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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Answer to Your Question by Paulette Alden

The Answer to Your Question was a surprise.  When I requested it from NetGalley, I wasn't at all sure about what it was about, and after reading it, I'm not sure I could have been prepared for this one.

Calm and kind, Inga could never have imagined opening the door to policemen wanting to know where her son Ben was.  Or that he is the suspect in the murders of four young women. She is stunned and disbelieving, but she hasn't heard from Ben in quite a while and has no idea where he is.

The story switches pov from Inga to Jean, a young woman who works shelving books at Inga's library.  Inga took a risk in hiring the young woman, and Jean feels a great loyalty as a result.

Jean is far from her Appalachian home and alone, as her husband is in Viet Nam.  When the sixteen-year-old discovers that she is pregnant, she is initially horrified and intends to end the pregnancy.   She turns to Inga in her crisis, but Inga is too preoccupied with the manhunt of her son to be much help.

Nevertheless, the friendship continues to develop, Jean decides not to end her pregnancy and then is notified that her husband has been killed in Viet Nam.  Inga, too, faces another crisis when she must travel to Minnesota because her beloved father is dying.

Is Ben guilty?  Inga originally refuses to believe it, but circumstances give her doubts.  Jean believes him guilty, but has no fear of him.

A fascinating glimpse into a mother's desire to believe the best of her son, her fear for his safety, and her own questions about his guilt or innocence.  

While there is a section that is less believable and that perhaps goes on a little too long, I found this book riveting, and not at all what I might have expected from beginning to end.  So many layers, like peeling an onion...

Is there an answer to the question?  Yes.  No.


NetGalley/Radiator Press.

Fiction.  2013.  Print version:  250 pages.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Delia's Shadow and Ill-Gotten Gains

Delia's Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer is a ghost story and a murder mystery combo.  Set in San Francisco in 1915, Delia Martin has recently returned to her home after years away in New York.  

In the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco, Delia lost her parents and gained the questionable gift of seeing ghosts.  Not a particularly good exchange, to put it mildly. In hopes of leaving the ghosts behind, Delia takes a teaching position in New York.  For a while, the move was a success, but when a stubborn ghost appears and continues to haunt her dreams, Delia feels required to return to her home city and her best friend, Sadie.

Sadie is about to be married to Jack, member of the police force who is currently involved in a murder investigation with his best friend and superior officer Gabe.  The two are hunting a serial killer who bears a sinister resemblance to the killer Gabe's father hunted 30 years ago.

Of course, Delia's persistent ghost has a direct connection and will be instrumental in the investigation.  

The setting is a major part of the story, and San Francisco will always be a city of interest for many reasons.  The main characters are all likable, but my favorite is the psychic Theodora, who in my opinion deserves her owns series.  If you are willing to accept ghosts, then psychics are also reasonable, and Dora's character is both flamboyant and wise.

On the downside, once again we have grisly murders and torture with more detail than necessary.  

I expect we will hear more from Moyer about Delia, Gabe, Sadie, and Jack...and hopefully, more about Theodora.


Mystery/Supernatural.  Sept. 17, 2013.  Print version:  337 pages.

Ill-Gotten Gains by Australian author Ilsa Evans is the second in the Nell Forrest mystery series.  

The little Australian town of Majic is preparing an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the town's founding.  Nell's youngest daughter Quin has a school assignment to find a previously unknown fact about Petar Majic, the Croatian immigrant who founded the town, and when Nell takes her to visit Petar's crypt--a small act of vandalism results in a big surprise.

Nell reports the information to Sam, the head of the historical society.  That night Sam calls sounding very excited and wants to see Nell in person to tell her the news.  The next day, Sam is dead.  Heart attack or murder?

When another member of the historical society is discovered in what looks like a suicide scenario, events take another turn.

Nell is the author of The Middle-Age Spread newspaper column; she has five daughters and a rather messy personal life.  Each chapter begins with a comment about Nell's column, and throughout the narrative Nell has personal thoughts that she imagines as newspaper headlines.

Nell, her sister Petra, and her new friend Deb (who happens to be the sister of the woman Nell's husband left her for  -if you are a grammar purist, reword syntax to include for whom) instigate their own investigation and discover some strange twists of fate that within 150 years have self-corrected some terrible misdeeds.

While the historic mystery is serious, the current mystery has plenty of humorous moments.  I enjoyed both the mystery and the characters.

