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Monday, April 29, 2024

Some Thoughts About Nonfiction and The Cure for Women by Lydia Reeder

 Whenever I go on a mystery/thriller spree, I remember my father encouraging me to broaden my habits--to the point of examining the books I brought home and telling me "No more Nancy Drew (or whatever mystery) unless you bring home something else.  

Because I didn't really know what he meant, I started to wander the aisles in the adult nonfiction sections and pulling books on ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, the kind with stunning photographs and simple text, developing a fascination with ancient history.  When I found something especially intriguing, I'd show him and we'd look at the photos and read the associated descriptions.

The librarians never interfered or made an eleven-year-old feel awkward.  Sometimes they would flip through a book and comment on the photos.  It was years before I realized, they were probably checking to see if the books were appropriate.  I just appreciated their interest.  Yay, librarians! 

Did it change my love of mysteries and thrillers?  Not at all, but it encouraged a love of historical fiction and for nonfiction.  My father's influence on something "worthwhile," and my mother's love of reading have guided my reading ever since.

So when I realized I was overdoing the mystery thing again, I selected some books to provide balance.

You Only Go Extinct Once sounded interesting, and in-between the author's attempt at humor there are some interesting facts.  Three or four essays in, I'm skimming out the "humor" and learning a few interesting tidbits.  (Did you know opossums have two vaginal tracts and two ovaries?  And why?)

But for every essay, I'm overlooking the superfluous and the annoying humor and finding only a few sentences that make the essay worth reading.
Will probably skim through some more, but even the "funny" introduction annoyed me.

Not recommended.

Thanks goodness for the next one!  I am on the last few pages now, and The Cure for Women will go on my list of all time favorites.

All really good nonfiction for the layperson is as readable as fiction, well-documented, and fascinating.  The Cure for Women is all of that.  

It begins with Elizabeth Blackwell the first woman to earn a medical degree in America in 1849.  I was familiar with the name through both fiction and nonfiction, but knew nothing else about her.  Her efforts (and those of her sister Emily) for the advancement of women in medicine were remarkable.

However, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, who studied privately under Blackwell and worked with Blackwell at various times throughout her career, is the main focus of the book.  Both women addressed and fought for higher education for women, for the right to attend medical school, and for women's suffrage.

"Full of larger than life characters and cinematically written, The Cure for Women documents the birth of a sexist science still haunting us today as the fight for control of women’s bodies and lives continues."   

I'll be reviewing the book later with some of the salient details of the tremendous obstacles these women and many others that the book discusses.  Highly Recommended.  

You'll probably be tired of hearing about it before I'm finished talking about it.  My husband already glazes over when I say, "That reminds me of _________ in The Cure for Women.

Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin's Press, and Lydia Reeder, author for a book that I could hardly bare to put down.  Publication date:  Dec., 2024

I just realized that Lydia Reeder is the author of The Dust Bowl Girls, another nonfiction that I loved.  Reviewed here

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Bitter Past and Shades of Mercy by Bruce Borgos

I read the second book first and really liked it, so I looked for the first book by Bruce Borgos. 

The Bitter Past has some problems that are corrected in Shades of Mercy, but also has a fascinating plot that provides a great deal of historical information.

A gruesome opening that I didn't like, and I found Porter Beck too full of himself, but...

when the book really gets into the plot, it is fascinating!  The background of Project 57 and Operation Plumbob, the effects of atomic testing on animals and humans, especially the Downwinders hooked me.

Who was the Russian spy that foiled a disaster and then went into hiding?  Why is the government trying to find a man who is now between 80-90 years old a half century later?  A dual timeline kept me guessing and great research made The Bitter Past a compelling glimpse at the early atomic age and a thrilling mystery in the present.  The twist was one I did not see coming.

I was also interested in the Nevada setting including Big Rocks Wilderness and the Moon Caves in Cathedral Park.  The links helped me visualize several interesting scenes.  

310 pages
Published 2023 

As I mentioned in the above review, I read Shades of Mercy first, before picking up the first in the series.

