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Monday, March 31, 2014

Country, Cabin, Kids, Books...

We spent the weekend down at the camp.  For Max, I took one of Katherine Langrish's books (Troll Blood) and a Smithsonian dinosaur kit.  Max loves dinosaurs and wants to be a paleontologist. 

 The problems was that Erin, Mila, and I wanted a chance to discover the dinosaur bones, too, and begged for him to let us chisel away at the block.  He was amazingly generous, but it wasn't enough to satisfy us; we wanted our own.  If I'd known how much fun it was, I would have ordered enough for all of us.

For Mila, I took Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and a set of pentiminoes.  Of course, I always read any book that I buy for the kids before giving it to them.  Is that cheating?  But how else would I really know if they might like it?  It isn't just because I'm a greedy reader.  

I'd read Troll Blood several years ago, but I just read Chasing Vermeer this month, and it is an excellent book for middle graders--full of mystery, suspense, and information about art and  pentiminoes.  I haven't reviewed it yet, but will soon.

Mila, however, had brought a book with her, and she was so engrossed that she didn't have time for Chasing Vermeer right then.

So...what was she reading that kept her so riveted?  It was the second book in The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer (Kurt, from Glee).  This morning, I got online and ordered The Wishing Spell, the first in the series, for myself!

I ordered the Kindle version since Mila already has a copy, and I will use it as one of my Once Upon a Time challenge books.

Here is the book description: 
 Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales.

The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. 

But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

I'm eager to read this one since Mila liked it so much that she not only gladly read the 455 pages, but begged for the next one.  Also, a book by such a young author that captivates his intended audience so thoroughly is encouraging.  Not only is there a long prospective for future novels, but Chris Colfer's success at writing could easily inspire young people to consider doing the same.  

My brother Marty and sil Robin brought Jack down to have a little time on the tractor.  Jack loves riding the tractor with his grandfather.   Jack's current favorite in books is about a blue dump truck.  

It was a fun weekend, the weather was beautiful, grandkids and grandnephew, a delight.

Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

Ruin Falls begins with a family vacation to visit seldom seen grandparents.  Before they reach their goal, Liz Daniel's children are taken from a hotel.  Worse yet, it eventually seems that the culprit is her husband.

A frantic Liz tries to unravel the reasoning behind her husband's decision to take their children. 

I'm afraid the novel didn't do much for me.  Liz failed to sufficiently engage my sympathy, but that may have been partly because Paul's reasons for taking the kids seemed kind of silly.  The utopian venture did not feel realistic at all, and the secrets in Paul's past were also a little difficult to swallow.

Read in February.  Blog review scheduled for March 31.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Mystery.  April 22, 2014.  Print version:  352 pages.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

What was your first experience with Snow White?  Was it the Disney film, the Disney Golden Book version, or the German version by the brothers Grimm?

What image is most clear to you from the story?  The evil queen, the mirror, the happy home of the dwarves, the hag and the apple, the glass coffin?  Something else?

All of the above images come to mind for me when I think of Snow White, but perhaps my favorite is an image of the queen, sitting at the window sewing and thinking about the baby she carries. She pricks her finger and three small drops of blood appear in the snow, and she says to herself that she wishes that her daughter would have skin as white as snow, red lips, and ebony hair.  She is already in love with her daughter.  

Brothers Grimm. Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.
 Bess Livings, illustrator.
Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1938.

Of course, we all know what comes after--the good queen 

dies and the evil queen becomes the stepmother.  

Snow in Summer is an interesting retelling of the Snow White tale, set in the mountains of West Virginia e in the 1940's.  Snow in Summer (called Summer by her parents) has a wonderful childhood until her mother dies when she is seven; and, you know, things begin to go down hill from there.

The story is mostly told through Summer's point of view, but there are also sections from Cousin Nancy's and Stepmama's points of view.  Through these three frames of reference, Yolen is able to give additional insight into the situation.

For the most part, the story follows the original (adjusted for time and place) with the additional character of Cousin Nancy and a little twist on the seven dwarves.  The story has a dark edge which echoes the darkness of classic fairy tales.  All is not Disney-resolved.

