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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz

I haven't read a Dean Koontz novel in years, but the blurb for The Whispering Room (Jane Hawk #2) caught my attention.  Although I have not read The Silent Corner, which precedes TWR, Koontz includes enough background to make this an easy read.

TWR is a fast-paced, action-driven novel about conspiracies,
hi-jacked science, nanotechnology, and the lack of privacy that is now an ever-present part of the human condition.

Jane Hawk is a rogue FBI agent on the run, pursued by the very agencies people believe can keep them safe.  The conspiracy involves the mega-wealthy and has devotees in many branches of government.  Jane finds it difficult to find trustworthy allies; she has a few who are willing to protect her son and provide aide, but she needs someone who can expose the conspiracy.  

Jane finds an unexpected ally in Luther Tillman, sheriff of a small town that has just experienced a deadly suicide attack.  Luther can't understand why 40-year-old Cora suddenly becomes... not only willing to commit suicide, but willing to take dozens of innocents with her.  After a government agent shuts down the investigation and Cora's house is burned down, Luther begins reading Cora's journals. Cora's repeated phrases about a spider in her brain and the phrase "Play Manchurian with me" set Luther on his own investigation.

Suicides, nanotechnology, and mind-control?

Is it scary?  Yes.  Believable?  I'm not sure, but science can always be abused, and there are always people who think they know what is best for others.  In a world where technology reveals everything about an individual's personal and financial life and there is no way to go completely off-grid because one way or another technology will find you, what if the next step is nanotechnology implanted in your brain? 

Not a book of any depth, no fully developed characters, plenty of violence--The Whispering Room is guaranteed to make readers uneasy.  TWR must be read for what it is--action and suspense, combined with paranoia-inducing fears about the future.

Koontz' clever use of The Manchurian Candidate was my favorite part of the novel.  

Read in Sept.  Blog review scheduled for Nov. 8
----
P.S.  I came back to this scheduled review after reading an interview with Franklin Foer about his new book World Without Mind.  Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Franklin Foer: Let’s get apocalyptic. I worry that we’re headed to a world of total surveillance—and that the presence of watchful eyes will inhibit us from thinking original, subversive thoughts. I worry that we’re outsourcing too many of our mental activities to machines—and these machines are run by a small handful of monopolistic corporations. I worry that we’re creating an economy that squeezes producers of knowledge—the journalists, the novelists, the essayists, who produce the words that help us make sense of the world. I worry that the big technology companies use their surveillance of us to create a portrait of our mind, and that they exploit their intimate knowledge of us to keep us clicking and watching. In short, I worry that we’re headed to a world without contemplation, a world lacking in originality and depth.

Check here for another interview with Mr. Foer.  

 While Mr. Foer's argument is not quite the same as the novel's premise, it is interesting.  Some of Foer's concerns have bothered us me for some time, but we I have become pretty cocooned by Amazon, FB, and Google, relying on Google daily.  It is difficult to let go of the conveniences provided...right?  


Read in Sept.  Blog review scheduled for Nov. 8.

NetGalley/Random House

Techno-thriller.  Nov. 21, 2017.  Print length:  528 pages.  

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Perfect Victim by Corrie Jackson

Sophie Kent is a journalist whose friend and colleague Charlie Swift is a murder suspect.  Charlie and his wife Emily appear to be a loving couple, and Emily, whose blog and instagram sites have a huge following, wants their marriage to be as perfect-picture as her fantasy.  

Sophie desperately wants Charlie to be innocent, but as he fails to come forward and details accumulate, both Sophie, friend and confidante, and Emily, the steadfast wife, begin to see fault-lines opening everywhere.

Intense and suspenseful, I didn't see where this one was going and had a number of surprises along the way.  Corrie Jackson deftly moves back and forth from the present, to the weeks before the murder, and to Charlie's childhood.  This could have been complicated and confusing, but somehow worked.  

The Perfect Victim keeps you wondering exactly who the perfect victim is.   I changed my mind more than once.  Jackson's twists and turns kept me enthralled.

