Friday, August 30, 2013

A Cot in the Back Weekly Link Round-Up

Labor Day weekend is upon us. It usually signals the end of summer. Here in the Sonoran Desert it does hang on a bit longer, and I'm glad. I love summer. Human solar cell that I am, I just soak up the sun and read up a storm. One of these days we'll get the pool heated, and then I really will turn into a prune!

Partial view of the crowd...
There was an excellent turnout this past Wednesday at The Poisoned Pen for Margaret Coel and William Kent Krueger. Starting tomorrow, I think I'll ask if they can put a cot in a storeroom for me. Saturday, I'll be heading there to see Rhys Bowen, Monday it's Louise Penny, and Tuesday it's Kathy Reichs. The following week, we'll be heading back there for two more author events!

Enjoy the weekend, everyone! I know I certainly will.

Bookish News & Other Interesting Links
  • Public libraries in the UK are getting facelifts. It's a political thing.
  • A library book is returned 33 years late. It went on quite a journey.
  • The British Library partners with NLB Singapore to digitize rare Malay manuscripts. I may not be able to read a word of them, but they're beautiful!
  • What's wrong with a little healthy book discussion?
  • Authors and readers band together to stop Goodreads "bullying." I'm still at the shallow end at Goodreads. As far as reviews go, I've always found the bullies and wackos to be at Amazon.
  • It all depends on how you use it: a study has found that Facebook makes us sadder and less satisfied.
  • The human brain has always fascinated me, and now scientists have found the schizophrenia switch.
  • How a sea squirt could help you grow new limbs.
  • Shades of Jurassic Park: How to bring extinct animals back to life.
  • Denis and I always drool a bit when we watch Inspector Morse, and it's all about the car. Did you know that 1960 Mark 2 Jaguar had its own website?
  • Big doin's lately in parts of Wyoming: Longmire came to town!

I  ♥  Lists

Book Candy

That's it for this week. I hope you stop by next weekend when there will be a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure!


A Haunting Dream by Joyce and Jim Lavene

First Line: "Ann? Is that really you?"

In just one moment, Dae O'Donnell's life--which she thought was heading straight into perfection-- went right down the tubes.  Instead of envisioning herself with Kevin, she now gets to see him with his ex-fiancée (and ex-partner in the FBI). The only thing that could possibly bother her more is the sudden change in her gift. Her gift had always been limited to finding lost items, but when she touches a medallion owned by local man Chuck Sparks, she not only sees his murder, she also hears him cry out for help.

Dae doesn't know what to make of what she's seen until she has another vision about a kidnapped girl-- Chuck's little daughter. With a missing child involved, the FBI take over, but they seem to be going about the investigation all wrong, and Dae simply cannot ignore the visions she has of that little girl. Another thing she can't ignore is the fact that the only person who's going to be able to help her find the child is Kevin's ex-fiancée. Life certainly would be much simpler if all she had to deal with was her campaign for re-election.

I've always thought that Dae O'Donnell has one of the best paranormal gifts in all of cozy mysteries. I wouldn't mind having it myself. The next time my husband misplaces something... snap! I find it without having to retrace his steps for him. I also think it would be wonderful to pick up an old item and be able to tell its history. However, in this fourth book in the Missing Pieces series, authors Joyce and Jim Lavene ratchet things up a notch or two by increasing Dae's small gift into something much larger and filled with a sense of foreboding.

The only thing that didn't delight me about this book was the fact that I deduced the whodunit angle too quickly, but that was a very minor annoyance because I enjoy so many other things about this series. Dae O'Donnell is the mayor of Duck, North Carolina (a real town on the Outer Banks). Through her, the authors show what is involved in trying to keep a small town running smoothly-- especially one that has 500 year round residents and 25,000 summer ones. We get to learn about Duck's weather, preparing for hurricanes, and about Duck's sometimes piratical history. Dae's also running for re-election, so readers experience small town politics in action. All this makes Duck a vital piece of what makes this series work so well.

Dae is a very special main character, too. She's bright and funny, and a genuinely caring person. It's painful but enlightening to watch her deal with the arrival of Kevin's ex-fiancée. She's someone you'd want as a friend, and definitely someone you would want on your side in a fight. But that ex-fiancée's arrival is only the first of a one-two punch. To have her safe little "gift" change to such an alarming degree lets us see her even more off balance and fighting to understand what's happening to her. Dae is evolving as a person just as her gift is evolving, and these changes create a nice little cliffhanger that leads right to the next book in the series, A Finder's Fee, which will be released in October. The ending really has me anticipating this next book, and in a way I'm glad I didn't read this book as soon as it was out on the shelves. Now I don't have to wait so long for the next!

A Haunting Dream by Joyce and Jim Lavene
ISBN: 9780425251799
Berkley Prime Crime © 2012
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages

Cozy Mystery, #4 Missing Pieces mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Embrace the Grim Reaper by Judy Clemens

First Line: And then Death turned to her and said, "The only reason I didn't take you that day, Casey, was______"

Casey Maldonado's life explodes, her family is completely destroyed, in one brief flash of fire. No matter how large the settlement from the car manufacturer, it will ever be enough to bring back what really matters to her. Casey sells her house and goes on the road with one companion: Death, who won't take her... and won't leave her alone.

She stops in Clymer, Ohio, a small town about to be given a death blow when its main employer moves to Mexico. But the appliance company's betrayal is not what has the town tied in knots; it's the suicide of a well-known and much loved local single mother. Casey learns that many residents don't believe the verdict of suicide. Death encourages her to investigate, and this wounded and heartsick warrior begins to uncover information that the townspeople are right to be suspicious.

I am a long-time fan of Judy Clemens' other mystery series featuring tattooed dairy farmer Stella Crown, so I looked forward to reading this first in a new series. As I turned the pages, I enjoyed being immersed once more in Clemens' writing style, and I quickly warmed to her main character. Casey Maldonado is an extremely likeable-- and extremely sympathetic-- character. With such a tremendous tragedy in her life, you can't help but want things to turn the corner and start to go well for her. Even though she wants to be left alone to simmer away in her grief, she can't resist checking into the death of this beloved local woman.

