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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong

This Fallen Prey is the third book in the Casey Duncan series set in the wilds of Canada.  Although I wasn't much taken with the first book City of the Lost, I liked A Darkness Absolute (second in the series) much better.  The series has continued to grow on me.  This Fallen Prey delivers another intense and action-filled experience.  (I'm not sure why some times the protagonist is sometimes referred to as Casey Duncan and at others as Casey Butler.)

Rockton, small, secluded, and secret, lies deep in the Yukon, but officially, it doesn't exist at all.  To gain admittance to the tiny town of Rockton, requires an application.  Those who are accepted must be willing to live off-the-grid.  No cell phones.  No mail.  No internet.  Few conveniences.  

To take advantage of this refuge, citizens must abandon everything about their old lives and become acquainted with a much more difficult and primitive life style that comes with different kinds of dangers.

As if things in Rockton are not challenging and perilous enough, the council, without forewarning, drop a dangerous serial killer in the town.  Bound and gagged and accompanied by a letter with a detail of his crimes, Oliver Brady must be accommodated for six months.   Brady's arrival upsets the town and its dynamics, both those who know of his crimes and those who don't.  

Is Oliver Brady guilty of the crimes listed in the letter?  Trouble begins immediately and quickly gets worse.

Fast paced and full of action, this one will keep you turning the pages.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 17, 2018.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense.  Feb. 6, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch

I've read many of Charles Finch's Charles Lennox historical mysteries and enjoyed them.  The Woman in the Water is unusual because it details the first investigation by a  very young Lennox, who is determined to become a detective, treading cautiously between youthful hubris and social hierarchies, learning as he goes.

Sometimes young Lennox makes mistakes and looks foolish, but his occasional flashes of insight outstrip his missteps.  He is balancing so much at once: his eagerness and lack of experience; his social life and the derision of many of his peers; his love for Elizabeth with her newly married status; his frustrations with dealing with his housekeeper; his reluctance to take the salary of a Scotland Yard consultant; his father's illness; and his love and jealousy of his brother.

An anonymous letter claiming to have committed the "perfect murder" claims the interest of both Lennox and his friend and valet Graham.  The two spend time each day cutting articles out of the paper and comparing them for possible criminal investigations that might be stepping stones for an aspiring detective.  Then the body of the first victim, a young woman, her body enclosed in a trunk washes ashore.  There are few clues, but Lennox manages to become involved in the investigation (here, family connections help his cause).  The letter writer promises more perfect murders, and Charles races to prevent another murder.

In contrast to the more experienced detective in the later books, it is interesting to see how the young Charles Lennox begins to learn and practice his trade.  

Read in Dec.; blog review scheduled for Feb. 14, 2018.

St. Martin's Press/Minotaur

Historical Mystery.  February 20, 2018.  Print version:  304 pages.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

In the last days of December, I reread Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic and then moved on to And Fire Came Down, the sequel to Viskic's award-winning Australian debut.

I had hoped that Caleb would be in a better place by the time of the second novel, but the traumatic events of the first novel continue to taint Caleb's life in the sequel.

A case of meningitis when Caleb was five left him with profound hearing loss.  In many ways, Caleb has overcome the disability--he wears hearing aids that help him identify some sounds but must depend on lip reading to interpret spoken language.  Impressive, but not always enough even when someone is facing him directly for him to catch everything.  If they mutter or turn away, important elements of conversation can be lost.  This would be frustrating and confusing in normal circumstances, but as Caleb is a PI with a tendency to get involved in dangerous cases, the problem can be treacherous.

Previously, he has depended on his partner to fill in conversational blanks, but in And Fire Came Down, Caleb doesn't have that advantage.  His emotional stability depended on his wife Kat, but they have been separated for nearly two years, and although he thought they were rebuilding their connections, Kat has been gone for four months at the beginning of this installment.  Caleb's pride has often kept him from admitting his deafness, making many situations worse than necessary.  He makes occasional concessions in admitting his lack of hearing--a little progress--but still struggles to keep from acknowledging his disability.

