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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Divided Loyalty by Charles Todd, The Wilderwomen by Ruth Emmie Lang, and Carville's Cure: leprosy Stigma, and the Fight for Justice by Pam Fessler


I began reading this series with the first book years ago, but have missed many recent adventures.  Fortunately, the books can be read as standalones.  A historical mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge, the series begins shortly after WWI when Rutledge returns to Scotland Yard.  

The Charles Todd books plot excellent mysteries and deal with the aftereffects of the war on society in general and on Rutledge, who suffered from shellshock, in particular.  

The voice of the dead corporal Hamish MacLeod, occurs more frequently in the earlier books, but has diminished over the years.  Rutledge has   become more accustomed to the voice, recognizing Hamish as a part of his own mind.

A Divided Loyalty has Rutledge assigned to a case that a friend and superior officer did not solve:  the murder of a young woman whose body was found next to a standing stone at Avebury.  Rutledge is aware that Chief Superintendent Markham does not expect him to solve the case and that Markham hopes to use his failure as a means of getting rid of Rutledge. 

There is almost nothing to go on, but that does not stop Rutledge from pursuing every avenue he can.  

Written by the mother and son team who publish as Charles Todd.

William Morrow Publishers
Historical Mystery.  Feb. 4, 2022.  Print length:  335 pages

 From Description:
ive years ago, Nora Wilder disappeared. The older of her two daughters, Zadie, should have seen it coming, because she can literally see things coming. But not even her psychic abilities were able to prevent their mother from vanishing one morning.

I am not at all sure what I think of this one.  The writing is excellent, the premise is intriguing, but even though parts that were quite interesting, I wasn't satisfied.

I glanced at reviews when I finished, and almost everyone else loved it.  Several reviewers found it fast-paced, when I found it slow--but I'm definitely in the minority.    

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press
Fantasy?  Nov. 15, 2022.  Print length:  336 pages.

For some reason, I have associated the leper colony at Carville with Walker Percy, but it must of been just a brief mention in one of his novels.  

At any rate, Hansen's disease was and is one of the real boogiemen of diseases, largely because it has been misrepresented for centuries.   The disfigurement and the stigma associated with leprosy was almost as bad as the disease itself.

In 1894, the first seven patients were taken to what would become the Louisiana Leper Home near Carville in Iberville Parish, Louisiana.  

Pam Fessler's research is impeccable and fortunately the  history of the colony has been recorded in detail by the doctors, the nursing sisters of the Daughters of Charity, and the patients themselves.

I had no idea that the history of Carville would be so enthralling, and the credit is largely due to Fessler's compassionate writing.  The account ended up being as compelling as a novel, something I never expected.  

Quickly immersed in the history and in the lives of those who were patients and the lives of those who treated them, I found the book difficult to put down.  

Once diagnosed, patients had no choice, if they did not go willingly, then they were forcefully taken to the facility, sometimes in handcuffs.  Their names were changed to save their families from the shame and fear of the disease, and they were isolated from the public and even their own families.  All ages, genders, races, religions, and cultures  created a diversity almost unheard of as patients from all over the country  ended up in Carville.  Many patients spent almost their entire lives in Carville.

abandoned plantation that was to house 
the Daughters of Charity
when they arrived in the 1894

slave cabins to house patients

The situation improved, bit by bit over the decades to follow, and I was completely invested in both the history and the patients.  I was horrified at the separation of children from their families and at of some of the early rules to prevent contagion (even though they knew that the disease was not very contagious).  I celebrated the triumphs and marveled at the resilience and determination of both caretakers and patients.  

This was a remarkable book, and I'm so glad I happened on it.  It is not one I will forget--from John Early to Stanley Stein to Betty and Harry Martin, to Jack and Rachael Pendelton, to Simeon Peterson (known as Mr. Pete, who spent 83 of his 89 years in institutions, first in the St. Croix Leprosarium and then in Carville.  

Highly recommended.  

(More about Carville)  Many of you might mark this one down for November's Nonfiction Month if you don't have time to read it now.