NetGalley/Bonnier Zaffre

Crime/Psychological Suspense.  Nov. 16, 2017.  Print length:  448 pages.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Serendipity

Sometimes serendipity is a quiet coincidence, followed by another coincidence.  Sometimes it snowballs.

I recently read I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke in which four-year-old Max wears Gruffalo pajamas and insists that his father read him The Gruffalo each night.  (I Know My Name is a psychological mystery, not a children's book.)  

I am always intrigued with the titles and illustrations of children's books that I see on various blogs and on book review sites.  Gruffalo sounded familiar, but I had no picture of a Gruffalo in mind, I just liked the kid in his favorite pajamas who loved the book.  So I looked up The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.


A day or so later, I was looking at postage stamps that intrigued me (I love mail art and whimsical stamps).  I saw the following bird stamp on Pinterest, which led me to this article.    Axel Scheffler had created the delightful images for The Royal Mail's 2012 Christmas Stamps!

Huh?  Axek Scheffler illustrated Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo!  The stamps I'd found were serendipitously connected to a small detail in a recent novel.  

Then a couple of days later, I was looking at the article again and checked Axel Scheffler's website and discovered he had illustrated a cover for T.S. Eliot's Ole Possum's Book of Practical Cats, one of my favorite books of all time.


My copy is the one illustrated by Edward Gorey, but I love Scheffler's version as well.  So...I looked at other Scheffler books and found that I had a copy of Room on the Broom, also written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Scheffler.  I bought a copy of Room on the Broom for Bryce Eleanor about five or six years ago.  I had it out for Halloween as inspiration for October mail art, but didn't use it.  Maybe I will next year, after finding all these serendipitous connections.

And since I love letters, postage stamps, and mail art, I think I want to read about Postman Bear, too!   



Without ever paying attention to the name of the illustrator, 
I have consistently been attracted to Alex Scheffler's art.  

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle





















The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross is the second in the Jesperson & Lane series.  The first in the series (The Curious Case of the Somnambulist & the Psychic Thief reviewed here) had a great set-up, and I remember being pleased and expectant as I read the first few pages, but I ended up being disappointed.  "Maybe," I thought, "the next one will be better.  The author will have a sense of direction and the characters will emerge as more than pawns."

Alas, not so.  Once again, an interesting beginning full of all  kinds of possibilities and intriguing characters.  Once again, a failure to take advantage of what worked and instead taking a ridiculous direction that seemed almost a spur-of-the-moment inclusion.

Jesperson is controlling, holding back information and failing to keep Lane fully apprised of his theories or knowledge.  Lane is ostensibly a partner in this psychic detective agency, but her purpose is largely to give a first person account of the cases they encounter.  Rather than a partner as indicated on the calling card--Lane is a sort of attendant, even though her role in events is more detailed.

The best characters in the book, the ones with such potential, are the three sisters at Wayside Cross.

Read in August; blog review scheduled for Nov. 4.

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery/Supernatural.  Nov. 28, 2017.  

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Forsaken Throne by Jeff Wheeler


The Forsaken Throne is book 6 in the Kingfountain series by Jeff Wheeler.   The books all combine magic and adventure, complex characters, and re-imaginings  of British history and myth.

I've enjoyed each and every book in the series and was especially happy in this concluding installment to find one of the issues that bothered me at the end of the previous book has been resolved to my satisfaction.

The Forsaken Throne also makes connections to the Muirwood and Mirrowen series that prove interesting.  I read and enjoyed the first two books in the Mirrowen series several years ago.

Jeff Wheeler's world-building and character development in this series had me devouring each new entry like Halloween candy.

