to overcome her past and to blend in to society are aided by  Cady Bennett, the woman who found and adopted Kira; Jude, Cady's son and Kira's adoptive brother; and Free, her eccentric friend.  

I enjoyed the book, and I'm interested in The Naturals series.   

Read in March.  Blog review scheduled for April 28, 2019.

NetGalley/Disney Book Group
YA Mystery.   May 7, 2019.  Print length:  336 pages.

The Scholar (Cormac Reilly #2) by Dervla McTiernan.

I missed McTiernan's The Ruin, but hope to pick it up at some point.  

Detective Cormac Reilly's partner Dr. Emma Sweeney stumbles across the body of Carline Darcy, heir  to a powerful pharmaceutical company.  Emma calls Cormac, and he arrives first on the scene.  In spite of possible conflicts of interest, Cormac takes over the case.

Pressured to keep the investigation quiet, Cormac continues digging--eventually questioning his decision to take the lead in the case as evidence that Emma may know more than she has revealed emerges.  Emma may be more than a key witness.

Compelling and twisty, the novel reveals some problems with the research at the Darcy laboratories, the callousness and corruption of Carline's rich and powerful grandfather, and the grief of a fifteen-year-old boy who is searching for his missing sister.

Read in March.  Blog review scheduled for April 28, 2019.

NetGalley/Penguin Group
Crime/Police Procedural.  May 14, 2019.  Print length:  377 pages.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Greenway by Jane Adams, Secrets Never Die by Melinda Leigh, and Mr. Scarletti's Ghost by Linda Strattman

Cassie Maltham's husband Fergus has persuaded her to visit rural Norfolk where twenty years earlier Cassie's cousin disappeared.  The children didn't want to be late getting home and took a shortcut through the Greenway, associated in local myth and legend as a portal to a spiritual world.  

When the girls fail to arrive home, a search for them eventually finds Cassie unconscious, but Suzie isn't with her.

Ten-year-old Cassie has no memory of the incident and is unable to explain what happened.  Frantic searches by family, villagers, and the police find no trace of Cassie's cousin, and the case remained unsolved.

For twenty years, nightmares have troubled Cassie, and other emotional problems have circumscribed her life.  Fergus thinks vacationing with friends in the area will help Cassie put the trauma that has haunted her for twenty years to bed.

Soon after their arrival, however, another child disappears in theGreenway--and there are similarities to the disappearance of Suzie Ashmore.  DI Mike Croft  with his sergeant and retired DI Tynan (who worked the case of Suzie Ashmore twenty years previously) do their best to find Sara Jane, the missing child.

Is it a coincidence that Cassie Maltham is present at both disappearances?  

The Greenway, first published in 1995, is the first in Jane Adam's Mike Croft series.  Read in February.

NetGalley/Joffe Books
Police Procedural.  March 12, 2019.  Print length:  266 pages.

 Secrets Never Die is the fifth in Melinda Leigh's Morgan Dane series, and although I have not read any of the previous books, this worked well as a standalone.  

from description:   When a retired sheriff’s deputy is shot to death in his home, his troubled teenage stepson, Evan, becomes the prime suspect. Even more incriminating, the boy disappeared from the scene of the crime.

 The plot was interesting, and I quickly became invested in Evan and his situation.  Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger are called in by Evan's mother.  

Tension is high--the reader knows that Evan is innocent, but the killer wants Evan dead before he has a chance to tell what happened.   

What did not work as well for me is a sense of formula and the fact that the characters of Morgan and Lance seemed based on a romantic and family stereotype rather than in depth characterization.

Kindle Unlimited
Detective Fiction.  March, 2019.  Print length:  330 pages.

The unusual protagonist made Mr. Scarletti's Ghost particularly interesting.  Mina Scarletti has a severe form of scoliosis, probably an S curve, that has left her body twisted and often painful.  Her tiny, twisted body evokes pity and a little revulsion in others , but Mina is quite content with her life and exhibits no self-pity; she is bright, has a lively imagination and sense of humor, and is a published author (of horror stories she doesn't want her family to know about).

Victorian Brighton was a tourist mecca for recreational bathing, for spa treatments, and for various medical problems.  The Palace Pier, the West Pier, the Royal Pavilion remain as attractions today.  As spiritualism began its rise, Brighton was ready for the new entertainment provided by mediums.

When Mina's mother becomes interested in spiritual healing by Mr. Bradley and the seances of medium Miss Eustace, skeptical Mina initially attempts a non-judgmental approach.  As long as these performances provide entertainment, she isn't concerned.   The fact that they draw her mother from her mourning, giving her an interest and encouraging her social life seems a positive thing.  Although  the healing and seances require no payment, it is apparent that "small gifts" are accepted--at which point, Mina becomes concerned that her mother and her friends are being exploited, and she does some research.

