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Monday, February 20, 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

An unusual, but effective take on the Gothic novel,  The Roanoke Girls is set in Kansas--on the flat plains with acres of wheat and soybeans and summer sun and heat-- hardly the usual Gothic setting.  

Except for the house; except for the mysterious, twisted plot.  Even those elements are handled in a contemporary style that is appropriate to the flat plains of Kansas as opposed to ancient European ruins surrounded by dark woods.  There are no moors, no treacherous cliffs, no supernatural elements, but there are secrets.

Plenty of them, as Lane Roanoke discovers when she leaves New York to live with her grandparents after her mother's suicide. She is definitely not in New York anymore, not that she wants to click her heels and return.

That summer, her vibrant, irrepressible cousin Allegra is 15 and Lane turns 16.  Lane learns to feed and care for the farm animals, learns to drive her grandfather's truck, and has her first real experience with boys.  And she finds out a little about her family's history--so many girls who left Roanoke, like her own mother--or who died, like Allegra's mother.  Allegra tells Lane that she will never leave Roanoke.

The summer has some dark turnings, however, and Lane leaves.  She tries to avoid even thinking about that summer, until eleven years later, when she receives a text and a phone call from Allegra.  Neither of which she answers.

A call from her grandfather to tell her that Allegra is missing brings her back to Kansas. Lane returns, hoping to find her cousin, not expecting to stay. The longer Allegra remains missing, however, the more determined Lane becomes to discover what happened, where she is, why she finally left.

Tangled, twisted, the story and the history.  Lane, caught between wanting to unravel both past and present and to deny both, struggles with what she knows and what she suspects. The plot moves back and forth between the present and that long ago summer.

The Roanoke Girls is a dark and disturbing tale told in a way that contains both intensity and detachment.  "Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly."
    
Originally, the title had much to do with my request for the book.  How many thousands of people have a fascination with Roanoke, VA, the colony that disappeared without a trace sometime between 1587 and 1590?  There are several possible connections, but the most tangible is the carving.

I can't say I liked it, but I did want to know what happened.

Read in August, 2016; blog review scheduled for Feb. 20, 2017.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Psychological/Suspense.  March 7, 2017.  Print length:  288 pages.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

A Death by Any Other Name is the third in this series by Tessa Arlen.  Somehow, I missed the second in this series, but perhaps the library will have a copy.

from the description: The elegant Lady Montfort and her redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, investigate a murder among a group of amateur rose-breeders while the idyllic English summer days count down to the start of the First World War.

The cook from Hyde Castle has been dismissed from her position when a guest dies after eating one of her dishes.  Although the inquest determined the death was a result of tainted fish, the cook had eaten of the same fish with no ill effects.  In hopes of restoring her reputation, the cook approaches Lady Montfort and her housekeeper Edith Jackson clear her name.

Lady Montfort, eager for another chance to use her skills of detection, elicits an invitation from the Haldane's to visit the rose-breeders and investigate the incident.  Her name and position alone would gain her admittance, but as the famed Gertrude Jekyll, renowned horticulturist and designer of gardens for Britain's elite, is Lady Montfort's current guest, there is no doubt that her visit will be considered a coup for the Haldane's.

Clementine Montfort and Edith Jackson are welcomed to Hyde Castle and find themselves among a diverse--and not entirely likable--group of rose-breeders whose friendships are rife with gossip and competition.   There are a number of red herrings (not all of which are satisfactorily explained) and undercurrents are plentiful.

Set in the summer of 1914, the events that signal the outbreak of the first World War are daily being reported, increasing the tension for some of the guests, not least Clementine Montfort.

I enjoyed this mystery, but found that some incidents and situations were not adequately explained.   A Death by Any Other Name did not feel as smooth and polished as the first book, but I do like the Shakespeare allusion in the title, and to quote another Gertrude, "a rose is a rose, is a rose."

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Historic Mystery.  March 14, 2017.  Print length:  336 pages.

