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Monday, March 29, 2021

What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris (Sebastian St. Cyr)

 In 1814, Sebastian St. Cyr is confronted with a series of murders that are so similar to the Ratcliff Highway Murders that London must consider whether or not the real murderer was John Williams after all.  Is the real murderer active again?  Is it a copycat?

Based on the actual Ratcliff Highway Murders, Harris presents another possibility to the gruesome murders that took place in 1811, and as usual, the blend of fact and fiction is practically seamless as Harris' research is impeccable.

I look forward to each new Sebastian St. Cyr book.  The author's knowledge and examination of the political and social norms of the time, combined with her intriguing characters, result in great mysteries and an image of the Regency period that feels genuine.

My favorite character is Hero, partly because of personality and partly because she always gives insight into the culture of the poor.  A quiet character, Hero is also a determined woman who writes social articles about the lower levels of society, the impoverished, ill-treated, and forgotten men, women, and children of the period.  Sebastian pursues justice in his way, and Hero seeks justice in her own dedicated way.  Sebastian carries most of the novel, but Hero's involvement provides the support needed.

Read in Feb.; blog review scheduled for March 29.


Historical Mysteries.  April 6, 2021.  Print length:  336 pages.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch


This is a little unusual for a Charles Lenox novel, he ends up in America at the request of the British Prime Minister.  Disraeli wants Lenox out of the country during a trial involving officers of Scotland Yard.

Giving in to his early dreams of travel, Lenox eventually accedes to the P.M.'s request and travels to New York.

After a short stay in N.Y., Lenox is to travel to meet some colleagues  in Boston, accompanied by Teddy Blaine, a young man from one of the wealthiest families in America who is interested in becoming a detective.  The journey is interrupted when the train is stopped and Lenox is handed a letter pleading with him to come to New Port, R.I. (then as now, the summer homes of the ultra rich) to solve the murder of a young debutante.

In New Port, Lenox goes about interviewing folks from all spectrums of society, from Vanderbilts to kitchen staff with the occasional presence of Teddy Blaine, in his attempts to solve the murder. Some of his thoughts are revealed in the letters he writes to his wife Lady Jane, his brother Edmund, and his close friend Graham.  

As always, Charles Finch reveals segments of Victorian society, but this outing reveals elements of the American Gilded Age, that time between the end of the Civil War and before the turn of the century. The opulence, the fantastic wealth, the summer "cottages" with 70 to 100+ rooms (and all of the servants required to maintain them) is touched on as Lennox observes New Port's stunning affluence.

In addition to the mystery plot, I learned the origin of the word "shrapnel" and the phrase "heard it through the grapevine."  Lt. Henry Shrapnel invented an artillery shell that fragmented in 1803 and the Grapevine Tavern in N.Y. was a place where Union officers and Confederate spies mingled during the Civil War.  Thus, the source of news, information, gossip, and rumors was through the Grapevine.  
There was also a brief reference to Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), the British photographer considered one of the most important portraitists of the time.  I was familiar with her portraits of Julia Jackson Duckworth, Cameron's niece, otherwise I wouldn't have caught this one sentence reference.

Another great outing with Finch's Charles Lenox and the expectation of some changes in the future.

Read in October; blog post scheduled for March 23, 2021.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Historical Mystery.  Feb. 10, 2020.  Print length:  288 pages.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Hanging Fire and Branded by Eric Red

 Last year I reviewed the first in the Joe Noose series by Eric Red.  I went on to Hanging Fire.  

U.S. Marshall Bess Sugarland is still recovering from a gunshot wound, and Joe Noose is tasked with taking the infamous Bonnie Kate Vance to Victor, Idaho and her date with the gallows.

Not everyone wants Joe to succeed.  A sheriff from Arizona wants Bess (pretty much alive or dead) and if Joe Noose stands in the way, it's his mistake.  Also on their trail is a former lover of Bonnie Kate.  A dangerous trip over Talon Pass puts Joe and Bonnie Kate in danger over and over again.  

From the first book, the reader knows Joe Noose is larger than life and so are his adventures.  Action-packed.  

Kindle Unlimited.

Western.  2019.

The prologue of Branded gives some important background into Joe Noose, and a bitter lesson that Joe learned at thirteen.

U.S. Marshall Emmett Ford appears in Bess Sugarland's office in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  He's tracking a serial killer who brands his victims, sometimes entire families.

Joe Noose, recognizing the brand and the killer,  joins Bess and Emmett Ford in tracking down the deranged killer through a Wyoming winter.  

Another fast-paced adventure with plenty of action.  Read in November.  Review scheduled for March 20, 2021.

NetGalley/Kensington Books

Western/Thriller.  2021.  Print length:  281 pages.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Widows (Kinship #1) by Jess Montgomery

Another book read out of order.  I read The Hollows (Kinship #2) first and loved it.  Because The Hollows was so good--the characters, the setting, the plot, the writing--I knew I would want the first book in the series.

