Monday, November 21, 2016

You don't want to know Jack...

Title: The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello
Publisher: 47 North 477 pp
Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, science fiction, fantasy
4 stars
Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, TV writer, and a bestselling author. A recent thriller, The Einstein Prophecy was # 1 in the Kindle store. Previous books include Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet and the Romanov Cross. He has authored two popular studies of the Occult as well as books on writing. TV credits include "Charmed," "Sliders," Early Edition," and "Poltergeist: the Legacy." He studied writing at Princeton University under Robert Stone and Geoffrey Wolff. This is my first exposure to him, chosen from netgalley for my obsession with all things literary Scotland.
Story line:
This book has two alternating storylines: in the present storyline are we introduced to Rafael (Rafe) Salazar, an environmental scientist, who discovers an old green steamer trunk with a flask and a journal that was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, so his past alternates with the present. In August 1888, as the stage play of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was taking London by storm, Jack the Ripper, perhaps the most notorious serial killer in history, struck for the first time. In reality RLS briefly was considered a suspect.
Masello weaves the different threads of action, gothic horror, history, science and science fiction together in a story that grabs your attention from the very beginning. It's more pulp fiction than I normally read, but it's a great action 'film'. I enjoyed the RLS journal entries more than the present day story which included methheads, rednecks, violence and clueless male egos. Perhaps it was also that the women are superficial. Having read several biographies of Fanny Stevenson, Maesello doesn't portray her well either. But, suspend reality for a day and enjoy the suspense.
Read on:
If you are a fan of Dan Brown, Lee Child, Douglas Preston
Opening paragraph
25th of November, 1894 From: Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima House, Samoa To: W.E. Henley, 18 Maybury Road, Old Woking, Surrey, England Dear Henley—What I must tell you now, I tell you with dread. It has happened again. What we thought—what we prayed—we had left behind us in the back alleys and darkened doorways of Whitechapel has, I fear, awakened from its awful slumber. It has struck again, right here, in what I had foolishly thought might be Paradise. And I have been the unwitting agent of its malevolence.
As a Field Officer with the Environmental Sciences Service, he had seen the canyon in all kinds of conditions, but he had never seen it this bad.
tall one with the scruffy gray beard; Alfie was built like a fire hydrant (and was just about as bright.)
Ever since he was a boy, Rafe had talked to animals; his little sister, Lucy, after seeing the movie of the same name, had called him Dr. Doolittle.
“Tell Stoker he doesn’t need to send any more emissaries. I’m sane as the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
In his hands, he held the journal, but with a kind of reverence now, that he had not initially felt. He hadn’t known at first whose initials they were—RLS—nor had he known who Louis, or Fanny, was. But then he’d read and deciphered more of the text, put it all together, and discovered that the author of the book was none other than Robert Louis Stevenson. The man whose books, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae, he’d devoured as a boy.

Reading the book was slow-going—the ink had faded almost to the point of disappearing here and there, and he had to turn the pages with great care or they would shred and fall away from the binding. Stevenson’s handwriting was very peculiar, too—angular and slanted, with a lot of what looked like hasty pen marks, swipes and blottings. Rafe had read all the entries from the Belvedere clinic in Switzerland and he had been especially moved by the author’s attempts to protect the wolf he called Lord Grey from the cruelties of Yannick. On that score, he felt a real allegiance with Stevenson.
What I did not feel, and this was what astonished me even then, even in what should have been an utterly terrifying moment, was fear. I felt instead a burst of exhilaration, coupled with a sensation of freedom and power. I was not the scribbler Robert Louis Stevenson—I was the wolf Lord Grey.
“English gardens,” she said. “All weeds and no flowers.”

What he held in his hands—the seared covers and a handful of dust—was all he had to show for the last words of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Intriguing historical mystery!

TitleIron Water (A Victorian Police Procedural) by Chris NicksonPublisher: Severn House 224pp November 2016
Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, English mystery     4.5+ stars
Author: Chris Nickson (b 1954) is a British novelist, music journalist, and biographer who lived in the United States for 30 years before returning home. As a music journalist, he specialized in world and roots music, writing a regular column for Global Rhythm magazine. He wrote The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to World Music. He has written biographies of celebrities including Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Reeve and the late singer-songwriter John Martyn, Solid Air (ebook in June 2011). His first novel, The Broken Token (2010), was set in Leeds in 1731 followed by Cold Cruel Winter, then TheConstant LoversThe Cruel Fear, At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies: these are The Richard Nottingham novels. Then there are the Laura Benton series which take place in Seattle, the Detective Harper late Victorian (1890s) series also in Leeds, and other one-off novels and non-fiction. The audiobook of The Broken Token was named as one of the Audiobooks of the Year for 2012 by The Independent on Sunday.
Story line: I was very excited to discover a new author! This book looked interesting and is a genre I enjoy, but after the first 25 pages I settled in for a wonderful read. And then I discovered this is actually the fourth in a series, which I now must read in order. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies and Skin Like silver. All of his books have been added to my list. I love discovering a new (to me) author and enjoy sharing. Thanks to Netgalley for the chance to read Nickson. What a pleasure to enjoy an intricate plot, wonderful detailed characters, accurate interesting historical detail for an enjoyable afternoon read. These days stories often set your teeth on edge, you encounter graphic sex or violence when you're not expecting it, editing leaves something to be desired, or.... this didn't disappoint on any level.
We catch up with Detective Tom Harper witnessing a demonstration of a new naval weapon, the torpedo, in Waterloo Lake (aka Iron Water). Unfortunately a body is dislodged and then dredging operations unearth a women's leg in the River Aire. Every era and town seems to have a violent criminal underworld. His wife Annabelle is also a suffragist and we see many societal changes including class structure, women's issues, children. Leeds is a grim dirty industrial city (newly designated) and it's obvious I have to read his other historical novels of this city. What a pleasure to add him to my winter reading. I eagerly await the next installment 2017, after I finish the rest of the series!
Read on:
Late Victorian detectives: Canadian Det Murdoch (Maureen Jennings), Mary Russell (Laurie King)
But until Mary was born he hadn’t known how loudly his heart could sing. 
Detective Sergeant Ash he was now, promoted the year before and worth his weight in diamonds. He was a natural detective, a man who made connections well, who could think on his feet. Harper had pushed for him to be given his stripes; he deserved them.
He’d been a copper for fourteen years and never had a corpse emerge from the water before. Now there were two in a single morning.
‘Detective Inspector Harper, Leeds City Police.’ He still wasn’t used to the new name of the force.
The file on Archer was almost six inches thick, years of papers piled one on top of the other. The rumour was that he’d committed his first murder when he was just ten; a shopkeeper who clipped him round the ear when he came in and demanded money. No one had ever appeared in court for the death. He’d been arrested and questioned more often than Harper had enjoyed hot dinners.
‘You work out what the truth is,’ Harper told him. ‘That’s what the job is all about.’
‘Ready?’ Harper asked. ‘As I’ll ever be, sir,’ Ash answered. ‘I made out my will a few months ago.’
The sergeant smiled under his moustache. ‘I doubt Charlie Gilmore’s come within shouting distance of the truth since he learned how to talk. But there might have been a few places where he wasn’t lying too much.’
Six dead now. He couldn’t remember another case with so many murdered. And now? There was still one man out there. Morley’s killer. The last man standing. And he didn’t know who that might be.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Welcome to Hell...Bay!

