Search This Blog

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak Series

After becoming so involved with Stabenow's first Kate Shugak book, I moved quickly into the second, third, and fourth.  Right, a bit obsessive, but I enjoyed them so much I couldn't quit.

A Fatal Thaw opened with a chilling murderer randomly shooting and killing with abandon.  Sadly close to the kind of thing we have become accustomed to hearing about and as horrifying and difficult to understand.

from description: "Soon, nine people will be dead, seemingly the victims of a random act of violence—until a routine ballistics test reveals that one of the murders was anything but random."

 One madman and one murder of opportunity disguised as part of the madman's killing spree.  Kate and Mutt (wolf/huskey mix) step in to investigate.  

Again, the glimpses into the culture of the Alaskan wilderness and indigenous people are informative and entertaining.  The potlatch (ceremonial feast) organized by Kate's grandmother was a beautiful and touching event as various tribes honored the deceased.

Shugak packs so much into these books and does it so skillfully: characterization, plot, and setting are so adeptly blended that the reader feels truly immersed in the story.

Dead in the Water has Kate undercover on a crabbing boat from which two young men have gone missing.

In addition to the mystery of what happened to the young men, the dangers and financial rewards of fishing and crabbing in Alaskan waters is made perfectly and frighteningly real.

"These conditions add up to the deadliest occupation in the United States -- 128 per 100,000 Alaskan fishermen perished on the job in 2007, 26 times the national average [source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health]. Fishing deaths also make up about a third of all occupational fatalities in Alaska each year." 

and "Crab pots and crab pot launchers are common sources of injuries. Fishermen get caught up in the coil lines. Working at the edge of the boat also puts them at risk of being swept off the deck and falling overboard."(source)

Also neatly intertwined with the plot is a history of the Aleut tribe and why they were removed from their original homes on the Aleutian Islands during WWII when Japanese troops occupied the islands of  Attu and Kiska.  The information about the Alaskan Scouts, a fascinating part of the defense of Alaska during the war was new to me.

"It wasn’t easy to become an Alaska Scout. The qualifications were stringent, and Castner handpicked them all—trappers, hunters, fishermen, dogsledders, miners, and prospectors. He also chose Native Alaskans—Aleuts, Eskimos, and American Indians. “They have one thing in common,” he said. “They’re tough.” (source)

Learning by reading fiction is the easiest and most memorable way to absorb history.  Well, it works for me because I can't resist checking things out. 

This time Kate is on the North Slope investigating drug-related deaths.  She has personal grievances against the Prudhoe Bay oil company, but as she learns more about how the company operates, she is impressed with the amenities for workers who must spend much of their time in the far north and its deadly cold. 

 Not my favorite, but still very good!

Next up is Play with Fire, and I am making an effort to delay ordering it.  I can feel myself weakening, however.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Trials of Koli by M.R. Carey

M.R. Carey's books are strange and fascinating.  Earlier I read and reviewed The Book of Koli and was eager for this second book in the Rampart trilogy.  Read The Book of Koli first to get the background because this is one of those trilogies that requires an introduction to the post-apocalyptic world and the characters.  It's worth it.

from description:  "Koli never planned to set foot outside his small village. He knew that beyond its walls lay a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and Shunned men. But when he was exiled, he had no choice but to journey out into this strange world where every moment is a fight for survival.

And it’s not just Koli’s life that is threatened. Whole villages just like his are dying out.

But Koli heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If he can find it, there may still be a way for him to change his own fate – by saving the lives of those who are left."

The Trials of Koli takes Koli, Ursula, and Monono forward on their journey to London.  They are joined by Cup, first as an unwilling prisoner, later as part of the group.  The journey is dangerous and the threats from man and nature are plentiful, but working together the group weathers the hardships and the damages inflicted.

Interesting (and surprising to me) was the addition of a second voice.  Spinner, Koli's friend in Mythen Rood who married a Rampart, begins a second narrative about what happened in Mythen Rood after Koli's exile.  While her experiences are vastly different from those of the group headed toward London, they are just as fascinating and informative.

