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!