Search This Blog

Monday, January 30, 2017

For February Release (with plenty of snow--at least in the books)

Set in Switzerland and with an interesting cast of characters, Tracee de Hahn's debut novel Swiss Vendetta pulled me right in.

After her husband's death, Inspector Agnes Luthi wanted a new environment with fewer reminders so she transferred from financial crimes to the violent crimes unit.  Her first case commences as a blizzard sets in, and Luthi finds the drive to even reach the historic Valloton chateau harrowing.

The blizzard turns into be an epic event and the chateau and its inhabitants are snowed in and without power.  

The Valloton family has generations of wealth and breeding in their past; part of the privileged order both past and present, they are unaccustomed to sharing their space or their thoughts.  The enormous chateau is beautiful, but has an eery atmosphere which is emphasized by the power outage and the isolation enforced by the storm.  Aside from the inhabitants of the chateau, there is an elderly WWII survivor living in a neighboring mansion.  Some of the plot elements have seeds in the war.

De Hahn's characters and setting make this one a strong start to a new series.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 30, 2017.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelly Armstrong

I actually liked this one better than  City of the Lost, the first in this series.

Somewhere in the far north is the small community of Rockton where, if you need to escape from your life for a period of time, you may be accepted.  What kind of person needs needs this refuge from the rest of the world?  People running from their pasts for an assortment of reasons, criminal or not.

Casey Duncan is accepted because of her previous job as a police detective, but she, too, has a compelling reason to need a safe haven.   Rockton has, unsurprisingly, a high number of untrustworthy characters so both a sheriff and a detective are needed to keep things in line.

Rockton citizens may be safe from threats in their former lives, but it presents plenty of dangers of its own--from both within and without the community.   Disappearances and murders and other weird circumstances.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 30, 2017. 

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Mystery/Suspense.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  400 pages.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dare to Remember and Stasi Wolf

Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard

Lisa Fulbrook moves from the city to a small village where she isolates herself from reminders of her previous life.  She works from home, keeping human contact to a minimum, but gradually manages to open herself to John, her elderly neighbor.  She begins walking his dog Riley and eventually, Riley becomes hers.

John and Riley provide Lisa with her first fragile connections to a fuller life after the savage attack that left her roommate dead and Lisa severely injured and emotionally damaged.  

Flashbacks induce terror, but the loss of memory surrounding the event distresses Lisa as much or more than the flashbacks. Survivor guilt and a subconscious feeling that she was somehow responsible for what happened plague her.  Over the course of a year, Lisa recovers more memories as she begins to confront the past and discover what really happened on the night of the attack.

While an intriguing look at the post-traumatic effects of a violent crime, I think the addition to the title (Dare to Remember: Shocking. Page-Turning. Psychological Thriller) misleading and ultimately harmful.  The novel is psychological in examining Lisa's grief and memory loss, but it is not a thriller.  It is actually fairly slow and there is not a great deal of action.  

If readers expect "page-turning" action, they will be disappointed.  If they are satisfied with examining the way a victim comes to adapt in the aftermath of a brutal crime, they will appreciate the measured pace of Dare to Remember.

Read in December; blog review scheduled for Jan. 28, 2017.

NetGalley/Legend Press

Psychological.  Feb. 1, 2017.  Print length:  288 pages.

Stasi Wolf by David Young is the second in a series set in East Berlin in 1975 and featuring Oberleutnant Karin Muller.  I have not read Stasi Child, the first in the series, but

"Stasi Child has won the 2016 Crime Writers' Association Endeavour Historical Dagger for 2016. This is the most prestigious award for historical crime fiction in the UK.  David was presented with his Dagger award by the Sunday Express and Daily Telegraph crime critic Jake Kerridge at a glittering gala dinner in London. Stasi Child was the unanimous choice of the judging panel."

I've added Stasi Child to my list.  

What is most impressive in this novel is the way the author evokes the cold war era, both visually and emotionally.

For those of you who are as vaguely knowledgeable about East Germany during this period as I am:

The Stasi was the German equivalent of the KGB:  "It has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies to have ever existed.[2][3][4][5][6][7] The Stasi was headquartered in East Berlin..." (source  

The Kripo (or the Kriminalpolizei) was the criminal investigation agency within the police force.