Gertrude Jekyll designed some of the most beautiful gardens in England.  The following images are from Upton Grey, but images of other of her garden designs can be found here.

source:  restoration of Gertrude Jekyll's garden at Upton Grey

source:  restoration at Upton Grey

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

Alexandra Fuller's Quiet Until the Thaw is a compelling novel that manages to be funny and sad, satiric and sincere, clever...and deadly serious about the history of the government's policies concerning Native Americans and the way those policies have played out.

In a portion about the forced removal of children from their families to place them in Indian Boarding Schools (which were mostly shut down by 2007), Rick Overlooking Horse and You Choose Watson are caught running to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs officers who are chasing them.  Another boy is caught along with Rick and You Choose--Billy Mills, the fasted kid on the Rez, but even he is not fast enough to escape.  

A paragraph or so later, there is a mention of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and an announcer is shouting:  "Look at Mills!  Look at Mills!"  Billy Mills couldn't run fast enough to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but he eventually won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics--for real.

 It is this mixture of real people and real events along with the fictional stories of Rick Overlooking Horse, You Choose Watson, Squanto, and Le-a Brings Plenty that gives the novel a quiet authority.   

The problems and history of life on the Rez are not avoided or minimized, but they are not treated in the way one would expect.  The problems are part of the story and  part of the characters who inhabit the novel.   

 From early on, Fuller makes a point of how many Indians have filled the ranks of the military over the years from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and through Desert Storm.  Squanto, during Desert Storm has reason to remember what Rick Overlooking Horse has told him:

 "Remember this:  There will be nothing to signal the start of your war.  There will be nothing to signal its end.  There's just your war.  Only you will know it when it has started, and only you can choose when it will end."

The novel shifts from character to character and from event to event, and I loved Fuller's prose which kept me engaged the entire time.  I've pondered this review for the last ten days or so and find myself unable to genuinely relate how good I think the book is.  I've written entire paragraphs and deleted them.  For infinitely better and more thorough reviews, check out Sam and Nancy's reviews on Goodreads.  
  
In a flashback at the end of the book, Rick Overlooking Horse has been telling the "wonderful, terrible tales of how the whole world came to be," to young Daniel and Jerusalem Brings Plenty and Jerusalem asks, "how does it end?"

The old man replies, "It ends well.  It doesn't end soon, but it ends well.  All of it."

Don't miss this one.

NetGalley/Penguin Group.

Native American/Social Commentary.  June 27, 2017.  Print length: 288 pages.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Shallow End by Brenda Chapman

Shallow End by Brenda Chapman is the latest in the Stonechild & Rouleau series set in Kingston, Ontario.  Chapman's previous plots have taken inspiration from current problems that beset society, and Shallow End is no different.  Chapman, a former special education teacher, was at a special development day when a young teacher told about false accusations against him by two young women.  Although the girls eventually confessed that they were lying, the damage to the man's life and marriage was incalculable.

Child predators can be found in churches and schools and sports training, and in recent years, the predators have frequently been women.  Accusations of sexual predation are hard to refute, and even if proven false, the repercussions for everyone involved can be devastating.  The story that Chapman heard that day simmered in her brain until she formulated the plot that became Shallow End.

Jane Thompson, admired teacher and loving mother is accused of a sexual relationship with one of her twelve-year-old students.  The evidence appears solid, but Jane refuses to confess, and is sentenced to prison.  A year into her sentence, however, Jane confesses and agrees to therapy, earning a year off her original sentence.

Shortly after Jane returns to Kingston and a much diminished life, Devon Eton is found murdered.  Jane's husband has already been denying Jane's visits with her children and now refuses any contact between Jane and her children until the person who killed Devon is arrested.  Of course, Jane is the suspect who comes immediately to most minds.

In addition to the major story line, Kala Stonechild is dealing with her own grief and frustration over her niece Dawn, who has been taken from Kala and placed in foster care. Paul Gunderson continues to cope with Fiona, his manipulative estranged wife.  Rouleau has his own grief over his ex-wife's death.  Woodhouse remains the cunning, misogynistic, and vindictive presence that keeps Rouleau's team at odds.

While it isn't necessary to have read the previous books in the series, the characters and their overarching stories are part of the appeal for me.  

