Saturday, September 26, 2015

No Time for Tea!

Title: Deanna Raybourn A Curious Beginning (Sept 2015)Publisher: Penguin NAL: Signet Romance 352 pp
Genre: mystery, historical mystery, fiction, Victorian suspense
4+ stars
Deanna Raybourn is well known for her Lady Julia Grey series, beginning with Silent in the Grave (2007), which have been nominated for and won numerous awards. It was recently (April 2015) optioned for UK television series. (There are 6 books and several novellas). She has several other stand alone novels which are entertaining and richly detailed. A CuriousBeginning features Miss Veronica Speedwell and is the start of a new series (the second is already at the editors). Raybourn also writes an interesting blog and is now on tour. 
Story Line:
Veronica Speedwell has a passion for lepidoptery (not moths!), and created an unusual career capitalizing on the Victorian obsession with collecting specimens. With the death of her guardian she is thrown into a mystery that appears to involve her unknown parents. Orphaned at a few months, she was cared for by two maiden aunts who themselves carried secrets. Break ins and murder find her in 1887 London where she puts her intelligence and talents into solving these crimes. She shares this adventure with the rather mysterious natural historian, explorer and scholar Stoker, aka the Honourable Ravelstoke Templeton-Vane.  
Speedwell is a rather modern female Sherlock Holmes but is modeled after Victorian female explorers who were independent and foreword thinking. As is Stoker. There is clever, witty dialogue and black humour which create a fast paced fun story. Charming descriptions, a hint of romance, never a dull moment with attempted abductions, robbery, murder, secrets, general mayhem, contribute to a neat read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, as all her other books, and look forward to the next installment.
Read On:
To the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (still one of the best!)
To Mary Russell series (Mrs Sherlock Holmes) by Laurie R King
To Lady Jane Grey series by Deanna Raybourn 
Opening line:
I stared into the open grave and wished I could summon a tear.
...a figure at the lych-gate, tall and beautifully erect, with the sort of posture a gentleman of aristocratic breeding or enthusiastic besting at excellent schools. every village no matter how peaceful and pretty, there was always someone to wag a tongue and pass judgement.
Overtime, I developed a set of rules from which I never deviated. Although I permitted myself dalliances during my travels, I never engaged in flirtations in England...foreign bachelors were my trophies, collected for their charm and good looks as well as their attentive manners. They were holiday romances, light and insubstantial.
There ought to have been a frisson of foreknowledge, a shiver of precognition that the choice to accompany the baron would prove the single most significant decision of my entire life.
Miss Speedwell, I have hiked the length of the Amazon River. I have been accosted by native tribes and shot twice. I have nearly met my death by quicksand and snakebite, poisoned arrow and one particularly fiendish jaguar. And I have never, until this moment, been quite so surprised by anything as I am by you.
Are you familiar with the intrepid lady travelers? Women like Isabella Bird and Marianne North?
In my experience Americans were very friendly and very fond of their firearms.
You cannot discount a theory simply because it does not suit your prejudices, he reminded me. That is bad science.
I could sooner influence the sun to set in the east, Sir Hugo. She is entirely her own woman.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!  
Veronica (common name Speedwell) is the largest plant genus in the family Plantaginaceae (500 sp). It is edible and nutritious, used as tea for asthma. You might know it as the weed which out competes lawn grass.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dragged through a Skill pillar again! Loved it!

Worlds collide and time stands still TitleFool's Quest by Robin Hobbs (audio by Elliott Hill) 
Publisher: Random House: Del Rey 766 (short!) pp. August 2015
Genre: Science fantasy, fantasy, science fiction
5 stars
Robin Hobbs is the second pen name of American author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdon (b 1952). She also writes under Megan Lindholm. Her books number over 25 with numerous short stories. If you are still waiting for the next installment of Game of Thrones, pick up Hobbs.
This is another wonderful book in the Realm of the Elderlings, begun in 1995 with the first of the Farseer Trilogy Assassin's Apprentice, which led directly into the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, of which Fool's Quest is the second book. This book in particular combines many of her other series; there are something of the order of 15 books that are referenced here. Don't miss any of them (Farseer chronicles, Tawny man, Rain wild chronicles, Liveship traders). I told you last year to start this author! I love books that build on previous stories, develop in different directions, shed new light on previous events and reverse roles.
I waited until I had a full day to read this book, given its length and my anticipation from discovering her books last year. These are brilliant, clever, utterly absorbing stories. An 8 hour plane journey wasn't quite long enough and I was distinctly antisocial until I could finish this completely engrossing story. I know it will be well worth the wait but I can't wait for the next book. Or two as how can she possibly fit it all in? I was personally upset to learn that the editors cut part of this book. 
Story Line:
This seamlessly continues the story of Fool's Apprentice (2014) where Fitz is trying to save his best friend the Fool, now blinded from torture and perilously ill, only to have his daughter Bee abducted. He is frantic to save her. Fitz has also been unexpectedly recognized for all his services and no longer an anonymous assassin or the quiet Tom Badgerlock. As Prince Fitzchilvalry, he is both hero and healer, using his Skill for good. But Fitz is still beset by doubts, acting and reacting, finally thinking more at 60. The Fool is a White Prophet, seeing possible futures and their likelihood as well as "choosing" which future occurs. He expects Fitz to avenge his torture and help find his son. They both realise Bee may be a shared daughter, and her strangeness may actually save the day (e.g. universe). Bee is 9 going on 90, a wise, intense child, and her voice also tells part of this story in an astonishing journey.
Fool's Quest is action packed, moving the plot quickly forward from Buckkeep through the realm. There are some retrospective thoughts, and I love the details of shared histories and intersecting lives. This feels like a new adventure, yet we have familiar themes of the impact of loss, the choice of free will, the strong effect of the past on current events, and the devastating effect of violence. Note, there is graphic abuse and torture detailed.
It is a wonderful story by a master storyteller. I eagerly anticipate the next book, Assassin's Fate (2016, working title) although I don't think we will ever want to say goodby to Fitz. The characters are well written, intriguing, multidimensional, fascinating, familiar and flawed. I will reread both books before the final installment to not lose any of the nuances and Magic. This was one of my best books of summer and will be in the top ten of the year.
Read On:
To series by Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, George RR Martin, Sarah Maas
You are the Fool, Lord Golden, Amber and Beloved. You are you, and we know each other as well as any two people can.
Bee was my last chance to be a good father, and I hadn't been doing well lately.
I was never once addressed by name, the handwriting was not recognizably Chade's, but oh, the Game clearly was.
I found myself speaking softly as if I were telling an old tale to a young child. And giving it a happy ending, when all know that tales never end and the happy ending is but a moment to catch one's breath before the next disaster. 
Anyone could change the future. Everyone of us changed the future constantly.
His beard and mustache were patchy but ambitious.
I did not want to name her a White Prophet. I did not want to mark her as more the Fool's than mine,
Sharpening your knife is never a waste of time.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Riveting musical thriller!

School buses have appeared, daylight lasts not quite as long and there's a night chill. That luxurious feeling of time, to sit on a beach to relax  and read is silently slipping away with summer. It only takes one book to keep that feeling, and there are so many to anticipate, being published this month.