I finally got around to reading The Widows  and was again surprised at how much I loved everything about the town of Kinship and the characters Jess Montgomery created.  Some books hit everything I want in a novel, and both The Widows and The Hollows fall in that category for me.  Well-researched for historical elements, three-dimensional characters, strong women, excellent plot in both of these novels compelled me to keep turning the pages and to hope it wouldn't end, at the same time.

From Description:  "Inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff, this is a powerful debut about two women’s search for justice as they take on the corruption at the heart of their community."

Kinship, Ohio in 1924 owed a great deal to coal, but not everyone was happy with the treatment of miners.  When Lily Ross learns that her husband Daniel, sheriff of the county, has been killed by an escaped prisoner, she needs to know more.  Appointed as interim sheriff until the next election, Lily has the opportunity to investigate on her own, and what she learns about Daniel's death doesn't follow what she has been told.

When Marvena Whitcomb, unaware of Daniel's death, to talk to him about the disappearance of her daughter, Lily is confronted with the fact that she didn't know her husband as well as she thought.  Lily and Marvena join forces to halt a war in the making between miners, struggling for their rights, and the mine owner backed by Pinkerton strikebreakers.  

Miners' rights, prohibition, unlikely allies, suspenseful murder plot, deftly constructed sense of time and place, excellent prose.  5/5

I can't wait for The Stills, the next in the series.

I highly recommend the Kinship series!


Historical.  2019.  336 pages.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor


You don't want to miss Address Unknown first published in 1938 under the androgynous name Kressman Taylor, because the publishers believed a male author would be better received,  the author was actually Katherine Kressman Taylor. 

From Description: "A series of fictional letters between a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco and his former business partner, who has returned to Germany, Address Unknown is a haunting tale of enormous and enduring impact."


The letters begin in 1933, when Martin returns to Germany.  The two friends, Max, a Jew, and Martin, a gentile, begin the correspondence with the casual of effect of old friends.  The letters change fairly quickly in the correspondence as the situation in Germany changes.

Address Unknown is a short story in the form of nineteen letters, and even with the introduction and afterword that explains the events that inspired the story, it is fewer than 100 pages. 

To say that this short book carries an impact is an understatement.  It did at the time of publication--and it certainly had an impact on me.  "Words have power."  Both spoken and written.

Blog review scheduled for March 14.

Highly recommended.


Historical Fiction.  1938; 2002; 2021.  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Fantasy: The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani and Warrior's Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

 The Theft of Sunlight is due out on March 23.  I reviewed it early here, intending to post a reminder in March.  So this is the reminder.  :)

Intisar Khanani never disappoints me.

Jeff Wheeler is another of my favorites in the fantasy genre.  I adored the Kingfountain and the Harbinger series by Wheeler.  Warrior's Ransom is "The First Argentines #2."

Somehow, I missed the first book in this new series.  I'll probably go back and pick it up at some point.

I enjoyed it, but not nearly so much as the earlier Kingfountain and Harbinger books.  That said, missing the first book in "The First Argentines #1" series may have had something to do with it.

All three series are related to the Kingfountain books (my favorite) which are great fantasy fun and adventure.

Read in February.

NetGalley/47 North

Fantasy.  May 18, 2021.  Print length: 363 pages.  

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

"Angela Slatter is the author of the supernatural crime novels from Jo Fletcher Books/Hachette International: Vigil (2016), Corpselight (2017) and Restoration (2018), as well as eight short story collections...

She has won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, a Ditmar, an Australian Shadows Award and six Aurealis Awards.

From Description:  "Long ago Miren O'Malley's family prospered due to a deal struck with the Mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren's grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren's freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea...."
This is the first book I've read by Angela Slatter.  All the Murmuring Bones is a mixture of dark Gothic and mythic elements with a protagonist who wants to escape the strange O'Malley family and become her own person.  The writing is lush and atmospheric, and the story doesn't really begin until chapter two.  The first chapter is a beautifully written history of the sinister O'Malley family.

Miren, abandoned by her parents when she was a child, was raised by her grandparents.  After her grandfather's death, her grandmother Aoife O'Malley prepares to use her granddaughter in keeping the O'Malleys viable by forcing her to marry an O'Malley cousin.

Miren, however, has long wanted freedom from the O'Malley traditions and makes some plans of her own.  In the course of her journey, Miren meets with all manner of strange creatures: kelpies, ghosts, corpsewights, and other Irish folkloric creatures.

All the Murmuring Bones is a slow paced experience, steeped in Gothic and Irish folklore.


Myth/Fantasy.  March 9, 2021.  Print length:  368 pages.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Reading Aloud

 This is an interesting article in Neuroscience NewsHow Reading Aloud Can Be an Act of Seduction.

"Gurdon also suggests that reading aloud “has an amazing capacity to draw us closer to one another” both figuratively and literally. Where solitary reading drives us into ourselves – producing the cliched image of the couple reading their own books in bed before rolling over and turning out the light – reading aloud is a shared experience.

Reading aloud takes longer, but that is part of the point. Slow reading is sensuous reading. As opposed to the audiobooks now so firmly a part of the cultural landscape, for adults as well as children, reading aloud is responsive, intuitive and embodied."