Title: Hell Bay By Will Thomas
Publisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp. October 2016
Genre: mystery, English historical, series,  fiction
4.5 stars
This is the 8th in the Barker and Llewelyn series written by Will Thomas, an author from Oklahoma.  I have avidly followed this historical mystery series, eagerly awaiting each installment. I have never been disappointed from Some Danger Involved to the last Anatomy of Evil and would recommend reading them in order. This is not the usual gritty crime ridden streets of Victorian London tamed by Barker, but a well written closed room mystery with personal development.
Story line:
Private enquiry agent extraordinaire and scotsman Cyrus Barker agrees to his least favorite assignment,  security.  A secret conference at the private estate of Lord Hargrave on a remote island, Godolphin, off the coast of Cornwall will negotiate a new treaty with France. The cover story for the gathering is a house party--an attempt to introduce two unmarried sons to potential mates. Nothing like a little intrigue to determine true colours.

But almost immediately Lord Hargrave is killed by a sniper, and the French ambassador’s head of security is stabbed to death. Trapped in the manor house with no means off the island, Barker and his Welsh assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, must determine which among them is the killer(s) while also uncovering family secrets and motives. It has a satisfactory ending, with rapid page turning!

Read on:
If you like Sherlock Holmes, or manor house mysteries.
Everything was falling into chaos everywhere. Standards were no longer being met, and so they lowered the standards, rather than getting at the root of the problem, which was lazy boys.

Quite probably, he died feeling no pain whatsoever, which, considering how much he had inflicted on others during his many years, doesn’t exactly seem fair.

We all make mistakes, of course, even the best of us. Some of us are famous for them. 

We’re like that, Cyrus Barker and I: chalk and cheese. If something interests one of us, it probably won’t interest the other.

One cannot go anywhere without being questioned about everything. One is asked about one’s relatives, one’s political views, private history, and personal references. One engages in small talk. Do I look like the sort of person who enjoys engaging in small talk?....If I have to endure a week of sweetmeats and polite conversation, I’m liable to set back Anglo-French relations all by myself.”

The colonel smiled, revealing a full set of ivory teeth that had looked better on the elephant.

To my mind, nothing said that we were staying in an actual castle more than the fact that the dining table seated twenty. It was not a number of tables put together, or even two smaller ones abutted, but one table...

“The bullet passed right through my hand,” Fraser said. “That will not improve my rheumatism.” We were impressed. The man at seventy-three was making jokes about having just been shot.

Nobody ever talks about a brooding Pole or a brooding Chinaman, but Scotsmen are known for it. It was good that the weather was too warm for a fire to stare into or there would be no word from him all day.

You work for a man for six years and then one day he hands you a death sentence. I recalled the Llewelyn luck: everything bad that can happen to one probably shall, and yet one will not die from it, as that would end the torment too quickly.

No self-respecting Scotsman would be without his skean dhu.

She could have given the sun lessons in how to shine.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.


Title:  Presumption of Guilt by Archer Mayor
Publisher: Minotaur books 305 pp (Sept 2016)
Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, series, Joe Gunther
4.5+ stars
Author:  Archer Mayor is a bestselling author of the 27-book police procedural series featuring VPI detective Joe Gunther. After graduating from Yale he wrote historical non fiction. In addition to his writing, Mayor is a death investigator for Vermont's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and a longtime detective for the Windham County Sheriff's Office. Mayor integrates his actual police experiences which adds depth, detail, and authenticity to his characters and provides rich multilayered plots. He won the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award  for Best Fiction--the first time a writer of crime literature was honored.  He has also been cited for Excellence in the Arts by the State of Vermont.

Story line:
I have been a fan since the publication of his first novel, and yes, I have them all. In hardback. Living all over the world, each book gave me a fresh current look at home. There is always an excellent ensemble of characters, well loved with growth and scars. It helps to read these in order as each character has an extensive backstory. New faces and the next generation are intriguingly present here. I especially like the realistic, often witty dialogue, the relevant and timely well researched multilayered plots, with a lack of gratuitous sex or violence. Vermont is warmly depicted, Vermonters occasionally hilariously so. Every book is a solid, engaging page turner. I highlighted 50 quotes I wanted to share. It was a fast read, but also had an abrupt ending. I tried to turn the last page three times, expecting, wanting more.  I loved Krunkle's role and the return of TagMan. I'm glad some peace has found Joe.
Read on:
John Sandford Virgil Flowers series, Craig Johnson Walt Longmire series, Dick and Felix Francis, Kathy Reichs, Susan Hill
“Brattleboro? That’s a bar town, not a city. They should call it Dodge and have done with it. We’re going to Keene.”

You’re the flatlander. Bright lights’re like oxygen to you.”

And that meant not just “away,” as many Vermonters called the world beyond their borders.

“Can’t we rule it a suicide?” Willy asked now, looking down at the calcified finger with the ring, still trapped in place. Predictably, Lester laughed, Sam rolled her eyes, and Joe answered evenly, “Probably not, but I like the creative thinking.”

This is sounding like a modern Agatha Christie novel, although I doubt she would’ve used a nuclear reactor as a setting.”
Because to her, Dan Kravitz would forever be his own alter ego: not the menial everyman with an eerie ability to keep clean, but rather what the papers had coined “the Tag Man” a couple of years ago.

Didn’t they do that in a Columbo episode?”

In 1967 and ’68, homicides jumped from four a year to around twenty. The hippie counterculture, the Vietnam War protests, the interstate coming through, unemployment … The population jumped sixty thousand, because of urban flight, at the same time about twenty-five hundred farms went belly-up. This state was reeling, and I’m barely touching the surface.”

“The mere fact you just said so’ll make it happen, oh fearless leader,” Willy said resignedly. “That is the way it works.”

“You are a sweetheart. Never hesitate to call. If I’m in the middle of a gunfight or something, I’ll phone you right back.”

“It’s AA. It’s anonymous.” “It’s Vermont, stupid. There’re twelve people in the whole state. Everybody knows everybody else. Who else was there?”

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover.

New Cozy

Title:  All the Little Liars by Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Minotaur Books 240 pp, October 2016
Genre: mystery, cozy, series, Aurora Teagarden,  fiction,
3.5 stars
I don't think this author needs any introduction after the urban fantasy Southern Vampire HBO TrueBlood mystery series. Although as I have said before, I like her earlier mysteries more, and love the current  Midnight Texas series.  Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League.  She is a member of the board of Sisters in Crime, and alternates as president of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance.
Story line:
This is the 9th installment but 13 years after the previous mystery. There are many expected changes but it remains comfortably familiar.  Recently, many well established authors have had minor but glaring errors in their books which is more than a little disappointing. As an easy read, it is simple to ignore them, but they are annoying. Roe is always a charming librarian, and we want to catch up with what happens next with an old friend, however fictional. She's back from her honeymoon, her 15 year old half brother Phillip is now living with them, but mysteriously disappears, and then a body is found. It's a typical cozy in that the amateur detective solves the case that stymies  police and FBI. This wasn't the best read as I missed the wit and intelligence of Roe, but it was short and has an obvious progression. There are evidently 4 HallMark movies starring Candace Cameron Bure, which might explain the new, and forthcoming, books.The first two films, based on the second  and first book premiered in 2015 on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel. The third film is based on the third book Three Bedrooms, One Corpse while the fourth film is The Julius House (2016).
Read on:
If you like cozy mysteries. It won't disappoint her fans.
Robin was nothing if not suspicious; since he was a mystery writer, that came naturally.

