Search This Blog

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A "Future Library," and three reviews

I won't be around to read these books, but what an endowment for the future!  Forest of the Future Library.

Margaret Atwood's book was the first in the project, and Scribbler Moon won't be read until 2114.  In this interview (two years ago), Atwood says:  "It freaks me out a bit when I think that many of these writers aren't born yet."

David Mitchell is the second writer selected.  Each year an author is selected to write a book for the future library.  None will be read until 2114.  A hundred authors will write books for the future when the Norwegian forest will be harvested for limited editions.

I'm currently reading The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace by Alexander Klimburg.  A little at a time.  The influence of the Internet is so pervasive now--for both good and ill.  Just a short excerpt from the description reveals why I find it necessary to take this one in small doses:

 "Not only have hacking and cyber operations fundamentally changed the nature of political conflict—ensnaring states in a struggle to maintain a precarious peace that could rapidly collapse into all-out war—but the rise of covert influencing and information warfare has enabled these same global powers to create and disseminate their own distorted versions of reality in which anything is possible. At stake are not only our personal data or the electrical grid, but the Internet as we know it today—and with it the very existence of open and democratic societies."
 

Klimburg is certainly respected in the field of cyber security.
  
In between bouts of reading The Darkening Web, I continue reading my favorite escape genres:  mysteries, fantasy, science fiction.


Two Sisters by Kerry Wilkinson, a new-to-me author, kept my attention.  

After the death of Megan's parents, Megan and Chloe visit the family cottage in a seaside village, ostensibly to clean it out and put it up for sale.  Megan, however, has another reason.  She has received a postcard from Whitecliff, signed Z.  Megan and Chloe's brother Zac disappeared from the village ten years previously.  

This is the first book I've read by Wilkinson, but I'm interested in reading more.

NetGalley/Bookouture

Mystery/Psychological.  June 23, 2017.  Print length:  350 pages.



The Hollow Crown by Jeff Wheeler is the 4th book in the Kingfountain series, and I've enjoyed them all.  This is not my favorite, but that may be partly because the story has moved to the second generation.  I'm always reluctant to let favorite characters take on secondary roles.

Once again, Wheeler intertwines myth and history in the imagined world of Ceredigion, but the key player is no longer Owen Kiskaddon.  Trynne, Owen's daughter, tries to subdue her desire to become a knight and become the Wizr her mother expects her to be.  It seems, however, that the Kingfountain has plans for Trynne that support her own preference.  Or maybe her preference is a result of Kingfountain magic.

I'm eager for the next book in this series.

NetGalley/47 North

Fantasy.  June 13, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.


Their Lost Daughters is the second book in Joy Ellis's DI Jackman & DS Evans series.  Ellis' Nikki Galena series is one of my favorites, and the Jackman/Evans series, is becoming a favorite as well.

Both series are set in the Fens, the marshy wetlands that extend through Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and Norfolk. The landscape of the Fens is so important to both series that the Fens becomes a character in its own right.

The title gives a clue to the plot, but it is the characters who provide the cornerstone.  DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans and their crew provide the grounding as the plot twists and the suspense builds.  

I look forward to more books in both of Ellis' crime series, but fair warning, these books have some dark elements.

I missed this one on NetGalley, but it was available on Kindle Unlimited!

Police Procedural.  2017.  Print length:  331 pages.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris and The Rules of Half by Jenna Patrick

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris.  Cass Anderson is burdened with guilt because she didn't stop on a back road to see what was going on with a woman who was parked there.  It was pouring rain; she was late getting home; the woman seemed to be waiting for someone.  The next day, she discovers the woman was murdered.

In addition to the guilt, Cass is having trouble with her memory, and after the murder, her memory problem increases. Small lapses become large ones, and Cass struggles with the possibility of early onset dementia.  Her mother's decline into dementia is still fresh.

