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Friday, September 24, 2021

Uncharted Waters and Where Cowards Tread by Sabrina Flynn, Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave, Tahoe ice Grave by Todd Borg

Catching up on reviews from this summer.

Uncharted Waters by Sabrina Flynn is an unusual and intriguing installment in the Ravenwood series, an interlude between the mysteries--a novella that gives the mysteries a rest as it catches the reader up on the various characters and their lives.

The series has a large cast of characters, but the novella takes the time to develop them in their ordinary lives, away from the mysteries that Bel Amstel and Atticus Riot keep getting involved in.  

Because so many characters are interesting in their own right, Uncharted Waters allows us to know them a bit better.  It also provides hints that might lead to future plots.  A fun intermission from an entertaining series!

Read in August.

Ink & Sea Publishing
2019.  Print length:  113 pages.

Where Cowards Tread was an immediate follow-up to Unchartered Waters.  Back into the Ravenwood Mysteries, because they are such a combination of danger, suspense, and great characters.  

Bel and Atticus Riot have married, adopted Sao Jin and Sarah who were part of previous books, and are addressing all of the complications involved with married life and the new location of the detective agency.

Jin is sneaking out at night and visiting China Town, searching for answers in the dangerous streets and alleys.  Grim has begun following her in hopes of keeping her safe.

Someone doesn't want the new Ravenwood detective agency to survive, there's a missing girl, and Jin is courting serious danger in China Town.  

The historical setting of San Francisco, China Town, and the Barbary Coast, the genuinely interesting cast of characters, and the suspenseful plots keep this series entertaining, exciting, and fun to read.  

Read in August.

Ink & Sea Publishing
2020.  Print length:  442 pages.

Paul Cleave's Cemetery Lake (Theodore Tate #1) is a pretty dark crime novel.  Theo Tate is a PI and former police officer.  After his wife and daughter were rundown in a drunken hit-and-run accident, his daughter died and his wife has remained in a catatonic state.  Theo is a broken man, not only from the loss, but because of his subsequent actions.

While Theo is overlooking an exhumation at a Christchurch cemetery, things go to hell.  The body in the coffin is not the one that belongs there and bodies begin to rise in the lake that borders the cemetery.

Reviews seem to indicate that people either loved or hated Cemetery Lake.  I'm somewhere in between.  Theo is a little hard to like, the first person narrative doesn't work well for me, and the twists were disconcerting.  

I may try another in the series in hopes that Theo becomes more likable and less broken, but overall the book was dark, and I wasn't particularly concerned about the characters.

Read in August.

Kindle Unlimited/Atria Books
Crime.  2016.  Print length:  416 pages.   

I really enjoyed the first two books in Todd Borg's Tahoe series, but Tahoe Ice Grave  wasn't quite as satisfying.  Owen McKenna is hired to investigate the death of Thos Kahale who was murdered in the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe.  The investigation takes him to Hawaii and back again.

The premise didn't work as well for me in this book, and I had a difficult time adjusting to that.   Still...likable characters and a beautiful setting, and I'll move on to the next book.

Read in August.

Kindle Unlimited/Thriller Press
Crime/Detective.  2002.  Print length:  288 pages.

The news can be depressing, so I love to find articles that are hopeful (often in admittedly small ways) that creative and innovative individuals are doing for themselves and for their communities.  Positive things like finding solutions to plastic pollution, re-wilding areas, exhibiting kindness in small, but important ways, better farming techniques that look at preserving the land, seed savers (especially heritage plants), designs for more sustainable housing and community involvement in architecture and city planning--things that may be small and local, but that are encouraging.  Innovation, resilience, and creativity may not change the big picture, but still make me happy and act as a defense against the bad news.  

Also, things that counteract the violence, hate, and aggressive behavior that we are bombarded with daily.  Try this link for hopeful and uplifting things on Bored Panda.   

One example:  
"A little boy about 3 came up to me and asked if my head was cold.  I said yes a little (Melbourne Weather).  He took his beanie off and said that I could have it."

Yep, these make me feel better.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Vanishing Act (Jane Whitefield book 1) by Thomas Perry

 Sam had a post on Thomas Perry, and I realized I'd read The Burglar and liked it, so I thought I'd read a little more of Thomas Perry.

Looking at a list of Perry's books, I noticed the Jane Whitefield series.  Jane is a Native American, and I like books that feature indigenous characters.  I also liked the description of Jane being a "guide" who helps people in serious trouble disappear.  Many books in this category are about women and children escaping abusive situations, but Jane's clients vary.  They aren't always innocent, but they aren't deserving of being murdered.  (Think Kelley Armstrong's  Rockton series in which not all of the community are upstanding citizens.)

from description:   Thanks to her membership in the Wolf Clan of the Seneca tribe, she can fool any pursuer, cover any trail, and then provide her clients with new identities, complete with authentic paperwork. Jane knows all the tricks, ancient and modern; in fact, she has invented several of them herself.