I was learning about living with a writer. I had loved Robin’s crime novels long before I’d ever met the man and loved him, too.

I appreciated the fact that the library was so relevant to the lives of the people it served.

But I’d always been a printed-word person. I loved holding an actual book. I loved turning the pages. I loved carrying a novel around with me, getting it out of my purse at lunch to read for a few minutes in the break room. I had never been able to fathom what people did with their free moments, if they didn’t read. But I’d become increasingly aware that this attitude aged me, made me more like seventy-six than thirty-seven.

There were more people we could have called, but abruptly, we circled our wagons and spent the rest of our evening reading.

Baby happiness, apparently, was universal.

Every town has a boy like Clayton, I suppose.

A row of casserole dishes cluttered the table. Friends had brought food. That proved we were in a crisis.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Friday, November 4, 2016


Title: The Ill-Kept Oath by CC Aune
Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishers (Sept 2016) 416pp
Genre: mystery, paranormal, YA, historical fantasy, Victorian,  fiction,
3.5 stars
From Amazon's author page: " Aune’s ramblings have led her through 49 states—nine of which she has called home—plus a fair number of countries. She has been a journalist and a contributor for the companion book to PBS’s 2000 series In Search of Our Ancestors. Currently, she directs the blog One Year of Letters, which explores the internal landscape of writers. The Ill-Kept Oath is her debut novel. This is the first of a planned series, with the second Talisman Keepers installment in rewrite."
Story line:
I received an advance copy but after a few chapters found it didn't meet my expectations. It was less paranormal/ fantasy and more scattered romance. I put it aside for more compelling reads, until rainy, snowy weather held me housebound. Then, grasping the central characters, and melodramatic teen writing, it was a quick read. The two heroines Josephine and Prudence, write to each other from their respective abodes, Stanistead House, a country estate, and London during the Marriage Mart Season. Both are interested in obtaining husbands, both have received an inheritance of Talismans, and both find themselves involved in intrigue. Prudence Fairweather and her brother Edward were taken in by Lord Middlemere, who has a daughter of similar age Josephine Weston. All three were raised in ignorance of their blood legacy, as per the Oath. Prudence,18, has limited options because she is poor, but she is pursued by Underwood (dull but wealthy) while she is interested in the unreliable William MacNeal. There is of course an evil socialite. Lady Josephine, 16, is interested in Robert Quimby, a young military man who is socially beneath her. Meanwhile, there are trolls rampaging in the countryside and magic escaping in candlelit ballrooms.
There is some interesting historical detail (the costume and waltzes) with dark magic being slowly revealed. Good character development bodes well for the continuation of this series.  I would have preferred to read the series together as I felt much was unexplained in volume one, lose ends abound, and we still don't know what kind of magic to expect. The story feels incomplete. Also, who is the target audience?
Normally, Prudence would never challenge authority, but her guardian, having conjured this evocative subject, might as well have touched a spark to gunpowder. Curiosity gave way to burgeoning wonder.
“They possessed a rare set of talents called the Inheritance.”
She’d spent six weeks in London undergoing this transformation. Gone was the country girl who climbed trees and rode bareback; gone forever her girlhood spent in the idyllic hills of the west. Until now, she had directed no thought toward her future. Love might have found her in Wiltshire...
“Shall we rely on social calls to open the right doors? My heart may not be so sanguine with the purposes of a Season, but I have accepted it as a necessary rite of my passage. I’ve been in London already one quarter of a year but not one event have I attended."
She was doomed to be perceived as an immature child, and the keepsakes seemed to make matters worse. Edward’s point about her reputation had been perfectly valid, however cruelly stated, but the dangers were worse than he could possibly imagine.
Middlemere squeezed the bridge of his nose. Two decades ago, he had postulated that Talismans could, even without ritual, awaken a Keeper’s instincts.
With a crescendo of chords, Middlemere ended the concerto. Everyone applauded, whether they’d been listening or not.
“No one expected the Talismans to exert a force of their own. We called ourselves Talisman Keepers, but our power relied on more than mere objects. Most Keepers formed partnerships that made them still stronger. In the early days, they offered their services in exchange for titles and land and became much coveted by the nobility.
They would descend on our Family and examine everyone for the Trait, identifying you and perhaps Edward before drawing Mr. MacNeal into the net. What would happen to Us then is uncertain, but the Exorcist’s description still burns in my head: a magical Voiding of one’s Memory with the potential to produce unexpected Results.
“Not at all. Think of the quarrels he and I shall have. I’m far too opinionated to be a good marchioness.”
She advanced to the sideboard and poured them all a strong drink, which Prudence and MacNeal accepted with a good deal more alacrity than was strictly necessary.
Do you have any idea what the average man thinks about?” Prudence shuddered and turned bright red.
“I have learned enough to make me proud of my heritage, but if the price of happiness is never to learn another thing about the Inheritance, then gladly will I pay."
Read on
If you like Gail Carriger, Alan Bradley, Seth Graham Smith Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Forgotten Wife

Title: The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
Publisher: Sourcebook Landmarks (Oct 2016), 304 pp
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
3 stars
From her bio "Once a New York City lawyer, Marie Benedict had long dreamed about a fantastical job unraveling the larger mysteries of the past as an archaeologist or historian -- before she tried her hand at writing. While drafting her first book, she realized that she could excavate the possible truths lurking in history through fiction, and has done so in THE OTHER EINSTEIN, the story of Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein's first wife and a physicist herself. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also authored The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare. She is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law, and lives in Pittsburgh with her family."
Story line:
This is a novel about Albert Einstein's first wife, Mileva (Mitzi) Maric (1875-1948). She was born into a wealthy Serbian family and was extraordinarily talented in physics and mathematics; she attended all boys schools and programs where women were restricted, excluded) encouraged by her father. Einstein, a socially awkward geek promised her equality and seduced her. After their first child dies, he marries her (1903). His 'miracle' year was 1905 when he produced several papers he had been developing. Let's just categorically state no man/woman works in isolation and several of his theories depend on brilliant mathematics (her forte). Two children later he starts an affair with his first cousin Elsa (marrying her (1914) as soon as the divorce was finalized, 5 years after separation). Yes Einstein appears to be something of a scoundrel, born up in several other accounts, but I was more astonished at the transformation of the brilliant mind with the potentially astounding career into a meek housewife. Moral of the story? Don't get pregnant until you are well into your career. I have taught classes on women in science, and she has been an example (her test papers are brilliant). There is not a lot of science here, indeed, it almost is a romance novel. I enjoyed her friends and her initial outlook. The rigors of social and intellectual society were detailed and contrasted, with most women frustratingly dependent on beauty standards and husband potential. And while it was interesting and thought provoking, I thought there was too much artistic license. It is a slow paced ambitious story with reasonable characterization; It serves to remind women what is still at stake in today's society. It left me depressed.

