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Friday, August 27, 2021

Braiding Sweetgrass (in progress), I Will Always Write Back, and The Devil's Teeth

 For the last ten days or so, I've been listening to Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by written and narrated by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  A series of essays that combine scientific knowledge with indigenous myth and culture and examine our relationship with the earth.  

I've been enjoying the essays and the soothing voice of the author/narrator.  It isn't the kind of book that you read (or listen to) straight through.  You listen and pause and return again later that day or the next.  I've listened to about half now, an essay or two at a time as I do chores or sit and sew on the Nightmare Catchers.  

Kimmerer is a scientist, but she is strongly influenced by her indigenous heritage, and the essays make me ponder the way the two, science and culture, differ.  They may come to the same conclusions, but by very different paths.  

In a letter from our thirteen-year-old granddaughter, she mentioned that of her summer reading, I Will Always Write Back was the book that made an impression on her.  As both a reader and a letter writer, I figured this was a book I needed to read.  

The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

In 1997, Caitlin's middle school initiated a pen pal exchange, and Caitlin requested a pen pal from Zimbabwe.  Martin Ganda, a bright, but impoverished student received Caitlin's letter.  For six years the two corresponded, building a friendship that has lasted over the years.

The story is told in hindsight, with both Caitlin and Martin revealing events and situations that were not present in their letters.  Martin's poverty was beyond what twelve-year-old Caitlin was capable of understanding, and he reveals the extent of it only much later.  Initially, he wants to focus on what the two had in common, as if they were both normal kids.

When the letters begin, Caitlin is as shallow and privileged as many American middle schoolers can be in an affluent society.  With little experience outside of their own families and communities, they don't yet realize what it is to be without the things they take for granted--food, clothing, housing.  American children are often sheltered and unaware--in any real sense---of the effects of poverty, even in their own communities.  This is, of course, true of many adults as well.  

Martin's experiences come as an eye-opener for readers.  And most of the readers of this book will be American middle-schoolers.  The stories of Caitlin and Martin should have an impact on how young people begin to process a broader world.  

Martin is persistent.  He never gives up, and eventually, with the help of Caitlin and her family, attends an American university and builds a successful career.  Still friends years later, the two relate the story of the impact the letters had on each of them.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
2015.  Print length:  392 pages.

In 2018, I read the first of the Ravenwood Mysteries, then the second, third, and fourth.  The more I read the more I enjoyed them (always fortunate).  

The Devil's Teeth is book #5, and I was delighted to get back to a cast of characters that continued to grow on me with each book. 

For pure rollicking adventure, wit, and historical inspiration, these books have all been a pleasure of escapism.  The Devil's Teeth is somewhat tamer, as Bel has been confined to an asylum.  Not that this has done much to contain her.

In San Francisco, Atticus Riot has his own problems with the agency, his caseload, and the two daughters he has adopted.  

Sabrina Flynn uses the history of San Francisco and the raucous Barbary Coast as inspiration for both characters and events.   In the midst of the adventure, other topics like misogyny, racism, political corruption, all the vices of the Barbary Coast and China Town. 

Action packed and characters that leave the page and engage your imagination.  A Victorian mystery series that is one romp after another.

Ink & Sea Publ.
Victorian Mystery.  2019.  Print length:  352 pages.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Horseman by Christina Henry and Tahoe Blow Up by Todd Borg

 A wonderful cover, but unlike The Girl in Red, Horseman doesn't deliver.  At first, I thought it would be a fun take on the original.  When the two fourteen-year-olds were playing Sleepy Hollow Boys, I expected to love this different perspective on Washington Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Instead, the story begins nearly thirty years later.

Which was fine and still promising.  Brom and Katrina have married, had a son, lost both their son Bendix and their daughter-in-law, and have been raising their grandchild, Bende, usually shortened to Ben.  

As a coming-of-age or self-actualization story, Horseman does have some merit, but in the end, the impact is lost.  The first person narration tends more to "telling" than showing and feels clumsy--like explanations of what is happening.