Halle-Neustadt was, at that time, a new communist city, and the GDR was quite proud of it. "An unusual feature was the absence of street names. Instead, all residential blocks were designated with a complex numbering system difficult for outsiders to understand...."  The city was colloquially referred to as HaNeu or HaNoi (there was a large contingent of workers from Vietnam).

David Young skillfully brings the repressive (terrifying) threat of the Stasi organization and the institutional feel of the new city into vivid existence.  I felt as lost as Karin among the vast and towering blocks of prefab construction and as uneasy (terrified) as most citizens must have felt by any connection to the Stasi.

Oberleutnant Karin Muller belongs to the Kripo, but when tasked with investigating the abduction of twin infants, the Kripo is handicapped by Stasi interference.  Karin, who has been sent to Halle-Neustadt to take charge of the investigation, finds the local Kripo ham-strung by the Stasi and every suggestion she makes must go through the local Stasi  official and is usually turned down.  Cover-up...but why? 

I can't say I "enjoyed" this novel--I felt claustrophobic during much of it.  And that is just from a few hours of reading.  What must it have been like to live for decades on the wrong side of a divided Germany?  To be spied on at every turn?

Tense and edgy, the novel not only presents an unusual police procedural, but a stressful and disturbing look at life in the GDR in the 1970's.   So...while enjoyment is not the way I would describe the process of reading Stasi Wolf, I feel better informed.  David Young has created a memorable character in Karin Muller and an unforgettable atmosphere of life in a bleak and repressive regime.

Read in December; blog review scheduled for Jan. 28, 2017.  

NetGalley/Bonnier Zaffre

Crime/Police Procedural/Historical.  Feb. 9, 2017.  Print length:  416 pages.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan and The Superintendent's Daughter by Marjorie Eccles

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer L. Ryan is set in the small English village of Chilbury.  Since the lack of men during the war has had a huge impact on the choir, the decision is made to disband the choir entirely.

Until, that is, the vibrant Primrose Trent arrives and manages to persuade the women to continue the choir without men.  Primrose is actually the most vibrant character, but she gets very little time in the novel.

A bit of romance, family dysfunction, switched babies, spies, and more.  Told through letters and journals--and you had better keep track because sometimes you have to check to see which character is writing.  The midwife's letters are probably the least believable, but she does have a recognizable voice.  

Entertaining, but not The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Read in July; blog review scheduled for Jan. 26, 2017.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Historical Fiction.  Feb. 14, 2017.  Print length:  384 pages.

Whew!  I read The Chilbury Ladies' Choir  6 months ago and have had it scheduled since last summer!

Back to more recent books...

I looked for a better cover for The Superintendent's Daughter, but couldn't find one.  This one has little to do with the content.  I have not read any other books in this series, although I read and enjoyed another book by Eccles several years ago.

Registering under the name of Julia Mayo, Kat checks into a country house hotel where she is murdered in short order.  When her body is found, Superintendent Gil Mayo is notified and arrives horrified at the idea.  His fears are dispelled when he discovers that the body is not that of his daughter, but sadly, that of Julia's best friend.

Mayo is excluded from the investigation because he is too close to the situation, but since he is unable to locate his daughter, he proceeds on a separate and parallel search to locate Julia.

The novel begins with a letter from Kat to Julia--and is quite slow.  The information in the letter(s) provides information that will be useful later, but does not intrigue as it was intended.  Nevertheless, the plot does pick up, and Eccles deftly introduces the characters who could be guilty of Kat's murder.  

Sometimes having a number of suspects feels contrived, but the way the suspects are introduced makes each one a genuine possibility, and I suspected each one without ever being confident.

Initially,  I was not even certain whether Kat or Julia was the intended victim.  

Recently republished.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Crime/Police Procedural.  1999. Jan. 13, 2017.  Print length:  248 pages.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Old Bones by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This is my first Bill Slider police procedural, and I just realized there are many more to enjoy.  

It was a nice surprise to discover how much I liked the book since I was not much impressed with the cover.

Old Bones is about the discovery of a skeleton in a garden. Bill Slider's boss thinks an obviously cold case will keep his detective out of trouble since Slider's previous investigation of an underage sex ring involving upper echelons in the police hierarchy has put him under a cloud.