Read in September; blog review scheduled for Nov. 1

NetGalley/47North

Fantasy.  Nov. 14, 2017.  Print length:  332 pages.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Jubilee Problem and Sitting Murder


The Jubilee Problem has Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Lucy James working together to prevent any disruption of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1897.  Who might want to cause death and destruction on the occasion? 
 The "threat of terrorism was very real and police chiefs, who had received a tip-off about ‘an anarchist outrage’, brought hundreds of retired officers back into service to keep the public safe." (source)
In the novel, Holmes and crew  include the Fenian Brotherhood and Kaiser Wilhelm's agents as major suspects who might threaten the celebration.  

So...who is Lucy James?  Ahem, she is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes, given up for adoption by her mother.  In an earlier book in the series, it seems the young Lucy came to Holmes asking for his help in seeking information about her parents.  Evidently, they were both surprised.

A light read that felt a bit like a YA novel.

NetGalley/Wilton Press

Historical Mystery/YA?  Nov. 1.  Print length:  352 pages.



Sitting Murder by A. J. Wright is the fourth book in the Lancashire Detective series.  I have not read any of the previous books, but this one works perfectly as a stand-alone.  

Sitting Murder is set during the late Victorian period in Wigan, a town known for its cotton mills and coal mines.  When a mine accident takes the life of Alice Goodway's husband Jack, Alice's grief and sense of abandonment is intense.  

But then it seems that Jack is able to communicate with Alice from beyond the grave, acting as a spirit guide.   Word spreads and a number of people want Alice to contact their loved ones. Jack's abrasive aunt, moves in with Alice and persuades her to do a limited number of "sittings."

Alice views these sittings as a way to comfort those who are grieving, and along with the pat phrases offered by most purported mediums, Alice reveals information she should have no way of knowing.

Although the thoroughly detestable aunt makes sure the privilege is paid for, Alice only responds to a few of the people who are eager to commune with the dead, and most of these petitioners are comforted to feel that their loved ones are content.

Then the first threatening letter arrives, and DS Michael Brennan and Constable Jaggery are consulted.  Brennan, while seriously skeptical of  the whole mediumship-and-communication-with-the-dead scenario, is definitely concerned about the implied threat and tone of the letter.  

Before Brennan and Jaggery can prove who wrote the letter, Alice's aunt is murdered, and  Brennan suspects that the real target was Alice.  As the investigation delves into the secrets of most of the those who requested sittings, Brennan and Jaggery try to keep Alice safe while narrowing down the list of suspects.

Sitting Murder was a fun historical mystery with complications that kept me guessing--and that is precisely what I want from this genre.  It fit the mood of the season with the psychic/medium element, provided a solid mystery in a favorite time period, and introduced two likable characters in DS Brennan and Constable Jaggery.  

NetGalley/Endeavor Ink

Historical Mystery.  Oct. 12, 2017.  Print length: 282 pages.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tonight You're Dead by Viveca Sten

I eagerly await each new translation of  Viveca Sten's Sandhamn Murders series and was gratified to find the latest translation (Tonight You're Dead) on NetGalley.  

Marcus Nielsen, a university student, is initially suspected of suicide; Thomas Andreasson, however, can't exactly understand what bothers him about the scene.  After finding out what Marcus has been researching, Thomas visits one of the men Marcus interviewed.  

The man, a former member of the Coastal Rangers, is found dead shortly after Thomas' visit.  The investigation leads to the island of Korso, where the training for the elite Coastal Rangers took place in 1977.  

Part of the narrative is in the present and part is in the form of diary entries made by one of the trainees --a record of the treatment of the young men by a sadistic sergeant.  

Although Nora Linde features less in the mystery portion of the novel, we are updated on her life as she attempts to adjust to the process of her divorce.  There are changes in Thomas' personal life as well as he and Pernilla seek to re-establish their relationship, but the thrust of the narrative deals with the consequences of what occurred on Korso thirty years ago.  The past has a way of lying quietly for years before the repercussions materialize, and Marcus Nielsen's research precipitated events he could not have imagined.

I've enjoyed each of the novels in this series, and now must wait for the next translation.   If you are interested in this series, the English translations which have been published so far are available on Kindle Unlimited.  There is also a television series based on the novels.


