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Friday, August 11, 2017

A Puzzle to Be Named Later

A Puzzle to Be Named Later (#682) is Parnell Hall's latest in his Puzzle Lady mysteries.  It's a fun, easy read, especially if you like to solve crossword puzzles and Sodoku.  In fact, solving the crosswords is actually part of finding the culprit here, as there are clues embedded in the puzzles' solutions.  If you're like me, and borrow any of these books from your local library, your first step will be to photocopy the puzzle grids so you don't spoil the fun for anyone else!


This mystery, set in suburban Connecticut, swirls around a whiz kid pitcher for the Yankees, who just after signing a multimillion dollar contract breaks his arm in car accident.  When he and his attractive young wife move into the local white elephant mansion in Bakerhaven so Matt Greystone can rehab in peace, someone wants to make trouble by leaving scandalous hints via crossword puzzles.  Since Puzzle Lady Cora Felton lives right there in town, she's pulled into the affair for her crosswording skills.  Lucky for her the Sheriff doesn't know she couldn't solve a crossword to save her own life: that's her niece's department!  But once on the trail, Cora is like a dog with a bone - she can't leave it alone.  When first one body shows up, then a second, there are too many people with too many motives to sort out.  It will be up to Cora to make the call on the murderer before the Yankees' season is ruined.


This is perfect fare for a lazy summer afternoon curled up in a hammock with a cold drink by your side.  Cora Felton is quite the character!  I'm going to have to track down more of the Puzzle Lady Mysteries in the future.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Right Side

I love Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie mystery series.  Chet "The Jet" is the narrator for these stories, and although he's entirely professional, he is after all, an easily distracted dog.  Chet never met a cheese doodle he didn't like, even in the middle of a case.  Granted, some of the subject matter covered in these books is pretty grim, so I shouldn't have been surprised that his latest novel The Right Side (#681) is one hundred and eighty degrees from the humorous tone of the Chet and Bernie series.


In this stand-alone novel, Sgt. LeAnne Hogan is recovering at Walter Reed Hospital after surviving an attack on her patrol in Afghanistan.  She lost not only an eye, but a large part of herself.  She's not a particularly likeable character here, but she does manage to bond with her roommate Marci, struggling to adjust to her prosthetic leg.  Marci is motivated to get back to Washington state and her young daughter Mia. 


If only Captain Stallings would stop bugging her to remember her last, failed mission, LeAnne would be much happier.  When she wakes one morning to find that Marci has unexpectedly died, it ;pushes LeAnne beyond her limits.  She sneaks out of the hospital and hops on a bus with no destination in mind.  At some point she acquires a car, driving aimlessly until she arrives in Marci's hometown to find that her daughter Mia has gone missing...


LeAnne Hogan is a stand-in for every veteran who has come back from war damaged, both externally and internally.  Her PTSD has played havoc with her memory and her emotions, but her drive to stand up for herself and do things on her own has survived intact.  It is not until she is adopted by a huge black dog (and she is definitely not a dog person!) that she gradually comes to realize that the dog Goody is protecting her blind side literally and figuratively.  It might be time to start trusting others a little and take the first steps towards healing herself.


The dog is a key character in The Right Side, as unlovely in her own way as LeAnne now feels herself to be.  Both have been damaged, but together they are stronger.  Goody forces LeAnne to think of someone other than herself and to provide vital evidence to solve two injustices. 


Although difficult to read at times, it was equally difficult to put this book down.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dangerous Minds - A Knight and Moon Novel

What do a Buddhist monk, a disappearing island and the National Park Services have in common?  That's the question Janet Evanovich poses in Dangerous Minds - A Knight and Moon Novel (#680).  How she stitches these elements together makes for a fun to read romp with serious thriller end-of-the-world vibes.  I was glad that I finally got around to reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time last summer since it helped me understand the science here more easily, although that's not a requirement for enjoying Dangerous Minds.  I never thought I'd be saying that about one of Janet Evanovich's books!  Don't get me wrong, I've always been a fan of her writing; Ms. Evanovich also happens to be one of the very few authors who can make literally me laugh out loud.


Eccentric billionaire Emerson Knight needs help figuring out his finances after his father's sudden death.  Financial analyst Riley Moon has been hired to untangle the books, so to speak, but it's not easy dealing with the handsome owner of Mysteriouso Manor.  When one of his former mentors shows up in the middle of the night seeking his help, Riley is dragged willy-nilly into the affair, along with his cousin Vernon whose RV seems to be permanently parked in the back yard of the mansion.  The caper will take them across the country from Washington, D.C. to Yellowstone Park and the Big Island of Hawaii with relentless enemies pursuing them and leaving a trail of bodies behind.  Meanwhile, sparks are flying between Emerson and Riley.  Will they make it out alive?  I sure hope so, because I look forward to reading further adventures of this engaging pair, Emerson Knight and Riley Moon.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Lost Order

A secret society, a treasure hunt, a plot to legally change how our government functions, a few murders, and at the heart of it all, The Smithsonian Institution.  These are the elements of Steve Berry's latest Cotton Malone novel, The Lost Order (#679) and, like most of his novels, many of the people, places and events here are based on historical fact.


Prior to the Civil War, a powerful and influential secret society was formed by Southerners and those sympathetic to their cause - the Knights of the Golden Order.  When the Confederacy was defeated, it went underground, supposedly dying out around the turn of the century.  For many years, rumors have abounded of a secret hoard of gold which vanished along with the Knights.  Cotton Malone and his companion, Cassiopeia Vitt, have been sent to Arkansas by the Chancellor of the Smithsonian to track down clues to the treasure's location.  When Malone is attacked after unearthing some gold coins buried in the woods, they realize that they are not the only ones searching for the gold.