Cold Mourning, Butterfly Kills, and Tumbled Graves are the first three books in this outstanding series. (links are to my reviews)

If you have a chance to read this series, take it!  

Read in Dec.; blog post scheduled for Feb. 12, 2017.

NetGalley/Dundurn

Police Procedural.  March 11, 2017.  Print length:  384 pages. 

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Undesired and Catching Echoes

The Undesired opens with a scene of a father and young daughter in a car, dying from the exhaust fumes.  Your mind automatically wonders how they got there and who is responsible.  

Chapter One introduces single father Odinn, whose ex-wife has recently died.  Odinn struggles with the responsibilities of being more than a weekend father and seeks ways to help his daughter with her grief.

When a colleague dies unexpectedly, Odinn finally gets an interesting assignment investigating possible abuse at a home for young offenders.  The plot moves back and forth from the present to the past.  

The past segments allow us to see the home and the inhabitants through the eyes of Aldis, a young woman who does the cleaning.  In the present, Odinn attempts to balance a series of problems--interviewing individuals who were at the home during the 1974 incident, new information that makes him curious about his ex-wife's death, and his concerns about his daughter.

Definitely some surprises, especially in the conclusion.  It is so tempting to put the spoiler here, but it would change the way the reader approaches the novel.

Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir's The Undesired is a standalone and not part of her Thora Gudmundsdottir series.  

This new cover beats the previous two options by a long shot.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Psychological Suspense.  2012; 2017 (translation).  Print length:  362 pages.


Catching Echoes: Reconstructionist Series Book 1 by Meghan Ciana Doidge has murder, witches, and vampires.

I liked the first of this one quite a lot and was hoping for a fun paranormal romp.  

Unfortunately, the charm of the first portion of the book began to dissipate in the middle, and I was not at all impressed with the conclusion. 

I liked Wisteria in her reconstructionist role,  but the frequent references to a hidden magical power that others seem to recognize and leave Wisteria puzzle--feel contrived.  The creepy attraction between witch and vampire is a given. Much of the middle felt like filler, and it isn't a particularly long book, so that's a lot of filler. The conclusion was disappointing.

Doidge has a dedicated fan base who love her books, but if I want a good paranormal YA book, I turn to Maggie Steifvater or Kelley Armstrong.  I do enjoy a little paranormal mischief every once in a while, but this series may not be a good fit for me.

NetGalley/Old Man in the Crosswalk Productions

Paranormal/Crime.  Dec. 2016.  Print length:  234 pages.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Captive on the Fens by Joy Ellis and Other January Reads

Another addition to Ellis' Fen series featuring DI Nikki Galena and DS Joseph Easter.  

I regret the change in cover as I don't much like sensational covers and prefer the previous covers.

As in previous novels, the location becomes a character.  The Lincolnshire fens are both beautiful and mysterious and getting lost in the fens can be risky.  

Ellis' human characters ring true and feel like old friends when you meet them again.  I liked that Cat gets more attention in this book when she teams up with Ben, a Derbyshire detective who has not given up on a case similar to the one Galena's team is tasked with solving.

An interesting twist relates to an unsolved case from a previous book.  Nikki's mother Eve plays an important, if brief, role.  Eve has an intriguing background, and I hope she will continue to play a part in future books.

It is not necessary to read these books from the beginning--each one works perfectly well on its own thanks to Ellis' skill, but if you follow the series, it is rewarding to see connections and get reacquainted with characters from previous books. 

Captive on the Fens has a kind of serpentine effect going on that keeps the reader following closely, trying to weave the various threads into whole cloth.

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Crime/Police Procedural.  Jan. 25, 2017.  Print length: 315 pages.
--------

Some books read in January, but not yet reviewed:

Over the Hills and Far Away by Matthew Dennison--biography of Beatrix Potter

The Last Hack by Christopher Brookmyre--cyber suspense

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti--coming of age?  mystery

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova--contemporary and historical; behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir--set in Iceland; chilling story of a home for young offenders in 1974 and a current investigation of the situation.

Two versions of covers of The Undesired.



Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman

Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman.  I've been reading the Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis series for years, and while this is not a favorite, I always enjoy the opportunity to catch up with the pair.  

Thalia Mars is almost 100 years old when she calls Alex Delaware in for a consultation.  Although this case is certainly not within Delaware's usual sphere, he is charmed by the elegant and witty old woman.  

Unfortunately, a second consultation that would have explained what the elderly woman wanted from Alex never happens as she is murdered before she can tell him.

Recent books in this series have been uneven--some are excellent, some are not.  I'm sorry to say that Heartbreak Hotel did not engage me as many other books in the series have.   I liked Thalia Mars' character; she was by far the most interesting in the book, but she didn't last long enough to become fully developed.  

Read in November; blog post scheduled for Feb. 1, 2017.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Mystery/Crime.  Feb. 14, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.

Monday, January 30, 2017

For February Release (with plenty of snow--at least in the books)

Set in Switzerland and with an interesting cast of characters, Tracee de Hahn's debut novel Swiss Vendetta pulled me right in.

After her husband's death, Inspector Agnes Luthi wanted a new environment with fewer reminders so she transferred from financial crimes to the violent crimes unit.  Her first case commences as a blizzard sets in, and Luthi finds the drive to even reach the historic Valloton chateau harrowing.

The blizzard turns into be an epic event and the chateau and its inhabitants are snowed in and without power.  

The Valloton family has generations of wealth and breeding in their past; part of the privileged order both past and present, they are unaccustomed to sharing their space or their thoughts.  The enormous chateau is beautiful, but has an eery atmosphere which is emphasized by the power outage and the isolation enforced by the storm.  Aside from the inhabitants of the chateau, there is an elderly WWII survivor living in a neighboring mansion.  Some of the plot elements have seeds in the war.

De Hahn's characters and setting make this one a strong start to a new series.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 30, 2017.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  368 pages.


A Darkness Absolute by Kelly Armstrong

I actually liked this one better than  City of the Lost, the first in this series.

Somewhere in the far north is the small community of Rockton where, if you need to escape from your life for a period of time, you may be accepted.  What kind of person needs needs this refuge from the rest of the world?  People running from their pasts for an assortment of reasons, criminal or not.

Casey Duncan is accepted because of her previous job as a police detective, but she, too, has a compelling reason to need a safe haven.   Rockton has, unsurprisingly, a high number of untrustworthy characters so both a sheriff and a detective are needed to keep things in line.

Rockton citizens may be safe from threats in their former lives, but it presents plenty of dangers of its own--from both within and without the community.   Disappearances and murders and other weird circumstances.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 30, 2017. 

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Mystery/Suspense.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  400 pages.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dare to Remember and Stasi Wolf

Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard

Lisa Fulbrook moves from the city to a small village where she isolates herself from reminders of her previous life.  She works from home, keeping human contact to a minimum, but gradually manages to open herself to John, her elderly neighbor.  She begins walking his dog Riley and eventually, Riley becomes hers.

John and Riley provide Lisa with her first fragile connections to a fuller life after the savage attack that left her roommate dead and Lisa severely injured and emotionally damaged.  

Flashbacks induce terror, but the loss of memory surrounding the event distresses Lisa as much or more than the flashbacks. Survivor guilt and a subconscious feeling that she was somehow responsible for what happened plague her.  Over the course of a year, Lisa recovers more memories as she begins to confront the past and discover what really happened on the night of the attack.

While an intriguing look at the post-traumatic effects of a violent crime, I think the addition to the title (Dare to Remember: Shocking. Page-Turning. Psychological Thriller) misleading and ultimately harmful.  The novel is psychological in examining Lisa's grief and memory loss, but it is not a thriller.  It is actually fairly slow and there is not a great deal of action.  

If readers expect "page-turning" action, they will be disappointed.  If they are satisfied with examining the way a victim comes to adapt in the aftermath of a brutal crime, they will appreciate the measured pace of Dare to Remember.

Read in December; blog review scheduled for Jan. 28, 2017.

NetGalley/Legend Press

Psychological.  Feb. 1, 2017.  Print length:  288 pages.