Turn the knob and push the door open, I told myself. You can do this. Crossing this threshold is nothing new. You have passed over the supposedly insurmountable divide between male and female in countless classrooms.
“Be bold,” Papa would whisper in our native, little-used Serbian tongue. “You are a mudra glava. A wise one. In your heart beats the blood of bandits, our brigand Slavic ancestors who used any means to get their due. Go get your due, Mitza. Go get your due.”
Was he truly so self-focused that he believed I withdrew my affections first? That my self-protection and the recent strengthening of my resolve happened before he cheated on me and bled me dry of my scientific ambitions?
Since he’d unilaterally removed my name from those papers, thereby putting the actual award out of my reach, the least I deserved was the money.
As I took on the roles of his lover, the mother of his children, his wife, and his secret scientific partner, I allowed him to trim away all the parts that didn’t fit his mold.
I have reclaimed my intellect and my scientific passion by tutoring promising young female scientists.
Read on:
Nonfiction: Albert Einstein/Mileva Marić: The Love Letters, edited by Jürgen Renn and Robert Schulmann; Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance by Dennis Overbye; In Albert’s Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein’s First Wife, by Milan Popovic; Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson; and Einstein’s Wife: Work and Marriage in the Lives of Five Great Twentieth Century Women, by Andrea Gabor.
Memoir: Jane Hawkins Traveling to Infinity
Fiction: Paula McLain The Paris Wife,  Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Time for scary books!

Title: The Queen's Accomplish by Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher:  Bantam, 386 pp October 4, 2016
Genre: mystery, cozy, English historical, WWII fiction, series
4+ stars
MacNeal is the NYTimes best selling author of the Maggie Hope (#6) series. Her novels have been nominated for many awards, with her first, Mr Churchill's Secretary winning the Barry award. Her  first job was assistant to novelist John Irving, she graduated cum laude and with departmental honors from Wellesley College, cross-registered for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Her stories are well researched, which rich historical detail. There is significant character development between books, although it seems each ends where the next begins. I enjoy reading about strong, independent, capable women and Maggie makes a fascinating seasoned spy/special agent. Her exploits vividly portray the blackout, terror, everyday life of war torn London.
Story line:
We have another chapter in Maggie Hope's wartime experiences, this one darker than most. It also represents a dark time, especially to the reader who knows three more bleak years are ahead. And darker still with the blatant rampant sexism which still exists today. There are several story lines, involving characters from previous books, so it is useful to read them in order. Primarily, Maggie is to aid DCI Durgin of Scotland Yard in tracking down a serial killer, a copycat Jack the Ripper. The victims include many of the women Maggie has trained to become agents, so the hunt becomes very personal and potentially very dangerous. It is a quick intriguing read, one that is thought provoking and informative. I look forward to Maggie rescuing her half sister in Paris.
Something was wrong. Maggie Hope was sure, but she couldn’t yet put her finger on it...
Maggie was working as a girl Friday in a dim reception room at 64 Baker Street, one of the Special Operations Executive’s offices.
Only twenty-seven, Maggie had already performed any number of missions as an agent for SOE, but had taken a desk job in London while she was waiting for the arrival of her German half sister, Elise Hess, a Resistance worker in Berlin.
After all, she’d been secretary to the P.M. himself—as well as saving the life of the Princess Elizabeth, parachuting into Nazi Berlin, teaching at a paramilitary camp, and keeping the First Lady of the United States of America safe from scandal. How hard could managing an office be? And it was only temporary, until her half sister arrived in London and settled in.
When she’d arrived in London from Boston, four years ago, all she’d wanted to do was settle her grandmother’s estate, then return to the United States to pursue doctoral studies in mathematics at MIT, one of the few top universities to allow women as graduate students.
“It’s like … an accident of number theory. With enough data points, patterns will emerge that point to the place where the murders took place.”
“Are ye daft, woman?” Durgin exploded. “That’s the looniest idea I’ve ever heard of! We don’t use humans as live bait! This isn’t some Highland huntin’ party!”
I can’t fight everything, Maggie realized. But I can do some things. And those I’ll do to the best of my ability and strength.
Read on:
Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series
Nicola Upson Josephine Tey series
Rhys Bowen Royal Spyness series
Emma Jameson Marriage can be Murder
I intend to look up Sarah Sundin who evidently also writes WWII novels. MacNeal,also has an excellent bibliography at the end of this book.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cozy reads!

Title: Judgment of Murder by CS Challinor
Publisher: Midnight Ink Nov 2016
Genre: cozy, mystery, English historical, British mystery, Scottish barrister, 
4+ stars
Challinor was born in the US, educated in Scotland and England (joint Hons in Latin, French) and currently lives in Florida. She also holds a diploma in Russian from the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild, New York, and writes the critically acclaimed Rex Graves mystery series featuring the Scottish barrister-sleuth.  The cozy series begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), and continues with 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) Murder at Midnight (2014) and Murder comes Calling (2015). I particularly appreciate the understated humour and banter between Rex and and his fiancé Helen d'Arcy (schoolteacher) and have enjoyed the series more with each new book. Challinor keeps most readers guessing as she cleverly spreads suspicion and clues and red herrings. Cozy fans will enjoy this traditional series featuring a witty, charming and engaging sleuth. Her light touch makes them entertaining reads, perfect for cold winter nights. JoM will make a lovely Christmas gift.
Story Line:
An old colleague Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, the infamous Judge Murder, dies in England, but his daughter Phoebe, newly widowed, suspects foul play. Rex Graves QC develops his prosecutorial expertise to sleuth his way through possible method and probable motive and near death.  His trusty likable colleague Alistair helps investigate and even saves Rex at one point. Both are caught up in another regional case with abducted girl(s), linking cold cases, murderers and suspects. Rex does like to announce the murderer in a denouement, continuing the Golden Age style. Challinor's mysteries are a welcome and charming modern take on Agatha Christie. I felt this one was more multilayered although they remain descriptive stories. Reading enjoyment may benefit from knowledge of previous cases and character development. 

Read On:
Anne Cleeland (Shetland), Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton (Hamish McBeth), Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness), Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby), Alexander McCall Smith (Sunday Philosophy Club), Paige Shelto  (Scottish bookshop)

The golf could wait. Murder could not.
In the event he was on a wild goose chase, he thought he might as well do some sightseeing and make the most of his sabotaged weekend.
Miss Bird had been their housekeeper since he was a boy, and she and his mother persisted in calling him by his given name, instead of its derivative “Rex,” which he preferred. Now that they were well into their eighties he had lost all hope of their changing the habit.
She spoke in the genteel tones of Morningside ladies, which Rex often thought belied a razor sharp mind that had lost none of its acuity in her advancing age.
“Well, I wish you’d just hurry up and marry the woman. You know how I love weddings.” Rex gazed at his friend in mild frustration.
I’m aboot as lethal as one of these chips.” 
Rex commended his friend’s foresight, without fully comprehending how he had been able to run with a crowbar secreted in his coat, but now wasn’t the time to ask."
“Your mother must be so proud of you, as am I. I suppose you could go about incognito but you’re a hard person to disguise.”

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ancient forests

Title: The Trees by Ali Shaw
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2016 496pp

Genre: fantasy, dystopian, fiction, English literature,

4.5+ stars


Ali Shaw graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English literature. He has worked as a bookseller and at the Bodleian library, Oxford. His first book The Girl With the Glass Feet won the Desmond Elliott Prize and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel and longlisted for the Guardian First Novel.

Story line:

When a review says: The Trees does for trees what Hitchcock did for birds. You've been warned. (Irish Times) you are compelled to read this. Especially if the author is Shaw. His writing is amazing, evocative, enthralling and quite unsettling at times. The rich poetic descriptions reveal a multilayered story with self discovery, friendships, survival, justice, folklore and fairytale fantastical elements. The magic is both light and dark. I loved his surprising first book, The Girl with Glass Feet. Shaw's books deserve a much wider audience for the clever mastery of language alone. Add the original characters and you have yourself a new author to follow.

