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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shameful Murder

A Shameful Murder (#624) by Cora Harrison is an excellent way to end this year of reading.  It's a promising beginning to a new mystery series set in warr-torn Cork, Ireland in 1923, featuring as its main sleuth Reverend Mother Aquinas.

When the body of a young girl washes up at the convent's garden gate, Police Sergeant Patrick Cashman is assigned to the case.  He was not so long ago one of Reverend Mother's more promising students.  Since the city is embroiled in the Civil War, there's always a chance that the death could be political, or an informer executed as an example.  But this young girl is dressed in expensive evening clothes, and students at the convent are from the poorest slums.  When Dr. Scher is called in to exam the body, Reverend Mother feels a responsibility to follow the case, and as a frequent visitor to the convent, she knows that Dr. Scher will be a good source of information.  Although the girl is identified as the daughter of one of the richest men in Cork, something about the family's reaction sets off warning bells.  Angelina Fitzsimon is buried in the family tomb, but Reverend Mother can't help but feel that the matter itself is not yet dead and buried.  There are too many discrepancies and questions unanswered.

How Reverend Mother, Patrick and Dr. Scher arrive at the truth and uncover a murder in their midst will keep you up at night following a trail that leads back to Reverend Mother's own past.  Although the youngsters involved in the case think she's older than dirt, Reverend Mother is glad for the opportunity to use her brains to gently guide the investigation.  St. Thomas Aquinas, her patron, would be proud!

Intricately plotted, and utterly satisfying.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

For once lawyer Andy Carpenter is eager to take on a case, even over Christmas, since it involves dogs.  Twelve puppies plus their mothe to be exact.  In David Rosenfelt's latest addition to this great mystery series, The Twekve Dogs of Christmas (#623), "Pups" Boyer, an long-time acquintance of Andy's has a complaint lodged against her by a neighbor.  Pups is famous throughout the community for taking in puppies and fostering them until they are old enough to be adopted out to good homes.  Of course Andy Carpenter and Willie Miller, his partner at the Tara Foundation, have known and suppported her work for many years.  Why the sudden complaint, the first of its kind?

When that same neighbor is found murdered shortly afterwards, it slowly becomes clear to Andy that Pups is being set up to take the fall for this murder, as well as two additional killings eighteen motns ago when the gun that killed all three victims is found in Pups' basement.  Who is pulling the strings here, and what could they possibly hope to gain from it?

It's Rosenfelt's usual carefully constructed plot full of more questions than Andy has time or inclination to answer, yet despite himself, he always manages in his usual clever and snarky way to get where he needs to go for justice to be served.  Oh, and this time his family life takes a positive step forward when his adopted son Ricky wants to know for a school project why they all don't have the same last name.  It's fun to watch Andy squirm over this one until of course, he does the right thing.

This book kept me happily occupied over the Christmas holiday, but it doesn't need to be Christmas to enjoy this one!  Unfailingly fun.

Margaret Truman's Deadly Medicine

I really enjoyed reading Margaret Truman's Capital Crimes series.  Since her death, it has been taken over by Donald Bain, a friend of hers and author of the Murder She Wrote series.  I wish I could say that Margaret Truman's Deadly Medicine (#622) was as much fun to read as the original series, but it wasn't.

Mackenzie and Abigail Smith are still here in their Watergate apartment, but the action has largely been taken over by Robert "Don't Call Me Bobby" Brixton, a private investigator working with Mac's D.C. law firm.  Robert has many issues of his own, and frankly, I didn't find him particularly sympathetic or likable.

In Deadly Medicine, Big Pharma is out to suppress the commercial introduction of a plant-based pain medication with no side effects developed by an eccentric physician working in Papua New Guinea. When the doctor is found murdered, his research stolen, and his medicinal plants all burned, it's apparent that keeping his discovery off the market is worth killing for.  Since it's a Washington setting, of course there are corrupt politicians and lobbyists in the mix of money and scandal as Big Pharma tries to make the whole issue go away.

Two things bothered me about this book; first that Jayla King, the murder victim's daughter is presented as drop dead gorgeous yet brilliant, since she works in the field of biological research herself for a second-tier pharmaceutical company.  However, her actions in the book paint her as naive, and just a little too dumb in her reactions to threats.  It was exasperating reading for the umpteenth time that "Of course, Eugene would never do that!"  even though the creep has broken into her apartment and stolen items.  Working in a cut-throat pharma company, how could she not know the ins and outs of her own business?   But gosh, she looks swell in that expensive couture dress!
Second, the political shenanigans and motivations were so murky, I never did get a good feel for who was behind the whole mess.  Bain sort of ties things up, but not to my satisfaction.

Don't get me wrong; Deadly Medicine is a diverting enough read to while away a few hours.  I just know that for me Donald Bain won't ever truly replace Margaret Truman as an authentic "insider" voice on the Washington scene.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Turbo Twenty-Three

Janet Evanovich does it again in her newest Stephanie Plum novel, Turbo Twenty-Three (#621).  She made me laugh out loud while reading about Lula's antics while filming an audition tape for the reality show Naked and Afraid.  Her partner is nobody's favorite little person Randy Briggs, but they provide some powerful comic relief for Stephanie.

She's undercover for Ranger at an ice cream plant which has been experiencing security issues. When their Human Resources Director falls out of one of their high jacked trucks, he's frozen, covered in chocolate and chopped pecans.  Way to put Stephanie off her favorite Bogart Bars forever!  Worse yet, she's recognized at the plant, and someone pays her apartment a visit to warn her off her investigation.  After another body turns up at the plant, Stephanie knows she could be next!  

So many suspects, and she's still working her day job bringing in skips for their day in court.  Ranger would like her to move in with him for security's sake, but Stephanie is still torn between him and long time boyfriend Joe Morelli.  How can she ever choose?  Her grandmother doesn't seem to be having that problem, though, with a new beau to escort her to viewings at the local funeral parlor.

A fast and diverting read, it's the perfect sugarplum for this time of year.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Pushing Up Daisies

Agatha Raisin is at it again in M.C. Beaton's latest mystery in this series Pushing Up Daisies  (#620).  Agatha has her nose a bit our of joint when her closest friend, Mrs. Bloxby, appears to have a crush on a new, good-looking man in town, retired Scotland Yard detective Gerald Devere.  She's dying her hair, and updating her drab vicar's wife wardrobe with attractive outfits.  Agatha has had her eye on Gerald, so she's not pleased with what's going on.  That's what prompts her to volunteer to go talk to Lord Bellington to try to persuade him not to plunk a housing development on Carsely's village allotments.  Not that Agatha has the least bit of interest in gardening, but she thinks such unselfish civic-mindedness might bring her favorably to the attention of Mr. Devere.

What she discovers instead is a most unpleasant man, surrounded by equally unpleasant family.  No one is bothered much when he turns up dead.  Village gossip over cocktails leads Agatha to speculate that someone used antifreeze to murder the man, raising a rumpus.  When it turns out Agatha is right, one thing leads to another.  Agatha is feeling every year of her age as her frequent companion Sir Charles Fraith finally seems ready to settle down with a wealthy young thing, another body shows up, and  Agatha has a fling of her own on the way to solving the case.

Always a fun read, it's like Old Home Week to read about the trials and tribulations of so many familiar and favorite characters.

The Captured Girl

To be honest, I found the first two pages of this novel so disturbing I put it down thinking I would be unable to read it.  However, since I won The Captured Girl - A Novel of Survival During the Great Sioux War (#619) in a GoodReads First Reads giveaway, I felt I owed it to author Tom Reppert to read at least twenty pages before I gave up on it.  I'm glad I stuck with it, as I soon found myself totally caught up in Morgan O'Connor's story.  What I had read that bothered me so much turned out to be character development for Frank Nash, her nemesis.