Stasi Wolf by David Young is the second in a series set in East Berlin in 1975 and featuring Oberleutnant Karin Muller.  I have not read Stasi Child, the first in the series, but

"Stasi Child has won the 2016 Crime Writers' Association Endeavour Historical Dagger for 2016. This is the most prestigious award for historical crime fiction in the UK.  David was presented with his Dagger award by the Sunday Express and Daily Telegraph crime critic Jake Kerridge at a glittering gala dinner in London. Stasi Child was the unanimous choice of the judging panel."

I've added Stasi Child to my list.  

What is most impressive in this novel is the way the author evokes the cold war era, both visually and emotionally.

For those of you who are as vaguely knowledgeable about East Germany during this period as I am:

The Stasi was the German equivalent of the KGB:  "It has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies to have ever existed.[2][3][4][5][6][7] The Stasi was headquartered in East Berlin..." (source  

The Kripo (or the Kriminalpolizei) was the criminal investigation agency within the police force.

Halle-Neustadt was, at that time, a new communist city, and the GDR was quite proud of it. "An unusual feature was the absence of street names. Instead, all residential blocks were designated with a complex numbering system difficult for outsiders to understand...."  The city was colloquially referred to as HaNeu or HaNoi (there was a large contingent of workers from Vietnam).

David Young skillfully brings the repressive (terrifying) threat of the Stasi organization and the institutional feel of the new city into vivid existence.  I felt as lost as Karin among the vast and towering blocks of prefab construction and as uneasy (terrified) as most citizens must have felt by any connection to the Stasi.

Oberleutnant Karin Muller belongs to the Kripo, but when tasked with investigating the abduction of twin infants, the Kripo is handicapped by Stasi interference.  Karin, who has been sent to Halle-Neustadt to take charge of the investigation, finds the local Kripo ham-strung by the Stasi and every suggestion she makes must go through the local Stasi  official and is usually turned down.  Cover-up...but why? 

I can't say I "enjoyed" this novel--I felt claustrophobic during much of it.  And that is just from a few hours of reading.  What must it have been like to live for decades on the wrong side of a divided Germany?  To be spied on at every turn?

Tense and edgy, the novel not only presents an unusual police procedural, but a stressful and disturbing look at life in the GDR in the 1970's.   So...while enjoyment is not the way I would describe the process of reading Stasi Wolf, I feel better informed.  David Young has created a memorable character in Karin Muller and an unforgettable atmosphere of life in a bleak and repressive regime.

Read in December; blog review scheduled for Jan. 28, 2017.  

NetGalley/Bonnier Zaffre

Crime/Police Procedural/Historical.  Feb. 9, 2017.  Print length:  416 pages.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan and The Superintendent's Daughter by Marjorie Eccles

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer L. Ryan is set in the small English village of Chilbury.  Since the lack of men during the war has had a huge impact on the choir, the decision is made to disband the choir entirely.

Until, that is, the vibrant Primrose Trent arrives and manages to persuade the women to continue the choir without men.  Primrose is actually the most vibrant character, but she gets very little time in the novel.

A bit of romance, family dysfunction, switched babies, spies, and more.  Told through letters and journals--and you had better keep track because sometimes you have to check to see which character is writing.  The midwife's letters are probably the least believable, but she does have a recognizable voice.  


Entertaining, but not The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Read in July; blog review scheduled for Jan. 26, 2017.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Historical Fiction.  Feb. 14, 2017.  Print length:  384 pages.

Whew!  I read The Chilbury Ladies' Choir  6 months ago and have had it scheduled since last summer!

Back to more recent books...

I looked for a better cover for The Superintendent's Daughter, but couldn't find one.  This one has little to do with the content.  I have not read any other books in this series, although I read and enjoyed another book by Eccles several years ago.

Registering under the name of Julia Mayo, Kat checks into a country house hotel where she is murdered in short order.  When her body is found, Superintendent Gil Mayo is notified and arrives horrified at the idea.  His fears are dispelled when he discovers that the body is not that of his daughter, but sadly, that of Julia's best friend.