Viveca Sten is a Swedish author of Scandinavian crime fiction novels. She writes the Sandhamn Murders series. Viveca is not only an author; she currently works as head jurist at the Swedish postal service. She earned her law degree from Stockholm University in addition to her MBA from the Stockholm School of Economics. Viveca lives outside of Stockholm, Sweden with her husband and three children. She has always spent her summers on Sandhamn, an island near Stockholm where her family has owned a house for multiple generations.
Prior to publishing her work in English, Viveca Sten had written three different non-fiction books and published six crime novels in Swedish. Her first novel to appear in English was Still Waters in 2015.  (source)

NetGalley/Amazon Crossing

Crime/Police Procedural.  November 14, 2017.  Print length:  416 pages.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James

After reading Simone St. James' The Broken Girls, I decided to try another of St. James' paranormal mysteries. In the aftermath of WWI, many in a nation grieving the loss of a generation of men and boys turned to seances, psychics, and mediums who promised communication with the dead.

The Other Side of Midnight, set in 1925 London during this resurgence of spiritualism, involves psychics and a handsome debunker of psychics in a paranormal mystery/romance.

When Ellie Winter's former friend and rival Gloria is murdered,  Gloria's brother engages Ellie to find out who killed her and why.  Ellie teams up with James Hawley, war veteran and debunker, and the two begin investigating--discovering secrets and courting danger along the way.

The Other Side of Midnight is a pretty light read.  There were elements I liked well enough, but I wasn't bowled over by any means.  I do like that St. James wants to write books like the ones she enjoyed by Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart:

"It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I discovered the old Gothics that were popular from the 1950s to about the 1970s – those musty old books you can find by the dozens, each one featuring a variation on the cover of the girl with flowing hair and nightgown fleeing a dark, foreboding house. These books are, shall we say, of varying quality (my personal favorite from my own shelf: “Lois Chalfont must choose between the devil and death!”) But several of the authors of old Gothics were truly talented, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt being the top names of the genre.
I read – and still read – those books like crazy, and as I did I asked myself, “Why doesn’t anyone write these anymore?” So I write them, but I add my own sensibility to them. I make my heroines strong and independent. I set them in the 1920s. And I add ghosts."  (source)

The Other Side of Midnight was a bit of a disappointment after reading The Broken Girls, St. James' latest book.  (I wrote a little about The Broken Girls here when talking about books out next year.)  It was a modern ghost story with roots in the past that kept me enthralled and uneasy the entire time.  My full review is scheduled for Feb. 28, and the book will be published in March.  

So...while The Other Side of Midnight was not exactly what I was hoping for, I want to try Lost Among the Living, which returns to the post WWI setting.

And if you love a good ghost story, pre-order The Broken Girls!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Their Fatal Secrets by Janice Frost


Their Fatal Secrets by Janice Frost is the 4th in the DS Merry/DI Neal series.  I haven't read the previous books, but this one works fine as a stand-alone.  

From the blurb:  "Two students coming home from a drunken night out see something strange in the river. It is a young woman’s body.

Hours later, a second young woman’s body is discovered on another stretch of the same river."

DS Ava Merry and DI Jim Neal are assigned to both investigations. And they’re joined by a new detective, Tom Knight. 
There is an interesting premise in this novel involving the backstory behind the murders.  The villain (the standard woman-hating lover of violence for this kind of novel) is revealed almost immediately--and although a frightening character, he is both despicable and strangely uninteresting.  

The main characters are not especially developed, but since this is the third entry in the series, for regular readers this probably isn't necessary.  The connection between the women makes the plot interesting and persuaded me to finish it.  

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Crime/Police Procedural.  Oct. 21, 2017.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Escape

Reading can be an escape from reality or a confrontation with a reality that sometimes we would like to avoid, but sometimes, a literal escape from our everyday life is in order.  We took a short trip into the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas in hopes of finding some of the gorgeous fall foliage that is missing here at home.

