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Friday, August 07, 2020

A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

Sometimes a book becomes an education as well as entertainment.  Stabenow's A Cold Day for Murder (Kate Shugak #1) is so firmly planted in the Alaskan setting and indigenous culture, that I had the feeling of almost being present.

The beginning is a little slow but atmospheric as the setting and characters are introduced.  Stabenow excels at both, giving depth to the narrative.

Kate Shugak, an Aleut, left her confined home and culture to pursue an education.  She then worked for the Anchorage AG office as an investigator for seven years--until a dreadful case sent her into exile after a grievous wound.

A Cold Day for Murder pulls Kate back into investigation when a Park Ranger goes missing and an investigator sent to find him disappears, too.  

An strong, independent woman, divided between cultures, Kate remains comfortable with herself, bridging the separations with skill and decency.  She is, nevertheless, unhappy at being manipulated into the search for the two missing men, but she also has personal reasons for accepting the challenge.  

There are some truly amusing parts that are balanced between the sad situations of many of the indigenous characters.  Kate accepts both as a part of life and doesn't get morally upset about people she cares about poaching or the alcoholic problems that beset her friends and relatives, taking it all in and balancing her affection for flawed characters with their self-destructive behavior.  

Stabenow won an Edgar for this, her debut novel.  Kate is an intriguing, self-sufficient character, and I look forward to continuing this series!

Mystery/Crime.  1992; 2019.  

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The Cutting Place by Jane Casey

DS Maeve Kerrigan is determined to find out who is responsible for the death and dismemberment of a young journalist.  At the time of her death, Paige Hargreaves was investigating the Chiron Club, an elite men's club with rich and powerful members.

There is a reason that elite men's clubs so frequently make suspenseful plots: exclusiveness, secrecy, the wealth, power and privilege of members, the connections and pressure members are able to apply, and frequently, the abuse of women.  Whether organized like the Chiron Club, or less organized like Jeffrey Epstein's friends, power and influence make the news. 

Jane Casey's Kerrigan/Derwent series is one of the best crime series around, and the relationship of DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent combined with excellent plotting keep this series in my top five favorite in the crime/police procedural genre.  

Each of the books can be read as a standalone, but beginning with the first book allows the pleasure of watching the bickering relationship between Maeve and Josh develop into a trusting partnership.  Not always an agreeable one, frequently fraught with different opinions, but when it comes down to it, the partners come through for each other.  

Maybe all that needs to be said about Jane Casey's  The Cutting Place is that Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent are back.  (The Cutting Place did have a surprise for me.  Something I didn't expect.)

Start at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, but don't miss this series!

Read in June; blog review scheduled for Aug. 4.

Police Procedural/Crime.  Sept. 3, 2020.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

The Suicide House by Charlie Donlea

After reading Melody's review, I found The Suicide House available on NetGalley.

Always susceptible to boarding school settings and secret fraternities, I couldn't resist giving this one a try.  I'd also read a couple of Charlie Donlea books that I'd enjoyed, and I was prepared for suspense.

Multiple characters and several timelines kept things up in the air for a while.  I was uncertain about what was actually going on and a bit concerned about whether or not I was going to like the book.

It wasn't until Rory Moore was introduced and the details nudged a familiarity that I felt more comfortable.  Which is weird, because Rory is an uncomfortable character.    I read Some Choose Darkness last year, and because I like autistic, obsessive compulsive characters with social anxiety, I even mentioned that I'd like a series with Rory.

I'm glad Donlea decided to use Rory and her partner Lane Phillips again, but I did think the book was overly complicated with the multiple characters and timelines.  Rory's role was more curtailed than I would have liked.  In a way, there is no main character because the shifting pov's are so frequent.  

So...a creepy book about murders and suicides in an isolated elite prep school with several elements I liked (Man in the Mirror initiation into secret club), but a congested plot.  Also a serious flaw in credibility that I can't mention because it gives away the killer.  

Donlea keeps the reader from settling on a suspect, or rather, keeps the reader switching from one possible suspect to another until close to the end.  So many characters, so many possibilities.  What the book fails to do is make the most of Rory Moore and Lane Phillips.

If you have a chance, try Some Choose Darkness.  

