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Saturday, August 31, 2019

See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and The Starlight Claim

Billed as something for fans of Craig Johnson, I couldn't help but have high hopes for this one.  In the end, though, the book didn't suit me...or I didn't suit the book. 

See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (tentative connection to content) featuring Iraqi War veteran Tommy Smith is the third book in the series.  A missing ten-year-old girl, a corpse of a missing embezzler, and a sinister owner of a "titty bar" and abuser of women and underage girls, an ineffectual sheriff, and plenty of dead folks.  

Although not a book that I wanted to abandon, I had trouble connecting with the characters on more than a superficial basis and had little confidence in the plot.  

There are a lot of admirers of this series, but ultimately, it wasn't a good fit for me.

Read in May; blog review scheduled for Aug. 31, 2019

NetGalley/ Skyhorse Publishing
Crime.  Sept. 17, 2019.  Print length:  288 pages.

The Starlight Claim was an exciting survival adventure.  Nate didn't intend to make the trip to the cabin alone, but when his friend is grounded,  he decides not to back out.  But a blizzard sets in and in subzero temperatures, Nate must not only survive the weather, but must outwit escapees from a maximum security prison who have taken refuge in his family's cabin.  Thanks to his father, Nate is not without resources, both physical and mental.

from description:  Four months after his best friend, Dodge, disappeared near their families’ camp in a boat accident, Nate is still haunted by nightmares. He’d been planning to make the treacherous trek to the remote campsite with a friend — his first time in winter without his survival-savvy father. But when his friend gets grounded, Nate secretly decides to brave the trip solo in a journey that’s half pilgrimage, half desperate hope he will find his missing friend when no one else could. What he doesn’t expect to find is the door to the cabin flung open and the camp occupied by strangers: three men he’s horrified to realize have escaped from a maximum-security prison. Snowed in by a blizzard and with no cell signal, Nate is confronted with troubling memories of Dodge and a stunning family secret, and realizes that his survival now depends on his wits as much as his wilderness skills. As things spiral out of control, Nate finds himself dealing with questions even bigger than who gets to leave the camp alive.

Nate discovers an unexpected ally, but not a benevolent or selfless one.  

Although the main character is a teenager, I didn't realize at first that this was a YA novel; however, as with any good book,  The Starlight Claim will grab your interest and hold it throughout.

Read in May;  blog review scheduled for Aug. 31, 2019

NetGalley/Candlewick Press
YA/Suspense.  Sept. 10, 2019.  Print length:  240 pages

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Cold Way Home by Julia Keller, Tripwire by Lee Child, The Other Side of Fear and Desperate Measures by Kennedy Hudner

Bitter River was my introduction to Acker's Gap, West Virginia and Bell Elkins.  Acker's Gap, a small town in Appalachia must deal with the problems of poverty, unemployment, and drugs that have typified areas of Appalachia.   The Cold Way Home  is the 8th book in the series, and an awful lot has happened to the characters since Bitter River.  (I intended to continue with the series, but somehow never did.)

Although I missed all the books in between, The Cold Way Home can be read as a stand-alone as the plot is contained within the pages of the novel.  

At least ten years have past since Bitter River, and Bell has had quite a few live changes:  she is no longer the county prosecutor, her daughter is grown, Nick Fogleman has retired and there is a new sheriff.  The lives of the characters have continued and situations have changed--as they do in the normal course of living.

Currently, Bell, Nick , and Jake Oakes have formed a small detective agency, often assisting the sheriff and prosecutor when they are overwhelmed with other problems.  The three decide to take the case of a missing young woman: Dixie Sue is nineteen, but "simple" as her mother tells Bell.   

Someone has seen Dixie Sue and her new boyfriend in the woods near Wellwood, a psychiatric hospital that burned to the ground in the 1960's, and when Bell treks up the ruins of the hospital, she discovers the body of a woman.  The body is face down, and Bell assumes it is Dixie Sue, but once the sheriff and coroner arrive, the body turns out to be Darla Gilley.  