The dry weather that has plagued us in northeast Louisiana for the last couple of months has meant that fall color is scarce here, but we discovered that drought has been a problem  in northern Arkansas as well.  Climate change--whatcha gonna do?  

We didn't see much fall color--little of Shelley's "pale, and hectic red" was to be seen and not much gold, but we did have a fine escape from the flat plains for the Red River Valley.  We went from the flat farmland, through the rolling hills, and up into the Ouachita National Forest and mountains.  Climbing up the hairpin, serpentine roads, passing through tiny towns and abandoned communities, and finally, to Mount Magazine and the lodge where we stayed.

The weather was perfect.  Cold in the mornings and evenings and in the 60's and low 70's during the day.  The lodge afforded gorgeous views of sunrises and sunsets.

We walked and hiked and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere, avoiding our phones, news, and social media.   Although I brought my Kindle, I didn't even read.

Mount Magazine State Park offered a tranquil escape in a beautiful setting where every effort is being made to preserve the plants and wildlife of the region.  The state park is known for its birding and for its diverse butterfly population.  Thankfully, we didn't see any black bears, but we did see some deer.


Now that we are home, I'm now in the midst of Kelley Armstrong's latest Casey Butler book, and the goings on in Rockton are, as usual, dramatic!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

 A little romance, a little mystery.  The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has little in common with her more accomplished historical novels like The Morland Dynasty or her excellent Bill Slider detective series, but it is an interesting look at the author's earlier efforts.

From the Author's Note that precedes the novel:

"This book is the work of a very young me; but it's the product of an energetic, enthusiastic and optimistic self in what seemed a simpler world, and I'm very pleased to see it back in print.  If you know my later books, I hope you will uncouple your expectations, and just enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it."

There is something touching about Harrod-Eagles' attachment to the works that helped shape her into the author she is today.  I loved the section of the Author's Note where she says that when she ran out of pony novels at the library, she had no choice but to write her own, and  "Between the ages of ten and eighteen I wrote nine pony novels."

Read in August; blog review scheduled for Oct.

NetGalley/Severn House

Mystery/Romance.  Nov. 1, 2017.  Print length:  224 pages.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao

Although the second in the Change of Fortune series, Whispers of Warning functioned well as a stand-alone.  I liked the setting--a spiritualist hotel with echoes of the real spiritualist towns of Lily Dale, NY and Cassadaga, Florida.  

Ruby Proulx is happy to be living with her aunt in a hotel which offers various psychic readings to its guests.  Ruby is a "clairaudient"--a voice guides her talent as a medium, and her abilities are growing.

When Sophronia Foster Eldridge arrives as a guest, Ruby is impressed at both Sophronia's reputation as a Spiritualist and as an outspoken Suffragette.  But Sophronia's goal is more complicated than purely seeking the vote, and she presents a threat to someone who wants to derail her platform.

Ruby begins to recognize that Sophronia has a manipulative side, yet she still wants to support Sophronia's goal of gaining the vote for women.  

While the setting intrigued me, the book was a little slow.  I think I was looking for something similar to Delia's Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer, something a little more complex, but I like the cover.

Blog review scheduled for Oct. 17, 2017.

NetGalley/Berkely Publ.

Paranormal Mystery.  Sept. 19, 2017.  Print length:  331 pages.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes Lackey

I read the first in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series over ten years ago, and at the time, I intended to read more.  The only other one I've read is The Wizard of London, but I enjoyed both books and don't know why I never followed through with the entire series.

I didn't even realize A Scandal in Battersea was part of the Elemental Masters series, but as soon as I started reading, the familiarity of certain elements was evident.  

There are wizards, psychics, mediums, hobs, and spirits, and a school for young children with magical abilities.    Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and his wife Mary also play important roles, along with Lord Alderscroft, Master of the White Lodge.

The previous books in the series take a fairy tale as a starting point, but the association is very loose and transferred to the Victorian era.  A Scandal in Battersea makes a slight departure into a folklore figure. 