Small town setting, pacing, story, characters... they're all good, as I've come to expect from this talented writer. Where the book fails, the responsibility falls on my own shoulders. I think I wanted Death to play a much more prominent role than he does. In this book he is pretty much surplus to requirements, off on the periphery eating a chicken leg, or behaving like a pesky housefly. With such a marginal presence, I found it very difficult to "buy into" Death as a character. What can I say? It's still a well-written story, and it should please most readers. Unfortunately, I'm the reader standing towards the back, with narrowed eyes and a skeptical expression.

Embrace the Grim Reaper by Judy Clemens
eISBN: 9781616950256
Poisoned Pen Press © 2009
eBook, 273 pages

Paranormal, #1 Casey Maldonado mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased from Barnes and Noble.

Bones of Contention by Jeanne Matthews

First Line: Dinah Pelerin gazed out the window of a tiny, two-seater airplane as it lifted off from the airport in Darwin, Australia, and leapt into the hot blue sky.

Dinah's Uncle Cleon is dying of cancer and has chosen assisted suicide out in the Australian bush instead of lingering to a painful end. As a result, he's called a gathering of the clan so good-byes can be said.  When Dinah asks for leave, her boss throws a tantrum, so she quits her job and goes home to pack-- only to walk in on her boyfriend in flagrante with a redhead. What a wonderful, marvelous, stupendous start to such a sad occasion.

When Dinah arrives, she finds a nest of relatives and friends seething in petty jealousies, suspicion, and all-around uncomfortable situations. Much speculation is being given to how Cleon is going to dispense his money, while very little attention seems to be getting paid to the murder of a man who was impaled on the back of a sea turtle on a nearby island. A wannabe anthropologist and passionate about mythology, Dinah is going to have to set aside trying to learn the ins and outs of her own family mythology in order to concentrate on two very strange murders.

This book has such an interesting premise and takes place in a country about which I've always been fascinated. When I saw the added bonus of anthropology, I knew I had to read it. I did, with very mixed results. The Australian setting is well done, and although the cast of characters is a large one, I didn't find it difficult at all to keep track of each individual. Dinah has a refreshing sense of humor, too. The bones of this tome skeleton are good, but a few things went awry for me when the musculature was added.

Enough emphasis was placed on the first murder of the man on the island to make readers believe that it had true importance. It didn't, and as a result the conclusion was a bit anti-climactic. Dinah's sense of humor wasn't enough to disguise the fact that she can be silly and childlike, and has altogether too much baggage for one character. Speaking of characters, they were well-drawn because I was never confused in following each member of this large cast. However, I rapidly lost interest in them. A large percentage of them were extremely unlikable, and the ones who weren't didn't figure into the story enough to outweigh the poison of the others. I don't mind reading stories about unlikable characters, but it's a hard slog when my interest wanes and I begin to wish that they'd all admit to being the guilty party.

All in all this book has an interesting premise, a wonderful setting, and a good sense of humor that I felt were let down by the story and characters. Here be talent, though, and I would be interested to see how this series develops.

Bones of Contention by Jeanne Matthews
eISBN: 9781615951215
Poisoned Pen Press © 2010
eBook, 306 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #1 Dinah Pelerin mystery
Rating: C
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

September 2013 New Mystery Releases!

I don't know about you, but I can't believe it's almost Labor Day! My favorite season always flies by much too quickly.

I've been motoring through books from my to-be-read shelves, which is a great feeling. I've created quite a few spaces throughout that run of bookcases, and they'll quickly be filled with new acquisitions. You'd probably get a good laugh watching me work on those shelves. I sort through the books to be shelved and make smaller alphabetical stacks. Then I get in my wheeled office chair and roll back and forth in front of the bookcases, shelving the books. Sure wish I could've done this when I was a kid working in our village library!

September is another bumper crop of new crime fiction, and I had a difficult time keeping my list down to anything that remotely resembled a manageable level. My choices are all sorted by release date, and I've included all the information you'll need to find them at your favorite book procurement locations. All book synopses are courtesy of Amazon.  Happy Reading!

=== September 3 ===

Title: Mykonos After Midnight
Series: #5 in the Andreas Kaldis police procedural series set in present-day Greece
ISBN: 9781464201837
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Paperback, 250 pages

Synopsis: "Mykonos holds tight to its past even as it transforms from an obscure, impoverished Aegean island into a tourist mecca and summertime playground for the world’s rich, a process making the Mykonian people some of the wealthiest in Greece. Yes, the old guard is still a force to be reckoned with despite the new money.

One of them, a legendary nightclub owner, has been found savagely bludgeoned in his home. All evidence points to obvious thugs. Yet the murder has put long hidden, politically explosive secrets in play and drawn a dangerous foreign investor to the island paradise. Andreas Kaldis, feared head of Greece’s special crimes division, is certain there’s a far more complex solution to the murder than robbery, and he vows to find it.

His quest for answers cuts straight into the entrenched cultural contradictions that give Mykonos so much of its magic and soon has him battling ruthless opportunists preying on his country’s weakened financial condition. Kaldis learns there is a high, unexpected price to pay for his curiosity as he becomes locked in a war with a powerful, clandestine international force willing to do whatever it takes to change and wrest control of Mykonos, no matter the collateral damage. Such is global crime. And the need for a wily hero to stand against it."

Title: Murder, Plain and Simple
Series: #2 in the Amish Quilt Shop series set in present-day fictional Rolling Brook, Ohio
ISBN: 9780451413635
Publisher: Signet
Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages

Synopsis: "When Angela Braddock inherits her late aunt’s beautiful Amish quilt shop, she leaves behind her career and broken engagement for a fresh start in Holmes County, Ohio.

With her snazzy cowboy boots and her ornithophobic French bulldog, Angie doesn’t exactly fit in with the predominantly Amish community in Rolling Brook, but her aunt’s quilting circle tries to make her feel welcome as she prepares for the reopening of Running Stitch.

On the big day, Angie gets a taste of success as the locals and Englisch tourists browse the store’s wares while the quilters stitch away. But when Angie finds the body of ornery Amish woodworker Joseph in her storeroom the next morning, everything starts falling apart.

With evidence mounting against her, Angie is determined to find the culprit before the local sheriff can arrest her. Rolling Brook always appeared to be a simple place, but the closer Angie gets to the killer, the more she realizes that nothing in the small Amish community is as plain as it seems....

Title: A Cruise to Die For
Series: #2 in the Alix London art consultant series based in present-day Seattle, Washington
ISBN: 9781477805077
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
Paperback, 256 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "This should be the cushiest job Alix London’s ever had. The second Alix London mystery finds the art restorer in a world brimming with idle luxury, spectacular locations, and deadly intrigue. 