Strange phone calls.  Misplaced items. Items she doesn't remember ordering arrive in the mail.  The feeling of being watched.  Is she paranoid for imagining that the person who killed Jane is after her, or is she paranoid because she is losing her connection to reality as a result of dementia?   Cass is both guilt-ridden and frightened, two factors that continue to add to her stress and confusion.  If she is not losing her grip--then she may be in danger of becoming a victim herself.

Although the suspicion that the problem may be more than guilt and stress comes relatively early, it is still interesting to see how a normal, healthy person can begin to doubt herself.

Despite a couple of places that dragged a bit in attempt to make clear all that Cass was going through, most of the novel moved at a satisfactory pace.  It was intriguing to see the way guilt and stress can lower one's defenses and how minor manipulations can cause self-doubt.

Read in February.  Review scheduled for April    May 19 

I'm adding Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris to my list.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Psychological Suspense.  June 20, 2017.  Print length:  336 pages

The Rules of Half by Jenna Patrick.  After Regan Fletcher's mother commits suicide, she runs away from her stepfather's home to find her biological father.  Will Fletcher, once a successful veterinarian, now suffers from bipolar disorder.  Confronted with the daughter he never knew about, to say that Will is reluctant to assume fatherhood is an understatement.  Fortunately, his sister Janey is more willing to undertake the responsibility, but Regan doesn't find the stable, loving home she dreamed of because Will's illness requires vigilance to be sure he takes his meds and stays out of trouble.

There is a bit of mystery to be uncovered relating to the onset of Will's illness.  The characters are well-drawn and complex.  The attempts at creating the family Regan wants and needs are full of unpredictable stumbling blocks, but at least the members of this unusual family do their best--most of the time. Situations alternate between hopeful, heartbreaking, and ridiculous.   

An excellent debut novel.     Read in March.  Review scheduled for April     May 19                                      
NetGalley/Sparkpress

Coming of Age/Psychological.  June 6, 2017.  Print length:  300 pages.



You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison.  Paul Harrison, an immigration lawyer, becomes involved in a domestic situation concerning Jennifer Mehraz, his young neighbor. His involvement is both inadvertent and initially, unwilling. 

A young man from Jennifer's past appears, and her husband's jealousy triggers a number of unfortunate and fatal events.  Not what he intended, but fatal nonetheless.  

I don't know--I didn't much like any of the characters or the deadly comedy of errors that make up the plot.  I find it difficult to be concerned about characters who don't engage me, but the conclusion was pretty sneaky.  :)

Read in March.  Review scheduled for May 19

NetGalley/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Mystery/Suspense.  June 6, 2017.  Print: 336 pages.

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett is a dystopian novel that follows a few survivors after most of humanity (throughout the universe, no less) has been wiped out by a deadly virus.  

Although the novel begins on a settled planet, moves to another planet, and then finally, to our planet earth, there is little science fiction.  You have to take for granted elements of space travel and space colonies;  they just happen, and truthfully, they are not really important.  The whole thing could have taken place on earth without losing a thing.

Some interesting characters, some romance, some existential and theological ponderings.  I think mainly this is a novel about Dorothy in Oz clicking those red shoes and saying--well, you know what she says.  And home is not just a place, is it?  

The Space Between the Stars wasn't what I expected, but it was entertaining.  Did I find it "breathtakingly vivid"-- no, but since this is a debut novel, it might be interesting to see what Corlett comes up with next.

Read in February.  Review scheduled for May 19.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Dystopian.  June 13, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.


Of the four novels, my favorites were The Breakdown and The Rules of Half.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Weight of Night by Christine Carbo

I've read all three of Carbo's novels set in Glacier National Park and each one has been better than the last.

The Weight of Night combines a gripping plot, compelling characters, and beautiful, descriptive prose.  

Both Monty Harris, a Park Police officer, and Gretchen Larson, crime scene investigator, were featured in Mortal Fall, Carbo's second novel.  The narrative In The Weight of Night switches back and forth--from Gretchen's point of view to Monty's.