In 1875, when an Army cavalry raid on a Cheyenne village frees Morgan O'Connor from four years of living with the Cheyennes after all but her younger brother are killed during a raid on their ranch, she has mixed feelings.  She has grown to love some of the Indians who were killed, and runs to save herself  when she is set upon by Frank Nash, one of the scouts.  Second Lieutenant Will Raines rescues her, and is put in charge of returning Morgan to civilization.  Son of a wealthy New York family, this is his first brush with action, and he is sickened by what he has seen, but determined to make his mark in his chosen career.  Babysitting Morgan O'Connor isn't exactly what he had in mind.  Most of the army wives back at Fort Harrison cannot understand how Morgan could have lived with the Indians and not taken her own life to avoid "a fate worse than death", but Morgan is a survivor, and her courage and determination has kept her and her small half Indian son alive.  She refuses to go back to New York City to locate her relatives until she finds her brother Connor, taken at the same time she was, and living with a different band of Indians.  Not until word comes that he is dead does she allow herself to be sent East, where she is famous in the tabloids of the day as "The Captured Girl".  Things are not much better for her there despite her notoriety, and she finds herself longing for Lone Tree, her home.  Frank Nash is still in pursuit of Morgan who he aims to kill.  Her skill with a rifle may be the only thing standing between her and certain death.

This story has everything: strong character development, page-turning action, a love story and a relentless, seemingly unstoppable villain.  But mostly, it's about courage.  What it takes to stay alive in the worst of circumstances, and to even eventually, thrive.

Theology - A Very Short Introduction

David Ford's Theology - A Very Short Introduction (#618) is just one of  approximately 400 titles currently available in this Oxford University Press series.  They are designed "...for anyone wanting a stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject." and this volume certainly delivers.

The Education for Ministry program run by the University of the South uses this book as a text for fourth year students.  Not only does is provide the basics of  what theology is (in this case, using Christianity as its model, but with principles which can be applied to studying the theology of any religion) it provides some of the basics that newcomers to this field would need to pursue their studies further, plus a list for further reading organized by topic.  Though succinct, this text contains much food for thought.

Monday, December 12, 2016


When the Pope dies, eligible cardinals assemble at the Vatican from all around the globe to elect a new Pontiff.  The election is carried out in the strictest secrecy within the locked confines of the Sistine Chapel.  This process is called a Conclave, and is the subject of Robert Harris' latest novel, also called Conclave (#617).

Set in the not very distant future, the wheels of the process are set in motion when word is received by senior Vatican officials that the Pope has died unexpectedly.  Cardinal Lomeli as Dean of the College of Cardinals, is in charge according to the Apostolic Constitution, and the story is told mainly from his perspective.  As the Cardinals begin to gather in Rome, the lobbying for power begins.

Lomeli is a man of integrity  struggling with the weight of the burden placed upon his shoulders as he learns that all was not well with the Holy Father just before his death, and that his actions were increasingly under scrutiny by the inner circle around him. Will the Church look forward as he did, or will a Pontiff from the traditional faction try to roll back reforms made since Vatican II?  

This psychological thriller does provide a window into an ancient rite that is hidden from the public, but whose outcome goes far beyond the Roman Catholic Church in its influence.  If you've ever been curious about what goes on behind the closed doors at the Conclave, this is good way to imagine it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Reckless Creed

Alex Kava has just come out with the third book in her Maggie O'Dell/Ryder Creed partnership, Reckless Creed (#616).  (See my post of 11/28/16.)  This time it's a pair of unrelated suicides - a jumper taking a 19 story plunge in Chicago and a young woman who has waded into a river in a National Forest in Alabama with her pockets full of rocks, that pull Maggie and Ryder together.

Ryder is hired to track the troubled young woman with Grace, his dog.  The local sheriff and a Federal agent need help locating her, but once Grace does her job, she finds some dead birds to bring to Ryder. When that same Federal agent shows up shortly afterwards with a convoy of black SUVs, intent on euthanizing Ryder's entire kennel, an unexpected heroine steps up to stop them.  Meanwhile, Maggie's investigation has tied her Chicago suicide victim back to Pensacola, Ryder's turf.  She suspects murder and the possible return of an old enemy.

Ryder and his crew must teach dogs a new skill to deal with a threat of pandemic infection.  But will they be able to do it without losing their dogs as well?  The race is on the find the nemesis who managed to slip away away from the pair in a prior case.

Every bit as gripping as the previous books.  It's interesting to watch the relationships in the series develop.  I look forward to the next installment.

A Man Called Ove

What can I say about Fredrik Backman's novel A Man Called Ove (#615) except that it's a wonderful read.  Mr. Backman has nailed his Swedish curmudgeon so perfectly that at first you are taken in completely by his prickly non-interest in the people around him, and his general impatience with the world.  It's only as the author switches back and forth in time to illuminate what shaped Ove's personality that you begin to understand him and his extraordinary strength.  By the end of the book I was going through tissues like there was no tomorrow - the best kind of catharsis.

Not that this is a solemn or preachy kind of book; just the opposite!  When my book group got together to discuss it, we disturbed the choir rehearsal across the hall because we were laughing so hard remembering so many episodes involving Ove and his neighbors.  It's just not possible to resist the pregnant Iranian lady who has moved in next door with her utterly unhandy Swedish husband, nor their seven and three year old daughters who will not let themselves be ignored.  Why can't everybody in the neighborhood just leave him in  peace and allow Ove to commit suicide quietly instead of presenting him with one problem after another to solve?

This book truly does have it all.  My advice?  READ. THIS. BOOK. -  SOON!!!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad (#614) has generated a lot of buzz and admiration.  Permit me to be politically incorrect and say that I did not like this book.  It's a quasi-fantasy since in this book the underground railroad is a glorified secret subway system built across the South.  The plot seems to jump forward and backward in historical time to suit the points the author wishes to make.  There are, of course, countless gruesome atrocities described here.  In light of the rest of the book, are they exaggerated?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Different characters are given their own sections of the novel, explaining their motivations for their actions in the main plot: the plight of Cora, the runaway slave who killed a white boy in making her escape from a Georgia plantation.  The device was distracting and interrupted the flow of the action. I wanted to know what happened to Cora, one of the few characters I could care about.

Just when it seems that Cora has found a refuge where she can safely settle down, something happens to destroy her peace of mind.  Ridgeway, a persistent slave hunter hired by her owner repeatedly catches up with her and twice heads back to the plantation to return her.  It made me distrust the end of the book when she has yet again appeared to gain her freedom.  It all felt very circular; the story really never went anywhere.  It's probably meant to be a metaphor for a slave's life.  If that is pointless, as far as I'm concerned, so was reading this book.

Breaking Creed

In Breaking Creed (#613) author Alex Kava reunites FBI forensic specialist Maggie O'Dell with Ryder Creed and his multi-purpose service dogs in pursuit of a drug cartel enforcer fond of using creepy-crawlies in his work.  As if drug trafficking and child trafficking aren't loathsome enough on their own!

Ryder becomes a target when he's called in by the Coast Guard to investigate a fishing boat they've been monitoring for suspected drug cargoes.  What Grace, his fifteen pound terrier, finds aboard surprises everyone.  Hidden under a ton of fish is a concealed compartment holding five kidnapped children.  The cartel is apparently branching out.  It doesn't help that on a routine patrol of Pensacola Airport with his drug-sniffing dog one of the cartel's teen-aged mules uses Ryder as her escape route.  Now the cartel has twice the reason to target Ryder and Grace.

Maggie O'Dell becomes involved when her boss at the FBI sends her on a wild goose chase to inspect a body pulled from the Potomac.  When she and the medical examiner come across some unusual findings on the body on the riverbank, she immediately suspects the death is drug-related.  Her boss publicly discounts the idea, but Maggie is persistent in following up her leads  until both she and Ryder find themselves on the same case in Alabama.  As they come closer to identifying the elusive Iceman both Maggie and Ryder are clearly on his hit list.  With the cartel's money and manpower, will either be able to survive long enough to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice?