Surrounded by art and wealth and the sun-drenched Greek isles, she’s aboard a sumptuous mega-yacht with no responsibilities save the occasional lecture to the guests of her temporary employer, Panos Papadakis, one of the world's richest men. But there’s a catch: Papadakis has long been suspected of being at the center of a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme and Alix is actually there as an undercover operative of FBI special agent Ted Ellesworth, a member of the Bureau’s Art Crime Team. They hope Alix can gather the inside information they need to finally put the cagey Papadakis away. 

Alix’s exposure to the enormous wealth of high-end collectors and the shadier aspects of the art trade—the avarice, naked greed, and ingenious scams—somehow brings her closer to her charming, "reformed" rogue of a father, and helps crystalize in her own mind just where she fits into the mix. 

Moguls, murders, a forged Manet, and the Albanian mafia all play a role and send this pleasure cruise into brutally dangerous waters. 

Set on the Aegean—Homer's fabled 'wine-dark sea'—with stops at enchanted islands where ancient legends still live, A Cruise to Die For delivers a witty blend of suspense and mystery, as well as an insider’s take on the contemporary art world and its eccentric characters. It’s all served up with the style and sophistication with which Charlotte and Aaron Elkins have rewarded mystery readers for the past 30 years."

Title: North Sea Requiem
Author: A.D. Scott
Series: #4 in the Highland Gazette series set in Inverness, Scotland in the 1950s
ISBN: 9781451665796
Publisher: Atria Books
Paperback, 336 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "When a small-town Scottish woman discovers a severed leg in the boot of one of the local hockey players’ uniforms, it’s a big scoop for the Highland Gazette. But reporter Joanne Ross wants a front-page story of her own, and she hopes to find it in Mae Bell, an American jazz singer whose husband disappeared in an aircraft accident five years ago and who is searching the Highlands for her husband’s colleagues.

Things take a very sinister turn when Nurse Urquhart, who dis-covered the limb, suffers a hideous and brutal attack. Even stranger, she was the recipient of letters warning her to keep her nose out of someone’s business—letters that Mae Bell and the staff of the Highland Gazette also received. What could it all mean?

Unfolding against a gorgeously rendered late 1950s Scottish countryside, North Sea Requiem captures the mores and issues of another era, especially in Joanne Ross—a woman wrestling with divorce, career, and a boss who wants to be more than just her superior. The result is a poignant, often haunting mix of violence, loss, and redemption in a narrative full of unnerving plot twists and unforgettable characters.

Title: Killing Custer
Author: Margaret Coel 
Series: #17 in the Wind River series set on the Arapahoe Reservation in present-day Wyoming
ISBN: 9780425264638
Publisher: Berkley
Hardcover, 320 pages

Synopsis: "The whole town of Lander has turned out for the big parade celebrating the start of the new rodeo season. The main spectacle this year is the appearance of Colonel Edward Garrett—a spot-on impersonator of General George Armstrong Custer—and a troop of men acting as the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry.

The problem is they are being followed by a group of Arapaho warriors from the Wind River Reservation, who proceed to encircle Garrett and his men in a “dare ride” just to remind them exactly who won the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But when the ride is over, history seems to have repeated itself: Garrett is dead in the street with a bullet hole in his chest.

No one is sure what happened, but public sentiment quickly turns against the Arapaho—and the prime suspect is Colin Morningside, a descendant of Crazy Horse. When a local attorney connected to Morningside disappears, the accusations only grow stronger.

Father John O’Malley knows in his heart the Arapaho are not guilty. And Vicky Holden finds herself professionally and personally compromised from getting involved. But what begins as a murder soon reveals itself as a conspiracy that neither Father John nor Vicky could have foreseen. And someone wants to ensure that the truth they discover will die with them….

Title: Japantown
Author: Barry Lancet
Series: #1 in the Jim Brodie series based in present-day San Francisco, California
ISBN: 9781451691696
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Hardcover, 416 pages

Synopsis: "San Francisco antiques dealer Jim Brodie recently inherited a stake in his father’s Tokyo-based private investigation firm, which means the single father of six-year-old Jenny is living a busy intercontinental life, traveling to Japan to acquire art and artifacts for his store and con­sulting on Brodie Security’s caseload at home and abroad.

One night, an entire family is gunned down in San Francisco’s bustling Japantown neighbor­hood, and Brodie is called on by the SFPD to decipher the lone clue left at the crime scene: a unique Japanese character printed on a slip of paper drenched in blood.

Brodie can’t read the clue. But he may have seen it before—at the scene of his wife’s death in a house fire four years ago.

With his deep array of Asian connections and fluency in Japanese, Brodie sets out to solve a seemingly perfect crime and at the same time learn whether his wife’s tragic death was more than just an accident. And as he unravels a web of intrigue stretching back centuries and con­nected to the murders in San Francisco, the Japantown killer retaliates with a new target: Brodie’s daughter.

=== September 4 ===

Title: The Missing Heiress
Series: #1 in the Detective Lavender series set in Regency England
ISBN: 9781908483706
Publisher: Knox Robinson Publishing
Hardcover, 376 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "Northumberland, November 1809. A menacing figure stalks women through Hareshaw Woods. When Helen Carnaby, a beautiful young heiress, disappears from her locked bedchamber, everyone fears the worst. The townsfolk cry 'witchcraft' and the local constabulary are baffled. Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods now face their toughest and most dangerous assignment. Lavender and Woods are alarmed to discover a sinister, murderous world of madness, violence, and secrets lurking behind the heavy oak door of the ancient pele tower at Linn Hagh. Why did Helen Carnaby flee on that wintry October night? Hindered by Helen's uncooperative siblings, distracted by gypsies, rebellious farmers, highwaymen, and an attractive and feisty Spanish senora, Helen Carnaby's disappearance is to prove one of the most perplexing mysteries of Lavender's career. Set in the beautiful market town of Bellingham, The Missing Heiress is the first in a planned series of Regency whodunits featuring Detective Lavender and Constable Woods."

=== September 10 ===

Title: W Is for Wasted
Author: Sue Grafton
Series: #23 in the Kinsey Milhone series set in Santa Teresa, California in the 1980s
ISBN: 9780399158988
Publisher: Putnam
Hardcover, 496 pages

Synopsis: "Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.