In that lovely way of synchronicity,  Jane's Seneca background is important and there are digressions that tell some of the same myths that Robin Wall Kimmerer relates in Braiding Sweetgrass.  Deganawida  the Peacemaker features in Kimmerer's discussion of the legends of the Iroquois.  Born in Tonawanda, NY, Thomas Perry is well versed in the local indigenous legends and culture.  Many things that Kimmerer mentions in her nonfiction Braiding Sweetgrass appear in The Vanishing Act. from legends to environmental and cultural practices of the indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region.

The plot begins with Jane finishing getting one client to safety and finding another prospective client waiting for her in her home.  Jane's professional skills are impressive and the plot has plenty of close calls and one sinister surprise.  As skilled as Jane is at making people disappear, she is also capable of making mistakes--and just when it seems her skills are incomparable, Jane finds herself confronting unanticipated problems.

Suspenseful and entertaining!  I was glued to this one, and since this is the first in Perry's Jane Whitefield series, I have more to look forward to reading.

Ballantine Books (purchased)

Thriller.  1996, 2007.  Print length:  368 pages.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Mad Women's Ball by Victoria Mas

Throughout history, men have used many ways to remove difficult or embarrassing wives and daughters.  Women who, for one reason or another have proven troublesome (for husbands, fathers, or brothers) have often found themselves relegated to asylums.  Whether because of mental illness, refusal to stay in their place, adultery (of either partner), or financial incentives--asylums have provided ways to remove inconvenient women.  

In 1885 in Paris, Eugenie, a young woman in a controlling, patriarchal household, reveals to her grandmother that she "sees dead people."  As a result, she ends up in the Salpetriere Asylum.  Eugenie was already problematic for occasionally taunting her father, and he takes the opportunity to relieve himself of her presence.

The asylum under Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot was in much better shape than it had been previously, and Charcot made many advancements in science, but "Charcot had come to believe that susceptibility to hypnosis was an indicator of latent hysteria. He based this belief on the fact that hysterical symptoms could be reproduced by hypnotic suggestions (Fancher, 1985, p. 54)." (source)

Women in the Salpetriere Asylum range from those who suffer from epilepsy, dementia, "hysteria", sexual trauma, and in Eugenie's case the insanity of seeing spirits.  But Eugenie is not insane, and soon enough, Genevieve, the head nurse has to deal with this particular problem.  

The book is short and well-researched, and I found it intriguing in its rather unusual approach.  The inclusion of spiritualism, family dynamics, and the names of Charcot's famous students were sometimes at odds.  Medical science, especially in the area of mental health, has undergone remarkable and often cruel trends and so have cultural norms.  Women are much better off today--they can vote, get divorced, retain custody of their children, work outside the home, etc.  And yet...women are still expected to meet some of the social norms of a century ago, don't trust that reporting abuse will be taken seriously, and are called hysterical if they respond in a manner accepted as OK for men.  

Women Who Defied Gender Roles Were Once Imprisoned in Asylums

Restoring Perspective: Life and Treatment at the London Asylum

Women's Admission to Asylums in United States of America

It was difficult to find accounts of the Le Bal des Folles at the Salpetriere Asylum because almost everything led back to the novel and the upcoming film, but I finally found this.   

NetGalley/Abrams Books

Historical fiction.  Sept. 7, 2021.  Print length:  224 pages.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I finally finished listening to Braiding Sweetgrass:  Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, and it was quite an experience.  A blending of myth, traditions, science, environmental mistakes and possible cures, family anecdotes, and all kinds of thoughts to ponder.  

While I enjoyed some essays more than others and each essay has a strong personal involvement and bias, each one gave me a something to consider about the ecology of this land and the abuses we have inflicted upon it.  Unintended and unexpected consequences, as well as "who cares" consequences.  Even attempts to correct the mistakes often had other harmful consequences.  

First published in 2013, Kimmerer and most scientists were fully aware of the ramifications of global warming/climate change on both flora and fauna.  Eight years later, here we are experiencing the cumulative effects that scientists have been warning about since the climate models of the 1970s.  The changes may have been gradual for years, but the effects have intensified and can no longer be ignored.

Kimmerer had not despaired in 2013, and her work continues to offer ways of reclaiming damaged environments, but I have to wonder how hopeful she continues to be.  The catastrophic fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts have, for the last few years, forced us to look at what we have wrought and yet, we continue to do the very things that have contributed to the mess we've created.  