A great page-turning crime series.  Start at the beginning if you can, but you can easily pick up this series and go backwards and forwards without missing too much.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Lily and the Octopus

Lily and the Octopus (#612) author Steven Rowley's debut work, is not your usual dog story.  Lily is the narrator's beloved daschund.  He suddenly notices after he returns from a trip that Lily is suddenly sporting an octopus on her head!  Of course, it's not really an octopus, but it's best to let Ted tell the story his own way.

Even though this is a work of fiction, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't a memoir, it felt so real and the emotions so strong and true.  Believe the cover blurb that says "Powerful enough to make you reach for the box of tissues".  I certainly did!

I've never read anything quite like this book, but if you've ever had an animal in your life - or even if you haven't - don't miss this book.  It's something special.

A Christmas Message

Every year, I look forward to Anne Perry's annual Christmas novella.  Each year it features a different mystery, often with characters drawn from her other books, but always with a strong redemptive tone. This year's offering, A Christmas Message (#611), follows through with that tradition.

Readers of her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries will be familiar with Lady Vespasia Cummings Gould now married to Thomas' former boss, Victor Narraway, late of Special Services.  Narraway has gifted his wife with a Christmas time trip to Jerusalem, a part of the world she has never seen.  The British have built a railroad connecting the coastal city of Jaffa with Jerusalem, but there is only one train a day each way.  While waiting for their train the next day, Lady Vespasia and her husband enjoy a pleasant meal at their inn with a fellow traveler, only to find him brutally murdered later that evening.  Victor finds a mysterious scrap of an undecipherable document in his pocket with a note from their dinner companion asking them to deliver it to a certain address on the Via Dolorosa by Christmas Eve.

Neither of them could have anticipated the danger that will follow them, nor the way the journey forces them to confront their own beliefs.  Which journey will shake them to their core more strongly?  The physical dangers they face, or the metaphorical ones?

This novella is probably the most metaphorical work of Ms. Perry that I have read; it poses many of the biggest questions in life and makes the reader pause to consider one's own beliefs and values. A novel approach to theology in action.

In Such Good Company

If you're a Carol Burnett fan, you will undoubtedly enjoy her newest book In Such Good Company (#610) reminiscing about The Carol Burnett Show, which ran for eleven years.  If you were a regular viewer of the program, you'll remember many of the anecdotes she relates about sketches and guest stars and regulars Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. with glimpses of what was going on behind the scenes.

This book is a fast and easy stroll down Memory Lane, as well as an enjoyable one.  Who could ever forget the iconic Went With the Wind sketch with the infamous curtain rod dress?  Ms. Burnett reveals details of what led to one of the funniest moments on TV.

In Such Good Company did make me nostalgic for the days when such high quality entertainment was a staple on TV, minus the guns, gore, sex and crude language that's so prevalent in most shows today.  I suppose we'll never see those days again, but it is comforting to know that you can still enjoy Miss Burnett's unique brand of humor,song and dance on DVD and YouTube...

I'm so glad we had this time together In Such Good Company!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Precious and Grace

If you're a fan of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, you'll recognize the title of his latest novel, Precious and Grace (#609) as the first names of the two principal characters in these delightful mysteries.

Maa Precious Ramotswe set up her agency several years ago now, and is enjoying a small amount of success based on her reputation for honesty and integrity.  Maa Grace Makutsi has in the meantime promoted herself all the way up to Co-Director from her original position as Precious' only employee. She is a force of nature that not even the patient Precious can always deal with!  In fact, she wonders if she might be being edged out of her own office sometimes...

Take for instance, the case of a young Canadian woman who has contacted the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency to help her find the house in Botswana where she was born and raised, and to locate the woman who was her nurse during those years.  When Precious arrives back at her office to find Susan Peters already discussing her particulars with Grace Makutsi behind Precious' own desk, she is uncomfortable with the way Grace is handling things.  Can she stop Grace from jumping to the wrong conclusion, and perhaps persuade Susan that there might be things in one's past it is best to leave alone?

But Grace isn't the only employee causing problems at the Agency.  Charlie, her junior detective, has acquired a stray dog.  His heart is in the right place, but how to find the right place for a dog named Zebra?  And meek little Mr. Polopetsi has unintentionally gotten himself mixed up with a con artist who will soon ruin his life, as well as those of his friends he has unwittingly drawn into the scam if the crook is not stopped.  How can Maa Ramotswe untangle this intricate web?

Precious Ramotswe does indeed find a way to deal with all these issues.  In this series, it's not the mystery itself that is the most important point; it's how Precious arrives at the solution with her unique blend of warmth, common sense, understanding of people and her belief in their intrinsic good that set these stories so far apart from common run.  Botswana itself is just as much a character in these books as Precious, Grace, Charlie and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Precious' husband.  Reading these books is like wrapping the warmth of the African sun around you as you live temporarily in that world.  Life offers us many lessons.  This is a good place to find a few to live by.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit

What a beguiling tale A Most Extraordinary Pursuit (#608) is!  Juliana Gray's first book concerning the exploits of Miss Emmeline Truelove has everything: wit, humor, exotic locales, an intrepid and thoroughly British heroine in service to His Grace, the Duke of Olympia, and yes, a dash of romance and a bit of ...something else..

To clarify, Miss Truelove's employer, the Duke of Olympia, has expired unexpectedly in the trout stream on his estate.  He and the current Duchess, an American, have no children, so the title will fall to a nephew.  The problem is that no one has been able to reach Maximilian Haywood at the archaeological dig on Crete where he was last known to be working in 1906.  In fact, no one's seen him for several months.  The Duchess dispatches Miss Truelove to find the heir and bring him home to England as soon as possible.  His Grace's private steam yacht is put at her disposal to aid in her search in the Mediterranean, along with Lord Silverton, a handsome rogue and a totally unwanted impediment as far as Emmeline Truelove is concerned.  She prides herself on her quiet efficiency.

As soon as the pair arrive in Crete, they are attacked and followed as they try to retrace Haywood's steps.  The mystery seems tied to the myths of Minoan Culture documented on the walls of the Palace at Knossos currently being excavated.  Why was Haywood lured there in the first place, and what do the assailants want with Truelove and Silverton?  Will Truelove succumb to the charms of the dashing Marquess of Silverton?

You'll just have to read A Most Extraordinary Pursuit to find out, and I hope you enjoy the journey half as much as I did!

Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace (#607) by William Krueger is anything but an ordinary coming-of-age story.  Told from the perspective of an adult Frankie Drum, it looks back over forty years to the pivotal summer of 1961, when he was thirteen and there were five deaths in the town of New Bremen, Minnesota.

Since Frankie's father was the Methodist minister in town, Frankie was used to his father's involvement when a death occurred.  What was different that summer was the impact each of those
deaths had on his own life, and how profoundly changed he emerged from those exposures.  In fact, in some ways, it seems a miracle that Frankie himself survived that summer.

His mother makes no secret of the fact she despises her husband's occupation.  His older sister Ariel is enormously gifted as a musician and her mother's favorite.  His younger brother Jake, is Frankie's shadow and a stutterer. Frankie in the middle walks to the beat of a different drummer and is constantly landing in hot water. But the seemingly accidental  death of a boy his own age forces him to question his own beliefs and to look with fresh eyes at those around him.

There are mysteries wrapped up in this summer tale and Frankie becomes the catalyst for unraveling many of the tangled threads.  Yet seeing Frank begin to appreciate the "ordinary grace" in his own life and how it works in the lives of those around him is what makes this story compulsively readable.  Of course, you want to find out the answers to the mysteries as well  These are but two of the reasons to pick up Ordinary Grace and be transported to another time and place. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 28, 2016


My husband and I are busy reading some of the previous books in Alex Kava's series featuring FBI Behavioral Analyst Maggie O'Dell.  (See my posts of 8/11/16 & 4/27/16. )  In Exposed (#606), Maggie and one of her fellow FBI agents are lured into a trap.  Promised a "Crash" at a certain address at a specific time, the FBI goes in with a SWAT team for backup.  What they find instead is a little girl and her very ill mother.  It seems the weapon of choice of this killer is a poison of some kind.  In fact, it's actually much worse.

