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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Irish Inheritance by M.J. Lee and Anne Belinda by Patricia Wentworth

I first read about this series on Cathy's blog and decided to give it a try as the premise of a genealogist "detective" appeals to my love of historical mysteries.  I tried one other genealogical series that didn't work for me, but this one was a pleasure.  

The Irish Inheritance by M.J. Lee engaged my interest with the Easter Rising and the subsequent Irish problems over the years.  Jayne Sinclair, former police detective and current genealogical researcher, agrees to help an adopted American billionaire by discovering who his father was. 

 Jayne "has only three clues to help her: a photocopied birth certificate, a stolen book and an old photograph. And it soon becomes apparent somebody else is on the trail of the mystery. A killer who will stop at nothing to prevent Jayne discovering the secret hidden in the past."  (from description)

With little time and little to go on, Jayne puts all her efforts into discovering the answers, to both the past and present questions.

I'm glad I began with the first book, and I'm happy to know that there are plenty more in this series for me to discover.  :)

Kindle Unlimited
Mystery.   2016.  Print length:  332 pages.

Patricia Wentworth is the Golden Age of Detective Fiction author of the Miss Silver series.  I saw this stand alone offered free on Kindle Unlimited, and since I wanted to read more from the Golden Age period, this one sounded like a good beginning.

Anne Belinda is as much an old-fashioned romance as it is old-fashioned mystery. 

In 1917, after he’s released from the hospital, John Waveney is headed back to the trenches in France when he decides to visit the land of his ancestors dating back to the Crusades. There, he meets a young girl who, upon learning he’s all alone in the world, tells him she’d be sorry if anything happened to him at the front.

Nine years later, John inherits the estate and returns.  His first thought is to meet Anne Belinda again, but he can't get any relevant answers.  Where is Anne and why is everyone giving him the run-around?

The novel is definitely old-fashioned and frequently frustrating.  I didn't hate it, but it doesn't compare to the best of the period.  

Open Road Media
Golden Age Crime.  1927; 2016.  Print length: 208 pages.  
My third panel for 25 Million Stitches is finished and ready to mail.  I've spent countless hours on these three panels and enjoyed some binge-watching of Netflix, a number of good podcasts, and some silent meditative stitches.  As soon as I finished, I had to begin another stitching project with no purpose other than to have the peaceful process of "needle pulling thread."

This is encouraging!

In 2019, more Americans went to the library than to the movies. Yes, really.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman and The Perfect Kill by Helen Fields

The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman has Alex Delaware and detective Milo Sturgis teaming up again in an unusual murder.  Whenever a case presents as weird, Milo calls on his psychologist friend to help unravel the weirdness.

Four seemingly unrated victims found costumed and staged in a limo qualifies as both creepy and outlandish enough for Alex Delaware's aid. 

There are some twists and turns that develop as the two investigate and interview people who knew the victims.  The artistic connections are interesting as is the fictitious painting The Museum of Desire--and the motive is unexpected.

The last few Delaware/Sturgis novels have not appealed as much as their earlier outings, but this one is much better than the The Wedding Guest, the previous book.

Read in October; blog review scheduled for Jan. 27, 2020.

NetGalley/Random House
Police Procedural.  Feb. 4, 2020.  Print length:  368 pages.

The most recent installment of Helen Field's series featuring DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callenach opts for two locations.  Luc has been seconded to Interpol for a case in Paris and Ava deals with a case in Edinburgh. 

Both cases are pretty gruesome.  In Edinburgh, several strange murders have occurred in a short time, and eventually a connection to sex trafficking develops.

In Paris, Luc teams up with a former partner to investigate the murder of a young man from Edinburgh whose body is discovered in Paris.  How did he get there and who harvested his organs?

As usual in this series, I like the characters and the writing while finding the crimes a bit fantastic and gruesome.

Fields' writing is excellent and both the main and secondary characters are well developed and believable.  Those qualities keep me reading the series despite the dark and often bizarre plots.

Read in October; blog review scheduled for Jan. 27, 2020.

NetGalley/Avon Books UK
Crime/Police Procedural.  Feb. 6, 2020.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Lost Hills and Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading

Lee Goldberg's Lost Hills has gotten an unusual amount of attention.  I've seen quite a few professional reviews as well as blog reviews recently.  He is a prolific writer of both novels and television shows which may explain his high profile in the press.  