Nonfiction.  2020.  Print length: 409 pages.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Finders Keepers and End of Watch by Stephen King; Hideout by Louisa Vega

During February, I finished listening to Finders Keepers and to End of Watch by Stephen King.  I didn't like Finders Keepers as much as Mr. Mercedes, although it was a good mystery/thriller.  I think this was because, as the second book in the trilogy, I expected Bill, Holly, and Jerome to be a larger part of the book, and they didn't appear at least have way through.  My expectations were more at fault than the book, and the characters were well drawn and believable.  

Although I read End of Watch in 2016 (my first ever book by King), I went ahead and got the audio version because I knew I'd forgotten much of it, and I could listen while doing other things.  Will Patton does an excellent job on the narration, but there were so many characters!  All of the female characters had the same speech patterns and intonations.  

If  I had not read the book first (giving Holly my own imagination of her voice and style), I might not have been bothered with Holly's "voice" in the audio version.  But I did, and I was.  Otherwise, the narration was great and kudos to Patton for all the voices he had to deal with.  Trying to differentiate so many voices is pretty much impossible.  

 While Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers are crime thrillers, End of Watch introduces a supernatural element.  

Private Investigator Alice Vega, takes on a cold case, not her typical kind of thing, but the money is good.

Zeb Williams has been missing for 30 years.  A rising football star, who in 1984 took the ball and ran to the rival team's goal post and kept on running--out of the stadium and out of the lives of everyone who knew him.

Zeb Williams became a cult figure and while initially there were occasional supposed sightings, thirty years later, no one knows if he is alive or dead.  

Alice Vega was given one photograph that showed Williams in a small town in Oregon.  After failing to induce Max Caplan to accompany her, Vega goes alone.

For several reasons, this third book in the series did not resonate with me.  I did not want to abandon it, but Vega didn't feel as genuine in this installment.  Caplan, at home with his daughter, had some problems of his own.  Hideout isn't bad, but I didn't find it as enjoyable as the previous two books.  Maybe Vega needs Caplan to help make her believable. 

Mystery/Suspense.  March 8, 2022.  Print length:  368 pages.

I've continued reading the DCI Harry Grimm series, which are fast-paced and fun with likable Yorkshire characters and distasteful villains. :)

February is International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo), and I decided to participate this year.  It is quite the challenge, and I've found it a bit overwhelming, but it is such fun to find even more letters in my mailbox!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

At Home on An Unruly Planet: Finding Refuge on a Changed Earth by Madeline Ostrander


At Home on an Unruly Planet by Madeline Ostrander discusses the effects of climate change on our sense of home, community, tradition, and history.  As it is often difficult to follow all the dominoes that have been set off by a warming planet, Ostrander looks at a few places specifically to illustrate the larger picture.

Many of us have recognized, if even in a vague way, that there will be more climate refugees as people lose homes and/or an economic base to the changing climate .  In some regions, especially in coastal regions, the movement away from the encroaching sea and more frequent and powerful storms has been recognized for years.  

The damage to the coastal areas of our country and to the livelihoods of people who, for generations, have depended on the sea (and who have lost homes and possessions many times)--for these people, the recurring losses can create a sense of homelessness that is beyond housing.  It is the loss of a way of life that includes family history, community, culture and hope for the next generation.   

By looking at a few places in greater detail, Ostrander lets readers extrapolate that information to apply in varying degrees to all  disaster prone areas.  The country and the world is confronting climate disasters, experiencing higher tides, more frequent and severe flooding, drought, and wildfires.  These catastrophes result in the loss of local histories, traditions, culture, historic buildings, and communities as well as individual homes.  Ostrander examines instances in which communities struggle to prepare for more change, but there are also places where continuing the fight is no longer feasible; where individuals and entire areas have accepted that they have to let go.  

Ostrander looks at an Inuit village in Alaska lost to the sea and thawing tundra that must relocate an entire village (there are more since Ostrander visited and researched Newtok); the fires in the Pacific North West that burn hotter, faster, and more frequently;  the effect of pollution on the local population from a refinery in Richmond, CA; and the loss of historic buildings in St. Augustine, FL.  Her writing is personal and reflects on predictions of how and when the warming climate will make changes in our lives, what is being done to prepare for the changes, and what must yet be done to ease the transitions that are required.