Mayo is excluded from the investigation because he is too close to the situation, but since he is unable to locate his daughter, he proceeds on a separate and parallel search to locate Julia.

The novel begins with a letter from Kat to Julia--and is quite slow.  The information in the letter(s) provides information that will be useful later, but does not intrigue as it was intended.  Nevertheless, the plot does pick up, and Eccles deftly introduces the characters who could be guilty of Kat's murder.  

Sometimes having a number of suspects feels contrived, but the way the suspects are introduced makes each one a genuine possibility, and I suspected each one without ever being confident.

Initially,  I was not even certain whether Kat or Julia was the intended victim.  

Recently republished.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Crime/Police Procedural.  1999. Jan. 13, 2017.  Print length:  248 pages.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Old Bones by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This is my first Bill Slider police procedural, and I just realized there are many more to enjoy.  

It was a nice surprise to discover how much I liked the book since I was not much impressed with the cover.

Old Bones is about the discovery of a skeleton in a garden. Bill Slider's boss thinks an obviously cold case will keep his detective out of trouble since Slider's previous investigation of an underage sex ring involving upper echelons in the police hierarchy has put him under a cloud.

The case does get under Slider's skin.  The skeleton of a fourteen-year-old girl who went missing two decades previously will be difficult--memories of the day Amanda Knight disappeared are twenty years old, files are missing, and possible suspects are dead or have moved away, but Slider's team will give it every effort.

Old Bones is an excellent police procedural with good characterization and an intriguing plot.  That alone would have been enough, but what raises the bar even further is Harrod-Eagles writing.  She skillfully maneuvers all elements of the story--the characters, plot, and pacing.  

And then there are the occasional lines that brought a little humor, an allusion, or a neat comparison:

"That's what I like about you, Maurice," Swilley said sweetly.  "Always ready to go the extra meal."

"...as lively as a botoxed brow."

"You're no fun on a road rip, Thelma."

on architectural styles:  "Twentieth Century Insensitive"

All in all, a book to be enjoyed on many levels, but first and foremost the competence of the author in presenting a serious and intriguing cold case police procedural.

Favorite minor character:  Connie Bindman, the police archivist.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 23, 2017.

NetGalley/Severn House

Police Procedural/Mystery.  Feb. 1, 2017.  Print length:  265 pages.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Impossible Fortress and Behind Her Eyes

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak provides an interesting look at the advent of young computer programmers in the 1980's.  Adolescents who were not only fascinated by computers and games, but strongly predisposed to find beauty in writing code. 

Fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin has two main interests:  1) writing programs for his own games, and 2) (along with his buddies Alf and Clark) getting hold of the latest Playboy Magazine with Vanna White as the centerfold.

The boys are often amusing with their 1980's teenage angst, and because they are not old enough to buy a copy of the Vanna White issue, concoct a number of elaborate and doomed-to-failure plans to get a copy of the coveted magazine.  

As various schemes fail or are discarded, the boys grow more desperate, and a plan evolves in which Billy is to seduce Mary Zelinsky, whose father owns the shop that sells the magazine.  The idea is to get the security code from Mary so the boys can get into the shop, grab the magazine, and leave enough money to pay for it.

Mary is an even more accomplished novice programmer than Billy, and his real mission is to get Mary to help him with a game he wants to develop.  His agreement with the seduction plan is motivated by the contest Mary has told him about--the best game could win a prize from an admired game designer and possibly a future in programming.  

While the premise has many great opportunities, ultimately, I found The Impossible Fortress deviated into something I didn't much care for.  The heist, when it finally happened, almost prevented me from finishing the book.  

My final assessment: there are amusing portions at the beginning, but the characters failed to make me truly like or care about them and the plot felt hollow.  

Maybe I was expecting too much.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21, 2017.

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

YA.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.


Behind Her Eyes is a suspenseful and twisty novel that kept me off balance trying to come to grips with the characters.  

Louise, David, and Adele form a strange triangle that works in different ways.  Louise, a single mom, has an almost fling with a man she meets in a bar.  The next day, she discovers that the man in the bar is her new boss.  David is married to Adele and the marriage is complicated to say the least.  (A whole lot of controlling goin' on.)  Adele and Louise bump into each other on the street and form a friendship.  Oops.

