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.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Think Spring: Gardening!

Title: The Red Book of Primrose House by Marty Wingate
Publisher: Random House/alibi.  pp
Genre: cosy, mystery, English historical mystery,
3.5/4 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 will be published June 2, 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.
Story line:
The Potting Shed Mysteries take place in England, where Pru Parke has transplanted herself to find herself and become a head gardener. In the first book, Pru (short for Prunella, a lovely garden weed in my yard) of course finds a body in her odd job but is introduced to DCI Christopher Pearse. There is a charming developing romantic relationship as both characters are 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, near the spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. She is to restore the 1806 garden design by Humphrey Repton, for opening day in 6 months time. Some comic moments occur with ghastly gardening ideas from the owner (emails, postits) who want to add personal contemporary ideas to complement the original plan. But then another body mars the landscape after vandals seriously delay the project. Murder and mayhem don't help deadlines either. There is a side plot involving locating her mother's family.
Pru is a curious and interesting protagonist. Her relationship with Christopher is also a plus. 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 would have loved a garden design and plant details.
You will want spring to come soon with all the gardening. I would be tempted to wait for the third book and read them all in a row as a summer beach read. I was glad I had read them in order.
Read on:
If you like Rosemary and Thyme or Agatha Christie
Pru wouldn't be surprised if Davinia seized on a fairy garden or a collection of gnomes next.
Her longing for some family relation in England has led her to dream up all sorts of connections.
He shook it firmly, with a good gardener's's always easy gardener to gardener...
...and wondered if there was a point to showering at all these days, as she seemed to be in dirt more than out of it.
You can never have too many cups of's an especially fine conversation lubricant.
It was just one cup of tea and a generous slice of bakewell tart, but it was a restorative visit.
She reminded herself to check back in about fifty years to see how it was doing.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Freedom and whisky gang the gither (Burns)

Title: Scotch by Ted Bruning
Publisher: Shire Publishing, Oxford, 2015
137 pp
Genre: whisky, nonfiction, food/ beverage, single malt scotch
3.5 Stars ****
Author: Ted Bruning has written several interesting books on spirits, including Home Brewing (2014) and Historic Pubs of London (2000). He usually provides a nice list of places to visit and includes here websites and regional distilleries.
Story line:
This is a small book but is an interesting and informative history of single malt scottish whisky. I have read dozens of book on this subject and enjoyed the concise entertaining  text with good quality informative photographs. There are interesting shenanigans of the corporate whisky world in the 1980/90s. It was depressing to read how many are now foreign owned. At least they are still producing.
I have a couple new artisanal distillery offerings to try (Abhainan Deag on Lewis since 2008, and Kilchoman, the first new Islay since 1908).
Read on:
Ian Banks Raw Spirits, in search of the perfect dram
MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky (or anything published by Charles Maclean
David Wishart Whisky Classified
Phillip Hills (Ed) Scots on Scotch
Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch
And a recent favourite
Heather Greene's Whisk(e)y Distilled (2014)
Eradour, Scotland's smallest distillery, was founded legally in 1825 by a cooperative of local farmers to supply their own needs; but mysteriously, they seemed to have been already experienced stillmen.
Victorian consumers seem to have taken it for granted that whatever they bought might contain more or less anything from innocuous to the lethal; and whisky was no exception.
By the mid 1870s brandy was on short supply. Scotch wasn't.
In one sense it doesn't matter what you drink your whisky out of so long as the hole is at the top and not the bottom.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Tudormania Continues