Who would want to kill Darla?  The detective team gets involved with the investigation and all kinds of secrets eventually come to light--especially concerning the hospital itself and those who worked there.

The early treatment of the mentally ill was especially grotesque, and patients were committed for reasons that were not always medical.  Although Wellwood may be a fictional facility, Walter F. Freeman was a real person and practiced until 1967.  Spoiler:  Walter Freeman charged just $25 for each procedure that he performed.[8] After four decades Freeman had personally performed as many as 4,000[11][12][13] lobotomy surgeries in 23 states, of which 2,500 used his ice-pick procedure,[14] despite the fact that he had no formal surgical training.[2] In February 1967, Freeman performed his final surgery on Helen Mortensen.[6]  

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Mystery.  August 20, 2019.  Print length:  320 pages.

Tripwire by Lee Child.  I thought I had read all the books in the Jack Reacher series, then realized I had missed one.  Back up and catch up.

Starts in Key West, ends up in New York.  Reacher actually made an effort to try giving up his nomadic lifestyle.  

Reacher isn't a comic book hero, but his skills are at least as remarkable and require the reader to just give in and enjoy the ride.  I'm addicted to Reacher.

I'm caught up with this series now, and I'm eagerly awaiting Blue Moon which will be out in October.

Thriller.  1999.  Print length:  586 pages.

I'm also caught up with Kennedy Hudner's Alarm of War military science fiction/space opera series.  I read Alarm of War I several years ago, and this summer I picked up The Other Side of Fear and Desperate Measures.  And so the trilogy is concluded.  Exciting and suspenseful--I couldn't put them down.  Mr. Hudner, what now?

Monday, August 26, 2019

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke

Attica Locke's Heaven, My Home is the second in her Hwy 59 series.  
U.S. Route 59 (US 59) is a north–south United States highway (though it was signed east–west in parts of Texas). A latecomer to the U.S. numbered route system, US 59 is now a border-to-border route, part of NAFTA Corridor Highway System. It parallels U.S. Route 75 for nearly its entire route, never much more than 100 miles (160 km) away, until it veers southwest in Houston, Texas. Its number is out of place since US 59 is either concurrent with or entirely west of U.S. Route 71.

Although the highway stretches from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada, Locke is concerned with the portions within her native Texas.

 I loved Blue Bird, Blue Bird and Texas Ranger Darren Matthews, and I would suggest beginning with Blue Bird as the second book (Heaven, My Home) resumes shortly thereafter.  It isn't necessary, but the background of Darren Matthews as a black Texas Ranger raised by his uncles adds a great deal to the character.  

In Blue Bird, Darren hides a gun used by an old man to kill Ronnie Malvo, breaking the law and contravening the values his uncles have tried to instill in him.  Ronnie Malvo, member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, was a violent man and few people mourned his death. The reader can't help but think Darren was right in trying to protect the old man who killed Malvo, but it upsets his sense of duty and leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.  

Darren's new case involves a missing boy in an isolated community on Caddo Lake (25,400 acre lake and wetland on the border of Texas and Louisiana).   Again, there is an association with the Aryan Brotherhood and a bunch of white supremacists.  The uncomfortable fact of racial tension, distrust and betrayal is not limited to the white supremacists, it is also endemic to the culture of the area in a traditional way that is almost subconscious.  

Darren's character has been altered by his own actions in the previous book, and I found it harder to empathize with him in this book, but he is human and despite his failures, he still strives to understand himself and his relations with others.   

A complex plot with complex characters, Heaven, My Home addresses a number of issues society is dealing with currently; none of these issues are new, but they have certainly become more "acceptable" in the last few years.  Darren, too, is having to consistently evaluate his feelings at overt and covert racism directed at him , including the unacknowledged, often unintended, racism of his boss.  Recommended.

