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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Samurai Summer by Ake Edwardson

Samurai Summer is a YA novel by Ake Edwardson, three-time winner of the Swedish Crime Writers Academy for his Inspector Winter series for adults ( I recently read and reviewed Room No. 10). This is Edwardson's first YA novel; translator Per Carlsson  also translates the Inspector Winter series.

The setting is Sweden in the 1960's.  The novel doesn't state the time and place initially, so I was curious and a bit confused, but the hints eventually materialize.

Book Description:  Looked at from the outside, the annual summer camp in the countryside might seem idyllic. But for Kenny, a boy with a Samurai's soul, it is no more than a prison camp, guarded by a sadistic woman who is sometimes helped by her terrifying adult son, Christian. Kenny and his "samurai" friends sneak out to the forest to build a secret castle that proves to be a needed compensation for the emotional deprivation each teen experiences at home. But when Kenny returns to camp, he befriends a female camper named Kerstin. She is a tall, fast-moving girl who is easy to talk to and begs to see the castle. But then suddenly she disappears, and Kenny realizes something terrible must have happened to her. Something that points to the old woman who runs the camp but even more so to her aberrant son.

There were a number of things I liked about this novel, although there were a few things that remained vague and a little unsatisfying.  Very different style from Edwardson's adult series--Room 10 deals extensively with Winter's thought process; yet,  except for the confusing time/place at the beginning, Samurai Summer is a quick read with an interesting protagonist in Kenny.  Kenny and his friends' interest in the history and lifestyle of  Samurai warriors seems fitting for their age and circumstances.  Their fantasy allows them a sense of power over situations beyond their control--as all of the campers come from less than ideal home lives, financially and emotionally.

Young readers will enjoy this story that proves that adolescent fantasy can go a long way in helping confront the realities of life.

A Net Galley ARC/Amazon Children's Publishing.

YA/Mystery.  publ.  date June 25, 2013.  ISBN-10: 1477816542

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

Grey Mask was originally published in 1928 and is the first of Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries.

Book Description:  Charles Moray has come home to England to collect his inheritance. After four years wandering the jungles of India and South America, the hardy young man returns to the manor of his birth, where generations of Morays have lived and died. Strangely, he finds the house unlocked, and sees a light on in one of its abandoned rooms. Eavesdropping, he learns of a conspiracy to commit a fearsome crime. 

Never one for the heroic, Charles's first instinct is to let the police settle it. But then he hears her voice. Margaret, his long lost love, is part of the gang. To unravel their diabolical plot, he contacts Miss Silver, a onetime governess who applies her reason to solve crimes and face the dangers of London's underworld.

If you enjoy classic "whodunits" from the 1920's - 1930's, you will enjoy this novel.  Wentworth is in the company of other Golden Age of Detective Fiction authors including Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Edmund Crispin, among others.  I mention these authors because they are authors I've read and enjoyed.  The novels are dated and are definitely contemporary to the time and place and have a particular style.  It is a style that has always appealed to me and the "rules" that guide these novels are one reason I like them.

An author that I haven't read, Ronald Knox, created the following 
Decalogue of rules for this type of mystery:

  • The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
  • All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  • No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  • No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  • The detective himself must not commit the crime.
  • The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
  • The "sidekick" of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

  • :)  I like the list, even the Chinaman ban, a dig at Sax Rohmer and his Fu Manchu character and the Yellow Peril.  I read quite a few of Sax Rohmer's works for Carl's R.I.P. challenge a couple of years ago and enjoyed them, but the Fu Manchu character is definitely a negative stereotype that Knox found unworthy.

    Another author, S.S. Van Dine, composed a list of 20 prerequisites which were published in 1928.  Many are the same as the ones Knox presents but more detailed. Two of my favorites from his list:

       7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.   

    17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

    I enjoyed this mystery and although Miss Silver has only rare appearances, Wentworth must have developed the character in the next novels featuring the retired governess.  I'm more than willing to find out!