NetGalley/Kensington Books
Mystery/Suspense.  July 28, 2020.  Print length:  368 pages.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells and Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

I'm not sure whose blog I saw the Murderbot Diaries on, but I'm grateful!  (Just found where I read about these books--Bookfoolery)

From Description:

"On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

A novella that seems like so much more, All Systems Red creates believable characters, from Murderbot, a construct AI, to it's human clients.  Suspense and characterization combine to make this novella almost pitch perfect.  As soon as I finished, it was on to the next book!

It was easy to find MB an intriguing and admirable character.  A SecUnit who wants to discover itself and to find out what happened to make it name itself "Murderbot."  

From Description:

It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Given comparative freedom by the clients who purchased it, but still uncomfortable with humans, MB makes a decision to take off on his own to find out about the event that haunts it.  MB ends up on an empty Research Transport with an amazing amount of brain power.  ART allows MB on board, then confronts it (MB is genderless).  Initially, MB is resentful and uneasy, but binge-watching dramas like Sanctuary Moon keeps things cool. I love MB and ART.  They are a compelling duo!  Martha Wells is new to me, and I need to check out her other works.  First, I need the next novella in this series!

Science Fiction.  


I read Shadows of the Dead in April and scheduled a review for Aug. 10th.  Shadows of the Dead is the third in the Special Tracking Unit series featuring Magnus "Steps" Craig, and I had not read the first two books. 

After abandoning a couple of books, I decided to go back and get the first book in the Special Tracking Unit series, Collecting the Dead.

From Description:  Magnus "Steps" Craig is part of the elite three-man Special Tracking Unit of the FBI. Called in on special cases where his skills are particularly needed, he works as a tracker. The media dubs him "The Human Bloodhound," since Steps is renowned for his incredible ability to find and follow trails over any surface better than anyone else. But there's a secret to his success. Steps has a special ability---a kind of synesthesia---where he can see the 'essence' of a person, something he calls 'shine,' on everything they've touched. 

Only a few people know about Steps' secret, and they mean to keep it that way.  Steps methods of obfuscating his ability and attributing it to clues others can understand...keeps him on his toes.  After all, he can't say, "I see the shine of both the killer and the victim."  Instead, he "sees  tracks" that make sense to regular people.  This technique makes Steps appear to be a highly skilled tracker who discovers evidence others miss.

Steps, however, is getting tired of finding dead bodies.  His partner Jimmy tries to keep him positive by talking about the lives Steps saves by finding killers.  Jimmy watches for the depression Steps suffers.  I like the way Steps, Jimmy, and Diane, who coordinates and researches everything, work together.  This first book in the series does some explaining and some background that occasionally slows the pace.

Eventually, I will get to book two in the series,  :)  

Police Procedural with a twist.  2016.  306 pages,

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Queen's Gambit, The Queen's Advantage, and When You Come Back

Many folks have had trouble concentration on reading.  I did for a while, but no longer.  I can't read serious literature or nonfiction, but I'm a greedy girl for mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy.  Escapism is my byword.  

I've loved science fiction forever, and when Melody began reviewing the Polaris Rising series, I was intrigued.  Instead of beginning with that series, I decided to check out Mihalik's novella The Queen's Gambit to get a sense of the writing.

I liked it, even though it was as much a romance as a space adventure.  It was fun.

from description: " When the Quint Confederacy and the Kos Empire went to war—again—young Queen Samara wisely kept her Rogue Coalition out of the conflict. But staying neutral in a galactic war doesn’t pay the bills, not when both sides refuse to trade with neutral sectors.

With her people on the brink of starvation, Samara hatches a daring plan to snatch the kidnapped Kos Emperor from the Quint mercenaries holding him. The Kos Empire will pay a fortune for their emperor’s return, enough to feed the Coalition’s citizens while they wait for the return to a begrudging peace."

Of course, things go wrong.  They always do. :)

Space Adventure/Romance.  2018.  Print length:  160 pages.

Next up was the second novella.

from description:  "When Queen Samara Rani decides to repay her debt to Emperor Valentin Kos by rooting out the traitors in his court, she knows his advisors will despise her presence. The unknown traitors hate her because she tricked them out of five million credits, but even his loyal advisors have no use for the queen of rogues and scoundrels."

A fun space adventure.  There is a third installment that I will get to before I get to the Polaris Rising series.

Space Adventure/Romance.  2019.  Print length: 206 pages.  

Another Debra Webb mystery also kept my interest.

from description:  "Forensic Anthropologist Emma Graves knows about the dead. But can the dead help her remember why she’s still alive?

