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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Here and Gone and A Vigil of Spies

An intense thriller, Here and Gone by Haylen Beck will pull you in and keep you glued to the pages.

Audra has taken her two children and gone on the run from an abusive and controlling husband.  Stopped by  a sheriff in Arizona under false pretenses, Audra finds herself placed in the sheriff's vehicle while a female deputy takes her children to a "safe place" until the situation is resolved.

However, when Audra is placed in a cell and asks about her children, the sheriff replies, "What children?"

Audra finds herself in a nightmare.  No one believes her, and it is likely that she will be charged with killing her son and daughter.

Fortunately, Audra has an ally in Danny Lee, who sees the story on the news.  Danny has endured a similar situation in California where his wife was accused of killing their daughter.  

The premise is definitely far-fetched, but the fear and anxiety of Audra's plight will keep you disturbed and outraged.  It isn't a mystery:  you know who has taken the children and why--it is the suspense that grips and holds attention. 

Haylen Beck is a pseudonym of Stuart Neville, and Here and Gone is certainly good suspense, but does not compare to the layered depths Neville achieved in The Ghosts of Belfast.  Interesting that Beck/Neville can write so well of Arizona and of his native Belfast. 

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Suspense/Thriller.  June 20, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

A Vigil of Spies by Candace Robb continues the Owen Archer series.  This is one of my very favorite medieval mystery series because of the characters, both real and fictional.  Robb's meticulous blend of historical research, exceptional plotting, and believable characters impress me every time.  It is remarkably easy to enter the world she creates and become immersed in events, real and imagined, of the late 14th c.  

I was first introduced to this series in 2015  with The Apothecary Rose and have followed the series enthusiastically without a  single disappointment.

A Vigil of Spies presents a sea-change in the series as John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York is dying.  His death will leave open his powerful and influential position, and those eager to fill the Archbishopric are scrambling for favor.

Owen Archer is one of several who are concerned about the impending visit of Joan, Princess of Wales, and wife to the heir to the throne.  Joan seeks Thoresby's advice about whom to trust for the safety of her young son.  Edward III is dying, and Joan's husband, Edward, The Black Prince, is also dying.  She fears her young son Richard will become king much too young to rule.  (Richard II did succeed to the throne at ten.)  

There are soon to be a lot of vacancies in the power structure of England, and powerful families scheme as they await their chances.

An accident that proves not to be an accident; a suicide that is not a suicide.  Owen Archer struggles to resolve the situation so that the Archbishop can die in peace.

For anyone who loves historical mysteries, this is one of the best.  Robb's knowledge of the period and ability to bring to life the characters and the time period is exceptional.  There are always historical notes and references at the end and her details of the time are fascinating, but the plots, pacing, and characters are always foremost.  

Highly Recommended.

Kindle Unlimited

Medieval Mystery.  2008; 2015.  Print length:  418 pages.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo

Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo is the first I've read in this series featuring Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police of Painters Mill, Ohio in the midst of Amish country.  Why has it taken me so long to discover this series?

Kate left the Amish community, but her personal knowledge of the people and their customs makes her remarkably suited to her role in law enforcement in an area where the Amish live and flourish.

When Joseph King, sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, escapes--Kate finds herself troubled my memories of the boy Joseph was and their childhood friendship.  Joseph always denied killing his wife, but few believed him, certainly not the jury that convicted him.

Joseph kidnaps his five children, and in an effort to talk him down, Kate discovers that she has some serious questions about whether or not Joseph killed his wife.  When the Swat team kills Joseph, Kate decides that she needs answers to her questions about Joseph's guilt and begins to dig into the events of eight years ago.

An absorbing book for several reasons including a well-crafted plot populated with interesting and well-drawn characters.  I will enjoy going back to pick up previous books in this series!

Read in April; blog post scheduled for June 18

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Police Procedural.  July 11, 2017.  Print version:  320 pages. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last Hack and When the English Fall

I read and recommended Christopher Brookmyre's Bred in the Bone: a Jasmine Sharp and Catherine McLeod Novel in 2014.  Then...I failed to follow up on any of his other books, until I saw The Last Hack as a NetGalley offering, I remembered that I wanted to read more from Brookmyre.

The Last Hack is the most recent in the Jack Parlabane series about about a Scottish investigative journalist who sometimes trips over legality to get his stories.  

At first, I was a little unsure about whether I would be able to engage with this novel; I wasn't sure what was going on.  But I'm glad I gave it a chance because once my mind had accepted the original ambiguity and got a grip on the characters and plot--it was full steam ahead.

Once the novel gets going, the pace is fast and compelling, as are the characters.  Jack Parlabane is trying to get his career back on track when he gets a message from the hacker known as Buzzkill with a threat he can't ignore.

Samantha (Sam) Morpeth struggles to attend school, raise a younger sister with learning disabilities, visit her mother in prison, and find the money to support her sister and herself.

Parlabane and Sam each find themselves entangled in a blackmail plot and must cooperate, however unwillingly, to survive the threats that could ruin them both.  

Now, I'm going to have to go back and pick up more of this series.  :)

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for June 14

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Mystery/Suspense.  July 4, 2017.


