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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Children of the Valley by Castle Freeman and An Ace and a Par by Blake Banner

Children of the Valley is the third book in this series featuring Lucian Wing, sheriff of a backwoods county in Vermont.   

A lawyer of one of New York's wealthy and powerful, visits Lucian to explain that the man's stepdaughter has gone missing and is suspected to be in the area.  Heavy hints of a pay-off if Lucian lets the lawyer know first.  Also, when Lucian doesn't respond as expected, hints that his own men will be looking.  

Lucian is kind of comforting, he is backwoods country and plays on the stereotype, but he's no dummy.  There a couple of times I found myself re-reading a passage for the humor and his laidback outlook.  

As Lucian finds the runaways and begins trying to keep them safe, the novel alternates suspense/quirky characters/ and humor.  I may have to go back and pick up the first book. :)

Police Procedural/Humor.  Dec. 10, 2020.  

from description:  Detective John Stone of the NYPD has the best arrest record in the 43rd precinct. But he’s a dinosaur who belongs to another age. Detective Carmen Dehan has such a bad attitude that nobody at the precinct can stomach her. Captain Jennifer Cuevas wants them both out of the way and thinks they make a perfect pair. So she gives them the Cold Cases file – the cases nobody gives a damn about.
The only problem is the case Stone decides on is going to have deadly repercussions ten years on.  Nelson Hernandez and his four cousins were murdered during a poker game, and although there were plenty of suspects, mob/triad/Latino gang related/ and a bent cop who disappeared, there was no evidence to bring a charge.

I usually avoid mob related stories, but I kept reading because this one concentrated on the investigation and the relationship between the new partners. The plot put a great deal of interest on the abduction of a young woman who was present at the time of the murders.  Stone and Dehan may want the killers, but they are just as concerned with what happened to the young woman.   

Twists and turns, fast paced, completely implausible.  The relationship between Stone and Dehan works, but neither character has much development--the author concentrates on the way they bounce ideas off each other and that worked, but Stone's ability to anticipate "what next" felt a little too much.

As the first in a new series, I may give the next one a try to see if there is some increase in characterization.  An Ace and a Pair was interesting, but also feels like a first step as the author develops his plans  for the characters.

Kindle Unlimited
Police Procedural.  2017.  Print length: 207 pages.

We will be having a Thanksgiving with only the two of us.  This is the first time it has been just us since one Thanksgiving when we were dating and work interfered with going home.
I know many people are upset about a scaled down holiday, but Priya Parker suggests abandoning the traditional thanksgiving script.  We were already planning to forego the turkey and dressing meal.  I'm not going to moan about the loss of a turkey (okay, maybe a little moaning about the pecan pie), but I will miss the kids and grandkids--so Fee and I are going for soup, sandwiches, and a trip to the country.    

However, you spend your Thanksgiving, I hope you will have a good day!  Stay safe and well!

 Both of these made me laugh!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Navigating the Stars by Maria V. Snyder and The Preserve by Ariel S. Winte


I was surprised to hear that Maria V. Snyder was writing science fiction.  I've read Snyder's Study novels which begin with Poison Study and are exciting fantasy with compelling, memorable characters and great world building.  

When I saw Ashley's review of the third book in Snyder's Sentinels of the Galaxy series, I barely skimmed it because I wanted to begin with the first book.  Snyder and YA science fiction--a combination I didn't want to miss.

In Navigating the Stars, Seventeen-year-old Lyra has had a disjointed childhood as her archaeologist parents have moved from planet to planet investigating the secrets behind the Terra Cotta Warriors found on different planets throughout the galaxy.  

The characters are likable, and the relationship between Lyra and her parents is believable.  Lyra resents the moves that uproot her life, but the parental relationship is strong and supportive.

The world-building is, for the most part, limited to the interactions of the characters on the base itself, with some development of the archaeological dig site.  The planet is a desert with sandstorms that can interrupt the work, but doesn't require further detail.

The science takes in the conundrum of space dilation--and the difficulty of adjusting to the phenomenon of a few months in space travel for a crew and passengers becomes decades for those on the planet they just left.  Snyder invented the Q-net to make communications possible, and Lyra is a talented hacker, who "worms" her way through the Q-net with skill and often impactful results.  

Navigating the Stars differs from Snyder's other novels, aimed as it is toward a YA audience, but it was a fun and exciting experience.  Could have done without some of the YA romance, but I can't wait to get to book two!


From description:  Decimated by plague, the human population is now a minority. Robots—complex AIs almost indistinguishable from humans—are the ruling majority. Nine months ago, in a controversial move, the robot government opened a series of preserves, designated areas where humans can choose to live without robot interference. Now the preserves face their first challenge: someone has been murdered

An intriguing concept that, for me, was not fully realized.  The Preserve is a dystopian murder mystery with many elements of contemporary problems transformed by shifting the power from human to AI.  It is interesting that the author refers to "robots" rather than AI, and that the most likable character is Kir, the robot partner of the Preserve police chief Jesse Laughton.  

Because the robots are so human in their character flaws of prejudice and addiction, it is difficult to think of them as "not human."  

Although an interesting police procedural, perhaps the most provocative aspect for me is...what is left out.  The book jumps into a situation with no background or history. A little historical explanation would have been nice, if not at the beginning, at least at some point. 

 Kir's mechanical body blends with humans, and his brain has all of the complex, moral, and empathetic qualities we would hope for (and are often missing from) genuine humans.   The only real difference between humans and AI, as presented in the novel, is that their bodies don't bleed.  The movements and abilities are the same and function physically as efficiently as humans. Their "brains" also function much as in humans--with good or bad opinions and intentions.  

I had all kinds of questions as I read, more questions than answers.  Sometimes, however, raising questions is enough to make a book worthwhile.  