Title: A Love Most Dangerous by Martin Lake
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing January 2015
Genre: historical fiction, Tudor, Henry VIII, English history,
3.5 Stars ***
Author: Martin Lake is an English author who has written several historical novels, primarily self published. It appears he writes series, his first concerned the Norman invasion of England, The Lost King: Resistance, Wasteland and Blood of Ironside (soon to be a fourth). Another concerns the Crusades: Outcasts. I had not read this author previously, so was unprepared for the abrupt ending, which of course generally signifies a sequel. Indeed, an interview states an interesting historical character, Nicholas Bourbon will participate. While I would consider these to be superficial historical fiction (there are just enough facts and interesting characters) Wikipedia is a primary reference. Modern language and behaviour are annoying (an editor would also be useful). But they are entertaining reads. Tudor fans will enjoy.
Story line: 
It is 1537, Jane Seymour is Queen, but Henry's roving eye finds another mistress. Alice Petherton (not an historical figure, but Lake later discovered the Shelton mistresses around the same time period) is a Maid of Honor to the Queen's Court. She's 17, innocent but determined to control her life (never to be queen, but unrealistic for the turbulent masculine time period).   I found it hard to believe that men found her so irresistible or she was seemingly unaware of this (until Cromwell points it out at the end). She is a survivor though, and became a fascinating character in the course of the year (although I am still not clear on the timeline). I would continue this series, especially at the beach.
There are several side plots, and power twists, but descriptive London locations made for interesting reading. Unexpectedly, I liked Thomas Cromwell best.
This is more of a bodice ripper with more physical assault and gratuitous sex than I expected. Hilary Mantel it is not. But not every book needs to be a history lesson. And it is Henry the VIII, with graphic detail of poverty and decadence. Tudors sell.
(Just opened my Daedalus catalogue and discovered 4 page of Tudormania, evidently it sells well! But I found three to read, The Marlowe papers by Ros Barber, The Divorce of Henry VIII by Catherine Fletcher and King's Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes).
Read on:
He recommends reading Alison Weir  and Ian Mortimer.
I recommend Hilary Mantel or Vanora Bennett.
Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) and SJ Parris (Prophecy) are favorites.
Leanda de Lisle Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder.
Opening line:
To be a servant at the Court of King Henry is to live with your heart in your mouth.

She (Anne Boleyn) took me as one of her Maids of Honor and my slow approach to the furnace began.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Soaring Fantasy

Title: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House March 2015
587pp with glossary and list of characters, maps
Genre: YA, Science fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, sequel
5 Stars *****
Author: Rachel Hartman won several awards for her debut novel Seraphina, including the William C Morris YA Debut Award, and Cybils Award for YA Fantasy. Seraphina quickly became a best seller, indie favourite and had many starred reviews. Her world building is fantastic, her plots clever, her story intricate and the characters unique and fascinating. Her love of music shines.
Story line: this is the sequel to Seraphina, and it must be read first.  Seraphina, half dragon half human, searches for other of her ilk  who can help end the war in the kingdom of Goredd. After reading the concise lovely prologue which introduced the previous story, I reread it anyway, remembering her magical prose and vivid descriptions. How dragons can seem real / normal is fabulous. Nothing about this story disappointed me. I wasn't expecting where it went, rereading and savoring just amplified my enjoyment. Once to inhale, once to savor :-)
While Seraphina was about finding herself, Shadow Scale is about the journey, finding her place in the world, understanding herself and comprehending the choices we all make.  Seraphina interacts with many people, the larger complex cast is colourful and complicates the story.
I loved the foreshadowing in both the first book and the history prologue. I liked that this wasn't a conventional romance, but that was also not unexpected given the ending of the first book. Their relationships are more private/subtle and much appreciated. Life isn't full of answers, perhaps we don't even have the right questions. We don't always have to live by the rules of others.
A few months have lapsed between books, although we have been granted an historical overview (read prologue carefully). I also like that this is a sequel and isn't spawning a dozen more to anticipate. The author is returning to this fantastically created world with another pair of books, and I hope it is with some of the other notable characters. Although any story with an older Seraphina (and her Uncle) would be most welcome.
There are excellent themes on how relationships work; the greater good, motivation and choices; exploration of cultures and peoples; how maturing affects our perceptions.  I enjoyed her exploration of a saint based religion, and how secret books create ignorant society.
I loved the ending. This is a brilliant captivating tale: Well told with rich settings and heartbreaking characters. I won't forget them.
Read on:
Kirsten Cashore Graceling, Bitterblue etc
Anne McCaffrey Dragonsong
Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, but also new Uprooted.
And look for her next books in Goredd.
Opening sentence:
I returned to myself.
I rubbed by eyes, forgetting that the left was bruised and the pain snapped the world into focus.
Lars distracted him with bagpipes.
I wasn't thirsty, but any trace of kindness in my dragon uncle was a thing to encourage.
Lars is designing new war machines.
Mud, on the other hand, is infinite. 
Herself seemed a terrible place to be; I still wished I could have saved her from it.
All the trials of a day may be endured if you know there's such a sky at the end of it.
I saw that my assumptions had blinded me...
The thing itself plus nothing equals everything.
Never beyond repair good heart.
This was going to take all my courage, and I needed a little more music to get there.