When You Are Lost…

Emma Graves was only eight years old when a tragic school bus accident shattered the rural community where she grew up. When the bus was discovered the driver was dead and Emma, her older sister and her sister’s best friend were missing."  

Twenty-five years later, Emma returns home and despite her personal problems, she and her friend Letty find themselves involved in solving the old case of her missing sister.  Letty also has a personal reason, her father was accused of taking the girls.  They eventually realize that both Emma's mother Helen and Letty's mother Ginny have a problem with their investigation.  Do Emma and Letty really want to know what happened?  

There are always a lot of secrets in a community, and some of those secrets are kept even when a tragedy occurs.  Emma and Letty are determined to unravel those secrets, regardless of the consequences.

As much a study of family and friend dynamics as a mystery, When You Come Back made me cheer the persistence of Emma and Letty in their efforts to discover what happened on that day twenty-five years ago.

Mystery.  2019.  Print length: 380 pages.
I read, weed, and play upstairs...and try to control my doomscrolling about the virus and all of the other disturbing news.  

The birds spill seed from the feeders.  The sunflowers crowd around!
Sunflower, rosemary, mint, and cosmos

Working on more snail mail upstairs.  

Monday, July 20, 2020

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

First sentence: "It takes about eight to ten hours to hand-dig a grave, more if you was doing it in the dark."  The novel begins with an epigraph, an excerpt from a crime documentary--the speaker is a cemetery gravedigger.  

The sentence grabs the attention and hints of theme without giving anything away.  Aside from graves, buried things becomes an essential part of the We Are All the Same in the Dark.  

Julia Heaberlin is skilled at keeping the reader in the the best possible way.  If you've read any of her previous books, you know that you will have plenty of clues and still find it difficult to predict what will happen.  Layer after layer is uncovered--personalities, memories, secrets, lies.  Expectations must be adjusted with additional information.  Seriously adjusted.  

The novel is dominated by three strong female characters, one of which has been missing for ten years and is presumed dead.  Ten years later, Wyatt, whose sister Trumanell disappeared a decade previously, discovers a young girl in a pasture by the side of the road.  He debates about what to do, she is surrounded by dandelions which has an association for Wyatt that both intrigues and frightens him.  

He takes the girl home, feeling almost as if he has been cursed.  When small town cop Odette arrives, she questions the girl who refuses to speak.  Odette's voice takes over the novel, but five years later the girl's voice will be added for the last portion of the novel.  

Odette was sixteen when she lost her leg in a car accident on the same night Trumanell disappeared, and she refuses to give up her quest to find out what happened.  In the meantime, she feels a strong connection to the girl Angel/Angie.  Odette knows the girl is running from something bad, and as an amputee, Odette feels connected to the girl who has only one eye.  She has a feeling that their meeting was somehow destined.
from description:  The discovery of a girl abandoned by the side of the road threatens to unearth the long-buried secrets of a Texas town's legendary cold case in this superb, atmospheric novel from the internationally bestselling author of Black-Eyed Susans.

Julia Heaberlin  knows how to pull the reader in.  Her characters are complex, her sentences and paragraphs flow easily, she uses structure to separate elements of the story until she is ready to bring them together.   

Her relationship with Texas is evident in each of her books, and she writes beautifully. Her settings, her complex characters, her suspenseful plots, and her ability to reveal just enough and not too much make her books exceptional.

(Dandelion heads have 150-200 seeds, and a single plant, up to 15,000 seeds to be carried by the wind.  The plant is a survivor.  It is also associated with wishes, hopes, dreams that fly into the wind seeking a receptive soil. )

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine
Mystery/Thriller.  Aug. 11, 2020. Print length:  352 pages.

Friday, July 17, 2020

No Woods So Dark as These by Randall Silvis

Disappointed.  Foreshadowing is alternated with sentimentality that contributes to a depressing experience.

Their last case has left Ryan DeMarco and Jayme Matson emotionally exhausted, but just when they hope to have a peaceful recovery period, more bodies drag them into a new case.

