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Monday, February 25, 2013

Dakini Power by Michaela Haas

Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West is an ARC from Net Galley and Shambhala Publications and will be released April 9.
ISBN-10: 1559394072

Michaela Haas, a reporter, lecturer, and consultant  has been practicing Buddhism for twenty years.  A visiting scholar in Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara, Haas profiles twelve impressive women whose efforts are having tremendous influence in the spread of Buddhist philosophy and the inclusion of women in a male dominated hierarchy.

The stories of these twelve women are interesting and inspirational, and following the paths they have taken provides a fascinating look at the way these different women have met the challenges they've faced.

Dagmola Sakya giving a teaching in MalibuDagmola Kusho Sakya is the first Tibetan woman to immigrate to America. Born in pre-Communist China Tibet, she and her family escaped Chinese persecution and settled in Seattle.  Since I've read several books, fiction and nonfiction, about the Chinese take over of Tibet, her story was of particular interest.

The majority of dakinis in the book are Western women who decided to follow the path of Buddhism, and there were some surprising aspects (for me) concerning not only the kind of women who abandoned their Western lives to become Buddhist nuns and practioners, but in the way each one found a teacher.

As in any hierarchical system, religious or not, there is room for abuse of power, and I found it interesting that the dakinis chose to discuss the kinds of abuse that can take place and the differences in the way monks and nuns are treated.  Traditionally, nuns get little support and no real education, while monks are well-supported and spend a majority of their lives receiving teachings that are usually denied to the women.  These women were courageous enough, or lucky enough, to find teachers that gave them the respect and spiritual education they so badly wanted and needed.

You can find more at Dakini Power about each of these women, and Michaela Haas has a blog.

Although I could never become a Buddhist, I'm fascinated by the spiritual aspect of Buddhism and found this book thought-provoking and informative.  I eagerly read each profile and found each one intensely interesting.  I also enjoyed the further information found at the above links.

Nonfiction.  April 9, 2013.  print version 344 pages.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

In the Mail - The Farm by Emily McKay

The Farm  is a YA dystopian/vampire/survival novel.  It is a fast read and enjoyable.

The Ticks are vampire-like creatures resulting from genetic experiments gone wrong; they were human, but now they are not.  Deadly killing machines, the monsters are devouring towns and states.  There is less and less indication that anyone out there is still battling the the Ticks.

But...there are "real," old-fashioned kinds of vampires, too, and one of the bad ones is marshalling the genetically altered vampires for his own purposes.

Because the vampires prefer the blood of adolescents, most teenagers have been sent to various campuses to keep them safe until the monsters are defeated.  However, word from the outside diminishes, and "the farm" doesn't really feel like a place of safety.  The situation on the farm has an atmosphere more like a prison, and perhaps, in its own way, as dangerous as the outside.  What happens when the teenagers reach their eighteenth birthday?

Twins Lily and Mel are planning an escape, but the situation is especially difficult because Mel is autistic, and Lily's efforts to keep her safe are often compromised.  When a boy Lily knew from high school turns up in their camp, the plan to escape becomes more complicated as more people are involved.  Once they get on the other side of the barbwire, they must avoid and prevail over the predators that hunt them.

A fast-paced, entertaining read.  Evidently a sequel is planned, and I'll want to read it to find out more about Lily, Mel, and those who have formed a resistance in hopes of saving civilization.

Berkley UK, Penguin.

YA/Dystopian.  Dec. 2012.  420 pages.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Two by Nicci French

When I received Tuesday's Gone from Net Galley, I didn't realize it was part of a new series by the husband-wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.  I've read their stand-alone novels before and enjoyed them, but on meeting the characters in Tuesday's Gone, it was immediately apparent that this was part of a series.

The series features Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist in London, who uses her walks about the city, often following the buried rivers, as a means of thinking and gaining clarity.  Although she often appears aloof, Frieda is a concerned and caring therapist with remarkable poise and self-possession.