What I liked:  The Appalachian setting worked for me, as did the use of local folklore which is woven into the plot.  The character development stayed mostly with Summer, but we get a good feel for Cousin Nancy and for Stepmama, who of course, is a scary woman.  

What bothered me:  Summer loved fairy tales, but apparently she never read Snow White.  Not only does she not pick up the general fairy tale/stepmother trope, the magic mirror doesn't ring any bells, either.  

Snow in Summer is, however, an intriguing retelling of the original story and gives the story a fresh perspective.

First book finished for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Fairy Tale.  2011.  Print version:  272 pages.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Two More Medieval Mysteries

Girl in the Ice by Jason Vail features Stephen Attebrook, a knight who lost half his foot during the crusades.  His military career over and his prospects considerably dimmer, he takes a job as a deputy coroner.  (I'm finding that coroners are frequent characters in medieval mysteries.  I mentioned some of the background of the crowner, coronarius, coroner, Keeper of the Pleas here. )

The winter of 1262 has been brutal, frequent snow storms all but burying the village.  On Christmas Day, the frozen body of a young girl is discovered buried in a drift of snow.  She is very young and very beautiful and captures the imagination of the villagers.

Stephen must discover her identity, and no one in the village or its immediate surroundings knows who she is.  His investigation leads to some political complications that are dangerous.  

I liked the book, but didn't love it.  Stephen, Gilbert, and Harry are interesting characters and the plot has some historical aspects concerning the Welsh March and the Simon de Montfort rebellion.  I like that the ebook was 99 cents, and I was able to experience another medieval author.  Would I read another in this series?  Yes, but I'm also interested in trying other new authors.

Medieval Mystery.  2013.  Print version:  270 pages.

The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury is the first in a series featuring Gwen, daughter of a famous bard, and Gareth, a knight in service to Prince Hywel of Wales.  Set in 1143, the novel is based on an actual murder of Anarawd, a minor Welsh king who was murdered on his way to marry the daughter of King Owain Gwynedd.

Despite the title, the main protagonist is the scrappy Gwyn, whose travels with her curmudgeonly father enable her to gather information for Prince Hywel.  

Prince Hywel, a complicated and somewhat secretive man, is my favorite character.  In real life, Hywel was interesting, but Woodbury makes his fictional version compelling.

While the basic tale is true, and the relationships of the historic characters fascinating, some of the dialogue seems too modern.  It is, perhaps, less of a mystery than a political conundrum.  The man who orders the murders of Anarawd and his men has great clout and his efforts to avoid being discovered as responsible involve scapegoating another.

I enjoyed this book, and I will read more because I want more of Prince Hywel and Prince Rhun, and I want to know more about Christin.  In other words, although I liked the redoubtable Gwen and the honorable Gareth, my favorite characters are those who lived and were involved with the events of the time.

Medieval Mystery.  2011.  Print version:  339 pages.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy

The Cheshire Cheese Cat:  A Dickens of a Tale is a delightful book for young and old, especially if you appreciate Charles Dickens.

What I liked:  almost everything!

I liked the story of Skilley the cat and Pip the mouse and their friends.  Skilley is a street cat, and he is delighted when a mouse infestation at the Cheshire Cheese Inn results in his being taken in as resident mouser.    But Skilley has a secret that he certainly doesn't want revealed.

Pip is a highly educated mouse who can read and write.  He loves big words, much to the confusion of his friends.  Pip discovers Skilley's secret, and the two develop a friendship that benefits them both.

And then there is Maldwyn, the Tower Raven who escaped and is being kept hidden.  Tower Ravens have been important at the Tower of London for centuries.  The legend that if the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall insures that they are highly valued and cared for.  Maldwyn regrets his escape, and Queen Victoria is very eager to have him returned.  (Today there are still the six ravens present  (as ordered by Charles II), plus some spares that occupy the Tower.)

I loved Pip and Skilley, the real characters who played small roles, and the allusions.


Pinch is a cat that the barmaid has renamed Oliver, but note the allusion:


Well, this was an unwelcome twist."

Some of Dickens' friends, including Wilkie Collins, Thackeray, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton visit the Cheshire Cheese Inn.  Thackeray loved red peppers which gave him heartburn.  The following quote references Thackeray's misguided decision to eat his beloved peppers and Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii

"...Henry whispered, 'Be ready for Vesuvius.'"