A triangle of dumb, and dumber, and wicked.  Difficult to tell at times who is dumb and who is wicked as the perspectives change from chapter to chapter.  What a stew of dangerous emotions.  

It's one of those novels that is hard to put down, that keeps moving from one pov to another and from past to present, with a some "OMG-- you are so dense!" moments, a bit of astral projection, and a twist that you are only gradually prepared for at the end.

So...few people will be able to put it down because the need to know is so strong.  Some will be pleased with the twist at the end, admiring the author's manipulation of the narrative to keep the reader curious and uncertain.  Unsympathetic characters; twisted relationships; a necessary supernatural element to make the novel work. Shades of Edgar Cayce.

NetGalley/Flatiron Books

Mystery/Psychological?  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Snail Mail and Sei Shonagon


I've been catching up on correspondence this month.  
After failing to reply in a time manner for over a month,
I had quite a few responses to write.

Had fun finally using some of the tea bags I painted last year.

Below: postcards to the grands on top,
The one in the middle has one of my embroidered leaves.  

click to enlarge

Still reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, but it, too, has suffered some neglect.  This morning, I read the following entry:

114.  It is Delightful When There Has Been a Thin Fall of Snow
    It is delightful when there has been a thin fall of snow; or again when it has piled up very high and in the evening we sit round a brazier at the edge of the veranda with a few congenial friends, chatting till darkness falls  There is no need for the lamp, since the snow itself reflects a clear light.  Raking the ashes in the brazier with a pair of fire-tongs, we discuss all sorts of moving and amusing things.
(then Shonagon speaks of an unannounced visitor and says that one of the ladies quotes the poem about the man who came today, and they all laughed and stayed up 'til dawn talking. 

 In the end notes, I found the poem by Taira no Kanemori:
Here in my mountain home
The snow is deep
And the paths are buried [in white].
Truly would he move my heart--
The man who came today.
It was a timely entry for me to read this morning, and I thought about my friends Patti and Dave who are shoveling snow in Colorado and my friend Penny, who is staying inside and admiring the snow in North Carolina.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace

I loved The Girl in the Garden.  

The characters whose stories weave themselves together in this lovely book are given up gradually.  Each character is isolated, by choice and/or circumstance.  Each one excepts or rejects the isolation in unique ways--and yet there are connections that exist, unyielding, even if not forcing themselves.

June, the girl abandoned with her infant at Mabel's seaside hotel, is the lynch-pin, not necessarily more important, but definitely the new arrival who has an effect on other characters both directly and indirectly.   

The long, meandering Faulknerian sentences pull the reader on--long prose sentences that have the sensation of poetry. Wallace captures so many lives in her prose (click, click, click--one image after another), like Claire's photographs, snapshots, but signifying more than the single slice of a photographic imprint.  

Wallace's writing contains a rare intimacy and immediacy, but the past is always present and slowly revealed.  

I loved all of the characters, those that figured largely in the narrative, and those whose appearances are secondary.  Like stream-of-consciousness, the reader flows with the events and with the thoughts, present and past, not sure where things are going or how things will work out, not expecting perfect endings, but hopeful.  

In spite of the circumstances--June abandoned; Mabel grieving for her husband; Claire independent, but yearning; Duncan afraid of betraying his duty; Oldman, an archetype of kindness and wisdom; Sam, disfigured in the Iraqi war; and Iris humiliated, remote and detached in her self-made fortress and sanctuary--in spite of all this, there is kindness and redemption.

Highly Recommended.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 15, 2017.

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Literary Fiction.  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  240 pages.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Series based on Dan Simmons' The Terror

A while back, I mentioned Dan Simmons' The Terror in a post because the lost ship HMS Terror had been found after 168 years.  Although the novel is a fictional account (with some horror genre elements), when I finished it several years ago, I took a reading journey through other books about the Franklin Expedition, the rescue attempts, and some of the characters mentioned in the novel.

Now, AMC has a series based on Simmons'  2007 novel.