What would you do if giant ancient forests were created overnight, destroying civilization as you know it? How would you adapt? This book is quite thought provoking, as well as haunting. I found the questions of what is wild, and how do humans relate to and abuse the environment even more important to have recognized and discussed now. There is great character development in these unlikely protagonists as they go in search of their loved ones and learn to cope with the new normal. Their actions have consequences, but we find hope in the strangest places. And the journey is ultimately what is important. It's rather epic. I loved that the forester was going to have all the answers.

Highly recommend. This book will remain long after you finish, and also make for an interesting book club discussion.

Read On:

Of Bees and Mist (Erick Setiawan), The Winter's Tale(Mark Helprin), Perdita (Hilary Scharper), The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey), Gossip from the Forest (Sara Maitland), Uprooted (Naomi Novik) or if you like Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire


The forest burst full-grown out of the earth, in booming upper-cuts of trees and bludgeoning branches. It rammed through roads and houses alike, shattering bricks and exploding glass. It sounded like a thousand trains derailing at once, squeallings and jarrings and bucklings all lost beneath the thunderclaps of broken concrete and the cacophony of a billion hissing leaves. Up surged the tree trunks, up in a storm of foliage and lashing twigs that spread and spread and then, at a great height, stopped.

In a blink of an eye, the world had changed, There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly chinking shower of rubbled cement. Branches stilled amid the wreckage they had made. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, a suburb had lain, there was no only woodland standing among ruins ….”

Title: The Trees by Ali Shaw
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2016 496pp

Genre: fantasy, dystopian, fiction, English literature,

4.5+ stars


Ali Shaw graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English literature. He has worked as a bookseller and at the Bodleian library, Oxford. His first book The Girl With the Glass Feet won the Desmond Elliott Prize and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel and longlisted for the Guardian First Novel.

Story line:

When a review says: The Trees does for trees what Hitchcock did for birds. You've been warned. (Irish Times) you are compelled to read this. Especially if the author is Shaw. His writing is amazing, evocative, enthralling and quite unsettling at times. The rich poetic descriptions reveal a multilayered story with self discovery, friendships, survival, justice, folklore and fairytale fantastical elements. The magic is both light and dark. I loved his surprising first book, The Girl with Glass Feet. Shaw's books deserve a much wider audience for the clever mastery of language alone. Add the original characters and you have yourself a new author to follow.

What would you do if giant ancient forests were created overnight, destroying civilization as you know it? How would you adapt? This book is quite thought provoking, as well as haunting. I found the questions of what is wild, and how do humans relate to and abuse the environment even more important to have recognized and discussed now. There is great character development in these unlikely protagonists as they go in search of their loved ones and learn to cope with the new normal. Their actions have consequences, but we find hope in the strangest places. And the journey is ultimately what is important. It's rather epic. I loved that the forester was going to have all the answers.

Highly recommend. This book will remain long after you finish, and also make for an interesting book club discussion.

Read On:

Of Bees and Mist (Erick Setiawan), The Winter's Tale(Mark Helprin), Perdita (Hilary Scharper), The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey), Gossip from the Forest (Sara Maitland), Uprooted (Naomi Novik) or if you like Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire


The forest burst full-grown out of the earth, in booming upper-cuts of trees and bludgeoning branches. It rammed through roads and houses alike, shattering bricks and exploding glass. It sounded like a thousand trains derailing at once, squeallings and jarrings and bucklings all lost beneath the thunderclaps of broken concrete and the cacophony of a billion hissing leaves. Up surged the tree trunks, up in a storm of foliage and lashing twigs that spread and spread and then, at a great height, stopped.

In a blink of an eye, the world had changed, There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly chinking shower of rubbled cement. Branches stilled amid the wreckage they had made. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, a suburb had lain, there was no only woodland standing among ruins ….”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Bubble Bubble, Toil and Trouble

TitleThrice the Brinded Cat hath Mew'd By Alan Bradley
Publisher: Bantam, 352 pp September 2016
Genre: cozy mystery, YA, British, historical, fiction
5 stars : Read in one sitting, as all previous books were, often late into the night
Alan Bradley was born in Toronto, Canada. After a career in television broadcasting, he retired from the University of Saskatchewan to write full-time. His publications include children’s stories, lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers and screenplays. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in various literary journals. He was the recipient of the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature. 
The first in the series, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crime Writers Association in the UK; the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; the 2010 Dilys, awarded by the International Mystery Booksellers Association; the Spotted Owl Award, given by the Friends of Mystery, and the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award, given by the Crime Writers of Canada for Best First Novel. It was also nominated for an Anthony Award, a Barry Award, and a Macavity Award. Sweetness made numerous lists and awards including the New York Times, as a Favorite Mystery of 2009, an American Library Association nominee as Best Book For Young Adults; a Barnes and Noble Bestseller. The audiobook version of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” was voted Best AudioBook by iTunes. The books are all NYTimes best sellers. Don't miss the audio books narrated by Jayne Entwistle- she is absolutely perfect, and in 2014 won Outstanding Audiobook Narration for The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. Academy Award-winning producer/director Sam Mendes, of “Skyfall” and “American Beauty” fame has optioned for Flavia for television movies (2012).
Story line:
This is book 8 in what I hope is a long series of sleuthing for our intrepid youngster Flavia De Luce. Yes, another cliffhanger so we know book 9 is in progress. Please read these in order as there is a good progression of character, friendships, sleuthing techniques, layers of personal history, and 'in jokes'. My favourites are volumes 1,6 and now 8. A word of warning, have your hankies ready. If you love the Flavia stories you will definitely enjoy this installment back in 1950s England. Flavia returns without welcome as her father is gravely ill. In no time she's off on trusty Gladys, in the usual English weather with the usual suspects. Fortunately there is a body and sleuthing commences.
Flavia has charmed me since the very first novel as has Bradley's excellent writing. Flavia is still a fascinating, captivating, curious, quirky, beguiling, precocious 12 year old. Her observations are priceless. I enjoy the intricate mysteries that Bradley creates, here with interesting details of woodcarvers, witches, childhood storybooks, but Flavia is the reason to read. I love her clever mind. She is going to be an incredible, formidable adult! I can't wait for the next book. The anticipation of each novel is exceeded only by the actual read. 
Gladys gave a little squeak of delight. She loved coasting as much as I did, and if there was no one in sight, I might even put my feet up on her handlebars: a bit of bicycle artistry that she loved even more than ordinary free-wheeling.
Life with my sister Daffy had taught me that you could tell as much about people by their books as you could by snooping through their diaries - a practice of which I am exceedingly fond and, I must confess, especially adept."
Thanks to my Girl Guide training, I was able to bluff convincingly when required. All those wet and windy Wednesday evenings spent in cold, drafty parish halls were paying off at last.
How could I tell the dear man that murder made me feel so gloriously alive?
The DeLuce blood is stronger, afterall, then sentiment.
There is an art to staging a convincing accident. It is not as easy as you may think - particularly on short notice. First and foremost, it must look completely natural and spontaneous. Secondly, there must be nothing comical about it, since comedy saps sympathy.
The world can be an interesting place to a girl who keeps her ears open.
Read on: 
If you like Harriet the Spy or Lemony Snickett's Violet Baudeleaire. Or are a Sherlock Holmes Fan.
Or listen to Jayne Entwistle narrate Julie Berry's Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.
Laurie King The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Martha Grimes Belle Ruin series
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sometimes you can't escape the claws

