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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Full Wolf Moon

A lot of books that I read are prepublication copies, so a number of typos, grammatical errors and parsing problems are to be expected.  When I read the published edition of Lincoln Child's latest Dr. Jeremy Logan thriller, Full Wolf Moon (#694), I was surprised that within the first fifty pages I had to stop twice to Google the foods the protagonist was eating.  What on earth are pickled ramps?  And why would a housewife busy home-schooling two children at a remote Adirondack home be feeding a last-minute dinner guest boeuf bourguiignon with scalloped potatoes and raclette?  Do you know what raclette is?  I didn't.  I thought I had a pretty good grasp on culinary terms, but apparently not.  Also, since Jeremy Logan is a professor at Yale, born and brought up supposedly in the United States, why does he root around in the "boot" of his car, looking for a disguise?  When he gets his fifty year old vintage Lotus convertible stuck down a heavily forested driveway why is he forced to lower the top, climb over the "windscreen" and onto the "hood" of the car?  Why weren't these Briticisms edited out?  Either he climbs over the windscreen onto the bonnet of his car, or he goes over the windshield onto the hood.  The mixed metaphors were irritating to this reader.

The plot revolves around savage attacks on hikers in extremely remote areas of Adirondack Park.  Two of the bodies aren't discovered until the bodies are in advanced states of decomposition.  The third victim is found quickly, and the Medical Examiner is able to pinpoint time of death to eighteen hours previously - during a full moon.  Yet the author states unequivocally that all three victims were killed during a full moon,; by a bear or some other animal.  Or were they?  An odd clannish family in the neighborhood with "tainted blood"  points to the possibility of - wait for it! - a werewolf roaming the vast and forbidding woods.  Dr. Jeremy Logan is reluctantly dragged into things by an old college friend, now a Forest Ranger.  He should have stayed at Cloudwater, the artists' colony where he is supposed to be finishing up a paper on medieval history.  If he had, maybe we would all have been spared this unsatisfying potboiler.

On the bright side, I did learn what pickled ramps are ( pickled leeks, in case you were wondering) and raclette as well (cheese often used in Europe as a fondue).  At least I didn't totally waste my time!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Painted Queen

It was a bittersweet experience reading The Painted Queen (#693).  The manuscript for Amelia Peabody Emerson's final adventure in Egypt was published posthumously three years after Barbara Mertz - writing here as Elizabeth Peters - died.  The book was finished by her good friend and fellow mystery writer, Joan Hess.  She did Elizabeth Peters proud.

The very first book in this wonderful series (Crocodile on the Sandbank) was published way back in 1975, and made such an impression on both my mother and me that I still have a copy of that original paperback amongst my boxes (and boxes!) of books.  Amelia Peabody was a feisty, intelligent and intrepid female who ventured to Egypt on her own to pursue her passion for Egyptology in nineteenth century British-controlled territory.  Armed with her practically indestructible parasol and her belt of essential tools she managed to acquire a handsome husband, a precocious son, a formidable reputation amongst the locals and enemies too numerous to count.  The books are a hoot, but the backgrounds for the many mysteries Amelia (or Peabody, as her husband affectionately calls her) unravels are based on rock solid knowledge of the world of Egyptian archeology.  After all, Elizabeth Peters (or Barbara Michaels, or Vicky Bliss, her other pen names) also published non-fiction  books on Egypt professionally under her own name, Dr. Barbara Mertz.  What a fun way to pass along her wealth of knowledge!

This final story, The Painted Queen, is based on some of the real-life scandals which swirled around the discovery of the iconic bust of Nefertiti, now on display in Berlin.  It wasn't always so...  With Amelia walking stubbornly into danger at every opportunity, and her son Ramses and his boon companion David, determined to keep her safe, there are the usual cast of eccentric and amusing characters, a significant find mysteriously vanishing, and cameo appearances by arch enemy Sethos, the result is an entertaining and page-turning read. 

I don't think that Barbara Mertz intended this as her final book in the series.  Otherwise, she wouldn't have left the Nefret/Ramses situation hanging fire; she would have brought things to a happy conclusion, which was hinted at at the very end.  It was sad to close the cover on the final chapter of this adventure in Egypt knowing that there will never be another, just like its author.  Farewell, Elizabeth Peters!

Monday, October 9, 2017


I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but the Matchup (#692) anthology, edited by Lee Child, is an exception to that rule.  All of the short stories here are thrillers; the hook is that each story pairs a well-known female writer in the genre with a male counterpart, featuring a "match up" of their iconic characters.  Although I recognized the names of these writers, for many of them, it's the first time I've read any of their work.  I was not disappointed.  (Okay, confession; my least favorite story was a vampire/Radiant match up.  Too easy to picture a Grace Jones/Fabio look-alike couple as the illustration for this one!).

Where else can you meet Jack Reacher and Temperance Brennan teamed up to solve a case? (Kathy Reichs and Lee Child).  Or how about Steve Berry's Cotton Malone encountering Diana Gabaldon's Outlander characters in pursuit of an antiquarian book?  The match ups here are those of familiar fictional characters' strengths and skills in pursuing crimes, not each other.  If you follow any of these writers included in the anthology, it's fun to watch their creations play off each other.

Although the eleven novellas and short stories here come in at over four hundred pages, time seemed to fly by while I was absorbed in these tales.  Darn, I've just added another list of authors I'll have to find time to read!

Hail to the Chins

Bruce Campbell, along with Craig Sanborn, has added to his B Movie memoirs with this second volume, Hail to the Chins (#691).  Since I first became aware of him as the character Sam Axe in the TV series Burn Notice, I was interested to read what he has to say about the various roles he's played.  It was, for the most part, an entertaining read, but I think you have to be somewhat of a Bruce Campbell fan to appreciate it.

