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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Scents and Sensiblility

Right up to the end of Scents and Sensibility (#569), I wasn't sure that Chet and Bernie were going to make it out alive from their latest adventure.  Spencer Quinn really ratcheted up the suspense factor here.  I know eventually there will be a final Chet and Bernie mystery, but I'm not ready for it yet!


After spending time with Suzie in Washington, D.C., both Chet and Bernie are glad to be home at last in the Valley.  But there have been changes since they left:  what's the huge saguaro cactus doing in the Parsons' front yard next door?  And, hey, where has the wall safe behind the picture in Bernie's office gone, along with his grandfather's watch?


It turns out the cactus was stolen, when an Agriculture Department Special Agent shows up after tracking down the GPS chip implanted in it.    Mr. Parsons is clearly too feeble to have done the transplanting himself, so why is he so reluctant to talk about how the cactus came to be in his yard?  Murder, drugs, kidnapping, crooked cops and a music festival are all part of the mix when Bernie and Chet begin to investigate.  So is a puppy who looks, acts and smells so much like Chet...


It's so doggone good, it'll have you begging for more!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blackout

I knew David Rosenfelt couldn't resist putting a dog into his stand alone thriller, Blackout (#568)!  It's three quarters of the way through this page-turner before the dog (a golden retriever, of course!) makes its brief but significant appearance.


Doug Brock, a New Jersey State Trooper, has been shot twice and landed on his head in a fall from a balcony.  He'll recover from those gunshot wounds okay; his memory - not so much.  He's been told that he was following an investigation on his own that got him suspended from the police force, but it must have been important if his poking around provoked an attack.  The problem is, Doug doesn't have a clue what that could have been.  His partner Nate and an attractive cybercrime unit cop, Jessie, try to help Doug, but he apparently didn't tell them anything before he was shot, either.  Can Doug put together enough fragments to find out what leads he was following before his attackers try again?


It's a fast read with Doug acting blindly, blundering through his own life not knowing where the emotional land mines are.  That's half the fun of this book.  David Rosenfelt never disappoints.  Blackout is a perfect hammock read!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The 14th Colony

It's always a wild ride with Steve Berry's Cotton Malone.  In his latest thriller, The 14th Colony (#567), the plot hinges on a Soviet plan to destroy its number one enemy, the United States.  The USSR no longer exists, but the KGB agents tasked with carrying out the plan have never been called off.  They determine that the time has come at long last, and only the Magellan Bullet stands in its way.


Steve Berry knows how to find a hook in the history books to build a gripping thriller.  The Revolutionary War fraternal order, the Society of Cincinnatus, holds a key here, and so do plans to invade Canada. You come away each time with a little more appreciation about what makes America (or its enemies) tick.  You know the good guys are going to pull it off in the end, but the tension comes from how close a call it will be before the Magellan Bullet prevails and saves the day. 


Civics 101 was never this much fun!

Friday, May 13, 2016

When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II

What a fascinating book Molly Guptill Manning has written: When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II (#566).  She shines a spotlight on a movement to get books into the hands of soldiers and sailors during World War II that united civilians, librarians, publishers, the military, and yes, even the Congress!  Since Germany burned books, culled libraries and banned authors, they were waging total war on their own populace as well as the enemy.  The United States responded by supplying books, books and more books, a tremendous morale boost to isolated soldiers and sailors.  How this was managed under war time restrictions is an amazing story of cooperation.

Although I wasn't born until after World War II, I wonder why I've never heard of either the Victory Book Campaign, or its successor, the Council on Books in Wartime.  The response from those who received the Armed Services Editions (ASE) books in their compact, lightweight versions was overwhelming.  These books literally changed lives both during and after the War.

Ms. Manning has included pictures in her book, but I thought the most interesting addition was an appendix listing the books that were released to the GIs each month.  It's surprising how many of the books the military enjoyed are still popular today, in print, as well as in movie versions.  Do yourself a favor and read this book about a time when the United States was truly united waging war as best it could on the home front by supplying the troops with the weapons of ideas.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library (#565) by Genevieve Cogman is a little Naomi Novick, a little Charlaine Harris, a bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a sprinkling of others, which stirred together make for a very satisfying read. 

The Invisible Library exists outside of all the possible alternate worlds, where its job is to protect the books vital to each world by acquiring them and holding them safely.  Of course, they need a staff of Librarians to take on the task of book recovery.  That's where we meet Irene, a Junior Librarian.  She's just returned from a difficult assignment on an alternate world, and is looking forward to some downtime in the library to work on her own projects, but mostly to revel in reading in her favorite place in the Universe.  Alas, it's not to be.  Her mentor has an another urgent assignment for her; not only that, but she's being saddled with a novice on his first field trip - impossibly handsome Kai.

Nothing is as simple as promised on this assignment, as Irene and Kai soon discover.  The Resident Librarian in this alternate has given them surprisingly little information to go on, and they soon find themselves neck deep in trouble in a steampunk Victorian London, fighting off all manner of supernatural and mechanical creatures.  And then, there's something odd about Kai himself...

This is a great caper novel, filled with all sorts of interesting characters.  It was so much fun to read, I hated to see the book end, but Reader, rejoice!  The next volume of this promising new series is due out in September.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination

Almost everything we think we know about how Julius Caesar died we learned from Shakespeare.  "Et tu, Brute?" -  Caesar never said it, although according to Barry Strauss in his new book, The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination (#564), he may have said something similar, but in Greek.  That's just one of the fascinating bits of information in his concise recounting of the events leading up to the fateful Ides of March, 44 B.C.

Who was Julius Caesar, and why did so many people want him dead?  Once the deed was done, did things work out as planned for the conspirators?  Barry Strauss makes these people and their motivations as real as though you are reading about them in today's newspaper.  This is no fusty bit of history dusted off for our inspection; it's highlighting an incident that, though it took place centuries ago, has shaped our past and still reverberates today. 

Consulting numerous contemporary sources, as well as those writing up to several generations later, Strauss strives to put together a more comprehensive view of the assassination from both sides: Caesar's enemies and detractors, as well as his supporters.  Strauss includes as well a wealth of additional source material for readers interested in exploring more about the people and politics involved.  As a boon for us non-academic types, he also includes a number of recommended works of fiction on the period that portray the characters and period accurately. 

Kudos, Professor Strauss!  Wish I was close enough to Cornell to sit in on some of your classes!

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Light in the Ruins

It feels like it's been a long time since I've read such a string of totally absorbing books, and I'm adding Chris Bohjalian's The Light in the Ruins (#563) to that list.   I couldn't wait until I got back from my walk this morning so I could settle down and finally find out "whodunit".

The story shifts back and forth in time from 1955, when a serial murderer is on the lose in Florence, Italy, and the World War II experiences of the Rosati family whose modest Tuscan villa is occupied by the Germans during the war.  As the reader gradually learns, the two stories are interconnected in a way that draws you in deeper and deeper until the final reveal. 

The author uses red herrings quite effectively here I think.  I had my suspicions about the perpetrator, but in the end, I guessed wrong.  What a story teller Mr. Bohjalian is!  I've recommended this book strongly to my husband, and to you, as well.  Atmospheric and compelling.