When the English Fall by David Williams gives a decidedly different approach to a dystopian novel.

From the description:  When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath.

Jacob is an Amish father whose daughter has what appear to be epileptic seizures in which she says, "The English fall." The English are what the Amish call those who do not belong to the Amish community, but Jacob and Hannah have no idea what their daughter's words mean.

A disastrous solar storm creates a world-wide EMP, an electromagnetic disturbance that causes planes to fall from the sky, the lights to go out around the world, and hospitals lose power.  The modern world quickly begins to fall apart.

In the initial stages, farmers are more fortunate than city dwellers.  In the Pennsylvania community where Jacob and his family live, the "English" and the Amish are friends and neighbors who are better able to support themselves and who rely on and support each other.  Even they, however, must make huge adjustments as machinery and generators and refrigeration damaged by the storm make life so much more difficult.  Most cars won't start and fuel rapidly becomes a problem for the vehicles that still work.

As expected, violence eventually results when food becomes scarcer and scarcer.  How will the Amish respond to the inevitable violence?

It is surprising to find that for the most part Jacob's journal entries calm the reader.  Jacob is a thoughtful man and his beliefs are solid, so even when he knows what to expect, his responses are troubled but reflective and  thoughtful.  

No solution to the end of the world as we know it is available; there is little hope that there will be a rebuilding of society in any way similar to the one lost during the solar storm.  How people survive will be a matter of personal choice.

The novel contemplates the way in which the Amish, committed to lives of peace, prayer, and non-violence, will respond when confronted by the unavoidable reactions of the hungry, the frightened, and the violent in the aftermath of this disaster.

I like that David Williams takes such a different approach to the dystopian novel.  

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for June 14.

NetGalley/Algonquin Books

Dystopian.  July 11, 2017.  Print length:  256 pages.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

The Witchwood Crown:  The Last King of Osten Ard #1 by Tad Williams continues a fantasy saga first published in 1988.  Whew, that's a long time to wait to continue a series.  I have not read the first three books (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn) of the original trilogy, but since the events in The Witchwood Crown take place thirty years later, it is not a requirement.  

The book is very long, has a huge number of characters and is set in numerous places among several cultures in this fantasy world.  The pacing is sometimes slow, but the slower portions alternate with intensely interesting sections.  

Con:  Some of the characterization is weak, but with so many characters (the list of characters in the back goes on for 25 pages) and with so many different settings with specific plot lines--in-depth characterization of even central characters would be difficult.  

Some of the dialogue is awkward and repetitive, as if to remind the reader what the character had thought or said previously.  

Some of the names (of people or places) feel like gargling, and each time one of these awkward names appeared, it gave me pause, interrupting my engagement with the story long enough to ponder the gawky name.

Particularly in Hayholt, I found a lack of background to explain the behavior of certain characters--mostly involving the king and queen and their relationship and guidance or (lack thereof) of the grandchildren.  I mean, Morgan's "guards" seem the worst kind of influence.  If Simon and Miri have been so concerned with Morgan's drinking and gambling and lack of responsibility (the boy is only seventeen, how long has this behavior been going on?), it feels strange that they have done nothing about it. 

Pro:  In spite of my complaints, I was thoroughly invested in this huge tome of a book.  The parts that were good were very good.  

The book doesn't have the overall sense of continuity and cohesion that some great fantasy writers achieve, and yet...in spite of some of the things that bothered me, I was immersed in most of the plot. Usually an ongoing mental conversation about what I perceive as problems in a book will make me lose interest.  That did not happen. Something that I can't quite explain shines through what I perceive as flaws.  Something compelling  above my minor complaints kept me engrossed.

I found these endorsements of Tad William's original 1988 saga impressive:

“Inspired me to write my own seven-book trilogy.... It's one of my favorite fantasy series.”
—George R. R. Martin, New York Times-bestselling author of The Games of Thrones
 
“Groundbreaking...changed how people thought of the genre, and paved the way for so much modern fantasy. Including mine.”
—Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times-bestselling author of The Name of the Wind

I will certainly read the next in this series because I need to know how all of these characters and situations evolve.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Fantasy.  June 27, 2017.  Print version:  736 pages.  

Friday, June 09, 2017

Penhale Wood by Julia Thomas

Penhale Wood   

A grieving mother seeks help in finding the nanny who killed her youngest daughter and disappeared. The police investigation a year earlier had been unable to locate Karen Peterson, but Iris is determined to find the woman who killed three-year-old Sophie and pleads with Rob McIntyre to reopen the case.  

McIntyre has his own demons and does not believe that he would do any better now in finding Karen Peterson that during the original investigation a year earlier.  He agrees, reluctantly, to examine the case again, and the two discover a few more faint leads.

A number of too neat coincidences, but an entertaining mystery.  I liked Thomas' The English Boys better, but Penhale Wood kept me engaged throughout.

Read in February; blog review scheduled for June 9, 2017.

NetGalley/Midnight Ink

Mystery/Suspense.  July 8, 2017.    

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

 Another favorite book for the year, and one so different from any of the others!  