I loved the first book in this series, but succeeding books have failed to match that experience, and this one was a no go for me.  Maybe because the protagonist in the first book was (by necessity) followed by DeMarco as the lead, I've not felt as engaged with the characters.  Could have been cut by about 100 pages of foreshadowing and foreboding.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press
Mystery.  Aug. 4, 2020.  Print length:  448 pages.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Hush by Dylan Farrow, Dead Wicked by Helen H. Durrant, and Trust No one by Debra Webb

From description: In the land of Montane, language is literal magic to the select few who possess the gift of Telling. This power is reserved for the Bards, and, as everyone knows, the Bards have almost always been men.

Seventeen-year-old Shae has lived her entire life in awe of the Bards—and afraid of the Blot, a deadly disease spread by ink, which took the life of her younger brother five years ago. Ever since, Shae fears she’s cursed. But when tragedy strikes again, and her mother is found murdered with a golden dagger—a weapon used only by the Bards—Shae is forced to act.

Language as a curse and a weapon sounded fascinating!  Unfortunately, the book doesn't live up to the concept. It feels as if the author rushed through to get to a certain point, but by rushing, failed to establish ample world-building, character development, and motivation.

I won't be looking for the next book.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Fantasy/YA.  Oct. 6, 2020.  Print length:  364 pages.  

Dead Wicked is the 10th book in this series by Helen Durrant, and I have not read any of the previous books.

The fist victim is found on waste ground. His tongue has been cut out and stuffed down his throat.
Then another body is found dumped in a lake up in the hills. The same gruesome murder method is used.
And guess who the detectives’ new boss is? The incredibly difficult Stephen Greco.
Meanwhile Ruth Bayliss’s personal life is falling part and someone is targeting local businesses with ransomware.
The prime suspect is a criminal Calladine thought he’d seen the last of.
I think not having read the previous books kept me from enjoying this one as much as some other readers.  I didn't have the feeling of reconnecting with various characters which is often a crucial element of liking a series book.  

This isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, I did like the characters.  The villain was fairly easy to spot early on, and eventually DI Calladine's suspicions prove true.  Predictable, but if I'd had a relationship built on previous books, I might have liked it better.

NetGalley/Joffe Books
Police Procedural.  July 2, 2020.  

Trust No One by Debra Webb  is a complicated case of revenge and secrets.  It is also the beginning of a series featuring Detectives Kerri Devlin and Luke Falco.

from description:  A double homicide and a missing woman lead a detective to unearth disturbing secrets in this gripping thriller from USA Today bestselling author Debra Webb.

It’s the worst possible time for Detective Kerri Devlin to be involved in an all-consuming double-homicide case. She’s locked in a bitter struggle with her ex-husband and teenage daughter, and her reckless new partner is anything but trustworthy. 

Although I did not like the prologue, the book eventually pulled me in.  There are a few things the reader knows from the very beginning, thanks to the voice of the missing wife which appears every so often, but keeping track of all the connections that branched out with every interview the two detectives conducted kept me deeply involved as I read.  

While it is a contrived plot, especially the way connections also lead to Devlin's family, it was certainly an engrossing labyrinth of an experience.  I look forward to more of Devilin and Falco.

Kindle Unlimited/Thomas & Mercer
Police Procedural/Thriller.  August 1, 2020.  Print length:  427 pages.

It is hot here, and I'm still staying home.  Reading.  A lot.  Reviewing.  Not so much. 

A lot of the books I've been reading won't be published for months, but I'll tell you that I loved the new Jane Casey, Sherry Thomas, Val McDermid, and M.R. Carey books!

Underneath the bird feeders, I've been leaving the sprouting sunflower seeds. I even like the buds, but best are the blooms. :) 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Murder in the East End by Jennifer Ashley

Another Kat Holloway historical mystery!  Historical mysteries are some of my favorites, and this Victorian series featuring Kat Holloway is fun (and if you are interested in cooking, there is extra spice in the below stairs efforts to keep the upstairs fed).

Daniel McAdams seeks Kat's help in finding some children missing from the Foundling Hospital.  A new character is introduced--Daniel's foster brother, a man who escaped the streets when a wealthy man takes him in and provides him with an education at Oxford.  Daniel is distrustful, but agrees to help him.  Kat, as usual, observes and withholds her opinion until she knows more.

The always eccentric and likable Cynthia and her friends also provide aid for Kat as she attempts to discover what has happened to the missing children.

One of the pleasures of this series is the way Ashley develops and uses her secondary characters and there are several in this latest book.  A little more about Daniel's past, his ability as a chameleon who can adapt to whichever level of society is required, and the reasons for his secrets.  I can't wait for the next one!