The characterization is much better and the plot equally exciting in Shades of Mercy.  The author has toned down Porter Beck's snark, but leaves his wit; the minor characters all have more depth; and the plot involves a hacker that that commandeers a military drone and targets...a prize bull.  

As you can imagine the military and the government are all up into the search for the hacker, but Sheriff Porter Beck (whose background in military intelligence and familiarity with his county and its geography) has a childhood connection to the man whose prize bull was targeted and something isn't adding up for Beck.  

Beck suspects sixteen-year-old Mercy Vaughn is the hacker, but he's not ready to reveal all he thinks he's figured out, especially since Mercy herself becomes a target.  With help from his small team and his sister Brin, he needs to keep some of his suspicions to himself, especially when Mercy disappears.

Full of action, with much better character development than in the first book, Porter Beck's team has progressed into a familiar ensemble of characters that a reader wants to see more of--accompanied by plots that keep the reader guessing.  While I ended up liking The Bitter Past, Shades of Mercy is even better and shows the author's growth in melding plot and characters while dealing with some problematic topics.

(A new character who hopefully will be seen in future books is Charlie Blue Horse.  Beck never calls her just Charlie, he always uses her full name and gets a kick out of saying it.  It seems that the author has a Golden Retriever by the name of Charlie Blue Horse.)

Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin's Press, & Minotaur Books

Review scheduled for April 29, 2024                                                                                     

336 pages 

Publication date:  July 16, 2024

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Instruments of Darkness by John Connolly

From blurb: "In Maine, Colleen Clark stands accused of the worst crime a mother can commit: the abduction and possible murder of her child. Everyone—ambitious politicians in an election season, hardened police, ordinary folk—has an opinion on the case, and most believe she is guilty."

Colleen's lawyer is Moxie Castin and those familiar with the series know that Moxie is good; any who underestimate him will regret it.  He may not look like much and he certainly fails at healthy eating, but Moxie wins cases and Charlie Parker trusts him.  

The case hinges on a bloody blanket.  No body.  The assumption is that the amount of blood assures that little Henry could not have survived, and when Colleen's husband makes comments about Colleen's "failures" as a mother, public sentiment turns against her.

Although the evidence is circumstantial, there are those who see this as slam dunk case that will elevate their careers.  Moxie turns to Charlie Parker, who is initially reluctant to get involved, but after meeting with Colleen, Parker agrees to work on the case.

All the usual suspects (the Fulci brothers, Louis, Angel, Dave, etc.) appear and lend a hand.  An appealing new character gets involved, Sabine Drew--medium/psychic, who has had successes in the past and one demoralizing failure.  Hope to see more of Sabine.

As usual, Charlie Parker is a winner for me.  Now I have to wait for the next book.

Thanks to Atria and NetGalley for this ARC.

Publication date:  May 7, 2024


Poetry Month and Crime 

In Praise of Librarians


Monday, April 22, 2024

The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear


Having enjoyed so many of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (especially the earliest ones concerning The Great War), I was immediately interested in The White Lady as a standalone and new character.  

In 1914, after her father left to enlist, Elinor, her mother, and her sister were supposed to leave Belgium for England.  Elinor's mother was English and the girls had dual citizenship.  It should have been easy, but as is often the case, people don't realize the danger soon enough. Charlotte, Cecily, and Elinor were unable to escape occupied Belgium,

This is not where the novel begins, however.  The story opens in 1947, only a couple of years after the end of WWII, but "the White Lady's" story begins in 1914 and moves through two World Wars and the aftermath.

In 1947, Elinor White is living in a "grace and favor cottage" bestowed by the crown for Elinor's life time, for her contributions to the war.  She keeps to herself, neither friendly nor unfriendly, until the small child of a neighbor's catches her attention and interest. The neighbors, Jim, Rose, and young Susie Mackie have moved to the country from London to escape Jim's family who are criminal overlords in London.

When Elinor sees Rose crying and hears the family argument that seems to have turned violent in the Mackie cottage, she is determined to protect them from Jim's family.