I confess I started my Netgalley copy, reverted to hardback Seraphina, discovered I had purchased an Ebook as I couldn't wait for this (before I was approved by Netgalley), and didn't know if I would be at a bookstore. AND actually read it as a hardback personal copy when it was placed on the shelf in Barnes and Noble a day before publication. So, I didn't highlight many quotes, as I never mark first editions. Random pages always found a memorable quotable sentence.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Spring Forward, into action!

Title: Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson
Publisher: Severn House
283 pp.
Genre: cozy, mystery, historical mystery, Elizabethan spy mystery, English mystery
3.5 Stars ****
Author: aka Kate Emerson, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Kaitlyn Groton, author of over 50 novels, generally reflecting her long interest (45 years) in British history. She has a BA from Bates College and currently lives in Maine. Emerson won an Agatha Award for Mystery Nonfiction (2008) for "How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries". She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.  Emerson's Liss MacCrimmon Scottish American Heritage Mystery series is very popular (Kaitlyn Dunnett)- I was given multiple copies one year when she first published Kilt Dead (2007).   I have read several of her Face Down in.... Series. These are also Elizabethan tales with Lady Susanna Appleton, gentlewomen, herbalist and sleuth. In fact, the current series heroine is the illegitimate daughter of Sir Robert Appleton, and several characters will reappear.
Story line:
Interestingly, this is a work of fiction based on real events. It is the first book in a new series that will feature Mistress Rosamund Jaffrey, who eloped at 16 to escape the family; an inheritance has made her independent but she is estranged from her husband of two years. Rob is a merchant's son, (and she thinks him beneath her??), but now in Russia. It is 1582, London is embroiled in political machinations and an interesting character of itself in this book, vividly described. Rosamund is clever, at languages and codes, and is recruited by Nicholas Baldwin (Lady Appleton's lover) ((working for Sir Francis Walsingham)) to spy on Lady Mary Hastings, the Queen's cousin. Lady Mary is expected to be the bride of Tsar Ivan (the Terrible) of Russia, a prospect which terrifies her, but which also threatens her life. Acting as a lady's maid, Rosamund encounters intrigue, danger, murder and poisons. She has a devoted Polish maid Melka who saves Rosamund more than once.
Rosamund seemed self centered and self important, at a time that women were neither. The ability to throw off social constraints strained credibility. But it you don't  take it too seriously, it is an entertaining read. And perhaps perfect as we await spring. The series continues with Murder in the Mercery (March 2016).
Read on:
To her other series, Face down in.... And Secrets of the Tudor Court series
If you like Sarah Woodbury, Fiona Buckley, Margaret Frazer
Parts of her disguise had begun to itch, and she was hungry despite gorging herself on hazelnuts.
"Most women would have run screaming from a room at their first glimpse of an intruder." "...that thought never crossed my mind." "You barely thought at all."
...the beard was a thing of beauty, as were Laski's clothes.
Rosamund was far from satisfied and it struck her suddenly that although she would be wise to comply with the principal secretary's orders, she didn't not have to do so with meek obedience.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy WORLD Book Day (UK)