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for July 13.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing
Historical Mystery.  Aug. 4, 2020.  Print length:  320 pages.  

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

When She Was Good by Michael Robotham is a great follow-up Good Girl, Bad Girl.  

Despite Evie Cormac's resistance, forensic psychologist Cyrus Vance continues his search into her past.  His intentions are good, but Evie's insticts are better--someone wants her dead and Cyrus' investigation is dangerous.  

As a child, Evie was trafficked in an exclusive pedophile ring.  Although Robotham does not provide details,  the implications are clear and unpleasant.  The exposure of those involved would mean devastation of their careers and reputations and jail time--and someone has no intention of letting that happen.  The organization has a long reach and silencing Evie is a priority.  

The immediate situation is wrapped up, but there are several unanswered questions that should be resolved in the next book.  

I hope there will be more than just a third book that finalizes the initial plot.  Evie, Cyrus, and Sacha are interesting characters, and Robotham's plot could easily take another direction.   I want more of these characters.  

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for July 8, 2020.

Psychological Suspense.  July 28, 2020.  Print length:  352 pages.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

The Bone Jar by S W Kane

The Bone Jar by S W Kane is a debut novel, and one that caught and held my interest.  Since this is listed as Book 1,  I'm happy to know there will be more.

From description:  Two murders. An abandoned asylum. Will a mysterious former patient help untangle the dark truth?
The body of an elderly woman has been found in the bowels of a derelict asylum on the banks of the Thames. As Detective Lew Kirby and his partner begin their investigation, another body is discovered in the river nearby. How are the two murders connected?

Before long, the secrets of Blackwater Asylum begin to reveal themselves. There are rumours about underground bunkers and secret rooms, unspeakable psychological experimentation, and a dark force that haunts the ruins, trying to pull back in all those who attempt to escape. Urban explorer Connie Darke, whose sister died in a freak accident at the asylum, is determined to help Lew expose its grisly past. Meanwhile Lew discovers a devastating family secret that threatens to turn his life upside down.

DI Lew Kirby is the protagonist, but he does not take over the plot;  a couple of secondary characters are as involved and important as the DI, giving the novel an almost ensemble feel.  Raymond Sweet, a former patient, lives his eccentric life on the grounds of the old asylum, and Connie Darke wants to know who was with her sister the night she died and
 what has happened to a friend and fellow urban explorer who is now missing.

In the investigation to discover who wanted an 84 year old woman dead, secrets from past and present come slowly to light.  

Like many readers, I find plots involving mental asylums suggestive of a thrilling and suspenseful experience, and the long abandoned Blackwater Asylum blends atmosphere, history, and memories that satisfy that notion.  A promising debut and a suspenseful mystery set in the midst of a frozen winter, The Bone Jar more than met my expectations.

(Although this was a NetGalley offering, it is also available on Kindle Unlimited.)

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer
Police Procedural.  July 1, 2020.  Print length:  327 pages.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan

For some time, I've read Sam's reviews of the Poke Rafferty series by Timothy Hallinan  and recently Cathy at  Kittling Books also mentioned the series as a favorite.  

I can concur with their opinions.  I began with the first book and fell into the atmosphere of Thailand with a cautious thump.  For Westerners, Thailand and Bangkok is a curious and exotic place and culture.  Hallinan seems to have captured both the good and the bad by inhabiting it with a mixture of characters that seem to emerge as full-blown individuals.

Blending exceptionally dark situations with heartening and uplifting acts of compassion, A Nail Through the Heart introduces Poke Rafferty, a travel writer who unexpectedly finds himself captivated by Thailand and its people.  

From description:  "Poke Rafferty was writing offbeat travel guides for the young and terminally bored when Bangkok stole his heart. Now the American expat is assembling a new family with Rose, the former go-go dancer he wants to marry, and Miaow, the tiny, streetwise urchin he wants to adopt." 

When Poke agrees to help find a missing man, he finds himself deep in an ugliness he could not have imagined.  His investigation leads to another kind of evil and a danger that could affect his embryonic family unit. 

There are places that break your heart and stretch your faith in humanity (the killing fields of Cambodia and the abuse of children), but they are beautifully offset by acts of love, kindness, and humor.  I honestly cannot imagine how Hallinan manages to accomplish this.