Title: The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing July 2015, 443 p.
Genre: mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, political intrigue
4.5 stars
Helaine Mario grew up in NYC, graduated from Boston University and now resides in Washington DC and Sarasota FL. She published her first book Firebird in 2013, and it is now on my TBR pile. She founded (1998) the SunDial Foundation which contributes to more than thirty nonprofits in the DC area concerning women and children's issues.
A portion of the proceeds are donated to this foundation (inner city food banks, education, health, shelter, arts and economic development). Not only are you buying a great book, you are donating to a wonderful cause. Her extensive travel has contributed to her vivid descriptive prose.
Story Line:
I was looking for a large, complex compelling summer read, a la Discovery of Witches or Outlander and found it in The Lost Concerto. Hitchcock would have loved this book. Sumptuous locations (Paris, Brittany, Italy, Boston, Cape Cod, sanctuaries, concert halls, coastlines), lyrical prose, heartbreaking protagonists, gripping fast paced complex plots which are funny, poignant, powerful and evocative. It has it all. The lyrical writing involves all the senses as we are submerged in a web of intrigue which involves lost music, lost child, lost love, lost souls, and terrorists.
The story is told from several perspectives, providing you with a greater understanding of individual characters and overarching plot. Johnny O'Shea was an award winning investigative journalist. He died suspiciously in a boating accident while investigating the death of his wife's best friend Sofia and her son Tommy (Maggie's godson). Maggie O'Shea (48) is grieving for all of them, unable to play the piano which up has been her career, her solace and her soul. She is a smart, strong, sexy almost understated heroine struggling to move on with her life. A photograph  of Zach(ary) Law, pianist, her first love, father of her son, MIA 30 years ago sends her off to find answers with the help of a quiet, crusty military intelligence office. Michael Beckett (and his dog Shiloh) still recovering from wounds received in Afghanistan is recruited to protect Maggie from a truly evil villain. Read on!!
Haunting, passionate, drama
Stolen art, poignant music, deadly terrorism
Stunning imagery, high adventure, nuanced characters,
I love the literary and musical references and quotes. All relevant. And the puns, often on Maggie's tshirts: Musicians Duet Better. I reread this as, in haste to turn the pages, I know I missed some of the nuances. It was fantastic. The author's note at the end is insightful - plots straight from the news, places she has visited (now in my list), Maggie's classical music favorites, her own rescue dog. This novel was inspired by her son Sean,  a classical pianist.
Read On:
Helaine Mario Firebird (2013)
Stef Penny, Jennifer Lee Carroll, Diane Sutterfield, Lauren Belfer, Elizabeth Kostova, Kate Ross
You never know when you will be ambushed by grief.
The Steinway was deafeningly silent.
It was that magical moment just before the conductor strode onto the stage, when all things were possible.
The powerful notes of Zach's concerto flew toward them like bright sparks in the pulsing darkness. 
Full of pain. And passion.
And promise.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cozy summer read

Title: Murder Comes Calling (#7) by C.S. Challinor
Publisher: Midnight Ink, 216 p
Genre: Cozy, English mystery, mystery, golden age classic,
4 stars
Challinor was born in the US but educated in Scotland and England (joint Hons in Latin and French). She currently lives in SW Florida. The cozy mystery series featuring Scottish barrister Rex Graves begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), Murder in the Raw (2009), Phi Beta Murder (2010), Murder on the Moor (2011), Murder of the Bride (2012, a Mystery Guild book club pick), Murder at the Dolphin Inn (2013, PPLM, Inc.) I particularly enjoy the understated humour and banter between Rex and Helen.
Story Line:
Four unexpected and seemingly unconnected murders occur in the quiet English village of Notting Hamlet, each body discovered by a neighbor Malcolm Patterson (retired pathologist). He calls on his old school friend barrister and amateur sleuth Rex Graves to investigate the crimes as he fears he is being framed. As Rex's disapproving fiancée is away on a cruise, Rex decides to help. With his photographic memory and penchant for the smallest detail, Rex has developed a reputation as a credible sleuth/detective.
These are classic English cozies in the style of the Golden Age of mysteries. They can be read alone, although there is logical progression of personal development. They are all fun quick reads, perfect for a summer day, train travel, bedtime or beach read. I look forward to more entertaining cases with delicious red herrings.
Read On:
Anne Cleeland, Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton
I love Rex Graves' Curriculum Vitae from her website:
Reginald "Rex" Graves QC
Year of Call: 1985
Year of Silk: 2003 
Rex Graves graduated with a first in law from Edinburgh University in 1981, trained as a solicitor with the international firm of Browne, Quiggley and Squire from 1982 to 1984, devilled for the Hon. Lord Ferguson and W. Iain Reid QC from 1984-1985, and became an advocate in 1985 and Queen's Counsel in 2003. He specializes in criminal litigation and prosecutes at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.
Personal Biography:
1959, born in Edinburgh to Mr. Colin Graves (deceased) and Mrs. Moira Ann Graves, née Thorpe, currently residing in Morningside, Edinburgh. Rex attended Fettes College, where he was president of the Debating Society and proved an absolute flop at polo. 
1987, married his beloved Fiona May Gillespie, whom he ultimately loses to breast cancer.
1988, son Campbell born, presently attending Hilliard University in Florida where he is studying marine science and pursuing an independent study in birds of the non-feather variety.
2006, meets Helen d'Arcy, a student counselor in Derby, England and solves his first private case, the Swanmere Manor Murders. 
Hobbies include Sudoku and crossword puzzles; reading Latin—the dustier the volume, the better; hiking; whisky tastings; and American food. He has a morbid fear of horses and going nude on public beaches, and is allergic to cats and snobs. 
Physical Description:
6' 4", stocky build, red hair, ginger beard, green eyes. He is often found with pipe in hand (though trying to quit) and a skeptical look on his face. When not wearing court wig and gown, he prefers a tweed jacket, corduroys, and Hush Puppies.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Chilling Summer Read

Title: Eeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge
Publisher: NAL/ Penguin 422 p (June 2015, USA)
Genre: thriller, suspense, police procedural, British mystery, England,
4 stars
Arlidge is a British author who worked in television for 15 years (Torn, The Little House, Undeniable and Silent Witness). Eeny Meeny is his debut, but several others are planned in this series. It was the UKs best selling crime debut (2014).  The second mystery will be released in October Pop Goes the Weasel followed by The Doll's House and Liar Liar.
Story Line:
This murder mystery is set in Southampton, a typical English inner city. Bodies appear, but worse are the traumatized survivors. It is a race to uncover clues before the next victim, while also dealing with police procedures. DI Grace is driven to see justice done for the victims as she is also a survivor, damaged but determined with a complicated past. A cop I'd like to be working for me, on my side.
There is a good supporting cast, each well described and pertinent. I will look forward to their expanding roles and developing personal relationships as the series continues. These are thinking characters and complicated monsters. It says something that with his level of violence and terror, the worst of human nature, that it is all too believable.
The writing is taut, spare and visual.  Each chapter is short (several pages, but on the kindle I didn't notice this. I was also turning the pages faster and faster.). There are several twists and turns and unexpected, truly frightening sequences. It is a terrifyingly compulsive read. You won't forget this book and the series for a long time.
Don't read this if you are kept awake by gore, psychopaths, abuse and violence. I was glad I was on a plane in a safe environment, during the day with all the lights on.
Expect nightmares. What would you do?
Read On:
Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Colin Dexter
Watch Luther, Dexter, MI5
Opening: Sam is asleep. I could kill him now....would he just be glad that this nightmare was over? I can't think like that. I must try to remember what is real, what is good. But when you're a prisoner, the days seem endless and hope is the first thing to die.
There is no peace for those who shed the blood of those closest to them.
For the first time in her life Helen Grace couldn't answer. Yes or no, guilty or not guilty, Helen Grace always had an answer.
Sometimes in life you have to bite the hand that feeds you. 
She had chosen the name Grace because of its redemptive association and Helen because of her maternal grandmother. It would feel profoundly odd and unsettling to have anyone call her by her real name.