The killer has apparently been planning his attack for a long time, and has borrowed from previous serial killers' modus operandi for crimes both solved and cold cases.  As Maggie O'Dell is confined to a government isolation hospital, can she help her partner on the outside, J.R. Tully, follow the cyber trail of clues to catch a fiendishly clever killer?

This is a very taut and plausible thriller.  I sat up until late at night to finish reading this one.  I must admit, Exposed did leave some ends hanging that left me feeling very unsettled about just how possible it would be to commit this kind of crime with unthinkable consequences.  Kudos, Ms. Kava!

The Cat Who Wasn't a Dog

When Dame Cecile Savoy loses her beloved Pekingese, Fleur-de-Lys, on the eve of opening a revival of Arsenic and Old Lace, she is inconsolable.  She summons her aging thespian friends Evangeline and Trixie from London to help her through her mourning period.  In fact, Dame Cecile has every intention of keeping Fleur with her permanently by bringing her remains to a taxidermist.  Alas, things do not go well in Marion Babson's humorous mystery, The Cat Who Wasn't A Dog (#605).

When the trio arrive for Dame Cecile's appointment at the taxidermy shop, it appears at first to be empty.  But as they and their driver, Eddie, look around the deserted shop, a fire breaks out in several places at once.  Trixie is in the office where she has discovered a charming Japanese Bobtail cat in a cage.  Cho-Cho-San is very much alive, and when the fire begins in a waste basket and cabinet drawers, Trixie grabs the cat from the office and runs for the exit.  Dame Cecile is relieved to see Trixie with the cage until she discovers that it contains a live cat and not her darling Fleur-de-Lys!  Meanwhile Eddie has discovered a body in the shop.  Who killed the shop owner, and who wanted him to kill Cho-Cho-San?  And will the show go on?

Marion Babson's mysteries are delightful for those cat lovers among us.  It's an easy afternoon or evening read with an interesting group of characters, with an emphasis on the "characters".  If you like your British cozies with touch of humor, any of her books will fit the bill, but The Cat Who Wasn't  A Dog is a good place to start..

Monday, October 24, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

I will admit to my ignorance of the source of the title of Alan Bradley's latest Flavia de Luce mystery: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (#604).  It comes, of course, from Shakespeare's Macbeth - the opening lines of the witches' incantation.

Flavia has come home in disgrace from Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Canada.  Her stay at her mother's former boarding school proved to be a sobering experience for her.  Things are no better when she arrives home to be greeted at the pier by Dogger, the family's rather mysterious factotum.  Flavia's father is desperately ill from pneumonia.

Visitors are forbidden at the hospital, although Flavia's sisters and even her repulsive young cousin Undine have seen him.  While Flavia awaits permission to visit him, she must do something to occupy herself, and for the moment she cannot stand to be within the walls of Buckshaw.  She takes her faithful bicycle Gladys out in the frosty December taking comfort where she may.  Her friend Cynthia, the vicar's wife, sends her on an errand to deliver an envelope to the woodcarver engaged in making repairs to the carvings in the church.  Flavia, being Flavia, cannot simply leave it on the doorstep when there is no response to her knock.  What she discovers inside is the woodcarver dead in a most bizarre manner. Figuring out the means and motives for his death is the perfect solution to keep Flavia's mind occupied!

Flavia grows up quite a bit in this novel.  She sees and cannot quite believe some of the changes in herself when she begins to pay more attention to others' feelings and learns the value of discretion.  Not that the old Flavia is gone!  Far from it.  This was one of the most thoroughly entertaining books I've read in this series.  It seems Flavia's new-found maturity will be needed in the future, as the book ends in heartbreak for the residents of Buckshaw.  Poor Flavia!  I can't wait to find out what happens next! 

Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

My husband and I saw a teaser trailer at the movies for the film based on Margot Lee Shetterly's non-fiction work Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (#603) and I knew just from seeing that that I wanted to read the book as well as see the movie.

To say this book is the "Untold Story" is an understatement.  I had no idea any women were involved in the space race, much less played such key roles in putting a man on the moon.  Enough stumbling blocks were put in the way of women remaining in the work force after the vital positions they filled on the home front during World War II to make it almost impossible for qualified white women to stay on the job; imagine the difficulties multiplied exponentially if you were black and living in still segregated Virginia!

Suffice it to say that I learned a great deal from this book.  I've always been interested in our space program.  Now I know that there are even more people to admire for their contributions.  I expect after the release of the upcoming film Hidden Figures that the fans of these female mathematicians and space geeks will become deservedly legion.

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 it 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!

Almost True Confessions

Almost True Confessions (#595) was the perfect book to take on vacation - a light, fluffy, and if you're into that kind of thing, sexy murder mystery set in posh New York zip codes.  Jane O'Connor knows her stuff.  She is, after all, also the author of the famous Fancy Nancy children's series.

Rannie Bookman is an experienced copy editor who has lost her job due to the unfortunate butchering of a classic Nancy Drew anniversary edition by an underling.  Currently between jobs, Rannie is struggling to keep herself and her teenaged son in their rent controlled apartment so Nate can continue at his pricey private school.  When a friend at her former publishing house asks her to discreetly copy edit a  hush-hush manuscript by an anonymous celebrity writer, Rannie jumps at the chance.  Who knew that by the time she's finished, there would be a pile of bodies, and she would be trying to stay one jump ahead of the murderer?

A fun read about the world of the rich and famous.

Free Men

After hearing author Katy Simpson Smith speak at this year's BookMania! event, I expected to love her historical fiction novel Free Man (#594).  I did not.  I had saved it for a vacation treat and was disappointed.

The novel centers on the actual murder of a group of merchant traders in the American South shortly after the Revolution has been won.  Murder Creek in Alabama was named to commemorate the event. 

Ms. Smith picks up these unsolved murders and builds her story about a lost white man, a black slave escaping from a Florida plantation and a disaffected Creek Indian as the hypothetical murderers.  Add to the mix a French nobleman living with a Creek tribe who is sent to track these three and deliver justice.   It should be a killer (pardon the pun) tale, and the book certainly has its moments, but the ending is so flat that it spoiled everything that went before it for me.  I started out by thinking I'd pass this book along to my husband to read while on vacation as well, but in the end, I didn't even bother.  Not recommended.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The End of Your Life Book Club

Will Schwalbe's memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club (#593) was passed on to me by a friend who assured me I would love it.  In it, Mr. Schwalbe chronicles the time he spent with his mother, Mary Ann(e) Schwalbe, a truly remarkable woman, in her final months as she lives with pancreatic cancer.  Reading the same books with her to discuss while they wait through endless doctor's appointments and rounds of debilitating chemotherapy allow them to spend quality time together while exploring life issues and values.  He realizes later what a unique opportunity it became to ask her questions about her tireless work in education and connecting with refugees through her work on international committees.  Always undergirding her missions was a deep love of reading, which she passed along to her children.

Mr. Schwalbe centers his chapters in his memoir around the books they read at that point in time.  A number of the books which he listed in a separate appendix, I've also read and enjoyed, but I'm afraid many of them were either way too esoteric for me, or in the case of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, pretentious twaddle.  Both Schwalbes loved it.  There's no accounting for taste, I guess.

While the memoir was both interesting in many ways, and a son's touching tribute to his mother, I could not say that I loved this book.  Possibly because my own experiences with dying relatives have been so far removed from the privileged cocoon in which Mary Ann(e) spent her last few months.  People of my acquaintance are much more likely to fret over whether they will still be able to afford to keep a roof over their heads when the medical bills start pouring in, or if their surviving spouse will lose their home, than the fact that they won't be able to go to Geneva one more time, or spend the summer in the British Isles.  It must be nice.  And obviously the Cambridge where Will grew up in his bulbous shingled house was a world removed from the Cambridge of ordinary working folks like my parents.  I couldn't help but wonder if we were all invisible to families like the Schwalbes.  I guess we were.  The End of Your Life Book Club left me in the end feeling very unsettled.