Individuals can and should plan and prepare (as those in wildfire areas and in areas threatened by flooding know--having a go bag with important papers, water, food, flashlights, etc. can make a huge difference in case of a disaster). Communities are often more effective working together as a unit, harnessing the talents and knowledge of its citizens when an emergency occurs.  Individuals and even communities, however, cannot prevent or mediate climate change emergencies on their own.  It is imperative that local, state, and national government be involved in planning for the changes to come.   

Highly Recommended.

NetGalley/Henry Holt & Co
Nonfiction/Climate Preparedness.  Aug. 2, 2022.  Print length:  352 pages.  

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Raven Spell by Luanne G. Smith, Between Kings by W.R. Gingell, Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

from description: In Victorian England a witch and a detective are on the hunt for a serial killer in an enthralling novel of magic and murder. 

This was a fun mystery with a lot of magical elements thrown in.  First in a new series.

Read in January.

Fantasy.  Feb. 1, 2022.  Print length:  256 pages.
Final installment of the Between series, which has been building characters throughout.  Some surprises, one that made me happy!     

Gingell has had fun with the series, and so did I. ; ) 

Urban fantasy.  Dec. 31, 2022.  Print length:  273 pages.

Although I read End of Watch, the third in this trilogy several years ago, only now have I gone back to read the first book.

A crime thriller (not horror) featuring retired detective Bill Hodges and a couple of interesting helpers.  

The book opens with a man driving a Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers, killing eight people and grievously injuring fifteen others; the reader experiences empathy with the folks gathered in hopes of finding jobs.  Then...the devastation of lives lost and damaged when the murderer plows into the crowd.

It was the last case of Bill Hodges before retirement, and a case that remains unsolved.  Now retired, bored, and depressed, Bill gets a letter from the Mercedes Killer that taunts him, encouraging him to commit suicide.  

The effect is the opposite of what the killer wants, the smug and sinister letter galvanizes the retired detective and now Bill Hodges want to get to Mr. Mercedes for personal reasons as well as fear of another massacre.

Definitely creepy, but with fascinating characters, three of whom you end up liking a great deal and cheering on.  This is the third Stephen King I've read: End of Watch some years ago, Billy Summers recently, and now Mr. Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes was an audio book that allowed me to work on the poor apron I spilled bleach on and have been slowly covering with embroidery.   

The colors don't show up on this, but it is quite colorful on the black.

"Read" in February.  

Audiobook narrated by Will Patton.  2014.  Print length:  437 pages. 


Saturday, February 05, 2022

Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder; The Self-made Widow by Fabian Nicieza; Best Served Cold by David J. Gatward

 Still catching up on January book reviews.

In the early 1930's Coach Sam Babb went on a search to recruit girls for the basketball team at Oklahoma Presbyterian College.  Girls basketball was big in rural Oklahoma, and Sam Babb offered farm girls the opportunity to continue playing and get a college education--something most of these girls never dreamed possible.

The girls Sam Babb recruited were used to hard work; they fed the animals, planted and harvested crops, learned to drive early in order to further aid their farming families, had outdoor toilets in many cases, and no spare money during the depression and the early years of the drought that was turning their state into a dust bowl.  

An education, a dorm with indoor plumbing, and the chance to play basketball provided an opportunity none of them had expected, and the recruits were eager to take advantage of that opportunity.

Primary and secondary sources of interviews with some of the remaining team, letters, journals, scrapbooks, and newspaper articles give insight into these young women who loved the game and were willing (not necessarily eager) to undergo the strenuous practices and keep up with their college courses.  

A little slow at first, but then Lydia Reeder's story of the barnstorming season that led to the 1932 AAU championship captures the inspiring story of the girls and their one-legged coach and hauls you cheering from Durant, OK through Dallas, Houston, and Galveston, TX; through tiny towns like Castor, LA, and the small city of Shreveport, La to Eureka Springs, Ark.