On Thackeray's affection for red peppers, Dickens' comments:  "They will be the death of him yet."  And they did, actually, play a role in Thackeray's death, although Dickens' remark is just an amused comment on Thackeray's self-induced indigestion.

Can a cat and a mouse live together in harmony and friendship?  "'I have great expectations, said Mr. Dickens.'"

The above are a few of the allusions I caught.  Some are so obvious that no one could miss them:  "He was the best of toms..."  There are several I didn't mention, and more than likely, quite a few that I didn't even catch!

A Glossary of Terms at the end defines some of the big words (or archaic ones) that Pip uses, although Pip often explains them himself.  A great vocabulary builder for young readers.

And (for my friend Thomas), I enjoyed the information about Typeset at the end.

This is a charming book for people of all ages!  While  younger readers will not catch all the references to  Dickens and his friends, perhaps when Dickens is introduced to them, they will have a favorable "expectation" of enjoyment.  Highly recommended.

NetGalley/Peachtree Publishers

Mystery/Juvenile/YA.  2011.  256 pages.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Seventh Child by Eric Valeur

I'm unsure of just how to evaluate The Seventh Child.  Exceedingly long and complicated, I have to wonder how on earth the author managed to keep all of the characters, threads, and backgrounds straight when writing the book.

The book opens with a scene of a murder of a woman on a beach in Denmark in 2001.  Her body is surrounded by what appear to be important, but indecipherable, symbols.  There is no identification.  The police have little to go on, although the weirdness of the scene remains a burr in the police chief's memory.

The investigation is eventually shelved as it fails to produce any leads.  Then for the next 500-600 pages, the body on the beach is pretty much forgotten as the lives of seven children who were at the famous Kungslund orphanage at the same time are presented in detail.   

Final Evaluation:  I'm glad I read it, but can't say I really liked it.  Now, isn't that a contradiction in terms!

read in February

Mystery.  April 1, 2014.  642 pages. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Once Upon a Time...

Carl started a challenge that involved several Quest options for reading fairy tales, folklore, and fantasy.   I've never outgrown my love of fairy tales and fantasy, so I always read for this challenge even if I don't join formally or post all my reviews.

Once Upon a Time

This year, maybe I will do a better job and post my reviews.  First, I need to decide what to read.  I recently read Thorn by Intasar Khanani, which I reviewed here.  Wish I'd held out until the OUaT challenge had begun, but it was a lovely book.  

O.K. - I've ordered a few ebooks, joined the challenge, and am ready to begin.   Instead of choosing a specific Quest, I will take the Journey.

Here is a list of the books I've ordered (I had a credit):

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

The Light Princess -Illustrated by George MacDonald

Dragon Rose by Christine Pope

Cinderella:  The Ultimate Collection (illustrated, annotated, 29 versions) by Charles Perrault, the Grimms, Andrew Lang, etc.)

Cindermaid: A Tale of Cinderella (The Dark Woods series) by Laura Briggs & Sarah Steinbrenner

That makes 5 books that I'll have to get through.  Well, I won't have to--because I chose the Journey.  But I have so many other books TBR (a stack of physical and a que of ebooks)!  Some will just have to wait patiently.

Has anyone read anything by Christine Pope or Briggs &Steinbrenner?

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

The Forever Song is the third and final book in the Blood of Eden series.  I reviewed the first two books (thank you, NetGalley) The Immortal Rules  and The Eternity Cure .

I loved the first two books in this series.  The characters and plot had me engrossed from the beginning.  Allie is a dynamic character that managed to be both threatening and sympathetic.

Allie, Kanin, and Jackal continue their pursuit of Sarren, who now possesses the virus that could end both vampires and humans.

While I'm happy to have had the chance to finish the series, I have to admit that this one did not hold the same appeal. I did like having more of Kanin and the development of Jackal's character, though.

NetGalley/Harlequin Teen

YA/Dystopian/Vampire.  April 15, 2012.  Print version:  416 pages.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Interesting Bookish Stuff

A short video on
from Open Road Media.   
 (Ellen Datlow, Jane Yolen, Elizabeth Hand, Kate Elliot, N.K. Jemisin)

Love this reading chair.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Burning by Jane Casey

Although the book begins with information about efforts to stop a serial killer who has been killing young women and burning their bodies, the main thread of the plot concerns a body that has some, but not all of the aspects of previous cases.