A vague and powerful evil begins inserting itself into the world, but as young women begin disappearing, the threat increases and London itself could be utterly devastated.  Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White are enlisted by Dr. Watson and Mary to examine a young woman who had herself committed to an asylum for disturbing visions of murders.  Her latest vision is of London in ruins.  The initial question is whether the visions are delusions or evidence of clairvoyant abilities.

Whatever this ancient evil is "..it will take the combined forces of Magic, Psychic Powers, and the worlds greatest detective to stop the darkness before it can conquer all."

It would be an advantage to have read more of the books in this series.  Although the books I read years ago let me recognize a few things, I would like to know more of the background of characters like Nan and Sarah and about some of their previous adventures.  

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Fantasy/Supernatural.  Oct. 17, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Three More Catch-Up Reviews


Ellicott's Murder in an English Village is a light, cozy  mystery set in 1920.  

Blurb:  "As friends, the boisterous and brash American Beryl couldn't be less alike than the prim and proper British Edwina. But as sleuths in an England recovering from the Great War, they're the perfect match . . ."

The friends won't compete with Miss Marple, but a quick read, and I like the cover.

NetGalley/Kensington Books 

Historical Mystery.  Oct. 31, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.



Block 46 is one of those books that has gotten rave reviews from a blog tour, but fair warning, it is a gruesome book about the serial murders of children.

Taking advantage of the current popularity of Nordic Noir, the book moves back and forth between Sweden and London for the contemporary portion of the novel.  It also moves back and forth in time as the genesis of the present-day child murders has roots in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in 1944.

The  style is choppy--moving from one point of view to another, from place to place, and from past to  present.  The two female protagonists are an interesting combination--acquaintances more than friends.  Emily Roy is a profiler and Alexis Castells is a true crime writer.  Only hints of their backgrounds are given and will no doubt be expanded on in their next outing.

I wasn't convinced by either of the roles of the protagonists, however; Emily's profiler skills are pretty specific, but not always helpful initially in making progress in the case.  Alexis is involved because she was close friends with a woman murdered in the same manner as the children, and since she is, coincidentally, a true crime writer--she is accepted into the investigation. ?

The "project" (the reason for the deaths of the children) goes back to medical experiments in Buchenwald, but the purpose is never explained.  

Not eager to read more by this author as neither the characters nor the plot appealed much to me.

Read in September.

NetGalley/Trafalgar Square Publ.

Crime.  Oct. 1, 2017.  Print length: 300 pages.

Yep, I know I've been fascinating with a lot of WWII nonfiction--and most of it has been as fascinating as fiction.  Most of it, however, has been specific to England, Bletchley Park, the SOE, Turing, the Blitz, and MI5 or MI6.

Code Girls differs because it addresses the American code breakers, and most particularly the women who were recruited initially from elite women's colleges and then from teachers' colleges.  It covers the way the Navy and the Army recruited these women, continuing to broaden their nets to enlist more and more to decipher, decode, and translate German and Japanese messages.

Code Girls provides impeccable research into previously classified materials about the women cryptographers whose crucial efforts saved thousands of lives and were mostly unacknowledged.

The first of the book was absolutely fascinating, but there are portions that become a bit repetitive.   These women contributed greatly to the success of the war, and I love that Liza Mundy has provided recognition of their important efforts.

Read in July/August.

NetGalley/Hatchette Books

History/Nonfiction.  Oct. 10, 2017.  Print length: 500 pages.   

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Catching Up

All of the books below, except for The Naturalist, were read in September. I read 4-5 books a week, and not all of them are going to be winners.  The following books kept me interested enough to finish them, but weren't books that would make me pursue the author or the series.  Books are a matter of taste, and each of the following books has had some 5 star reviews on Goodreads, so...my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.  Always.  You might love one or more of them.

My best friend and I disagree on books all the time.  She will recommend a book that leaves me cold and will hate a book that I love.