Title: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Publisher Delacorte Press, Random Huse
450 pp
Genre: YA, fantasy, science fiction, modern medieval, series
3.5 to 4(-) Stars ****
Dayton is the author of Sovereign's Hold and Resurrection (Amazon best sellers). It was in my TBR pile, requested from Netgalley as it looked fascinating (great cover), is a genre I like (YA, strong female fantasy, while I am waiting for more Cashore or Hartman) and features Scotland! Then I saw the NYTimes advert and advanced it.
Story line:
Teen (distant) cousins Quin Kincaid and Shinobu MacBain, with friend (love interest) John Hart, are undergoing Seeker training in remote Scotland to follow their ancestors in the battle against evil, tales of glory and honor, death to tyranny and the search for truth. (Just a tad melodramatic, perhaps not for older/ teen audience). John fails his test, but Quin and Shinobu are severely traumatized and disillusioned by their first mission. They recognized their fathers as ruthless, rigid Seekers but aren't prepared for life as an assassin. It will be interesting to see if their world is a better place with that job.
Chapters focus on different characters, with an overall narrator, which gives this story many nuanced layers. There is substantial character growth within this novel. But also bad choices (drugs, guilt). There are sword play/ training (proper Claymores) and prophecy and television.  The story, while satisfactory, is incomplete, foreshadowing the next book. I look forword to Maud's increasing role, the young Dread who is something of a guardian to the Seekers.
The action of this book is focused primarily on remote Scotland, Hong Kong, and London, via time travel, portals using ancient tool the athame (a stone dagger that takes the individual to specific coordinates). To complicate things John wants the athame that was stolen and dishonored his family; he seeks revenge.
This has relevant themes for YA:  choices, life in many guises (love, joy, family, deception, tragedy, work), sense of discovery, good role models, confidence, and growing up with all its associated confusion, hormones, polarity. There are also elements of survivalism.  I would call this well written (for teens), but it is NOT fast paced fantasy - more of there is a journey that will have adventures and heartbreak, discovery, greed, betrayal, and love, with knowns and unknowns. The slower pace gives some credence to the enormity and complexity of life. There is so much going on, so much unanswered throughout the book. Pay attention to detail. I expect revelations in  future books, but even more questions; wait if you need instant gratification. (This is where there might be some valid comparison with GoT. The sequel, Traveler, is expected out Spring 2016.) There are elements of steam punk, fantasy, science fiction, romance and and historical mystery.  There are interesting subplots and well developed secondary characters. For research Dayton traveled to ruins and castles in Scotland for a very recognizable feel, and  Hong Kong, which contrasts to a futuristic feel.
I am glad I missed the hype on this novel, compared to the Hunger Games and Divergent series. If I had read some of the reviews I might not have started this book, and wonder if we read the same one! (I was surprised my library doesn't have this author.)
Read on:
Kristin Cashore series, Rachel Hartman Seraphina (soon to be released Shadow Scale!), Samantha Shannon, Bone Season and The Mime Order (older YA)
Laini Taylor Daughter of Smoke and Bone
A "live" fight was no easy task. But if she did well, she was minutes away from her father's approval, from joining her ancestors in the noble duties of a Seeker.
There was only the fight; consequences didn't exist.
I want you to be the John I knew before. The one who wanted to do honorable things. To help people.
He was about to tell her things she didn't want to hear.
We believe the athame ends up with whom it belongs. Do we not?
Great minds are not what's wanted, only good hearts. Good hearts choose wisely.
You've sunk as far low as you can go when a healer wants you gone.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Winter (spring) cozy