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a mash-up that involves characters from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Sherlock HolmesRappacini's Daughter, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, and Dracula.  

From this pantheon of some of my favorite classic science fiction/horror novels, Goss plucks characters like Mr. Hyde and Beatrice Rappacini and creates characters like Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde.  She takes incidents from the original stories and recasts them or concocts "new" information and events.  

And it works!  If you've loved these classics as I have, you will find Gross's novel delightful, but even if you are not familiar with the originals, the story is still fun as these women unite to fight a secret society of power-mad scientists.  

My only complaint is that in the first couple of chapters there are too many unnecessary editorial interruptions as the characters give their opinions about what is being recorded.  Catherine is the main author, but the characters are all present as the story is being written and want to give their thoughts and assessments.  For me, this was too frequent at the beginning and distracted from the plot.

As the story moves on, however, these asides(?) became less frequent and more enjoyable.

What an adventure, what a pleasure this book was!  I can't wait for more from Theodora Gross about these women.  

Digression:  The words "monstrous regiment of women" kept echoing in my head as I read, but I couldn't remember the context.  Oh, yeah, that interfering misogynist who railed against female sovereigns because women had no business taking precedence over men, the repellent John Knox.  In his tract The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women gave his opinion about female sovereigns ("monstrous" meant unnatural and "regiment" meant rule, not a military division).  According to Knox, it was unnatural for women to be heads of state and Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots, and Queen Mary of England had to endure his despicable influence.  Elizabeth I detested him.  Miserable man.

Anyway, the phrase "monstrous regiment of women" works perfectly well with a different slant in this refreshing and amusing book, as Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Montgomery, and Justine Moritz (bride of Frankenstein), a very different Mrs. Poole than the one in Jane Eyre--work with Holmes and Watson to solve the murders of young women in London.  A cadre of unique women who solve crimes.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a winner in my book.

NetGalley/Saga Press

SciFi/Fantasy.  June 20, 2017.  Print version:  416 pages.  


Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw is set in the bleak but atmospheric Dungeness, a headland along the Kent coast best known for its two nuclear power stations and its wildlife sanctuary.  The area attracts thousands of birdwatchers each year, and William South is both a birdwatcher and a policeman.

When his friend and neighbor is murdered, South is drawn into the investigation by the newly transferred DS Cupidi.  Shocked that his mild-mannered friend has been so brutally murdered, South soon must accept that he actually knew very little about his friend--and what he thought he knew wasn't actually the case.

Sections about South's childhood in Ireland during the Troubles are interspersed throughout.  When a character from that early period in South's life appears, it doesn't come as a surprise, but how the distant past is connected to the current death of South's friend is puzzling.

"What's past is prologue."  

Read in Nov.; blog post scheduled for June 4, 2017.

NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Crime/Police Procedural.  June 27, 2017.  336 pages.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Viveca Sten's Sandhamn Series

Sometimes, the location plays a big role in how much I like a book.  Viveca Sten's Sandhamn series features Sandhamn Island, part of the Stockholm Archipelago.   I read Still Waters a couple of years ago and was impressed with the characters and the setting.


The island's population is only about 120 islanders, but each summer the population explodes with tourists and those who keep summer homes on the island.

Recently, NetGalley offered the third book in the series (so far, I think only three books in the series have been translated), and I realized I'd missed the second book.  I found Closed Circles offered by Kindle Unlimited.  :)

I was happy to renew my acquaintance of Nora Linde and her friend Thomas Andreasson.  Closed Circle has two major story lines going on. One deals with Nora and her husband and a disagreement about a house that Nora inherited; another deals with Thomas and the murder of a bankruptcy lawyer that takes place at the beginning of a famous regatta.  

Nora and Thomas' friendship allows Nora to discuss her dilemma with Thomas, and Thomas feels comfortable asking Nora, a lawyer, for information about what is involved in bankruptcy law.  

The characters are engaging, very human, imperfect, and believable.  The plot isn't quite as believable, but that didn't interfere with my enjoyment.

Kindle Unlimited.

Police Procedural.  2016.  Print length:  466 pages.  

And then on to the third translated book in the series--Guiltless.  The previous two books have taken place during the summer season when Sandhamn is crowded with tourists and summer people.  Guiltless is set during the winter, and the island is largely deserted except for the 120 or so people who live there year round. 

Nora Linde has taken her two boys to Sandhamn during their school break.  The problems in her marriage that have been building in the earlier books have come to a head, and although Nora has not mentioned anything to her sons, she needs this time away to evaluate her situation.

The boys settle in happily--until making a gruesome discovery.   

The book moves back and forth between present and distant past.  You know that the story from the past has influenced the current situation, but it is difficult to determine exactly how.  Nora's childhood friend, police detective Thomas Andreasson and his partner, are on the case.  

Although each of the books in the Sandhamn series can be read as stand-alones, there are interesting over-arching story lines that connect each book.  

I'm happy that there are more books in the series to be translated, but I hate having to wait!

I may check out the television series based on the books, but I already have so many images of the characters in my head--it might be difficult to adjust.

NetGalley/Amazon Crossing

Crime/Police Procedural.  May 23, 2017.  Print version:  370 pages.

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?