I looked at some reviews and there are plenty of positive reviews, so the fact that I was disappointed, doesn't mean that you will be.  And no one can fault the cover!

NetGalley/Berkley Publ.

Fantasy.  Sept. 28, 2021.  Print length:  320 pages


In early August, I read Tahoe Death Fall by Todd Borg and felt glad to be at the beginning of a long series which will be there when I need something to read in those periods when the pickings are poor or when a book I thought I'd enjoy ends up being abandoned.  

Of particular interest is the plot.  Owen McKenna is alerted by Spot, his Great Dane, and realizes that a fire is rapidly moving up the mountain toward his cabin.  The speed of a forest fire depends on fuel, weather, and terrain and can move as fast as 10 mph.  All conditions are present when McKenna registers the danger, and the fire is quickly moving up the slope at frightening speed.  He notifies his closest neighbor and picks her up as quickly as possible to escape being trapped by the fire.

With all the fires currently burning across the West, the book felt even more relevant  Aside from the search for the arsonist, the information about forest fires was educational.  Blow ups, sudden increases in intensity that risk fire fighters losing control; trees that are more flammable and those that have greater resistance; methods and equipment used in fighting forest fires are all included as McKenna, the fire department, and the forest service deal with the fires.  

I like the characters and, although the arsonist is not too difficult to spot, I enjoyed the way the plot played out.

Thriller Press/Kindle Unlimited

Suspense.  2001.  Print length:  320 pages.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Bombay Prince by Suhata Massey and Over My Dead Body by Jeffrey Archer


From the beginning of this series, it was clear that India was approaching the precipice of a divided nation.  Britain had promised self-rule if India would help during WWI, but reneged, offering some reforms, but not self-rule.  

When Edward, the Prince of Wales, made his royal tour in 1921, tempers were high and the divisions between sects were a roiling undercurrent.  Indians were divided into those who wanted self-government and those who supported the British-- and then into various sects, the largest majorities of which were Muslim and Hindus.  

A supporter of independence, Perveen Mistry did not intend to join the parade crowds welcoming the Prince of Wales, but changes her mind and joins her friend Alice and the Woodburn College assembly. 

A student protester rushes toward the prince's carriage, unruly crowds that turn into riots, a young girl who had visited Perveen for advice is found murdered on campus grounds.  

Another excellent glimpse of the various cultures, beliefs, and political turmoil of an India seeking change.  The redoubtable Perveen and her family and friends give a personal insight to different views, religions, and nationalities.  For many of us, the best way to develop an interest in other cultures and in history is often the result of reading fiction and then becoming interested in finding out more.

I highly recommend this series by Suhata Massey.

The audiobook was skillfully narrated by Snethan Mahan.


I read some Jeffrey Archer books years ago, so when NetGalley offered this one, I was interested.

from description:  In London, the Metropolitan Police set up a new Unsolved Murders Unit—a cold case squad—to catch the criminals nobody else can. 
In Geneva, millionaire art collector Miles Faulkner—convicted of forgery and theft—was pronounced dead two months ago. So why is his unscrupulous lawyer still representing a dead client? 
On a luxury liner en route to New York, the battle for power at the heart of a wealthy dynasty is about to turn to murder.
And at the heart of all three investigations are Detective Chief Inspector William Warwick, rising star of the department, and ex-undercover agent Ross Hogan, brought in from the cold. 

Over My Dead Body is the 4th book in the Detective William Warwick series, and I haven't read the previous books.   The setting is the 1970's and was full of topical allusions which younger readers might not recognize.  

Three previous books in the series might have made a difference in my opinion, but I doubt I'll go back and pick them up.  

I liked some elements, but several felt "forced"--i.e., the Holmes-like deductions in the opening chapters whose only purpose was the author's need to have a little fun and to make DCI Warwick seem supremely clever.  This largely throw-away section does, however, introduce young James who has a bit of a cameo late in the novel and may be intended to show up in future books.

