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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Secret Life of the Mind by Mariano Sigman

Our brains are remarkably complex organs that supervise and adjust and modify every aspect of our bodies and our lives.  Our brains shape our behavior, record our memories, control our heart rate and our immune systems, make decisions, develop our personal philosophies. The brain really is an enigma; it is a mystery, a marvel, and a work in progress.  The brain changes itself, it grows, and it re-wires itself--and these changes can be positive or negative.

The Secret Life of the Mind (I've mentioned the book in previous posts) expands on issues concerning the way infants conceive morality--the results are intriguing, but it is also fascinating to learn about the experiments devised to understand how infants understand and process information.  How can we know what  pre-verbal infants and toddlers think?  How early do they recognize right from wrong and what influences their decisions?  Researchers have created experiments that are simple, practical, and remarkably interesting.

The section on hunches vs deliberation feels intuitively correct--we recognize aspects in our own decision- making even if we have never analyzed them.  When is it best to deliberate about a decision and when is an instinct or a hunch preferred--and why?

  The body recognizes and acknowledges some things (often using past experience or knowledge) even before the brain can process the information.  Our decisions are often made seconds before we even "think" them.  Even the regret over a wrong decision is present before we are aware of it and before the decision is proven wrong by the situation.   

Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary subdivision of biology that works closely with other disciplines and covers a wide variety of topics.  Sigman's The Secret Life of the Mind moves easily from one topic to another, providing information that affirms some of our own opinions and challenges others.   The many ways the topics are approached by different disciplines provide both answers and intriguing questions.

From a book description, The Secret Life of the Mind "combines the astonishing work of biologists, physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, engineers, philosophers and medical doctors – not to forget cooks, magicians, musicians, chess players, writers, and artists." 

Informative and entertaining, Mariano Sigman engages readers through his own enthusiasm and curiosity.  Highly Recommended.

NetGalley/Little, Brown, & Co    

Nonfiction/Brain/Neuroscience.  June 27, 2017.  Print length:  270 pages.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima

The Hunting Hour is the third in this series set in the small town of Timber Lake.  I liked Stalking Ground, the first in the series, but somehow missed the second one and will have to see if the library has a copy.  

Deputy Mattie Cobb and Robo, her K-9 tracking dog are involved in the search for a missing 8th grade girl.  When the girl is found dead, the small town of Timber Lake is on edge.  A child murder is always horrifying, but in a small community, the shock is amplified and personal.  

Then Sophie Walker, the daughter of Mattie's close friend Cole Walker, turns up missing and the sense of fear ratchets up.  Despite the efforts of many volunteers, searchers fail to find any trace of the girl.  Mattie and Robo are at a loss as well.  

I like this series because of the characters, the mountain location, and of course, Robo.  Robo is a working dog, and I find the information about search and rescue dogs fascinating.  I also like that Robo is not overly romanticized.  He is both comfort and companion to Mattie, but he is trained to perform and is, in his own way, a dedicated law enforcement agent.

I'm quite fond of these characters, the small community of Timber Lake, and the well-crafted plotting of Margaret Mizushima.  Must find a copy of the book I missed.

Read in April; blog review scheduled for July 24.

NetGalley/Crooked Lane Books.

Police Procedural.  August 8, 2017.  Print version:  320 pages.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dead Woman Walking and Ordeal

It is definitely turning into the long, hot summer here.  I'm still walking, but early in the morning.  It is hard to love summer when the lows are 78 or higher and the humidity is considered wonderful at less than 70%.  Sultry is not my thing.  Fortunately, there is air conditioning and books to help me through the sweaty months.

Dead Woman Walking begins with an unusual and intense hot air balloon ride that moves from a celebration to an unmitigated disaster when an event the passengers observe on the ground turns the balloon and its passengers into a target.  

The terrifying opening episode is the best part of the book as far as suspense goes, but there are plenty of twists to come. Typical Bolton to keep the reader uncertain and perhaps a little confused about who/what/why.  

This will delight most Bolton fans, but I would prefer to see more books like her Little Black Lies.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Suspense/Thriller.  Sept. 5, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.

