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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.