Aside from the continuous shortage of funds plaguing the OKC Cardinals, President Herbert Hoover's wife was actively campaigning against competitive sports for women (with a special distaste for women's basketball) and many colleges had eliminated their popular girls' teams.   I was unaware of this organized campaign that thought competitive sports too strenuous and too "rough" for young women.  Oh, and Lou Hoover was also totally against women competing in the Olympics.   

Doll Harris, Lucille Thurman, and other members of the OKC Cardinals had mostly grown up on farms or ranches and were in no way incapable of the demands of the basketball court.  In 1932, their final match was with the Golden Cyclones led by the Cyclones star player--Babe Didrikson, who later that year went on to win 3 gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympics .  Mrs. Hoover be damned. :)

Dust Bowl Girls proved more captivating than I expected.  I thought it would be interesting because I find the 1930's and the dust bowl fascinating, but when I found myself wishing I'd been in the stands for some of their games...that was more than I expected!

Algonquin Books.  nonfiction.  2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

I have not read the first book in this series, and it took me a while to adjust to it.  

from description:  From the cocreator of Deadpool and author of Suburban Dicks comes a diabolically funny murder mystery that features two unlikely sleuths investigating a murder that reveals the dark underbelly of suburban marriage.

I'm not sure what I thought of The Self-Made Widow.  There were, after I began to finally get a grip on the characters, some amusing and satiric elements, but I didn't find it "diabolically funny."  

Andrea (Andie) Stern and Kenny Lee, college friends who were successful in solving an important crime, have another crime to involve them.  Kenny, a journalist, won a Pulitzer for his articles about their college crime-solving, but he has not lived up to his promise.  Andrea, married with five kids, has begun to find the domestic situation exhausting and less rewarding than if she had joined the FBI as a profiler as originally planned.  The two got back together in the first book in this series and once again they are finding crime solving as interesting and invigorating as before.

Currently, one of Andrea's friends has become a widow.  At first sympathetic, Andrea begins to wonder if Molly's husband actually died of a heart attack...or was helped along by Molly?

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Mystery.  June 21, 2022.  Print length:  400 pages.  

The second in the Harry Grimm series set in the Yorkshire Dales.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first book and liked this one as well.  

The team is, as I hoped, becoming three-dimensional and the friendships are deepening.  When confronted with an awful farm accident, they reluctantly conclude that there is something "not right" about it.  The next death makes it clear that while accidents happen, they don't usually have the twisted connections that these deaths have.

Again, I find the camaraderie of this little group in rural Yorkshire warm and funny and the mysteries intriguing.

Weirdstone Publishing
Mystery.  2020.  300 pages.

I find myself suffering from post-dramatic stress.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Crowbones by Anne Bishop, The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan, and The Adventures of Dillon Heilberg's Crismis

 I am still a month behind in reviewing.  More from January.

I fell for Anne Bishop's world of The Others  in 2016 and have read them all since then. Written in Red, the first book was published in 2013.  The rebellion of "Humans First and Last" was a sort of prescience of the Maga movement.    

There are 5 books in the first series and 3 in the Lake Silence series--all set in the world of The Others.

Crowbones is the 3rd in the spin-off series set in Lake Silence (and I enjoyed it and the first two books in the spin-off), but not as much as the first books in the original series.  

I recommend beginning with Written in Red, I didn't and had to go back and pick it up back in 2016.  It's a strange world that fits in a weird way with many of the chaotic problems of our current world--almost like an allegory, given the way things have changed since Bishop published the first book.  The world of The Others is urban fantasy unlike any of the others I've read.

NetGalley/Berkley Publ.
Urban Fantasy.  March 8, 2022.  Print length:  384 pages

The Dying Day is the second in the Malabar House series by Vaseem Khan.  

1950--Persis Wadia is India's first female police officer and the time and culture make her position unusual and difficult.  And Persis is not always tactful or patient.  She's opinionated, stubborn, and often her own worst enemy, but she is determined.

A priceless manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy goes missing and so has John Healey, the English scholar working on a translation.  

There are murders and riddles and political implications and threads going back to the war.  

I'm liking this series and look forward to the next book.  

Audiobook.  Narrator:  Maya Saroya.