Read in July.  Blog review scheduled for Aug. 26, 2019.

Mystery/Thriller.  Sept. 12, 2019.  Print length:  304 pages.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Some Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Witchy, Vampire, Werewolf Stuff

I read and enjoy a variety of genres.  Back in March, I found Melissa F. Olson's Boundary Witch series and greedily gobbled up the first 4 books in the series.  The other day, wanting more of the urban fantasy genre, I turned again to Olson.  This time it was her Scarlett Bernard series.   

From description:  "Scarlett Bernard knows about personal space: step within ten feet of her, and any supernatural spells or demonic forces are instantly defused—vampires and werewolves become human again, and witches can’t get out so much as a “hocus pocus.” This special skill makes her a null and very valuable to Los Angeles’s three most powerful magical communities..."

The thing about urban fantasy (aside from contemporary urban settings, mystery, monsters, and magic) is that no matter how dire the situation, our protagonist wins--even if it is only temporary.  Because there is always the next adventure and mystery and monster.

Some of the characters in Dead Spots (which was Olson's debut series) appear later in her Boundary Witch series, so I was already a little familiar with Scarlett and several other characters.  

It was fun finding out about nulls and Scarlett's background, as well as more about Jesse Cruz (human detective) and  the vampires and werewolves of LA.  Scarlett, a null who defuses magic, is a cleaner for crime scenes involving Old World magic.  Initially, these are fairly mild situations, but then...things start to get wild, and Scarlett, who works for a group of vampires, werewolves, and witches, finds herself cleaning up more and more horrific crimes.  Worse, someone is trying to set Scarlett up as the villain.

Trail of Dead.  Who is killing witches and why?  And OOPS, Scarlett's mentor was supposed to be dead.  

Once again, Scarlett must work with human detective Jesse Cruz to find the murderer.  

Scarlett made a bad decision in the previous book--for all the right reasons, but without any concept of the consequences, and it destabilizes Will's wolf pack.

A rogue werewolf , the appearance in LA of the feared Luparii wolf-hunters from France, and a Bargest keep things rolling in The Hunter's Trail.

Of course, these books are not great literature, but they are fun and full of action.  I like the Boundary Witch series better, but the Scarlett Bernard series is Olson's first foray into urban fantasy and is still quite good.  This was supposed to be a trilogy, but Olson does return to Scarlett and friends in future books.  

Looking for some interesting October/Halloween books?  Try Olson's urban fantasy!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves ended her Jimmy Perez series with Wild Fire last year, and I was sorry to see it go.  Hopefully, her Vera Stanhope series will continue, but in addition, she has begun a new series featuring Detective Inspector Matthew Venn.

Cleeves' first new series in twenty years promises to be just as good as her other long-running series. DI Matthew Venn emerges as a unique character, and like Jimmy and Vera, he is an excellent detective.  

Raised in a strict evangelical church, Venn left the church and his family when his doubts became too much.  His rejection of their beliefs resulted in rejection by his family, but Matthew still feels the tentacles of the church and his past.

He never expected to return to North Devon, but his husband Jonathan is committed to the community center he manages.  Matthew's marriage to another man creates another black mark against him for  the fundamentalist community in which he was raised.

The book opens with Matthew outside the church where his father's funeral is taking place; he knows his presence would not be appreciated.   As he is leaving, he receives a call about a body on the beach.   As you may expect, the murder may have connections to the church.

A full complement of interesting characters and a complex plot that illustrates the destructive path a cover-up to protect a reputation can take.

An excellent beginning to Cleeves' new series.

Read in April; blog review scheduled for Aug. 18.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Police Procedural.  Sept. 3, 2019.  Print length:  384 pages.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tin Badges by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Sometimes I find myself drawn into a book because of a certain combination of characters, and Tin Badges has this in spades. "As one of the NYPD’s most trusted “tin badges”—retired detectives brought in to solve cases that are beyond the reach of the everyday force—Tommy (Tank) Rizzo, retired from the police force because of an injury, is given cold cases in a sort of freelance manner.  