Perhaps I should have stopped there and found the previous book at once, but I was so quickly immersed in the characters and the narrative, that I read on.

As soon as I finished, however, I downloaded Blue Monday and read it. I'll review it first; while Tuesday's Gone works as a stand-alone, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, reading the novels in order would certainly be preferable.

Blue Monday is the first novel in this series featuring psychotherapist Frieda Klein.  When a new patient tells her of his longing for a son (he and his wife have been unable to have children), he explains that he wants his own son, one that looks like him, and he doesn't want to adopt.  He describes this imaginary child in vivid detail, and when a few days later, a child matching her patient's description is abducted, Frieda must examine her professional obligation to keep her patient's sessions confidential and her moral duty to notify the police.  Eventually, she is drawn into the investigation and strange twists continue to develop, especially when it comes to light that her patient is an identical twin, separated at birth, with no knowledge of his brother.

Tuesday's Gone was an ARC from Net Galley and the Penguin Group and will be released on April 4.
 ISBN-13: 978-0670025671

 I read it before reading Blue Monday and actually consider Tuesday's Gone the better novel, although I'd still recommend reading them in order for a number of reasons including back stories.

In Tuesday's Gone the authors seem to have become better acquainted with their protagonist, more comfortable with who she is and how she thinks, and have further developed some of the secondary characters.

When Michelle Doyce, a mentally disturbed woman, is found by her social worker caring for a naked corpse, the police are baffled.  Did she kill him?  And who is he?  Discovering the dead man's identity takes some time, and DCI Karlsson once again requests Frieda's aid, hoping that Frieda can make some sense of Michelle's seemingly nonsensical statements.

Characters good and bad from the previous book are included, adding interest and suspense, and some threads from the previous book are picked up, expanded on, and in at least one case, resolved.

The Nicci French team has created another suspenseful psychological thriller, and I eagerly await the next novel featuring Frieda!

Mystery/Suspense/Psychological.  April 4, 2013.  print version 384 pages.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Four More Mysteries

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason.  Net Galley; released Feb. 12 by Gallery Books.

What an off-beat pleasure this book was!  From the book description:
For fans of the Coen brothers’ films or for those who just love their thrillers with a dash of sharp humor—an engaging and offbeat story about a man driven to murder, who then buries the body in his backyard only to discover that there are two other shallow graves on his property.
 There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.”

Jamie Mason's debut novel has an unusual "hero" and plot, but one that I appreciated and enjoyed more and more as it went along.  Character-driven, macabre, funny, suspenseful--what a great film this would make.

Jason, a young man with low self-esteem, is certainly a flawed character, and when pushed to kill his nemesis, we aren't certain if we should feel sorry for him or be irritated by the wimpy, people-pleasing personality that gets him into trouble in the first place.

When poor guilty Jason is then faced with the discovery of two more bodies on his property that have nothing to do with the one he buried, he panics and decides to dig up "his" body and bury it elsewhere.  The detective in charge of the case may know that Jason isn't responsible for the two bodies discovered, but has deep suspicions about Jason's guilt for something.

 I gradually found myself rooting for Jason, hoping he would find some way out of the mess in which he found himself.  Leah, a stronger, and perhaps more interesting character, has her own issues, but her determination keeps the plot moving.

A dark comedy of coincidences and errors and with a lovable police dog that is hard to resist, Three Graves Full leaves me wanting more of Jamie Mason!

Mystery/Suspense/Humor.  2013.  print version 320 pages.

Room No. 10 by Ake Edwardson was from Net Galley and Simon & Schuster; it will be released on March 5.

Two murders separated by 20 years, but in the same hotel room.  Chief Inspector Eric Winter was on the first case,  never solved, when he was new to the force.  There are no obvious connections, but Winter can't help but believe that the two cases are related, and he feels compelled to pursue the possibility.