The case does get under Slider's skin.  The skeleton of a fourteen-year-old girl who went missing two decades previously will be difficult--memories of the day Amanda Knight disappeared are twenty years old, files are missing, and possible suspects are dead or have moved away, but Slider's team will give it every effort.

Old Bones is an excellent police procedural with good characterization and an intriguing plot.  That alone would have been enough, but what raises the bar even further is Harrod-Eagles writing.  She skillfully maneuvers all elements of the story--the characters, plot, and pacing.  

And then there are the occasional lines that brought a little humor, an allusion, or a neat comparison:

"That's what I like about you, Maurice," Swilley said sweetly.  "Always ready to go the extra meal."

" lively as a botoxed brow."

"You're no fun on a road rip, Thelma."

on architectural styles:  "Twentieth Century Insensitive"

All in all, a book to be enjoyed on many levels, but first and foremost the competence of the author in presenting a serious and intriguing cold case police procedural.

Favorite minor character:  Connie Bindman, the police archivist.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 23, 2017.

NetGalley/Severn House

Police Procedural/Mystery.  Feb. 1, 2017.  Print length:  265 pages.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Impossible Fortress and Behind Her Eyes

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak provides an interesting look at the advent of young computer programmers in the 1980's.  Adolescents who were not only fascinated by computers and games, but strongly predisposed to find beauty in writing code. 

Fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin has two main interests:  1) writing programs for his own games, and 2) (along with his buddies Alf and Clark) getting hold of the latest Playboy Magazine with Vanna White as the centerfold.

The boys are often amusing with their 1980's teenage angst, and because they are not old enough to buy a copy of the Vanna White issue, concoct a number of elaborate and doomed-to-failure plans to get a copy of the coveted magazine.  

As various schemes fail or are discarded, the boys grow more desperate, and a plan evolves in which Billy is to seduce Mary Zelinsky, whose father owns the shop that sells the magazine.  The idea is to get the security code from Mary so the boys can get into the shop, grab the magazine, and leave enough money to pay for it.

Mary is an even more accomplished novice programmer than Billy, and his real mission is to get Mary to help him with a game he wants to develop.  His agreement with the seduction plan is motivated by the contest Mary has told him about--the best game could win a prize from an admired game designer and possibly a future in programming.  

While the premise has many great opportunities, ultimately, I found The Impossible Fortress deviated into something I didn't much care for.  The heist, when it finally happened, almost prevented me from finishing the book.  

My final assessment: there are amusing portions at the beginning, but the characters failed to make me truly like or care about them and the plot felt hollow.  

Maybe I was expecting too much.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21, 2017.

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

YA.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

Behind Her Eyes is a suspenseful and twisty novel that kept me off balance trying to come to grips with the characters.  

Louise, David, and Adele form a strange triangle that works in different ways.  Louise, a single mom, has an almost fling with a man she meets in a bar.  The next day, she discovers that the man in the bar is her new boss.  David is married to Adele and the marriage is complicated to say the least.  (A whole lot of controlling goin' on.)  Adele and Louise bump into each other on the street and form a friendship.  Oops.

A triangle of dumb, and dumber, and wicked.  Difficult to tell at times who is dumb and who is wicked as the perspectives change from chapter to chapter.  What a stew of dangerous emotions.  

It's one of those novels that is hard to put down, that keeps moving from one pov to another and from past to present, with a some "OMG-- you are so dense!" moments, a bit of astral projection, and a twist that you are only gradually prepared for at the end.

So...few people will be able to put it down because the need to know is so strong.  Some will be pleased with the twist at the end, admiring the author's manipulation of the narrative to keep the reader curious and uncertain.  Unsympathetic characters; twisted relationships; a necessary supernatural element to make the novel work. Shades of Edgar Cayce.

NetGalley/Flatiron Books

Mystery/Psychological?  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Snail Mail and Sei Shonagon

I've been catching up on correspondence this month.  
After failing to reply in a time manner for over a month,
I had quite a few responses to write.

Had fun finally using some of the tea bags I painted last year.