NetGalley/Atria Books

Dystopian/Police Procedural.  Nov. 3, 2020.  Print length:  256 pages.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Books--there are never enough; I'm continually adding to my list.  I always find time to read them, but taking the time to review them is another story.  

News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  (Thanks, Sam!)  I read it on my Kindle, but I ordered a physical copy for my husband.  

From a NY Times review:  "  [Paulette Jiles's] story in “News of the World” is painfully simple. An old man, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, is content to make his living as an itinerant news reader in Texas until he is charged with a much more difficult mission. A white girl, about 10, has been “rescued” from the Kiowa Indians who kidnapped her and killed her immediate family four years earlier. Would he please take her down to the San Antonio region and return her to her closest living relatives, an aunt and uncle?"  (Source)

The characters enter your world with a surprising intensity.  Captain Kidd and Johanna make the dangerous trek through a largely untamed Texas, not long after the Civil War.  Initially, Johanna wants nothing more to return to the Kiowas, but gradually, she and Kidd form a bond.

It is my favorite book of fiction this year.

As I read, I thought of many things, including the problems experienced by children who were kidnapped by various Indian tribes and were unable to re-assimilate into their families after being rescued.  I also thought about boarding schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that forced the children to cut their hair  and wear uniforms of the white culture, that forbade the use of their own language, and more.  Families were coerced into sending their children from 1860-1978.  

Articles in medical and psychiatric science journals have repeatedly discussed how childhood trauma "influences both mental and physical health in adulthood and across generations" (Source), and I thought about the children put in cages at the border and wondered about the ramifications of those actions, not only on the children themselves, but on their children.

I finished this last week, and it is still on my mind.  I've finished several other books since, and although several were good--they aren't in the same category.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Outcast Girls by Alys Clare

I really enjoyed the first book in the World's End Investigation Bureau, a Victorian mystery series.  This one, for some reason, was less intriguing.

from description: "London, 1881. Lily Raynor, owner of the World's End Investigation Bureau, is growing increasingly worried. Work is drying up, finances are tight and she cannot find enough for Felix Wibraham, her sole employee, to do. When schoolteacher Georgiana Long arrives with a worrying tale of runaway pupils, it seems like the answer to her prayers. The case is an interesting one, and what could be less perilous than a trip to a girls' boarding school, out in the Fens?"

The Outcast Girls was OK, but I did not find it as interesting as I hoped. The title World's End Investigation Bureau and the Victorian setting appeals to me, and since I liked the first book, I'll give the next one a try.

Read in August.  Blog review scheduled for Nov. 11.

NetGalley/Severn House
Historical Mystery.  Dec. 1, 2020.  Print length:  256 pages. 

Saturday, November 07, 2020

The Eagle Catcher by Margaret Coel, Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer, and What My Husband Did by Kerry Wilkinson


Mysteries that take place in the West appeal to me.  Favorite authors include Tony Hillerman, Craig Johnson, Cormac McCarthy, and R. Allen Chappell.

I've added Margaret Coel to that list, after reading The Eagle Catcher, set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  (Thanks, Cathy!)  

Father John O'Malley,  Jesuit priest and recovering alcoholic works with  Vicki Holden, an Arapaho lawyer in an attempt to find the killer of a tribal chairman and make sure his nephew is not convicted of the murder.

Injustice is a theme, both historical and present day, as hidden crimes from past and present come to light.  Social and culture prejudices are thematic, as well, and blended easily into the mystery plot.

The Eagle Catcher is the first book in the series, so I have more to read!  Since some of my latest books have been abandoned for lack of interest or for mediocre writing, I'm doubly grateful for a new series to enjoy.


Although I haven't read the first book (Catfishing on Catnet), I did find this YA novel intriguing.  

from description:  "When a mysterious entity starts hacking into social networks and chat rooms to instigate paranoia and violence in the real world, it’s up to Steph and her new friend, Nell, to find a way to stop it—with the help of their benevolent AI friend, CheshireCat."

Chaos on Catnet is a YA thriller with some genuine considerations about social media/the internet and its ability to influence hundreds of thousands of people.  As I was reading it, we were all watching social media and news media as the election approached, and even now, in the aftermath of the election, we see the influence of the media for manipulating emotions.

Pretty scary the way those with an agenda can influence hundreds of thousands of people to violence.  In the book and in real life, this happens.

At the same time, the internet does have many positive benefits.  Friendships with people you may never meet in person, inspiration concerning hobbies and interests, and finding acceptance and support among like-minded people.  Steph has this support among her friends.

An AI with human qualities is still a long way in the future, if ever; but the ability of people to use the internet and social media in a destructive fashion has been troublesome for a long time.  Even more so during all the problems 2020 has presented.

Because I think the novel is of current interest, I'm reviewing it now rather than scheduling it for later.


YA/Thriller/Science, Tech.  April 27, 2021.  Print length:  304 pages. 

I like Kerry Wilkinson a lot, but this was not my favorite.  However, looking at Goodreads reviews, Almost everyone else, loved it.  So...there you go.  

from description: "A little girl has been left for dead. And now my husband is missing."

Things aren't looking good for Maddy's husband Richard, and in a village that knows everything that happens and closes ranks, things aren't looking good for Maddy either.  

I realize the cutting back and forth to Maddy's childhood serves a purpose, but I found it distracting.  Much simpler to give a brief background concerning Maddy's father having been convicted of a crime he didn't commit.

Maddy, as she tries to puzzle out the situation of her husband's absence, also has to face some of the elements of their marriage.  


Mystery.  Nov. 17, 2020.  Print length:  360 pages.


Today is my birthday, and my daughter texted that she gave me a new president!  Couldn't be happier!