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Fatal Inheiritance

A Fatal Inheiritance (#592) by Cora Harrison is the latest entry in her intriguing mystery series featuring Mara, the Brehon of the Burren in sixteenth century Ireland.  She has the responsibility of administering the law in her kingdom which is increasingly at odds with how the Church, based in Rome and the English under a young Henry VIII wish to see it done. 

In her latest case, an older, exceedingly unpleasant woman has been strangled and left tied to an ancient rock pillar representing the Old Gods.  In the isolated valley where the murder occurred, there is a lingering belief in the power of these Old Gods.  Mara must investigate who had the means, the motive and the opportunity to commit such a murder, and use the students enrolled in her law school as her assistants to give them experience and a chance to use their growing knowledge of the law in a practical setting. 

It's also a good excuse to get away from the bustle at Ballinalacken Castle, where her husband, King Turlough, has ordered a grand feast to celebrate her upcoming fiftieth birthday, the burden of which, of course, falls on her!  Still, Mara can't help but feel a twinge of conscience that her recent ruling in Clodagh O'Lochlainn's favor in granting her disputed property may have played some part in the woman's death.  An uncomfortable case to deal with all around.

The window into the history of Ireland at this time period always reveals some surprising similarities to women's issues today, and questions of how the law should be most fairly carried out.  New additions to this series are always a welcome read!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

When I was growing up, I read and re-read my favorite books and stories all the time.  The pages of the books I owned automatically fell open to the sections I loved best.  As an adult, I rarely give myself the luxury of going back to re-read books that have made a huge impression on me - mostly because the next book is sitting there, waiting for me to open it.  There never seems to be enough time for everything...  So I was delighted when my book club decided to read something "upbeat" for our first meeting of the season, and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (#591) by Helen Simonson was chosen.

I enjoyed it even more the second time around, as did several of my friends.  Critics at the time when the book came out six years ago compared Ms. Simonson's writing to Jane Austen's with her eye to the details of what's accepted and what is mere lip service in a tight knit English community in this almost accidental romance between a stiff retired British widower, Major Pettigrew, and the widowed owner of the local village shop, Jasmina Ali. 

Jasmina struggles with acceptance although she was born and raised in England, both with the villagers on a social level, and even more powerfully, the cultural traditions of her husband's Pakistani family, forcing her to make untenable choices.  Ernest Pettigrew is embroiled himself in a family feud revolving around a valuable gun he feels should be coming to him after his brother's death.  He must deal with unpleasant relatives himself including his son Roger who wants to use the sale of the gun for his own advantage..

It's such a treat these days to read a story with characters you feel you know and can easily relate to.  And there is a happy ending here, too, even though not everyone is neatly paired off.  I really hated for this book to end this time around, too. If you haven't read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand yet, there's no time like the present to treat yourself!

Cannot wait to see Helen Simonson at our 2017 BookMania! event! 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jesus Before the Gospels

Someone at one of my book clubs pressed Jesus Before the Gospels (#590) by Bart D. Ehrman on me and told me I had to read it.  Of course, she didn't warn me that her copy was filled with her own underlining and notes, so to me, it was totally unreadable.  The first few pages I skimmed were interesting enough that I did get a clean copy from the library.

Dr. Ehrman has subtitled his book How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, which pretty much tells you what this book is about.  Being relatively new to this kind of study myself, I have often wondered why it took so long to write down stories about Jesus - it took at least forty years before any records by his followers were committed to writing.  That's an awfully long time to remember things so precisely.  Have you ever, as a child, played the game of Gossip where everyone sits in a circle?  The first player whispers a sentence to the person next to him or her, who in turn passes it on the next person in the circle, until finally the last person hears it and recites aloud what he has heard to the original player.  Hilarity generally ensued, the message being so distorted by the time it arrived at its final destination.  If that can happen in just a few minutes delay with a limited number of players all in the same room, what then was changed before Jesus' stories were copied down?  How much of what we know of His story is in fact "Gospel Truth"?

Dr. Ehrman cites a number of interesting studies in making his points.  The book is easy to read for laypersons, but I must admit that about halfway through, I began to find it repetitious.  Although he provides much food for thought here, I was also taken aback when at about that same point in the book, he casually mentions as he is making a point, that he used to be a "committed Christian".  What does that make him today, and what is his motivation for writing this book?  As the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, perhaps it's a situation of "publish or perish".  His book does offer insights into why and how people remember what they do, but I still came away from reading this with reservations.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Murder in Time

Each time a reader opens a work of fiction, he or she is asked to suspend belief in the real world and enter the universe the author has created.  That's the case in Julie McElwain's crime novel, A Murder in Time (#589).  It's an enjoyable journey.

Twenty-first century FBI profiler Kendra Donovan is on a joint task force to apprehend an arms dealer who trades in chemical weapons.  Kendra has tracked him down to a meet in New York City that could net them an even bigger fish - Sir Jeremy Greene.  The raid goes south, thanks to an FBI mole on the team.  Kendra barely survives the carnage.  She spends her recovery plotting how exactly to deal with Greene when she is physically able; the only problem is that the US Government won't sanction her actions, so she goes rogue.

During a costume ball at the ancient British Aldridge Castle where she is taken on to play the role of a ladies' maid, Kendra must flee, using a secret passageway.  When she emerges at the other end, she has been transported to 1815.  Her ladies' maid disguise helps her conceal where she has come from as she tries to deal with her translocation in time.  Since the Castle is hosting a house party, she is able to join the staff as temporary help.  When a picnic by a lake is disturbed by the discovery of a young girl's body, brutally murdered, Kendra applies her serial killer profiling skills to tracking down the murderer.  The Duke of Aldridge is much taken by her analysis, and his nephew, Alec reluctantly comes to agree as other bodies are found.  The killer is amongst them, but can they stop him before he murders again?

This is a hard-boiled (language!) detective novel grafted onto a Regency romance, yet somehow it all works.  One small nitpick - when Kendra is assigned to a single young lady at the 1815 house party as her temporary maid, her charge's name migrates from Georgette to Georgina, and never goes back.  Sloppy editing!

My major nitpick with this book is the cover.  I know, I know.  I haven't said anything about covers in a long time, but this one is so wrong.  It features a black and white photo of a castle (which looks French to me, but what do I know?), and an upside down black and white photo of the New York skyline.  So far, so good.  The middle portion that grabs your eye is a misty back view of a young woman running away from the viewer in a voluminous white dress totally wrong for the time period. 
They could easily have found the proper silhouette, but they've already lost the battle for male readers.  I kept telling my husband that he would enjoy this book, like Alex Kava's profiling series, but he wouldn't be seen dead holding such a "chick" book.  Too bad for Julie McElwain that her publishers decided to limit her market appeal.

I stayed up late to finish this one, so check it out if you're looking for something a little bit different.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Illustrated A Brief History of Time

Now here's a review I never thought I'd post:  Stephen Hawking's The Illustrated A Brief History of Time (#588).  Probably like most people since this book first appeared in 1988, I've had it on my "To Read" list, but somehow I could never quite actually picture myself reading a text book about physics!  So what got me off the couch and into the library?  Stephen Hawking's series earlier this year on PBS - Genius.  Each of the six episodes featured three ordinary folks who are given a topic and sets of materials to create experiments to explore that topic - time travel, the distances between the planets, etc.  These proved to be so interesting and enlightening that for the first time, I felt I could grasp some of the concepts that always seemed to be beyond my reach before.  So I decided it was time to read Professor Hawking's book.

Although the original, A Brief History of Time came out in 1988, our library had a copy of The Illustrated A Brief History of Time.  It came out in 1996, and is amended and updated to reflect changes and discoveries that had occurred following the publication of the first edition.  If you're not a scientist yourself, I would highly recommend sticking to this updated version.  As Professor Hawking himself noted in the book, even if you just look at the illustrations and photos, and read the captions, you'll have a grasp of what the book explains.  (Besides, I showed my husband some of the illustrations and they reminded us both strongly of pieces by glass artist Dale Chihuly, one of our favorites!)