    Has anyone else read a Miss Silver mystery?  Do you like other authors from this period?

    NetGalley/Open Road Media

    Mystery.  Original publication 1928; 2011. ISBN-10: 088411726X

    Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

    Looking for Me by the author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt has much to recommend it, and yet....

    What I liked:  great ambiance in the settings of the family farm in Kentucky and in Charlston, S.C.; lovely Southern charm and flowing descriptions; nature and wildlife; the love of junk picking and quality antiques; the feathers and the notes from Josh; gardens; and near the end, Teddi's refusal to sell her father's old Allis-Chalmers tractor.  ( All of the above are things I personally love, and my father gave us an old Allis-Chalmers tractor many years ago that I adored and called Alice.  I also had an antique shop for a while and still love junking.)

    And was about half-way through the book before any real plot developed; there were too many time-shifts; much of the detail, while interesting and well-written either didn't advance the story or slowed it down and dispersed interest; Josh's disappearance did not feel realistic to me (leaving a family and sister he loved with no word or follow-up contact); too many themes going on.  It seemed as if every good idea and description and interest that Hoffman had, she tried to use in one book.

    Initially, I loved it.  The minor characters are especially well done, and Hoffman's skill in creating an environment is wonderful. Even nearly half-way through with no idea what the plot was, I was still enjoying the book because I am interested in all of things Hoffman writes about.  My thought was that it was like little essays or anecdotes about avocations and incidents and that I could be satisfied with that.  At a certain point, however, I would have preferred more of  a sense of continuity, a clear direct priority of theme and narrative.

    Hoffman writes beautifully about her passions.  Maybe that is recommendation enough.

    (Oh, and I thought about Andrew's Kelly, another woman with an innate knowledge of antiques and junk, who can spot the rare bargain and the upcoming trends.)

    NetGalley/Penguin Group, Viking.

    May 28, 2012.  Print version: 368 pages.

    ISBN-10: 0670025836

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Death in the Vines by M.L. Longworth

    Death in the Vines:  A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery  is an excellent choice for both mystery lovers and Francophiles.

    Don't pay too much attention to the cover which might lead you astray as to the plot and genre--this isn't a typical cozy mystery.  It is a cozy in the setting and the lack of explicit violence, but the detectives are not amateurs like Miss Marple; they are professionals with experience.  Also, while the setting has some village characteristics, Aix-en-Provence is a small city that retains some of its small-town atmosphere even as it continues to grow.

    An intelligent mix of interesting, complex characters and French culture and wine making, the novel's plots and subplots kept me completely involved.  There is no effort to sensationalize the murders as many contemporary novels do.  Murder is considered serious enough without including weird and shocking elements, and Judge Verlaque and Commissioner Paulik are as dedicated to apprehending the murderer  as to discovering the thief of priceless wines and finding an old woman with Alzheimers who has apparently wandered off.  Well, the murders do take priority, of course, but the men are concerned about anything that happens in their district.

    In addition to learning about grapes and wines, Aix-en-Provence and its difficulties with rapid growth, French food (drool inducing visit to a restaurant)--I especially liked the section about Citroens. Odd, because I can't tell one car from another and have never been interested in cars at all, but on finishing the book, I went straight to several sites and images of Citroens.  Having a poet describe vintage Citroens could set up new aficionados everywhere.

     We are all so individual in our bookish tastes that I rarely bother to "recommend," but Francophiles (I'm not one, but with novels like this could easily become one) should certainly seek out Longworth's novels.  This is the third novel in the series, and I will definitely look for the first two and will follow the series in the future.

    :)  Reminds me that I need to check on Martin Walker's Bruno: Chief of Police series again.

    NetGalley/Penguin Group.

    Mystery.  Publ. date May 28, 2013.  Print version 304 pages.
    ISBN-10: 0143122444

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    Perception by Lee Strauss and Elle Strauss

    Perception is the first in a new YA dystopian series, set in a reasonably near future dealing with effects of climate change and scientific advances that are not always ethically motivated.