NetGalley/Momentum Books

Mystery.  Sept. 2013.  Print version:  234 pages. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 7th Woman by Frederique Molay

The 7th Woman by  Frederique Molay (translation by Anne Trager) is a police procedural featuring Nico Sirsky, head of the Criminal Investigation Division in Paris, a likable protagonist faced with a series of brutal murders. The murderer has a personal grievance against Nico and creates clues that lead to individuals close to Nico, red herrings that take time to untangle and that misdirect investigators.

The novel moves quickly; it has to because the killer intends to murder 7 women in 7 days.  The fast pace works well, even if the 7/7 concept doesn't feel quite reasonable. Nico, however, is an engaging character with an ulcer from the stress of his job, a depressed ex-wife, a teen-age son, and a good relationship with his sister.

My quibbles:  murders do not have to be gruesome to be effective and love interests need time to develop.  Have I mentioned those qualifications before?  I thought so.

Translations are interesting.  If you can't read the original language, it is impossible to be sure about language and style, but I've read several translations by Anne Trager, (one that I still need to review), and the styles are very different--which leads me to believe that Ms. Trager has given me an accurate sense of the individual author's style.

Note:  Winner of France's prestigious Prix du Quai des Orfèvres prize for best crime fiction, named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year.

NetGalley/LeFrench Book

Crime/Police Procedural.  2012.  Print version:  225 pages.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cold by Stella Cameron

Cold (an Alex Duggins mystery).  After her divorce, Alex Duggins returns to the small town in the Cotswolds where she grew up.  While she is out walking her dog early one morning, she discovers a body in the snow.  The victim was killed by a dart like the ones in her pub, and Alex is a master at the game.  Then another man is murdered, and the Vicar is pushed down the stairs and remains in a coma.  A suspect, even if not a very likely one, Alex begins some investigating on her own.  

Aided by her childhood friend Tony, Alex begins inquiring into the past in an attempt to find a motive for the murder.  Secrets begin to surface and more than one party begins to have a reason to want the victim out of their lives.  

A fast-paced mystery with some interesting characters.  This is my first book by Cameron, but she is a prolific writer.  She must turn out a book or two a year.

NetGalley/Purple Papaya

Mystery.  2013.  Print version: 238 pages.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Cheesemaker's House by Jane Cable

The Cheesemaker's House is a ghost story.  When Alice Hart's husband leaves her for another woman, she moves to the cottage they had bought in Yorkshire to attempt a fresh start.

The cottage was built in 1726 and once belonged to a woman, the village cheesemaker.  Alice begins putting her energies into refurbishing the old cottage.  She hires Richard to do much of the work, especially on the barn which Alice plans to turn into a holiday rental.

She also develops a friendship with an elderly neighbor, and the owners of the village coffee shop, especially Owen, the rather shy co-owner. 

 In addition to being a former pharmacist, Owen is also the villager charmer.  In folk tradition, a charmer was a healer, who took no pay for his or her healing sessions and often used specific herbal concoctions along with laying of hands and Bible verses.  Since charmers did not diagnose and took no fees, they were not accounted witches, but folk healers.  The tradition in England lasted into the 1970's according to one source.

When Jane begins hearing crying in the middle of the night and seeing Owen when Owen was elsewhere, things begin to get a little curious.  

This is not a typical ghost story, and there are several elements in the story that I enjoyed, but the solving of the mystery of the doppelganger gets a little lost in the genealogy.    

NetGalley/Troubadour Publishing, LTD/Matador

Mystery/Supernatural.   2013.  Print version:  229 pages.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

A Study in Silks   

  A fun combination of steampunk and murder mystery.  Evelina Cooper is the niece of Sherlock Holmes, and she possesses a talent that could mean her death-- she can animate mechanical objects.  Victorian England, in this alternate history, is ruled by Steam Barons who are influential, callous, and greedy and whose goal is to consolidate their already immense power by any means necessary.  Magic is a threat to their control, and "witches" are condemned to death.

When a housemaid is murdered, Evelina notes a magical signature and finds herself wanting to solve the murder and protect Imogene, her best friend.

Some sections are a little slow, but overall the book reads quickly.  Sherlock Holmes plays a relatively small role, but his influence on methods of detection helps guide Evelina's  investigation.

A little romance--Evelina is courted by two suitors, both handsome, but with completely different backgrounds.  Strangely, the secondary romance of Imogene and Bucky is much more entertaining.  These two secondary characters, turned out to be my favorites for several reasons.