Below: postcards to the grands on top,
The one in the middle has one of my embroidered leaves.  

click to enlarge

Still reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, but it, too, has suffered some neglect.  This morning, I read the following entry:

114.  It is Delightful When There Has Been a Thin Fall of Snow
    It is delightful when there has been a thin fall of snow; or again when it has piled up very high and in the evening we sit round a brazier at the edge of the veranda with a few congenial friends, chatting till darkness falls  There is no need for the lamp, since the snow itself reflects a clear light.  Raking the ashes in the brazier with a pair of fire-tongs, we discuss all sorts of moving and amusing things.
(then Shonagon speaks of an unannounced visitor and says that one of the ladies quotes the poem about the man who came today, and they all laughed and stayed up 'til dawn talking. 

 In the end notes, I found the poem by Taira no Kanemori:
Here in my mountain home
The snow is deep
And the paths are buried [in white].
Truly would he move my heart--
The man who came today.
It was a timely entry for me to read this morning, and I thought about my friends Patti and Dave who are shoveling snow in Colorado and my friend Penny, who is staying inside and admiring the snow in North Carolina.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace

I loved The Girl in the Garden.  

The characters whose stories weave themselves together in this lovely book are given up gradually.  Each character is isolated, by choice and/or circumstance.  Each one excepts or rejects the isolation in unique ways--and yet there are connections that exist, unyielding, even if not forcing themselves.

June, the girl abandoned with her infant at Mabel's seaside hotel, is the lynch-pin, not necessarily more important, but definitely the new arrival who has an effect on other characters both directly and indirectly.   

The long, meandering Faulknerian sentences pull the reader on--long prose sentences that have the sensation of poetry. Wallace captures so many lives in her prose (click, click, click--one image after another), like Claire's photographs, snapshots, but signifying more than the single slice of a photographic imprint.  

Wallace's writing contains a rare intimacy and immediacy, but the past is always present and slowly revealed.  

I loved all of the characters, those that figured largely in the narrative, and those whose appearances are secondary.  Like stream-of-consciousness, the reader flows with the events and with the thoughts, present and past, not sure where things are going or how things will work out, not expecting perfect endings, but hopeful.  

In spite of the circumstances--June abandoned; Mabel grieving for her husband; Claire independent, but yearning; Duncan afraid of betraying his duty; Oldman, an archetype of kindness and wisdom; Sam, disfigured in the Iraqi war; and Iris humiliated, remote and detached in her self-made fortress and sanctuary--in spite of all this, there is kindness and redemption.

Highly Recommended.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 15, 2017.

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Literary Fiction.  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  240 pages.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Series based on Dan Simmons' The Terror

A while back, I mentioned Dan Simmons' The Terror in a post because the lost ship HMS Terror had been found after 168 years.  Although the novel is a fictional account (with some horror genre elements), when I finished it several years ago, I took a reading journey through other books about the Franklin Expedition, the rescue attempts, and some of the characters mentioned in the novel.

Now, AMC has a series based on Simmons'  2007 novel.

I'm currently reading Gretel Ehrlich's The Solace of Open Spaces.  Essays about Wyoming and her time there in the late 1970's.  The essays are descriptive and philosophical--but the philosophy is very personal--Ehrlich's version of the west and the people she knew.  There are parts I'm really enjoying and parts that are so specifically her own views, her own generalizations,  that bother me a bit.  

I find myself wondering how much has changed since the book was first published in 1984 when she combined her journal entries and thoughts for publication. Ranching as a way of live was rapidly changing in the 20th c.  Her interviews with elderly cowboys and sheepherders are interesting; she was recording a dying breed even as she wrote, and she knew it.  Now, over 3 decades have passed since the first publication of the book.  

Born on a horse ranch in California, Ehrlich's familiarity with horses stood her in good stead when she decided to retreat to Wyoming after the death of  the man she was in love with.  The two of them were supposed to be working on a Public Radio documentary, but his illness prevented him from being joining her.   Ehrlich adds very little context concerning her personal life, and it is a couple of essays in that she even mentions the man's illness and death.  She refers to him as David, no last name, and she speaks of her numbness and grief, but there is little other personal context.

I don't think anything in her life  (aside from being a horsewoman) would have prepared her for becoming an integral part of ranch life.  She graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and attended UCLA film school--not exactly the harsh environment presented by a  Wyoming ranch with all the attendant hardships.  Nevertheless, Ehrlich settled into the rigorous and austere life of a ranch hand, giving it her all.

