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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Graveyard of the Hesperides

Two of my favorite mystery series have heroines named Flavia, and the most recent additions to both series are currently sitting on my shelf from the library!  What could be better than that?  In The Graveyard of the Hesperides (#602) by Lindsey Davis, Flavia Albia has picked up where her adopted father, Marcus Didius Falco left off when he turned his business as an informer in imperial Rome over to Flavia.  She's had a number of cases under her belt now, and has literally met her match in Tiberius Manlius Faustus.  He's currently serving as an aedile while trying to get his building and remodeling business launched.  While he takes over the renovation of a bar in a seedy neighborhood, Flavia is desperately trying to stop their families from throwing them an over-the-top wedding without much luck. 

It's a relief for her to have the excuse to go off to the building site until they catch one of Manlius Faustus' employees trying to sneak a basket of bones past him and Flavia to the rubbish tip.  It's just what Flavia needed to get her mind off the looming wedding - a new case.  She only has five days to solve it before the ceremony, though.  To make matters worse, the one body they thought they were dealing with (the bar maid, who else?) turns into six.  How could such a horrendous deed possibly have gone unnoticed for ten years?  And what does the new owner of the bar know that he isn't telling?

Ms. Davis skillfully weaves a good mystery with arcana from ancient Roman wedding practises, interfering families, gangsters, prostitutes and a most unexpected commodity with a liberal dash of humor.  A worthy addition to the series.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Imperial Wife

The Imperial Wife (#601) by Irina Reyn is an intriguing novel that switches between the stories of a present day Russian art expert employed by a high-end auction house in New York City and Catherine the Great's rise to power in eighteenth century Russia.

At first these two women seemingly have little in common, yet as the story progresses, the threads of their lives pull them together in surprising ways.  Tanya Kagan immediately feels a connection to Catherine when she is asked to consign The Order of Saint Catherine to an upcoming auction.  Much hinges on the piece being linked authentically to Catherine herself.  Not only Tanya herself, but her husband and a couple of ultra-rich Russian oligarchs are equally obsessed with the jeweled ornament and its ties to Catherine.  Both women struggle with their roles as dutiful wives which The Order of Saint Catherine signifies, whatever that may entail, and with gaining power to act in their own spheres of influence.

The worlds these characters inhabit are far beyond our reach, but they are interesting places to visit for a short time.  The plot twist at the end supplies a satisfying conclusion to the power struggles and ultimate triumphs of its main characters.  Readers of Massie's biography of Catherine the Great which was a best-seller several years ago will undoub6edly find the story of one of her possessions a diverting read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

I don't know why I've been so reluctant to post on Diarmaid MacCulloch's brilliant history Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (#600).  It may have something to do with my reluctance to give it up as a close companion during the third year of EfM.  Weighing in at over a thousand pages, with an additional seventy-seven pages of footnotes (and yes, there's plenty of additional information in them!)  this is not a casually-undertaken read.  What it does do is lay out the thinking and beliefs that prepared the world for the impact of what at first was an obscure Jewish sect, and trace how that sect grew and spread to become a major world-wide religious movement. 

Ever wonder why there are so many kinds of Christianity out there, or why we don't all believe the same things?  This book explores the time lines, places and people involved.  It explained so many things for me, being raised Roman Catholic.  It is the kind of reading that could make your head explode if you have a very narrow vision of what Christianity is, or should be.  Again, this is not a book which espouses a single dogma; it is a history, and as such chronicles to the best of the author's ability what has happened in the tumultuous growth of Christian beliefs.  You will meet many characters here whom you will recognize, but equally as many that you probably will not, but may wish to learn more about.

That's what I appreciated most about this book: it made me think.  Over the course of the nine months I spent reading and discussing this book, some questions were answered for me.  Many more were raised.  I am usually extremely reluctant to mark up or write notes in any book of mine.  For Christianity, I made an exception, and added several pounds' worth of additional ink to the pages as I commented on the many items that struck me.  Diarmaid MacCulloch is the perfect person to lead you on this journey, if you're willing to go.  He was concise, insightful, snarky, and never, ever dull for me.  What better gift can an author give than to open a whole new world of thought for the reader?


Here's Boomer!  Somehow, I 've always wanted to say that, but in the case of David Rosenfelt's latest Andy Carpenter mystery Outfoxed (#599), Boomer's the rescue dog who drags Andy however reluctantly, into his newest case. 