It has taken me some time to get around to trying this series, but I am in now.  From Rose, Miaow, Superman, and Arthrit, I have, like Poke, found an antidote to the dark.

Mystery.  2007.  Print length:  336 pages.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier, Beach Read by Emily, AND Becoming Duchess Goldblatt!

I enjoyed Juliet Marillier's Blackthorn and Grim trilogy, and even made the comment in my review of the final book,  that I'd like to see more about the Swan Island Warriors--and here it is!

Marillier's prose is easy and elegant, and I was quickly caught up in the lives of the characters.  Escapism?  Yep.  Warriors, bards, spies, a mission involving a missing harp required for the investment of a new king, myth, magic, and otherworldly creatures.

The story is told through the voices of the three main characters:  Liobhan, Brocc, and Dau.  The three are training and hoping for places with the Swan Island Warriors.  

Although they have not completed their island training, the three are chosen for a mission because each has qualities that would be useful.   

I love a good story and found myself entertained and involved in The Harp of Kings.  Ready for the next book!

Fantasy.  2019.  Print length:  464 pages.  

Beach Read sounded interesting even if it isn't my typical choice.  

From description:  A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

So, yeah, not much about the beach.  At all.   Not a fit for me, although I did finish it.  The premise has so much potential, but the result was a lackluster experience for me.

NetGalley/Berkley Pub.
Romance?  May 19, 2020.  Print length:  361 pages.  

Of course, I liked Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.  I follow her on Twitter.

I must admit, however, that I will dutifully forget much of this book in favor of the imaginary creation.  I quote the Duchess frequently and believe in her fervently.  She amuses, amazes, scolds, celebrates, and praises her readers.  Her Grace delights me time and time again.  

Having never been much of a follower of celebrities (or politicians), it came as a surprise to me that I joined the multitudes who worship Her Grace.  
"Search your heart.  If you can say you did your best today, you may have popsicles for dinner."
 "I'm trying to be quiet and gather strength to be a voice of encouragement for you loons, who somehow need me and somehow found me." 
"As a fictional utopia, Crooked Path doesn't have any police to defund.  Much like heaven, this town is run by librarians in sensible shoes who make house calls."
Enough said.  Enjoy.

NetGalley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Memoir.  July 7, 2020.  Print length:  240 pages.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Shadow Wand (The Black Witch Chronicles #3) by Laurie Forest.and The Liar by Jane Adams

It is best to begin with the first book.  One of the problems I had with The Shadow Wand is that the book begins with so many characters in so many different places--and it has been two years since I read  The Iron Flower.  I don't usually have a problem with multiple characters and subplots, but after two years, it took a while to get people and places in my head again, especially since everyone had separated by the end of book 2.

I loved the first two books and was eager for this one, and once I had wrapped my head around the various situations, I found myself engrossed once again.  Not as happy as I was with the previous books, but still eager to find out what would happen next.  Most of the story is with Elloren, but it seems to me she needed characters like Trystan, Tierney, Diana, Rafe, and Wynter to give her genuine substance, and although some of them are given a bit of space, it wasn't really enough to be satisfying.

It is a long book, and the pacing is erratic--not all sections really move the plot forward.  Elloren became a little annoying at times.  OK, more than a little and frequently.  I wanted things to move on.  I found the first two books compelling, but this one didn't feel as well-thought out.  In contrast, some readers like this one best.  

Will I read the next one?  Oh, yes!  I do hope the pacing is better though. 

The Black Witch
The Iron Flower
The Shadow Wand

NetGalley/Inkyard Press
YA Fantasy.  June 9, 2020.  Print length:  608 pages.  

Mike Croft, #4.  Retired DI John Tynan has been seeing a woman for several weeks when she is found dead in her room at a B & B.  It turns out that Martha Toolin was not even the woman's real name.

She'd approached  John Tynan saying she was looking into some family history.  John was initially reluctant; he had his own reasons for not wanting to revisit anything connected to his grandfather; however, Martha proved to be charming company, and John found himself looking forward to seeing her.

The truth becomes a matter of accumulation.  Martha could be easy and companionable--never revealing all of the lies that have made up her life.  A skilled con artist, Martha had a lot of schemes going and quite a few people who eventually regretted knowing her.

DI Mike Croft investigates what turns out to be a path with plenty of twists and turns.  The book is billed as a thriller, but it isn't the kind of suspense that has you holding your breath.  There are plenty of suspenseful moments, but they are the kind that keep you a little uneasy, not the kind that has you on the edge of your seat. 