Last night, I put it down after realizing that I was about half way through.  Time to let some of the essays kind of settle in.  My memories of Wyoming are vivid, even though I was only about 7 when we left.  The essays make me a little nostalgic.  I remember the snow, the wind, the cactus on the prairie that stretched behind our house into the horizon on three sides and the view of  Casper Mountain to the west.   Dreams about the mountains in Wyoming and Montana lasted for years after we moved.

I may try to read the rest of the essays more slowly.

I've read more of the Captain Lacey Regency series, and I liked these better than the first three.  

The Sudbury School Murders #4.  Grenville has secured Lacey a position as secretary at the Sudbury School outside of London.   Grenville failed to mention that Lacey was supposed to solve the mystery of several dangerous pranks which had been occurring at the school.  The murder of the school's groom (who also was one of James Denis' hired men until about 6 months previously) involves Lacey in a much more serious situation, especially as an innocent man is accused and arrested.

In the midst of trying to save Sebastian, the man falsely accused of murder, Lacey learns where Marianne has been disappearing to when she goes AWOL from Grenville's luxurious accommodations.  

The plot, characterization, and dialogue improve in this installment.  

A Body in Berkley Square #5.  Colonel Brandon is accused of murder at a society ball.  Lacey, despite the evidence against Brandon and their ongoing feud, does not believe Brandon guilty of the murder.  Although there is some re-hashing of the Brandon/Lacey past (which I tired of in the first book in the series), at least Brandon is actually part of the current plot.

Lady Breckenridge's role is further developed, and she is willing to do what she can to aid Lacey in his investigation.  A mystery document is missing and guess what?  Not only does Lacey need to find it, but James Denis wants it.

The author prefers to keep the reader on tenterhooks regarding James Denis, that shadowy figure who has a touch of Moriarty about him.  The almost priggishly honorable Lacey finds Denis both fascinating and offensive.  I can't help but be intrigued by Denis since Gardner has his behavior consistently ambiguous.  She's taking her time about giving more information about Denis, but keeping him involved in each installment.

A Covent Garden Mystery #6.  Pomeroy, Lacey's former sergeant, now a Bow Street Runner and Thatcher of the River Police approach Lacey about the disappearance of two game girls.

Denis has brought Lacey's wife (yep, the one who left him 15 years ago) to London, along with Auberge, her French "husband," and Lacey's daughter (who, of course, has no idea that Lacey is her father).

Gabriella disappears.  Is she lost in the unfamiliar streets of London or is the person who took the game girls responsible?

Whoa!  Even Brandon tries to help!

These novels are a little addictive.  I may have my criticisms about certain elements, but I always want to find out what will happen next.  :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel

The Lost Woman is the sixth book in Sara Blaedel's Louise Rick series.  As with many good series, it is not imperative that you begin with the first book.  I had not read any of the previous books, but did not find that it hindered my enjoyment. 
  Shot with a hunting rifle through her kitchen window, the woman is dead before she hits the ground. Though murdered in England, it turns out that the woman, Sofie Parker, is a Danish citizen--one who's been missing for almost two decades--so Louise Rick is called on to the case.  (blurb
While the murder of a Danish woman in England might not justify involving the Danish police, Sofie Parker has been listed as missing for eighteen years and was, at the time, the girlfriend of Eik Nordstrom, Louise Rick's lover and colleague.  As events develop, Eik becomes a suspect.

Eventually, a connection is made to a group that supports assisted and accompanied dying.   As Louise begins seeking information, a woman she planned to speak to is murdered.  when Louise realizes that other members of the group have recently been murdered in similar fashion, her investigation narrows.

Louise's friend Camilla, a journalist, becomes interested in writing a story about the reasons for choosing assisted suicide, how people connect (it is illegal in Denmark, but Switzerland has a non-profit group that provides the means and support if an individual qualifies), and about the process of the procedure.  

Although I found several aspects of the plot too coincidental, I ended up enjoying the book and the characters and liked the way assisted dying was covered.  Whether you agree or disagree, it is a contemporary dilemma that needs more discussion.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Detective.  2014; Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

I've enjoyed several of Lisa Gardner's previous books, but Right Behind You was not of the same caliber.  