There were several things that surprised me about this book: firstly, it is written in such a way that I could understand the concepts and how they should work, both theoretically and already proven.  Secondly,Hawking doesn't leave God out of the discussion - in fact there's even a photo of Hawking meeting Pope John Paul II after delivering a paper at a Vatican-convened conference of experts.  Most people in the scientific community these days seem determined to bar God from any equation.  Thirdly, this book made me laugh out loud several times.  That, I never expected! 

So many of the terms explained in this book have come into the language during my adult lifetime. The progress in the field has been so rapid, these terms have become ubiquitous in films, science fiction, and television - singularity, space time, event horizon, quarks, just to name a few.  We use them all the time without really being fully aware of what they actually mean.  I was watching an Olympic soccer match yesterday, and the announcer likened two opposing players to "black holes" and talked about the "gravitational force" of one player's kicks.  But trust me, I won't be laughing at the "in" jokes on Dr. Sheldon Cooper's white boards on The Big Bang Theory anytime soon!

This turned out to be an easy task to cross off my bucket list, and I feel smarter for having done it.  I'm just sorry I waited so long.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

At the Stroke of Madness

I first encountered FBI agent Maggie O'Dell in more recent book by Alex Kava, where Maggie joins up with search and rescue dog handler Ryder Creed in Silent Creed.  (See my post of 4/27/16.)  It was such a good partnership, I've gone back to catch up with some of Maggie's earlier cases, starting with At the Stoke of Madness (#587).

This time Maggie heads to Connecticut to follow up on a missing patient for her friend and FBI consultant Dr. Gwen Palmer.  Joan Begley left a message for Dr. Palmer asking for her advice about a man she's met while in Connecticut arranging for her grandmother's funeral.  The problem is, she hasn't been heard from since that voice mail - she never checked out of her room or boarded her flight home to D.C.   Since Maggie can't seem to bring herself to take a proper vacation, she decides to head to Connecticut to check out Joan Begley and to follow up on some personal business.  She walks right into a police investigation of a grisly discovery in a local rock quarry.  Could the first body found stuffed into a barrel there be the missing Joan Begley? 

My husband particularly liked this one because of the Connecticut setting, not too far from where he grew up.  I liked it because of all the red herrings Ms. Kava plants.  Just when you think you've figured out who the killer is, she points you in the direction of a new possible suspect.  I also got a kick out of the fact that she named the local undertaker Jacob Marley, yet avoided the obvious jokes about the character's name.  It takes real restraint to do that!  Anyway, I enjoyed this book, too, so it will be fun to catch up on the rest of this series.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Transatlantic Conspiracy

Meet Rosalind Wallace, heroine of G.D. Falksen's new novel The Transatlantic Conspiracy (#586).  Her father has just ordered her to represent the family on the  maiden crossing of his new underwater railroad connecting Germany to New York City.  Rosalind is not happy to oblige, since she has been enjoying the whirl of the London Season as a guest in the home of her friend, Cecily de Vere, of the Exham de Veres.  After all, it is 1908, and Rosalind is an ardent suffragette who feels she has a right to govern her own life.  To her dismay, Cecily and her brother Charles jump on the chance to accompany Rosalind on such a thrilling adventure.  Although the opening is attended by the Kaiser himself, people seem to be watching their small party and Charles has vanished when the girls are ready to board.  When Cecily and her maid fall victim to a violent crime, it is left to Rosalind to determine who the murderer is before she is targeted herself.

This is a quick, easy read.  Think Murder on the Orient Express meets Steampunk.  It is very much of a Young Adult novel, though.  Rosalind's parents are awful; life revolves around which young man to allow to court her; social distinctions and class are bad things when she's on the receiving end, or when she pities the plight of the poor second class passengers even though she herself lives a life of privilege.  Still, the story moves right along, and I found myself at the end hoping that this is not the last we see of Rosalind Wallace. 

Although the art work was not final in the prepublication copy I won on Good Reads, if you're into the coloring craze, you can spend some extra time coloring the illustrations here, a nice bonus!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Fall of Moscow Station

Can you ever read too many spy novels?  Mark Henshaw's The Fall of Moscow Station (#585) is an excellent title to add to your pile of CIA operative tales.  In this case, a traitor among the CIA ranks sets in motion a deadly purge of Russian assets, and the expulsion of all American personnel suspected of espionage from Russian soil, destroying yeas of painstaking work.  Alden Maines expected when he agreed to a meet with his Russian contact that he would be richly rewarded for his information, not that bodies would turn up in a German lake, and that he would find himself on the wrong side of the interrogator's table.

The plot moves along briskly, enhanced by the insider knowledge Mark Henshaw brings to his writing craft.  Even better, the true action hero of the piece is Kyra Stryker, a CIA analyst with a personal connection to both Alden Maines, and her CIA partner Jonathan Burke, wounded and captured by the GRU while exploring an abandoned base outside Belin.  What are the GRU even doing there?  Some covert operation is going on, and Kyra is determined to get to the bottom of things so Jon will not have sacrificed himself in vain.

I must admit, I did stay up until the wee hours of the morning to finish this one!  So glad Mark Henshaw has a few previous books out there to catch up with.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls (#584), Martha Hall Kelly's debut novel, is based on real events and people.  In it she intertwines the lives of three women who, due to events in World War II, are destined to play a defining role in each other's lives.  Ravensbruck, the infamous all women's concentration camp in Germany, is the catalyst.  The medical experiments conducted there during the war have largely been forgotten.  Lilac Girls is a gripping reminder.  Non-fiction can lay out the facts, but Ms. Kelly has used the lens of imagination to breathe life and emotional power onto every page.

Caroline Ferriday is an older, single New York socialite whose life revolves around charity work.  Since her family owns property in France, naturally she is involved with work with French orphans.  Her advocacy for the French extends throughout the war and beyond, as she works with displaced persons.  Kasia Kuzmerick is a teenager from Lublin, Poland.  When the Germans occupy her city, she is drawn into a network of resistance, ultimately leading to her arrest.  She blames herself when her mother and sister and friends are taken along with her.  Herta Oberheuser is a young female doctor, newly qualified who cannot find work to support her family after Hitler's new social policies are put in place.  According to the Fuhrer, Herta's place is in the home, producing more babies for the Reich, instead of at the operating table.  She answers an advertisement to work at a women's reeducation camp located in a resort area of Germany, never suspecting what the true purpose of the camp is.

Each woman's story is told in alternating chapters, from the glittering ballroom of the Waldorf Hotel to the hourly struggle to stay alive in the camp.  But survive, Kasia and Herta do, although their suffering is not over yet.  Poland is squeezed under Communist Rule, Displaced Persons still need to be found a permanent home, and reparations still made for wartime atrocities.  You don't always like or even admire these three women, but their stories are compelling.  Martha Hall Kelly has done an excellent job in bringing this forgotten chapter of World War II to light.  Highly recommended. 

P.S.  Martha Hall Kelly will be a speaker at 2017's Book!Mania - can't wait to hear her in person.  My sister-in-law and I will definitely be taking a field trip next time I'm in New England to visit Caroline Ferriday's estate in Bethlehem, Connecticut!

Monday, July 25, 2016


Tigana.  It's a name you won't be able to hear, understand or remember if you weren't born there, or are not a sorcerer or wizard.  But Tigana (#583) is the name of an epic fantasy novel from author Guy Gavriel Kay.

In this book, Kay explores the positive effects memory can have, as well as the corrosive and destructive effects when taken too far, or hatreds are nourished down the generations.  In this case, a peninsula standing in for Renaissance Italy with its feuding city states is The Palm.  It's been conquered by Tyrants from both the East and the West because the nine provinces of The Palm could not unite to fend off their attackers.  It is now divided territory with the Tyrants kept in check by their opposite numbers, strong sorcerers both.  When the Tyrant Brandin's son is killed by the Prince of Tigana, Brandin's revenge on the province includes wiping the memory of Tigana from the remaining  inhabitants of The Palm.  But a small number remember, and the Prince of Tigana's son has survived to carry on the fight, biding his time.