Title: Medium Dead by Paula Paul
Publisher: Alibi, Random House (April 14, 2015)
(>200 pp)
Genre: historical mystery, cozy, romance, Victorian mystery, english countryside, series
3 Stars ***
Paula Paul, (aka Paula Carter) a native of West Texas, is an award winning journalist and novelist (Women Writing for the West Award, National Press Women's Award, New Mexico Book Award, Texas Institute of Writers Award). She writes historical fiction and contemporary women's fiction (25 novels), including  the Mystery by Design series and Dr Alexandra Gladstone series.
Story line:
This is the fourth book in the Alexandra Gladstone mystery series (Symptoms of Death, An Improper Death, Half a Mind to Murder). I suggest reading them in order as there has been some character development: but minor story progression. Constable Snow still doesn't believe her and Alexandra is always left to figure out the murderer.
Alexandra is doctor to the people of Newton-upon-sea, in a practice she inherited from her respected father. He trained her and nourished her mind in a strict rigid Victorian era where women's place in society is not professional. There is also quite some antagonism between classes. Prince Albert has been dead some 20 years, but the Queen is courting mesmerists to contact him in the afterlife. Hence her visit to the remote village. But this is met with the unexpected death of her spiritualist. Nick Forsythe is a barrister, now Earl, who provides the subtle love interest. I especially like Nancy, her intelligent, caring assistant and housekeeper, and her irish wolfhound Zack, who often growls and bites Nick.
I still have a hard time with the socially rigid Lady Forsythe being called MaMa by his barrister, now Earl son. Or the fact that he is so swayed by his mother. This is a rather chaste, cosy gothic mystery using wild rumors and shifty suspects. A light entertaining read for the winter.
They have been reissued on kindle, free to Amazon prime members.
Read on:
Imogen Robertson series of Westerman and Crowther
Tessa Harris series of Dr Silkstone
She disliked the term necromancer anyway. She preferred spiritualist instead.
Alvina thought she (Her Majesty) looked very much like the German she was. Except her eyes, they were darker than she'd expected and too brooding to be radiant, but they shone with intelligence.
Being in the presence of the Queen was less exciting to her than the prospect of a sizable payment from the royal house.
Nevermind that many of the same people who condemned her also used her services.
She was glad to see that he had given up on being petulant.
You can be a barrister as well as an Earl.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Old Knives Cut Deep

A Real Page Turner
Title:  All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
Publisher: Minotaur Books, Macmillan (March 10, 2015)
303 pp
Genre: espionage, mystery, spy novel, thriller, intrigue, political thriller
4 Stars ****

Author: Olen Steinhauer is an award winning American author of espionage fiction. His Milo Weaver trilogy (The Tourist (2009), Nearest Exit (2010) and An American Spy (2012)) were NYTimes best sellers and among my favourite spy novels. The Tourist has been optioned by George Clooney, which raised his profile and increased his readership. His first novel, Bridge of Sighs, (2007) was nominated for many awards, and continues to be an excellent place to start his works (it's also a series, aka Ruthenia or Yalta boulevard). I get excited with each new publication, and make time to read these, generally in one sitting. How can you wait for the denouement? His addictive writing and characters are engaging and complex. The books are well crafted with multilayered plots. Interestingly, this novel had its origins in another literary work, a narrative poem by Christopher Reid called The Song of Lunch, a BBC Masterpiece production Steinhauer saw in 2010 (starring Emma Thompson and Alan Reichman. I want them to appear in this book/movie!).
He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. All the Old Knives is his 9th novel and a stand alone.  His interviews are also fascinating. "A writer should write the book he would want to read." "The real pleasure of reviewing has been discovering new voices."  And "If a writer's central subject is human nature than politics is beside the point."