Thirteen-year-old Sharlah, fostered by Rainie and Quincy, is unable to show her delight when told she is about to be formally adopted.  Her traumatic past keeps her from showing much emotion and from verbally expressing how pleased she is.   Sharlah's background includes an abusive family, the violent deaths of her parents, separation from her brother, and a series of foster homes.  Quincy, retired FBI profiler, and his wife Rainie are familiar with serial killers and psychopaths through their work, and although retired are still occasionally involved in solving cases. "Sharlah  loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters." 

A double killing at a gas station initiates a family crisis--the killer may be Telly Ray Nash, Sharlah's brother.

What didn't work for me:

The prologue (from Telly's pov) was too long.  And it is a rare book in this genre that doesn't have a prologue these days.  

Too much telling.  The sections with the thoughts of Sharla and Telly were also way too long--but of course, without them the action makes little sense.  While inserts like these are often useful, they shouldn't be required to order to understand the story.  

The tracker Cal was a cheese maker.  That fact has little to do with the plot, but is mentioned over and over.  Sharlah says that you can recognize an FBI profiler even in casual clothes.  Huh?  

The plot was over-complicated.  There were elements that should have worked, but didn't.  

I liked Gardner's Crash & Burn (Tess Leoni series) and Find Her and Catch Me (D.D. Warren series), but Say Goodbye the only other book I've read in the Rainie and Quincy series I've read, I didn't care for.  

I will stick to the Tessa Leoni and D.D. Warren books from now on.  

Read in Dec.  Blog post scheduled for Jan. 9, 2017.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Crime/Suspense.  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  400 pages. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Novel Information: Learning New Stuff from Books

New words and new information are side benefits of reading.  Do you sometimes read a familiar word or phrase and suddenly become curious about it?

Recently a book I was reading mentioned silk velvet, and for the first time, I wondered about how velvet was made.  A little research made me appreciate the fabric in a new way and realize that I would never be able to afford silk velvet.

Sometimes I'll read a familiar phrase or idiom and realize for the first time that it is a little weird and wonder about the origin. 
Bob's your uncle, an expression meaning "everything will be fine", originated when Arthur Balfour was unexpectedly promoted to Chief Secretary for Ireland by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in 1900. Salisbury was Balfour's uncle and his first name was Robert.  (a little nepotism goes a long way in making things fine)
In another recent read, I came across the word toxophily and had no clue.  The context was an archery contest, but I'd never come across the word before.  
2. of or relating to archery. toxophily, noun. Word Origin. C18: from Toxophilus, the title of a book (1545) by Ascham, designed to mean: a lover of the bow, from Greek toxon bow + philos loving.

I enjoy reading the blog The History Girls and on Jan. 3, there was an interesting article by Debra Daley about drugs and stimulants in the 18th c.  Laudanum and other opiate mixtures were mentioned, as well as Spanish Fly and laughing gas.  Two days later, I came across both Spanish Fly and laughing gas in a Regency novel by Ashley Gardner.  Serendipity!

The blister beetle was dried and powdered 
to make the aphrodisiac known as Spanish fly

Nitrous Oxide Party. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, nitrous oxide
was inhaled for entertainment and amusement

Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey series was available as a three volume set (e-book).  I found all three historical novels entertaining and there were a couple of short stories included.

The Spanish Fly and laughing gas mentions were in  Book 2--A Regimental Murder.

I had some problems with Captain Lacey, but nevertheless, found the 3 novels interesting.  I was less interested in the short stories, but I'm not a short story fan.  Although I read these novels in the three volume set, the links are to the individual books.  I don't like the new covers which look so Romance Novel, so I used the original covers.  Evidently, Gardner writes romance which explains the new covers, but the Captain Lacey series is historical mystery, not romance.

The Hanover Square Affair takes place in 1816 and introduces Captain Lacey and several other characters who will appear in later books.  This first book in the series gives the basic background of Captain Gabriel Lacey and the hint of an overarching story line which includes his former commander, Colonel Brandon and his wife Louisa.

Lacey, a retired cavalry officer, suffers from a game leg and occasional melancholy.  Although Lacey comes from an old and respected family, his father squandered the family fortune, and Lacey finds himself with a mostly empty purse and few social contacts as a result.