Ordeal by Jorn Lier Horst is the first book I've read in this series featuring William Wist, a detective in Larvik, Norway.
There are 10 books in the series, but not all of them have been translated.

This is one of the best police procedurals I've read in a long time.  Wisting is a dedicated investigating officer, and (because the author was a Senior Investigating Officer for the police in Norway) the investigation rings true. Superb plotting and characters that feel genuine make Ordeal a pleasure to follow, not an ordeal to wade through.  No tricky stuff, no bizarre murders, no mad serial killer--just an intriguing investigation and a sense of William Wisting's humanity.

Sofie Lund and her year old daughter move into the house she inherited from her grandfather.  Frank Mandt was a well-known criminal, and Sofie wants no reminders of him.

When Sofie runs into Line Wisting, William's daughter, who has also recently moved back to Larvik, the two women renew an old friendship.  Both women are single--Sofie with her child and Line pregnant but without a partner.  The two women built a solid support system in a short time.

William Wisting's investigation into the disappearance of a local taxi driver has been stalled for the last six months.  However, a safe in the basement of Sofie Lund's grandfather's home offers information that may affect Wisting's case...if he knew about it.

Ordeal is an excellent police procedural that feels authentic and does not need to resort to the flashy or the grotesque to keep the reader involved.

Highly Recommended.  And I guess I'm going to have to purchase the books that have been translated because it is that good.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Police Procedural.  Aug. 8, 2017.  Print length:  353 pages.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Crime Scene by Jonathan & Jesse Kellerman

A collaboration by the father/son Kellerman team, Crime Scene is the first in a new series featuring Clay Edison, a deputy sheriff with the Coroner's Bureau.

The death of Walter Rennert, retired psychology professor, appears to be the result of an accidental fall down the stairs, but his daughter Tatiana insists that it is murder, that the elderly man was pushed.  Although there is no indication of anything more, Clay feels an attraction to Tatiana, and slowly becomes interested in Rennert's backstory and the study of the effect of violent video games on adolescents that went so terribly wrong that left him guilt-ridden.

Well-written and well-plotted--an excellent introduction to a new character and a new series.

Sometimes the division of labor in a collaboration is obvious, but Crime Scene is pretty seamless.  Initially, I thought maybe Jonathan Kellerman would write the part of Alex Delaware, his well-known character, and that Jesse Kellerman would write the part of Clay Edison.  But no, Alex Delaware gets a mention (with some playful pokes), but does not take a role in this novel, and the writing is smooth and consistent--whole cloth, not patchwork.

Although I've read Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series for years, this the first book I've read in which father and son collaborate, and I've never read anything by Jesse Kellerman.  I need to rectify that situation.

Read in June; blog post scheduled for July 17

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Crime/Suspense.  Aug. 1, 2017.  Print length:  400 pages.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Swords: Book Two of The Legends of the First Empire follows The Age of Myth, which I really liked.  And I loved all of the Riyria Chronicles.  So why did The Age of Swords fall short for me?  

I enjoyed catching up with some of the characters, and yet I wasn't as engaged with any of them in the way I was with Sullivan's previous books.  The Age of Myth was the introduction to this new series, but for some reason, Age of Swords felt more like an introduction and less like an advancement. The pacing felt uneven and perhaps too much time was given to the discoveries of things like the wheel.  The book seemed more like a history of inventions than a genuine story.  Everything was either about the advancement of a primitive tribe or preparation for war.  

It isn't that I didn't enjoy it, but neither did it command my interest and enthusiasm in the way that Age of Myth and all of the Riyria adventures did.  I truly loved the main characters in the Riyria Chronicles and the adventure and humor in those books.  Humor is largely missing in Swords and so was my engagement with the characters.

Read in May; blog review scheduled for July

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Fantasy.  July 25, 2017.  Print version:  512 pages.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Catching Up: Mysteries, Warrior Cats, and Neuroscience

The Cardinal's Court by Cora Harrison is the first in a new series featuring Hugh Mac Egan, a Brehon lawyer at Hampton Court in 1522. His current assignment is  to draw up a marriage contract between James Butler and Anne Boleyn.  Members of the court have already noticed the attraction between Anne and Harry Percy, but neither Anne nor Harry have any say-so about their marriages which are arranged by their fathers for financial and political reasons.  Of course, James Butler has no options in the choice of a bride either, but he doesn't seem concerned.