And Elinor has the means to do just that.  She's already researched their background and knows the danger the Mackie clan can represent.  Most men would be frightened of interfering with the Mackies; most women wouldn't even dream of it.  Elinor is not most women.  As a child in Belgium during the first war, Elinor and her sister Cecily were enlisted in the resistance by "Isabelle."  They knew that was not her name, but they were eager to do what they could.  By the time Elinor was 12, she was already on her way to becoming quite the skilled saboteur.  

As the story moves forward in 1947, Elinor's memories of both world wars are revealed gradually.  

In 1941, Elinor was teaching in England and resisted joining the SOE (Special Operations Unit), but finally gave in, partly because the woman who recruited her was "Isabelle," now known by her real name, Commander Claire Fields.  The purpose of the SOE was to provide support to resisters in occupied countries and to wage a clandestine war by sabotaging equipment and disrupting the enemy in as many ways as possible.  Elinor already had experience as a child saboteur in Belgium, but she learned and experienced more with the SOE. 

Her background gives Elinor the confidence to go up against the Mackie family, and she knows who she will call on first.  What she doesn't know is how this  involvement will affect her life through connections to the past.

The White Lady is a well-written, compelling tale covering two World Wars and the immediate time period right after the end of WWII, the courage and resilience of ordinary people, and the energy and tenacity of one particular woman.

For those who love good historical fiction, Jacqueline Winspear has done it again.


If you are interested in the role of the SOE during WWII, you might try Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 by Leo Marks.  This nonfiction account is fascinating and relevant to some of what occurs in The White Lady.  

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Lying Beside You and Storm Child by Michael Robotham

 Lying Beside You is book 3 in the Cyrus Haven/Evie Cormac series.  It can work as a standalone, but it is more satisfying to read the first two books:  Good Girl, Bad Girl and When She Was Good.  I had to read this one before reading Storm Child because I'd somehow missed it.  Reading the first two books provides the background of the relationship of Cyrus as caretaker/guardian of the damaged Evie.

In this third installment, Cyrus Haven's brother Elias (who has been in a psychiatric hospital for killing his parents and twin sisters twenty years ago) will be released into Cyrus's care.  Cyrus, who wasn't at home at the time of the massacre, suffers survivor's guilt.  

As a criminal psychologist, Cyrus believes in forgiveness and second chances, but he knows that medication is the key for his schizophrenic brother, and he isn't completely sure about his own ability to forgive.

Evie Cormac, a troubled young woman with a horrific background, lives with Cyrus, who hopes that she can eventually regain her memories and overcome some of the traumatic effects.  Evie is also a "truth wizard," one of those rare individuals who can tell if a person is lying up to 90% of the time.  

Elias, who has spent 20 years in a psychiatric hospital, is out of touch with modern life.  His addition to the household causes tension for everyone.

When Cyrus is called in to help in the murder of an old man and the abduction of his daughter things become even more complicated.

Aside from the awful cover and title (neither of which have much to do with the plot), this psychological thriller is in keeping with Robotham's ability to keep the reader engaged and intrigued with the characters.

  349 pages;   published 2023


After catching up with book 3, it was time for Storm Child.

A much better cover and title.  Cyrus has been trying to get Evie to remember elements of her childhood, to discover how she came to be locked in the secret room.  

When Cyrus and Evie take a trip to the beach, bodies of migrants begin washing to the shore, and Evie begins having debilitating flashbacks.  

The only survivor, a teenage boy insists they were intentionally rammed and that no efforts were made to rescue those who were drowning. However, two young women are missing from the bodies and suspicions of human trafficking are on the table.

Two men are arrested, and Cyrus hopes to help Evie regain her awareness of what happened to her by joining the investigation.

While the plot is sometimes less than realistic, the characters carry it well.  The themes of human trafficking and human evil are real...and sometimes fiction does a better job of making us aware than do newspaper articles.  

I particularly enjoyed the references to Joe O'Loughlin, who was Cyrus's mentor.  Michael Robotham's Joe O'Loughlin books are worth checking out if you haven't read them.  

Thanks to Scribner's and NetGalley.

Publication date:  July 2, 2024

I'll post a reminder closer to publication.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Dark Water Daughter by H.M. Long

Dark Water Daughte
r is the first in The Winter Sea series by H.M. Long.  Some swashbuckling fun with pirates, privateers, storm singers, and ghistings (sentient trees often made into the figureheads for sailing ships).