    Book Description:  Seventeen year old Zoe Vanderveen is a GAP--a genetically altered person. She lives in the security of a walled city on prime water-front property along side other equally beautiful people with extended life spans.Her brother Liam is missing.

    Noah Brody is a natural who lives on the outside. He leads protests against the GAPs and detests the widening chasm they've created between those who have and those who don't. He doesn't like girls like Zoe and he has good reason not to like her specifically.

    An interesting look at the social schisms created by wealth and the opportunity to "buy" extended life and great genes.  I think everyone has some qualms about what science is capable of and how to make moral decisions concerning scientific advances.  

    I don't believe that moral and ethical decisions must be religiously motivated, and the book does have a definite Christian perspective that  could have been a bit less emphasized.  Although it only distracts mildly from the story, it came across as a little preachy at times and morality is not an exclusively religious purview.  

    An interesting plot with likable characters in Zoe and Noah.  Suspense and mystery and young romance should appeal to the age group for which it was written.  

    Net Galley ARC/All Night Reads

    Mystery/Dystopian/YA.  2012.  241 pages.

    Sunday, May 12, 2013

    The Bat by Jo Nesbo

    The Bat  is the first of the Harry Hole series by Nesbo, and the 6th in the series I've read.  I've read #'s 3, 4, 5, and 7.  Still need to pick up #2 The Cockroaches and #6 The Redeemer, and then can proceed with The Leopard, The Phantom, and Headhunters.  They have not been translated in order, which is why I'm only now reading the first in the series, a recent translation.

    At first, I thought, ahhh, Harry hasn't always been such a dark character and The Bat isn't as dark a book as the later books.  I was pleased with the humor and character of Andrew, the aboriginal detective that partners Harry when he is sent to Sydney, Australia to aid in the murder investigation of a young Swedish woman.  I also enjoyed Harry's on-the-wagon self, dealing with mistakes he has made.

    Silly me, the novel does, of course, turn into Swedish noir.  Still, it was nice getting a bit more backstory on Harry and seeing a younger, lighter, and less depressed self--even as we learn more about his alcoholic tendencies in an investigation that adds more trauma to Harry's already troubled soul, pointing the way to the older, more cynical version to come.

    What initially seems a straight forward murder investigation takes a turn when it appears that the young woman's murder is not an isolated one.  A little statistical examination reveals similarities in crimes committed across the Australian continent that had not been previously connected.

    The bat is a symbol of death in aboriginal culture, and Andrew is at his best trying to educate Harry about Dream Time mythology...and to use the mythology to point Harry in the right direction.  Is it over done?  Could be, but I  was enamored of Andrew early on and love mythology, so I didn't mind.

    The villain did come as a surprise, but somewhat of a reach.

    **Hole is pronounced Ho-leh or as the Aussies put it, Holy.  Nice to finally discover that.

    NetGalley ARC/Knopf Doubleday

    Thriller/Mystery.  Trans. 2013.  Originally publ. 1997.
    ISBN-10: 0099581876

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    Dead Little Dolly

    Dead Little Dolly is part of a series featuring  mystery novelist Emily Kincaid and her friend Deputy Dolly Wakowski.

    Book Description:  Buzzelli will have you packing your bags for a move to northern Michigan.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) Even the beauty of Northern Michigan can’t put a smile on the face of Emily Kincaid’s perpetually cranky friend Deputy Dolly Wakowski, and when someone tries to destroy the only family Dolly has ever had, her crankiness turns lethal, even as the crime threatens to overwhelm her. Still struggling in her career as a mystery writer, Emily takes a deep breath before stepping in to help....

    Way-ul, (Southern drawled version of Well) this was at best an OK read for me.  I just wasn't that enchanted with characters or plot.  

    Net Galley ARC/Beyond the Page Publishing.