Since he lives by choice in the Oregon woods, I was especially intrigued by his opinions of living in Miami while filming Burn Notice.  Definitely not a fan of our hot, humid climate!  I must say, I do enby the time he spent in New Zealand while making Hercules and Xena, Prinicess Warrior.  Since we also enjoyed those shows, we might sample one of his more recent projects on Starz, Ash v. the Evil Dead.,  but from his description in the book, we'll have to do it on an empty stomach!

My take on Hail to the Chins?  Amusing, but not for everybody. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Bedlam Stacks

What an imagination author Natasha Pulley has!  I thought her first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street was an amazing steampunk novel (See my post of 9/25/15.), but in her new book The Bedlam Stacks (#690), she has created a fantastical nineteenth century Peru caught up in the middle of quinine wars in the search for new cinchona trees as its source.  I thought initially that this was an odd place to set such a wondrous novel until I remembered that one of my favorite literary characters came from deepest, darkest Peru - Paddington Bear - so maybe not such a stretch after all.

Merrick Tremayne has been badly injured in the service of the East India Company, running a smuggling operation for them in India and China. Now living in  the moldering wreck of the family home in Cornwall under his brother's grudging sufferance, he thinks he has no choice but to take up a post Charles has found for him.  With relations between the brothers strained due to Merrick's insistence that someone is moving around an impossibly heavy statue which their father brought back from Peru, Merrick is looking forward to going elsewhere.  That's when old naval acquaintance Sir Clements Markham shows up at their door to offer him a place on an expedition the East India Company is mounting to Peru.  His skills, despite his handicapped leg, are in demand for the job.  If he refuses, Merrick will never work for the Company again.  Soon Merrick finds himself aboard a ship to Peru, where, of course, nothing is as it seems...

There are elements of religion, botany, archaeology, cut-throat traders and just plain adventure here.  Merrick is continually finding links to his family's past in the outpost community of New Bethlehem, but in ways which seem scarcely believable.  But then, so many things about this community are odd. 

Both my husband and I were reminded of a recurring menace from the Dr. Who series.  If you read this book - and you should, it's lovely and lyrical as well as an exciting adventure - you'll know at once what I'm referencing here.  The joy of reading fiction is that everything doesn't have to be real in order to still ring true. I give The Bedlam Stacks a rare (for me!) five stars.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cork Boat

Before we left for our trip to Portugal in August, I searched our local library catalog for books about, or set in, Portugal.  The sole book to pop up was Steve Berry's thriller The Third Secret, about Fatima.  I did re-read it before our trip, and I also read David Liss' novel The Day of Atonement, set in eighteenth century Lisbon.  It wasn't until the final day of our Viking Cruise down the Douro River that Patricia, our Portuguese Cruise Director, recommended John Pollack's non-fiction Cork Boat (#689) that I found the book I had been looking for all along.

John Pollack has impressive Washington D. C. speech writing credentials both on Capitol Hill and in the White House, but ever since he was a young boy and started collecting the used corks from wine bottles, he had nurtured a dream to build a boat entirely out of corks sturdy enough to launch in some unspecified body of water.  Cork Boat tells the story of how he and a motley group of volunteers finally made that dream come true, sailing it along the Douro River from the Spanish border all the way across Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean.  It didn't turn out to be quite the leisurely sail through wine country, sampling grapes and girls as he went that he had pictured.  In the end, he was challenged both physically and mentally, and became a media celebrity in Portugal while he was at it.
It's a wonderful story.  I was constantly amazed that somewhere along the line he didn't strangle Garth, his collaborator on the project, or that he cajoled enough people into contributing time, talent, sponsorship and corks to make it all happen. 

At the time Pollack voyaged down the Douro in Portugal, the country had not yet gone through the severe economic downturn in 2008.  It is still suffering from that financial disaster, and tourism is playing a large role in Portugal's economic recovery.  The riverboats plying the waters today along the same route - Porto to Barca de Alva and back again - provide opportunities to showcase the vineyards and orchards lining the Valley along with traditional methods of baking and cooking that Pollack describes in his memoir.  The scenery is every bit as spectacular as he describes. For me, it was a delight to read about places we had just been recently, and to see them again in my mind's eye. (Granted, sometimes with a little help from the many pictures I took on this trip!)  If you've ever been to this part of the world, or are thinking about going, read this book.  If that's not possible, you can still travel there in your mind and imagination with John Pollack.  You'll enjoy the time spent in his company.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Four Legendary Kingdoms

Reading a Matthew Reilly thriller is like playing a video game - non-stop action with minimal plot to string the action sequences together.  It can be the perfect diversion.  That's the case with The Four Legendary Kingdoms (#688), following up on the quest to save humanity begun in the first book of this series Seven Ancient Wonders.

With a nod to the mythologies of the ancient world, especially Hercules, Jack West, Jr. regains consciousness to find himself being attacked by a minotaur armed with a knife.  The pace doesn't slow down much from there as he gradually learns that he has been kidnapped to participate in the  Hydra Games against other challengers.  The object is to retrieve nine Golden Spheres to be used in an ancient ritual to save mankind.  Each round of challenges is an elimination round with deadly consequences not only for the warrior, but for those who are held as hostages on his behalf.  The ultimate prize will be awarded to the sponsor of the successful warrior - the King of one of the Four Legendary Kingdoms, the shadow powers pulling the actual strings of government.

It's a fast read with diagrams to help the reader visualize the set-up of each challenge arena with returning characters and some fiendish new villains.  It was the perfect distraction for the post-hurricane period, but you don't need the excuse of a natural disaster to spend some time in Jack West Jr.'s world.  Since we know there are three more books in this series, no matter how bad things look for Jack, we know he'll find a way to win through against impossible odds. What could be better?