Convinced that Miss Eustace is a fraud, Mina attempts to discover the trickery involved and expose Miss Eustace.  It turns out to be more difficult than she imagines--those who believe so want to believe, and even some respected scientists of the day have become converts.  

The research is thorough and references to the real scientists who became interested in spiritualism (as converts or debunkers) and the medium D.D. Homes, give verisimilitude to the story.

Definitely not a thriller, but an intriguing protagonist and an absorbing look at the spiritualist craze that swept across America and Europe.  I will be looking for the next in the series.

Sapere Books
Historical Fiction/Spiritualism.  2018.  Print length:  358 pages.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Tick Tock

Tick Tock by Mel Sherratt is the second in the Grace Allendale series, although I have not read   Hush Hush, the first one.

from description:

In the city of Stoke, a teenage girl is murdered in the middle of the day, her lifeless body abandoned in a field behind her school.
Two days later, a young mother is abducted. She’s discovered strangled and dumped in a local park.
DS Grace Allendale and her team are brought in to investigate, but with a bold killer, no leads and nothing to connect the victims, the case seems hopeless. It’s only when a third woman is targeted that a sinister pattern emerges. A dangerous mind is behind these attacks, and Grace realises that the clock is ticking…
Can they catch the killer before another young woman dies?

For Grace and her team there is little to go on--but for the reader, the anonymous voice that appears in occasional interspersed chapters offers some clues.

Are the murders the work of a copy cat (that killer is in prison), a new serial killer, or something else entirely?  There is a fresh concept in this one, and the reader is allowed to glean some information from the chapters with the anonymous female voice that appears in certain chapters.

Read in March; blog review scheduled for April 19.

NetGalley/Avon Books UK
Crime/Police Procedural.  May 2, 2019.  Print length:  385 pages.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Prisoner of Midnight by Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly's Prisoner of Midnight is the eighth book in the James Asher series.  While the series is billed as James Asher, Lydia Asher often plays an equal or larger part, as does the vampire Don Simon Ysidro.

The series begins with Those Who Hunt the Night, which I admit still remains one of my favorites in the series.

In this latest book, Don Ysidro has been drugged and taken captive and is being shipped to America.  Lydia joins the voyage to find him, and to either free him or kill him, whichever becomes necessary.

Not my favorite in the series, but an interesting twist at the end that makes me eager for the next book.

Read in January; review scheduled for April 17.

NetGalley/Severn House.

Fantasy/Vampires.  May 1, 2019.  Print length: 256 pages.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bones of the Earth, Girl Most Likely, Shattered Dreams

Bones of the Earth by Eliot Pattison. I read the first book in this series when it first came out nearly 20 years ago, and although sadly I've missed some of the more recent installments, Pattison's Inspector Shan series is one of the best series out there.  Beginning with The Skull Mantra in 2000, the series ends with Bones of the Earth , the 10th and final book in the series.  

Inspector Shan, a disgraced Beijing investigator, was sent to a Chinese gulag in Tibet in the first book.  Shan is horrified by the treatment of the Tibetan monks and intrigued by the courage and calm acceptance the monks exhibit.  In each successive book, Shan's situation improves as he proves himself a skillful investigator and useful to Colonel Tan.

In Bones of the Earth, Shan witnesses the execution of a Tibetan, then finds himself investigating the deaths of an American woman and an archaeologist, and realizes that the executed Tibetan was not guilty of corruption, but a witness to the murders of the woman and the archaeologist who were trying to prevent the destruction of a Tibetan holy site.  As usual, Shan is in a precarious situation as he attempts to bring the guilty to justice.

While I'm sad to see this series end, I'm happy that the conclusion provides a sense of hope for Shan and the people he loves.  I was pleased to see a couple of characters from earlier books make reappearances.  And I loved Tara, the goat!

This is an excellent series with characters the have depth and dimension, complex mysteries and investigations, and exemplary research and knowledge of Tibet and its people.  

Highly recommended.  To understand why Eliot Pattison writes about Tibet.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Mystery/Crime.  March 26, 2019.  Print length:  352 pages.

Max Allan Collins' Girl Most Likely has received mixed reviews on Goodreads (from 2-5 stars).  It starts with a brutal murder told in the first person, and the murderer voices his concerns about his next victim(s) in several other chapters.  Who and why?