Warwick is upstaged as the novel progresses DI Ross Hogan, who is a more interesting character with an edgy quality that contrasts with "choirboy" Warwick.  Warwick's team has multiple characters who have obviously been in previous books, but don't have that much to do in this installment as the main plot (among the many mini plots) focuses on the clever, sinister, and obsessive Miles Faulkner and his return to life...and on his obsession with his art collection.

Police Procedural.  Oct. 13, 2020.  Print length: 384 pages.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes


 I read The Last Watch in October of 2020 and posted the review in March.  I'm glad to have been able to continue this adventure with The Exiled Fleet, but now I'm waiting for book 3.  

 My main complaint is that I wish there had been a little reminder of some of the events in the first book.  The Exiled Fleet begins in medias res, and as I've read over a hundred of books since last October, it took me a chapter or so to reorient myself.  A minor complaint.  

Character development continues, an important element in a series that relies on a sense of loyalty and camaraderie.  Each of the characters has both strengths and concomitant flaws that keep them human--not perfect, infallible cardboard cutouts.  In addition to Rake, Cavalon, and Jackin, secondary characters from the first book take on new responsibilities, and some interesting new characters are added.

The Sentinels survived the collapsing of the Divide and have rescued as many other endangered Sentinels as possible, but their situation is still dire.  As they struggle for materials, food, and mechanical and technical solutions, we learn more about the characters and their backgrounds while also gaining a better understanding of their world(s) and the machinations of Augustus Mercer, his eugenic programs, and long range plans.

Plenty of action.  Read in July; review scheduled for 

Science fiction.  Aug. 17, 2021.  Print length: 432 pages.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Last Time She Died by Zoe Sharp

Gideon Fitzroy never reported his daughter Blake as missing, instead, he encouraged the rumor that Blake was a runaway.  Ten years later, shortly after Fitzroy's death in an auto accident, Blake Fitzroy shows up at his funeral.

Unsurprisingly, his second wife as well as several others are shocked and dismayed at the arrival of a calm, cool twenty-five-year-old on the scene claiming to be Blake.  

The Blake who shows up is not the shy fifteen-year-old who went missing a decade ago, but a composed, self-possessed young woman.  A  con artist, hoping to gain control of the estate through the will?

Detective John Byron, on medical leave from the Met, has also shown up for the funeral.  He has no official authority, but it appears that he does have a purpose.

Byron is a shrewd and competent detective, but he is on medical leave, not at all certain he should be back at work, and a little curious about this assignment.  His boss, however, wants Byron back in the game unofficially in order to motivate his interest in returning to work full time.

Unsure what to think about the young woman claiming to be Blake Fitzroy, Byron is intrigued.  His initial assignment changes with Blake's unexpected arrival throwing everything up in the air.  

Blake has an agenda, but her goal seems less to do with gaining an inheritance and more to do with the events that caused her to runaway ten years ago...and to stay away until Gideon Fitzroy was dead.  If she is, indeed, Blake Fitzroy.  And whether or not she is, Blake certainly has some skills in housebreaking.

Both characters and plot kept me involved and eager to know what happened next! Enough information to make you eager to keep track of details, but not enough to feel confident who is responsible.  Exactly the way I like it. :)

An absorbing and entertaining mystery with characters I'm eager to read more about!


Mystery/thriller.  Oct. 20, 2021.   


 I don't answer unknown numbers,
but I do think this would be fun.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Witching Tree by Alice Blanchard


 Although sucked into the town of Burning Lake and its ability to accommodate both Wicca and Christian inhabitants, the need for the first two books didn't manifest.

from description:  Welcome to Burning Lake, a small, isolated town with a dark history of witches and false accusations. Now, a modern-day witch has been murdered, and Detective Natalie Lockhart is reluctantly drawn deep into the case, in this atmospheric mystery from Alice Blanchard, The Witching Tree.

When the leader of the town's oldest coven is brutally murdered, detectives Natalie Lockhart and Luke Pittman are stunned, not only at the loss of a beloved member of the community, but by the terrible circumstances.