The Naturalist started off exceptionally well.  Dr. Theo Cray is returning to his hotel room only to discover a swat team a swat storming the hotel.  He takes cover, but when told to return to his room, he remains watching the scene.

Because he can't return to his room--it is his room being stormed.

It turns out that a former student of his has been doing research in the area and has been found dead.  Theo is taken in for questioning, but is released when it is determined that the young woman died from a bear attack.

His curiosity and a sense of guilt cause Theo to do a little more investigation and what he discovers makes him believe that a man has disguised not only this murder, but many more murders; some were listed as animal attacks, but many were never reported at all.  As Theo uses his computer to investigate missing persons in the area, he begins to locate bodies.

I really enjoyed the first portion, but  the novel became a combination of  too far-fetched and too clever and lost its initial focus.  Talk about character transformation--Theo Cray started off as an intriguingly nerdy character, but ended up as a standard action hero.  

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Crime/Suspense.  Oct. 1, 2017.  Print length:  382 pages.


I didn't realize that I had read the previous novel in this series when I requested Hide and Seek (Helen Grace #6) from NetGalley, but as I began reading I recognized some of the events that led up to this installment.  

In Little Boy Blue, a killer has laid the groundwork to destroy DI Helen Grace's career.  Hide and Seek finds Helen Grace in prison for crimes she didn't commit.  

When the bizarre murders of inmates in prison begin, Helen Grace finds her detective mindset kicking in, even as she fears for her own life.

Both books are suspenseful and violent.  The series is very popular and the reviews are extremely positive, but the book falls into that abyss of depending on multiple grotesque murders to create suspense.  Not my favorite plot line.  Nevertheless, M.J. Arlidge has a committed contingent of fans, and we are all different in what we look for in our crime/mystery/detective fiction.  

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Crime/Suspense.  Oct. 10, 2017.  Print length:  409 pages.


Although I had hoped Wolves and Roses would be a fun YA fantasy, the book didn't actually deliver.  Simplistic romance with fairies, werewolves, and witches--supposedly following fairy tale templates.

I always enjoy YA books by Sarah J. Maas, Megan Whalen Turner, Maggie Stiefvater, and Kelly Armstrong, but all of the preceding have great character development, excellent writing, and exciting plots.  Wolves and Roses failed on all three.  Others liked it much better than I did.

NetGalley/Monster House Books, LLC

YA/Fantasy.  Oct. 31, 2017.  Print length:  292 pages.





Beacon Hill by Colin Campbell follows the Resurrection Man series featuring former British cop Jim Grant, who now works for the Boston PD.

Jim Grant's character feels like a "wannabe" Jack Reacher. 
(The Jack Reacher from Lee Child's books, not the one from the films which I wouldn't see because of miscasting). Lots of action and an unusual premise make Beacon Hill interesting, and yet more surface than depth.  

One incident that was, I guess, supposed to add some dark humor involves a dog.  The reference to the dog appears again and again, and what was not funny to begin became more and more irritating.  Spoiler:  More time and emphasis was given to the unfunny squashed dog than to the death of the girlfriend.

NetGalley/Wildblue Press

Suspense/Police Procedural/Crime.  Sept. 13, 2017.  Print length:  315 pages.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Merlin at War by Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis' Merlin at War, featuring London DCI Frank Merlin, is the third in this series.  In 2014, I read and enjoyed The Princes Gate, set during the phony war between September 1939 and May 1940, but I somehow missed Stalin's Gold, the second in the series which also received positive reviews.

 Merlin at War takes place after the fall of France; the armistice between Vichy France and Germany is in effect, and the nominal government of France collaborates with Nazi Germany in reprehensible ways.  

The book begins, however, in Crete where a team of British soldiers hope to escape and be evacuated. Only one man survives the perilous journey.  The survivor carries a letter from his superior officer, but the officer dies before he can definitively designate the letter's recipient.  