His new series features Deputy Sheriff Eve Ronin, who was filmed making an off duty arrest of a popular movie star who was abusing his female companion.  The video went viral, earning Eve the name of Death Fist and a promotion to homicide.  The promotion, intended to counteract negative press the department has incurred, is not well-received by the rank and file.

Partnered with Duncan Parone, who is counting the days until retirement, Eve's first case is a multiple homicide--but the bodies are missing.   So...not just find the killer, but find the bodies, which have been dismembered and removed from the scene.  Eve doesn't have the experience for this case, but she does have the driving need to succeed, instinct, and some unexpected support from her partner.

Lost Hills is a fast-paced introduction to Goldberg's new series, and Eve Ronin is a likable and resourceful protagonist.

Kindle Unlimited/Thomas & Mercer
Police Procedural.  2020.  Print length:  237 pages.

My TBR queue is quite long again, but there are several new additions I'm looking forward to reading soon:

Safe House by Jo Jakeman

Hidden on the Fens by Joy Ellis
Seven Days in July by Kerry Wilkinson

I've started Why Writing Matters by Nicholas Delbanco.  It is an uncorrected proof so there are some areas that are a little confusing, more like episodes of memory as he discusses his mentors and friends, like John Updike, John Gardener, and James Baldwin.  His respect and fondness for his mentors have a genuine warmth.  I love the section in which Delbanco discusses imitation and the way authors build and often invert on the work of other authors.  

Initially, I planned to read a little of Why Writing Matters at a time, put it down, read a mystery, then come back to it.  As it turns out, I read about half of it--each time I put it down, I was eager to pick it up again and read more.  The book will be published in March, and I may have to buy a physical copy to keep -- I want to read the edited final edition.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Jess Kidd loves words.  The words seem to spill out of her--whirling around, creating vivid images and wonderful prose with unexpected juxtapositions and all kinds of figurative language.  They don't feel like deliberate choices as much as thoughts emerging from someone whose use of language is so imaginative, fresh, and creative that she can't contain it.

I loved Himself for those reasons and more, but liked Mr. Flood's Last Resort (also titled The Hoarder) less.  Kidd's characters, however, are wonderful even when the plot is a little iffy.

Her latest book, Things in Jars--especially with Kidd's amazing prose--is a mystery, a fairy tale, a nightmare, magical realism, a ghost story, social commentary, a mysterious amalgamation of genres that does not fit any one category.

Set in 1863, Bridie Devine, private investigator with a connection to the police, smokes her pipe on her way to inspect a crypt with the skeleton remains of a mother and child...and finds the transparent figure of former boxer Ruby Doyle lounging on his grave.  She doesn't believe in ghosts, yet the marvelously tattooed Ruby Doyle (The Decorated Doyle), definitely dead and transparent, seems to know her.  And so the story begins.

Ruby Doyle, the decorated pugilist whose tattoos move and react to situations, becomes Bridie's (initially) unwanted partner.  Doyle knows Bridie, but Bridie cannot remember ever knowing Doyle.  He accompanies her home and on her adventures, waiting for Bridie to remember him and their connection, and Bridie's feelings for Ruby Doyle confuse her as she begins to appreciate  his company.

The main story line begins when Bridie is engaged to find the kidnapped daughter of a baronet.  Christabel Berwick, a strange six-year-old with unusual powers and strange needle-like teeth, is a mystery in and of herself.  Is Christabel the embodiment of the Irish myth of the merrow?  Bridie suspects a possible reason for the little girl's kidnapping...and she doesn't like it at all.

Interspersing chapters reveal more of Bridie's past and diverge to examine the activities of other characters.  Each character is the delightful result of descriptions amplified in the style of Dickens as in this description of Cridge, the curate:
"He is a young man with an unfavorable look about him.  Slight of stature and large of head, with light-brown hair that cleaves thinly to an ample cranium with bumps and contours enough to astound even a practiced phrenologist.  His complexion is wan and floury as an overcooked potato and his mouth was made for sneering."
Moving from past to present and back again, threads that are begun in the past are gradually woven into the present.  Aside from such wonderful characters as Bridie herself, we meet Ruby Doyle, Cora (Bridie's seven foot tall housemaid), Bad Dorcas, the Prudhoes, Valentine Rose, and wicked Gideon Eames.  London becomes both setting and character in this fantastical adventure.

It is difficult not to become enchanted by Kidd's prose, although it occasionally interrupts the plot. :)

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 19, 2020.