(How different might history have been if Anne and Harry had been allowed to marry?  We already know that the marriage between Anne and James Butler never occurred, but Henry VIII has not yet noticed Anne in 1522 and plays only a cameo role in the novel.)

A young man is murdered and Harry Percy implicates James Butler.  Hugh Mac Egan desperately needs to clear James of the accusation or his young charge will be executed.  Cardinal Woolsey and Katherine of Aragon are sympathetic, but Mac Egan has only days to determine the motive and the guilty party. 

The characters are well-drawn and the plot is compelling.  I'm all in for this new series.  

Read in June; review scheduled for July

NetGalley/Trafalgar Square Publishing

Historical Mystery.  July 1, 2017.  Print version:  320 pages.

I mentioned The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace  (nonfiction) back in May, but after the ransom cyber attacks, it became a bit too threatening.  I will get back to it eventually because our entire world is dependent in one way or another on the internet.  Klimburg is an expert in the field, and although some of the information is too technical for me, most of what I've read so far is enlightening.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Nonfiction.  July 11, 2017.  Print version:  432 pages.

Deadfall is the latest from Linda Fairstein.   

Briefly:  Opening scene is in the morgue.  Paul Battaglia, Alex Cooper's longtime boss and mentor, has been murdered and for some reason Alex becomes a suspect.  This didn't ring true for the situation, and I was left-footed from the beginning.  

I almost abandoned this one early on: Alex was so annoying in the first couple of chapters, and the animosity of one of the investigators seemed over the top.  Although the more recent installments in this series have not appealed to me as much as the early books, I do enjoy the historical information about New York woven into each plot.  Trophy hunters, illegal animal trade, and the New York City zoos helped pick up the pace and my interest.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Mystery/Suspense.  July 25, 2017.  Print version:  400 pages.

What else have I been reading?  My granddaughter brought me her copies of the first Warrior Cat series by Erin Hunter.  I have no choice but to read and report--in great detail--on each book.  

I read and enjoyed the first book in the series (Into the Wild) back in 2010, when B.E. was not quite two years old and had no clue of her future obsession.  Despite my intention to read more of the books in this middle grade series, I never did.  Now, I'm on the fifth book in the first series and reporting to B.E., who can't resist telling me what happens next.  Her excitement about what she reads is palpable, and I'm thrilled that she loves to read.  My other granddaughter loved the series, and B.E. is impressed with everything her older cousin does.  Now, Mila may have outgrown the books, but B.E. is still voraciously gobbling each new series.

And finally,  I finished The Secret Life of the Mind: How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides by Mariano Sigman, which I've been slowly reading for a couple of weeks now.  Will review later; fascinating and informative, it joins my favorite "brain" books.  

I've read a number of good books on neuroscience and continue to find the studies into the mysterious ways in which our brains work fascinating.  

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann

Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann  

The lions sit on either side of the gate to Blackburne School, a boarding school with "fierce traditions" and a fervent belief in its honor code.  A code that Matthias has violated. The prologue has Matthias jogging in place in front of the lions, overcome with guilt and trying to justify his actions. The tension from this information already has the reader apprehensive.

Matthias is joined shortly by his best friend Fritz; they argue and in the heat of anger, hurtful words are said on both sides.  Fritz eventually turns and runs back toward the school. After a few moments, Matthias runs after him, his guilt escalating as he attempts to apologize.  But Fritz is too far ahead and when Matthias gets back to the school, he can't find Fritz. He assumes that Fritz is avoiding him.  Fritz isn't in their room; he isn't at dinner; he isn't at study period.  Matthias begins to worry and before lights-out, the sheriff is called

Fritz is gone, and a  search proves fruitless.  There is no body, no trace, no explanation.

Nearly ten years later, Matthias returns to Blackburne to teach English.  He had a one-hit wonder novel, but was unable to follow it up.  His New York high life has come to an end, and he hopes that a return to Blackburne will give him a chance to start over.