In Melbourne, a depressed Caleb is approached by a young woman who begs for his help; accosted by a man who terrifies her, the young woman attempts to flee and runs in front of a car.  Unable to understand her last words, Caleb determines to find out more.

Who sent her to Caleb?  A note on a receipt leads Caleb back to Resurrection Bay and into another case that will put his own life in danger and the lives of those he cares about.

What makes these books stand out is not simply that the protagonist is deaf, but the way characters deal with all of the complications of life. Personal hubris, marriage, family, community, racial prejudice and violence, social problems from vandalism to drugs--the issues that are pertinent today in any setting or culture become personal in the microcosm of Resurrection Bay.  

Read in Dec.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 14

NetGalley/Bonnier Publishing Australia/Pushkin Press U.S., UK

Crime/PI.  2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor is an intense mystery, part coming of age, part revelation of events children couldn't comprehend or  piece together.

In 1986, Eddie and four friends used chalk drawings as a way of communicating.  Each friend was  different enough to attract incidents of  bullying, and the drawings gave them an almost magical sense of secrecy and protection.  One day, however, a chalk drawing leads the group to a gruesome discovery that taints their childhood and continues to affect them as adults.  Who was responsible for that particular drawing; who led them to discover the body?  Who is the Chalk Man?

Twenty years later, Eddie, the narrator, receives a letter containing a stick figure drawn in chalk.  The past is not always past, to paraphrase Faulkner.  The author moves back and forth in time, alternating between 1986 and 2016.  

Everyone has secrets and when chalk figures appear again in 2016, the group of childhood friends, whose remaining attachments are largely a result of the events of that dreadful summer, find themselves nervous and uncertain.  The reappearance of one of the old friends who wants to write a book about the events of that summer in 1896 sets in motion another calamity.

Intense and twisty, moving from past to present, The Chalk Man is imaginative and cleverly plotted.  An impressive debut that kept me glued to the pages.

Read in Aug.; review scheduled for Jan. 12, 2018.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery/Psychological.  Jan. 9, 2018.  Print length:  280 pages. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke and City of Endless Night by Preston & Child

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke  is a suspenseful and unusual amnesia mystery.   A woman disappears from London.  A woman turns up on a Greek island with no memory of who she is or how she got there.  Are they the same woman?  

Four friends on an annual writing retreat rescue a woman who washed ashore, but difficulties arise almost immediately.  Contact with anyone off island becomes difficult; the group is stranded with limited supplies.  

Meanwhile, back in London, Lochlan is frantic about his missing wife who left their toddler and infant daughter alone.

I Know My Name is not the stereotypical amnesia thriller, but is a clever psychological mystery with several unexpected twists.  Not what I anticipated when I began reading, but all the better for it.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Psychological Suspense.  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  384 pages.

City of Endless Night by Preston & Child allows Detective D'Agosta to take the lead while Special Agent Aloyius Pendergast assumes a smaller role than normal.  Well, Aloyius does have a lot on his mind.

I've been reading these books for such a long time and realize how difficult it must be to keep coming up with fresh ideas for the series.
While I always enjoy revisiting the familiar characters, I haven't found the last few books as much fun as the earlier books.  This may just be because this is #17, and Relic (the first in the series) was published in 1995.  Pendergast has undergone some changes in this long series, but maybe I just love the supernatural and mysterious aspects of the earliest novels.

Not that I will ever refuse to see what is happening in Pendergast's life!

Read in November.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Thriller.  Jan. 16, 2018.  Print length:  368 pages.  

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Censored: A Literary History of Subversion & Control by Matthew Fellion and Katherine Inglis

Does a book about censorship sound interesting to you?  Do you think it would be a dull, sententious, pedagogical work?  Would you be curious?

I was curious, but had few expectations.  Maybe I did expect certain books to discussed, but I had no idea whether or not the discussions would be interesting or tedious.  As a life-time lover of books and reading, however, censorship and book banning have always been on the periphery of my life.  And I know from the frequent discussions about banned books, that the topic is of interest to most of you.