A Study in Silks is the author's debut novel, and while she does wrap up the mystery of the housemaid's murder in the conclusion, she also leaves room for more in this series.

A light and entertaining read.

NetGalley/Random House, Del Ray Spectra.

Mystery/Historical Fiction.  Sept. 24, 2013.  Print Version:  560 pages. ISBN-10: 0345537181

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Charming by Elliot James

Charming is an urban fantasy adventure featuring John Charming, a protagonist with a couple of twists.

Book Description:  He comes from a line of Charmings -- an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chainmail and crossbows to kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is-- until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.
That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn't change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar... Right?

While this one will have a more specific audience than some books, it is a pastiche of dark comedy, paranormal, urban fantasy, and adventure story.  I enjoyed the humor.  :)

Mythic monsters, vampires, Valkyries, Knights Templar...  

NetGalley/Orbit Books, Hachette Book Group.

Urban Fantasy.  Sept. 24, 2013.
  • ISBN-10: 0316253391

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow

The 228 Legacy is set in the 1980's, one of several books I've read lately in the 70's or 80's.  In this case, the story focuses on three members of a family of Taiwanese descent:  Silk, the grandmother, born in Taiwan; Lisa, the daughter, born in America; and Lisa's daughter, Abbey.

Learning about things I didn't know is one of my chief pleasures in reading.  Not that what I learn is always pleasant, but sometimes it is important.  In this case, I had never heard of the 228 Massacre in Taiwan, a terrible event in which the Kuomintang killed between 10,000-30,000 civilians on the small island on February 28, 1947.  Other estimates go as high as 150,000 based on the number of missing household members. Intellectuals were targeted; doctors, lawyers, students (including high school and middle school students)  disappeared or were murdered and left in the streets.  

This atrocity doesn't deserve to be left in the dark, remembered only by survivors, so I'm glad I read the book for that knowledge alone.

Back to the book.  The 228 Massacre continues its effect through Silk, Lisa, and Abbey, although Lisa and Abby are unaware of this terrifying time in Silk's life.  Silk never mentions it, nor does she discuss her husband, Lisa's father.  However, Silk never hides her deep antipathy for the Chinese. 

The story is told through four voices:  Silk, Lisa, Abby, and Jack, an elderly Chinese man who has recently lost his wife.

Unfortunately, the narratives of these four individuals failed to work as well as I hoped.  The voices didn't quite ring true for me.  The dialogue was a bit stiff and didn't always seem to suit the circumstances of the individuals.  Abbey, for example, is only ten-years-old, but she is too articulate, too wise, too competent and calm (in one particular situation) for her age. The incident at the party should have caused more fear and outrage in both Abby and Lisa.

The plot is not about the 1947 massacre, but about how the tragedy influences the survivors and their descendants.  Silk has a fear of academic success and stresses the importance of manual labor, discouraging first Lisa's school achievements and then Abbey's.  She cannot forget that her husband and other intellectuals were among the thousands who were murdered.  

There are so many threads here:  the care of the elderly, bullying, child abuse, the effect of secrets, the influence of the past, aging and illness....  The resolutions of the problems seem too facile, too pat.

The book was worthwhile because of the information about Taiwan, but it could have been much more, perhaps, if the focus had been tightened.  Nevertheless, I think many readers will enjoy this book.

NetGalley/Martin Sisters Publishing

Contemporary Lit.  2013.  Print version:  320 pages.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

Witchstruck is a YA novel that combines historical fiction with the supernatural.  The setting is Woodstock where Elizabeth I was imprisoned after being released from the Tower of London.  At this time, Catholicism was the only acceptable religion and Protestants converted (with or without sincerity) or faced charges of heresy which equated with treason.  Some 300 protestants were burned at the stake, and Bloody Mary became even more unpopular when she married King Philip of Spain. 

Elizabeth and her supporters were a threat to Mary who greatly resented Elizabeth because of her mother Ann Boleyn.  Elizabeth remained under suspicion of treason even at Woodstock, and everything about her life was closely monitored.

Elizabeth, denied her ladies-in-waiting, is attended by the fictional Meg Lytton, a young witch being trained by her Aunt Jane.  Elizabeth hopes that Jane will be able to give her some clue to her future.  Will she ever be queen?  Will the charge of treason result in her beheading?  Elizabeth needs all the help she can muster.