The novel evolves largely through the thinking process as Winter mentally tries to feel his way by asking himself questions and answering them, then discarding or categorizing his responses.  This process is repeated in the team's approach to the current crime as the team members brain storm ideas and possible scenarios which are accepted tentatively or rejected.

Edwardson has written about 18 novels, ten of which are in the Eric Winter series, but only five of this series have been translated to English.

Although a bit slow, this police procedural is interesting, partly because of the emphasis on what goes on as Winter and his team try to find ways into the murders when the physical evidence doesn't provide needed answers.  Have to admit that the "yes/no" phrasing become a bit irritating, and some could be eliminated, but I'm interested in more from Ake Edwardson and Eric Winter.

Mystery/Crime/Police Procedural.  2013.  print version 464 pages.

The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards, another Net Galley ARC; Poisoned Pen Press; release date April 2.  This mystery is the latest in his Lake District series.

A maid murdered before WWI, her faced battered, then covered, shrouded from view, has inspired a legend of the ghostly maid being seen every Halloween.  In contemporary times, the murder of a young woman is attached to the legend because the woman's battered face was covered in a similar manner.  And now, five years later, another Halloween approaches.

I found Hannah Scarlett more interesting than Daniel Kind, the expert in the history of murder who is the novel's main character.  I read this several weeks ago, and I'm having difficulty remembering just why it didn't catch and hold my attention as much as hoped--that is pretty telling in itself.  Interesting choice of names, although Hannah is not really a scarlet woman, but a police officer, nor was Daniel unusually kind.

Mystery.  2013.  Print Version 250 pages.

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman; Net Galley, Random House/Ballantine.  Pub. date Jan. 2013.

This one was not for me.  I had a hard time connecting to Nora and believing in the other characters.  The plot just didn't work for me at all, and although I kept hoping for something that would turn things around, it never happened.

Mystery.  2013.  print version 336 pages.

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edmund Crispin

The Glimpses of the Moon, a Net Galley ebook, is a quirky, amusing, and literary mystery full of allusions and comical characters, set in rural Devon.  A delightful satire.

The novel is something of  a parody, and the characters are more important than the murders.  Professor Gervase Fen is writing a book on the post-modern novel while staying in the house of vacationing friends in the Devon countryside and finds the original murder of a character named Routh uninteresting, although his friends and neighbors are fascinated.  Since Routh's head is missing, I can better understand the friends' reaction than Fen's!

The mystery, the murders are convoluted and the curiosity about who killed whom and how and why is a source of conversation and curiosity for the Major and the Rector (oh, I love both of these characters), and the visiting journalist.  The spinster sisters Titty and Tatty who display their "Botticelli" at the annual fete and share a hearing aid,  the  hypochondriac composer (who composes music for horror films), the local pig farmer with the belligerent German giantess for a wife, the owner of the local hostelry who never leaves his bed, and other characters who are droll, daft, and full of idiosyncrasies kept me intrigued and chuckling.

Stripey the cat:
"Stripey slumbered on, resting his gonads so as to be fit for another public-spirited bout of propagation when darkness fell."
Stripey the cat:
"...Stripey the cat had absented himself on one of his priapic itineraries."
The Rector:  
"I don't approve of speaking ill of people," the Rector said. "On the other hand, if you didn't speak ill of Routh, you'd never be able to mention him at all." 
Fen working on his book on the post-modern novel:
"Edna O'Brien," he muttered, "is the Cassandra of female eroticism."  Certainly Edna O'Brien's women didn't seem to get much fun out of sex.  If he were they, he would give it up altogether."
Most of the best quotes were too long and can't effectively be taken out of context.  The novel is NOT fast-paced, but I found it a genuine pleasure and will be looking for more of Edmund Crispin's witty work.

About the Author
Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Robert Bruce Montgomery (usually credited as Bruce Montgomery) (2 October 1921 - 15 September 1978), an English crime writer and composer.

