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Monday, March 23, 2020

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The Black and the White by Alis Hawkins, The Falling Girl by R. Allen Chappell, and Some Loreth Anne White

I'm behind on reviewing; off course, that is usually the case, but in this current turmoil--even more so.  

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson was full of detail and well-researched; some of the details were fascinating, but they were overwhelming.  It was difficult to actually absorb all of the numbers, but interesting to see the myriad complications of planning and creating the Chicago's World Fair.  Interspersed between chapters about the all that went on to actually build the Fair were chapters about the serial killer H.H. Holmes.  

One thing I didn't like was Larson's imagining certain scenes with the killer and his victims.  He addresses this in his notes, but imagining scenes in a nonfiction book annoys me.  I'm glad I read it--I learned some things that will stay with me about the planning of a World Fair and the complications that ensue but I definitely prefer the altered style of Larson's The Splendid and the Vile about Churchill and the blitz.   No imagined scenes in The Splendid and the Vile--all came from letters and personal accounts, and it read more smoothly and more quickly than The Devil in the White City.


Great cover and an intriguing premise.  The Black and the White by Alis Hawkins has some historical interest and is well-written, but the "mystery" is a slow burn--even though the reader is quick to see who the murderer is.  (Martin has all the information and still fails to let it penetrate or persuade him to admit it.)

Anyone interested in the Black Death might enjoy elements of the story that "sort of" coincide with the current pandemic, but as a mystery or thriller, it did not succeed for me.  

Netgalley/Sapere Books
Historical Fiction.  March 30, 2020.  Print length:  370 pages.

Since first reading Navajo Autumn last year, I've read every book in this series.  I have not reviewed all of them, but I have loved each one  and was so excited that R. Allen Chappell had a new entry in the series!

In Falling Girl, Harley Ponyboy takes the lead and adjusts to changes in his circumstances in a purely Harley Ponyboy way!  Harley adapts to his new situation(s) in ways humorous and expected, but also in ways that show growing maturity as he depends less on his friends to counteract the threat.  His initiative is different from that of Charlie Yazzie or Thomas Begay, but effective.

I adore this series and the characters.  If you have the opportunity, get the first book in this series of the Four Corners region of the Southwest and immerse yourself in the culture, characters, and plots because Chappell just keeps getting better!

Kindle Unlimited.

Melody mentioned how much she enjoyed In the Dark by Loreth Anne White a while back and sent me looking forWhite's books.  So far I've read and enjoyed In the Dark, The Dark Lure, and The Dark Bones.  Yes, I do want more.  They are not great literature, they are fast-paced and gripping and keep my mind off the news.  Fortunately, I will be able to read quite a few more.  Free on Kindle Unlimited.  Thanks, Melody.  :)

 I do my daily yoga sadhana.  With the emphasis on breath, yoga gives a respite from the news and overthinking.

The constant rain without time for the ground to dry out has inhibited my ability to garden, but I fill the bird feeders daily.  The birds don't seem to mind the rain, and I enjoy the daily squabbles over whose turn it is on the feeders.  Doves are greedy and sometimes bully the smaller birds.   The hawk that sat on the fence and frightened all the other birds away has not returned.  

Stay safe.  

Monday, March 16, 2020

Jeri Westerson, Louisa Morgan, and C.S. Harris--Historical Fiction

In Sword of Shadows by Jeri Westerson, Crispin Guest is again on the hunt of a fabulous artifact, this one more related to myth than religion.

from description:  London, 1396. A trip to the swordsmith shop for Crispin Guest, Tracker of London, and his apprentice Jack Tucker takes an unexpected turn when Crispin crosses paths with Carantok Teague, a Cornish treasure hunter. Carantok has a map he is convinced will lead him to the sword of Excalibur - a magnificent relic dating back to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - and he wants Crispin to help him find it.

Tintagel, a hidden village, some murders, jilted lovers, and the return of Kat.  Another fun adventure with Crispin and Jack.

Read in December.  Blog review scheduled for March 16, 2020.

NetGalley/Severn House
Historical Mystery.  April 7, 2020.  Print length:  224 pages.

The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan features a family of witches with historical roots, some benevolent magic vs manipulative magic for self-interest, a social climbing stepmother, a young woman fighting for independence, a little romance.  

Like with ghost stories, witch stories always appeal to me, but rarely satisfy me.  Although I didn't want to abandon it, The Age of Witches didn't make me want to seek out the author again.  For me, it promised more than it delivered.

Read in December.  Blog review scheduled for March 16, 2020.

NetGalley/Redhook Books
Historical Fiction/Paranormal.  April 7, 2020.  Print length:  448 pages.  

Whenever a new Sebastian St. Cyr book is released, I'm eager to begin!  Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris pits Sebastian (Viscount Devlin) against Jarvis and a political cover-up.  That damned Jarvis, he is the epitome of the influential politician.  Of course, he is also Hero's father, which puts Sebastian in many an awkward situation.

Nicholas Hayes was transported to Botany Bay for life and reportedly died there.  Why has he returned to London?  Who killed him and why?  

Sebastian's valet knew Nicholas Hayes and his opinion of the man differs greatly from those who name him as a murderer.  Hayes was accompanied by a young boy who has since disappeared, and Sebastian and Hero search for him.  Someone else is also searching, but the intent is vastly different.  

As always, I enjoyed the history, the mystery, and the characters in C.S. Harris' enthralling series set in Regency England.

Read in November.  Review scheduled for March 16, 2020.

NetGalley/ Berkley Pub.
Historica Mystery.  April 7, 2020.  Print length:  336 pages.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa, The Last Sister by Kendra Elliot, and Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford

 Night of the Dragon, the final installment of Julie Kagawa's Shadow of the Fox trilogy, follows the little band of heroes to the final conflict with evil.  Hoping against hope to stop the Master of Demon's plan, Yumeko, Tatsumi, Reika, Okame, Daisuke, and the little ghost maiden Suki  embrace the challenges and put their lives on the line for the chance of saving the world.

I love the characters.  I loved the first two books.  This final book, however, deals more with the battles and monsters than with the characters.  I'd be interested in the percentage of time spent on battles vs time spent with characters who have made the trilogy so much fun for me.   The purpose was, perhaps, to increase suspense, but for me, it became simply frustrating.  I quit caring about how many heads and limbs were lost and just wanted to get on with the plot.  Even the appearance of the silent game player that gave a late twist to the plot...didn't quite feel right.

So, if you've been following Shadow of the Fox, you will want to read this to discover a number of secrets revealed and how our charming band of hopefuls end up.  You may not agree with my opinion of too many lengthy battles.

NetGalley/Inkyard Press
YA/Fantasy.  March 31, 2020.  Print length:  384 pages.  

 The Last Sister by Kendra Elliot is the first in her new Columbia River series.  I really enjoyed Elliot's Mercy Kilpatrick series and was pleased to find another series that might keep my interest.

I don't usually listen to audio books, but I did listen to this one while doing mundane chores.  It kept me entertained, and I did a lot more  mindless tasks than I intended.  It was certainly a different experience from reading.

Small town in Oregon, a young black man hanged and his white wife savagely stabbed to death, a weird connection (or two or three) to a murder 20 years previously.

The main character Zander Wells is from a previous series that I haven't read.  A second book is scheduled for this year, and I will probably listen to it as well.  And dust, mop floors, do laundry, do baseboards and ceiling fans, etc.  :)

Kindle Unlimited
Mystery.  January 2020.  Print length:  328 pages.

I rarely read novellas, but I've recently read two, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflecting Water by Zen Cho (which I've scheduled closer to publication) and Jeffrey Ford's Out of Body.

From description: "Jeffrey Ford returns with Out of Body, a new horror story about a small-town librarian whose sleep paralysis becomes something much more."  

OK.  A rather dull librarian experiences out of body episodes that introduce him to the mysteries of the night world.  Murders, vampires, a serial killer, and other strange experiences.  

I was slowly drawn in to this one, mostly because I had no idea what to expect and still don't know what to say about it.

Strange, but not really my thing.

NetGalley/Macmillan, Tor/Forge.
Horror? Fantasy?  May 26, 2020.  Print length:  175 pages.

I'm slowly making my way through two nonfiction books:  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Growing Old by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.  

Anthropomorphzed Books by Johnathan Wolstenholme found here 

Sunday, March 08, 2020

The Canary Keeper, The Killing Fog, and No Quiet Among the Shadows

The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson is a historical mystery set in the mid-1800s, full of atmospheric descriptions and historic detail.  I was particularly interested in the connections to the Franklin Expedition because I had a reading itinerary several years ago that focused on books connected directly and indirectly to the Franklin Expedition and Arctic exploration.   There was also a look at the fur trade, the abuses and prejudices against indigenous peoples.  

A murder, a false accusation, and an escape to Stromness in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.  

Kindle Unlimited

Historic Mystery.  2019.  Print length:  416 pages.

The Killing Fog (#1 in the Grave Kingdom series) by Jeff Wheeler.  

I loved Wheeler's Kingfountain series and enjoyed his Harbinger series, as well.  This new series, however, didn't engage me in the same way.  

A lot of possibility and a strong beginning, but the characters lack the depth and interest of those in his previous series.  The rush into the plot left no time to appreciate either the characters or the world situation.

Disappointed, but will give the next book in the series a try.

Kindle Unlimited

Fantasy.  March 1, 2020.  Print length:  212 pages.

No Quiet Among the Shadows by Nancy Herriman is a historical mystery set in San Francisco.  

A glimpse of the husband Celia Davies thought was dead, the murder of an investigator, seances, and women and wives who are troublesome committed to asylums.  Some intriguing avenues for a mystery.

This is the third in this series, but I haven't read the first two books.  Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had.

NetGalley/Beyond the Page Publishing
Historical Mystery.  March 3, 2020.  Print length:  264 pages.

 Blind date with a book

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Why Writing Matters by Nicholas Delbanco

Why Writing Matters is full of Delbanco's personal experiences with writing, with his mentors, and with his students.  (I know I mentioned this book when I read it, but this is a more detailed review.)

Delbanco begins with one of the most important reasons for writing:  "before the invention of writing, spoken discourse could not last."  Oral transmission, while wonderful for making use of memory, is "subject to forgetfulness or change."  The oral tradition was marvelous, but writing has more permanence.  

Writing, words on a page or clay tablet, allows cultures to be shared and provides a way to imagine the future and to keep evidence of the past.  Writing enables us to communicate with those who are not physically present--and recorded history and literature allow us to communicate with those from the past. 

One important note that Delbanco makes early, and returns to later:  Read it again!  Our first impressions of a written work can change.  The beloved books of our youth can take on new meaning or become obvious in their lack of genuine content or style.  When an adolescent Delbanco was spouting the marvels of The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of his teachers advised him to read it again. At fourteen, he did and discovered that while the book had been fun and exciting, it was not the great literature he had imagined.  Delbanco's reminiscences of his teachers, mentors, and colleagues reveal how writers learn their trade and inspire each other.   

( Delbanco was a privileged and intelligent kid with the added advantage of some marvelous teachers at his prep school.  Fieldston is part of the Ivy Preparatory School League and is an elite school with impressive graduates and teachers.)  

After Fieldston, 
He was educated at Harvard University, B.A. 1963; Columbia University, M.A. 1966. He taught at Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont, 1966–84, and at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1984–85. He was a visiting Professor at such institutions also as Trinity College, Williams College, Columbia University and the University of Iowa. He was director of the MFA Program, and the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, until his retirement in 2015. (Wikipedia)

The section on imitation is interesting, and Delbanco emphasizes that for many trades apprenticeship has been the preferred way to learn.  He adds, "But to imitate is not to be derivative; it's simply to admit that we derive from what was accomplished by others."   And "No one seeks to be original when learning scales, or how to use a grindstone, or where the comma belongs in a dependent clause. "  We emulate in order to learn skills.

Delbanco also discusses imitation, forgery, plagiarism, and authenticity in an intriguing way with famous examples.

The exploitation and corruption of language is another way of examining both spoken and written words.   Think politicians--saying one thing, then saying they didn't say it or that they didn't mean it.  Instead of cogent and meaningful discourse, the choosing of hyperbole and boastfulness, repetition "as if asseveration might make a falsehood true"  has become more and more common.  Do people mean what they say or what they write?  I find it difficult to believe political rhetoric, mostly because it lacks sincerity at best and is predominantly ad hominem attack without content or truth at worst.  An intentional misuse of language, Delbanco believes is an assault on democracy.  I'm not sure anyone would disagree these days.

 This wasn't intended to such a long review, but as I skim over all the highlighted passages I marked as I read, there is no way to cover everything.  There are sections I would omit.  Sometimes a few examples are better than too many and Delbanco, who takes obvious joy in writing, can overdo a good thing at times.  :)

The book was a pleasure to read, and I loved the references to writers I've read and to some I've only read about.  I enjoyed the plays on words  (though maybe some should be cut) and Debanco's pleasure in language is evident throughout, and I loved learning a couple of new-to-me interpretations of quotes from Hamlet

I want to read the final edited version and have pre-ordered the book.  Read in January; blog review scheduled for March 3.

NetGalley/Yale U.P.
Nonfiction.  March 17, 2020.  Print length:  296 pages (ARC)