Sometimes you can't escape claws...
Title:  Escape Clause by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers, #9 )
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons 400 pp October 2016
Genre: mystery, thriller fiction,
5 stars
From Amazon author list: John Sandford is the pseudonym for the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist John Camp. He is the author of twenty-six Prey novels, most recently Extreme Prey; four Kidd novels; nine Virgil Flowers novels; three YA novels coauthored with his wife, Michele Cook; and three stand-alones, most recently Saturn Run.
Story line:
Virgil Flowers, my favourite investigator for the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), is back for another roller coaster ride. We moved from dognapping to catnapping- with endangered tigers stolen from the Mn Zoo. Everyone else is involved in politics at the state fair (leftover from the last Davenport Prey book). Virgil gets the short straw as body counts rise, brutal attack occur and bombs go off.
I always looks for the references of either Davenport or Flowers depending on the book series, and this doesn't disappoint. I don't think of it as a spinoff either, Virgil feels more like a real MN cop: tough, smart, long haired (farmer), quirky Midwestern boy. Love the cultural t-shirt references. He does the legwork, finds the clues, thinks through the larger pictures and gets his sociopath, without a gun, if at all possible. The cat helped.
I read this in one sitting, relieved to be laughing more with Virgil's engaging antics and comments. Several of the Flowers books have been very dark indeed. The Midwest realism works on all levels, from the swimming hole to the immigrant factory to the traffic. Small town life contrasts seething political issues, with good commentary and further thought. This book will not disappoint.
Read on:
To the first Virgil Flowers Dark of the Moon, or the Prey Series.
If you like Lee Child (Jack Reacher), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch) or David Baldacci (John Puller) series.
You must be the famous Virgil fuckin’ Flowers.”
Virgil could feel his heart clogging up with grease as he finished the sandwich,
New Ulm was getting more like LA every single day, Virgil thought.
“Did you have a gun with you?” Davenport asked. “Yeah.” “You didn’t shoot it, did you?” “No.” “There’s the fuckin’ Flowers we all know and love,” Davenport said.
.....but they had the IQs of small rocks.
“It’s another one of your damn Twin Cities murders that you keep unloading on us,” the sheriff said. “If he’d dropped the refrigerator fifteen feet west, it’d technically be a Minnesota case, which it should be.” “You’re breaking my heart,” Virgil said.
“Why do your cases always wind up like this?” Duncan asked, running a hand through his hair. “Why can’t you have a straightforward missing-tigers case?”
....had physically frozen on a street corner. For nearly half an hour, he’d been unable to pick up a foot to move. Since it was St. Paul, nobody had noticed.
“I gotta think,” Virgil said. “I mean, I am thinking, but I’m not coming up with anything.”
“Beer, weed, and skinny-dipping,” Bill said. He sounded happy about it. “It is just sort of Minnesota in the summertime, isn’t it?”
“If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t believe it. With you, I think, ‘Yeah, probably,’ ” she said.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Olympic reading

Olympic reading
(faster, higher, stronger: Citius Altius Fortius)
Title: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg
Publisher: Random House. 400 pp
Genre: non fiction, self help, team building
4+ stars
Author: Duhigg is an award winning reporter for the NYTimes (since 2013, previously he worked freelance). He studied history at Yale, MBA from Harvard. He is the author of the best selling and excellent Power of Habit (2010), about the science of habit formation. His books are well researched and informative. He has a clear writing style, if somewhat wordy.
Story line:
Subtitle is secrets of being productive in life and business.
There are 8 chapters including motivation, teams, focus (the best chapter), goals, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data. The appendix has readers guide, with suggestions. Each chapter includes a variety of stories/ examples, e.g. the marines, Disney, Detroit to airlines that reinforce the 8 concepts. I found them too detailed and not necessarily the best examples. It is overall positive thinking with helpful advice, often with suggestions which will appeal to particular individuals. Hence  people will get different messages from this book. Suggestions need greater prominence, or brevity within the text. This is still a good reference book for team building and project management.
Bottom line? Take time to smell the roses too. Life isn't all about being productive. I was probably the wrong audience for this book as I am already too efficient. Most of this seemed obvious, not secret. You need to set goals, focus on them, recognize choices, use discipline and better leadership to strengthen team efforts. And know you are  never finished. In short ("cliff notes"):
1) frame decisions as opportunities, not problems
2) construct teams where positive interaction is crucial
3) engage with the vast data stream (recognize the difference between finding an answer,  understanding what it means, and then incorporating it)
4) set goals that push you beyond the "to do lists", and toward something large (stretch goals/ objectives that can spark outsized leaps in productivity)
Read on
If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, Matthew Syed
These are the things, that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.
There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self-marketing.
The need for control is a biological imperative. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster….One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. Each choice, no matter how small, reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy.
For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends. They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard.
Teams need to believe that their work is important, feel their work is personally meaningful, clear goals and defined roles. Team members need to know they can depend on one another. But most important, teams need psychological safety…..
It's important to manage how you think, rather than what you think.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Title: Shadow Play Iris Johansen
Publisher: St Martin Press. 337 pp
Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, fiction,
4 stars
Iris Johansen is a New York Times best selling author whose genres include romance, mystery/suspense and crime/thriller. She is writing the Kendra Michels series with her son, the Edgar award winning screenwriter and novelist, Roy Johansen. Her daughter Tamara is her research assistant.  Shadow Play is part of the Cara Delaney mini series within the well written Eve Duncan series (first published in 1998). Her next stand alone is No Easy Prey (April 2017);  Nightwatch (October 2016 with Roy).
Story line:
Shadow Play is the first book in a trilogy, within the Eve Duncan series (and book 19 of that). The other two have recently been published, Hide Away and Night and Day, which is why I am reviewing now. Each of the books ends on a cliff hanger, and to me was not complete. Each installment is very good, there is satisfactory character development, action, adventure and more than a few sociopaths.
Eve Duncan is a world renowned forensic sculptor who has helped many families find closure. Early books focused on the kidnapping and death of her young daughter Bonnie. Her quest for justice with her police detective, now love, provided fascinating, all too real,  and compelling reading. They now live in rural Georgia but head to California to solve this crime (and over to Scotland and Russia for the next two books).  There are elements of paranormal/supernatural in this series, communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts or understanding animals. It is still a relief to not have graphic sex or violence (although there are plenty of gruesome details) with a mystery, and the detailed relationships between Eve and Quinn as well as Jane, Margaret, Cara, Jenny and Bonnie are lovely. The series looks to continue strongly, with additional developments.
Read on:
If you like Kathy Reichs, Lisa Jackson, Kay Hooper, JD Robb, Karen Robards, Beverly Connor, Heather Graham
This child’s killer might only have been a shadow-figure, but it was malignant and evil and Eve felt as if she could reach out and touch him.
Out of the blue, out of the darkness, those words had come to her. Weird. Imagination?
...When I work on a skull, it doesn’t usually want to have a conversation.” She shook her head. “Well, that’s not quite true, it did happen to me once before, and that may be why I got a little nervous. I was working on a very nasty, vindictive man who only wanted to bring me into his world and hurt me.
“And I’ll tell Joe Quinn what you’ve said if it will make you feel better. I’m sure that dossier you have on me stressed Joe’s importance in my life. He’s very good at eliminating threats, real or otherwise.”
How could she tell him that it wasn’t his competence but her own fear that she’d be responsible for something happening to him? Joe was like a force of nature when he was on the hunt.
Margaret nodded. “Okay, here goes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been able to communicate with animals. I can kind of merge and read them.” Silence. “Read them?” Nalchek repeated. “Read their minds?” “No, not usually. Oh, sometimes. It depends on the species.
His voice was soft, urgent. “I have so much love for you, Eve. I’m full of it, you’re my center. You always have been and always will be. If your Bonnie drifts away from you, I’ll just pour more of that love toward you. I’ll find a way to stop you from hurting. I promise you.”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Get thee to the Library!