Has the killer changed his methods, was he perhaps interrupted? Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan comes to believe, was the young woman killed by someone else who would prefer that she be listed as a victim of "The Burning Man"?

Most of the book is from Maeve's point of view and from that of Louise North, the victim's best friend.  Maeve devotes herself to finding out all that she can about the young woman and soon believes that the murderer is not "The Burning Man" at all, but someone much closer to the victim.

Interesting characters, good dialogue, and twists and turns in the plot.  This is a series that I plan to pursue!      

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Police Procedural.  2012.  368 pages.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Crediton Killings and The Leper's Return by Michael Jecks

The Crediton Killings features a former Knight Templar, Sir Baldwin Furnshill.  Earlier books may have explained how he escaped arrest and death when King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V united in their efforts to destroy the Order in the early 1300's.

At any rate, Sir Baldwin managed to survive and return to his father's estate in Devon.  (oh, a little searching, and the first book in the series The Last Templar will probably explain Baldwin's survival and subsequent return to Devon).

At the time The Credition Killings opens, Sir Baldwin is Keeper of the King's Peace.  Requested to investigate a theft of silver plate from the captain of a group of mercenaries and the murder of a young woman, Sir Baldwin and his friend Simon Puttock, the Bailiff find the situation a bit more complicated than it originally appears.  

Things do not improve with the murders of two more women.  

Not a bad mystery, but since I followed it up with The Leper's Return by Jecks, I can see the improvement in the series. 

The Leper's Return is set in 1320, and Jecks' has created more depth for his characters and a much tighter plot (and subplots).  

There are more interesting characters included and all of them are well-drawn.  As the number of characters expanded so did the subplots:  the murder of a goldsmith, a merchant cuckolded by his wife, a leper colony, a potential marriage, an interfering and obnoxious maid, a huge mastiff, an eccentric Irishman--all woven into the doings of the small village of Crediton.

I liked this one so much better than The Crediton Killings.  Of course there is a sense of familiarity with the characters, but the additional characters are all interesting, and all of the characters (including Sir Baldwin) just have a greater presence.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Medieval Mysteries

I love history and reading novels about a certain time period helps bring history to life.  And, if you as curious as I am, novels send you off to see what is true and what isn't about historical personages, events, politics, culture, etc.

Reading historical novels, especially historical mysteries, can be fun and educational.  Part of the fun is finding characters that you enjoy.

Some of the medieval mysteries I've enjoyed the most include:

Arianna Franklin's series about Adelia Aguilar

Cassandra Clark's Sister Hildegaard series

Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma series

Michael Jecks' Knights Templar series (just finished two of this series)

Susan McDuffie (just finished A Mass for the Dead set in 13th c. Scotland)

Denise Domning's Season of the Raven (review in previous post)

Others I've read:

Ellis Peters' Caedfel series (I've read a few of these over the years)

Karen Maitland

Alys Clare

Jeri Westerson

Susannah Gregory's Matthew Bartholomew series

Some of the things I've learned:

In Domning's  Season of the Raven, the protagonist is a Keeper of the Pleas, a position established by the Articles of Eyre in 1194.  In Jecks' Knight Templar series, the protagonist is a Keeper of the Peace in the 1300's.  After researching both titles, it appears that over time, the responsibilities of the Keeper of the Pleas may have been split into the role of coroner and the role of a justice of the peace.  The requirements remained the same, however:  they had to be Knights, men of substance, and have an income of 20 pounds a year.  Domning weaves the qualifications seamlessly into the story.

I've also learned about murdrum, the origin of "hue and cry," the system of hundreds in terms of an inquest, and more.

What next?

I've downloaded a few more medieval mysteries to try by some different authors:  Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal  and The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen.  Not that I'll be reading medieval mysteries exclusively, but it will be a reading itinerary for a while.

Do you have a favorite medieval mystery series?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Season of the Raven by Denise Domning

Historic mysteries are a favorite of mine, and I have several series that I enjoy from different periods.  Now, I have a new favorite, a medieval mystery that kept me completely fascinated with the characters, the historic detail, and the plot that was somewhat complicated by medieval laws (both Church and State) and that kept the story grounded in its time period.