Told from 2 points of view:  Mary Firth, the storm singer and Samuel Rosser, disgraced former Navy, now employed as a Sooth on a privateer vessel.

Storm singers can control the weather, and are highly prized by sailing ships that often enslave them. Mary is powerful, but has received no instruction and has little experience. Mary wants to find her mother, a legendary storm singer who has been missing for years.

The world building is successful and the story grabs your attention when Mary escapes hanging after having been misidentified as a notorious  highway[wo]man. Although she escapes the noose by calling a storm, she immediately falls into the hands of men who auction her off as a storm singer.

Dark Water Daughter is a nautical/magical adventure that has promise as a series.  It wasn't quite as satisfying as I hoped, but it was entertaining.  I plan to read the next book, Black Tide Son, at some point. 

Piratical Fantasy
I've been catching up on the Cyrus Haven series by Michael Robotham and reading when I get tired in the garden.  Initially, I manage an hour or a little more before resting/reading and starting again, but the periods of work get shorter and the rests longer as the day goes on!  By the end of the day, it is mostly reading.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Catching up on reviews while it rains

The second in a series, The Wolf's Eye by Luanne G. Smith was slow and confusing initially.  It did get better, but still wasn't completely satisfying for me.

Witches, mages, and a vlkodnak (Czech for werewolf) curse. 

I read The Raven Spell by Smith in 2022 and thought it was good fun, but for some reason this one didn't resonate in the same way.

Thanks to NetGalley and 47 North.  


A Welcome Grave by Michael Koryta is the third book in the Lincoln Perry series that I've read recently.  

When Alex Jefferson is found tortured and murdered, the police come to Lincoln Perry.  At first, simply because Lincoln Perry had history with Jefferson.  As things progress, however, the case against Perry grows from curiosity to suspicion to the police wholeheartedly believing in Perry's guilt.

Perry must find a way to clear himself, but the set up against him continues to increase, making him look guiltier by the minute.  Jefferson's death was a revenge killing, but Perry and Joe, his partner, must discover the reason for such a terrible revenge intent on leaving Perry as a scapegoat.

A Welcome Grave kept my interest, and I've enjoyed all three books so far in this series.

305 pages                                                                                                                                             PI Mystery

I've read 6 stand alones by Catriona McPherson and enjoyed each one.  I haven't read any of her series books, but the psychological standalones keep me coming back.  

Deep Beneath Us did not disappoint. From the blurb:

"Tabitha Muir returns to her childhood home in the remote hills of Hiskith in Scotland after twenty years away. She's lost her job, her house, and custody of her son after a divorce, and thinks this must be rock bottom - but worse is to come. An unplanned explosion at the dam on the loch and the suspicious death of her beloved cousin Davey force Tabitha to confront her past demons."

And boy, does the Muir family describe  dysfunction.  I couldn't keep up with the twists, doled out like dominoes ready to fall.

I've scheduled my review for May, as the publication date is June.  Thanks to Netgalley and Severn House.

Psychological mystery                                                                                                                           341 pages

Can't play outside.  This rain hasn't let up for 3 days.

Friday, April 05, 2024

The Furies by John Connolly

John Connolly's The Furies is quite different from earlier books in the Charlie Parker series.  It is actually 2 short novels combined.  The first The Sisters Strange was written during the pandemic lockdown daily for 64 days.  The second The Furies which gives the title, perhaps because of the 3 women in The Sisters Strange and the child in The Furies.

In other ways, the book is typical of the Charlie Parker books:  good vs evil, violence, and paranormal.  The violence is less than in earlier books, many of which are certainly not for everyone.  

I never miss a Charlie Parker installment and always look forward to recurring characters, especially Louis and Angel (there is never enough of them).

Connolly is an unusually erudite author and his humor is sharp and witty, often lending comic relief to horrendous situations.  The first time I read Connolly was decades ago and I think I abandoned it in fear.  About 5 years later, I read the second book, and only after starting it did I realize that it was the second in the series, but by then I was hooked, and I've read each book since, 20 so far.  I don't think of myself as a horror fan, but I'm certainly a fan of Charlie Parker.

508 pages

Europa Deep by Gary Gibson

Cassie White didn't make the first expedition to Europa, but her brother Chris did.  The expedition ceased responding and disappeared, but now 15 years later, another expedition is about to embark, and Cassie has the opportunity to be on board.

She's wary of this opportunity for several reasons, but the chance to discover what happened to her brother seals the deal.

Someone, however, seems determined to sabotage the mission, and Cassie doesn't know who to trust.  

At the heart of the novel, perhaps, is our human distrust of the very technology we often depend on.  AI and humans who are enhanced in some way can become frightening.  While the novel is set far in the future, the problems of fear and prejudice are the same we are suffering through in the present.  

The human condition is leery of what is different.  We are both curious and apprehensive of what we don't understand, the unknown, the unfamiliar.  The situation for Opt (individuals whose genetics have been altered) on earth is becoming dire.  Attacks on individual Opts and plans for internment camps are increasing.

The question of  consciousness also exists as some, like Marcus, on the verge of death uploads his consciousness, becoming a sentient AI.  And there is the phenomenon of consciousness deep in the ice covered Europa lake.  

Europa Deep is the second book I've read by Gary Gibson and both are different from the science fiction I usually favor.  Both Echogenesis and Europa Deep are stand alone novels and have, in addition to action and suspense, a more philosophical turn.

However, it seems Gibson has some series that fall more into the military science fiction/space opera subgenres I usually choose. 

Both of the stand-alone novels I've read by Gibson leave as many questions as answers, and considering the genre, that's OK.  I'm interested in his book series now.

Read in March.  

Science Fiction.  360 pages

Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

The Light Pirate is set in the near future. Destructive hurricanes have been worse for several years, but the storm coming for Florida is going to be a turning point.  

The ominous threat of Hurricane Wanda, has pregnant Frieda Lowe's anxiety increasing by the moment.  She wanted to evacuate, but her husband Kirby is convinced his preparations will keep them safe and tries to convince her that the storm is predicted to go north of their location.

A storm has been brewing in their relationship as well, as Frieda's fears increase and Kirby resents her lack of trust in his preparations.  Neither is right; neither is wrong.  They are both good people on the edge. Frieda's experience with a devastating hurricane in which she lost her mother and Kirby's experience as a linesman who has experience in restoring power in the aftermath of hurricanes and who grew up along the Florida coast put them at odds. Frieda's fear and Kirby's confidence clash.

Frieda's fears are realized in more ways than one.  Hurricane Wanda's damage reaches a new scale for Florida, and terrible loss and grief for the Lowe family.  In the midst of the storm, Frieda goes into labor and delivers a baby girl that she names after the hurricane.  

From this point Wanda becomes the focus.  The child is well-loved, but different.  Her friendship with her older neighbor Phyllis, retired from teaching biology at the university, teaches the young girl much about the nature around her.  Initially, Phyllis keeps Wanda after school until Kirby gets home, but eventually there is no more school. By the sixth grade, almost no children remain as families have given up and left.

The Light Pirate is an unusual dystopian work.  No sudden disaster like an EMP or a plague that kills with impunity, devastating a population.  Instead, even when the novel begins, people have begun expecting the violent changes in weather in the form of fire, flood, or wind.  No one expected the changes to come so quickly, by the time Wanda is ten, people are realizing that the infrastructure they've relied on cannot be repaired.

We follow the characters over the years and the adaptations, the difficulty keeping power on, the migration of families to the interior, the eventual evacuations of small towns and finally, the evacuation of Miami.  The seas relentless encroachment, the frequent storms, the increasing heat cause the decampment of the coastal population, but the interior has been undergoing changes as well.

The author's prose is beautiful, vibrating with tension at times, but always tender with the characters.    

The novel reminded me of At Home on an Unruly Planet (reviewed here), which was nonfiction, but was examining some of the climate changes that have already occurred and what needs to be done in preparation.  The Light Pirate, in the hands of an immensely talented Lily Brooks-Dalton, imagines further in the future in the decidedly human characters she creates.

Highly Recommended.