Kindle Unlimited
Mystery/Police Procedural.  2019.  Print length:  259 pages.  

It's better to have your nose in a book...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Choir of Crows by Candace Robb

Candace Robb's medieval mysteries featuring Owen Archer and his wife Lucy has been one of my favorite historical mystery series since I read the first one, The Apothecary Rose.

The books contain two of my interests--history and mystery--in well-written and suspenseful narratives.  The characters have the timeless problems of relationships with others (family, friends, society) and the problems of their specific historical era.  Robb's impeccable research and insight into human strengths and weaknesses combine to make each book a living history.  

A Choir of Crows is something of a transitional novel.  John Thoresby, Archbishop of York has died.  A new political set of alliances is set in motion when a Neville is selected to be the next Archbishop.

Owen Archer owes allegiance to Prince Edward and, along with everyone else in York, is unsure of the changes that a new Archbishop will bring.  

Alexander Neville is to be enthroned as Archbishop in December of 1374, and York anticipates the arrival of the powerful families who will be present for the event.  Uncertainty prevails, as always, when major changes involving influential political and ecclesiastical loyalties are in flux.  With both the king and the prince in ill health, all sorts of intrigue and political schemes are in play.

Two bodies are found on the grounds of the York Minster, and Owen is called in to investigate.  Then a third.  There is also a young woman who, disguised as a boy, has been singing with a group of traveling minstrels and is in danger.

An interesting angle has to do with Ambrose, a character who appeared early in the series and who has returned with information that Prince Edward has been a victim of French doctors who have been slowly poisoning him.  (History has recorded Edward of having dysentery, but the author has another theory which she explains in the author's notes.  Further reading and sources are also listed.)

Although always happy to return to Owen, Lucy, and York, this is not my favorite in the series.  There are several plot threads involved that overlap and separate throughout.  What A Choir of Crows does is give the reader a needed visit with the characters and set the scene for the following books with the promise of more political upheaval.  

If you are interested in medieval mysteries, begin with The Apothecary Rose which introduces the main characters and allows you to follow them as they develop throughout the series.  You won't regret it.

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for June 17.

NetGalley/Severn House
Medieval Mystery.  July 2, 2020.  Print length: 288 pages.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Patient Man by Joy Ellis and Passing Fancies by Marlowe Benn

Another compelling installment in Joy Ellis' DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans series.  The Patient Man has the very patient killer Alistair Ashcroft back to finish his deadly game.

There are letters, texts, a bizarre wreathe and other taunts from Ashcroft.  Strange thefts; the involvement of a sniper whose targets seem random...except that the same witness is chosen each time, causing the man psychological trauma; the unusual Lorimer family; and the general stress for all members of the team.

Ellis has the ability to bring her characters to life.  From Jackman and Marie, to the members of the team, to the Lorimer family--each has the human, believable touch.  

The exception is Alistair Ashcroft, who doesn't have that humanity.  He is interesting, but as a psychopath, he remains out of that truly human realm.  Ashcroft's background was in a previous novel--and while the circumstances of his childhood are horrific, the reality is that he is unable to genuinely connect with others, while his intelligence enables him to come across as charming when he chooses and to manipulate others in pursuance of his aims.  A patient and very dangerous man.

Not my favorite in my series, but still a suspenseful and entertaining read because Joy Ellis can grab and keep my attention.  

NetGalley/Joffe Books
Mystery/Thriller.  June 18, 2020.   

Passing Fancies at first seemed destined for an excellent review because the setting and characters are so reminiscent of Yuval Taylor's nonfiction Zora and Langston which  detailed much of the Harlem Renaissance as well as the lives of Langston Huges and Zora Neal Hurston.  

Both the black artists of the time and the white promoters of the black authors seem to have found places in the novel-- if drastically altered.  The character of Paul/Pablo Duveen stands in for  Carl Van Vechten and there is a mention of a character who is obviously based on Charlotte Osgood Mason, the wealthy patron of Hughes and Hurston, who wanted to be called "The Godmother."  Neither come out well in historical perspective in spite of their patronage of the artists they supported.