The book begins with Gretchen's memories of Norway--evocative descriptions of her hometown and the fjord make visualization easy.  She also, as early as the second paragraph, mentions her problems with sleepwalking, a REM behavior disorder that "takes sleepwalking to absurd levels."  She awakes that morning to find that all the books on her bookshelves have been removed and stacked in rows.  Although this is the first evidence of an episode in five years, Gretchen begins reviewing her strategies for dealing with her problem.

Chapter 2 is from Monty's pov and his overview of the fire situation.  He meets with the head of one of the fire crews and is present when the firefighters digging a fire break uncover buried skeletal remains.  Gretchen Larson is called in for the excavation and preservation of the remains, but is forced to do a hurried job when the wind changes direction and an evacuation of the area is required.

Before leaving, Gretchen's examination of the remains leads her to suspect the victim is a young male.  Her remark stirs up memories of the disappearance of Monty's best friend when they were fourteen.

In the midst of the evacuations necessitated by the separate fires that threaten large areas of the 1,583 square mile park, a boy is reported missing from his parents' camp site.  Gretchen continues the investigation of the bones, and Monty works with the search for the missing boy.

Tightly plotted, the narrative moves from Gretchen to Monty as they work on the two investigations, but there are also underlying stories being revealed.  Although Gretchen was a secondary character in Mortal Fall, this novel largely belongs to her.  Her REM behavior disorder is a fascinating element in the novel,  her descriptions of her beloved Norway are evocative.  That there is a tragedy in her life is revealed in the first chapter, and her gradual revelations are riveting.

Highly Recommended.

Read in Jan.; blog post scheduled for May 17, 2017.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Crime/Suspense.  June 6, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage is a remarkable novel that combines a ghost story and a coming of age story with skillful plotting and impressive prose. It is so easy to fall in love with eleven-year-old Marcus, to feel his sense of loss after his mother's death and his apprehension at being sent to live with his reclusive great aunt on  South Carolina island.  He worries about being a burden to his reclusive Aunt Charlotte, about being sent away.  

Grief Cottage, so named after a hurricane swept away a family 50 years ago, lies at one end of the island and Aunt Charlotte's paintings of the ruin are her most popular.  To fill his hours while Charlotte paints in seclusion, Marcus visits Grief Cottage daily.  When the ghost of a fourteen-year-old boy reveals himself, Marcus is unsure if the boy is friend or foe, but his fascination grows.

The characters are all rich and unique, and the story unwinds slowly with beautiful details of the island and its inhabitants, Marcus' fascination with the sea turtle nest and the anticipation of the "boil"--when the eggs hatch and exit the sand to make their run for the ocean, and the ghost boy in Grief Cottage.



His attempts to court the ghost boy are not always successful, but his curiosity increases:
"I wished I knew if he could think about me when I was not there, as I was thinking about him.  I didn't know whether ghosts could keep track of what was going on in the living world, imagine what could be happening, or be likely to happen, by comparing with what had gone before.  Or were they like animals in not being able to project or imagine the future?
It struck me that he might need me to keep faith that he was still there.
I imagine that this novel will be one of my year's favorites.  Highly recommended!
From Description:  Grief Cottage is the best sort of ghost story, but it is far more than that--an investigation of grief, remorse, and the memories that haunt us. The power and beauty of this artful novel wash over the reader like the waves on a South Carolina beach.
Read in January; blog post scheduled for May 15

NetGalley/Bloomsbury

Literary Fiction/Ghost Story.  June 6, 2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Other Countries by Jo Bannister and Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills

I've read several, if not all, of Jo Bannister's Brodie Farrell series over the years, but Other Countries is the first I've read in this series which features Detective Constable Hazel Best and Gabriel Ash.

The epigraph provides an interesting and sinister beginning:
"Thou hast committed--"
"Fornication?  But that was in another country; and
besides, the wench is dead."

--Christopher Marlowe
(1564-1593)
Chapter One follows a young Arab man traveling to Britain from Turkey, and right off the bat, it is apparent that his intentions are not good.  The reason for his entry to Britain is, somewhat unexpectedly, not the typical terrorist agenda; it is intensely personal.  Of course, you can't help but loop back to the epigraph.