Finding Meg a trustworthy retainer, Elizabeth gives Meg some personal tasks involving messages to the local inn where some of Elizabeth's supporters gathered.  Meg's powers begin to increase, but she is in a precarious position herself, especially since the local and very powerful witch hunter Marcus Dent wants to marry her.  Not the safest situation for a young witch.

Loyalty and betrayals.  Some excellent historical facts and a fast-paced story that involves both the danger to Elizabeth and to Meg.  Oh, and a handsome young Spaniard who will soon become a priest....

NetGalley/Harlequin Teen

Historical fiction/Supernatural.  Sept. 24, 2013.  Print version:  363 pages.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Omens  provides me with a new author and a new series.  I was pretty much swept away by this one, not wanting to put it down, eager to follow the plot and the characters.

Book description:  Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancĂ©, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens....

Olivia is bright and self-possessed; she makes decisions and follows through without dithering.  She makes mistakes, but it doesn't alter her self-confidence or her determination.  Despite the terrible revelation of her parentage, Olivia doesn't become a whiner.  I found her a likable and interesting character.  

At first, her intention is just to get out of the limelight, but once she ends up in Cainesville, Olivia has time to assess her situation and decides to inquire a little further into the lives of her biological parents.  She begins working with her mother's former lawyer, and the two develop an antagonistic relationship initially, as Gabriel Walsh makes his personal finances his first priority.  

The association remains push/pull, but the two manage to get along most of the time as they try to unravel how the murders came about.

This was a fast and compulsive read, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

An ARC from Kathleen Zrelak with Goldberg MacDuffie Communications and Dutton.

Mystery/Supernatural.  Aug. 20, 2013.  486 pages.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Disenchanted & Co by Lynn Viehl and Some Thoughts

Thoughts:  When I read Disenchanted & Co., Part 1, I had already downloaded Part 2, so I was aware that it was not a stand alone.  When I finished Part 1, I had the same thoughts I've had quite often lately:  why write a relatively short novel with a cliffhanger instead of a longer novel that completes the story. 

Of course, one reason might be that by dividing one book into parts and selling each of them separately could result in financial benefits.  I don't mind trilogies or series, especially in fantasy, but I do expect to get enough satisfaction out of each one to make it worthwhile.  David Weber,  George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb excel at this.  Each novel is a meal in itself, not simply an appetizer.

The recent tendency, however, seems to be to create a trilogy or series of short novels for either financial reasons or because the author (editor, publisher?) has decided that readers dislike long books.

The interesting thing about Disenchanted & Co., however, is that the novel is being released in two ebooks, but it looks as if the entire novel will be published (containing both Parts 1 & 2) will be published in Jan., 2014.

Rather equivalent to someone like Dickens (and other Victorian novelists) having his novels published in serial form in weekly installments.  Dickens allowed public reaction to his installments to influence the future of his novels.

Is this a possibility for Lynn Viehl?  If so, the final version to be published early next year may be heavily edited and a better novel.

O.K.  Review:  

Plot:  Kit Kittinger is a young woman who has established her own business in a male-dominated society.  Kit is a sort of psychic investigator who is hired by individuals who seek to remove curses and solve other magical problems.  What Kit does, at least in her own estimation, is discover the actual cause of the problem and put it right.  Kit does not believe in magic.

When called on by Lady Diana and asked to dispel the curse that is actually causing hateful words to be carved on her body, Kit finds herself involved in a conspiracy that threatens not only her life, but that of the entire city, and perhaps more.

Good:  A steampunk fantasy that does not depend solely on steampunk elements, but has an interesting plot and interesting characters.  Kit is a plucky and witty young woman who has a somewhat mysterious background and a group of friends from all layers of a very segmented society.

Dredmore is an ambiguous personality, and the anagram of his name stood out immediately.
His relationship with Kit may be a bit overdone and is certainly a familiar trope.  Actually, this may be intentional as most of the characters are over the top, including the Madam with a Heart of Gold.

Not so Good (at least for me):  The alternative history doesn't serve any real purpose and is initially a bit confusing.  (I first thought they were in Australia)

I did not care for Kit's willingness to surrender her high-minded stubborness and so easily accept the Gothic ravishment. (bodice ripper!)  Nor did I really like her swaying from one opinion to another with Dredmore so quickly and frequently.

The cliffhanger from Part 1 is resolved, but the plot behind Lady Diana's "curse" is a deeper and more complicated situation, involving much more than the Walsh family.

Kit must do some research into her own history. Once she determines who the villain really is, she must try to prevent a devastating event that threatens the entire country.