There is obviously ample research on the part of the author and the novel has timely observations.   The parts that deal with the plight of blacks and of the black artists who were responsible for the Harlem Renaissance is a palpable reminder of the failure of society to give equal consideration in law and culture to all races.  The author weaves in plenty of facts although with different names of persons and places.  One example is the venue of Wallace's club with a cross-dressing star and the real Clam Shell and cross-dressing blues singer Gladys Bentley.  

The book is worth reading for its look at the time period which is fascinating with its inspirational artists.  Even the title gives a heads-up about some of the content.  However, the rest of the book and the main protagonist Julia Kydd provided little of interest for me.  

Kindle Unlimited
Historical Mystery.  2020.  Print length:  327 pages.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Secrets by Jane Adams, The Ninja Daughter by Tori Eldridge, and Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Last year, I read The Greenway by Jane Adams and liked it for the characters and for the puzzling case.  The Secrets also kept me engrossed with the plot and with more development of the characters I enjoyed the first time.                                                                                                                                                           Several threads must be untangled as Mike Croft finds himself assigned an old case that has the possibility of coming to light again with new information.                                                                                                                                                       From description:  "WHAT DOES HE KNOW?           Threatening phone calls, smashed windows, physical intimidation. Eric Pearson and his family have only just moved into a new home in a sleepy cul-de-sac, but they already have dangerous enemies. How could a respectable family become the focus of such hatred?                                                                                                                                           Detective Inspector Mike Croft knows the Pearson family well. Eric Pearson claims to own a journal which gives evidence of a horrifying ring of abusers. If true, it would be a high stakes case for DI Croft, and expose awful secrets that the town has buried deep."

Actually, the blurb isn't quite accurate that Mike Croft knows the Pearson family well, but he has been reading the files before the disturbances at the Pearson home require Mike's face-to-face involvement.  And things are about to get murkier.

 Kindle Unlimited
Police Procedural.  1996; 2019.  Print length:  250 pages.
I first read about The Ninja Daughter over at Verushka's Pop.Edit.Lit and was recently reminded when she posted about Tori Eldridge's second book in the series (The Ninja's Blade).   I decided to get right on it this time, and I straight away got a copy for my Kindle.  Next I want to read The Ninja's Blade, due out in September.                                                                                                                                                              About the Author:  Tori “Myotoshi” Eldridge holds a 5th degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu (the contemporary evolution founded by Stephen K. Hayes) and an additional black belt in the Korean martial art Tang Soo Do. Tori has taught taijutsu (ninja body techniques), archaic and modern weapon use and disarmament, self-defense, and empowerment to students ranging from military and law enforcement to moms and kids. Tori enhances her awareness and inner calm with Tendai Buddhist practices and daily meditation. After years of intensive study, she was awarded the warrior name Myotoshi (Warrior of the Unfathomable Blade) to signify her deeply layered nature and never-ceasing quest for hidden ninja secrets.​ (Source)

Yes, of course, I like a female Ninja character and the fact that author Tori Eldridge actually is a kunoich i.  I have the feeling that the series will only improve now that the author has the background for her characters all in place.  Like many women, I love a female protagonist who is set on righting wrongs and who has the skills to go forth and take on the bad guys.

Lily Wong, of Chinese and Norwegian descent, is a tiny thing with an overload of martial arts skills and  hutzpah, that combination of temerity and audacity that aid her in her crusade against those who abuse vulnerable women and children.   There is also a handsome and deadly assassin who can be a help or a deadly threat.

Action/Suspense.  2019.  Print length:  320 pages.

After Peter Swanson's Eight Perfect Murders, I decided to try another book by the author.                                                                                                                                                          Kate Priddy has had problems with anxiety since childhood, but after a narrow escape in which her controlling boyfriend threatened to kill her and then killed himself...well, things went downhill for quite a while.  She has finally left her parents' house where she retreated and has a job and a flat in London when her mother tells her that a second cousin she has never met has suggested a house swap.                                                                                                                                                                             from description:  "When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.  Soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered."

I was a little disappointed with this one.  It felt contrived in many ways, although the co-dependence of the murderers was interesting.  Audrey Marshall was not the first victim, and one individual does not intend for Audrey's death to be the last.    I understood Kate's problems with anxiety and the fact that her past experience left deep trauma, but could not fully invest in her character.  There were places that dragged and felt repetitious.

Favorite character:  Sanders the cat.

Purchased Audio book.
Mystery/Suspense.  2017.  Print length:  384 pages.