The novel moves back and forth from Matthias' arrival at Blackburne at fourteen and his gradual assimilation into boarding school life, new friends, and rigorous education--to the present and his place as a member of the faculty and his deepening obsession with finding out what happened to Fritz.  In the process, he uncovers some other secrets at the school and beyond it.

Suspense, mystery, and coming-of-age intertwine in this debut novel that hooked me from the prologue and kept me on edge thereafter. 

read in April; blog post scheduled for July.

NetGalley/Algonquin Books

Suspense/Coming of Age.  August 1, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sunday Morning Coming Down and Under the Ice

I read the first 3 books in this series and then missed the next three. I have some catching up to, but couldn't resist reading this one.

Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist who lives in London, which she considers the city of her heart.  She walks at night when she can't sleep and in the day to resolve her thoughts and emotions.  These walks give the reader some idea of Frieda's personality and some interesting London history.

The first book in the series (Blue Monday), introduces a host of secondary characters who will continue to be important to the series.  I enjoyed Blue Monday, but was happy to see that the succeeding books coalesced into more fluid narratives with better pacing, more intriguing character development, and with contained and completed plots.  Although each book does have a completed plot, there is an intriguing overarching narrative that concerns a villain from the first book who makes occasional appearances, sometimes physically, but not always.

Evidently, Sunday Morning Coming Down was supposed to be the last book in the series, but the authors (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) have not quite concluded the series.  There was a surprise at the end that intrigued me, and I can't wait for the next one.  In the meantime, I will be checking the library to see if they have Thursday's Children, Friday on My Mind, and Saturday Requiem.  

OK - brief synopsis of Sunday Morning:  A corpse under the floorboards, a message from Dean Reeves, attacks on Frieda's friends.  I think the bad guy in this one is revealed too early, but this is another compelling novel of psychological suspense, and the idea of the next book is compelling.  Frieda is a flawed, but compassionate protagonist, who is fiercely protective of her friends.

NetGalley/Penguin UK

Psychological Suspense.  July 13, 2017.  Print length:  405 pages.

Under the Ice by Gisa Klonne features Judith Krieger and Manni Korzillius, both of whom were involved in a previous case that did not end happily.  

Judith has taken a leave of absence and has only a short time before returning to work, when she is contacted by an old school mate about the disappearance of another school friend, Charlotte Simonis. Judith reluctantly agrees to look into Charlotte's disappearance during the short time remaining on her leave.  As Judith becomes more invested in the case, she finds herself agreeing to a trip to Canada.

Manni is assigned to the case of a missing fourteen-year-old school boy.  Jonny Robel's disappearance from a camp doesn't provide much to go on, but Manni thinks the father is hiding something.  The case becomes more twisted as it proceeds, and Manni desperately hopes to find the boy alive.

Some themes are tackled indirectly--aging, loneliness, and isolation--while school bullying enters into both investigations.

This is the third in a series, and I don't know if they have all been translated from the German, but the characters and plots in this novel kept my interest and the themes are universal and pertinent.

NetGalley/Bonnier Zaffre

Mystery/Police Procedural.  2006.  2017.  Print length:  302 pages.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

Jane Casey's Let the Dead Speak is the 7th in her series featuring Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent. Casey is one of my favorites in the crime/police procedural genre, and I've followed this series from the beginning.  

Maeve is now a Detective Sergeant, and the new position involves some changes in the way she approaches her job. Derwent, too, has some changes, but in his personal life.

I like that Una Burt is not as much of an antagonist as she has sometimes been in the past; she does her best to exercise some control over Derwent without it seeming like a personal vendetta.  Maeve is beginning to appreciate Burt's support. 

I was a little disappointed to see less of the personal subplots that have previously been an important part of this series; they have added depth and intriguing layers to the previous books.  There is an implication that the subplot involving Derwent's personal life is going to continue to influence the novels, but it is only a brief mention.  And is Rob completely out of the picture?

Both Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent have evolved throughout the seven books, but does anyone else miss Derwent's irascible, brash, and frequently boorish behavior?  He's calmed down--oh, he is still politically incorrect and sexist, but it almost seems like an effort. Previously he has thoroughly enjoyed his own offensive behavior.  