NetGalley/Atria Books
?Historical Mystery/Fantasy?  Feb. 4, 2020.  Print length:  384 pages.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald

Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald wasn't what I expected, but was so much more.  It was a slow build, but I became more and more involved with the situations and the characters.

It opens with the ghost of Henny Broek who has been hit by a truck.   Her life had been about to turn around--the love of her life has just returned to their small town, and Henny's dreams seem to be coming true.  Then, before her dreams can be realized, Henny is looking at her own body.

At first, Henny thinks it must be a mistake or a dream, then when she accepts the fact that she is really dead, she thinks maybe she can convince God to somehow make it right and give her back her life and dreams.  This doesn't work out either.

Henny isn't the kind of ghost who can be seen or heard; she can't directly influence anything, but once she has accepted her situation, Henny tries to make things better for the people she loves.  She's happy that she can see her favorite mountain, tag along with her friends, see the sun rise each morning.  

I love this book.  It's the kind of book that makes you think, that tackles the strengths and frailties of humanity.  There were twists in situations that surprised me--situations that didn't evolve the way I expected.  It speaks in a gentle way to all the divisions among people, none of whom are perfect, none of whom are evil, all of whom judge and misjudge at times.  It is about people who can be kind and compassionate and still display intolerance and prejudice.   It is about friendship and family and community.  It's about seeking a way to live together despite our differences.  

It was exactly what I needed.

Fiction.  Jan. 7, 2020.  Print length:  448 pages.  


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Hollows by Jess Montgomery

The Hollows by Jess Montgomery is the second in her Kinship series.  Lily Ross is the sheriff of  Kinship, a small town in Bronwyn County.  In 1926, a female sheriff could be controversial.   Actually, there still aren't many women in the role of sheriff: "Of the 3,084 sheriffs in the United States, only 42 are women, says Fred Wilson, director of operations for the National Sheriffs’ Assn. And that number is nearly twice what it was just seven years ago, he says. "(Source)

In addition to the fact that Lily Ross is still grieving her husband's death, she has children, a demanding job, and an upcoming election to deal with as well.  Called out in the middle of the night about an elderly woman who was hit by a train.  Accident, suicide, or murder?

Determined to find out who the woman was and where she came from leads to a number of secrets past and present, events and connections that a number of people would prefer to ignore.  Politics, racism, and sexism all play a role in the 1926 small town.  

I had not read the first novel The Widows, but my interest and appreciation grew as I continued reading.  Character-driven, yes.  Good mystery, yes.  Setting that feels genuine, yes.  The Widows now on my list, yes.  

It wasn't until I finished reading the novel, that it dawned on me that all of the important characters were women, which made me curious about the number of female sheriffs and made me think of the Bechtel test.   

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl),[1] also known as the Bechdel–Wallace test,[2] is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.[3]About half of all films meet these criteria, according to user-edited databases and the media industry press. Passing or failing the test is not necessarily indicative of how well women are represented in any specific work. Rather, the test is used as an indicator for the active presence of women in the entire field of film and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction. Media industry studies indicate that films that pass the test financially outperform those that do not.[citation needed]
The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in whose comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For the test first appeared in 1985. Bechdel credited the idea to her friend Liz Wallace and the writings of Virginia Woolf. After the test became more widely discussed in the 2000s, a number of variants and tests inspired by it emerged. (Source)
and this quote from Virginia Woolf  in "A Room of One's Own":
All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. ... And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. ... They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman's life is that ...[5]     Source   (high light mine)

Two women inspired the author's characters.  Maude Collins (the inspiration for Lily Ross) and Mary Harris Jones (although Marvena's character is less educated than "Mother Jones") --two women who broke barriers in law enforcement and activism. 

I was working on this review when I saw Cathy's review yesterday, so I will skip the plot and point you to Cathy's blog.  :)

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Historical Mystery.  Jan. 14, 2020.  Print length:  352 pages.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

The latest in the Orphan X series!  I've reviewed previous entries here.   I've thoroughly enjoyed The Nowhere Man who gives his help to those who need it.

From Description:
Taken from a group home at age twelve, Evan Smoak was trained as an off-the-books government assassin: Orphan X. After breaking with the Program, he reinvented himself as The Nowhere Man, a figure shrouded in shadows who helps the truly desperate. But the government didn’t let go of him easily, sending their best to hunt him down and eliminate him. All of them failed. With his deadliest enemies behind him, Evan is facing a new challenge—what is he going to do now that no one is after him?