I'm currently reading Gretel Ehrlich's The Solace of Open Spaces.  Essays about Wyoming and her time there in the late 1970's.  The essays are descriptive and philosophical--but the philosophy is very personal--Ehrlich's version of the west and the people she knew.  There are parts I'm really enjoying and parts that are so specifically her own views, her own generalizations,  that bother me a bit.  

I find myself wondering how much has changed since the book was first published in 1984 when she combined her journal entries and thoughts for publication. Ranching as a way of live was rapidly changing in the 20th c.  Her interviews with elderly cowboys and sheepherders are interesting; she was recording a dying breed even as she wrote, and she knew it.  Now, over 3 decades have passed since the first publication of the book.  

Born on a horse ranch in California, Ehrlich's familiarity with horses stood her in good stead when she decided to retreat to Wyoming after the death of  the man she was in love with.  The two of them were supposed to be working on a Public Radio documentary, but his illness prevented him from being joining her.   Ehrlich adds very little context concerning her personal life, and it is a couple of essays in that she even mentions the man's illness and death.  She refers to him as David, no last name, and she speaks of her numbness and grief, but there is little other personal context.

I don't think anything in her life  (aside from being a horsewoman) would have prepared her for becoming an integral part of ranch life.  She graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and attended UCLA film school--not exactly the harsh environment presented by a  Wyoming ranch with all the attendant hardships.  Nevertheless, Ehrlich settled into the rigorous and austere life of a ranch hand, giving it her all.

Last night, I put it down after realizing that I was about half way through.  Time to let some of the essays kind of settle in.  My memories of Wyoming are vivid, even though I was only about 7 when we left.  The essays make me a little nostalgic.  I remember the snow, the wind, the cactus on the prairie that stretched behind our house into the horizon on three sides and the view of  Casper Mountain to the west.   Dreams about the mountains in Wyoming and Montana lasted for years after we moved.

I may try to read the rest of the essays more slowly.
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I've read more of the Captain Lacey Regency series, and I liked these better than the first three.  

The Sudbury School Murders #4.  Grenville has secured Lacey a position as secretary at the Sudbury School outside of London.   Grenville failed to mention that Lacey was supposed to solve the mystery of several dangerous pranks which had been occurring at the school.  The murder of the school's groom (who also was one of James Denis' hired men until about 6 months previously) involves Lacey in a much more serious situation, especially as an innocent man is accused and arrested.

In the midst of trying to save Sebastian, the man falsely accused of murder, Lacey learns where Marianne has been disappearing to when she goes AWOL from Grenville's luxurious accommodations.  

The plot, characterization, and dialogue improve in this installment.  


A Body in Berkley Square #5.  Colonel Brandon is accused of murder at a society ball.  Lacey, despite the evidence against Brandon and their ongoing feud, does not believe Brandon guilty of the murder.  Although there is some re-hashing of the Brandon/Lacey past (which I tired of in the first book in the series), at least Brandon is actually part of the current plot.

Lady Breckenridge's role is further developed, and she is willing to do what she can to aid Lacey in his investigation.  A mystery document is missing and guess what?  Not only does Lacey need to find it, but James Denis wants it.

The author prefers to keep the reader on tenterhooks regarding James Denis, that shadowy figure who has a touch of Moriarty about him.  The almost priggishly honorable Lacey finds Denis both fascinating and offensive.  I can't help but be intrigued by Denis since Gardner has his behavior consistently ambiguous.  She's taking her time about giving more information about Denis, but keeping him involved in each installment.


A Covent Garden Mystery #6.  Pomeroy, Lacey's former sergeant, now a Bow Street Runner and Thatcher of the River Police approach Lacey about the disappearance of two game girls.

Denis has brought Lacey's wife (yep, the one who left him 15 years ago) to London, along with Auberge, her French "husband," and Lacey's daughter (who, of course, has no idea that Lacey is her father).

Gabriella disappears.  Is she lost in the unfamiliar streets of London or is the person who took the game girls responsible?

Whoa!  Even Brandon tries to help!

These novels are a little addictive.  I may have my criticisms about certain elements, but I always want to find out what will happen next.  :)