Ellis depicts a London during the nervous calm after the autumn Blitz of 1940:  a young woman dies in a botched abortion; the French emigre doctor who performed the abortion is murdered;  a traitor among the Free French delegation operating from London sends messages to the Vichy government with the time and place a young agent is to be dropped into France; there are a connections to Buenos Aires and New York. 

Most of the book is a satisfying mystery with compelling historical elements, but the multiple subplots slow it down a bit. Nevertheless, Merlin at War presents a view of the war from many angles, and Ellis' main characters have depth and dimension.

Read in August; blog review scheduled for Sept. 27.

NetGalley/JKS Communications

Historical Mystery/WWII.  Oct. 12, 2017.  Print length:  490 pages.     

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

The opening of Bluebird, Bluebird grabbed my attention and my imagination immediately. 

We first meet Geneva Sweet as she snakes an orange extension cord through a cemetery, past the grave markers that read "Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest With Her Heavenly Father" and "Leland, Father and Brother in Christ" until she reaches her goal, the final resting place of her husband, Joe "Petey Pie" Sweet, whose monument reads "Husband and Father, and Forgive Him Lord, A Devil on the Guitar."

The extension cord and the transistor radio allow Geneva to play Joe some Muddy Waters.  

Geneva Sweet, almost seventy, is in many ways the heart of the novel.  She is not the protagonist; she is the core, the center that anchors a tiny community with deep roots in the past.

Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger, and he is justifiably proud of the fact.  He loves Texas and the Rangers, but his pride in both doesn't mean Darren isn't aware of flaws in the justice system.

Raised by his twin uncles (Clay, a celebrated law professor and William, the first black Texas Ranger), Darren's background is privileged.  At the other end of the spectrum, Darren's mother is a poor alcoholic who is always cadging money. Darren's connections run the gamut of the socioeconomic spectrum. 

After a degree from Princeton and two years of law school, Darren's career path derails after the horrific event in 1998 in Jasper, Texas.  He drops out of law school, much to the disappointment of his wife and his Uncle Clay, and joins the Texas Rangers.  

While it is easy to love Darren, despite his ideals, he is as imperfect as any other human being, and in the midst of some serious problems at work and at home, he finds himself in the tiny town of Lark, Texas at the request of a friend in the FBI.  A black man has been found dead and the death receives only a cursory examination.  Then a few days later, a white woman is murdered.  

When he walks into Geneva Sweet's tiny establishment, Darren has no idea of how his perspective will undergo change.

Bluebird resonates on so many levels--from the piney woods setting in East Texas, to the strengths and frailties of the human condition, to the historic and current effects of race relations.

The novel is a love song to Texas in many ways, despite the acknowledged racism and the impact prejudice and discrimination have on the lives of both blacks and whites.  That, I think, is what makes this different from many novels that attempt to cover racism.  Attica Locke's roots (like those of her protagonist) are deep in the red soil of East Texas and despite all of the injustices, historic and contemporary, she loves the state and her own heritage.

The novel presents a thoughtful and humane look at the characters while still making the situations perfectly clear, never excusing and never despairing.  Locke examines the complexity of the events of a small town and leaves her protagonist uncomfortably aware of a script that diverges from his expectations. 

The prose and the images from this novel will remain with me.  Highly recommended.

From a Literary Hub interview with the author:
Attica Locke: I’m from an area that kisses the border of Louisiana. It’s infinitely more Southern than it is Southwestern. Is there still that Lonestar spirit? Yes, but it’s not big sky country, it’s the piney woods. They call a portion of it Big Thicket. It’s lumber country, woods and trees everywhere, creeks and bayous.
To me one of the great contradictions about East Texas is the sense of familiarity among black and white folks. Folks have been living up under each other for hundreds of years. There’s a familial quality to it. That doesn’t mean we’re all holding hands and singing cumbaya. But the people there are fundamentally intermixed—culturally and genetically. So there really is a sense of family.

(The piney woods and the names of some of the small towns along the Texas/Louisiana border are as familiar to me as the music that runs like a melody through the novel.)

NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Mystery/Crime.  Sept. 12, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.