I've been a fan of M.R. Carey since The Girl with All the Gifts, and I've appreciated both books in this new trilogy.  Now, a wait for the final book.  I do hate waiting.

Read in May; blog review scheduled for Aug. 25.

NetGalley/Orbit Books
Post-Apocalyptic.  Sept. 15, 2020.  Print length:  480 pages.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Kate Powers Series by Judith Cutler

I've been reading a series by Judith Cutler that has engaged me (and are free on Kindle Unlimited) and kept me moving from book to book.  The protagonist, Kate Powers has recently joined the Birmingham CID after a personal tragedy.  Original title:  Power on Her Own.

From the description:  THE CASE
Boys are being abducted, abused, and murdered on her patch, and Kate feels intense personal and professional pressure to catch those responsible. Are her colleagues being deliberately obstructive or simply dragging their feet? Who is behind the vile crimes?

Set in the 90's in Birmingham.  Kate is being subjected to bullying by a member of her new team.  She isn't exactly surprised, but is reluctant to take it to her superiors.  When her new boss realizes the problem, he wants to do something about it, but Kate realizes that there are better ways than lodging a complaint.  She wants proof that won't look as if she is a weak woman, and she wants to get on with finding the culprit abusing the young boys.

The main problem with the first books is the format.  They don't allow for chapter separation and there are some abrupt changes of setting and characters that require adjustment.  

I liked Kate and had questions about her boss.  He seems genuine, but his interest in Kate is a little too personal.

Kindle Unlimited
Police Procedural.  1998/2020. 

A brief acquaintance with a businessman on a flight ends up with Kate giving him her card and agreeing to perhaps have dinner sometime.  Original title was Power Games.

When Alan Grafton is found dead of an apparent suicide, Kate is shocked.  She is also angry as a message intended for her that Grafton left was "mislaid."  Was it suicide or murder and could Kate have prevented his death if she had gotten the message?

The bullying continues with an additional target, a young Pakistani woman who has recently joined the team.

I'm still uneasy about Graham Harvey, Kate's boss.  He's married, but is attracted to Kate.  He also is a little ambiguous in his responses.  Sometimes supportive, sometimes harsh.  And again--married.  

Kindle Unlimited
Police Procedural.  1999/2020

Murder by Arson has Kate shifting from her CID team to a temporary assignment with a special murder investigation squad.  The original title was Power Games which is actually more accurate.  In fact, I like all of the original titles better.

After an early morning tennis lesson, Kate discovers the body of a member in the dressing room.  What initially appeared to be a heart attack on a healthy middle-aged woman, turns out to be murder.

More complications arise, both personal and professional.

Kindle Unlimited

Good News:  "The Texas Department of Public Safety announced the promotion of three Texas Rangers to the rank of captain.
Tuesday's promotion included the first two female Ranger captains in DPS history and the first-known Ranger in modern history to hold a doctorate degree."
 I think Attica Locke would be pleased with these promotions.  If you haven't read her Highway 59 series featuring Texas Ranger Darren Mathews, you are missing an opportunity.  Try Blue Bird, Blue Bird !

Friday, August 21, 2020

One by One by Ruth Ware and The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

One by One by Ruth Ware follows a house party/country house mystery trope.  The location, however, is not a British village, but a chalet in the French Alps.  The title and plot are reminiscent of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.  

from description:  Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?

The two caretaker/hosts Erin and Danny meet the members of a tech company who have gathered for a week of skiing and some important business decisions.

From the beginning, an awkwardness and differing opinions are evident among the guests.  Then Eva, one of the group, goes missing on a closed slope  and an avalanche isolates the group in the chalet.   Well, you know from the title what happens next.   

Told from two points of view, the book moves from the quarrels and divisions among the tech group to suspicion, distrust, and fear.

I didn't care for Turn of the Key, Ware's last book, but I enjoyed this one.

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for Aug. 21, 2020.

NetGalley/Gallery Books
Suspense/Mystery.  Sept. 8, 2020.  Print length:  384 pages

Ann Cleeves always gets my attention and keeps it.  Her skillful plotting and her vivid depictions of Vera in action are something I look forward to.