    Mystery.  April 12, 2013.  Print version 308 pages. 
     ISBN-10: 1937349683

    Untraceable by S.R. Johannes

    Untraceable  (The Nature of Grace Series) is about Grace, daughter of a forest ranger who has been missing for three months and is assumed dead.

    Certain that her father is alive, however, Grace continues her search in the Smoky Mts. near her home, trying to find any trace that might lead to her father.  Having had her father as wilderness tutor all her life, Grace is at home in the mountain forests and cognizant of survival skills.

    Grace also retreats to the wilderness for a sense of comfort when her frustrations mount, and on one of her excursions she finds a strange young man and follows him.  Mo, a geology student on a summer field study, is initially not very friendly, but after he rescues Grace from a tricky situation with poachers, the two begin a new appreciation of each other.

    A courageous female protagonist, Grace's determination to uncover the truth about what happened to her father puts her in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy of poachers, illegally killing and mutilating bears to sell for animal parts overseas.

    Maybe a bit slow in the beginning, the novel takes off as Grace resists the efforts of family and friends who urge her to accept that her father is dead.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this YA novel.  The second book in the series (Uncontrollable) is available, and the third (Unstoppable) will be published this summer.

    Winner of 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards (YA)
    Finalist in The Kindle Book Review's Best Young Adult of 2012
    Finalist in the US Book News Best Book of 2012 (YA)

    Net Galley/All Night Reads

    Mystery/YA.  2011.  Print version:  312 pages
    ISBN-10: 0984799125

    Thursday, May 09, 2013

    The Dark Water by David Pirie

    The Dark Water:  The Strange Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes  is Pirie's third novel in his series featuring A.C. Doyle and Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyles' inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.  Originally published in 2006, the novel is being republished this month.

    Dr. Bell and Doyle (Holmes and Watson) have a complex relationship, and Pirie uses fact and fiction as he describes the cases the duo pursue.

    The villain in this piece is Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, the real-life murderer known as the Lambeth Poisoner and also a nominee for the role of Jack the Ripper (although that doesn't seem to be a real possibility).

    The real Thomas Neill Cream did qualify as a surgeon in Edinburgh, and Pirie uses his presence there to connect him to both Dr. Bell and Doyle in a previous novel.  Using factual information along with artistic license, Pirie uses Cream's return from the U.S. (where Cream did, indeed, commit several murders) to take revenge on Doyle and gain funds to continue his dissolute and murderous lifestyle.

    The narrative spends too much time with Doyle, too little time with Dr. Bell.  If Dr. Bell is the Holmes figure, he really deserves more attention.  Some gruesome scenes that don't even match the m.o. of the real Dr. Cream seem included for effect, and the plot is held together by effort rather than logic.

    Fine for a little escapism, but not the best of Sherlockian novels.  One of my favorites of the Holmes pastiche novels is by John Gardner, The Revenge of Moriarty, a recent Net Galley read.  On a totally different level, but quite fun, are Laurie R. King's novels featuring Holmes and Mary Russell.

    From Net Galley/Open Road Int. Media/Pegasus Classics.

    Mystery.  May 7, 2013. (orig. publ. 2006).  Print version:  320 pages.
    ISBN-10: 1933648112

    Home Again, Briefly

    I'm back home after 6 days at the cabin.  Some of that time was spent working, reading, visiting with friends, and some spent nursing my allergy induced teary, itchy eyes, sneezing, and blowing my nose.  After Fee mowed the field next to the cabin, my eyes went nuts.

    Fee, David, Andrew, and Chris were all about hog hunting.  They were sitting by the fire some time before midnight, drinking beer, and no doubt dreaming of a big fat wild boar to dine on, when what to their wondering eyes did appear?  A whole troop of wild hogs headed up the gravel drive to the big cabin.  Had it not been for the dogs barking, the hogs may have joined the intrepid hunters at the fire for a beer.

    I had told Fee that at night I'd heard them in the low area, but whoa, didn't think they would cross the road and come visiting.  The ersatz hunters were caught unaware and unprepared.  No cochon de lait for us.