There is plenty of action to be had in this absorbing novel, but there's also plenty of food for thought.  Brandin, for instance, is portrayed as principled in his own way, and is a sympathetic character throughout much of the book.  It's hard sometimes as you are reading to know who to root for as motivations are revealed and plot twists uncovered.  Another thing that's difficult about this book is to put it down, both because of the plot and the beauty of the language.  You owe it to yourself to discover Guy Gavriel Kay.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sent to the Devil

In the second book in a historical mystery series featuring Lorenzo Da Ponte, the Italian librettist who worked with Wolfgang Mozart, Laura Lebow sets Sent to the Devil (#582) in a Vienna torn by political unrest over the Turkish War the Emperor has pledged to fight on behalf of Catherine the Great of Russia.  To make matters worse, a series of horrific murders striking at Vienna's prominent citizens have plagued the city.  Lorenzo is working on a re-write with Mozart of Don Giovanni for the Viennese cast when he begins to receive mysterious coded messages.  Could they possibly be tied to what is going on in the city?

Mozart, Da Ponte and Salieri, the theater manager, are all hoping that Vienna remains calm  enough to allow them to actually present their opera before the theaters are shut down.  Because Da Ponte was able to solve a previous murder for the police (detailed in The Figaro Murders.) he is once again reluctantly drafted to aid Count Benda appointed to lead the official investigation.  When one of the victims turns out to be a retired priest and close friend of Da Ponte, he bows to the inevitable and vows to catch the fiend responsible.

My husband and I both found the Viennese setting of interest since we had been there recently.  Most of what was the backdrop to Da Ponte's life there is still easily recognizable to the modern day visitor.  Besides, we seem to be following the opera Don Giovanni around the world, having attended a performance of it in the Sydney Opera House, and having made a pilgrimage to the theater in Prague where it received its debut.

Mystery, history, high drama, murder all add up to an enjoyable outing.  I look forward to the further sleuthing adventures of Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Grunt - The Curious Science of Humans at War

I recently read a nationally syndicated review of Mary Roach's latest off-beat science book Grunt - The Curious Science of Humans at War (#581).  Suffice it to say that this critic is not a fan!  He objected to her "jokiness" about the serious subject.  Apparently he is not aware of any of her previous works.  I was relieved when my library hold came through for Grunt to find that I, on the other hand, enjoyed this book every bit as much as her earlier work.  It did make me laugh out loud at one point, but more importantly, Ms. Roach illuminates the hard work and research that goes into making our armed forces safer, more comfortable and healthier whether they're in an active war zone or a more peaceful posting.  Like her previous book Stiff, she also highlights the important and unique contributions the dead (both military and civilian) make to these efforts.

If you're a Mary Roach fan, you know what you're in for here.  If not, this might not be the best book to read over a meal table.  Organ transplants, diarrhea and extremely bad smells as a weapon are not necessarily the most appetizing topics.  Much of it might strike you as weird science, but research and development on these issues have made a positive difference to both active military personnel and veterans.  How do you get enough sleep on a submarine?  What's the best type of material to use for a desert deployment?  When are maggots a soldier's best friend?  Why does the same odor appeal to one person, but repel another?

This is serious business, indeed, but Mary Roach's approach to her topic makes it accessible to the average reader, not merely subscribers to scientific journals.  Perhaps if more books like this were available for younger readers, it might inspire them to pursue a career in science.  Just a thought.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Children of Earth and Sky

I hated to come to the end of Children of Earth and Sky (#580).  To me, that's the highest accolade for an author.  Guy Gavriel Kay intertwines the lives and travails of his characters in such a satisfying way you feel immersed in his world.  In this novel, it's a clash of cultures between the West and East in a time resembling the Renaissance.  Seressa with her lagoons and canals is a powerful merchant power owing allegiance to the Emperor in far-off Obravic.  They trade with the East, ruled by a mighty khalif who conquered the storied city of Sarantium, bringing a religious divide to the world.  As long as the Seressinis are free to trade with the Osmanlis, and to subtly pull the strings of diplomacy, they are content.  The fly in the ointment for them are the raiders of the city-state of Senjan.  They are supposed to leave the cargoes of their co-religionist Jaddite merchants alone, but that doesn't always happen.  Any ships on the sea are fair game for the Senjani.  When they raid a merchant ship from Dubrava returning home carrying passengers from Seressa onboard, they change the course of events that the Council of Twelve in Seressa had planned.

We meet a female archer, Danica, whose mission in life is revenge.  Pero Villani is being sent to Sarantium, now renamed Asharias, to paint a Western style portrait of the Grand Khalif at the Khalif's request.  Surely there are opportunities for the Serrisinis here?  Also aboard are a physician and his wife, bound for Dubrava.  When the physician is killed during the Senjani raid, Marin Djivo, son of the ship's owner, takes it upon himself to protect the widow.  Their stories ebb and flow through the politics and religious and cultural clashes all around them.  The telling of these stories is both beautiful and poetic.

The reader will easily recognize Venice, Prague, Istanbul, Dubruvnik and even Rome in this tale.  The historical details about the Ottoman army, Venetian politics and the spread of Islam to the Byzantine empire and beyond are all accurate, and the emphasis on religious differences is provocative. 

Kay's books are assigned to the genre of Fantasy, and in many ways, that's a shame.  I think many readers who are fans of historical fiction would devour his books if only they realized how well-researched and reflective of the times and places in which he chooses to set his novels they are. They succeed in conveying a sense of time and place that is often lacking in straight historical fiction.  If you appreciate a marvelous story well told Children of Earth and Sky should be at the top of your "To Read" list.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The 5 Greatest Warriors

Matthew Reilly's The 5 Greatest Warriors (#579) is the final installment in this three part adventure series.  It picks up right where The Six Sacred Stones (See my previous post.) left off; with our hero, Jack West Jr., falling seemingly to his death in an abyss.

Of course Jack isn't dead (or there wouldn't be another book!) but in his race to save the world by solving clues from ancient times, planted by an ancient unknown civilization and famous warriors in history, you think each time "This is it - he's not going to make it!"  But he and his stalwart crew and adopted daughter Lily always squeak through, although not without severe consequences for some, if not all of them.  Reilly even manages to provide a happy ending to this tale told at breakneck pace.  For now, Jack's team is able to enjoy some peace and quiet, but author Matthew Reilly assures us in an interview at the end of the book that he will plan to write further adventures for this crew, counting all the way down to "1 Something Something".

If you like nonstop action mixed with a healthy dose of history and geography, Matthew Reilly is the writer for you.  This series may be a few years old, but it's just as much fun now as it was when it was hot off the presses!

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Six Sacred Stones

Despite what you might think from reading my last post, The Six Sacred Stones (#578) by Matthew Reilly is anything but a religious book.  In a cover blurb, Kirkus Reviews calls it a "video game in print".  That's an apt description for this non-stop action thriller.  In fact, the adventure featuring Jack West Jr. and his team assembled from around the world began with 7 Deadly Wonders (See my post of 4/10/15 ), and concludes with the third book, The 5 Greatest Warriors, which is a good thing since The Six Sacred Stones ends with the cliff hanger of all cliff hangers.  At stake here?  No less than the end of the world!  Jack West Jr. and his crew are trying their best to defeat those who are only interested in a) the destruction of earth and b) grabbing and controlling the gifts promised by the ancients to those who act to prevent this from happening.  Total world domination is a pretty tempting prize, you have to admit.

This is so much fun to read as the body count mounts ever higher, and you are sure that Jack, Zoe, Pooh Bear, Stretch, Sky Monster, the Wizard and the twin math geniuses along with Jack's adopted daughter Lily, age 12 and her friend Alby are never going to make it out alive from just about every encounter with their enemies.  You probably won't get that nap in the hammock you've been promising yourself once you start to read any of these books - I know I burned the midnight oil to find out what happens next! 