The Tara Foundation has been pairing rescue dogs with prisoners at the local minimum security jail for training and socialization.  Andy, as an attorney, is involved in this successful project.  That is, until the day that Brian Atkins, Boomer's human prison partner, uses Boomer to make his escape.  Not only has Boomer been dog napped, but Brian is a client Andy has inherited from a recently deceased legal mentor.  To make matters worse, an eye witness has placed Brian at the scene of a grisly double homicide just after his break from jail.  Can even Andy win such a seemingly open-and-shut case against his client?  When he connects organized crime boss Dominic Petrone with the case, Andy had better be one step ahead of the mob to prevent his entire family from becoming collateral damage.

As always with Andy, dogs and family first (and not necessarily in that order, depending...)  The story is liberally  laced with typical Andy Carpenter humor and a cast of familiar characters. The plot twists and turns, and the body count grows as the crime seems unsolvable.   I must admit, I did not see the final twist coming which reveals the motivation for the murders.  It's a doggone good story.  Add in an adorable cover photo and you've got the complete package for an entertaining afternoon or evening read.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Dog Medicine - How My Dog Saved From Myself

Julie Barton's memoir Dog Medicine - How My Dog Saved Me From Myself (#598) opens a disturbing window into the mind of someone suffering from clinical depression.  There is such a stigma attached to mental health diagnoses that if often goes unrecognized and untreated.  It's difficult to image living every day with what Ms. Barton endured before she hit bottom.  She was fortunate in having parents who did their best to support her and help her to seek treatment.

As she will be the first to tell you, Ms. Barton's best treatment came from adopting a golden retriever puppy whom she named Bunker Hill.  For a while, until she got a fresh start by chance and moved to Seattle, meeting new friends and finding a new attitude, she was content to unconditionally love and be loved by her dog.  It was not until Bunker himself was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and she determined she would do anything not to lose him that she was finally able to accept help from her family and friends who rallied around them both.

Julie and her dog, Bunker, truly did save each other.  Neither would have survived without the other.  Although at times this was a difficult read, it does show that there can be positive outcomes to both mental and physical illnesses through diagnosis, treatment and life-long follow through.  That's encouraging and makes this book worth reading.

Plain Truth

This is the first Jodi Picoult book I've read, and if truth be told, I wouldn't have read Plain Truth (#597) if it hadn't been our October Literary Circle choice.  The plot centers on a newborn infant found dead under suspicious circumstances in an Amish barn.

The eighteen year old daughter of the household who at first denies ever being pregnant is defended by a distant relative, a big time city attorney who is forced under the terms of the court to live with the Fisher family until the case comes to trial.   Amish and "English" values collide as Katie Fisher is charged with the murder of the infant.  Did Katie really kill her baby, or is there some other explanation?  While an interesting examination of Amish principles and values, as the same ground was covered over and over again I felt that the book would have been much improved by cutting out roughly half of it.

When Ellie Hathaway discovers just as the case is about to go to trial that she is pregnant herself, her attitude towards her client Katie hardens, since even she is convinced that Katie did, in fact, murder her own child, despite her close observation of the girl and her family over the course of several months.  That plot twist did seem contrived.

I expect that Plain Truth will be both the first and the last Jodi Picoult novel I will ever read, and that, I guess, sums up how I feel about his author..

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Voodoo River

It wasn't all that long ago that I first discovered Robert Crais when I read his more recent book Suspect.  (See my post of  4/26/13.)  Voodoo River (#596) is an older Elvis Cole novel that the cashier at our local movie theater passed along to me as a good read - she always has a book with her for the down times and I always ask her about what she's reading.  She was absolutely right about this one!

Elvis Cole is a private investigator in Los Angeles.  A potential client asks Elvis to meet for lunch, and when he does, he discovers that she is the popular singing star of a hit TV show known for its family-friendly values.  She has made no secret of the fact that she herself was adopted, but now she's anxious to have Elvis track down her birth parents.  She doesn't want to meet them, she just wants the information discreetly unearthed.  However, when Elvis arrives in the bayou country of Louisiana, he finds that he is not the only one asking about Jodie Taylor.  Their questions are stirring up a hornets' nest, especially when Cole confronts Jodie and learns that she knows far more about what's going on there than she's letting on.

This one is a page turner, perfect for reading on a plane!  It's nice to see that Elvis and his partner Joe Pike have each other's backs, even when it comes to a bit of romance!