Set in Galena, Illinois, much is made of the Scandinavian roots of Krista Larson, the young woman police chief of Galena.  There is an awful lot of "virtue signaling," a phrase I've not heard of before, but was actually in need of for a recent novel.  Thanks to reviewer Glen for providing me with the perfect way to describe an author's tendency to keep pounding the characteristics of a good character as if I needed constant reminding.

There are WAY too many details of clothing, which irritated me as well.  Yes, clothing details can be revealing, but details for every item, for almost every character feels like filler.

OK, Krista must discover the guilty party among her former classmates when a murder during their ten-year reunion occurs. 

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer
Crime/ Police Procedural.  April 1, 2019.  Print length:  272 pages.  

I was hoping for something in the line of Craig Johnson's book, but Shattered Dreams and it's protagonist Sheriff Virgil Dalton didn't fulfill that hope.  On the other hand, the reviews in Goodreads at this point are all 5 stars, so I'd suggest that it just wasn't a good fit for me.

Shattered Dreams annoyed me with the constant references of how good a character was (because once wasn't enough for me to understand) and with dialogue that turned into philosophical musings rather than conversation (because everyone I know talks like that). Thankfully, Glen's term of "virtue signaling" is perfect.

Obviously, the series is loved by many readers, but not every book fits every reader, and I'll stick with Craig Johnson and Longmire for my western mysteries.

NetGalley/Beyond the Page Publishing
Crime/Western.  March 22, 2019.  Print length:  297 pages.

------------National Letter Writing Month--------------
a mix of letters and postcards

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

April Reading and Writing

I've been reading such a variety of books lately:  fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, mystery, history.

Zora and Langston is proving a much slower read than I would have thought.  There are so many interesting elements about the Harlem Renaissance, about Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes and their backgrounds and their writing that I find it strange that I keep putting it down and reading something else.  Maybe it is that creepy vibe concerning Charlotte Osgood Mason, their patron, that puts me off.  Maybe it is that I know Zora and Langston's friendship will end badly.  Maybe it has something to do with details that slow down the narrative, i.e. concerning the trip through the South.  

Vow of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson was great fun, after I finally settled in.  Dance of Thieves, the first in the series, was a fantasy full of action and suspense with well-drawn characters, and Vow of Thieves was as good or better.  I'm working on the review which will be scheduled for closer to the publication date in August, but I loved this YA fantasy.

If you are interested in WWII, The Liberation of Paris by Jean Edward Smith is one of those nonfiction histories that wouldn't let me read slowly.  Usually nonfiction is a slower process for me, but the way Eisenhower, De Gaulle, and Von Choltitz managed to keep Paris from being destroyed was fascinating reading.  Hitler wanted Paris "defended to the last man" and the city left in rubble, but thankfully the destruction of the city was avoided by some serious maneuvering on the parts of three men.  (Not without the help of others.)

I've written and scheduled this review, but for those interested in WWII, I highly recommend it.

Candace Robb's A Conspiracy of Wolves is as good as her previous books in the Owen Archer series set in the 14th century.  Her research is impeccable, and her characters, plots, and writing make her one of my favorite historical mystery writers.  

These are my favorites so far this month; there have been a couple of others that were good.
This is National Letter Writing Month and National Poetry Month, and I've been writing letters and reading poetry.  Well, I do some of both every month, but this month I'm trying to do more.   I've also included some excerpts from song lyrics on some of my mail because I do think Paul Simon is a poet.  You can find April's first outgoing mail at Bayou Quilts.

And since I found some Will Rogers postage stamps, using quotes from Will Rogers illustrates how little people and politics have changed: 

“Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people that they don't like.” 

“I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

Dreyer's English was everything I expected from the reviews and more.  It was educational, interesting, and funny--unlike the case with most grammar and style books.  

Not at all fond of "grammar jargon," Dreyer makes the case that reading is the best way to learn grammar, syntax, and usage.  Not that he is discarding all rules; he is steadfast in his belief in many of them, but he is also aware of the importance of an author's individual style and the way the language is changing.  Dreyer's wry, witty approach to clarity and style finds him sometimes reversing himself with no apology.  

He upholds my own thoughts about the Oxford--or series--comma ("Only godless savages eschew the use of the series comma"), the use of fragments, the occasional comma splice or split infinitive, and the awkwardness of attempting to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.  He includes the quote attributed to Winston Churchill:  Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put. 

And (yes, you can begin a sentence with "and") the footnotes are often even better than the text.  

I believe I may need a physical copy of this one.  As both a reference and a pleasure.  (fragment noted)

NetGalley/Random House
Grammar/Style.  2019.  Print length:  291 pages.