Title:  The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Publisher:  Roc Penguin
Genre: mystery, time travel, science fiction, steam punk, fantasy, fiction
4 stars
This is the debut fantasy novel of the English writer Genevieve Cogman.  The series continues with Masked City due out September, Burning Page December 2016; the fourth and fifth are already in progress. She has an MSc in statistics with Medical Applications and works for the NHS. It's obvious her early reading included Tolkien, Conan Doyle and Pratchett.
Story line:
Irene Winters is a professional spy (junior agent and immortal) for The Library, a shadowy organisation in between worlds which preserves (collects) unique fiction from all realities, alternate worlds. She and her new assistant Kai step into an alternative Victorian London to retrieve a dangerous book/manuscript by Grimm, currently owned by a bibliophile vampire. She is a spunky, loyal, smart heroine, raised in the Library system (both her parents still work there). From her first book retrieval I was captivated and loved her wicked sense of humour as well as her joy in reading.  It's a dangerous job on so many levels.
This is a fast, easy read that is clever, fascinating, exciting and imaginative. There are dirigibles, fae, vampires, dragons, werewolves, and Sherlock (aka the dashing Peregrine Vale, 15th Earl of Leeds). It is rather an eclectic mix of magic, Victorian mundane, steampunk tech and literary humor which makes you easily suspend reality.  Initially I thought it was a YA novel with fast pace, simplistic story and technology, but i suspect it is more that it feels like a series. Strong world building, with detailed descriptions, interesting and numerous characters, convoluted twists with a short timeline (taking place in several days), will also make the next two novels easier. It would have also helped if I'd had read the appendix on agent handbook first. The mysterious library, a character in itself, balances the worlds between fae (chaos) and dragons (order) and gives humans a chance. I'm glad the sequels are coming out this year and will definitely pick them up. Especially as Irene is heading back to Victorian London, Kai gets kidnapped by fae, and...!
Read on
If you liked Samantha Shannon The Mime Order, Lisa Unger Ink and Bone,  Shadow scale, Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate or Jasper Fforyde's Thursday Next series
If you are a fan of Dr Who
Cogman highly recommends Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London 2011 (which I need to find).
...but one of the Library’s mottos was borrowed directly from the great military thinker Clausewitz: no strategy ever survived contact with the enemy. Or, in the vernacular, Things Will Go Wrong. Be Prepared.
“Open to the Library,” she said, giving the word Library its full value in the Language, and felt the tattoo scrawled across her back shift and writhe as the link was established.
She just wanted—had always wanted—a good book to read.
It was about finding unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space.
But when she’d signed up for eternity, she hadn’t quite expected to spend most of it revising vocabulary lists.
He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility.
For the moment, we’ll have to assume he understands that we know all.” “All?” “We are the Library,” Coppelia pointed out.“What we don’t know, we research. Now tell me the rest.”
Librarian in Residence was a post of some responsibility.
Or possibly possessiveness was a characteristic of draconic affection. They were supposed to be hoarders, after all. Not so different from Librarians.
The known worlds are ranged on a spectrum from order to chaos.
The purpose of the Library is to preserve humanity from either absolute reality or absolute unreality.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley,

Perfect summer read

Title: Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron
5 Stars *****
Publisher: Soho Crime        320pp
Genre: regency mystery, historical fiction, Jane Austen, mystery series
Author: Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews (b 1953)  is a mystery writer and has written several series. As Francine Mathews,  Merry Folger is a police officer in Nantucket while the Caroline Carmichael series are spy thrillers based on Mathews CIA analyst career. Her descriptive writing was influenced by one of her Princeton professors, John McPhee (one of my favourite non fiction writers!). As Stephanie Barron she writes the Jane Austen mysteries, presented as lost diaries edited by Barron. They are extremely well researched, witty, charming and a lovely homage to Jane Austen. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since the first novel. Worse, this novel takes place in November 1815 and Jane died in 1816. Barron writes for the thinking reader. These are gentle, entertaining mysteries with careful staging and intricate characters. You will enjoy the wit, charm and satire of Jane Austen in this beautiful homage. There are many Austen spin offs: Barron is my personal favourite.
Story line:
Being the 13th novel in the series.
The battle of Waterloo has left the British economy in shreds, and Henry Austen is nearly bankrupt. Jane is editing her proofs of Emma while nursing her beloved brother in London. There are wonderful quotes from Emma throughout.  Jane hears the two words Waterloo Map from the young, dying Calvary officer Col McFarland and sets out to unmask the poisoner. Jane's keen observations and wit provide interesting details of social conventions, daily life, and personal reflection that make this a wonderful period piece. Misdirection gives a nice twist at the end.

I still miss Lord Harold Trowbridge, her previous romantic interest and fellow sleuth (5 books ago) but delighted to see her reacquainted with the fascinating artist Raphael West. This is a rather fast paced two weeks in her life.  Persuasion is next!
Read on:
Laurie King's Mary Russell mysteries as period diaries
For period mysteries : Nicola Upson, Jacqueline Winspear, Deanna Raybourn, Barbara Cleverly, or Anne Perry.
For intricate historical novels, Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley,
Opening line: There can be few things more lowering to the female sensibility than to be caught in a shower of rain at exactly the moment one desires to appear to advantage.
Closing line: But as I watched West's equipage pull away from Hans Place,mi felt a blank pit of loneliness just below my heart. And hoped, for all of us, in the promise of spring.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover

Chilling summer thriller

Title: Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ Arlidge
Publisher:  Berkley 426 pp (2014/2015)
Genre: mystery, thriller, Helen Grace, psychological thriller, series, serial killer
4.5 stars
Arlidge (b 1974) has spent 15 year's writing high drama, prime time crime series for ITV, British television. He recently started the Det Helen Grace series, now into 6 books. Pop goes the Weasel is the 2nd, and I confess I couldn't wait and read right through five, (Doll's House, Liar, Liar, Little Boy Blue) eagerly awaiting the publication this autumn of Hide and Seek. His writing is terse, spare  in these dark, fast paced, gritty thrillers. The character development improves with each novel and secondary characters play wider varied roles. I find these addictive, in a most unpleasant way. These are not cosy mysteries as realistic events happen that will cause nightmares. They are all psychological thrillers that provide fresh angles to some truly horrible serial killers and their gruesome crimes. Although I think the first book was the most original.
Story line:
In Pop goes the Weasel, as in all, Det Helen Grace is committed to her job, still largely dysfunctional in society, keeps secrets, remains respected but not liked in the Southhampton Force, and can be trusted to never quit.  These mysteries must be read in order for the personal history, character development and escalating tension. As it's a series, I know she will survive, but each book represents a challenge as to what happens next. There are great narrative twists. Read collectively they are a roller coaster! It's always a race against time to find the killer before there is a next victim. They are very fast paced, short chapters, with vivid descriptions of time and place. I will continue to read them to see Det Grace grapple with her life.
Read on:
Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Stuart McBride, Peter May
Watch Luther, Dexter, MI5, Broadchurch, The Tunnel
Opening line The fog crept in from the sea, suffocating the city.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer reading