There are plenty of interesting elements, and I was happily disregarding a few things that bothered me.  One major cavil was with Natalie's  love triangle, living with one man and hankering for another.  She is still reeling from events in the previous books, so it is easy to feel some compassion for her situation, but it bothered me for several reasons.  

At any rate, I was willing to ignore several things until it ended in a cliff hanger!  No conclusion, no resolution.  It is one thing to leave a few threads dangling, but that was not the case.  Nothing is resolved. 

As I was reading, I was thinking this would make a good R.I.P book, but ending a mystery without a conclusion in and attempt to make the reader eager for the next book is inexcusable.  The Witching Tree was by no means great literature, but it was entertaining, and to have the book end abruptly with everything still in the air is unfair manipulation.  I won't be looking for the next book--I no longer care what happens to any of the inhabitants of Burning Lake.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Mystery.  Dec. 7, 2021.  Print length:  336 pages.
Although I haven't taken part in the R.I.P. challenge in several years, I'm always on the lookout for books that fit the tenor of the challenge because I especially enjoy spooky, eerie, witchy books in the fall.  

I'm looking forward to trying The Manningtree Witches at some point:  "Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this beguiling debut novel that brilliantly brings to life the residents of a small English town in the grip of the seventeenth-century witch trials and the young woman tasked with saving them all from themselves."
Has anyone seen anything about the challenge this year?  I participated from 2006 -2016, after that I continued to read along with everyone else but without adding my name to the challenge posts.  

Do you have some R.I.P. books in mind?  Have you heard if anyone is sponsoring the challenge this year?

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Tahoe Death Fall by Todd Borg and Miscellaneous Nonsense

  Whew, I've been abandoning a lot of books lately.  Some I know pretty quickly that they aren't what I want to read; I've read over 50% of others (hoping that somehow the experience will be salvaged) before giving up.  Sometimes it's the book and sometimes it's me--for whatever reason.  

Cathy recently mentioned the Owen McKenna Tahoe series by Todd Borg as one of her favorites.  H
er review of the latest in the series caught my interest, so I started with the first in the series.  If I liked it, I'd have many books to keep me distracted from the real world.

And I did like it and will read the next book.    The excruciatingly long plane escape was more interruption than suspense for me, but any other implausible elements bothered me not in the least.   Owen and Street are great characters for a series, and I even hope Jennifer appears in future books.  She is too interesting to be wasted on just one book, and I'd like to see her grow up in the series.  Not that I actually expect that, but it doesn't hurt to hope.

from description:  When 14-year-old Jennifer Salazar approaches Tahoe Detective Owen McKenna, she explains that her identical twin sister Melissa died 8 years before on their 6th birthday. Now, at the ripe old age of 14, Jennifer has come to believe that her sister's death was not the accident that everyone says. When McKenna investigates, he uncovers a long-buried secret that is still driving a murderer to kill. McKenna is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because McKenna believes that Jennifer is next to die... (less)

A fast and easy read, with a Great Dane named Spot, interesting characters, and a plot that kept me wondering.  This is exactly what I need right now: escapism.   I suspect Tahoe Death Fall is one of those series that gets better as you become invested with the characters, and I'm eager to find out. The first book in the Owen McKenna series makes the most of the location, introduces characters, includes a love interest based on friendship and respect, and provides plenty of suspense.  

There are now 15 books in the series, so I will have a reliable "go to" when needed.

Mystery/Suspense.  2001.  Print length:  258 pages.
Crafting:  I keep making the Nightmare Catchers--but now, I'm feeling the Halloween vibe.  Maybe I'll get out my Halloween fabric to make the next ones.  This is the time I usually start getting in the mood for Halloween characters.  

Currently Reading:  In this case, listening to The Bombay Prince by Suhata Massey.  :)

Recently Finished:  The Riverwoman's Dragon by Candace Robb and Better Off Dead (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child/Andrew Child.

Gardening:  too hot!  


Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Constance by Matthew Fizsimmons


Constance is a strange book, a mix of intriguing ethical questions to ponder and some over-the-top events that take it from future possibility to B movie horror.  

from description: In the near future, advances in medicine and quantum computing make human cloning a reality. For the wealthy, cheating death is the ultimate luxury. To anticloning militants, it’s an abomination against nature. For young Constance “Con” D’Arcy, who was gifted her own clone by her late aunt, it’s terrifying.

Constance has not recovered from the accident that put her boyfriend into a permanent vegetative state and left her with severe damage to one of her knees.  

Con's Aunt Abigail, with whom Constance has had only one brief encounter as a child, is a brilliant scientist whose work has made cloning a possibility.  

When Abigail's work is successful and her company Paragenesis is worth millions, Abigail gives her family the opportunity to have a clone--sort of giving them all her middle finger because she knows they won't accept.  Con, who also left her dysfunctional home, accepts the opportunity for a clone --mostly for the same reason, to thumb her nose at her family.  But after a scheduled update or "refresh" to put Con's most recent memories into the clone, something goes wrong.

Slow beginning, then suddenly intense and fast-paced, when Con's clone is activated.  When Con2 is activated, she is missing memories of the last 18 months and has no idea what happened to her "original."  

On the run, Con2's compulsion to find out what happened during the 18 missing months, while trying to evade those who have been sent to recover her, leads her into dangerous situations.  Unable to trust those who tell her they are trying to help her, Con2 pursues her quest to fill in the memory blanks and to find out how and why her "original" died.  There are plenty of twists.

I raced through this one.  The middle is satisfying and suspenseful, but the conclusion feels like the author lost track of his purpose or self-control and let his over-heated imagination have free rein.  :)  


"No hint that, deep in the bowels of the building, the laws of nature were being systematically rewritten." (about the Paragenesis building and labs where the cloning takes place)

"Humans are very good at inventing solutions and very, very bad at anticipating consequences."

"In this country, power doesn't derive from defeating a threat; true power comes from the fear of the threat.  And maintaining power requires a continuing threat."

Science Fiction.  Sept. 1, 2021.  Print length: 352 pages.



Sunday, August 01, 2021

Gone for Good by Joanna Schaffhausen and The Merchant and the Rogue by Sarah M. Eden

The first in a new series by Joanna Schaffhausen, Gone for Good is Detective Annalisa Vega #1.  Like the Ellery Hathaway/Reed Markham series by Schaffhausen, Gone for Good has a twisty conundrum of a plot.

Twenty years have passed since the Lovelorn Killer murders, and now Annalisa Vega is wondering why the murders have started again.  She has a personal connection to the last of killer's victims.

The most interesting part to me was the online "detective" group called the Grave Diggers, who investigate cold cases.

I didn't want to put it down, but I still had a lot of quibbles. The reviews are extremely positive, and although I'll certainly need the next Annalisa Vega book, this one wasn't a stand-out for me.  

I'm looking forward to the next Ellery Hathaway/Reed Markham book, though.

Read in February; blog review scheduled for Aug. 1.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Mystery/Thriller.  Aug. 10, 2021.  Print length:  304 pages.

The Dread Penny Society series is light fun with interesting characters.  I like the concept, but it must be hard-going to keep it fresh.

The Merchant and the Rogue is the third book in the series and contains the sweet little romance of the main characters.  There's a hint of which secondary characters will take the stage in the next book.

Each book contains  a Penny Dreadful story by one or two of the characters.  Brogan's Penny Dreadful, "The Dead Zoo" had an interesting concept, but I found it ...not terribly interesting.  King's story was better.  Then, of course, there is the main plot in which Brogan goes undercover and falls for the bookseller and confronts corruption.

I loved the first book The Lady and the Highwayman because if its originality.  The second and third books are OK, but all of them have terrific covers. :)

Read in February; blog review scheduled for Aug. 1.

NetGalley/Shadow Mountain Publishing
Historical/Mystery/Romance.  Aug. 17, 2021.  print length:  368 pages.