I'm not going into the plot, the various blurbs do that quite well, but as usual, Casey manages to keep the reader a little off-balance, suspecting first one person, then another. The reader has to wait, learning with Maeve and Derwent as they interview and investigate. You might twig to certain clues or comments...and still not piece everything together properly.   

And now the long wait for the next book.

Read in June; blog review scheduled for July

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Police Procedural.  July 25, 2017.  Print length:  352 pages.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Reported Missing by Sarah Wray

What if your husband failed to come home?  What if a young girl from the village disappeared on the same day?  What if over a short period of time, everyone begins to assume the two events are related?  Reported Missing examines the despair that envelopes Rebecca Pendle, when on July 17, both her husband Chris and young Kayleigh Jackson disappear.

Rebecca wants to trust that her husband had nothing to do with the disappearance of fourteen-year-old Kayleigh, but the town has already decided.  When Chris does not return within a few days, Rebecca begins sliding into deep depression.   Four months later, no trace of Chris or Kayleigh has been found. 

Unable to stay in the home she and Chris shared, Rebecca moves to a caravan park where she spends months drinking too much and sleeping with the aide of pills.  The story quieted down for a while, but a planned vigil for Kayleigh's fifteenth birthday stirs the town up again.  After teenagers discover where she is living and harass her, Rebecca decides to conduct her own investigation to prove her husband's innocence.

But Rebecca isn't a confident heroine with a clear plan.  She is a confused and despairing woman who finds many of her best memories of her husband tainted.  Much of what she learns does little to improve her hopes.  How well did she really know her husband?

I wasn't at all sure that I would like this book, but I ended up engrossed.  It isn't fast-paced, but it is an intimate examination of a woman going through a terrible emotional trauma and eventually managing to try to take charge of her life.

Reported Missing is a fascinating debut novel.

Read in May; blog post scheduled for July 6.


Psychological/Suspense.  July 14, 2017.  Print length:  356 pages.    

Monday, July 03, 2017

The Wilding Sisters by Eve Chase and Nothing Stays Buried by P.J. Tracy

Eve Chase's The Wildling Sisters combines family dynamics and long-held secrets.  

     Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.

In 1959, the Wilde sisters (Flora, Pam, Margot, and Dot) arrive at Applecote Manor to stay with their aunt and uncle while their mother is out of the country.  Applecote Manor is a beautiful home, but the disappearance of Audrey Wilding, five years earlier has left little of the joy the sisters felt during their previous summer stays.

 Margot, now fifteen, was especially close to her cousin Audrey and has a consuming need to know more about what happened.  Did Audrey run away?  Is she dead?   It is the uncertainty of what happened to her beloved cousin that drives Margot's curiosity about her cousin's disappearance.

The sisters, who have always had a close bond even while dealing with sisterly rivalries, are distracted from the gloom and boredom of the summer by the arrival of two handsome neighbors.  The rivalries increase with the boys as a focus.

Fifty years later, Jesse falls in love with Applecote Manor, and she and her husband Will make the move to the beautiful Cotswolds.  Jesse's stepdaughter Bella, who has not recovered from her mother's death, frequently and deliberately frustrates Jesse.  Both Jesse and Bella, in different ways, are haunted by echoes of the past.

Two stories, one in the past and one in the present, intertwine.  What happened to Audrey?  What tragedy occurred that has the four Wilde sisters attempting to dispose of a body in the book's prologue?  How do past events influence Jesse and her family in the present?

It is easy to get wrapped up in the plot(s), the characters, and the prose in this novel.  I found myself tense and anxious frequently, unsure about who did what and when, but I sympathized with all of the characters.  

The Wildling Sisters proved an interesting read--evoking the beauty of the of Applecote Manor, the angst of adolescence, and the many ways individuals deal with grief.

Addendum:  Several weeks after I read this, I saw that the British version has a different title and cover:  The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde.
Much better cover!

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for July 3

NetGalley/Penguin Group

July 25, 2017.  Print length:  384 pages.

 Nothing Stays Buried (Monkeewrench #8)

For those unfamiliar with the series, Monkeewrench is a software company run by an unconventional group of geeks. The four partners, Grace, Harley, Annie, and Roadrunner, might seem completely mismatched, but have become more close-knit than many families.  Frequently called on by police and others to use their software and computer skills to solve crimes, the four unusual partners often work in conjunction with Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth.