NetGalley/Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster

Steampunk Fantasy. Part 2, Oct. 2013.  Complete book, Jan. 28, 2014.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Four YA Novels and Some Thoughts

Paradigm by Helen Stringer.  A YA novel featuring sixteen-year-old Sam, who is traveling across The Wilds in an America that is struggling after the third collapse.  Unaware that there is anything special about him, Sam is simply trying to survive with enough to purchase food and gas for his ancient GTO.  When his friend Nathan and circumstances force him to visit Century City, Sam discovers that he was part of a scientific experiment gone wrong, that there has been an ongoing search for others like him, and that if he is caught life as he knows it will be destroyed.

Although this YA novel has fewer simplistic descriptions (green eyes--mossy, emerald, etc.) that are common in many recent YA novels I've read, Sam does have one green and one blue eye, a trope I've seen in 3 recent YA novels.  It was fine the first time, but the description gets old quickly.  In its favor, the rest of the physical descriptions in the novel are sketchy enough to allow the reader to visualize without the glowing, sparkling, breathlessness that typify many YA books.

I disliked the extreme violence and the evil Carolyn Bast's over-the-top wickedness.  I did like Alma, (and without her convenient arrival when needed, Sam would have died early on), but Alma is not really developed as a character.

NetGalley/Mediadrome Press

YA/Science Fiction.  2013.  Print Version:  396 pages.

Skulk by Rosie Best.  Meg Banks becomes a shape-shifter by default.  While painting graffitti on the wall surrounding her private school, Meg is startled when an injured fox darts by and falls.  As Meg goes to check on the fox, she watches it transform into a naked man who hands her a stone before he dies.  

Without realizing that the shape-shifter has passed on his ability to transform, Meg hides the stone.  Later, Meg is attacked after leaving a club and in her fear, she transforms into a fox.  

Meg finds herself as the newest member of a the skulk, a group of foxes.  Only six members of any shape-shifter group are allowed, and the one nearest to a dying shape-shifter becomes the next in line.   Meg has more to learn about shifting, the skulk, and the importance of the gem stones.

The Good:  Not much, really, but I liked the use of group names for the animals:  a skulk of foxes, a conspiracy of crows, a rabble of butterflies, and a horde of rats.  It was a nice change from werewolf shifting.

The Bad:  The first part of the novel dragged over the "poor little rich girl" stuff.  The body count is high and doesn't even really seem to effect Meg.  Every once in a while, she thinks about it and vows revenge, but nothing in her behavior indicates that the deaths have bothered her too much.  Not much character development.

NetGalley/Angry Robot

YA/Fantasy.  Oct. 1, 2013.

Deceived  by Julie Ann Lindsey is the story of Elle, a young woman haunted by a recurring dream.  She and her father move so often that she never feels that she belongs anywhere, but she has convinced her father to let her attend a boarding school for her senior year.  But a rumor of a stalker and a serial killer puts the campus on edge.  Does the stalker have one victim in mind?

Not very realistic, but a fast read in spite of some sections that seem mostly for the purpose of lengthening the book.  The love interest is breathtakingly handsome.  Of course.  He is also a U.S. Marshall and a veteran of Afghanistan at twenty-two.  Maybe a bit too mature for a high school girl?

NetGalley/F+W/Adams Media

YA/Suspense.  September 18, 2013.  Print version:  320 pages.

The Delphi Deception by Chris Everheart is the follow-up to The League of Delphi.  Zach continues his attempts to rescue Ashley, and his new ally is the treacherous Katie, who informed on Ashley in the first place.  

What else?  There is more information about Larry and a surprise twist about Zach.  And there you have it.

If you liked the first one, you will probably like this one as well.  I wasn't impressed with the first one and should have left this one alone.

NetGalley/PR by the Book

YA/Mystery.  Oct. 1, 2013. 


Am I being too critical in expecting decent writing and good characterization in YA books?  Or content suitable for the specific age group?  Or thoughtful themes and clear, consistent voice from characters?  Or decent dialogue?

There are a good many good YA writers out there, but there are more mediocre books than excellent ones. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Wayward Pines Series, 1 and 2

A little bit mystery, a little bit horror, a little bit sci fi,  and a lot of suspense.  Hard to fit the Wayward Pines series into a genre.  Is the story credible?  No.  But engrossing?  Oh, yeah.

I received the second in the series from NetGalley and finished it in short order, practically in one sitting.  On finishing, I headed directly to the computer to order the first in the series from Amazon and was reading it on my Kindle the same day.  

Although I read the second book first, I will review them in order.

Pines by Blake Crouch opens in a strange and bewildering way that leaves the reader in the same place as Ethan Burke, the FBI agent who awakes after an accident in the town of Wayward Pines--a bit befuddled and certainly perplexed.

from Booklist:  Ethan Burke is on his way to the small town of Wayward Pines to find two fellow federal agents who have gone missing. He has a bad car accident on the edge of town, waking up in the hospital and not at all sure of what is going on. The psychiatrist on staff tells him that he has suffered a brain injury and warns him not to leave, but he takes off anyway. The town sheriff is less than helpful, and, with no ID or money, Burke can’t reach his superior or his wife, and he starts fearing for his sanity (reminiscent of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island)....

Reading the novel feels as if you've entered the Twilight Zone, or if you watched Twin Peaks, you may realize that Blake Crouch took that television series as an inspiration.  At any rate, you will want to know just what is going on in this apparently idyllic little town of Wayward Pines.  You will have to ignore some failures in logic concerning the townspeople's behavior at times, but that doesn't make events any less frightening. 

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Thriller, and more.  2012.  Print version:  320 pages.

Wayward takes up where Pines left off.  It is the second in the planned trilogy; the third should be published in 2014.

More information on the town and the inhabitants is revealed, but the feeling of tension never lets up.  Solving a recent murder becomes a priority for Ethan Burke, but what he discovers shocks him deeply.  

It is difficult to give much information without spoilers, but once again, the suspense is dramatic.

The ending was a disappointment because of its abruptness, but I will certainly be sure to get next book in this trilogy.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Sept. 17, 2013.  Print version:  322 pages.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Bellwether Revivals Benjamin Wood

The Bellwether Revivals   begins at the end.  I'm not particularly fond of this method, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  In this case, I think it slowed down my interest in the book for a while; I prefer wondering about what is going to happen and making silent predictions.  After reading a couple of chapters, I put it down, read one or two other books, and then returned to it.  I'm glad I did.

Oscar Lowe is from a working class background, he didn't finish school, and he works as a caregiver in a nursing home, but Oscar is intelligent and has a sort of autodidact education in progress.  Iris, Eden, and their friends are a close-knit group who attended the same boarding school:  wealthy, intelligent, and privileged Cambridge students.

Well-written with flowing prose, Wood manages to build tension from the very beginning.  Even if he had not already given away the ending in the Prelude (appropriately named as so much of the novel focuses on music), the tension and foreboding are felt from Oscar's first meeting with Iris and her brother Eden.

The comparison to The Secret History is justified, but instead of feeling antipathy for all of the characters (I didn't like anyone in TSH),  I did like most of the characters in Wood's novel--to varying degrees.  None of the characters are without human failings, but that is true to life.  Some of the secondary characters are not developed, they are there to help round out the group of friends, but don't have real depth.  

The two secondary characters I found most interesting are Dr. Paulsen (a former Cambridge don, now in a nursing home)  and Dr. Crest (a psychologist with a stage 4 brain tumor).   Though very different in temperament, both have an important influence on Oscar and on the plot

Eden, the star in the firmament of his friends and family, also has a lack of development, but the reason for that is clear.  We have to wonder what is really going on with Eden; he is something of an enigma even to his own family.   Charismatic, egotistical, condescending, but compelling, Eden stands at a remove even from everyone.  Although Oscar finds him a little threatening and unnerving, he is also drawn in by Eden.  When Eden is not around, Oscar appreciates his absence, but also feels the loss of something intangible.

Benjamin Wood has written a remarkable debut novel.  Not one that is completely "likable," but one that is intriguing and that refuses to let you off the hook.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Fiction.  Originally publ. in 2012; reprint May 2013.  Print version 428 pages.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Broken Rules of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

The Broken Rules of Ten is a prequel to the Tenzing Norbu series.  I really liked the first two in this series about Tenzing Norbu, the former Buddhist monk, who came to the U.S., joined the LAPD, and then left the police department to become a private investigator.

This novella reveals more of the background of Ten, his divided life between his alcoholic mother in Paris and his Buddhist monk father in Dharamshala.  The training of novice monks is an interesting feature, and so is the adolescent Ten's advance into puberty.

The plot is less interesting than the insight into Ten's training, friendships, and shaky relationship with his father.

Anyone who has enjoyed the Tenzing Norbu series will probably enjoy this short read.  Ten is a unique character in the mystery genre, and I look forward to the next in the series of the grown-up Ten.

NetGalley/Hay House

Mystery.  2013.  Print version: 121 pages.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Two More Mysteries

I can never seem to get enough of mysteries.  Even when I'm busy following a nonfiction bent, as I am right now with the SOE in WWII, I include mystery novels even in the midst of a huge nonfiction tome.  

Nonfiction requires more thought and a slower pace, but mysteries...I just gobble them up.
I'm glad to discover a new author in Warren Easley and a new (to me) series of J.A. Jance.  I've read several  of her Joanna Brady books, but this is the first of read in the Ali Reynolds series.  Both Matter of Doubt and Deadly Stakes were fast, entertaining reads.

Matters of Doubt  by Warren C. Easley is a debut novel and the beginning of a new series.

Cal Claxton, a former big-time DA, decided to leave the high-powered world of L.A. and simplify his life in a small town in Oregon.  The downturn in the economy is felt everywhere, and Cal's finances are suffering as well.

When a tattooed and pierced young man shows up at his office seeking help in finding out who killed his mother, Cal turns him down saying that he is a lawyer, not an investigator.  But the kid has ridden his bicycle from all the way from Portland, and Cal is impressed enough to do a little research.  What he finds changes his mind.

I was a little doubtful for the first few pages, but after that the story really picked up.  I liked the characters, especially Picasso, who developed quite nicely.   I'll certainly be interested in reading the next book featuring Cal Claxton.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery/Crime.  Sept. 3, 2013.  Print version:  250 pages.

Deadly Stakes by J.A. Jance follows former reporter Ali Reynolds in her latest adventure. A teenage boy discovers the dying Gemma Ralston on a lonely road.  He calls 911, but leaves the scene in fear.  There are reasons for this, including the fact that he'd ditched school and brought a shovel to the scene.  

When Gemma's ex-husband and his girlfriend Lynn are arrested for the murder, Ali is asked to do some investigating.   Ali finds herself looking into a case that may or may not be related,   trying to protect A.J., the young man who discovered Gemma's body, and eventually, trying to save herself.


Mystery.  2013.  Print version:  304 pages.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Compound Fractures by Stephen White

Compound Fractures is the final installment of the Dr. Alan Gregory series.  I looked forward to this one, but have to admit I found much of the book so tinged with bitterness that I have to wonder what was going on when White wrote it.

I missed the previous book, Line of Fire which set up the action in this one; however, the one before that, The Last Lie, didn't please me much either.  Since I had enjoyed so many of the books in this series, I hate to have it end on a sour note.

Betrayals.  Characters that you previously liked behave badly.  Very badly.  When a series is as long as this one (twenty books), it comes as an unpleasant surprise to have them change so drastically.  

An ARC from Dutton.

Mystery.  August 20, 2013.  438 pages.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 by Leo Marks

Between Silk and Cyanide was a fascinating look into the codebreaking department of the SOE (Special Operations Executive WWII).  

Leo Marks (his father owned 84 Charing Cross Road, the antiquarian bookshop made famous by Helene Hanff) was twenty-two when he entered SOE as a cryptographer.  

His unconventional and singular approach to coding led him to confront his superiors and eventually, to change much about the codes given to agents.  Undoubtedly brilliant, Marks also has a smugness and self-indulgence in his writing that can be irritating, but his concern for the agents is genuine, and he was willing to stand his ground in order to provide the agents the best codes and as much support as possible.

His initial change was the use of poem codes.  First he exposed how easy it would be for the Germans to break a code using a traditional poem, then he began having agents write their own poems or gave them one of his own original poems for the purpose.  His own poems were often crude and bawdy.  His most famous and touching poem, however, was given to Violet Szabo, one of the most highly regarded and tragic SOE agents:

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours.
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

The title is an interesting point, Between Silk and Cyanide.   Marks spend much time and effort getting codes transferred to silk which could be easily concealed clothing lining.  First he had to battle to get his idea approved, then find financial aid, the silk itself, and a means of photographing the codes.  The idea was that after use, each code could be torn or cut from the silk.  The silk one-time pads prevented some agents from resorting to the cyanide pills they carried in case of capture.

Just one other way in which Marks contributed was in the area of indecipherables.  Prior to his efforts, agents were asked to resend any message that was indecipherable, a terrible risk for the agent, and a loss of time for any action needed.  Marks went to the decoding department and spoke to the women impressing on them the importance of somehow deciphering the original message.  The agent may live or die by their efforts.

Thereafter, the women sometimes made thousands of efforts to decipher one indecipherable message, reducing the number of indecipherables by approximately 80%.  

The book is over 600 pages long, and there is no way to cover all of the interesting information it contains:  the Dutch situation, the famous agents, Marks' efforts to make inroads with the Free French, the one-time pads, his concern not only about deciphering indecipherables, but about reducing the number of them...on and on.

Young Marks was a genius, and his innovations made a huge difference in the safety of those operatives behind enemy lines. His sometimes irritating wit was easy to overlook because of his dedication to the agents in the field.

Nonfiction.  2000.  624 pages.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Red Queen Dies by Frankie Y. Bailey

The Red Queen Dies is a futuristic crime novel, set only a few years in the future, in 2019.  This doesn't really seem far enough in the future to account for all of science fiction elements.  The novel is the first in a new series.

Hannah McCabe, the biracial police detective, makes an interesting protagonist.  When two young women are murdered, Hannah catches the cases.  Then an older woman is murdered,  her death doesn't exactly match the pattern of the previous two, but there are plenty of similarities.  Two big differences:  age and celebrity.  The two younger women were attractive young women, but had nothing outstanding in their lives to attract attention.  The third woman, however, was a famous Broadway actress known as the Red Queen for her red hair and her association with Alice in Wonderland.

In addition to the investigation into these three deaths, there is a kind of sub-rosa mystery going on, something elusive; the reader gets a few hints, but not until the end is the idea definitive.

Hannah McCabe makes a good protagonist, and I enjoyed the relationship she has with her father.  The tension between Hannah and her brother---not so much---but perhaps the next in the series will make the brother's inclusion more relevant.  In TRQD, the relationship feels more of a distraction, but seems to be setting up an easier relationship that will be more helpful in future novels.

I look forward to more books featuring Hannah McCabe.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books

Mystery.  Sept. 10, 2013.  Print version:  304 pages.

  • ISBN-10: 0312641753

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

The Bones of Paris continues the adventures of Harris Stuyvesant that King (usually known for her Mary Russell series) began with Touchstone in 2008.  Harris has a plum assignment in Paris (1929) searching for a missing girl and expecting, initially, to find her with a lover.  He has reason to suspect this as he has has a brief acquaintance with Phillpa Crosby.  Eventually, however, Harris discovers some disturbing photographs, and his suspicions grow darker and not only concerning his case.

I've had a run of books about Paris lately, and this one fills the bill on Paris during the Jazz Age.  Harris knows and consults with Sylvia Beach, speaks with Cole Porter, enjoys the company of KiKi de Montparnasse, suspects Man Rey, admires Lee Miller, avoids Hemingway, etc.  The expat community in Paris during the twenties was close-knit and gossip-filled; the Lost Generation enjoying intellectual, social, and sexual freedoms flocked together. Harris is concerned about a certain morbid quality he discovers among the artistic community and is shocked by the performances of the Grand-Guigol.  I'd never heard of the Grand-Guigol...interesting.

Sarah  and Bennet Grey also make appearances in The Bones of Paris; aside from receiving a letter from Harris, Bennet doesn't appear until late in the novel.  A shame because I find him an interesting character, but I suspect King plans on giving him more time eventually.

Although I found the solution too fantastic, I enjoyed the novel and the unique, if fictitious, perspective of  expat life in the twenties that Harris Stuyvesant provides.

NetGalley/Random House, Bantam Dell

Mystery/Historical Fiction.  Sept. 10, 2013.  Print version:  432 pages.
  • ISBN-10: 0345531760

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist by Ruchama King Feurman

In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is one of my favorite books so far this year.  Beautifully written with a story that slowly unfolds and reveals wonderful characters who will stay with you for a long time.

The characters are so richly portrayed that I fell in to the story at once.  This is a novel of individuals, of relationships, of prejudice, of insight and of reflection, of wisdom and understanding.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is one of my favorite books this year, and I've hated having to wait until closer to publication to review it.  On the other hand, I've had a difficult time trying to decide how to review this novel.

This quote does a good job of summarizing it for me:

"Her characters jump off the page and into the hearts of her audience
….charming, spiritual tale." — Library Journal 

I don't think I can say it any better.

NetGalley/NYRB LIT

Literary fiction.  Sept. 17, 2013.