He happens upon a riot in which an elderly man is shot and manages to get Mr. Thornton home to his wife.  Curious about why the man was trying to get into the house in Hanover Square, Lacey discovers that the family believe that the Thornton's daughter and her maid are being kept captive by the owner.

Interest piqued, Lacey decides to find out what happened to the two young women.   In the process, many of the secondary characters (who will continue to be important) are introduced.

A Regimental Murder is the second in the Captain Lacey series.  Lacey has found his post-military career in solving murders.  

Another interesting mystery and the return of several of the secondary characters from The Hanover Square Affair.

I do find Lacey frequently annoying, however.  And the Brandon connection becomes old fast--partly because of the repeated references to the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between Brandon and Lacey and the recurring attempts of Louisa to heal their friendship.

This is the book that mentions Spanish Fly and the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) parties.  I love the happy chance that connected Daly's article and the mention in the novel within a few days time.

In The Glass House, the vices of Regency London are once again part of the plot.  

I found this one the least satisfying of three, although I was never inclined to abandon it.  

Some of the characters and relationships throughout are puzzling.  Mr. Denis, for example, continues to work to put Lacey in his debt, but then asks nothing.  Marianne and Grenville...what's up with that?  And the wearying conflicts with the Brandons--let them move to the Peninsula and be done.

I'm going to continue reading this series (my library is still closed).  I do enjoy Regency mysteries and hope to see less of the Brandons in future episodes.  

By far my favorite Regency mystery series is Kate Ross' Julian Kestrel novels.  I read them years ago and was devastated when Kate Ross died so young.

----- Have you learned anything new and interesting from reading fiction lately?

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

I read and very much enjoyed Barry's The Lace Reader in 2007 and the map of true places in 2011,  and I was looking forward to this novel set in the same location.

excerpt from Kirkus Reviews: 
 ...It’s 2014, and Rose Whelan, once a prominent historian specializing in the study of the Salem witch trials, is now an addled bag lady who wanders the streets of Salem, accosting passers-by with dire predictions and obsessing about oak trees, Celtic goddesses, and an avenging spirit called a banshee. When a bad-seed teenager who threatens Rose is killed, seemingly by an unearthly shriek, the townsfolk pressure Salem Police Chief John Rafferty, a recovering alcoholic, to reopen a 25-year-old cold case, the 1989 slayings of three wannabe witches in which Rose was implicated but never charged.

Unfortunately, this one did not work at all for me.  Kirkus also calls the book, "A flawed but entertaining occult murder mystery."  I am afraid that I did not find it very entertaining.  As much as I enjoyed The Lace Reader, I found myself plowing through this one.  Reviews on Goodreads run the gamut from 2 to 5 stars--so there is a lot of room to disregard my opinion.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 7, 2017.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery/Supernatural?  Jan. 24, 2017.  Print length:  448 pages.  

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before by JP Delaney is another book in the trend of mostly unlikable characters.  

Add a coldly efficient house to the mix.  The chapters alternate between Emma and Jane, past and present.  Each of these young women are willing "audition" to rent a clinically beautiful and technologically advanced house by a famous minimalist architect.  First comes a long questionnaire of odd and personal questions.  

Each young woman fills out the questionnaire which also requires three photos.  Hmmmm.  The weird questions and the photo requirement didn't set off any warning bells?  If Edward Monkhouse, the architect and owner, likes the responses, then he grants an interview to decide who is appropriate for the house.  Of course, both Emma and Jane get an interview. 

There are rules--lots of them:  no books, no rugs, no personal effects, no photos, no clutter.  A computer "housekeeper" monitors everything in the house.  Both Emma and Jane are unreliable narrators and willing to surrender their personalities to fit the house and the architect.  

I have a thing about people who give up everything to satisfy another person or ideological belief.  I know it happens, but it is almost impossible for me to imagine.  It is one thing for it to happen gradually as in a Stockholm Syndrome situation or a domestic situation that develops over time as a matter of gradual reconditioning, but for an eager almost immediate surrender to someone else's dictates?  Both women have had some traumatic events and want a fresh start, but still....

Definitely hanging on the trend of other "Girl" books, The Girl Before will hold your interest and provide a few surprises.   

Read in September; blog review scheduled for  Jan. 2, 2017

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery/Suspense.  Jan. 24, 2017.  Print length:  352 pages.