Montgomery wrote nine detective novels and two collections of short stories under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin (taken from a character in Michael Innes’s Hamlet, Revenge!). The stories feature Oxford don Gervase Fen, who is a Professor of English at the university and a fellow of St Christopher’s College, a fictional institution that Crispin locates next to St John’s College. Fen is an eccentric, sometimes absent-minded, character reportedly based on the Oxford professor W. E. Moore. The whodunit novels have complex plots and fantastic, somewhat unbelievable solutions, including examples of the locked room mystery. They are written in a humorous, literary and sometimes farcical style and contain frequent references to English literature, poetry, and music. They are also among the few mystery novels to break the fourth wall occasionally and speak directly to the audience. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. 
(from Amazon site.
Mystery.  Originally published in 1978; republished by Bloomsbury, 2011.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

I'm still working on January reviews.

The Twelve follows The Passage , which I read and reviewed in 2011.  Now, I can hardly wait for the third and final volume in this trilogy.

As a result of the time gap between reading The Passage and The Twelve, it took a while for  this second novel to begin to flow easily for me.  So many characters were introduced in The Passage--and The Twelve introduces even more characters and more subplots to keep track of-- in different time periods.  Eventually, characters and plots from the first novel settled back in memory and new developments were easily assimilated as I became once again immersed in this post-apocalyptic world.

I really enjoyed The Twelve (with the exception of one scene that could have been less graphic), and you couldn't have separated me from it when I was reading it, but...honestly, I think the first one was better.  Both novels are complex, yet the narrative in the first one seemed faster paced, in spite of the length of the novel; also, some of the more recent character introductions (or characters given only brief mention in the initial book) were less pleasing to me (i.e.  Lila and Guilder) and seemed more like plot devices than characters.

Interesting.  I was thoroughly wrapped up in the novel while reading it, but on thinking back, find myself critical of several elements.

Which does not stop me from wishing I could dive right into the final volume.  Maybe I'll reread the first two shortly before the third one comes out so everything will be fresh on my mind.

Dystopian/Post-apocalytic.  2012.  592 pages.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Revenge of Moriarty by John Gardner

The Revenge of Moriarty (a republication of Gardner's 1981 novel, back in print after 40 years) this offering from Net Galley was a genuine pleasure.  I love Gardner's Grendel, the Beowulf myth from Grendel's pov, and always used it when I taught Beowulf.

Years ago, I read The Return of Moriarty by Gardner, but it has been so long that all I can remember are Inspector Crow and his wife (aside from Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes).  I will have to seek this one out again as it precedes The Revenge.

If you are a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories (and/or of all of the succeeding pastiche versions by modern authors), you will find The Revenge of Moriarty a joy.

In this novel, we have Moriarty's version of his relationship with Holmes and of his criminal enterprises.  The villain gains depth as Gardner presents his side of events and his planned revenge, but Gardner never permits Moriarty to become a sympathetic character.

:)   Drawn from Moriarty's coded journals, much of the narrative presents the cunning plans of the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes.  Gardner also includes information gained from descendants of one of Moriarty's henchman and from one of Inspector Crow's descendants.  The tongue-in-cheek introduction by Gardner makes the source of the materials clear.

Altogether a fascinating narrative that makes great use of what Holmes (or Watson) has said about Professor Moriarty, and when the accounts differ, there is an explanation.

Highly  recommended for fans of Sherlock!

Shiver: Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver is a YA paranormal novel; the first in a series of three.

Grace has had an ongoing fascination with the wolves that appear each winter foraging near her home.  In spite of a traumatic attack when she was younger, Grace is drawn to a wolf with yellow eyes, the one she feels was responsible for saving her life.

When she meets Sam, the attraction is intense and immediate, and Grace suspects that somehow (?) Sam is the wolf with yellow eyes.  Told from alternating points of view, we follow the Grace/Sam story and learn that the wolves of Mercy Falls are human in the warm months of summer and wolves during the winter.  Definitely a "suspend your disbelief" paranormal story, I still found it appealing.

Paranormal/Fantasy.  2010.  400 pages.