We enjoy reading aloud to children, and I remember the disappointment when my children became early readers and I was no longer a necessary part of the reading experience.  

The audible book is an interesting phenomenon, although it may not be the same "shared experience" of reading aloud.  Many readers love listening to someone read to them.  Although I don't listen to many books because I can read much faster, I like to occasionally sit and listen while I embroider or  while doing mundane tasks that take little thought.  Not the same as reading to a partner or listening to a partner read, but still the concept of being read to and a slower experience.   

Before we had all of the technological means (radio, cinema, television, computers, cell phones) to keep us entertained or informed, reading aloud was a way of sharing stories and news, a kind of communal entertainment.  

I think of Captain Kidd in News of the World traveling around Texas frontier towns and reading newspapers to eager audiences and of all the households in the nineteenth century where reading novels aloud provided enjoyment and diversion. 

Reading aloud is a skill that few of us practice, at least for any length of time.  We are used to speeding through the pages, but there is importance in slowing down.  Reading aloud a short passage is very different from reading an entire book.  You have to admire those narrators who read novel after novel for audible books.

What are your experiences with reading aloud?

Sunday, March 07, 2021

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boeheme

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme is set in a fantasy world where magic is forbidden to the common people and the current king is addicted to a powerful dark magic.  Maralyth (Mara) has the magical ability to make grapes grow and ripen, which is fortunate in that her father is a famous vintner.  And unfortunate--because  affecting and protecting nature with her magic will result in her being kidnapped and suborned into a plot to overthrow the king.  A threat to her father makes certain she will comply.

It turns out that Mara is a descendant of the rightful royal family, and she is trained in court manners, dressed appropriately, and becomes a pawn in the attempt to overthrow the current king and his sons.

Then she meets the younger prince and likes him.  Mara's situation becomes more difficult as the coup will result in the death of the king, the older brother, and the young prince.  Whew!  That's a lot of responsibility on Mara's head.

A YA fantasy that I enjoyed while reading, but within a week couldn't remember much about it.

Read in January; blog review scheduled for March 7.

NetGalley/Macmillan Tor/Forge

YA Fantasy.  March 2, 2021.  Print length:  320 pages.

Friday, March 05, 2021


 In high school, I really liked The Scarlet Letter, but when I read it years later with a three-year-old...I had a whole new appreciation.  There are so many books that on a re-read give an additional resonance or that make you realize that the writing was not as good as the plot (Mila 18 by Leon Uris; but what a plot--it certainly increased my interest in all things WWII and Nazi Germany).  In some cases, I've loved a book more; in other cases, I've been disappointed that my re-read ruined my first opinion.

How about you?  

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Drown Her Sorrows by Melinda Leigh and The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris

 Two quick reads.

Drown Her Sorrows is the third book in Melinda Leigh's Bree Taggert series.  I read the first book, missed the second, and recently received this one from NetGalley.  I've liked some of the Morgan Dane series, but found the Scarlett Falls series too repetitive.  

Likable characters and a twist that you may or may not see coming.  The Bree Taggert books are bit of a mix of cozy, romance, and thriller.  

I plan to try the Midnight series, too.

Read in Feb.; review scheduled for March 3.


Mystery/Crime.  March 16, 2021.

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris is the third book in the Gunnie Rose series, and I haven't read the first two books, so there were adjustments to be made about missing background.

Nevertheless, this was an action-packed...?--I'm not really sure what to call this genre, but it was full of action and magic.  :)

My favorite series by Harris is the Harper Connelly series.  But for heaven's sake, Harris must never get up from her writing desk; she is prolific!

Read in Feb.; review scheduled for March 3.

NetGalley/Gallery/Saga Press

SciFi/Fantasy?  Feb. 23, 2021.  304 pages.


Monday, March 01, 2021

The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes


Science Fiction is one of my favorite genres, and J.S. Dewes' debut novel The Last Watch was a compelling adventure in space. The absorbing plot and engaging characters kept me enthralled.  

description: "The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake, commanding the Argus, has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted.

They’re humanity’s last chance."

The Sentinels stationed on the Argus are a mixed bag that have some problematic reason for their posting: hacking, disobeying an order, lack of respect for officers, etc.  Adequin Rake, the Commander of the Argus, is a Titan--one of the elite soldiers during the last war.  Titans are legendary heroes and Quin is one of the best why has she been relegated to the edge of the Divide?

The first chapter begins with a "spread your legs" scene as a new recruit goes through the physical examination of entering his new post.  Cav Mercer is relieved that his reason for being banished to the Argus has been redacted; he'd rather no one know his identity and lineage. Brilliant, with a list of advanced degrees, Cav is also a smartass. A failing he needs to overcome if he is going to survive as a new recruit with no military background.

The Last Watch is a smart military space opera with a gripping plot and characters you can't help but root for as they attempt to stave off the collapsing of the universe.

Read in Oct.; blog post scheduled for March 1, 2020.

Military Science Fiction, Space Opera  April 20.  Print length:  480 pages.