DC Hazel Best is one of those people that trouble inevitably finds; in an attempt to keep Hazel free of trouble, her superintendent assigns her to protect a celebrity--the charismatic historian and television personality Oliver Ford.  The best of intentions often go awry.

Saturday, Hazel's young lodger and former street kid, and her friend Gabriel Ash are increasingly uneasy about Hazel's connection to Ford.  (and yes, I wanted to shake Hazel--frequently)

Hazel becomes more distant from her friends as her relationship with Ford grows, and the plot takes off in more than one direction.  Why did young Rachid Iqbal try to murder Ford? Gabriel Ash, who has problems of his own, is puzzled about Hazel's delay in returning to work and the difficulty of getting in touch with her.  Seventeen-year-old Saturday, Hazel's lodger, has taken an intense dislike to Oliver Ford, but is reluctant to reveal why.

I liked the characters (well, the recurring characters) and there were a number of interesting and sometimes unpleasant angles to the plot.  The reader knows early on where the plot is going, the tension is in waiting for each step.  

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for May 14, 2017.

NetGalley/Severn House

Mystery/Police Procedural.  June 1, 2017.  Print length:  224 pages.


Where Dead Men Meet is set in 1937.   War is on the horizon, and Europe is full of nervous anxiety.  Luke Hamilton, a young British air force intelligence officer in Paris, is shocked to find himself the target of an assassination attempt.  

Initially, he believes the attempt to be a case of mistaken identity, but that misconception doesn't last long.  Finding an unlikely ally in Borodin (one of the hit men originally targeting him),  Luke ends up on the run.  Borodin sends him to a woman who has been helping Jews escape from Germany, but his welcome doesn't reassure him, and Pippi has a grievance against  Borodin.

Fast paced, this prewar thriller kept me on edge. A little convoluted with all of the mysterious backstory, but a suspenseful romp across Europe during a dangerous time.

Read in Jan.; blog post scheduled for May 14, 2017.

NetGalley/Blackstone Publishing

Suspense/Historical Fiction.  May 30, 2017.  Print length:  448 pages.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Miscellaneous and The Great Passage

 Finally, I'm cutting back on my reading.  This year--because of anxiety, perhaps--I've been reading like a maniac.  May has seen a cut back in reading and a return to doing a little embroidery while binge watching Drama Fever and Netflix.  Since I need to keep my hands busy, I make tiny "whatevers" to work on as I watch.


Some books that I enjoyed in April and have scheduled for closer to publication:

The Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima
The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow
The Black Painting by Neil Olson
Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo

All of the above are advanced reader galleys from NetGalley.

My favorite book so far in May is The Great Passage by Shion Miura, which was a pleasure.  Not action-packed, but the details of making a Japanese dictionary are not the stuff of action.  The book is, however, the stuff of delight for anyone who loves words.  And quirky characters.  And dictionaries.  

The problems faced by the dedicated team of lexicographers include etymology, choosing what to include, choosing appropriate and accurate definitions and examples, choosing the perfect thinness of paper and more.  A little romance, very little, but important, is also worked into this short novel.

I've always been amused by Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755).  At the conclusion of his long preface, he says,  "I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please, have sunk into the grave..."  That remark would have been appreciated by Mituma Majime and his colleagues.  

Kindle First.  

Fiction. 2011; 2017.  Print length:  224 pages.

Digressions on Dictionaries

From Johnson's Dictionary:
lexicographer:  a writer of dictionaries; a harmless dredge
patron: commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery
oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

And what about  Ambrose Bierce's (1911) Devil's Dictionary.  Love my copy.
Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.
Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than me.
Love, n.  A temporary insanity cured by marriage.
Malefactor,  n. The chief factor in the progress of the human race.
Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all two.