The first was a local PI of suspect reputation. He’d been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The other was on the beach six weeks later. He’d been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with Millhone’s name and number was in his pants pocket. The coroner asked her to come to the morgue to see if she could ID him.

Two seemingly unrelated deaths, one a murder, the other apparently of natural causes.

But as Kinsey digs deeper into the mystery of the John Doe, some very strange linkages begin to emerge. And before long at least one aspect is solved as Kinsey literally finds the key to his identity. 'And just like that,' she says, 'the lid to Pandora’s box flew open. It would take me another day before I understood how many imps had been freed, but for the moment, I was inordinately pleased with myself.'

In this multi-layered tale, the surfaces seem clear, but the underpinnings are full of betrayals, misunderstandings, and outright murderous fraud. And Kinsey, through no fault of her own, is thoroughly compromised.

Title: The Bones of Paris
Series: #2 in the Stuyvesant and Grey series set in 1920s Paris
ISBN: 9780345531766
Publisher: Bantam
Hardcover, 432 pages

Synopsis: "Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The American agent has a healthy appreciation for la vie de bohème, despite having worked for years at the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modeling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle that is suddenly available on every rue and boulevard.

As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.

Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer . . . sifting through The Bones of Paris.

Title: The Red Queen Dies
Series: #1 in the Hannah McCabe series set in the Albany, New York of the near future
ISBN: 9780312641757
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 304 pages

Synopsis: "The year is 2019, and a drug used to treat soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, nicknamed 'Lullaby,' has hit the streets. Swallowing a little pill erases traumatic memories, but what happens to a criminal trial when the star witness takes a pill and can't remember the crime? When two women are murdered in quick succession, biracial police detective Hannah McCabe is charged with solving the case. In spite of the advanced technology, including a city-wide surveillance program, a third woman is soon killed, and the police begin to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose. But the third victim, a Broadway actress known as 'The Red Queen,' doesn’t fit the pattern set by the first two murders.

With the late September heat sizzling, Detective Hannah McCabe and her colleagues on the police force have to race to find the killer in a tangled web of clues that involve Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Fast-paced and original, this is a one-of-a-kind mystery from an extremely talented crime writer."

=== September 17 ===

Title: Aunty Lee's Delights
Author: Ovidia Yu
Series: #1 in a possible series set in present-day Singapore
ISBN: 9780062227157
Publisher: William Morrow
Paperback, 288 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "After losing her husband, Rosie Lee could have become one of Singapore's 'tai tai,' an idle rich lady. Instead she is building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee's Delights, where spicy Singaporean meals are graciously served to locals and tourists alike. But when a body is found in one of Singapore's tourist havens and one of her guests fails to show at a dinner party, Aunty Lee knows that the two events are likely connected.

The murder and disappearance throws together Aunty Lee's henpecked stepson, Mark, his social-climbing wife, Selina, a gay couple whose love is still illegal in Singapore, and an elderly Australian tourist couple whose visit may mask a deeper purpose. Investigating the murder are Police Commissioner Raja and Senior Staff Sergeant Salim, who quickly discover that Aunty Lee's sharp nose for intrigue can sniff out clues that elude law enforcers.

Wise, witty, and charming, Aunty Lee's Delights is a spicy mystery about love, friendship, and food in Singapore, where money flows freely and people of many religions and ethnicities coexist peacefully, but where tensions lurk just below the surface, sometimes with deadly consequences."

=== September 24 ===

Title: Treasure Hunt
Series: #16 in the Inspector Montalbano series set in present-day Sicily
ISBN: 9780143122623
Publisher: Penguin
Paperback, 288 pages

Synopsis: "In Treasure Hunt, Montalbano is hailed as a hero after news cameras film him scaling a building—gun in hand—to capture a pair of unlikely snipers. Shortly after, the inspector begins to receive cryptic messages in verse from someone challenging him to go on a 'treasure hunt.' Intrigued, he accepts, treating the messages as amusing riddles—until they take a dangerous turn."

Title: Anything But Civil
Series: #2 in the Hattie Davish traveling secretary series set in the USA during the 1890s
ISBN: 9780758276360
Publisher: Kensington
Paperback, 320 pages

*Upcoming review on Kittling: Books

Synopsis: "Hattie Davish is delighted to be ably assisting her wealthy employer, Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, an English scholar who is fluent in Civil War history and hard at work putting together a definitive biography of General Cornelius Starrett.  Their research takes them to Galena, Illinois, where they quickly learn that time has done little to heal old battle wounds.  Distrust and betrayal seem to linger in everyone's minds, none more so than the General's pompous son Henry.  And Hattie is certain he has something to do with a string of bizarre incidents in town-especially when he turns up dead....

Between her work for Sir Arthur, preparing for Christmas, and unscheduled visitors from her past, Hattie hardly has time to investigate a murder, but soon she is lost in a labyrinth of secrets and deceit that leads to more questions than answers.  Henry had a knack for finding trouble and making enemies, and there's no shortage of suspects-including Sir Arthur.  Now, Hattie must uncover the truth while maintaining her civility in a most uncivil situation....

Title: King's Mountain
Series: #10 in the Appalachian Ballad series
ISBN: 9781250011404
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Hardcover, 336 pages

Synopsis: "John Sevier had not taken much interest in the American Revolution, he was too busy fighting Indians in the Carolinas and taming the wilderness. But when an arrogant British officer threatened his settlement—promising to burn the farms and kill families—the war became personal.

That arrogant officer is Patrick Ferguson of the British Army—who is both charmingly antagonistic and surprisingly endearing. Inventor of the Ferguson rifle, and the devoted lover to his mistress, Virginia Sal, Patrick becomes a delightful anti-hero under McCrumb’s watchful eye.

Through varying perspectives, King’s Mountain is an elegant saga of the Carolina Overmountain Men—the militia organized by Sevier (who would later become the first governor of Tennessee) and their victory in 1780 against the Tories in a battle that Thomas Jefferson later called, 'The turning point of the American Revolution.'

Peppered with lore and the authentic heart of the people in McCrumb’s classic Ballads, this is an epic book that will build on the success of The Ballad of Tom Dooley and her recent return to the New York Times bestseller list. Featuring the American Revolutionary War, this a huge draw to readers old and new, and special to McCrumb who can trace her lineage to the character John Sevier.