He and his former partner Pearl, who is now confined to a wheelchair,  have assembled a team of various misfit experts whose operations have not always been legal.  Their most recent case is a vicious attack on two women and a connection to a brutal drug lord

Then Tank gets a call that his brother and sister-in-law have been killed in a car accident.  The brothers have had no contact for years, and Tank finds himself guardian of an almost fifteen-year-old nephew that he doesn't even know.  

Devastated by the death of both parents, angry that an uncle who has had no contact with his family is now his only choice for a home, young Chris is bitter, but curious about the case Tank and his unorthodox team are involved in.  With outstanding computer skills and an interest in crime solving, Chris wants to work his way into the investigation.  Chris also believes his parents were murdered and needs Tank to believe him.

Fast-paced and full of action and suspense, Tin Badges may not pass the reality test, but it will suck you in as you fear for the (relatively) good guys and despise the evil-doers.   

The next one in this new series is definitely on my list as I want to find out more about the situation that occurred when Tank and his brother were young and about how he and Chris are going to solve the murders that are intimately connected to them both.

Read in May; blog review scheduled for Aug. 15, 2019.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballantine
Crime/Suspense.  Aug. 27, 2019.  Print length:  304 pages.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Catching Up

on some summer reads.

Priscilla Royal's medieval mysteries always satisfy me.  In The Twice-Hanged Man, Prioress Eleanor, Infirmarian Anne, and Brother Thomas end up in the Marcher lands for the birth of her sister-in-law's child.  A murder, a hanging, and a second hanging when the beam breaks, a ghost?, and more twisty incidents.  Brother Thomas has a particularly hard time.  As usual, excellent research and intriguing plot with characters I like.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press
Medieval Mystery.  Aug. 6, 2019.  Print length:  384 pages.

I read Alex Walter's Winterman a while back and liked it, so thought I'd try one of his other books--which turned into three other books:  Candles and Roses, Death Parts Us, and Their Final Act.  A trilogy featuring DI Alec McKay.  There are three different plots that are self-contained, but also an over-arching connection.  Kind of neat to have a trilogy of thrillers. There are definitely some dark elements.  Kindle Unlimited.

Where the Crawdads Sing was just as good as everyone said.  The writing was the highlight for me.  I read parts aloud because they were so good.  This has been reviewed so frequently, I'm not going to say anything else--except that it more than lived up to expectations.  Recommended.  



I have a great appreciation for public libraries and librarians.  The UK has had such a difficult time keeping libraries open--and the articles about cutting hours and staff and closing libraries have made me sad.  ("Since 2005 we have lost more than 10,000 library workers and more jobs are being cut all the time.")  That is just once sentence from this article  about the importance of libraries in ways we don't always consider.

U.S. libraries, too, have become community problem solvers.  But libraries in the U.S. have also faced problems:

According to the Public Libraries News figures, since April 2011: 57 'static' libraries(buildings) have closed; 53 'mobile' libraries (based in vehicles) have closed and 46 libraries have been taken over by volunteers, social enterprises or parish councils.Jul 31, 2012

 I looked for more recent statistics, but only found closures or funding cuts to individual libraries.  

On the positive side, in 2017, the House voted to save federal funding for libraries, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Evidently a majority of Americans recognize the importance of these institutions.  Nevertheless,  I imagine the battle for funding will continue, and we will need to be aware and ready to defend our libraries, arts, and humanities.

It's so hot!  80+ degrees at 6:00 AM.  That's just wrong.  I've cut back on gardening, but read, do my mail art, and embroider while I binge watch Netflix.  

Right now, I want books set in cold climates with lots of snow.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M. Eden

The cover, description,  and title intrigued me, but when I started it, I wasn't sure if I'd like it.  After a chapter or two, my doubts were relieved, and I entered into the spirit of the book about two writers of penny dreadfuls in the form of a penny dreadful and had a great time!