On Cats.  Lucy loves the fountain.  
 Unfortunately, She also loves lizards, which she enjoys delivering to me.  Sometimes, I'm quick enough for a rescue, but sometimes not.  I happen to love these tiny chameleons, and it bothers me a great deal that Lucy and Edgar find them enticing in another way entirely.
Green anole lizard -- Source
How has May been for you?  Reading? Gardening?

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

As a novel Blackout has problems (moves from one city to another with minor characters who may or may not appear more than once), but as a prediction of what might happen if the electric grid failed across most of Western Europe--as a detailed conjecture of the domino effect on the infrastructure--Marc Elsberg has created a frightening scenario of how society might fall apart if the lights go out.

I've read other books about the immediate and long-term effects that would result with the loss of the electric grid; our current concept of life could so easily be completely altered by an EMP, an intense solar super storm,   or a cyber attack on the electric grid.  Everything from communication, to transportation, to the food supply, to sanitation, to medical services--depend directly or indirectly on electricity.

Blackout begins with an auto accident in Italy when a blackout cuts all traffic lights.  The main character Pietro Manzano is injured, but in comparison to at least one other victim of the accident, Pietro injuries are minor.  At the time, everyone believes the blackout is temporary, a huge inconvenience, but temporary--at worst, a day or so.  

Before long, however, disturbing news begins to flow in (while communication is still possible)--Italy is not the only country to experience the loss of electricity, all of Western Europe is under attack.   The source and purpose of the attack may not be clear, but unless something can be done to halt the damage, the end result can be hypothesized.  Countries from Norway to Spain scramble to get their grids back online before it is too late.

Hospitals are almost immediately overrun with accident victims, surgeries and treatments are suspended or carried out under primitive conditions as generators fail from lack of fuel; food supplies that need to be kept cooled spoil rapidly; large dairy farms that depend on automatic milking systems see animals die in pain from infections in their udders; pumps don't work at gas stations--problems and connections multiply and expand.

Perhaps most frightening is the inability to keep nuclear fuel rods cooled.  One failure of a nuclear plant is dreadful, but how many nuclear plants are there in Europe where the novel takes place?  


Yikes!  Glad this was a novel!
Source 2011-- nuclear power plants in Europe


In 2015, I read Ted Koppel's nonfiction Lights Out which looks at some of the consequences of a failure in the electric grid in the U.S.  It was a fascinating, informative book, but pretty discouraging.  The world's dependence on electricity is so thoroughly embedded that a large scale failure of the grid would be devastating.

Meandering on--why do so many of us love post-apocalyptic (from a named or unnamed event) and dystopian novels?  Even zombie novels reflect our fear of a catastrophe that wipes out most of civilization and of man's determination to destroy himself one way or another--through war or environmental damage or political/religious fundamentalism.  

Back on point.  Blackout was published in Germany in 2012 and the translation is now making the rounds in the U.S.  While I thought the novel could have been better, Elberg's vision of the chain reactions that would result in the event of an electric grid failure of even short duration will make you realize how fragile our civilization is.  And I think that was his point.

Read in April.  Review scheduled for May.

NetGalley/Sourcebooks

Techno-thriller.  June 6, 2017.  Print length:  450 pages. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

April Reads

The Devil's Cup by Alys Clare 

King John has sent for some of his more trusted knights as he faces challenges from all sides.  You remember King John, Richard's younger and very unpopular brother.  Josse d'Aquin answers the summons.  

Josse's daughter Meggie also sets off on a journey in hopes of preventing a tragedy.

While I like medieval mysteries, this novel was slow and depended on characters keeping of secrets from each other.  Much of the explanation was kept until the very end, and I got tired of the characters telling each other that they couldn't tell.  

NetGalley/Severn House

Medieval Mystery.  August 1, 2017.  Print length:  240 pages


The Body in Ice is set in 1796 in the Romney Marsh area of England.  The first chapter had me wondering if I'd finish the book, but each successive chapter got more interesting, and I liked the characters.