 Censored presents an eminently readable, well-documented, and well-researched examination of the role of censorship in literature.

The introduction asks, "What harm can words do?  This reasoning can lead to the conclusion that speech should never be restricted because it cannot actually hurt anyone, and that those who believe they have been harmed by speech simply need to grow a thicker skin." 

 It then proceeds to acknowledge that speech can have "tangible effects, though these are rarely easy to predict or control.  The same power that exposes a corrupt government can incite mob violence against a vulnerable person."

And furthermore, "Because speech is powerful, our freedom to speak must be defended from unjust restrictions.  Because speech is powerful, however, that freedom cannot be absolute.  Like action, speech will always raise ethical and legal questions."  That pretty much sums things up:  freedom of speech must be defended and that freedom cannot be absolute.  Yelling fire in a theater doesn't qualify.

And, as we often discover, censoring a work can call more attention to it.  The very act of banning or restricting access tends to make people curious and can backfire on the very concerns trying to suppress it. 

The introduction makes clear that the subject of censorship is a complicated one, and that even the threat of censorship may cause an author to self-censor (a chilling effect that may not even be visible) and this may mean that some books are never written at all.

An interesting example is given in Frances Burney, whose plays were stifled by her father and her mentor, who didn't consider writing for the stage appropriate for a woman.  Burney gets an entire chapter later.

Chapter 1 discusses the English Bibles.  The first translations to English were attempts to make the Bible available to the common people, but doing so could and did lead to charges of heresy and burning at the stake.  From Wycliff to Tyndale, this chapter is engrossing and the battle took many lives.  Even when an English translation was accepted, "people of the 'lower sort' were forbidden to read the Bible altogether." 

Each chapter discusses a particular book and the efforts made to suppress it, and each chapter contains fascinating and often alarming information about the how and why of the process.  

Chapter 2 discusses Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill) by John Cleland.  It begins by relating that--while state prohibitions against topics considered heretical, blasphemous, or seditious--are problems because they "directly challenge religious or secular authority."  But what about writing about sex?  Yep.  Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure first provoked the obscenity law in 1748 and continued to be a problem for more than 200 years.    This chapter is intriguing not only for the challenges to Memoirs, but for the changes in how obscene material has been defined and how the law has been administered in regard to many other books.  

Chapter after Chapter proved interesting and informative.  I've read many, but not all of the books discussed, and reading about both the books I've read and the ones I'm only familiar with because of their having been banned at one time or another proved immensely educational.  

Chapter 21 about Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses.  Riveting.  I thought I was familiar with that case, but learned I only glimpsed the fringes of the impact.  

The Afterword begins with a quote from Hilary Mantel:  "Oppressors don't just want to do their deed, they want to take a bow:  they want their victims to sing their praises."  She adds that the struggles continue, repeating themselves.

The Afterword also reiterates that thought and provides information concerning current efforts at censorship and restriction.  

I can recommend Censored:  A Literary History of Subversion & Control without reservation.  Informative, illuminating, significant, and fascinating.  

NetGalley/McGill-Queen's University Press

Nonfiction.  2017.  Print length:  432 pages

Monday, January 08, 2018

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

Vivian, happily married mother of four, is a Russian analyst with the CIA.  Her assignment to uncover the leaders of a Russian sleeper cell becomes something else entirely when she finally accesses the computer of a suspected Russian operative...and finds pictures of five members of a sleeper cell.  

Her thrilling sense of success is shattered when she realizes one of the pictures is that of her husband Matt.  Instead of immediately notifying her superior, Viv, stunned and disbelieving, hesitates.

Need to Know is a tense and frightening account of a dilemma no one could really expect.  Loyalty to country or family?  Whom to trust?  

I did not know what to expect from this novel, but I could not stop turning the pages.  And the end?  Whoa.

"Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, the last six in counterterrorism. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and from Harvard University. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young kids."

This is not an action thriller.  There is no Jason Bourne.  Need to Know is an espionage novel of another type entirely, yet my heart was in my mouth as I struggled through each tension-laden page.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 8, 2018.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Espionage/Suspense.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length:  304 pages. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Two Books with Difficult Subject Matter

SINthetic by J.T. Nicholas is a dark story that covers some of the dilemmas that arise with scientific advancements.  