Blizzard-like conditions contrive to make Vera Stanhope miss the right turn-off on her way home.  As she drives through the snow, she spots a car off the road.  When she stops to check, she finds the driver side door open and a toddler in the back seat.  With no sign of the driver, Vera takes the toddler her with to the closet house, which happens to be that of estranged relatives.  The wealthier and more sophisticated Stanhopes have a dinner party in progress, and despite her reluctance, Vera has no choice but to interrupt it.

Sitting in the kitchen, checking with the police, Vera is  shocked when the little boy's mother is found dead by a neighboring farmer who arrived on a tractor to pick up his daughters who were acting as waitresses for the Stanhope dinner.

The Darkest Evening kept me engrossed throughout, and I sped right through it, a little annoyed with my husband's interruptions in the afternoon.  :)  

Two slight changes from previous books  made me like it even more.  Of course, Vera is a bit unkempt and she is brusque with her colleagues, but she is a sharp and observant detective.  It is particularly interesting to see the way Vera sees Joe and Holly--her team, and the way they view her.

The Darkest Evening is the 9th in the series, but can function as a stand-alone.   Ann Cleeves has another winner in this one.  I recently saw this quote about Vera and found it apt:   

"... one of the most appealing fictional detectives to emerge since Andy Dalziel got into his stride..."
Martin Edwards, Spinetingler Magazine

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for August 21, 2020.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Police Procedural/Mystery.  Sept. 8. 2020.  Print length:  384 pages.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

An Inconvenient Woman by Stephanie Buelens

Claire is outraged and concerned when her ex-husband plans to marry a woman with a daughter the same age as her own daughter was when she married Simon.  She blames Simon for her daughter's death and fears for the daughter of the woman Simon plans to marry.
Claire's anger and behavior after her daughter's death has led to her being labeled as unhinged, but she can't let that stop her from trying to stop Simon.

from description: "Sloane Wilson left the LAPD to work as a “sin eater,” a contractor for hire who specializes in cleaning up inconvenient situations—situations which, for whatever reason, are better handled outside the law."

When Simon hires Sloane to make his problem go away, she takes a personal dislike to Claire from Simon's description.  She determines to befriend Claire, however, and through plans A, B, or C make Simon's problem disappear.

Although a little put off by the erroneous interpretation of the term "sin eater,"  I became involved with the way the novel played out and the secrets that came to light.

Historically, a sin eater was hired to take food and drink when someone died, symbolically taking on the deceased's sins.  In the novel, Sloane interprets being a sin eater as a fixer who is paid to clean up a client's mess--I see the connection, but it is so opposed to the traditional idea, which is the idea of sacrificially taking on the sins of a deceased to ease their way into heaven.  A fixer makes problems go away for convenience.

Read in April.  Blog review scheduled for Aug. 18.
NetGalley/ Penzler Productions
Mystery.  Sept. 1, 2020.  Print length:  288 pages.

Just for Fun

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier and Spiteful Bones Jeri Westerson

A Dance with Fate , book 2 in the Warrior Bards series, was a success for me.  

From description:  The young warrior and bard Liobhan has lost her brother to the Otherworld. Even more determined to gain a place as an elite fighter, she returns to Swan Island to continue her training. But Liobhan is devastated when her comrade Dau is injured and loses his sight in their final display bout. Blamed by Dau's family for the accident, she agrees to go to Dau's home as a bond servant for the span of one year.

There, she soon learns that Oakhill is a place of dark secrets. The vicious Crow Folk still threaten both worlds. And Dau, battling the demon of despair, is not an easy man to help.

Darker than the first novel as Liobhan is treated ill as a bond servant and Dau is denied adequate care.  Dau's older brother Seanan is a nasty piece of work.

Now waiting for the third book!

Read in June;  blog review scheduled for Aug. 16.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing
Fantasy.  Sept. 1, 2020.   