Season of the Raven        

The story opens with a kind of prologue about the murder of a young girl and from the point of view of the murderer.

Chapter I moves to a third person pov describing Sir Faucon de Ramis, a young knight who is on his way to the village of Blacklea at the request of his uncle, the Bishop of Hereford.  On his way, he notes the presence of ravens circling and assumes they are gathering over the carrion of some animal.

When he reaches his uncle's home, Faucon discovers that his uncle wishes to appoint him as Keeper of the Pleas, whose duties included investigating sudden deaths (natural or unnatural) because of the potential of filling the royal coffers.  Faucon, a second son, is delighted at the benefits that will come to him in this position.

He has little time to adjust or learn because the next morning, he is summoned to hold an inquest of a miller found trapped and drowned in his mill wheel.  Faucon is saddled with an extremely difficult monk as his clerk.  Brother Edmund is a man unable to hold his tongue, and is easy to dislike as he speaks without respect and without permission.  He has obviously been a trial to the Bishop and will continue to be one for Faucon.

Although the miller's death appears to be accidental, the result of a drunken accident, on closer examination, the death is determined to be murder.  

The complicated laws of the time are fascinating as are the duties of the Keeper of the Pleas (or Coronarius or Crowner--which later becomes Coroner).  

The characters, both major and minor, are fully formed, the details of medieval life are woven seamlessly into the story creating a microcosm of medieval life that is surprisingly vivid, and the plot is skillfully handled.

All of the threads are neatly and believably accounted for, although some will certainly be continued in the next novel.   In addition, the conclusion returns once again to the pov of the girl's killer as he contemplates his next victim (this murder has just discovered, but unsolved), and so the stage is set for the main thrust of the next book.

I really loved this one, largely because of the way the characters came to life, but also because the world Domning creates is so easily visualized.  

Domning has written a number of romances, but this novel is no romance; it is an exceptionally well written mystery with well researched detail.  I can't wait for the next one.

I give this one 5/5 stars.  

Historic Mystery.  2014.  Print version:  243 pages.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Thorn by Intasar Khanani

I was having some difficulty with my free NetGalley reads and nothing was keeping my attention.  As I was browsing looking for something to order, I saw Thorn.  I liked the cover and the description and decided to give it a try.  Good choice, and it would make a terrific read for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Thorn is an enchanting retelling of the Goose Girl story.  Princess Alyrra has grown up neglected by her mother and has had to put up with an abusive brother. She is happier in the stables or in the kitchen than in court.  When the king of a more powerful kingdom arranges a betrothal between Alyrra and his son,  Alyrra knows she has no choice.  The problem is that members of the royal family often don't live long, and Alyrra knows that there is danger is agreeing to the proposal.  

On the journey to the city where the princess will remain until the wedding takes place, a betrayal and a wicked enchantment change her circumstances drastically.  There is little she can do about the situation and her new station in life, but she has begun to develop a friendship with the magical horse Falada.  (I love Falada in any version of the story, but perhaps this version touched me even more deeply).  The friendship and support of Falada makes Alyrra's new life as a goose girl more than bearable, and she finds other steadfast friends among her new acquaintances.

The author weaves an interesting version of this familiar tale that doesn't eliminate some of the darker elements of classic fairy tales.  She also allows for some pondering about what justice really means, about friendship, and about trust.  

There are some excellent retellings of fairy tales out there by Shannon Hale, Donna Jo Napoli, Robin McKinley, and others, but Thorn is right up there with the very best of them.


YA/Fairy Tale.  2014.  Print version:  249 pages.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

The Steerswoman

A steerswoman must answer any question you ask; her role is to collect knowledge as she travels and to share that knowledge. Steerswomen must always answer truthfully.  A valuable and respected asset to the countries they travel, steerswomen are explorers, scientists, and cartographers,  dedicated to their order and the accumulation of and preservation of knowledge.

As the steerswomen must answer any question asked of them (as far as their knowledge extends), the other side of the coin is that any question a steerswoman asks must also be answered truthfully.  If you refuse to answer or if you lie, you will never gain another answer from a steerswoman, at any time, regardless of the import.