Do I agree with Kimmerer's basic philosophy?  Yes.  It is beautiful, scientifically sound, and logical:  reciprocate--take care of what feeds and supports you, don't take more than you need, insure that the plants, trees, and animals that help humans survive can also survive and thrive.  

I wish I could have read this book decades before it was written.  Braiding Sweetgrass may be idealized at times, but it touches people in ways that statistical models cannot.  Perhaps it could have helped curtail the some of the practices that have led us to this point.  Perhaps it would have encouraged a more open-minded outlook and offered a better horizon.

The Wendigo metaphor of insatiable greed and hunger is an affliction we can all recognize:  we want more, faster, easier, more convenient.  We never have enough.  Instead of recognizing this always wanting more as a flaw, societies have seen it as not only acceptable, but aspirational.  

The book is long and the audio version is exceedingly long, but I want to believe that we will, not only this country, but the world, realize the damage we continue to inflict, and think about healing this planet.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Gated Prey by Lee Goldberg, The Killer in the Snow by Alex Pine

Little Thieves is a retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale by Margaret Own from the perspective of the maid who stole the princess's identity.  

The book starts well.  Vanja has usurped the princess's identity and is stealing from wealthy aristocrats in order to buy herself a chance at freedom.  Vanja's godmothers, Death and Fortune, have made it clear that a certain time Vanja must choose between serving one or the other her godmothers.  Vanja, however, is determined to be in service to no one.  

After a heist that she hopes will provide the final amount to buy her freedom, she encounters one of the lesser gods who curses her, but gives her two weeks to break the curse.  

So much is going on in Little Thieves, the "princess" is soon to be married off to a brute of a man, Vanja needs to get free before that marriage takes place, the real princess is in the village in much reduced circumstances and justifiably angry, a Junior Prefect arrives to catch the jewel thief--and the story devolves in a half dozen ways.  

Much of the Little Thieves is very good.  I like the idea of telling the story from the POV of the maid that takes over the life of the princess.  Vanja can be practical and funny, but at sixteen, she isn't always seeing the situation clearly.  The curse is one that is intended to make Vanja consider events in a different light AND has another purpose besides punishing Vanya.  

There is a lot going on, suspense, a little romance, a growth experience, all kinds of complications cropping up.  

Somehow though, I was never as invested as I wanted to be.  I enjoyed it, but didn't love it.

Two of my favorite fairy tale re-imaginings of the Little Goose Girl story are Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl in her Bayern series and Intasar Khanani's Thorn.

Teens/YA.  Oct. 19, 2021.  Print length:  512 pages  


Gated Prey is the third entry in Lee Goldberg's Detective Eve Ronin series.  In order to have a better understanding of the background, it is better to begin with the first and second books that explain how rookie Eve Ronin ends up in the homicide squad and the resentment the Sheriff's department expresses toward for her high profile appointment and for her role in exposing the corruption in the department.  

Two plot threads are included in this third book.  One has to do with a Eve and partner Duncan Pavone pretending to be a wealthy couple in order to catch the home invaders who have been hitting very wealthy homes in an exclusive and gated community.  The second has to with Eve's questions about a still birth that has serious implications.

From the first book, Duncan Pavone's imminent retirement has been discussed.  If Duncan retires, I'm not sure the series will succeed.  His mentorship and support help keep Eve balanced.  He is the perfect experienced foil to Eve's impulsiveness.  

Read in May.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Police Procedural.  Oct. 26, 2021.  Print length:  268 pages

A man, his wife, and his daughter are murdered in an isolated farmhouse.  The murders are similar to murders that occurred in the same farmhouse twenty years earlier.  Too similar to ignore.

This is the second book in this series, and I didn't read the first one.  

There are some twists, but an important plot thread seemed obvious from early on.  I didn't find the main character Detective James Walker particularly appealing and the references to a couple of previous cases felt more digressive than important.

Alex Pine has written a series of books on true crime, but I believe this is only his second novel.

read in August


Mystery/Thriller.  Oct. 28, 2021.  Print length:  400 pages 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Names in a Jar by Jennifer Gold

 What drew me to Names in a Jar was the fact that Jennifer Gold used Irene Sendler as the inspiration for this fictional account of Warsaw, Poland and the Nazi occupation, and that as a young person, Leon Uris' Mila 18, the well-researched novel about the Warsaw Ghetto and the remarkable uprising, was an unforgettable experience.

Sendler's courage, initiative, and ingenuity intrigued me, and I wanted to try this fictional account based on Sendler's activities.