I know that the latest Sharyn McCrumb novel doesn't sound much like a mystery, but I love her Ballad series so much that it was impossible for me to leave it out.

September seems to have a little something for everyone, doesn't it? Which titles found their way to your own personal wish lists?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Question of Honor by Charles Todd

First Line: The letter came for Lieutenant and Mrs. Standish on an afternoon when the heat was at its height, and we had already retired indoors to rest until the evening.

In this fifth book in the series featuring World War I nurse Bess Crawford, the past comes back to haunt her and her family, and we get a glimpse of the Crawfords' lives in India. In 1908 the honor and reputation of Colonel Crawford's regiment was badly tarnished when a murderer was discovered in the ranks. When Lieutenant Wade gets a headstart on the military police who are chasing him, he heads for the incredibly dangerous Afghan border where it's later determined that he died.

Ten years later Bess is working day and night tending to the endless lines of wounded soldiers at the front lines in France when a dying Indian sergeant insists that Wade is alive and serving at the front. If the man is alive, why on earth did he kill three people in a small English village, then return to India to kill his parents before returning to his regiment? Bess uses her infrequent leaves and snatched days here and there when transporting wounded soldiers to England to try to find answers. Not just to satisfy her own curiosity, but also for her father, his pride in his men, and for the regiment. It's a question of honor that Bess will continue to pursue even though someone is willing to kill as many people as it takes to hide the truth.

I first became acquainted with the mother-son writing team known as Charles Todd through their series featuring World War I veteran (and victim of shell shock), Inspector Ian Rutledge. Although that series is excellent, after awhile Rutledge's depression and angst became wearing. In the Bess Crawford series we get to see the horrors of World War I through the eyes of a nurse at the front lines-- someone risking her own life daily in an attempt to save men like Ian Rutledge. This series has continued to get better with each book, and A Question of Honor is the best one yet.

In previous books we've learned bits and pieces about Bess's childhood in India where her father was stationed. Now we get to learn even more with this unsolved murder case from 1908 when she was a teenager. I'm fairly well versed in the topic of nurses at the front during World War I (one book I can't recommend highly enough is Lyn Macdonald's The Roses of No Man's Land), and sometimes I have to forcibly keep my disbelief under tight wraps when reading about this character's travels during war time. I don't think any other nurse throughout the history of mankind could rack up more frequent flier miles than Bess. She always seems to be getting leave or hopping aboard a hospital ship to transport the wounded across the Channel to various hospitals in England. All the other nurses must be green with envy!

That said and out of my system, the mystery in A Question of Honor is the best yet-- and there's the added bonus of Bess's mother having a role in solving it. This series is populated with several secondary characters that I'd love to learn more about. Since Mrs. Crawford steps up to the plate in this book, I'm hoping this paves the way in future books for more to be divulged about Colonel Crawford and Simon.

The plot is a complicated one that must unfold slowly, due in part to so many people denying knowledge of certain events and places because of their traumatic childhoods. In Jacqueline Winspear's Leaving Everything Most Loved, the reader learns about Indian nannies and governesses who were taken to England and then abandoned when the children they were caring for grew up and went to school. In A Question of Honor, we learn what could happen to children whose parents, stationed in India, sent them to England for schooling and to shield them from tropical diseases. Once again, secrets prove deadly, and this latest Bess Crawford mystery proves to be an engrossing read.

A Question of Honor by Charles Todd
ISBN: 9780062237156
William Morrow and Company © 2013
Hardcover, 320 pages

Historical Mystery, #5 Bess Crawford mystery
Rating: A
Source: Amazon Vine 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Beach Postcard Test

Your Ideal Beach Vacation Is Cozy


Your idea of a day at the beach is one that feels as natural and as homey as possible.
You dream of living at the beach, and even if you can't live there permanently, you'd like to be there a while.

Your dream beach getaway would place you right on the beach with your own private quarters. You'd love to wake up to a beach sunrise and wind down with a beach sunset. And listen to the ocean crashing as you sleep.

For you, the beach is a place to get warm and sleepy. Once you get comfortable, you never want to leave. More than any type, you belong on the coast permanently. If it isn't already, then it should be your home. 

The Man Who Cast Two Shadows by Carol O'Connell

First Line: Rain rat-tatted on the plastic hood of her slicker.

When a woman killed in Central Park is mistakenly identified as NYPD Sergeant Kathy Mallory, her superiors have a good reason for finding her and bringing her back from suspension. After having identified the victim, Mallory learns that her main suspects all live in the same apartment building, so she moves in and sets herself up as bait. Using her genius with a computer and the building's electronic bulletin board, she begins playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

If you're the type of reader who prefers likable, touchy feely main characters, move away from this book (and the entire series). Kathy Mallory is not the character for you. Found living on the streets as a young child, she was taken in and raised by a police officer and his wife, both of whom soon realized that Mallory's sociopathic tendencies required special handling. Mallory does not form relationships like normal people. She doesn't bond; she doesn't chit chat; she doesn't smile; and she certainly doesn't laugh. She's like a hand grenade with a loose pin-- Handle With Care. A small portion of her past is revealed in The Man Who Cast Two Shadows, and although readers will be moved to feel compassion towards her, rest assured that Mallory herself will show none to anyone.

The plot is tight and suspenseful, dealing with the woman's death, Mallory's toying with a killer, and a boy who may have telekinetic powers. The setting of New York City could be declared one of the cast of characters. O'Connell shows a touch of poetry now and again in her prose, but the tone of her poetry is bleak. More of the story could be told from Mallory's point of view, and there are a few too many times when we're told about her behavior rather than seeing it for ourselves. All in all, Mallory is like a black hole at the very heart of this book, and if you can withstand her gravitational pull and resist the need for her to change, you are in for a treat involving one of the most fascinating characters in crime fiction.

The Man Who Cast Two Shadows by Carol O'Connell
ISBN: 9780515118902
Jove © 1996
Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Kathy Mallory mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Paperback Swap 

@ The Poisoned Pen with Author Carol O'Connell

On the way to The Poisoned Pen last Thursday to see Carol O'Connell, I tried to describe her well-known character Kathy Mallory to Denis. The best I could come up with on the spur of the moment was, "Mallory's a cross between Dexter and Bones." I don't know why my mind latched onto two mystery series turned television series, but it did-- and I do know that the two I chose don't come close to describing Mallory, but at least Denis had some sort of clue before O'Connell arrived. You just have to love a man who doesn't mind attending events when he's never heard of the authors. Besides, when we get home, he gets busy looking up their books so he can read them!