Story line:
This is an unusual spy thriller in that all the action takes place over dinner in Carmel, CA. Flashbacks slowly reveal multiple suspects and unreliable memories. The story is complicated by betrayal and guilt of ex lovers, not just ex CIA field officers. Many glasses of wine, exquisite food do not blunt the deception, betrayals, loss of trust and the complicated, complex, manipulating world of spies.
We know Muslim terrorists blew up a plane in Vienna 6 years ago, killing everyone. This also ended the relationship between two agents Celia Harrison and Henry Pelham. She left the service and lives a very different life (wife of a GM executive Drew Favreau, campaigning for Romney). Henry is still looking for the mole responsible for the disastrous day that changed his life, assigned to the European Desk. The story and the people evolve, but they are caught in the past. Their voices narrate different chapters expressing disparate views, each are master manipulators, to each other and the reader. I had a hard time liking either character, in this all too real novel. (And still think he should have been called Harry, but why?!) There is no black and white in the world.
This is still an intense, taut, quick read. Where the ending makes you rethink everything.  The finale was not unexpected, with foreshadowing and subtle, well placed clues. Who did you believe?  Would you survive the night? You might have to reread it. I can't.
This is a good introduction to his work and you will find yourself drawn into his European theatre.

Read on:
Alan Furst, John LeCarre, Eric Ambler, Len Deighton, Joseph Conrad
If you like Charles McCarry's The Miernik Dossier
Watch: MI5 or Spooks  and The Song of Lunch

Another day, another delay.
I keep my phone locked away, after 15 hours flying 6000 miles, then suffering through the mass psychosis of American passport control, the precise time of my arrival feels unimportant.
Besides never having to look her in the eyes would certainly make my job, and my life, a lot easier.
Perhaps strangers are our best friends.
I've known him my whole Austrian decade and he uses sighs the way others crack knuckles or chain smoke.
I'm entirely air-conditioned now.
Romantic love is cute. Passion is just a little game.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Game is Afoot!

Oxford and Japan
Russell complements Sherlock-
The game is a foot!

Title: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Publisher: Bantam Press, Random House
352 pp
Genre: mystery, Sherlock Holmes, adventure, series, crime, historical thriller
4.5 Stars ****
Author: Laurie R King is a best selling author of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, SanFran homicide inspector Kate Martinelli series, as well as stand alone suspense novels. She has been nominated for and won many awards for her writing, (including a Nero for A Monstrous Regiment of Women, (Russell/Sherlock) and a MacCavity for Touchstone, one of my favourite mysteries). The first Russell/Sherlock is The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994). But don't miss Beekeeping for Beginners (2011), a novella written from Sherlock's perspective. King has also written a number of short stories, which are all worth collecting. She is co-editor with Leslie Klinger (master authority on Sherlock!) of A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.
Visit her website at  enjoy her blog posts and facebook!
Story line:
This is the 14th Mary Russell (aka Mrs Sherlock Holmes) mystery, narrated again by Mary as an older woman recalling her adventures with Sherlock. As such they are very much historical novels, period pieces with intriguing mysteries.  This book takes place after The Game and before Locked Rooms, in 1924 and 1925 (although 4 other novels are also before the ending).  Mary is a strong female protagonist, intellectually formidable, equal with Holmes with a subtle personal relationship that I find perceptive. She is one of my favourite bluestockings. This story also introduces Haruki Sato, a deceptive, memorable character, a respected shinobi. I would love to meet her again.
Part of this story is a flashback to their voyage to Japan aboard the Thomas Carlyle where Holmes spies a blackmailer /English clubman, whom he would like nothing more than to apprehend. There are memorable descriptions of this voyage and their exposure to the customs and traditions of Japan. A variety of mysteries and tests complete that adventure, but then Ms Sato appears in Oxford nearly a year later. We are back in The Bodleian to recover and replace forgeries of an ancient Japanese  haiku poet Matsuo Basho.
It is an interesting puzzle, a fascinating travelogue, with intriguing layered characters, and detailed backgrounds, all making for a very satisfying read. I will no doubt buy a hard copy, and continue to recommend her earlier novels. You can read this independent of the others but why? Start with the first: The Beekeeper's Apprentice and enjoy the character development and progression (and adventures!) They often follow directly on from the previous book.
Read on:
If you like Sherlock Holmes you will enjoy this series. Make note of the authors with membership in The Irregulars, or books sanctioned by the Conan Doyle Estate. Read the short stories by various authors in A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.
Caleb Carr The Italian Secretary
Alan Bradley Flavia DeLuce novels
Leslie Klinger The Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Larry Millett Sherlock Holmes and the Red demon, the ice palace, the rune stones, the secret alliance (for Sherlock in Minnesota)
Anthony Horowitz The House of Silk, Moriarity, and short story The Three Monarchs
That sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty's heightening. Mathew Arnold