And the reading is easy!!
Title: For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul
4 Stars ****
Publisher: Alibi (Random House) April 2016 195 pp
Genre: historical mystery, cozy, series, Victorian 
Author: Paula Paul is an award winning journalist and author who has published over 25 novels. Her genres include historical fiction, literature and fiction, YA and mysteries.
I especially like her Dr Alexandra Gladstone mystery series (now on #5) 
Story line:
We return to Newton-Upon-the-Sea in the fifth book in the Alexandra Gladstone mystery series (Symptoms of Death, An Improper Death, Half a Mind to Murder, Medium Dead). I suggest reading them in order as there has been some character development; but minor story progression. It could be read as a stand alone. Constable Snow still doesn't believe her and Alexandra is always left to figure out the murderer using her observational skills and logic. Alexandra inherited the practice of doctor to the people of Newton-upon-sea (Essex). She is a strong female character, determined and intelligent in the socially crippling Victorian backwater. It is useful to remember what women had to deal with, the current freedoms we take for granted (and still fight to keep). There is also some antagonism between classes, which also restricts her subtle love interest Lord Dunsford (Nicholas Forsyth). I especially like Nancy, her intelligent, caring assistant, friend and housekeeper, and her Irish wolfhound Zack, who often growls at Nick. This time, Freemasons are being murdered, the local constable disappears instead of investigating, a Templar ghost is mysteriously riding nightly, and poisons are involved.
As a cozy this is not a fast paced mystery, and while it is predictable, it has an intriguing plot line and developing characters that I have come to enjoy. The sense of place works well with interesting descriptions of English village life. This would be a fun summer read. It is available on Kindle unlimited if you want to catch up on the previous books.
Read on:
If you like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Marty Wingate or Anne Perry.  Also, Imogen Robertson series of Westerman and Crowther and Tessa Harris series of Dr Silkstone.  For more complex historical mysteries read onto Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd and Laurie R King.
Fitzsimmons gasped when he saw that the apron that symbolized purity and cleanliness head been defiled with dried blood, yet there was no sign of a wound on Saul's body.
Impertinence doesn't become you.
By now she had gone beyond smelling the embalming chemicals and thought she could taste them.
When she arrived back home, the surgery's waiting room was already full of impatient patients. She and Nancy hardly had time to speak as they attended to the needs of those wanting tonics for rheumatism or herbs for a cough, a farmer with a dislocated shoulder, as well as villagers with various complaints.
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mrs Sherlock!

Title: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
Publisher: Bantam Press, Random House 384 pp (April 2016)
Genre: mystery, Sherlock Holmes, adventure, series, crime, historical thriller
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). Last week she was awarded an Agatha for best historical 2015 Dreaming Spies! 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 recently released The Marriage of Mary Russell, again, don't miss it! She is co-editor with Leslie Klinger (master Sherlock authority!) of A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (3rd volume later this year!). She is a strong supporter of libraries and much of her recent book tour helped raise funds. There were also spectacular events (see fashion show on her website  enjoy her blog posts and facebook!)
Story line:
This is the 15th Mary Russell (aka Mrs Sherlock Holmes) mystery, narrated by Mary and   this time with Mrs Hudson. Everyone has a backstory, and this is Mrs Hudson's. Knowing Holmes and Russell, could you have expected less of Hudson? She was a beauty who overcame heartbreaking challenges, lived on the edge and risked everything. A completely new twist on her relationship with Holmes.
They are very much historical novels, period pieces with intriguing mysteries.   Mary is a strong female protagonist, intellectually formidable, equal with Holmes with a subtle personal relationship that I find tantalizing and perceptive. She remains one of my favourite bluestockings. Doyle should be impressed. Would that Cumberbatch gets interested.
It is an interesting puzzle, an intricate plot, a fascinating view of the 1860-1880s (as well as 'current' 1925), with intriguing layered characters and detailed backgrounds, all making for another  very satisfying read. I'm going to reread the series in light of these revelations to see if I really missed the clues about Billy or Mrs Hudson. I can't wait for the next adventure. Don't miss King's recent short story on the Marriage of Mary Russell either!
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. Edited by Laurie Kind and Leslie Klinger
Arthur Conan Doyle The Adventure of the Gloria Scott
Caleb Carr The Italian Secretary
Alan Bradley Flavia DeLuce novels
Leslie Klinger The Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Larry Millett Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon (for Sherlock in Minnesota)
Anthony Horowitz The House of Silk, Moriarity, and short story The Three Monarchs
I was married to Sherlock Holmes, had known him only a few hours longer than I had known Mrs Hudson, and the basic fact of life with Holmes was:  the world is filled with enemies.
I see what you are up to, it said, but I love you anyway.
I stifled my arm's automatic impulse to catch the outstretched hand and whirl him against the wall- bereft heart had claimed Mrs Hudson for its own. I had known her for ten years now, lived with her for more than four, and she was as close to a mother as I would ever have again.
The embrace was as brief as it was emphatic, and left Billy open-mouthed as Holmes stepped away from me - one hand lingering on my shoulder. I felt a bit open-mouthed myself at this unprecedented public display.
Clara Hudson's dark hair had gone mostly grey before she realised that childhood was not intended to be a continuous stream of catastrophe and turmoil. At the time, while she was living it, the constancy of hunger, discomfort, dirt and uncertainty with the occasional punctuation of death and fists, was simply the price of existence...

It's a new book

....if you haven't read it!
Being a column about previously published books: perhaps reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps just reread, perhaps just recommended by a friend, perhaps on sale as an ebook. Or perhaps a library find!

Title:  Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
4.5 Stars ****
Publisher: Random House        384 pp (July 2015)
Genre: literary fiction, memoir fiction, novelized memoir, historical novel, Africa,
Paula McLain is the author of several novels (including two poetry books), and the international best seller (2012) The Paris Wife. She has definitely found her niche writing gorgeous stories about interesting women. Her writing is richly evocative of time and place, the engaging characters are well developed, however famous, and they are well researched. Her books, best sellers and NYTimes listed, have won notable awards and nominations; NPR named Circling the Sun one of the best books of 2015. Film rights have been optioned!
Story line:
Much of the story takes place in Kenya, Africa during the 1920s and 1930s. This is a short chapter in the life of Beryl Markham, ending with her transatlantic flight in 1936 (she lived another 50). Her life is full of bad choices and tragedy, but also held together by an indomitable spirit. Her love of Africa was a driving force, while social conventions were mostly to be ignored. So although this is white colonial Africa, she appears to be a much more modern, complicated woman. I thought her unruly girlhood (wild Masai tribe) was a rather romanticized, but the social frustration with conventional expectations were truly appalling. I keep thinking how far we've come, and then wondering if we really have. She was an extraordinary woman, adventurer and aviator. Her story deserves to be more widely known. She was the first and youngest woman to be a licensed horse trainer and the first woman to fly solo transatlantic (east to west), 1936).
While Beryl is the main character, Africa is an immense, constant presence, beautifully detailed and enjoyed by the reader. I also love her realistic descriptions of flying, which also show the love affair with the African landscape. This would be a perfect summer read.
Read on:
Beryl Markham West with the Night (1942)
Isak Dinesen Out of Africa
Prologue 1936. The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I've known, and somehow mine to fly.
First Line 1904. Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet somehow still new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).