From descriptions: "They look like us. Act like us. But they are not human. Created to perform the menial tasks real humans detest, Synths were designed with only a basic intelligence and minimal emotional response. It stands to reason that they have no rights. Like any technology, they are designed for human convenience. Disposable."

“Darkly engrossing, SINthetic shines a stark light on the age-old question, what does it mean to be human?”
—Julie Kagawa, New York Times bestselling author  

I'll mention again that this one is dark and frightening because of the possibilities of genetic engineering, and unfortunately, man's tendency to abuse scientific advancements.  Of course, there has been plenty in the news lately about the way powerful individuals have oppressed and exploited women to give another take on this story.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 5, 2018

NetGalley/Kensington Books

Murder Mystery/Speculative Fiction.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length:  178 pages.  

Breaking Point by Allison Brennan tackles a difficult subject--the sex trade, especially involving underage girls.  Brennan manages  to illustrate this despicable practice in a way that clearly illustrates the horrific abuse without making it titillating.

Bella Caruso is undercover with a trafficking ring, trying to locate one particular girl.  During the rescue of two underage girls, a policeman is murdered, and Bella's position becomes even more dangerous.

Bella's brother JT Caruso turns to Special Agent Lucy Kincaid for help, but Lucy is in a difficult situation with her immediate boss.  Nevertheless, Lucy gets involved and gives all her energy to rescuing Bella...and hopefully, the young girl for whom Bella has been searching.

Good characterization of a plenitude of characters gives this suspenseful novel the depth it needs.  Although there is a lot of backstory referring to events in previous books, these are seamlessly worked in and do not feel like information dumps.

I've only read one other novel by Brennan and the same combination of well-developed characters and suspense applied.  This was one of those books that was difficult to put down, the pace is fast, and I couldn't believe how quickly I read through it.  

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense.  Jan. 30, 2018.  Print length:  448 pages.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

So...why was I initially put off by Two Girls Down?  Because I thought the book was going to end up blaming Jamie Brandt, the single, working class mother of two little girls who were kidnapped.  My mistake.  

Jamie stops at a strip mall to pick up a gift for the birthday party the girls were to attend.  To make it quicker, she runs inside alone.  When Jamie returns, ten-year-old Kylie and eight-year-old Bailey have disappeared.

The police department suffers from budget cuts, lack of leads, and plenty of crime related to drugs.  The investigation is going nowhere, and with each day, Jamie's desperation increases and her hope for the safe return of her daughters diminishes.

Jamie's aunt calls in Alice Vega, a bounty hunter who has had uncanny luck at locating missing children.  Once Alice is on the scene, the book takes a completely different direction from what I thought it would.  Vega enlists Max Caplan, a former policeman who resigned in disgrace, to aid her in locating girls.  At this point, I could scarcely bear to put the book down.  

The chemistry between Vega and Cap is fascinating.  They are both dedicated, but their approaches are distinctly different; eventually, the two are able to meld their divergent methods and make the most of the strengths they individually bring to the investigation.

Louisa Luna excels in bringing the characters and the investigation to life.  I didn't so much anticipate the investigation as follow along with Vega and Cap.  There were unexpected turns, certainly, but I more or less discovered things along with this engrossing pair, getting the hints from them, rather than seeing the connections and wanting to help them see where things were leading.

Boy, I am glad to have returned to Two Girls Down and hope for more of Alice and Cap, who proved uniquely human and engaging.  I kept thinking about what I would have missed if I'd just let this one go because I formed a misguided initial impression.

Blog review scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018.


Mystery/Suspense/Crime.  Jan. 9, 2018.  Print length:  322 pages.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Walking the Bones and The Liar in the Library

My first exposure to Randall Silvis was Two Days Gone, and Walking the Bones picks up the story of Ryan DeMarco as he is still recovering from the death of his friend.  

Walking the Bones begins as a road trip instigated by his girlfriend Jayme, but the cold case of seven young women drags him (kicking and screaming) into investigating who killed the young women and stacked them behind a hidden wall in a church.  

The book was simultaneously interesting and slow.  For me, the most interesting characters were the three elderly "detectives" who involve DeMarco in the case and are treated rather disdainfully.  

The two books featuring Ryan DeMarco are markedly different from Silvis' Blood and Ink, a dark comedy.  All three of the books I've read by Silvis feature his love of literature and skillful descriptions, but my favorite is Blood and Ink with the hapless protagonist, Nick.

Read in Oct.;  blog review scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018.


Crime/Mystery.  Jan. 23, 2018.  Print length: 464 pages.

I read several of the first Fethering mysteries years ago, but have not kept up with this cozy series.  

When Jude knew Burton St. Clair twenty years ago, he was plain Al and a bit of a womanizer, now he is a well known author with a more sophisticated version of his name.  

Invited to speak at the Fethering library, St. Clair has changed little, except that he now has a more towering ego than ever.  He offers Jude a ride home, makes an advance, is repulsed, and Jude walks home.

St. Clair, however, never leaves the car, and the next day, Jude finds herself suspected of murder.

I fear the most interesting element in this mystery (for me) concerned the challenges British libraries have been facing in recent years.  

Read in Sept.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 4, 2018.

NetGalley/Severn House

Cozy Mystery.  Jan. 1, 2018.  Print length:  192 pages.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic (and trying to catch up scheduling reviews)

We have just returned home from the country where family gathered after Christmas.  Three or four days at the cabin with those who couldn't make it up for Christmas Day has left me tired and lazy, but I still need to finish reviewing books from 2017 and find slots within 2 or 3 weeks of publication to schedule a few more reviews.

While in the country, I took frequent breaks from the festivities and fireside chats with friends and family to read and relax.   

I had requested Resurrection Bay from NetGalley because I just saw the author's name and was thinking it was the follow up to a book I read in 2016.  Duh.  It was the same book with a new cover, I'd just forgotten the title and since Resurrection Bay was also the town the protagonist came from,  I was hoping for a sequel.  I don't usually reread books, but I decided to reread this one because I'd already read the other books I'd downloaded. 

 It was even better the second time!

Below is my original review, and I can only add that it is an excellent crime novel with well-developed characters:

Resurrection Bay, Emma Viskic's debut crime novel, is set in Australia.  

What I liked:  the setting -- in both Melbourne and the small coastal town of Resurrection Bay; a protagonist who is profoundly deaf and struggles to understand what others are saying; his ex-wife and her Koori family who give some insight into the struggle of native aboriginal peoples.

There are some humorous moments in this dark novel--but make no mistake, there is a lot of violence.  The story begins with the murder of Caleb Zelic's friend Gary, who was aiding Caleb in an investigation into warehouse robberies.  His partner Frankie is a 57-year-old former member of the police force and an alcoholic who has been clean for several years, but Caleb wonders how trustworthy she is after finding a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Caleb's information is often faulty because he must rely more on reading lips than on his hearing aids, and anyone who is not directly facing him causes gaps and misunderstandings in what is said. Caleb's problems are exacerbated by his unwillingness to admit to his disability; his attempts to appear "normal" cause additional problems when he refuses to ask people to repeat themselves or he appears to be ignoring people who talk to him.

An intriguing novel that sets a fast pace, Resurrection Bay has an original protagonist who is flawed more by his pride than by his deafness.  This is a case of who, as well as why.  The novel has plenty of tension with a mysterious villain, secrets and betrayals, and the uncertainty of who is to be trusted.

NetGalley/Echo Publishing/Pushkin Press in US and UK

Crime.  Sept. 1, 2016.  Print length:  231 pages.

The original publication was in 2016, so you shouldn't really have to wait for the new publication date next month.  Check your library, too.  :)

I like the new cover, too.  The original cover seems to depict Melbourne and the new cover, Resurrection Bay.  I like both. If you missed this book the first time around, give Emma Viskic's Resurrection Bay a try.  You'll be glad you did.

Hey, Ho!  I just downloaded the sequel.  What perfect timing--everything from the first novel is fresh on my mind!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Beware the Past by Joy Ellis

Ellis already has two series set in the Fens that I love, so I looked forward to this one, which may be the start of a new series.

As a young policeman, Matt Ballard had one case involving the murder of three young boys that was never solved.  Now, with retirement in sight, Matt plans to continue the investigation on his own.  Then a photo arrives that shows the crime scene of one of the murders--before the murder, a tangle of taunting letters are sent to members of Ballard's team,  and another young boy goes missing.

While this stand-alone (or first in a new series) is another intriguing police procedural from Ellis, I did not enjoy it nearly as much as her previous novels.

The characters don't feel as genuine as those in her other books and the emphasis on sex felt like the book was trying to reach another audience.  Perhaps if the book had come from another author, I wouldn't have focused on the fact that I didn't relate to the characters, but the depth of characterization in her previous novels set a high standard.  I didn't really like any of the characters much.

I will stick to Ellis' DI Nikki Galena and her DI Jackman series.

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Crime/Police Procedural.  December 19, 2017.  Print length:  369 pages.  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Plague Pits & River Bones by Karen Charlton

Plague Pits and River Bones by Karen Charlton has Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Ned Woods investigating murder, the slave trade, and highway robbery.

Set in 1812 London, the novel is another well-written entry into this historical mystery series.  The introduction of a Moriarity-like character is interesting.  He will undoubtedly add another dimension to future books.

Well-researched with the benefit of Author's Notes and a bibliography.  Many of the events are taken from life and woven into Lavender's investigations.

I thoroughly enjoy this series.

Blog review scheduled for 12/28/17.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Historical Mystery.  Jan. 11, 2018.  Print length:  343 pages.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Running Girl by Sara Blaedel

Sara Blaedel's The Running Girl is the latest in her Detective Louise Rick series set in Copenhagen.  

Louise is caring for Jonas, supposedly on a temporary basis, after his father's murder.  They have a good relationship, but Louise still considers her care of Jonas temporary.  

Jonas attends a farewell party for a classmate that is interrupted by a gang of older teenagers and calls Louise in a panic as the violence erupts.  Louise gets there as quickly as possible, but the circumstances have deteriorated, and she arrives at the scene of a traffic accident in which one of Jonas' friends, running for help, has been hit by a car.

Louise is involved in another case, that gradually seems to link up to the party invasion.

Intense and engrossing.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Crime/Suspense.  Jan. 2, 2018.  Print length:  448 pages.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Wishing All a Wonderful Holiday

I took a break from making snowmen and several other projects yesterday and just visited with a dear friend who was in town.  I had run out of time on my Christmas sewing projects, but I finished up the crucial items on Friday.  One project will not be completed before tomorrow, but that is OK--it was a last minute inspiration and will be finished eventually.

All of the snowmen will soon have new homes.
I had so much fun making these Christmas gifts!

Oops, blurry pic

Cat turned out to be my favorite project--
for a little girl who has a special love of cats.
Cat needed a bag and a companion...

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all many good books
in the coming year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Season of Blood by Jeri Westerson

Season of Blood takes the reader on another adventure with Crispin Guest as he investigates murdered monks and stolen relics.  I've enjoyed several of these Crispin Guest novels and enjoy the setting during Richard II's reign. Crispin is a disgraced knight who has earned a reputation as an investigator and finder of lost objects.  He has become known as the Tracker.

A beautiful and mysterious woman sets this mystery in motion.  She approaches Crispin, asking for his aid in finding her niece.  Things are not what they seem, however, and when a monk falls into his door with Crispin's old rival Simon Wynchecombe's dagger in his back and a blood relic in his hand, events take a perilous direction.

Crispin has a skeptical approach to relics, but this one seems unlike the usual fakes.  Religious institutions were often competitive about relics because relics were a source of pilgrims and income; blood relics containing the blood of Christ were particularly desirable.

Crispin's attempts to return the relic are thwarted when the relic keeps returning to him.  

Read in September; review scheduled for Dec. 21.

Goodreads/Severn House

Historical Mystery.  Jan. 1, 2017.  Print length:  224 pages.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reading Challenges and Reading Itineraries

I rarely participate in reading challenges any longer, but I often choose to take a reading journey concentrating on an author, genre, setting, time period, or topic.

I recently found this DIY Reading Challenge that gives 50 ways to create your own personal reading challenge.  Here are a few that interested me:

9. Go to the library once a month, browse the stacks, and pick a book that looks interesting to you, but that you have never heard of and that no one has recommended to you. Make sure you’ve never heard of the author, either.

(#9 -- I have done this many times, but not recently--choosing this way can lead to new authors and subject matter.)

11. Pick a subject you’re interested in—it could be anything. Knitting. The history of French macarons. Space exploration. Sex toys. Seriously: anything! Now make a reading list that throughly explores that subject. Make sure to include books of different genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) Think about the authors you’re including on your list—try to include authors from diverse backgrounds. Your reading list could be three or ten or twenty books.

(#11 -- What I like about this one is looking at a topic in different genres, including poetry.)

29. Find a class syllabus for a class you’d wish you’d taken in college, or a class that’s locally offered at a community college or continuing education center, but that you don’t have the time to actually take. Read all the books on the syllabus. Syllabi are actually quite easy to find—a quick google search of “Afro-American history” yielded dozens. Try a more detailed search to find a syllabus to match your particular interests!

(#29 -- Another version of the class syllabus is to look at the bibliography at the back of a book of fiction or nonfiction that provides great sources on the subject.  I've done this with both fiction and nonfiction titles.)

39. Get a group of friends or family together. Have everyone write down a book they love on a piece of paper and put it in a hat. Pass the hat around and have everyone draw a paper. Read the book you draw. When you’re done, have tea and discuss it with the person who chose it, or get together and have a big potluck.

(#39 -- I like the idea of exchanging titles by drawing from a hat.  Another version I've read about people doing is an actual book exchange.  The book might not be one you would ever choose for yourself...which can prove surprising.)

I also look at the books others choose for the reading challenges they are participating in and make a list of their choices.  Always a great source of interesting titles!

For years, I've gotten lost in a number of my own itineraries:

Reading Itineraries (mostly about my fascination with the Tudors)

In 2007, I read several fascinating books recommended on Lotus's blog about the Middle East, both fiction and nonfiction.

An Arctic itinerary that started with fiction and moved to nonfiction.

There are also the yoga book itineraries and the brain/neuroplasticity book itineraries.... I can get excited about finding books to add to previous itineraries as well.

What are some of your favorite book itineraries?

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Black Painting by Neil Olson

The Black Painting  

Goya's Black Paintings are mysterious enough in appearance and in creation, but Neil Olson's novel gives an even more sinister legacy to the black painting owned by the patriarch of the Morse family.  

Fifteen years earlier, Alfred Arthur Morse's black painting was stolen, causing accusations, suspicion, and the estrangement of family members.  Now, the four cousins have been summoned to their grandfather's estate. Teresa and Audrey arrive together, but it is Teresa who discovers their grandfather's body in his study--in front of the space where the black painting had hung before its disappearance.

Teresa is intent on finding out more about the original theft and about her grandfather's death.  Family secrets emerge.

Whether or not the painting was haunted, there is plenty of suspense and mystery surrounding the Morse family's association with the painting.  A clever use of Goya's dark and nightmarish paintings to inspire a curse and a mystery. 

(The book never mentions which black painting Morse owned; perhaps a totally fictitious one, but the cover partially reveals one painting from the series.)

read in April; blog post scheduled for Dec. 18.

NetGalley/Hanover Square Press

Mystery/Suspense.  Jan. 9, 2018.  Print length:  320 pages.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Oh, darn, I am in need of the next installment!  The Cruel Prince didn't much engage me in the first chapter, but then I found myself so immersed in the characters and plot, I couldn't put it down.  

Jude, a seven-year-old mortal child, is taken with her two sisters to live in the High Court of Faery.  Her feelings become divided and a love/hate dilemma twists through her emotions...but after ten years in Faery, Jude no longer feels that she belongs in the mortal world either.  

Having endured bullying and disparagement from the Fey since her arrival, Jude lives in a kind of anxious fear.  When she can no longer remain inconspicuous, her anger emerges, and she begins a dangerous campaign of her own as she fights back.  

The Fey are beautiful, unpredictable, cruel, capricious, and immortal, and Jude finds herself both envying and despising them.  Her goal to become a knight is foiled, but Jude continues to search for a way to gain some power and security.  She moves from merely wanting a respected, secure position to something darker:  "If I cannot be better than them, I will be so much worse."

Even in Faery, there are conspiracies.  The Faery High King is ready to step down; he has chosen one of his six children as his successor.  Prince Dain is generally accepted by most of the Fae as a worthy choice, but there are political intrigues at work and not everyone is pleased.  

The Cruel Prince is a rather dark story suitable for a Faery Court: a protagonist who questions her position and her motives; schemes, spies, family dysfunction; betrayals; twists and turns.  After a slow buildup, the plot is engrossing.  In the past, I've not been a fan of Fae books, but Holly Black's complex characters and edgy narrative kept me in suspense the entire time.

Some elements of the plot are resolved, but there are so many questions about what happens next...and I hate having to wait.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Dec. 12, 2017.

NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Fantasy/YA.  Jan. 2, 2018.  Print length:  384 pages.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Crime and Science Fiction

Thieves on the Fens by Joy Ellis.

Someone is targeting thieves and calling DI Nikki Galena giving details that might help her prevent a murder.  Not that Mad Tom always plays the rules; he certainly cheats on the first play in his game.  Nikki and her team scramble to interpret the messages and protect the intended victims.

In the meantime, a dear friend of Nikki's mother Eve dies of a sudden heart attack.  Eve, who has a background with the RAF and the MOD is devastated, but also uneasy.  This is the second death among a circle of close friends, and Eve fears an unseen and powerful hand at work.  

If Eve is right, both she and her remaining friends are in danger.  And Eve is right--but the reason the women have been targeted is the question.  What did Ann and Jenny know that led to their deaths?  

Joy Ellis' Nikki Galena/Joseph Easter books are always a pleasure, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of genuinely knowing the characters she has created.  The Lincolnshire Fens add a sense of remoteness to many of the locations and frequently add to the suspense.

 Joy Ellis is one of my favorite authors of crime/detective fiction, and I highly recommend the series--but start at the beginning and enjoy the way the characters develop.

(Her DI Jackman/DS Evans series is equally good.)

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Detective/Crime.  Nov. 28, 2017.  Print length:  309 pages.

The Silent Children by Carol Wyer is the fourth in a series featuring DI Robyn Carter.  I haven't read any of the previous books in the series, but The Silent Children functions perfectly well as a stand-alone, even though there is an arc carried over from previous books.

Another book interspersed with sections on a back story, The Silent Children keeps the narrative bouncing between past and present.  

Overall, I wasn't that impressed with this one, but Wyer has a number of fans who really loved the book.  I never wanted to abandon it, but when I finished, the only character who truly engaged me was Robyn's cousin Ross, and he had a minimal role.


Mystery/Crime.  Dec. 7, 2017.  Print length: 426 pages.

Evan Currie's Odysseus Awakening is the latest installment of this series featuring Confederation captain Eric Weston and the crew of the starship Odysseus.

I like science fiction and space operas and have enjoyed all the books in this series.  Lots of action and suspense, but since some of the intelligence concerning the starships falls into enemy hands, another book will have to detail just how much information the enemy gained.  Does it include the location of earth?

This is not my favorite in the series, but things in the Black are not over yet, and I'm eager to know what happens next.

This isn't a series that works well without having started with the first book, Odyssey One:  Into the Black.

My reviews of the earlier books in the series are here.

NetGalley/47 North

Science Fiction/Space Opera.  Dec. 12, 2017.  Print length:  318 pages.