What is it about Oxford that puts one in a poetical state of mind?
The house was silent, weighty with the comfort of a thousand books.
This was far from the first time I had stood on the terrace with a cup of tea, appreciating not being elsewhere. 
(It was just a pub) Heaven lay within, an ancient gathering space that could only be in England, every breath testifying to its centuries of smoke and beer, damp dogs and the sweat of working men.
We watched Bombay recede, then went below to arrange our possessions, and our bribes.
Twenty four and a half days Bombay to Yokohama. Five hundred eighty six hours pressed about by humanity, one hundred eighty hours spent sweating amongst the bedsheets; eighty-four hours in the dining room; nineteen and a half hours of language tutorials with Miss Sato; ten hours reading Shakespeare aloud with an extremely mixed group of amateurs; and seventeen hour- long afternoon salons on topics from tea to theatre; ... Some forty hours spent pacing the decks to keep from leaping off them, twenty or so hours on the cycling and rowing machines...
The face he lifted to me held that bright optimism I have learned to dread.
Allowing the world to think I am a character in some stories is the only way to obtain a degree of freedom.
We slept in hard cotton mattresses laid on the floors, our heads perched on pillows stuffed, apparently, with gravel.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

It's a New Book If You Haven't Read It

Title: How We Learn by Benedict Carey
(The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why it Happens)
Publisher: Random House (Sept 2014)
272 pp
Genre: Nonfiction, psychology, education, self test, memory, learning
4 Stars ****
Author: Benedict Carey is a NYTimes award winning science  and medical reporter. Previously he worked for the LA Times. Carey has written numerous fascinating and wide ranging articles. Strangely I love his obituaries, so scientific people. He is also the author of two science adventures for teens: Island of the Unknowns and Poison Most Vial.
Story line:
This is a relatively short book for an extensive subject of the cognitive science of learning. Carey has made it an interesting, engaging read, easy to follow. There is practical advice on how to apply learning and memory to our own lives. An appendix  neatly summarizes Essential Questions in 6 pages.
I was intrigued by Mary Roach's statement "I feel as if I've owned a brain for 54 years and only now discovered the operating manual." I looked forward to reading this, and savored it over two months, a plane ride, train journey and beach book. While I enjoyed reading this, it is written (and very well) for a general audience, with much feeling like common sense and perhaps even old fashioned (therefore not surprising): Repetition is essential to learning. Although it is only part of it. Good habits and sleep are essential. Problem solving and concentration are also important.
Learning is different for everyone, and learning how the brain retrieves information will be useful to most people. I was interested in people learning by creating scenes, while I always listened to music. Mendelsohn's Hebridian overture with Leonard Bernstein was an essential study tool. I still have several recordings in multiple formats!
This deserves a wide reading, especially for an aging population. Teenagers would greatly benefit from reading.
Let's not forget to learn.
Read on:
Charles Duhigg The Power of Habit
Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow
Greg Frost Maximizing Brain Control
Peter C. Brown Make it Stick
Barbara Oakley A Mind for Numbers
Gabriel Wyner Fluent Forever - my next read!
If the brain is a learning machine, then it's an eccentric one, and it performs best when its quirks are exploited.
Any memory has ...a storage strength and a retrieval strength...the old dog quickly relearns  old tricks.
Don't forget your brain vitamins.
Normally, when I am visited by the Ghost of Physics Past, I was not entirely patient.
Testing is studying, of a different and powerful kind.
Using our memory changes our memory in ways we don't anticipate.
Testing has brought fear and self-loathing into so many hearts....
I'll leave it to others to explain Mozart.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley