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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.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

Order of the Full Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho (author of The Sorcerer to the Crown).  A novella, and a strange one at that. 

From Description:  A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

The description captured my imagination.  I was not familiar with the term wuxia novel, so in case you aren't yet familiar with the term either:  

Wuxia (武俠 [ù. ɕjǎ]), which literally means "martial heroes", is a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. ... They often originate from the lower social classes of ancient Chinese society.

There is a handsome bandit, a homely bandit, a quixotic young nun on a mission, humor, and an unexpected twist.  In fact, most of this novella is unexpected.  And fun.  And maybe should have been longer?

Read in March.  Review scheduled for June 7.

NetGalley/Macmillan Tor/Forge
Wuxia novella.  June 23, 2020.  Print length:  176 pages.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Stay Sharp by Sanjay Gupta

oks about the brain and neuroscience always interest me, and Sanjay Gupta's Keep Sharp:  Build a Better Brain at Any Age qualifies because, while it is written for the lay person, it is a good combination of science and easy to understand examples.  Well-documented with studies that explain the way the brain works and what we can do to keep our brains in the best condition possible, the book offers good advice and suggestions to keep our minds sharp.  

A few excerpts and comments:

"But it important to know that memory is fundamentally a learning process--the result of constantly interpreting and analyzing incoming information."

"... your memory is not a single system--it's made up of a network of systems, each playing a different role in creating, storing, and recalling."

"The brain remains plastic throughout life and can rewire itself in response to learning.  It can also generate new brain cells under the right circumstances."

"...exercise is the only behavioral activity scientifically proven to trigger biological effects that can help the brain."  Also, "physical in activity has been calculated to be the most significant risk factor in cognitive decline and the development of dementia."

The author notes that physical exercise has often been sacrificed in schools.  Research shows the benefit of physical exercise on learning.  (There are tons of articles out there about how physical education/activity increases academic performance.)

There are also plenty of studies that research the affect of physical exercise on other age groups (including my own), but in addition to my own age group, I'm concerned about how taking physical education out of schools has been a mistake that has been detrimental in so many areas of child development.  

About brain-training videos, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku which can improve working memory in specific areas, Gupta adds that "...although they can help your brain get better at performing those specific activities, their benefits do not extend to other brain functions like reasoning and problem solving, both of which are key to building cognitive reserve."

The book covers everything from  to diet, exercise, learning, and more.  The connections Gupta makes about how these behaviors effect the brain provides essential information.  It may be common sense in many cases, but the how is important to know.

Building a better brain is important for people of all ages.  For children, adults, and the elderly, the book offers scientific and common sense methods to preserve and increase the brain's functions and delay cognitive decline.

 Excellent addition to my brain book collection.

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster
Brain/Neuroscience/Aging.  Jan., 2020.  Print length:  326 pages.

Monday, June 01, 2020

The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Wido Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs by Robert J. Mrazek

I read this in January, and it was one of my favorite books that month--a good opening to the new year.

The title belongs to Florence, and she ties everything together, but this is as much about the invasion of the Philippines by Imperial Japan as it is about Florence.

Florence was working at the G-2 (Intelligence) Headquarters in Manila under the command of Lt. Colonel E.C. (Carl) Engelhart when she met and married Charles (Bing) Smith, USN.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Bing reported to his PT boat and was involved in the defense of Corregidor where he died in action.  They had been married for only six months.  

Engelhart was captured after the fall of Corregidor and sent to a POW camp in Cabanatuan, where he began keeping a record of his time in captivity and the help provided by Florence and others to the POWs.

Disturbing to me was the failure of General MacArthur to act according to the strategic plan in place (a when, not if, the Japanese continued their encroachment in the Pacific).  Had he done so, the outcome in the Philippines may have been different.

Florence managed to obtain work with the Japanese-controlled Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union, and working with the Philippine Underground, she was able to divert fuel supplies to the resistance.  She also worked with others to smuggle in food and medicine to the POWs.  The consequences of being caught meant torture and probable death.  

In 1944, the Japanese finally caught on.  Florence was arrested and tortured.  When finally rescued by American forces in 1945, she weighed only 80 pounds.  

I've only touched briefly on some of the events in the book, but it was well-written and fascinating.  The documentation of the work is extensive, and in large part, from primary sources.  

Highly recommended! 

Read in January; blog review scheduled for June 1, 2020.

NetGalley/Hatchette Books
Biography/Memoir/WWII.  June 16, 2020.  Print length:  368 pages.