 Meanwhile, Danny Daniels is finding life after being President of the United States boring in Blount County, Tennessee.  He is devastated to learn of  the drowning death of his old friend, Senator Alex Sherwood on his nearby estate.  When Danny attends the funeral, he sees and hears things that make him suspect that Diane Sherwood is not quite the grieving widow she appears to be. Political strings are being pulled, and his gut instinct tells him that the outcome will not be good.  When the head of the Magellan Billet is shot and lies in a coma, Danny Daniels and Cotton Malone begin to pick at the knots tying all these seemingly unrelated events together.


There were some interesting (and potentially frightening!) premises in this thriller about Washington power plays, secret societies and whether or not the treasure of the Knights of the Golden Order still exists somewhere out there as a vast hoard of gold and Confederate Records.  In The Lost Order, the clues were hidden in the Smithsonian, which holds millions of objects of every conceivable type in its many museums, libraries and research centers.  Steve Berry serves on a Citizen's Advisory Board for the Smithsonian Libraries and this novel is his opportunity to highlight this amazing National Treasure.  What better place to set a mystery?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Lost City of the Monkey God

After reading Douglas Preston's non-fiction account of a modern-day archaeological find deep in a virtually unexplored region of Honduras, I can tell you one UNESCO World Heritage Site that is not high on my "Must Visit" list - The Lost City of the Monkey God (#678)!  Although Douglas Preston was a member of the expedition in 2012, writing for National Geographic, which uncovered more than one major abandoned city deep in the jungles of remote Mosquitia, the journey there was arduous, dangerous and rife with controversy and consequences for its members.


Rumors have abounded since the time of the Spanish conquistadors about treasures to be found in the cities of the Indians of Central America, but the rough terrain and impenetrable jungles have guarded their secrets well.  Previous expeditions have not fared well.  Modern technology played a major role in pinpointing promising sites for these archaeologists.


Despite venomous snakes, insects too numerous to count, jaguars, drug cartels, constant rain and a site too overgrown to venture more than a few feet from each other without losing touch with the group, what they found there was an astonishing cache of items from a culture previously unknown and unstudied.  Because of the inaccessibility of the sites, most of their secrets are still unknown and untouched.  It will be a race between the scholars wishing to study the sites and the drug traffickers and clear-cutters devastating the areas and looting the sites for the black market trade in antiquities.
And then there are the unwanted souvenirs many members of the expedition brought home - a rare jungle parasitic disease.


It all makes for a fascinating story of real life adventure, professional jealousy standing in the way of knowledge, fraud, fer de lances, and strong advocacy for the National Institutes of Health.  If you think Indiana Jones had a difficult time, check out this story; you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Clan Corporate

I just finished the third book in Charles Stross's science fiction series The Merchant Princes (See my posts of 3/20/17 & 4/17/17.) .  In The Clan Corporate (#677) Miriam Beckstein is still futilely struggling against the bounds her powerful relatives in the world of Gruinmarkt are trying to impose on her.  She's been blocked from accessing her start-up company in the world of New Britain, and the prospect of an arranged marriage is being raised with distressing regularity.  What's a modern woman supposed to do?  Suddenly, she's landed in it with both feet and is in serious danger of losing not only her own life, but that of her mother as well if she doesn't cooperate.


In the meantime, this book swerves towards a chink the US Government has opened into Gruinmarkt.  Miriam's ex-boyfriend with the DEA is dragged unwittingly into things when a defector from that world informs him that Gruinmarkt possesses nuclear weapons, and is in a position to deploy them in the United States.  Mike Fleming is groomed to go under cover in Gruinmarkt and quietly make contact with Miriam.  Of course things do not go well at their next meeting and Miriam is forced to jump from the frying pan into the fire...


What's next? I can't wait to read the next book to find out!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

I read Amor Towles' novel A Gentleman in Moscow (#676) on a friend's recommendation.  Like him, I found it captivated me from the opening pages, although I knew that what I was reading was only possible in the hands of a gifted storyteller.


The gentleman of the title is thirty year old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov who is sentenced in 1922 to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in the heart of Moscow, under pain of death should he ever attempt to leave.  How does one cope in these circumstances, let alone find one's eventual purpose in life?  The answer unfolds in a series of flashbacks, anecdotes and real time narratives which are alternately tragic, humorous, and  philosophical.  But above all, these serve to illuminate the integrity of Sasha's character.  What a privilege it would be to dine with him in the fabled Boyarsky Restaurant at the Metropol!  Not that the Count is without enemies; he is merely fortunate that his friends have more pull.  I couldn't wait to find out what happened next as the decades pass...


The one cloud that hung over this story when I began reading it was the fate of the real Russian aristocrats, the intelligentsia and the skilled workmen of that time after reading Douglas Smith's recent horrifying non-fiction book  Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. (See my post of 7/30/13.)  Amor Towles does refer to Count Rostov in his novel as a Former Person, but unless you understand the stigma and danger attached to that label, it's difficult to appreciate how perilous his position was from day-to-day and the burden that knowledge placed on his shoulders.  That's where Mr. Towles skill comes to the fore; anyone could make this a depressing and gloomy book; it takes a master to infuse it with light and the joy of living.


An thoroughly entrancing read.  Highly recommended.