Poor Evan, his training did little to help him adjust to an ordinary life, but it has given him the skills to help others against overwhelming odds.  When he accepts the call to the Nowhere Man from Max Merriweather, he intends for it to be his last mission.  

But...each time he thinks he has completed his assignment, he discovers there is another angle, a higher-up that must be taken care of before Max is safe.  While the books are not realistic, the reader roots for Evan Smoak as he dedicates himself to saving others, one innocent at a time, and Coleridge's term "suspension of disbelief" is eagerly accepted.  

I have no idea where Hurwitz will take Evan next, but please don't leave the Nowhere Man behind.

Read in September; blog review scheduled for Jan. 

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books
Thriller.  Jan. 28, 2018.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Nameless Series by Dean Koontz and When I Was You and The Stillwater Girls by Minka Kent

In a series of six short stories or novellas, Dean Koontz presents different episodes in the life of a man who doesn't know his own name, can't remember his life prior to two years ago, and suspects that his amnesia has been induced at his request.

His mission is to take down targeted evil doers.  He doesn't know who assigns the targets, but with each case, he is provided with a fake name, appropriate identification, a thorough background of the individual...and anything else he might need.  The operation is well-organized and well-funded, but the man knows little more than his own role.

Each short story/novella takes an hour or so to read and is like an episode in a book with each case resolved before another assignment appears.  

In an unusual move, the "Nameless" series is only released in electronic and audio formats, and you can download them free if you are an Amazon Prime member.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz comes Memories of Tomorrow, part of Nameless, a riveting collection of short stories about a vigilante nomad, stripped of his memories and commissioned to kill. Follow him in each story, which can be read or listened to in a single sitting.

I went through the series in late December and enjoyed them.  Dean Koontz knows how to capture and hold your attention. 

When I Was You by Minka Kent.  Brienne Dougray was brutally attacked and barely survived.  Now she suffers from terrible headaches and memory loss and a near constant fear that her attacker will return.

When an attractive doctor becomes a tenant in her home, Brienne feels more secure, but her fear of her unknown attacker keeps her largely housebound and depressed.  Her old active and more social life has disappeared.

Then she discovers that someone has stolen her identity and is imitating her life in alarming detail.  Brienne is forced to leave her house to find out more about this woman.  What she discovers is more complicated and disturbing than what she originally assumed.

Interesting, but not exceptional, I liked it enough to get another of Kent's novels.

Thomas & Mercer.
Psychological Suspense.  Feb. 1, 2020.  Print length:  282 pages.

The Stillwater Girls is another standalone by Minka Kent.  Two young women are living alone in an isolated cabin in the woods.  Their mother left months earlier to try to get medical help for their younger sister, but never returned.  Food is running low, winter is coming, and they don't know how they will survive.

When a strange man shows up at the cabin, he tells them he plans to take them to town.  Having been raised to fear any outsider and told never to leave the forest, the young women are terrified and eventually escape after drugging the man.  

Not very believable, but entertaining.  There are actually two parallel stories being told that coincide, but the plot seems too contrived.  

Thomas & Mercer.
Mystery.  2019.  Print length:  256 pages.

Both books kept my attention and had some interesting characters and plots, but felt a little too convenient.  I liked, but didn't love them.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

January and the Latest "New Beginning"

Favorites Books from 2019.  This is hard because I read so many mysteries and looking back, I don't want to struggle with decisions about favorites.  Goodreads lists 177 books that I've reviewed, but I never got around to reviewing all of the books; some are still in draft form, some I may not even bother with reviewing at this point.

Nonfiction Favorites:  

The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jacki Morris (poetry and art)

Fiction Favorites:

There were so many good mysteries and thrillers this year, even if I don't want to take the time to decide which ones I liked best.  I hope to list some favorites each month in 2020 to make it less time consuming to decide on favorite mysteries and thrillers.

Goals/Resolutions January always seems a little fraught for me because I have the urge to organize and clear out, make lists, make decisions.  Probably many of you feel the same urges.  Thinking about what you want from the new year can result in long, long lists that seem impossible to achieve, so I'm keeping it simple as far as goals.  (Which doesn't mean I won't be checking on the many other things I'd like for 2020 (more patience, less procrastinating, recycle-reuse and be more environmentally conscious, etc., but I won't feel pressured by them.)