Denis sat at the back with an acquaintance of ours while I did my usual browse-and-buy. (Most people's B&Bs are bed and breakfasts; mine is actually B&BB-- browse and buy books.) Once I had that completed, I found my favorite chair and got comfortable. I watched a woman with a print-out in hand carefully browse the shelf of Laurie R. King books. I had to smile, not only because I tend to do most of my browsing with list in hand but because I'd just perused that section a few minutes before.

Owner Barbara Peters came in a few minutes early and talked to us about the event for Frederick Forsyth at the Arizona Biltmore the evening before. According to Peters, approximately 260 people showed up to see him, and she then proceeded to share a few tidbits.

"Forsyth writes in a shed at the bottom of his garden," she told us. "He still uses a typewriter because-- as he told us-- 'The last time I heard, no one could hack into a typewriter.'" The author then asked Barbara a question: "Why did you name your bookstore The Poisoned Pen?" "Because I've always liked the idea of poison pen letters," she replied. "'Poison Pen' was taken, so the store became The Poisoned Pen."

"Charles is the only character who's bullet proof."

Barbara Peters and Carol O'Connell
After a few minutes dealing with uncooperative microphones, author Carol O'Connell and host Barbara Peters settled in to talk about Mallory's world.

There are quite a number of fans who wait patiently for a kinder, gentler Mallory to appear-- and in particular for a relationship between her and Charles Butler, the gentle giant who's been hopelessly in love with her for years. O'Connell just shakes her head. "Mallory relates to Charles the way she relates to everyone else." (In other words, don't expect a sociopath-- Mallory-- to have normal relationships.) However, we do know one thing by reading the books: in one of them, Charles, in his nineties, is looking back on life. "Charles is the only character who's bullet proof," admitted O'Connell. Peters quickly added, "But we don't know how things turn out for Mallory."

Talk then moved to O'Connell's newest book, It Happens in the Dark, about dead bodies that keep turning up at performances of a Broadway play. "I've always wanted to do Broadway," the soft-voiced O'Connell told us. "The lighting director is essential to any play and does have an important role in the book." In doing her research, O'Connell learned that people are not allowed backstage unless they are working on the production, due to insurance reasons, so O'Connell did more checking and was finally allowed backstage in an old burlesque theater.

In the book, reviewers begin calling it "A Play to Die For." O'Connell smiled and said, "It's a reverse lottery-- make your will out before attending the play. Believe me, if it's that scary, they will come."  The play, indeed, is a critical part of the book. When asked if she had to write an entire play in order to complete the book, O'Connell said, "No. I had to know how the play began and how it ended. The actual fun of writing a book is pulling it all together at the end."

Peters asked, "Is the theater critic based on anyone?" to which O'Connell replied, "I don't think I can answer that without getting sued." Other little tidbits she shared with us included a character in the play who had to wear a fat suit and all the logistics involved with that, and probably one of her best responses: "I try to leave as many bodies on the floor as Hamlet does in his closing scene."

"New York City is a character in the books."

Carol O'Connell
Barbara Peters loves the depiction of New York City in O'Connell's books, and it was easy for us all to see that the author really couldn't envision herself living anywhere else. She told us of neighborhoods that could change completely in a short period of time. O'Connell had been told that an area called The Ramble in Central Park was a mugger's paradise, so she was extremely nervous the first time she went there. It's where she found an ancient birdwatcher completely at ease. The birdwatcher asked her if she wanted to know why The Ramble was no longer dangerous, and of course O'Connell did. "The developers came and started buying up the Upper West Side. By the time they were finished, they'd outsourced crime, and crime had to move on." O'Connell loves and respects New York, and has an insatiable curiosity about it. All these combine to turn her New York commentary into poetry.

She also told us about a book signing in New York City in which a male photographer was annoying the bookseller and the crowd-- and making them all nervous. The photographer was behind O'Connell when he came up close to whisper to her, "Don't worry. I'm from the CIA." The situation wasn't helped any when a female in the audience announced to them all that she was Kathy Mallory and then pulled her jacket aside to show them her gun in a shoulder holster. At this point, O'Connell was hoping that the photographer behind her was a cop... or that he really was from the CIA!

"I'm the only prospective juror who gets laughs."

Available Now!
Lawyers seem fascinated about her occupation when O'Connell is called for jury duty. They ask her all sorts of questions, and the devil in her likes to play with them a bit. Her answers tend to get a lot of laughs from everyone.

The evening began to wind down with O'Connell talking about her writing. There is a cat called Nose in the second book in the Mallory series, The Man Who Cast Two Shadows. When the third book was published, she received a ton of letters from fans wanting to know why Mallory hadn't adopted Nose. The answer was simple: that would be completely contradictory to the type of person Mallory is.

"I trick you into believing Mallory is changing by introducing pieces of information about her past."

Most of O'Connell's reading consists of research, and when she's not reading for that purpose, she tries to find the most boring things to read that she can. Why? Because she's a chronic insomniac, and the more boring the book, the more likely it will be to put her to sleep. 

When asked about the requests for her books to be made into films or television series, O'Connell told us that her publisher, Putnam, gives all those requests to an agent in Los Angeles who "makes them all go away. No one bugs me." It's obvious that O'Connell will be quite content if none of her work shows up on large screen or small.

What book is she working on now? O'Connell refused to tell us. She doesn't give out hints on works in progress, citing a man in New York City she knows as The Poet. He's been talking about his poetry for thirty years, and in that time, he's written ten pages... and published nothing. "I don't believe in talking my work to death."

"When Mallory stops being interesting to me, there will be no more books about Mallory," O'Connell stated. She was serious, but the twinkle in her eye told me that she still finds Mallory to be very interesting indeed.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King

First Line: I sat back in my chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action.

Mary Russell has been keeping her nose to the Oxford grindstone, putting the finishing touches on an essay while her fellow students have been celebrating Christmas break. She needs a break, too, so she dons a disguise and heads to London. While there, she meets an old college friend who introduces her to Margery Childe, charismatic leader of the New Temple of God.