Place a hold now, the library has a copy.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you! Except that I will have nightmares and won't ever reread this. Still, is the next one available for review?

Summer Reads

Title: House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
Publisher: NAL/Penguin. 402 p. May 2015
Genre: biographical historical fiction, literary fiction,
4 stars narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal
Robuck is the bestselling author of Hemingway's Girl as well as several other novels : Fallen Beauty (poetess Edna St Vincent Millay, 2014), Call me Zelda (2013), Receive me Falling (2009). Each of her books is well researched, and her writing style is appropriate for the subject period.  She is a member of the Hawthorne Society, Hemingway Society, Edna St Vincent Millay Society and the Historical Novel Society.
Story Line:
Evident from the title, this is the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody. The story is told primarily from her perspective as a fictionalized memoir (b1809-d1871). She is looking back on a rather tumultuous life from the 1830s to the Civil War. She was the invalid of the famous intellectual/artistic Peabody sisters, with crippling headaches but she became a powerful muse, inspiring he always financially struggling Hawthorne. But she was also a gifted amateur artist in her own right (painter and illustrator, as well as author of her journals) and married life was both a grand passion and a burden. She gives up so much for his happiness, yet knows more joy than her childhood allowed her to dream. There are timeless gender questions of identity and self expression. There is an interesting look at the 19th century intellectual class with romanticism, transcendentalism, women's independence/social reform. Having read Marshall and Capper, I found this story rather emotional and idealistic. She outlived Hawthorne by 7 years, was buried in London, reburied in Sleepy Hollow next to her husband (2006).
There are lovely glimpses of Thoreau, Melville, Emerson, Fuller and others as well as interesting travel details of life in England, Portugal, Italy and New England. I enjoyed the charming period prose, in this first book I have read of hers. It won't be the last as I already have Hemingway's Girl and am intrigued by Fallen Beauty.
The Rochester Public Library has both book and audio version.
Read On:
Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe
Naomi Wood Mrs Hemingway
Paula McLain The Paris Wife
Elizabeth Berg The Dream Lover
Nathaniel Hawthorne House of Seven Gables, Twice Told Tales, Scarlet Letter
NF: Megan Marshall The Peabody Sisters Charles Capper Margaret Fuller
He has fought the coils and stain of the black weave of his forefathers. Even changing the spelling of his surname.
Nathaniel's need for elevation inspired the tower of the third floor of our home The Wayside.... The only home we have ever owned...the dear rooms have embraced our hosts a stubborn ghost. 
The courtship letters, the marriage journal, the sketches and pressed flowers brought back from the places we traveled....artifacts from our past that are calling to me, urging me to look for something that I do not know is missing.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chilling thriller

Title: A Song of Shadows by John Connolly (448 pp)

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton Atria/Emily Bestler (Sept 29,2015)
Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, supernatural, Maine
5 stars
Irish author John Connolly studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, and began working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper. He continues to interview authors, which are on his website,
I will never forget reading the award winning (Shamus) first story, completely hooked by the first chapter. Every Dead Thing (1999), took five years to write. It introduced the anti-hero Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow (2000) The Killing Kind (2001) The White Road (2002) The Black Angel (2005). Charlie Parker has since appeared in five additional novels: The Unquiet, The Reapers (where he plays a secondary role to his associates, Louis and Angel), The Lovers, The Whisperers, and The Burning Soul, The Wrath of Angels (2013). A Song of Shadows is the 12th Parker novel.
Other works include: The Book of Lost Things, non-mystery novel, a stand-alone book - Bad Men (2004) and Nocturnes (many read of BBC Radio4), a collection of novellas and short stories Night Music, a second Nocturnes will be published this year. His YA books: The Gates (2009) launched the Samuel Johnson series, followed by Hell's Bells (UK)/The Infernals (US 2011) The Creeps (2013). He is also the co-editor, with Declan Burke, of Books to Die For, an anthology of essays from the world's top crime writers in response to the question, "Which book should all lovers of crime fiction read before they die?" This book won both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards for best nonfiction (2012/2013). 
Story Line:
This is one of the most impressive crime series, meticulous researched. The writing is superb, every page lyrical and well crafted. The characters are richly detailed, personal and anticipated. I want their stories, their histories, their interactions. You cannot start with this book. 
I read the British version seconds after overseas shipping arrived, exceedingly grateful a lovely friend knows my reading passion. I read the Netgalley e-version to savor the story again. I will perhaps never reread the previous novel (Wolf in Winter), having barely survived the first intense reading. The sequence of events is so much more poignant, traumatic, unexpected and unnerving when these books are read in order. I rejoice at this new installment as well as its future promise.
Charlie Parker is gradually recovering from the traumatic injuries sustained in his last case, but is now a man with a mission and a greater understanding of his role in the world. Parker investigates local murders that are connected to a WWII Nazi concentration camp in Lubko. Seven decades have passed but the crimes still haunt and tragically carry forward. I am delighted Louis and Angel still have his back. That his daughters are central to his being. That Parker exists in our world. Connolly is a highlight of my fictional year.
Read On:
Connolly recommends Ross Macdonald, James Lee Burke and Ed McBain as inspirational.
Opening line: Winter dead, spring dying, and summer waiting in the wings.
One tall and black, the other shorter and whiter, although Soames thought he might have been Latino, or part Latino, or parts lots of things, most of them problematical. (Security consultants, Louis and Angel)
You drive like you got Miss Daisy in the back, said Angel, as they made stately progress west. ....the internal combustion engine is wasted on you.
They (the townspeople) became strangely protective of him...perhaps it was something to do with his past: he was a man who had lost a wife and child, and had suffered grievous injury just for doing his job which, as far as anyone could tell, largely involved putting his mark on the kind of men and women without whom the world was a much better place.
What man offers in heroism on the field of battle, woman equals with unending perseverance and sacrifice (quoting one of Hitler's maxim)
...beyond (the reach of) any written law, any human justice. But that was not the only Justice.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cozy Auld Reekie
Summer is all about fun reads. I have a stack to read when it is too hot to do much else, have travel (planes, trains or automobiles) or just want to relax. Cozy mysteries often fit the bill as they have an uncomplicated mystery, a little romance and are generally fast reads (short or simple).
Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty Wingate
Publisher: Random House/Alibi.  276 pp
Genre: cozy, mystery, english mystery, British mystery, Scotland. 3.5 stars
Marty Wingate is the author of The Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new mystery series, Birds of a Feather: The Rhyme of the Magpie was published June 2015. Marty writes about gardening in the PNW and travel (she also gives European garden tours). She can be heard on A Dry Rain (, a free podcast available on iTunes. Wingate is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Writers Association. Her enthusiasm for flowers and gardening has created a lovely, entertaining series. Be careful downloading titles, as there are a dozen books with this title; kindle price is quite reasonable.
Story line: The Potting Shed Mysteries take place in Britain (England and now Scotland), where master gardener Pru Parke has transplanted herself. In the first book, Pru (short for Prunella) of course finds a body in her odd job but is introduced to DCI Christopher Pearse. There is a developing romantic relationship throughout the three books with both characters in their 50s. In the second book on Primrose house, they have a long distance relationship as she has found her dream job at an 18th century Manor house in Sussex. In this delightful installment Between a Rock and a Hard Place, once again the couple part, but this time to be married in three months, just after she finishes her next job. Pru is off to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to determine if a newly discovered document is indeed a lost journal of an 18th century plant collector (Archibald Menzies). There are of course bodies, politics, sinister characters but hysterical wedding plans. And memorable secondary characters (especially Tamsin Duncan, Mrs Murchie, and Murdo) which make for a charming read. Pru is an interesting protagonist, becoming more confident and at home in her newly adopted country. These books are the definition of cosy: fast easy reads, delightful secondary characters, solvable mystery and fun. There  is a nice blend of history, gardening and romance.  I was glad it wasn't a long wait until the third book.  If you haven't read them, read in order as one summer beach read.
Of course I must leave you with a few details on Archibald Menzies (please remember there are few if any "z" sounds in scottish and this surname sounds more like "Ming ess"
(Which also explains why many tourists can't find the stationers shop when the locals, plus accent, direct them.)) Menzies is often overlooked as a plant collector as there have been so many other great scottish botanists (especially David Douglas, further reading). Menzies (from Perthshire) trained as a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, but was descended from a long line of botanists and gardeners (all four brothers, father, grandfather). He was also an explorer, part of many ship expeditions (China, Hawaii, PNW, West Indies) as surgeon, naturalist and or botanist. His later voyage with Cpt Vancouver on the HMS Discovery are recorded in fantastic, detailed journals documenting an explorers life. These are held by the British Museum. (Some interesting excerpts online). He introduced to Europe a real dinosaur tree: the monkey puzzle tree (Auracaria sp). To say nothing of rhododendrons. RBGE has fantastic collections of these plants. I visit annually.
Read on:
If you like Rosemary and Thyme, Murder She Wrote or Agatha Christie
Wingate is recommended for readers of  Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, Laura McKinlay or Mary Daheim.
For historical  plant collectors:
Carolyn Fry The Plant Hunters (2013)
Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave The Plant Hunters (1998)
Tyler Whittle The Plant Hunters (1997)

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chilling Summer Read

Title:  Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (number 18)
Publisher: Bantam (July 2015) 320 pp
Genre: mystery, series, crime, suspense
4 stars
Kathy Reichs, is a multitalented, fascinating woman with two full time careers: forensic anthropologist and writer. Her credentials include: vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists;  member of the RCMP National Police Services Advisory Council (Canada); forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec; and professor of forensic anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Her first book, Deja Dead, won the 1997 Ellis award for best first novel. She is also a producer of the TV series Bones. This is the eighteen mystery featuring Dr Temperance Brennan. I also like her YA mysteries, featuring Tory Brennan: Virals, Seizure, Code, Exposure and Terminal.  Her novels are fast paced, clever and should be read in order. I am often a stickler for reading a series in order, but the early books are extremely well written and provide relevant background.  Ignore the television series.
Story Line:
After the previous novel, I was ready to continue the series for an expected presence of old blue eyes. Indeed Tempe has a plane ticket, hours away from visiting him. She's getting cold feet and becomes absorbed in a chilling web sleuthing tale. It is vicious, compelling and easier to deal with than complicated relationships. These tales are devolving into soap operas for me and I am tired of such a strong female character, dithering, claiming to be independent while needy. Predictably, she gets into serious trouble on her own. How realistic is it to believe we can always take care of ourselves, alone, given the scale of the bad guys she deals with?  It makes us complex, but she should have insight into her psyche by now. And give Ryan credit for understanding her given his own history. Perhaps character development suitable to their ages?
But as always I learn a great deal from these novels. Web sleuthing was unknown to me. Another genetic disorder provides clever clues. Astonished/appalled at the sheer numbers of missing persons (90,000) and unidentified remains (40,000). These books are extremely detail oriented with politics, crime lab routines, science, real people in all walks of life and emotional impact.
This story takes place a few months after the last, and Canadian detective Andrew Ryan's marriage proposal. Temperance Brennan is a consulting forensic anthropologist for Mecklenberg Co., NC.  A horrific recording sets the North Carolina story in motion as cyber sleuth Lucky (Hazel) Strike believes it to be a missing girl. Except no one is looking for her. I like that Tempe can't let the dead be forgotten, and that she is confident of her abilities. Tempe has a great sense of humour and I wish I would remember her zingers and apply them. Nothing is as it seems, yet everything is credible and fast paced. There is murder, mayhem, haunting, dismemberment, skeletal remains, personal, assault, religious fanaticism/zealots, backwoods cults, exorcism, decent county cops and family drama. Katy is in Afghanistan, Birdie is still overweight, and Mama has a beau.
A great summer read.
Read On:
Jefferson Bass, Patricia Cornwell or a favourite of mine: Simon Beckett (Chemistry of Dealth, Written in Bone, Calling of the Grave)
"Please don't kill me.
Please don't kill me.
Kill me."

"She sure as hell was speaking in blood."
"You know Doc, when speaking in bones, you're pretty good."
"But you are a couple of such elegance."

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Any time spent in Absaroka County is never wasted

Title: Dry Bones by Craig Johnson A Walt Longmire mystery
Publisher: Viking press (May 2015) 320 pp
Genre: Mystery,  Western, historical, Native American, suspense.
4.5 stars
Craig Johnson has written 10 books, one novella and a collection of short stories revolving around Walt Longmire, the gruff, laconic, philosophical Sheriff of Absaroka County. Johnson lives in Ucross Wyoming, population 25 on his ranch. I have followed his stories since discovering the first novel 11 years ago (The Cold Dish).  Many of his novels have won well deserved awards and are highly recommended. Longmire is also a Netflix show now (season four) (previously A&E), although I really prefer the books, where Longmire is a literate character. I rated this 1/2 star less as it felt more like a TV script (fewer descriptions as we've already seen them). There is still clever word play, cheeky humour, and Dog.  It is one of the best western series that I truly enjoy reading. Read in order for continued character development; there are many references to earlier books.  It is a comfortable, enjoyable, familiar read with old friends.
Story Line:
It wouldn't be summer without Longmire. I confess I devoured this book when it was first published, and just revisited it to review. The second reading was as good, although I was better prepared for the difficult ending. Some distance has made me appreciate the Greek tragedy storyline. But it is difficult to wait for the continuing story. Once again the vast open spaces of Wyoming vie with the complexities of modern crime mysteries.
Danny Lone Elk's murder is complicated by the recent discovery of the largest most complete T.rex skeleton on his land. The cutthroat world of archeological artifacts (value  $8 million), political wrangling (of course the government gets involved), and the Cheyenne nation create havoc in Walt's life. There is always the collision between modern and ancient traditional ways. Longmire concentrates on the murder while
Henry is planning an ancient naming party for the arrival of Walt's daughter and granddaughter. As always, Henry Standing Bear has a central role (and is magnificent in the books) and always has Walt's back. The usual cast is all here; I'm always glad to see Dog. I loved the two Bobs (Wyoming State Troopers).
Justice is done, however quirky. Fate however requires reckoning. This series rewards long time fans, and we know there is much more to come. Walt perseveres as the aging hero he is, in this engaging, well paced story.
Read On:
The audio is wonderful  with the great voice/characterization of George Guidall. (I often listen to these books before reading the next one as I enjoy his fantastic storytelling.)
For writings on the west read on to Tony Hillerman and Mary Doria Russell (Doc and Epitaph).
For mysteries in the west, read on to Rich Curtin (5 books with Dep Sheriff Manny Rivera: Artifacts of Death (2011...Deadly Games 2015).
For a different west on television: Hell on Wheels, amazing post civil war building of the railroad.
There's everything here, you just have to know where to look.
Jen liked dead things better than live things.
Most everything was in bloom in late May.
...more flies on his hat than Orvis has in its catalogue.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Title: Murder in Court Three by Ian Simpson
Publisher: Matador 179 pp
Genre: cozy, scottish, murder mystery,
4 stars
Since retiring from a law career in Scotland, Ian Simpson has been writing traditional police procedurals. As a judge in Scotland's High Court on murder trials, he is well qualified to write crime fiction, and obviously enjoys doing so. His descriptive writing style is entertaining and laced with humor. His characters  are well drawn and distinctive, so don't be worried when you see the daunting three page list. I reviewed the previous book Murder on the Second Tee and also recommended his first, Murder on Page One. His work was shortlisted for Debut Dagger. The intersecting lives of DI (ex) Osborne, DI Flick Fortune and Constable Bagawath (Baggo) Chandavarkar continue with interesting character development over these novels. Read in order if you can, and note that Kindle has the first two on sale $1.49!
Story Line:
As usual, the story is told from several points of view as we progress with the various leads and intersecting cases.  A high profile real estate fraud trial, with 4.5 million pound sterling missing and a non existent golf course, now in its fourth week, should be wrapping up. DI Fortune is the senior investigating officer, and has only two weeks left before maternity leave will change her life. But the body of one Farquhar Knox QC complicates the proceedings.
Baggo remains ambitious, DI(ex) No remains politically incorrect, although improving slightly, realistically, and Flick and her husband DI Fergus Maxwell, shine. And the dialogue and locale gave me a quick trip to Edinburgh. Simpson writes a clever page-turner on legal matters in Scotland. This was a fast, delightful read, perfect for summer days and armchair travel. I shall look forward to more (this series or new) by this author.
Read On:
If you like Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, John Buchan
For Scottish mysteries, AD Scott, Alexander McCall Smith (he recommends these mysteries, as do the local Scottish papers and law society) or Chris Brookmyre
...his own day of judgement has arrived.
It's the talk of the steamie, as we say.
(Flick as)... a rugby fan, this conversation made her feel like a full-back waiting to catch a high ball with the opposing scrum thundering towards her.
He had discovered that a shoulder of lamb, slowly roasted at a low heat, required the same cooking time as he took for a round of golf and a pint, so was perfect for a Sunday morning.
There were more than 400 people who, in theory, might have killed Knox.
I expected some cracking stories, true-life Rebus stuff you know...
You are in a very deep hole yet you continue to dig.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summer vintage crime!

Note: The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year and 2016. They will be available in trade paperback and Ebook. Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen's collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences; there are over 700 titles. I am looking forward to the reissue of all the British Library Crime Classic novels. I read the following as an ARC from Netgalley, and wish to thank both publishers for bringing these works to light. Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: English mystery, cozy, mystery, British Library crime classics, 3 to 3.5 stars***
Title: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1936, 2015) 314pp
Author: Charles Kingston (O'Mahoney) wrote 25 mystery novels between 1921 and 1945: Stolen Virtue (1921), many London settings (Poison in Kensington [read Dorothy Sayers review!] and The Highgate Mystery) to his last book Fear Followed On (1945). His prose is sparse with quite dry (black) humour, which might not translate well to the American audience, or this era. But they are quite atmospheric and generally easy reads.
Story Line: This story introduced Chief Insp Wake, a rather grizzled, methodical, dour individual. There are seven in this series. The unsavory cast of English eccentrics made this difficult for me to appreciate as well as dated prose and London accents. This is a drawing room mystery exposing the seedy side of London (Soho nightclubs) with a jaundiced, cynical police force, "minor Bohemian" characters and an aristocratic bourgeois without principles. In the end I didn't have much sympathy for either the idle rich or the murdered miser. It was hard to like characters that Kingston describes in such unflattering terms, with vices/ human traits. The first half sets the stage/scene with character descriptions/details which provide motive. There are fantastic details of the era, with a nice twist in the mystery solution. This is an interesting, realistic/historical look at London of the 1930s.
Read on: A Scream in Soho by John G, Brandon (also recently republished) or The Piccadilly Murder by Anthony Berkeley (1929)
Quotes: ...falling is love is like falling downstairs- you don't mean to do either. It was the crime of the year, something peculiar to London. How often had Bobbie grumblingly adverted to the fact that everyday his uncle lived he, the misunderstood heir, lost a day's income. What's the use mother, when I'll have ten thousand a year when Massey dies of overeating? ...ears that resembled cauliflowers waiting their turn to be washed... "...polygamy on the installment plan..." (Married four times)

Monday, July 6, 2015

great summer reads!

Title:  The Sussex Down Murder by John Bude (1936, 2015) 4stars****
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
288 pp
Genre: English mysteries, cozy, British mystery, Poisoned Pen Press, traditional mystery, British Library, historical, John Bude
The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year (two per month, with one per month slated for 2016.) Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). They will be available in paperback and Ebook. Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books will feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen's collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences (there are over 700 titles).
The May selection for the Poisoned Pen Press was The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude who was the cofounder of the Crime Writers' Association. Ernest Elmore wrote 30 mysteries between 1935-1957 under the pseudonym of Bude, most featuring Inspector William Meredith (Sussex is the second in his respected series; the first was The Lake District Murder).  Meredith is modeled after Freeman Wills Croft's Inspector French (fortunately his books are also due to be reprinted!) Bude's accomplished writing style is detailed, informative and engaging. Locations are well researched and locals are accurately portrayed. This is classic England. Bude/Elmore was also a producer, director in theatre.  His early death cut short a promising writing career (routine operation).

Story Line:
Trouble is brewing between the two Rother brothers, farmers and lime kiln burners of Chalkland Farm. Foul play begins with a missing body, murder,  and mysterious figures in the village of Washington, Sussex. Superintendent Meredith (just promoted after his last case) struggles with the myriad clues, making painstakingly, painfully slow progress.   His in-depth discussions with his superior are engaging and provide the reader with both thought process and witness to events.
The Sussex Down landscape is a central character in this book and Bude provides glorious descriptions and minute detail in this readable, intricate puzzle. Much will be discussed and discarded as clues are found, deadends are sidestepped, red herrings are finally ignored, a mysterious man is uncloaked, timetables are created  and the relevant clues reveal the killer.
I can remember reading his books and enjoyed reacquainted with the characters. It felt quaint and old fashioned (very little in the way of female input); I recognized the outcome and still enjoyed the read.  These are early police procedurals, no DNA, but fingerprints and hard work over the two month investigation.  This had a satisfying real life feel complete with humour and local insights which will have you looking for more of his stories as the characters develop.
This is a perfect beach read, rainy day read or anytime for PBS fans. I purchased my own copy, partly because I just loved the cover. Isn't it East Sussex?

Read On:
If you are a fan of Downtown Abbey, these between the war novels will be especially enjoyed.
If you are a fan of the classical whodunnit, read on! As well as anyone interested in English history/ local culture.
If you like Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon(Insp Maigret) or WJ Burley(Wycliffe).
Don't forget to follow the rest of these reprints as they are released.

Opening scene: Dominating that part of the Sussex Downs with which this story is concerned is Chanctonbury Ring. This oval cap of gigantic beeches may be seen, on fine days, from almost any point in the little parish of Washington. It is a typical village of two streets, two pubs, a couple of chandlers, a forge, an Olde Tea Shoppe, and a bus service.
Don't do a beggar no 'arm in 'ere to do a bit o' skypiloting on 'is own account (reading the Bible in jail).
There's nothing queerer than reality. Your one trouble will be to make your readers believe in your yarn.
Witnesses are an unreliable race. They're like some cricket teams- all right on paper!

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Enchanting Summer Read

Enchanting Summer Read
Take advantage of extra daylight hours to read longer
Title:  Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey
449 pp
Genre: YA, Science fantasy, fantasy
4.5 stars****
Naomi Novik is an award winning author of the acclaimed series His Majesty's Dragons (think Napoleonic wars with an air force of dragons). She has an English Literature degree from Brown University as well as a Computer Science degree from Columbia. I find her to be a master storyteller, creating original tales with beautiful, atmospheric, evocative writing. I have read all her books, awaiting them eagerly. (I'm still waiting for Peter Jackson to film Temeraire!)  I loved that Rachel Hartman (Shadow Scale) rated it 5 stars in her ARC.
Story Line:
The heroine/ narrator is Agniezska, a peasant girl from the small Eastern European  village of Dvernik. This town is at the edge of the Woods, where evil lurks, and is only kept at bay by a Wizard. Her best friend was always the expected sacrifice: every ten years he selects a girl of 17 who will stay with him for 10 years. But this time, it is obvious to the Dragon (as the Wiz is known, also Sarkan) that Agnes (as I thought her, Nieshka is also used) has magic and must be trained. Only it's magic he doesn't understand. I loved that her magic was so different from his, and not learned in a book. That while she is young (he's  a youthful 150), she is capable and adaptable. Agniezska struggles to learn and can't find her answers in his masculine magic. But she understands friendship and loyalty and right/good and finds answers within herself.
She may become the most powerful witch in history. And that promise requires another book!
This is an intricate, layered story of friendship, politics, romance and magic. It is much more like the original Grimm's fairy tales and less like the sanitized Disney versions. It has a strong female lead and original storyline suitable for older teens. I enjoyed the story where the right thing was done, for the right reasons. It also has quite a strong  environmental message. I thought it ironic that Agnes's father was a woodcutter especially as we untangle the Woods' story.  She saves the people by saving the Wood, which provides life/fruit/biodiversity. Novik based some of the story on Polish fairytale of the witch Baba Yaga, itself worth a read.
While this is a stand alone novel, complete in itself, the ending felt rushed and left me hopeful that she would revisit these characters. The epilogue isn't enough. The world building and character development begs another tale.
This fascinating story is part fantasy, part fairytale and all magic.
Uprooted has been already film optioned by Warner Bros.
Read On:
Appropriate for older teens, with complex plot, characters and evil.
For YA tales: Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, Diana Wynne Jones,
For adult fairytale twists: Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman
For Wood tales: Mythago Wood series by Robert Holdstock
Opening line: Our dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes...
No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves.
Don't waste my time you outrageous idiot.
You're proving to be a remarkable paragon of incompetence.
He looked grander than the King's ballroom, and perfectly improbable.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley
The Rochester Library has both hardcover and Ebook copies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Warm summer reading

Title:  Forests in Our Changing World by Joseph J Landsberg, Richard H Waring
(New Principles for Conservation and Management)
Publisher: Island Press (2014)
304 pp
Genre: climate change, global warming, forests, trees, ecology, forest ecology, biodiversity
4 stars****
Authors: Landsberg and Waring are eminently respected forest scientists who have worked in the field for decades. Between them, they have a vast understanding and experience in of global forests.
Richard Waring is a Distinguished Prof of Forest Science (Emeritus) at OSU (Corvallis)[studied at UMinn, Phd UC Berkley] forest monitoring, modeling with NASA
Joe Landsberg (PhD U Bristol, UK) past Chief of Div Forest Research of Australia (CSIRO) and Terrestrial Ecology Program NASA
Story Line:
Climate change is upon us with serious implications for global biodiversity. This book provides a clear overview of forests around the world, describing basic concepts of forest ecology and tree physiology. This is not a textbook  but a highly readable text. Seven chapters outline 1) Forests in human history 2) World forests, 3) Weather and climate 4) Causes and consequences 5) Value and use of forests 6) Economics, management and money and 7) future possibilities. The last is perhaps the most important chapter.  They combine history, science, management and constructive thought to illustrate the importance of forests and their management. Clear diagrams illustrate general principles. The protection and management of our forest resources, global habitats, has never been more important.
There is an excellent glossary of terms, with accurate definitions.
Read On:
Limited bibliography, surprisingly (perhaps to save paper).
This will be useful primer for undergraduates, managers, governmental policy makers and environmental organizations. This publication should reach a wider audience which should improve public knowledge and gain support for policy makers and managers. I remain a fan of Island Press publications for their commitment to accessible information.
Peter Spathelf (Ed.) Sustainable Forest Management in a Changing World: A European Perspective (2009, Springer Verlag)
Mark Ashton, M.L. Tyrell, D Spaulding, B Gentry. 2012. Managing Forest Carbon in a Changing Environment.
Closing line: Humans can no longer afford to treat the world's forests as expendable.
A footnote was most informative: People everywhere expect that their standard of living will increase continuously.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Romantic illusions

Title: The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
Publisher: Random House
368 pp
Genre: historical fiction, biographical novel, literary fiction, George Sand
5/4.5 stars****
Author: Elizabeth Berg is a NYTimes best selling author (25 books).  Open House was an Oprah a bookclub select (2000). Durable Goods and Joy School were selected by ALA as a Best Book of the year. Talk before Sleep was shortlisted for an ABBY Award (1996). She won the 1997 NE booksellers Award for her body of work. A nonfiction work Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True was published in 1999. I was introduced to her writing when I lived in MN as she was born in St Paul. I would rate her novels consistently 4 stars, although I have always found them sentimental. This novel is different from her others, in that it is a biographical novel of a famous literary bohemian, George Sand. I personally think it is her best novel (5 stars for the writing/ emotion and 4 stars for the technical plotting, although her life is quite difficult to sort out). I put this book on several friends must read list two months ago when I first read it. A second reading was equally rewarding.
Story Line:
This novel reads like a memoir, in lyrical first person. It concerns the French romantic writer George Sand, (1804-1876) the pseudonym for Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin/Dudevent. Here, as an older woman, she is retracing her steps. Memories which can always be somewhat unreliable can also be vividly informative with the distance of time.
Berg has an intimate, sympathetic voice. From an unusual and unhappy childhood, to a disastrous marriage, her early years reveal her intelligence and understanding of an unforgiving society. In Paris she gives herself a fresh start pursuing her dream of writing and a new name. The success of her first novel gives her a degree of independence as her husband continues to squander her inheritance.
She embraces life, unconventional and scandalous to the times, a pioneer feminist. There is a cast of characters (and lovers) in her life that is larger than life: Alfred de Musset, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Marie Dorval, Frederic Chopin, Pauline Viardot. Many appear in her works. She wrote five memoirs, 42 novels and 12 plays which gave her some financial security to live an independent life. She was also conflicted, always seeking love while being independent. I was surprised by the vulnerability which shines through. Her lasting love (10 years with Chopin) is a small portion of this novel, almost an afterthought for an extremely complicated relationship: friend, lover, confidante, nurse.
Sand was strong and disciplined with her writing, yet vulnerable and influenced by her passions (children, artists, lovers). Is it not telling that Victor Hugo could boast of 2000 conquests, while Sand had perhaps 20 lovers? Much criticism and antipathy has been generated of her and her works simply because she was not a "proper lady".
If it seems like a sad novel, the timelessness and resilience of her art shines through. I hope this novel brings her works more exposure. There is also an interesting PBS series on her life.
In The Dream Lover, there is an everyday, ordinary  feeling for what was then an unconventional and controversial woman. It is a well researched and thoughtful account, true to the character of a unique literary figure.  The reader will note many parallels to current affairs: wide ranging book club discussions are expected. The pace of this novel is leisurely and descriptive, almost the 19th century writing style. Yet these were also turbulent times with enormous social and political change. It was also very interesting to get the feel of her life in conjunction with what she was writing, a perspective on her work. This is beautifully written (I have 1/3 rd of the book highlighted for lyrical passages). I would have appreciated a list of sources, as well as excellent translations. (I can still remember considering one novel dreadful in English class and being completely changed by a different translation. See Kathleen a Robin Hart.) There are fabulous descriptions of the beauty and energy of Paris, gardens and estates of France, the sublime nature of the countryside as well as interesting portraits of social interactions and mores.

"There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved." George Sand

Read On:
George Sand Story of my Life, Indiana, Gabriel (translated by Kathleen Robin Hart)
Susan Cheever American Bloomsbury
Megan Marshall Peabody Sisters and Margaret Fuller
Benita Eisler Chopin's Funeral
Dan Hofstadter The Love Affair as a Work of Art
Nancy Horan Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Robin Oliveira I have Always Loved You
Susanne Dunlap Liszt's Kiss
Lucasta Miller The Bronte Myth
Nancy Milford Savage Beauty
Dea Birkett Spinsters Abroad
AS Byatt Possession
Quotes about her:
"What a brave man she was, and what a good woman." Ivan Turgenev
"George Sand was an idea. She has been released from the flesh, and is now free. She is dead, and now she is living." Victor Hugo
To George Sand: A recognition Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"What inexhaustible goodness, always so quiet and calm, always such an essential part of her character." Pauline Viardot

Read as an ARC from Netgalley! Thanks!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More Tudor Mania

Title: The Alchemist's Daughter by Mary Lawrence
Publisher: Kensington Books
304pp April 28, 2015
Genre: Mystery, historical mystery, Tudor England, series, Henry VIII
4 stars****
Author: Mary Lawrence is a cytologist, who also berry farms in Maine. She enjoys reading and writing in the Tudor period: this is  the first of a planned three mystery series featuring Blanca Goddard. She was also a finalist in RWA's Golden Heart contest and won the Golden Claddagh in historical fiction (2010). She was also a finalist in Gotham YA Novel discovery contest (2010). Fiona Buckley recommended this mystery so I decided to read this new author. I found the book to be well written and researched with layered intricate plotting. I also enjoyed numerous proverbs "It's hard to shake a spider out of its web." " drunk as a mouse in a barrel of rum." "Coin speaks louder than virtue here." "Seems like a mountain of effort for a pebble of worth."  I loved the vocabulary but also "some I simply made up." I am looking forward to the continuation of this series.
Note: I could find 5 other recent novels with this title by authors JE Deardon, Anthony Aiden, Eileen Kernaghan, Katherine McMahon and Elaine Knighton.
Story Line:
The story is told from multiple viewpoints, which presents additional perspectives on both the plot and the locations. It has an interesting mix of misfit friends, vividly portraying ordinary Tudor life. There are no Courts here. Blanca is the estranged daughter of an alchemist (Albern Goddard), a  devout Catholic and somewhat shady character. She saved him from the gallows when he was suspected of poisoning the King. Details of this story would be fascinating, but also gave her the experience to save herself. She works in Southwark slums to aid the poor with her herbs and medicinal plants. She's altruistic and known for her kindness, remedies and healing discoveries (a salve to tame the French pox enabled her to get a room of her own; she also created a rat poison to help control the plagues and squalor). She's unconventional, smart, strong and an appealing heroine. She is also young and unsure of herself. When her friend Jolyn dies, seemingly from one of her tonics, she is an instant suspect. The constable (Patch) is perhaps the only character I didn't like- he wants her to hang whether she is guilty or not. As she tries to clear her name, bodies and larger plots provide twists in the tale. It is filled with witty observations on the grim reality of 16th century London.
Read On:
Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series
Vanora Bennett Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Goes perfectly with PBS Wolff Hall
(Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies)
Also recently reviewed Martin Lake A Love most Dangerous and Kathy Lynn Emerson Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe.
Opening line: London March 1543. Imagine a time when the good king's ship The Mary Rose moors within sight of His Majesty's WhiteHall residence, its four masts reaching skyward like trees sprouting on the River Thames.
Closing line: ...London would forever struggle, but she would forever endure.
She studied the remnants of crushed herbs, mashed frog bones, and pulverized chalk; her blue eyes were tinged nearly purple with fatigue.
A public hanging was preferable to being eaten alive by rats.
For if only one man is left standing, a bribe cannot bite.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley: Thanks!

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Home is not always where you left it."

Title: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark,
528 pp April 7, 2015
Genre: historical, mystery, Jacobite, romance, romantic suspense, scottish,
5 stars*****
Author: Susanna Kearsley is a favourite author of mine. I have reviewed several of her books, and recommended all of them. I was hooked when the first reminded me of reading Mary Stewart. Don't miss The Rose Garden, Shadowy Horses and Mariana. But when her stories gathered Scottish mists and legends I was in thrall and this novel continues this with another magical setting. The historical details are well researched. The gothic suspense is real and building.The voice of each character is pitch perfect. Her romance is subtle and charming.
I found both stories equally heartwarming- in fact I would have enjoyed a separate full length book on each. There are interesting complements, and resonance for many cultures. I love the feel and heft of her books, and savor every word. Three times for this novel: once to melt into the story, two to read for highlighted quotes and review and another for an appreciation of the story structure and conclusion. This helped to reestablish my initial thoughts and feelings. I especially enjoyed reading Kearsley's acknowledgements and the reasons for telling Mary's story.
Story Line: This book stands on its own, but the richness of the time period is more fully developed in sequence with The Winter Sea and Firebird. You will enjoy brief vignettes with some of these characters in this novel. There are two distinct story lines, although no time travel is involved. Both are complex, well paced with fascinating characters. The present day story concerns Sara Thomas, with code breaking abilities, who journeys to France to decipher a diary, potentially revealing of the Jacobite cause. An author, Alistair Scott (a champion of Scotland, with history of the ordinary people) is working on a new book and needs a coded source. She has asperger's and is wary and unsure of herself in the modern world. Her journey is an extremely touching, charming story. Asperger's was an unusual twist but contributes to her computer and math skills, while also revealed her to be alone, lonely. Understanding Luc Saban develops a lasting relationship.
Her transcription unfolds the story of Mary Dundas, the daughter of an exiled Jacobite, living in France, 1732. She is a brave young woman (21), smart, creative and strong, who with the aid of a highland warrior High MacPherson, travel south to Rome on a perilous journey to reach the protection of the King James III Court (father to Bonnie Prince Charlie). Instead of the expected every day diary details, we are given a story with court intrigue, actual details of financial scandal, and arduous, dangerous 18th century travel as well as an interesting time capsule. Highlanders, as written by Kearsley are simply unforgettable and wonderful.
Read On:
Mary Stewart's gothic suspense
Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series
Mark Haddon Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night (aspherger's)
Opening line:  My cousin didn't try to catch the bride's bouquet.
....history is not just the tale of the victors. It's the tale of the privileged.
You're like the lone Mac in an office of PCs. They're all running windows and you're running OS X.
Tell Alistair Scott that if he's buying me whisky, my preference is 16 yr old Lagavulin.
My grass is green enough.
Are all men of the Highlands so unfathomable?
That was the Griogal Cridhe, a widow's lament about seeing her husband beheaded. (not a lullaby then)
The past, Mary thought, was itself a great predator. Chasing you always behind in a tireless pursuit...
....know from experience frogs sometime stayed frogs no matter how often you kissed them.
I liked her sense of humor and her strength, and her tenacity, and her determination to let nothing keep her down. (Sara on Mary)

Many thanks to Netgalley for an advance ebook copy; I had to purchase my own!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Keep the lights on

Title: The Bookseller by C Robert Cales
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services, ScaryBob Productions, 435 pp
Genre: horror, mystery/thriller, adventure, fantasy
4 Stars ****
Author: This is the author's second novel, after Devil Glass, and while they are stand alone, he is at work on a third which will form a trilogy. He has the technical and writing skill to produce quality self publication. This was the first of his work that I read, and not my genre but as that New Years resolution exhorted us to read something new, I went with it.  In fact it was the title that caught my eye, Bookseller, but it also takes place in Boston. What's not to like? Well, keep the lights on!
Story line: George  Saunders and his lovely wife Elizabeth have owned a rare book store on Boston Commons for over 30 years. It's now 2004 and life has been good. You are lulled into the charming characters and neighborhood, although something lurking is not unsuspected with the opening guillotine prologue. So with a sense of trepidation I continued; it really isn't pleasant when bad things happen to people you care about. But by then the ride is galloping along into a fantastical story. Not everyone survives, how could they in the presence of such evil? But there are twists and misdirections and grit and adventure which keep the pages turning to a satisfactory conclusion. You travel from Paris to London to the USA and further adventures. Note there are some very dark sequences, disturbing scenes and bad language.
Read on:
If you like Stephen King or John Connolly.
1794 August Paris....he thought of the journey ahead; the journey always came to pass, eventually. The temporary agony of death and the tiresome process of yet another childhood were the prices he paid for iimmortality.
He recognized early that diversity in his friendships could broaden his horizons, like diversity in his reading material.
My love of literature apparently has nothing to do with my ability to pen a tale.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Gracias a la vida!

Title: The Heart has its own Reasons by Maria Duenas
Publisher: Atria Books (Nov 2014). 384 pp.
Translated by Elie Kerrigan
Genre: translation, literature, Spanish
3.5 to 4 stars****
Author: Maria Duena has a Phd in English Philology and is Prof at University of Murcia, Spain. Her debut The Time Between was translated into 25 languages and inspired a television series (it was dubbed Spanish Downton Abbey). This novel was exceptionally well translated by Daniel Hahn. I loved the story and rated it 4.5 stars. It was given to me by new Spanish friends; and increased my interest in this author.
Story Line: Blanca Perea is a Spanish professor of linguistics but after her husband of 20 years has an affair she accepts a position at a university north of San Francisco to escape and distract her. There she will organise the papers of a Spanish writer Andres Fontana. There are two parallel poignant tales of intricate lives in disarray. The alternate stories, with flashbacks can be distracting but I enjoyed the accurate descriptions of academics and university culture. There is also fascinating historical commentary on Spanish culture. Both tales concern betrayal, renewal, loss, grief, healing and the havoc of love. While it is well written, it didn't have the lyrical cadence of her first novel, for me, perhaps the difference in translator. It did, however, have a deeply moving message of recreating your life at any stage. It was a pleasure to read of complicated lives of interesting mature adults and their choices, options and hopes. The resilience of the human spirit is amazing.
Gracias a la vida! Here's to life!

Read On:
Highly recommend her first novel The Time in Between (2011). She deserves wider recognition.
Opening: Sometimes life comes crashing down, heavy and cold as a dead weight.
...she must be one of those indispensable secretaries who, with a third of their superiors' salaries, are usually three times as competent.
...not delve into the reasons why a Spanish professor with a secure professional career, an impressive CV, a good salary, family, and contacts had decided so swiftly to pack a couple of suitcases and move to the other end of the world like someone fleeing the plague.
My job had suddenly become clear to me: to rescue and bring to life the buried legacy of a man who had been long ago forgotten.
...a night of sharp knives. I never thought ghosts could come back with such force.
...reason is sometimes useless.
I've spent my entire life jumping onto moving trains.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Extraordinary History of Botany

Title: Flora Illustrata. By Susan Fraser and Vanesa Sellers
Publisher: Yale University Press and NYBotanical Garden
320 pp
Genre: botany, horticulture, history, plants, gardening, natural history, botanical gardens, library
5 stars*****

Author: Susan M Fraser is the Director of the LuEsther Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Gardens. Vanessa Sellers is the Humanities Research Coordinator at NYBG and a landscape and garden historian.  This brilliant book was just awarded the 2015 American Horticultural Society Book Award.

Story Line: The Mertz library is not well known outside botanical circles and deserves greater recognition. It has an astonishing array of botanical and historical material, spanning 8 centuries. This volume showcases the intricate relationships between science, art, culture and books. While only a portion of their collection could be used, the selected material is brilliantly displayed with excellent essays, fantastic photographs and informative interpretations. This is an outstanding resource for many, and a wonderful book for others. It would be a great gift for any plant enthusiast.
Note too,that much if the collection has been digitized and is available online at
This is well written, well edited, well illustrated (279 colour and b/w) and well done! So much more than a coffee table book; it will be read and thought about for years to come. Enjoy!

Read as an ARC from Netgalley (my copy did not download well, but colleagues who purchased it loaned me their version.)