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Monday, November 13, 2017

Collared

It just doesn't get much better than sitting down with a new Andy Carpenter mystery by David Rosenfelt in hand.  I know I'm in for an intricately plotted mystery with a slightly cranky, albeit dog loving, protagonist.  I do so enjoy his snarky wit as he reluctantly pursues a legal case that has gone to the dogs.  Collared (#698) is a perfect example.




Andy Carpenter is seriously thinking of not renewing his license to practice law.  After all, he doesn't need the money.  But when a border collie left at the shelter he co-founded turns out to be the "DNA Dog" missing in a sensational unsolved child abduction case from several years back, Andy is pulled into the case by his wife Laurie.  The mother of Dylan Hickman, the abducted child, is a friend of hers, and a prominent businesswoman.  Can the dog provide some clues to Dylan's whereabouts if the baby is still alive?  What Andy uncovers turns the entire case upside down in a series of twists that I did not see coming.




I really like the way David Rosenfelt has developed his characters over the course of this mystery series.  (By the way, if you haven't already discovered these books on your own, they are most enjoyable read in sequence.  Fantastic Fiction is an excellent website source for checking the order of publication for book series.  See the link below.)  Now that Andy has a son of his own, his viewpoint on the Dylan Hickman case is completely different than it would have been at the start of this series.  One thing never changes for Andy, though: his love of Tara, his golden retriever, and the canine world in general.  I can't wait to hear David Rosenfelt speak at our upcoming BookMania!.  If you've read his non-fiction memoir, Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure, you'll know that Andy's doggie devotion is strictly autobiographical!  (See my post of 9/12/13.)




Fantastic Fiction



Monday, November 6, 2017

The Alice Network

I'm working my way through the books and authors which will be featured in the upcoming 2018 BookMania!  Kate Quinn will be there to speak about her latest historical fiction novel The Alice Network (#697).


I remember trying to read one of Ms. Quinn's Empress of Rome novels previously, but was put off by the sex and vulgar language.  It's still here in The Alice Network, but it serves its purpose in the plot, so I persevered and was rewarded by a fascinating glimpse of a real World War I heroine, Louise de Bettignies, the "Queen of Spies" and head of The Alice Network.


It's 1947, and Charlotte St. Clair has gotten herself into a "spot of trouble".  On route to Switzerland from New York with her mother for an appointment at a discreet clinic, Charlie jumps ship when her vessel docks at Southampton.  Her beloved cousin Rose has gone missing in the chaos of occupied France in 1945, and although no one has heard from her, every pretty blond girl Charlie sees is Cousin Rose.  Although efforts have been made to locate her, the only link uncovered to Rose's disappearance is a name - Evelyn Gardiner -  and an address in London.


Evelyn Gardiner is, indeed, the clue to unraveling the mystery of Rose Fournier's disappearance. Her fictitious role in real World War I spy ring dubbed "The Alice Network" by British Military Intelligence, proves to be pivotal here, as the story switches between the events of World War I and post World War II France.  Charlie St. Clair, Evelyn Gardiner and her handsome Scottish war veteran driver Finn Kilgore make an unlikely set of allies, but each, in the end, come to find their own kind of peace and closure.  A very satisfying read.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Mercury

I would probably never have found this book on my own.  A friend recommended Mercury (#696) by Margot Livesey after hearing about it at a Writers' Workshop at University of the South.  It's a very twisty psychological tale about obsession. 

Without giving too much away, on the surface, Donald and Viv are a typical suburban couple with a couple of kids living outside Boston.  Everything changes when a newcomer to town decides to board her thoroughbred horse Mercury at the stable where Viv works part time. 

I think this novel works because Ms. Livesey sets up the reader from the beginning to expect something dramatic and drastic has happened to this couple by telling the story first from the husband, Donald's point of view, and then switches to Viv, the wife, (although we still don't know quite what has happened at this point), until the narrative finally is picked up again by Donald.. 

Nothing is wrapped up tidily with a bow at the end; we are still left wondering how the various characters will pick up their lives and go on from here.  But that doesn't really seem to matter.  What this novel does is prod the reader to think about the consequences of actions taken, and the role honesty and trust play in commitments not only to family, but to friends as well.

This is really an ideal book for book clubs to discuss.  I'm looking forward to the conversation with mine!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

I have read and loved Jamie Ford's first novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I was pleased to hear that he would be coming to the 2018 BookMania!.  His latest is Love and Other Consolation Prizes (#695) which features the story of a young boy auctioned off as a raffle prize at the first Seattle World's Fair in 1909.  Fast forward to 1962, when Ernest Young's daughter is a journalist pursuing human interest stories to highlight the 1962 World's Fair with its iconic Space Needle.  When she happens upon old stories of the raffled boy, she has no idea that she will be unraveling long-concealed family secrets.

It's unfair to label people, but I think of Jamie Ford as the male Lisa See.  Since she is one of my favorite authors, that's meant to be a compliment, even though their styles are very different.  What they do have in common, however, is their interest in exploring their Asian backgrounds and the discrimination immigrants from the Far East faced. 

I couldn't wait to find out what happened to Ernest next as he moves from China to America where the winning raffle ticket is held by Seattle's most prominent madam.  There in the Tenderloin Ernest will find the first real home he has ever known.  I won't say more than that, because the pleasures in this book come as the layers of character and plot are unpeeled here, but if you love a good story, well told, then this is a book for you.  Highly recommended.


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

Matchup

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!