Two sisters, Anna and Lina, and their father are rounded up and imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto where starvation and typhoid take a terrible toll.  Twelve-year-old Anna joins a group of children who make their way in and out of the Ghetto, usually through the sewers, in order to get food and medicine.  

The story alternates between Anna and Lina.  Anna and infant Dov are smuggled out by Jolanta (the nom de guerre used by Irene Sendler) and taken in by a Polish family.

Lina stays in the ghetto, but becomes involved in forging papers for the underground network to give the children being smuggled out new names and backgrounds.  Eventually, Lina and Masha, another young woman who exhibits great courage, end up in Treblinka.  

Both sisters hold out hope for reunion, struggling with the threats that could end their lives.  Will the jars in Jolanta's garden help reunite the sisters, or any of those 2,500 smuggled Jewish children, with their families?

Although the author never goes into graphic detail at any point, there are some difficult and unpalatable incidents that should be expected in a book set in this period and location.  Gold handles all of these incidents well, including just enough to give a sense of the horror faced by Polish Jews and the Polish resistance and still be in keeping for young adults.  

NetGalley/Second Story Press
YA/Historical Fiction.    Sept. 14, 2021.  Print length:  336 pages.

Friday, September 03, 2021


 When Carl, began the first R.I.P. Challenge in 2006, I was all in.  I think the last time I formally joined was in 2016 or 2017, but I continued to read spooky books during the fall.   If you are looking for some suggestions, here are some that I looked back and found.

Renfield: Slave of Dracula (R.I.P. #9)

A list of some of the books that I'd read for the challenge  posted in 2011

End of Watch by Stephen King

Almost anything by John Connolly or Sharon Bolton

I wish I'd kept better track of R.I.P. books, because it is such a fun challenge.  At first, I concentrated on classics, then I moved on to some more contemporary books that fit the parameters of the challenge.  I also read some middle school or YA that were good, too. 

 Now, I just look for what others are reading and add some to my list.  

My favorite holiday is Halloween and spooky/supernatural books fit the season.  I'm not quite ready to get the Halloween decorations out, but I'm certainly thinking about it.  I just ignore the Heat Advisories and think pumpkins.

Anyway, I'm checking your R.I.P. book lists and stealing your suggestions. :)

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

SOE in Denmark, and Desolation Canyon by P.J. Tracy

 September has finally arrived, although it will be a while before it feels like fall.  I still have a lot of books to review from August, and I'll have to make myself get some of them scheduled.  Procrastination.  Instead of reviewing, I often just start another book.  Do you do that?  

It is 88 this morning with a heat index of 97 degrees; the high today will be 99--so the heat index will be at least 108.  Combined with the onset of allergy season and the itchy eyes, sneezing, and overall tiredness, I'm not feeling any incentive to do much today.  Weeds, be damned.  

I slowed down on my Nightmare Catchers in August, and have only three in progress.  Almost done, but they've been waiting on completion for a while. 


SOE in Denmark is an overview of SOE operations in Denmark written shortly after the war.  (Special Operations Executive) 

"SOE in Denmark was written at a time when SOE was still largely unknown to the general public and its operations a closely guarded secret. It was expected that its activities would never be officially acknowledged and the study of its actions in Denmark was compiled with the aim of provide a lasting record of its achievement."

While the book offers an account of the SOE's operations and collaboration with the Danish agents, it is an official report and lacks personal information about the agents who risked their lives.  The Appendices offer more information and reference material.  I was a little startled to find that approximately 2/3 of the book was the reference material, important and informative.

Having read Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks (son of Benjamin Marks, antiquarian bookseller of Marks & Co and 84, Charing Cross Road fame), I mistakenly thought SOE in Denmark would be similar.  

It isn't.  It is, nevertheless, important.  I  wish someone had recorded a more detailed account of  the individuals involved in the resistance to the Nazi Occupation of Denmark. Although SOE in Denmark lacks the human aspect, it is historically interesting.

(Some of the most famous female SOE agents were in France and included Nancy Wake, Violette Szabo, Odette Sansom, and Noor Inayat Khan--they have been written about many times. I wish we knew more about the Danish agents.)  

NetGalley/Frontline Books

WWII History.  Sept. 21, 2021.  Print length:  208 pages.

Desolation Canyon is the second book in this new series by P.J. Tracy.  

The series has several problems: 

While the author seems to want Detective Margaret Nolan to be the lead character, she wasn't the main character in Deep Into the Dark, and she isn't in Desolation Canyon.  

Too many fantastic coincidences and unbelievable plot lines.

No humor.

I miss the Monkeewrench gang! 

NetGalley/Minotaur Books 

Jan. 18, 2022.  Print length:  320 pages