 I have only 3 easy to achieve goals:  1)  renew my yoga practice by just committing to get on the mat every day, 2) walk more, and 3) get out more to do things I enjoy (quit being such a hermit).  I've had a successful first week.  Fingers crossed on the rest of the month. 

None of my goals have anything to do with reading, but I do look at the various reading challenges posted and add books to my TBR list.  

Reading Itineraries.  I've taken reading itineraries most of my life--sometimes deliberate, sometimes not even realized until some way down the road.  After reading about a person or event or place in a book of fiction or nonfiction, I often follow up on that in other books.  Mary Tudor as a minor character in a historical mystery might lead to an interest in Jane Gray, or Elizabeth I, or persecution of Protestants, or Philip of Spain.   It is kind of a one-thing-leads-to-another thing, but with various digressions to explore along the way.  Historical fiction often encourages me to find out more about historical characters and events.  

 I'm a third of the way through The Idea of the Brain:  The Past and Future of Neuroscience by Matthew Cobb, which reminded me of the brain/science/learning itinerary I started several years ago.  I read a number of these one year, and then continued to look for interesting books in the category.  

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
The Secret Live of the Mind by Mariano Sigman
How We Learn by Benedict Carey
The Wisdom Paradox by Elkhonon Goldberg
The Three Pound Enigma by Shannon Moffett
The Vigorous Mind by Ingrid E. Cummings
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
The Intention Experiment by Lynne Taggert
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
Failing Our Brightest Kids by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Brandon L. Wright
Learned Optimism by Martin E.P. Seligman
The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Sandra Blakeslee and MatthewBlakeslee
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

Another nonfiction itinerary that has continued for years is a yoga book itinerary.  I've reviewed some, but not all of these, and since I took these pics several years ago, I'm not sure what I've added since then.  The bottom stack are my favorites from all the piles.

I don't see me buying any new books in this category right now, but several of my favorites bear another rereading, especially since I'm trying to renew my practice this year.

Stitching.  I've finished the second panel for 25 Million Stitches, and now I'm darning holes in a sweater and finishing up some UFOs from the last two years.  

Listening.  To some interesting podcasts while I stitch.  

Planning.  Next year's garden and enjoying my salad garden.  I mean it feels like spring here with temps in the 60's and 70's!

Monday, January 06, 2020

The Janes by Louisa Luna

The Janes by Louisa Luna  is the second Alice Vega Novel and since I enjoyed the first one, I was eager for this one. 

On the outskirts of San Diego, the bodies of two young women are discovered. They have no names, no IDs, and no family looking for them. Fearing the possibility of a human trafficking ring, the police and FBI reach out to Alice Vega, a private investigator known for finding the missing, for help in finding out who the Janes were--and finding the others who are missing.

Vega is called in when the bodies of two young Latina women are found with no identification and who have not been reported missing.  When Vega is called in to help, she brings in Cap, her partner in the first book.

Maybe because women are so frequently victims of abuse, we enjoy having a kick-ass female protagonist in a take charge and take-em-down role.  Are these women (Liz Salander, Jane Hawk, Livia Lone, Alice Vega) realistic?  Not really.  They have many stereotypical qualities, but they also have personality and the gumption, determination, intelligence, and a sense of justice that I have fun identifying with in the most ridiculous way.  

Who are some of your favorite awesome, bad-ass female protagonists?

Read in July?  Blog review scheduled for Jan. 6, 2020.

Mystery/Thriller.  Jan. 21, 2020.   Print length:  368 pages.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

In 1852, Maggie sees an ad: 

"If you are an adventuresome young woman of high moral character and fine health, are you willing to travel to California in search of a good husband?"

Maggie has good reasons for leaving Chicago and attends the meeting explaining more about the trip.  She joins forty-three other women "good Christian women" who are looking for husbands--or escape from their pasts--on the dangerous 2,000 mile journey.  

An interesting historical novel about the hardships and heartbreak a group of courageous women were willing to endure in order to  begin life anew.  The reasons for these women to undertake such a hazardous journey varied, but were all based on hope for something better than the situations in which they were currently existing.  One has to admire the courage and determination required to survive and the bonds the women forged.

Although I didn't feel a strong connection to any of the women, I admired them for the fortitude they exhibited and enjoyed the historical elements.

My interest in the Oregon Trail and westward journeys of the 1800's began when I was in my teens and read Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow.  

Read in August; blog review scheduled for Jan. 2, 2020.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Historical Fiction.  Jan. 7, 2020.  Print length:  336 pages.