Rowan is a steerswoman who has become interested in some strange jewels.  In her efforts to discover their origin, she has a chance meeting at an Inn with an Outskirter warrior who has some of the same jewels in her belt.  The two decide to proceed together, but something about Rowan's curiosity about the jewels results in repeated attempts on her life.  She and Bel, the Outskirter warrior, are both capable of defending themselves, but the odds against them grow greater.  

In their journey to discover more about the jewels (and why their quest has aroused such repeated attempts on their lives), they are joined by a young boy who wants to become a wizard.  Initially distrustful, the two women allow him to remain with them for at least a portion of their travels.

The novel has aspects of science fiction, but is essentially a fantasy novel that pits science against magic.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the next one, The Outskirter's Secret.

You might be interested in this review of the series by Jo Walton.

SF (Walton uses this designation for science fiction/fantasy novels).  Originally published in 1989.  288 pages.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

Divergent made for a fast read, and as soon as I finished, I ordered the next two in the series.  

The book has a definite love/hate division among readers.  I think maybe the love faction came to the book without expectations and enjoyed the thrill of all of the action--and this is an action filled book.  Those who hate it may have heard all of the positive reviews and then been disappointed that it was not what they expected.  

Roth has created a world that doesn't quite work.  The Factions idea doesn't seem plausible to me.  The thing is, though, somehow she makes it work as long as you don't spend too much time analyzing it.  The physical world doesn't quite work either, especially the arrangement of a city that has different Factions living in completely different surroundings.  Any visualization of this world as a whole has to be purely from your own imagination, although Roth does give very brief descriptions of the areas occupied by the various Factions.  The overall view of the city-world doesn't really exist.

The Dauntless home ground, where most of the story is centered, has little detail for such a complicated place, but again Roth manages to keep this from interfering with the pace of the story.  It works, if you let it, because of the characters and the action.

I could let all of this slide because I was drawn into the story.  Part of my brain was perfectly happy to ignore the flaws.  The one that bothered me the most was that the Faction transfers went through such a short initiation.  They learned how to fight, shoot, handle knives, etc.  in too short a period of time.  Tris mentions building muscle in a week.  The transfers and initiates who survive the cuts become skilled athletes and crack shots within a month.   In a month or so, transfers from Factions that have no physical activity become super brave and can run, jump, fight, and handle weapons with the skill of soldiers.  

None of the above problems, and there are more, managed to keep me from enjoying the book.  It was exciting and entertaining and fun. 


Insurgent - Still exciting, but not as good as the first book.

Allegiant - Oh, dear.  First problem--the two previous books have been from Tris' first-person pov.  Now, there are frequent switches from Tobias to Tris...and the voice doesn't sound any different, so you have to be careful not slip back into thinking it is Tris speaking when it is Tobias.  A weak finish for several reasons.

Dystopian.  2011.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

The Collector of Dying Breaths   

Book Description:  "A lush and imaginative novel that crisscrosses time as a perfumer and a mythologist search for the fine line between potion and poison, poison and passion…and past and present."

Well, if you like this kind of book, you'll love this one.  I don't.  I didn't.
This is just my opinion, and I realize M.J. Rose has a many devoted fans.  Sounded interesting, but didn't appeal to me.  The Collector of Dying Breaths (huh?), is part of the Reincarnationist series by Rose.

Not much worked for me on this one:  not the characters, the premise, or the frequent sex scenes.  Billed as mystery and suspense; just as much fantasy and romance.

Whenever I'm truly disappointed in a book, I check other reviews.  It appears I stand alone in my opinion.  But I stand firm.  

Read in January
NetGalley/Atria Books

Mystery/Suspense?  April 8, 2014.  Print version:  384 pages.                    

Monday, March 10, 2014

Under Cold Stone by Vicki Delany

Canadian author Vicki Delany writes stand alone novels and a mystery series set during the Klondike Gold Rush,  as well as this series about Constable Molly Smith.

Most of the Molly Smith books are set in the mountain town of Trafalgar, B.C., but Under Cold Stone  moves the majority of the action to Banff Springs and the fabulous castle of a hotel built in 1888.

An unlikely romantic relationship between Molly's mother Lucky Smith and Paul Keller, Chief Constable of Trafalgar, has developed, and the two have headed to Banff Springs for a luxurious vacation.

Where, of course, things begin to go wrong.  An unpleasant encounter with Paul's estranged son Matt begins to spoil the romantic mood. Then Matt calls Paul in the middle of the night to tell him that his roommate has been murdered, but before the police arrive, Matt has fled.

Molly, of course, comes to support her mother, and looking for information, befriends Matt's girlfriend.  If Matt isn't guilty, and it certainly looks as if he might be, why would he flee?

Back home in Trafalgar, trouble is brewing when protests by environmentalists attempt to stop a development in the wilderness.  

I enjoy this series partly because of the characters, and partly because of the setting.  Lucky is not my favorite character, and she has a larger role than usual.  This may not be the best in the series, but still provides an entertaining story.  

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery.  April, 2014.  Print version:  250 pages.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

One of the subgenres of fantasy, in my mind anyway, is the fantasy of the absurd.  The Palace Job certainly has one foot in this category.  An adventure, a heist, to be sure, but also an eclectic assortment of characters, and a little parody and silliness mixed in.

Overall, it was sometimes amusing, but for some reason not terribly involving.  Mistakes and rescues...over and over.  I really liked a couple of characters, but others were vague or, in the case of the unicorn, downright annoying.

It was OK--not great, not awful.


Fantasy.  2013.  Print version:  439 pages.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French

Nicci French novels usually provide good psychological mysteries, and I've enjoyed the new series featuring Freida Klein, a psychotherapist who occasionally works with the police in criminal matters.

While not always the case, this series works better if you start at the beginning that introduces the main characters and their circumstances.  For this reason and the fact that one of the bad guys has a peripheral importance in the third novel, reading the series in order gives a better experience.

The first in the Frieda Klein series is Blue Monday, the second is Tuesday's Gone, and the latest is Waiting for Wednesday.  

Waiting for Wednesday, the latest installment, opens with a recovering Frieda.  In Tuesday's Gone, Frieda barely survived a knife attack, and although she is healing physically, she still has some residual emotional trauma that she doesn't want to acknowledge.  

When Ruth Lennox is murdered, Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson finds himself in an investigation that leaves a family in misery:  a devastated husband and three children who are stunned and grieving.  Frieda is no longer a consultant for the police, but her niece Chloe is friends with Ted Lennox, the dead woman's son.  One plot line deals with the investigation of Ruth's murder and Frieda's connection with the children.

The other plot line involves a journalist who has become certain that there is a pattern involving missing girls.  Jim Fearby originally wants to find out who committed a murder for which an innocent man was convicted, but as he investigates, he believes that one individual is responsible not only for the murder, but for a number of missing young women.

In the meantime, a young man comes to Frieda supposedly seeking help and presenting a long list of behaviors that would indicate a psychotic personality.  Frieda doesn't believe most of it, but does focus on one incident he describes.  Trying to discover who initially described the incident eventually leads her to cross paths with Jim Fearby in his search for missing girls.

I like Frieda and found the first two books compelling.  This third installment, however, didn't feel quite the same.  There was a certain disconnect which, of course, can be partially explained by Frieda's recent traumatic experience.  Unfortunately, this disconnect creates a thinness, a tenuousness to her character.  Frieda becomes almost ghost-like, almost tangential  to the plot(s).  Hope she comes to terms with her own emotional problems soon, and at least we know she intends to try.

Nicci Gerard and Sean French

NetGalley/Penguin Group/Viking

mystery/psychological suspense.  April 3, 2014.  Print version:  384 pages.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Watching You by Michael Robotham

On Wendy's blog (Musings of a Bookish Kitty), I saw mention of Michael Robotham.  When I then had the opportunity to get the the e-book of his latest novel, I couldn't resist.

Watching You is the seventh book in the Joe O'Loughlin series, but it functions perfectly as a stand-alone.  O'Loughlin is a clinical psychologist, and while he is crucial to the plot, he does not actually take center stage.  That role is filled by Marnie Logan, mother of two, whose husband disappeared leaving her unable to access his bank account, but saddled with his debts.

The prologue lets the reader know that someone has been watching Marnie, observing her life in all of its details--for a long time.  This unknown narrator inserts himself frequently in the novel.