In this adventure, the Monkeewrench team searches for a missing woman in a small country town, while Leo and Gino work a serial killer case in Minneapolis.  

Entertaining characters, compelling plot--  Nothing Stays Buried was as entertaining and gripping as previous works.

I've followed this series since the first book, and although each one functions perfectly well as a stand alone, the series benefits from being read from the beginning.  The books are a great mixture of computer geeks and police procedural with quirky characters and intriguing plots.

 Read in Feb.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Aug. 1, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What's Up, Buttercup?

I'm slowly reading and thinking about each section of The Secret Life of the Mind:  How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides by Mariano Sigman.  A cognitive neuroscientist, Sigman has already had me pondering the ways scientists, psychologists, and linguists approach what goes on in the minds of pre-verbal infants--what they understand and when.  Definitely not the blank slates assumed for so long.  Also intriguing are the moral choices of toddlers.  Then the section on which serves us better in decision making:  rational deliberation or hunches.  And what are hunches really?  Oh, and does our sense of smell influence our choice of mate?  Why would this be inverted in pregnancy?  Curiouser and curiouser!  

Some of what I've read affirms what I've read in previous books, but some information is new and compelling.  I especially like seeing the creative ways different ways theories are tested, especially with infants.  

I have not read a brain book in a while, and I am thoroughly enjoying this one.  Which cover do you prefer?

Buried on the Fens.  Joy Ellis' Nikki Galena series continues to keep me engrossed. An unofficial body is discovered in a cemetery, and a decades old murder appears to be entwined with a more recent one.

Initially, the team believes they are looking at two separate cases, and the recent murder of a well-liked businesswoman must take precedence.  Nikki finds the older murder a fascinating curiosity, but as both investigations proceed, connections are established.

As usual, Ellis' novel works perfectly well as a standalone.  Now, I look forward to the next in either the Nikki Galena or the Rowan Jackson series!

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Police Procedural.  July 10, 2017.   

Perfect Prey is the second in the DI Callanach series, and I have not read the first one.

The Goodreads reviews so far have been mostly 4 and 5 stars, and I would have happily agreed to 4 stars--accept for two things.  The murders were grotesque and unbelievable and Ava's relationship with Joe (or as one reviewer called him, "dickhead").  Oh, you, too, will agree with that designation!

On the other hand, the tension was great, Callanach's character was interesting and unusual, and there were a couple of good twists.  

I have a problem with books that depend on the bizarre and/or the grotesque--but that's my personal perspective. 

 There was plenty in this book to keep me interested, yet I was uncomfortable with the detailed exploitation of violence in Perfect Prey.  Would I read another in the series?  Yes, just to see if violence is a prevailing theme.  I liked Callanach and some of the secondary characters; Ava, not so much, although she was going through an emotionally difficult period.

NetGalley/Avon Books

Police Procedural.  July 27, 2017.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs is a stand-alone novel, not part of the Temperance Brennan series.  Meet Sunday Night, ex-cop and ex-marine, a woman with secrets and and plenty of issues that date back to her childhood.

When a local matriarch's daughter and grandson are killed in a bomb blast, the terrorists take her granddaughter Stella.  It isn't clear whether or not the girl has been killed or is being held captive--all leads have dried up, no body has been found .  Sunnie is hired to find out what happened to the girl and rescue her if she is still alive.  Even is Stella is dead, Opaline Drucker wants those responsible brought to justice.

Sunnie has some experience with cults and hopes to find Stella alive, but discovering more about the cult and its leaders becomes a convoluted path.  
Sunnie needs assistance and gets it from her brother Gus. The backstory of Sunnie and Gus influences the plot in several ways, and I'd like to know more of his story.

Read in March; review scheduled for June ___

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery/Suspense.  July 11, 2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Here and Gone and A Vigil of Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Recommended.

Kindle Unlimited

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo

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

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

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

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

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

Read in April; blog post scheduled for June 18

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last Hack and When the English Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read in Feb.; blog post scheduled for June 14

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Mystery/Suspense.  July 4, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/Algonquin Books

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

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