Perhaps the penultimate novel in this series about Crispin Guest, the London Tracker.  :(

An odd couple, a body interred in a wall, a precious relic, a murder and further threats all woven in together as Crispin attempts to discover the guilty party.  His own life has both satisfactions and potential problems.

I've enjoyed this series since the first book, and I'm sorry that the author is planning to end it.  I do understand her reasons, but I will miss the intriguing mysteries and the well-developed and evolving characters.   Westerson plans to end the series with the next book.

Read in June;  blog review scheduled for Aug. 16.

NetGalley/Severn House

Medieval Mystery.  Sept. 1, 2020.   
I'm not sure what his deal is, but Edgrr is becoming a computer problem.  OK...he takes up half or more of the chair--I can deal with that.  But his desk browsing truly annoys me, and he's fast and persistent. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne and The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey

Kevin Hearne is better known for the Iron Druid series which I have not read, but Ink & Sigil is a humorous urban fantasy with some diverting characters and weird versions of mythological characters.

Magical sigils, dead apprentices, hobgoblins, curses, a battle seer, and lots of jokes about bollocks.  The characters are interesting, the mystery a little forced.

Some of it was fun and funny, so seemed strained and overdone, but as the first in a new series, I enjoyed it and see potential.

Read in May.  Blog review scheduled for

NetGalley/Random House
Scifi/Fantasy.  Aug. 25, 2020.  Print length:  336 pages

Margot Livesey's The Boy in the Field is a wonderful combination of complexity and simplicity.  Three young people walking home from school discover an injured boy in a field.

Stabbed and left by the stranger who picked him up on his way home,  Karel whispers a word which each three siblings hears differently.  Karel recovers, thanks to the interventions of Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan, but the lives of all four young people are changed.  One traumatic incident with lasting, but different effects.

Livesey's prose tenderly examines the rippling repercussions of the one violent attack.  The crime is sort of an inciting incident, and the narrative quietly follows the three siblings and the victim through their adolescence.  Family dynamics play a role as the four grow into adulthood.  

I loved this book.  It was not at all what I expected, but it will remain one of those memorable experiences of both narrative and elegant writing that lingers for some time.  

Read in March.  Review scheduled for Aug.

NetGalley/Harper Collins
Literary Fiction.  Aug. 11, 2020.  Print length:  272 pages.

For you knitters:  Yarn Bowl from Something Lucky 13

Monday, August 10, 2020

Shadows of the Dead by Spencer Kope

 This is the third in the Special Tracking series by Spencer Kope, but the first one I've read.  (Since reading this one in April, I've gone back and picked up the first book.)

Magnus "Steps" Craig is part of an elite FBI team.  His partner in the field is Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, and Diane is the IT member of the team.  Steps has a special ability, one that gives him an edge--however, only Jimmy is aware of it, and the two never mention it.

Following a high speed chase ending in a wrecked vehicle, the driver escapes and a young woman is found in the trunk.  The FBI Special Tracking Unit has been called in, and Steps and Jimmy are glad to be working with a team they've worked with successfully in the past.

The team manages to track and capture the suspect who seems psychotic, babbling about broken people, his need to fix them, and repeating that "Eight" needed fixing--in a disjointed conversation with himself.  He mentions the Onion King, but it is unclear whether this is a real person or a delusion.

When the young woman regains consciousness, she reveals two things:  the man who abducted her and the man in whose car she was found are not the same man...and she has been referred to as Eight.

The suspect is eventually identified as Murphy Cotton, and it appears that perhaps there is an Onion King and that the two have worked in tandem.  Steps and Jimmy, working with the local team, suspect there will have been seven previous victims...and perhaps a ninth has already been taken.

Steps and Jimmy have been partners for five years and work well together.  They  exhibit both determination to unravel the threads involved in the investigation and a deep sense of humanity and compassion.  While the plot isn't particularly believable, Steps and Jimmy (and Step's unusual ability) kept me engaged. 

I might look into the previous two books.  Read in April; blog review scheduled for Aug. 10.  
(I did read and review the first book in the series, Collecting the Dead)

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books
FBI/Crime/Procedural.  Aug. 25, 2020.  Print length:  336 pages.

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.