Marnie's depression over the disappearance of her husband and the increasing weight of his gambling debts led her to sessions with Joe O'Loughlin.  O'Loughlin likes Marnie, but suspects that this is not the first time she has had dealings with a therapist.  With her financial situation getting out of hand, notices from creditors and from her landlord, and threats from Patrick Hennessey, the loan shark her husband owes, Marnie takes some drastic steps to increase her income.

Then a man who mistreated Marnie is murdered, and Marnie is a suspect.  O'Loughlin brings in his friend Vincent Ruiz, a retired police officer when he discovers that someone has broken and stolen only one patient's file.  Marnie's.  

The plot is not very realistic, but this is one of those cases where a skillful writer overcomes disbelief.  The characters are well-drawn, the dialogue is realistic, the suspense is palpable, the pace is rapid.  I was totally engrossed. There are several twists that keep the reader off-guard, but one twist I did not see coming until close to the end when the author decided to let the reader in on an earlier connection.  

I'm adding Michael Robotham to a list of authors who do mystery and psychological suspense very well.  

NetGalley/Little Brown/Mulholland Books

Psychological Suspense.  2014.  Print version:  433 pages.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Venice in the Moonlight by Elizabeth McKenna

I thought I'd try a romance novel.  This one is more of a romance novella or maybe just a long short story.  Almost everything feels glossed over, as if writing the novel was a matter of racing toward the end. Can literally be read in one sitting.

Would an Italian say, "my amore"?  Also found the inclusion of Casanova kind of strange and the plot gimmick questionable.

I was looking for something a bit more complex and longer.  Not really sure, but this wasn't it.

Read in February.


Romance.  2013.  Print version:  196 pages.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly

From the beginning, this novel caught my interest, and I found myself engrossed with the adventures of Piper, Anna, and Gee.

The young protagonist Piper is a scrapper and a gifted machinist. The inhabitants of her town all survive by scavenging for items deposited by dangerous meteor storms and selling them to traders.  Piper manages to 
eke out a living by scrapping and by repairing machines other scrappers bring her.  It is a bare subsistence, but it keeps her fed.

In an effort to protect her friend Micah, Piper races into a meteor storm and observes the destruction of a caravan that had foolishly failed to take cover.  On discovering that Micah has received a serious head injury, Piper investigates the caravan searching for medical supplies that might save Micah's life.  What she discovers is a girl, younger than herself, who has survived.  Piper manages to get both injured children back to the village, where she turns Micah over to his brother.   In her own home, Piper does what she can for the injured girl.

Anna, the girl, is a strange one with some obsessive habits, and she puzzles Piper.  When Piper finds the mark of the Dragonfly on Anna's arm, she is even more at a loss, but since Anna has lost her memory, Piper's curiosity remains unresolved.

When another survivor from the caravan shows up searching for the girl,  his presence reduces Anna to a quivering bundle of fear.  The man attempts to take Anna by force, and Piper reacts by conking him on the head with a pot; the two girls end up on the run.

Train 401 offers a way to escape, and Piper and Anna manage to board, but they are quickly discovered.   Gee, the security guard, knows the girls will be trouble, and initially wants to toss the stowaways off the train, but he is eventually convinced by the mark of the dragonfly on Anna's arm to allow them to stay.

Why does the man arouse such fear in Anna and what does he want with Anna?  What does the mark on Anna's arm mean?  What kind of danger awaits the girls and train crew?  

What a pleasant surprise.  Accepting ARCs is always chancy.  Some are excellent, some are entertaining, and some are--well--pretty bad.   For the YA/Middle School category, I count this one as excellent.  And when I class it as excellent, I mean that I think it will appeal to individuals well outside of the designated age group.  In my case, decades outside of the age group.

Johnson skillfully creates a sort of fantasy/steampunk world and populates it with interesting characters and plenty of action.

Piper is a great little heroine, complete with flaws, but with a sense of integrity and compassion.  Piper, Anna, and Gee all have something that sets them apart from the norm and must struggle to come to terms with these differences and to do what is right.

Read in January; review scheduled for March.

NetGalley/Random House Children's

YA/Juv/Fantasy.  March 25, 2014