    From Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries:

    Feral hogs (Sus scrofa), including European wild hogs and hybrids, are quickly becoming the most serious problem facing land managers and hunters in Louisiana....  In Louisiana, feral hogs are considered unregulated quadrupeds and may be taken year round during legal daylight shooting hours by holders of a valid hunting license. They may also be shot at night under certain conditions. Feral hogs are targeted by hunters because they are excellent table fare and can be very challenging to hunt....  Adult feral hogs commonly weigh 200 lbs, but may reach over 400 lbs.  (some in Texas and Oklahoma have reached from 800-1000 lbs.  -  don't know if any Louisiana ferals have reached that size)

    Feral Hogs are plagued by a multitude of diseases that can affect humans, commercial swine operations, or wildlife.

    Feral hogs are also known to prey upon livestock and wildlife. They are known to catch and consume baby goats, lambs, and calves, usually leaving no evidence of the attack. If the opportunity is available, feral hogs will consume fawns, rabbits, turkey nests, and any other wildlife they encounter. Feral hogs can be especially damaging to crops and food plots. In addition to consuming the crop, they can trample crops, uproot plants, and disrupt drainage. 

    Feral hogs are extremely prolific, having the potential to rapidly expand their population. Sows can have up to 10 piglets per litter and reach sexual maturity at 6 months of age. They have a gestation period of 115 days, allowing 2 litters per year. Feral hogs have virtually no natural predators, so piglet 
    survival is nearly 100 percent.

    Complete eradication may never be achieved, but controlling or reducing the population is crucial.

    excerpts taken from:
     Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
    Wildlife Division - Private Lands Program
    Written by : Michael Perot, Wildlife Biologist

    Pics found from Google images of wild hogs.

    Right now, I'm catching up on a week's worth of laundry and doing a little weeding in the home garden.  Will be headed back to the country tomorrow.

    Sooooo....I haven't even reviewed all of the books from April, and I've read even more in May.  I guess I'd better get to reviewing.

    Thursday, May 02, 2013


    Rapscallion  is the third in this series featuring Matthew Hawkwood, but I have not read the previous two.  Hawkwood, a Bow Street Runner, has received an undercover assignment to the British Navy.  Two Navy lieutenants have gone missing while investigating a smuggling ring aiding the escape of French prisoners of war.

    Hawkwood is given the identity of a captured American who has joined Napoleon's army.  As he speaks French, he will be able to discover more information about the escapes and the missing Navy men.  His assignment puts him close to Paul Lasseur, a French privateer and fellow prisoner.  The two men attempt to negotiate the horrors of the prison hulk (an older ship, no longer seaworthy, that  functions as a prison).
    hms discovery Incredible Hulks: The Fearsome Prison Ships of the Former British Empire 
    Hawkwood's respect and liking for Lasseur grows as they both suffer the indignities and hardships of prisoners of a war, and Lasseur is a likable and competent individual with definite sympathies for the underdog.

    What is most fascinating are the descriptions of conditions aboard the hulk.  Even as I read, I was thinking, "Can this be true?  Were the conditions this awful?"   I knew I'd be researching this when I finished the book, but the author included a section at the end that gave the resources for his descriptions saving me some trouble.

    McGee's historic research was also fascinating in the area of smuggling, especially in connection with the town of Deal, a legendary smugglers' haunt, and the information about guinea boats.

    The novel gives a wealth of historic atmosphere and some thrilling action.  The characters are well-drawn and the plot kept me involved.  I don't know what I expected from this novel, but it delivered much more for someone who loves historic detail.  Hawkwood is an interesting character, but Paul Lasseur (Hawkwood's erstwhile enemy and present friend) is worthy of a novel of his own.

    Net Galley/Open Road Int. Media/Pegasus Books.

    Historical Fiction/Adventure.  Orig. published 2009.  Re-release May 7, 2013.  Print version 464 pages.
    ISBN-10: 0007212747