Part suffragette, part mystic, Childe is an electrifying speaker who is working diligently to improve the lives of poor women in London. Mary can't help noticing, however, that Childe lives very well for a woman of God from a humble background. Another thing that falls under her observant eye is the fact that life has become dangerous for the wealthy women working with Margery Childe. This calls for an investigation, especially since Mary is now part of the "inner circle," and about to come into her own considerable inheritance.

My infatuation with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes continues in this second book in Laurie R. King's series. First of all, A Monstrous Regiment of Women is a marvelous title that sticks in the mind like a burr. The title comes from Bible thumper John Knox, the equal opportunity hatemonger. (From what I've read, I doubt the man ever cracked a smile.) Knox was notorious for his misogyny, and King has rounded up quite a collection of quotes from Knox and other men with similar beliefs to head each chapter in the book. It wasn't unusual for me to read the quote at the beginning of a chapter and have some unladylike response to it before diving headfirst back into the story. Furthermore, the quotes aren't there just for decoration or to cause blood pressure spikes-- they follow the narrative of the story, and I soon became quite eager to see what the next quote would be.

Mary is now a young woman who's about to come into a very large sum of money, and she struggles a bit with the burden of responsibility this places upon her. She also has a newborn sense of freedom and begins to think about the relationship she has with Holmes. This book (as well as the first one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice) is so much more than a recitation of facts about cases the two detectives have solved, and this is all due to Mary's narration. She focuses on personal matters and on the people involved, so readers can really get a sense of whom the characters are and why they are involved.  

Mary has the lion's share of the scenes in this book, but Holmes' presence is felt throughout. Never once did I forget that this man is "the world's greatest detective," but it is refreshing to see him in a totally different light. Mary is his equal in mind and in heart, and I love watching the relationship between these two growing into something very, very special.

Just in case you get the impression that A Monstrous Regiment of Women is a mere character study, think again. The case is an intriguing one that is difficult to sort out, and Mary is in very real danger towards the end. In fact, I think I was reading so fast that my eyeballs almost caught fire.

I love the world that Laurie R. King has created. I now have all the books, and I fully intend to savor each and every one. If you have yet to sample this series, you have a wonderful treat in store for you. In order to achieve the greatest amount of enjoyment, I would suggest that you read the books in order. The way the relationship between Holmes and Mary Russell unfolds is a delight.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King
ISBN: 9780312427375
Picador © 2007 (Original publishing date 1995)
Paperback, 304 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap

The Blue Moon Weekly Link Round-Up

I hope you all got to enjoy the blue moon this week; I know I did. Denis and I motored on over to The Poisoned Pen Thursday evening to see Carol O'Connell, author of the excellent series featuring Kathy Mallory. (Ack... I should've said just Mallory. I can feel that woman's mental death glare now!)

Barbara Peters and Carol O'Connell
Even though there was a slight problem with the microphones, everything settled down quickly for an enjoyable evening. Denis came home to download the first book in O'Connell's series, and I read about Mallory this afternoon out in the pool.

Speaking of the pool, that still occupies a place in my afternoons. In the evenings when Denis is at work, I've been stitching beads onto pieces of needlepoint so I can then line the needlepoint and complete the projects. While I've been doing this, "Campion" has been keeping me company. I've been savoring the stories, the houses, and those marvelous old cars.

Next week looks to be slightly busier. Outside of the usual errands and appointments, it looks as though we'll be heading to the Water Ranch, so I'd better get my camera batteries charged up. There will also be two visits to The Poisoned Pen: one for Margaret Coel and William Kent Krueger, and the other for Rhys Bowen. (And the week after that? Louise Penny and Kathy Reichs!)

Hang on a second while I put out an APB on those links!

Bookish News & Other Interesting Stuff
  •  Elmore Leonard, another crime fiction great, has died. His novels were known for their great opening lines.
  • Crime fiction author Ian Rankin is taking a year off due to his health.
  • How many books have you read from a 1907 high school reading list? (Of the books listed in the graphic at the top of the article, I'd not read one.)
  • The trailer of the movie they're making of The Book Thief looks promising.
  • 38% of readers will finish a book no matter what. (I'm not among them. I just don't review the ones I couldn't finish.)
  • I understand where she's coming from, but the librarian who wants to ban a 5-time reading champ from competing is a tad misguided.
  • I know some pickers who would've loved to have found this Pierce, Nebraska car dealership.
  • On Jungle Red Writers, author Deborah Crombie asked fellow authors (and blog readers) if they considered themselves more modern, and more liberated, than their mothers.
  • A Shanghai bookstore opens a metro line library scheme.
  • Barbara Vey doesn't quite understand the hype surrounding cover reveals. (Neither do I.)
  • Maj Sjöwall, architect of modern Scandinavian crime thrillers, believes that Sweden's crime writers are too interested in love.

I  ♥  Lists

Book Candy
  • Take a look at this Book House that overlooks Lake Washington!
  • It's a bar, it's a bookstore: the BookBar has opened in Berkeley.
  • Some impressive bookcase designs with glass doors.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend, everyone, and don't forget to stop by next weekend. I'll have a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure!


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Double-Jack Murders by Patrick F. McManus

First Line: Idaho's Blight County sheriff, Bo Tully, scanned the ridge above his log house with binoculars.

Just because he's had a death threat is no reason to call off the Fourth Annual Sheriff Bo Tully Empty the Freezer Day that always takes place on his property. All the other local politicians have been beside themselves for four years now over missing out on a free vote-gathering extravaganza that doesn't cost Bo a dime. (Although he does draw the line at eating any mystery meats the voters bring in.)

But the death threat is a serious one, and Bo decides to head for tall timber in an attempt to get the would-be assassin away from his constituents and into a trap of the wily sheriff's choosing. When Agatha and Bernice, two old ladies at the remote Quail Creek Ranch, ask Bo to take on a 75-year-old cold case, he knows this fits the bill.

Whenever I'm in the mood for good characters, good stories, and good laughs, I head on over to Blight County, Idaho, and cozy up to Sheriff Bo Tully. Bo Tully, the sheriff who makes pets of spiders that take up housekeeping in his office window. Bo Tully, the sheriff who now shares accommodations with Clarence, the dog with a criminal past. (Clarence was arrested several times for hiding under cars and biting people on the ankles.)

If you're a Craig Johnson fan who's reading this review and starting to have stars in your eyes, I'd advise you to proceed with caution. Yes, McManus's books do have a lot in common with Johnson's Walt Longmire series, but McManus's series is much lighter and played more for the laughs. The two series compliment each other nicely, but come election time, I'm voting for Longmire, if you see what I'm saying.