Below are a couple of interesting sources on the topic of the Penny Dreadful.

In the 1830s, increasing literacy and improving technology saw a boom in cheap fiction for the working classes. ‘Penny bloods’ was the original name for the booklets that, in the 1860s, were renamed penny dreadfuls and told stories of adventure, initially of pirates and highwaymen, later concentrating on crime and detection. Issued weekly, each ‘number’, or episode, was eight (occasionally 16) pages, with a black-and-white illustration on the top half of the front page. Double columns of text filled the rest, breaking off at the bottom of the final page, even if it was the middle of a sentence.

Of note, many famous authors contributed to the serials, Bram Stoker and Wilkie Collins to name a couple, and it was in “The String of Pearls” that Sweeney Todd made his first appearance, 1846 to 1847, by J.M. Rymer and T.P. Prest.  (source)

Elizabeth Black, prim and proper headmistress of a girls' school in 1830 London writes acceptable novels for the more staid Victorian audience, but secretly, she also writes romantic and adventurous penny dreadfuls.  Since the writing she most enjoys could undermine her role as genteel and respectable headmistress,  Elizabeth writes her penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym.

Fletcher Walker, former street urchin and one of the most popular writers of dreadfuls, finds that his role as the most successful author in the genre is threatened by a Mr. King, whose stories have recently become wildly fashionable.  Fletcher is also a member of the Dreadful Penny Society, a group of men who write dreadfuls and are intent on saving street children and fighting for the rights of the poor.  (I thought I knew the Dread Master, whose identity is kept secret, but maybe not.)  At any rate, the society is concerned for social justice.

Written with many of the stylistic elements of the penny dreadfuls, including illustrations (which my ARC copy from NetGalley doesn't include), a little sweet romance, dangerous rescues of children, good and evil characters, and class distinctions of the period.  There are also two short stories, one by each author that have connections to the larger narrative.

What fun!  I ended up thoroughly enjoying Sarah M. Eden's The Lady and the Highwayman

Read in May; blog review scheduled for ??

NetGalley/Shadow Mountain Publishing
Historical fiction/Romance.  Sept. 3, 2019.  Print length:  352 pages.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

I read RJ Barker's The Bone Ships  the other day (review scheduled for Sept. 2) and knew it would be probably another year before the next in the series came out.  

So I ordered Age of Assassins, the first in Barker's Wounded Kingdom trilogy.

Age of Assassins is a fantasy, a sort-of murder mystery, and a political conspiracy.  The world-building is typical of medieval fantasy and isn't as innovative as that of The Bone Ships--not that I mind the comfort of a familiar trope or two.

Fifteen-year-old Girton Club-foot is an apprentice to Merela Karn, legendary assassin.  Merela has been summoned by the queen of Maniyadoc for an unusual mission, not an assassination.  The queen fears an assassin has been hired to kill her son, heir to the throne, and she tasks Merela and Girton to uncover the person who hired the assassin.  "To catch an assassin, use an assassin."

Merela, who knows the queen, is reluctant--but the two have a past history and she has no choice  but to accept the mission.  Aware of the dangers, Merela offers Girton the opportunity to leave.  Girton, however, has been with Merela since he was six years old and is fully committed to Merela.  In order to mingle with those in the castle for their investigation, Girton, a skilled swordsman, becomes a clumsy squire, and Merela uses the cover of Death's Jester.

Age of Assassins was RJ Barker's debut novel, but the skill level puts him among the best.

Fantasy/Intrigue.  2017.  Print length:  432 pages.

What else do I do besides reading?  Mail art, gardening, craft stuff, trying to get at least 10,000 steps a day.  And the normal chores of laundry, etc. when I feel like it. :)

Happiness is reading the first good book in a series and knowing there is more to follow.