The late 18th c. setting is quite interesting.  Twenty years have passed since America gained independence, but relationships between the two countries are still tense; the French Revolutionary Wars that followed the revolution keep England on edge with the threat of spies and invasion; the Bluestockings, led by Elizabeth Montague and Elizabeth Vesey, were encouraging intellectual activities for women; the abolitionist movement was growing; and smuggling was part of Romney Marsh's culture.

In addition to the mystery, all of the above events played a part.  When Amelia Chaytor mentioned that someone was a bluestocking, I was surprised--I had no idea that the term dated back to the 18th c.  A little research made me think that a series of historic mysteries featuring bluestockings would an excellent idea.

The book is uneven, but I enjoyed it.

NetGalley/Bonnier Zaffre

Historic Mystery.  April 20, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.


Whew-The Weight of Lies was suspenseful and creepy.  

Brief description:  In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty-year-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Strangely, the excerpts from the bestselling cult novel were less interesting than I would have expected, but the story of 
Meg Ashley's digging into her mother's past and her attempts to discover how much truth was involved in her mother's "fictitious" account of a murder was suitably Gothic, convoluted, and weird.

Carpenter is no Stephen King, but I was glued to the pages.

NetGalley/Lake Union Publishing

Mystery/Suspense.  June 6, 2017.  Print length:  382 pages.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Testimony by Scott Turow

It has been a long time since I've read a book by Scott Turow, and I had forgotten how good his books can be.  Testimony is a complicated and complex novel.  Complicated because finding evidence and prosecuting war crimes often involves an intricate, convoluted maze that leads to unexpected discoveries.  Complex because of all of the human emotions and relationships involved.

This is not a courtroom drama, but the International Criminal Court's investigation of a war crime  makes Testimony a suspenseful legal thriller.  Bill Ten Boom, embarks on a new phase of his career when tasked with investigating an event that occurred ten years previously.  

During the turbulent conclusion of the Bosnian war, approximately 400 Roma disappeared from a refugee camp and none have been heard of since.  That much is beyond refute, but what happened to these people is still unknown.  No mass grave has been found, but friends and family members have not heard from any of the refugees from the camp in the ten years since that April night. The stories about the missing refugees are rife and opinions vary widely.  

Afraid of retaliation, the lone survivor of the camp, Ferko Rincic has only recently been persuaded to come forward to give his account.  Rincic testifies that he was in an outdoor privy when armed men in masks descended on the camp at midnight, herded the refugees into trucks, disgorged them into a cave, then set off an avalanche burying  the refugees alive.  In order for the ICC to prosecute the case, however, Ten Boom and his investigator Goos must discover evidence that the event actually happened.   

Only when factual evidence of the massacre is discovered, can the investigation move to determining who was responsible. 

There are plenty of twists and turns as Ten Boom and Goos plunge into a rabbit hole of partial information, deliberate deception, and inadvertent misconceptions.  Bosnia is still a dangerous place in 2015, and as Ten Boom and Goos investigate, their opinions about whom to believe and whom to trust change as the investigation progresses.  

(I wish Esme had been omitted from the plot; while she does offer more mystery, she really was not necessary and becomes a sort of side story.  Someone else could have been responsible for discovering Ferko Rincic.  She is my only quibble about the book--just a personal thing.) 

The information about the ICC in the Hague, the way the investigation is carried out, the aftermath of all of the ethnic violence in Bosnia, and the cover-ups --  make fascinating reading. This is another fine example of Turow's work, but it is also another of those uncomfortable novels that make us uneasy.  Black and white and shades of gray.

from the Author's Note:
"So how much of this is true?  Every novelist wants to answer that question the same way:  All of it--and none."
Turow says that none of the  characters represents "anyone who has lived" and that he altered actual occurrences  for dramatic effect, but he does list some of the sources of inspiration, often from Human Rights Watch Reports.  

Now, I have to go back and see if my library has copies of some of the books I've missed in the Kindle County series.

Read in February; blog post scheduled for May 1, 2017

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Legal Thriller/Crime.   May 16, 2017.  Print version:  496 pages.