The story line for this third book in the series is right out of the pages of the Old West. Back in 1927, a gold miner tells his family that he and his young partner have hit the mother lode. The two men return to the location of the mine, but they never come home again. It's up to Bo to piece together clues in this cold case and dodge bullets from an escaped prisoner. Bo knows the territory, and he knows the people. He's got a distinct advantage-- although it's certainly rugged terrain in which to locate a hidden mine.

Watching Bo solve a mystery is one very fun way to spend an afternoon, and I would recommend this series to anyone who likes humorous mysteries set in the West.

The Double-Jack Murders by Patrick F. McManus
ISBN: 9781439131367
Simon and Schuster © 2010
Hardcover, 240 pages

Humorous Mystery, #3 Sheriff Bo Tully mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from Bookcloseouts.

The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas

First Line: "What does it mean when someone calls you swine?" Simon Horowitz asked suddenly, as his father's black Mercedes-Benz rolled to a stop at the top of a blind alley off the Friedrichstrasse.

Simon is about to find out exactly what that means, as his world rapidly descends into nightmare. Instead of learning to play his father's priceless and beloved 1742 Guarneri del Gesú violin, he and other members of his family are sent to Dachau, and the precious violin finds its way into other hands.

In the present day, a fourteen-year-old violin prodigy has a chance to make a name for himself on the world stage, and renowned conductor Rafael Gomez wants to help young Daniel Horowitz realize the dream. When Daniel rebels and refuses to play, Gomez is determined to do whatever it takes to make the boy play again. When the conductor learns that Daniel's family once owned an incredible violin, he thinks he has the answer: the story of what happened to the Horowitz family and their Guarneri del Gesú violin.

Although I've never been a real fan of the violin, I do enjoy stories about a house or an object that has survived through the centuries passing through various owners. The Keeper of Secrets is a welcome addition to this literary tradition.

The cast of characters is an interesting one. Simon Horowitz and his family react too slowly for most to survive the Holocaust. Simon has the character, the intelligence and the strength of will to do so, and he must use all of that in order to walk out of the infamous concentration camp known as Dachau. Daniel Horowitz, who has a once-in-a-lifetime talent, wants to be an ordinary boy who plays baseball with his friends. Daniel's mother is a woman who insists everything be sacrificed to Daniel's talent. The boy's father is a man who's torn between wanting his son to have a normal childhood and wanting his son to use his gift to its full potential. Rafael Gomez  is a man whose love of music has ruled his life, and he wants Daniel to be a sort of gift to the profession he loves.

All these characters blend together very well within the author's framework. Germany in the 1930s came to life as I read; the burgeoning power of the Nazis, the people who saw what was happening and got out, those who refused to see and stayed. Two elements in particular impressed me. One was the inclusion of various German characters who helped those being persecuted in whatever ways they could. The second was the fact that the chapters of the book involving Simon's internment in Dachau were horrible without being graphic. Thomas didn't candy coat anything, but she didn't feel the need to bury readers in the details of all the atrocities.

Perhaps music was the most profound element of The Keeper of Secrets, and I'm not just talking about learning the business aspects behind world-class orchestras. I've never read another book that made me feel even the tiniest bit like a gifted musician would feel as he played, what a piece of music can tell him, and how different instruments playing the same piece of music can sound differently. Somehow Thomas managed to convey all that and more.

The power of good characterization, of a good story, and of music combined to make Julie Thomas's book a virtuoso performance.

The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas
ISBN: 9780062240309
William Morrow © 2013
Paperback, 384 pages

Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers program 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez by Peter Benchley

First Line: The girl lay on the surface of the sea, looking into the water through a mask, and was afraid.

Peter Benchley is best known for his book Jaws and the subsequent Steven Spielberg movie, but it is The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (published in 1982) that is his most heartfelt book about man's relationship with the sea.

Paloma is a young woman who lives with her mother and brother on an island in the Gulf of California. Her father had a deep and abiding love of, and respect for, the sea. After trying and failing to share his passion with his son, he learns that it is his daughter, Paloma, who will be the one to understand the lessons he teaches. Not only does Paloma take all his lessons to heart, she also seems to have an innate sense that the sea and all its creatures need her protection.

Each day Paloma paddles her tiny pirogue out to a secret destination where she anchors above a seamount-- a submerged volcanic peak-- that is home to a spectacular abundance of marine life-- and it is there that she forms an incredible bond with a manta ray so large that it blocks the sun. Paloma is willing to fight to protect this creature and this bond, for there is something every bit as certain as the sun rising and setting and the ebb and flow of the tides: man's greed. Paloma will have to fight with every ounce of courage and knowledge she has to protect her beloved seamount and the thousands of animals that call it home.

My mother read this book when it was first published in 1982. Almost as if it were yesterday, I can hear her telling me that she thought of me as she read about Paloma. My mother could see me exploring the seamount and swimming with manta rays. For some reason, I never picked up the book to read it. I don't know why. Just as I don't know why I felt compelled to read it now, thirty-one years later.

My salt water swimming pool was the perfect place to read this book. As the pages turned, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Paloma's father and the lessons he taught her. Jobim taught her many practical things about swimming, diving, the weather, the sea, the marine life, and how to respect them all. He didn't have to teach her to love it; that came naturally. Jobim believed, as I do, that "Nature is one miracle after another. Man can't improve it; he can only change it."  

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is a beautiful fable, and as I read it, I turned into Princess Paloma. I seldom ever find myself so completely identifying with a character, and when it does happen, it's very special. Paloma's skill was my skill; her wonderment at the beauty of the sea and its creatures was mine; her determination to protect the seamount was mine. This entire book is a song, a poem, and Benchley's love of the sea is evident on each and every page.

This isn't a review as much as it is a sharing my personal reaction to this book, and one thing that occurred to me after I'd finished reading it and was still basking in the afterglow was the similarities my favorite movie ("Avatar") shares with this book. I can understand why The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is a cult classic, and methinks it is a favorite of director James Cameron, too.

Mom, it took me thirty-one years to understand fully why you thought of me when you read this book. Thank you for the compliment.

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez by Peter Benchley
ISBN: 9780345544131
Ballantine Books © 2013
Paperback, 256 pages

Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Paperback Swap