As an added bonus, Matthew Reilly includes quite a bit of factual information on the ancient world, astronomy and even religious texts while he's at it.  It's a really painless (for us!) way to absorb interesting information - learning without tears.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

I was surprised to find John Shelby Spong's latest book Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy (#577) prominently displayed under Staff Picks at the main branch of our local library.  I knew the name from my Episcopal background, but I've never read any of his works before.  With time off from EfM this summer, it seemed like the perfect time to remedy that omission.

The premise of Spong's book is that the Bible as a whole, and in this work, the gospel of Matthew in particular, were not written as literal works of history, but rather as metaphors and allegories to teach greater truths.  The original Jewish audience for whom the gospels were written would have understood the underlying stories and allusions to Old Testament scripture.  In fact, Spong posits that Matthew was designed to be read in the synagogues as part of the liturgical year cycle, just as many traditional denominations of Christianity have set orders of readings from both Old and New Testament works throughout the year.  When the new Christian movement broke away from their synagogue-based roots beginning with the Roman persecutions following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, Spong contends that the now mostly Gentile congregations knew nothing about Jewish scriptures, and so lost the key to interpreting the gospels properly themselves.  They began to read them as literal history.

I found what Spong has to say most interesting.  His arguments are laid out logically and make sense to me.  Of course, I realize after three years of EfM that my mind and theological thinking have stretched considerably.  For many, many others judging from the letters to the editor in my local paper, their first reaction would be to take this book out to the library parking lot and burn it!  (Without reading it first, of course!)  If they could actually bring themselves to read it, the challenge to what they have always been taught to believe could cause their heads to explode.  If they can get past that, it might just open up a whole new way of thinking for them.  You'll just have to read Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy for yourself.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Railwayman's Wife

Love and loss.  Those are the themes of Ashley Hay's novel The Railwayman's Wife (#576).  Set on the southeast coast of Australia after the end of World War II, it explores not just the loss of a loved one to unexpected death, but the loss of self in two survivors of World War II who are forever marked by their experiences.  Three lives intersect in this novel, and each deals with loss in his or her own way, but touched by that intersection outside themselves.

Ani Lachlan is the railwayman's wife, left to raise her young daughter when her husband is killed in a rail accident.  Roy McKinnon found his voice through powerful poetry during the war, but peacetime has left him unable to write anything more.  Frank Draper, the idealistic doctor, is permanently scarred by being one of the first through the gates of Auschwitz.  The tale of these intertwined lives is beautifully told by Ms. Hay as they take the first tentative steps towards a future none of them could have ever envisioned.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lady Susan and Love and Freindship(sic)

I recently saw the movie Love & Friendship, an adaptation of one of Jane Austen's early novellas, Lady Susan (#575).  I quite enjoyed it, especially as the costumes and locations were beautiful.  I rushed home, eager to see how closely the film followed the original written work, since I had never read it.  Lady Susan is an epistolary novel which I think they did a reasonable job of turning into dialog format.  Of course, they had to take a number of liberties to pad out the story, so there are characters added and scenes inserted to move the plot along, but I think they did get the gist of the novella quite nicely.

Lady Susan, if you're not familiar with this Jane Austen work, tells the tale of an attractive widow who always seems to find a way to live in comfort on other people's hospitality while she hunts for a wealthy husband.  But first things first; she has a daughter to marry off to a rich but silly rattle.  The success of her matrimonial campaigns form the nucleus of the plot.  Kate Beckinsale plays Lady Susan with relish in the film version.

Lady Susan was included in a volume of other short Austen works, and I was surprised to find that the book included a novella named Love & Freindship (sic).  Of course I had to read that as well, expecting it to be the further adventures of Lady Susan and her coterie.  It was not.  Love & Freindship featured an entirely different cast of characters!  It was also an epistolary novella, purporting to be an instructive screed from a woman whose unfortunate past might provide a salutary lesson to the unmarried daughter of an old friend written at the mother's urging.  I frankly found it a hoot.  It was so over the top it verged on parody rather than the social satire one usually associates with Jane Austen.  All her original misspellings were left in which adds another layer to the refined voice the narrator assumes.  I would love to see a movie version of this story with all the fainting and running mad by our heroine!

What remains a mystery to me, though, is why the folks at Amazon who made this film based on Lady Susan decided to call it by a different title; they could have done that, but why choose a title of another existing Jane Austen work?  That's like going to see a film called Pride & Prejudice and seeing Northanger Abbey instead!  Very confusing.

I still benefited from seeing a entertaing movie and having a chance to enjoy not one, but two previously unread Jane Austen works.  Summer reading doesn't get much better than this!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Assistants - A Novel

Ah, the assistant.  Behind every successful man, there as an underpaid, over educated and under appreciated woman managing his life for him.  In Camille Perri's debut novel, The Assistants (#574) it's Tina Fontana, the trusted assistant to Robert Barlow, head of a worldwide media empire. 

Tina's been with Robert for six years and she's not about to let him miss an important meeting on the West Coast just because his private jet is grounded.  Robert will just have to fly (gasp!) commercial.  First class, of course, with all the surrounding seats empty as well, and oh, by the way, Robert thinks he should fly for free.  Tina finds herself charging the price of all those first class tickets on her own credit cards.  Not a problem because she'll file an expense report.  It's when the airline calls to apologize profusely for their agent's rudeness to Tina and report that her cards have been credited for the expense that the fun begins.  Tina is holding her Titan Corporation reimbursement check in her hand when the call comes in.  What should she do?  Normally, she'd return it immediately to Accounting, but the amount of this check almost exactly matches her student loan debt...  When Tina steps over the line, she doesn't have long to enjoy her debt-free life before someone else at Titan blackmails her over it.  One thing leads to another in this entertaining tale of money and morals.

It's a quick read, and it seems that it's already been optioned as a motion picture.  Can't wait to see it on screen - it will be the perfect summer movie!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

What is it that makes Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels so appealing?  I was thinking about this as I was enjoying the latest addition to this series, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (#573).

First of all, I think it's because McCall Smith tells a good story.  You want to find out what will happen next to Mma Ramotswe,  her husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and her now partner, Mma Makutsi in far-off Gabarone, Botswana.  The exotic locale can often pose problems for the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but the human problems they are called upon to investigate are the same the world over.  That by itself makes for interesting reading.

But what I think really sets this series apart is the warmth generated by the central characters whose quirky behavior and humorous traits are leavened with a kindness and moral rectitude which are so often missing from the novels published today.  Love of God, of family, of country are paramount to these people, and it's refreshing to imagine that somewhere in the world people like this really do exist.

In The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Mma Ramotswe finds herself on holiday, not quite sure that it actually was her idea.  Not that she is idle; far from it!  She encounters a street urchin named Samuel, becomes embroiled in a famous late person's scandal, and misreads a situation with nearly disastrous consequences.  Things have a way of working themselves out for the best, with a little help from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency!

If you haven't read any of this series yet, I can't imagine a more pleasurable way of spending your summer than binge reading these books.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Tricky Twenty-Two

I lost track of how many cars bail bondsman Stephanie Plum managed to destroy in Janet Evanovich's latest outing, Tricky Twenty-Two  (#572).  Since most of them belonged to her some-time employer, Ranger, all I can say is that his insurance company most love to see him calling!

This time around, Stephanie is sure that Joe Morelli is about to pop the question.  Instead, she finds herself on the wrong end of a "It's not you, it's me..." speech.  Good thing there are some easy Failed To Show cases she can take to get her mind off her problems - a missing frat boy from the local college, someone who's walked off with a lawn mower, and oh, yes, the serial rapist/murderer that the police have never been able to prosecute due to lack of evidence.  Naturally, nothing ever goes as planned, especially when murders become part of the pursuit!

Stephanie gives new meaning to the term "goosed" in one hilarious encounter.  Her grandmother and Lula play prominent roles here, but it turns out that Stephanie's mother is the one who ultimately saves the day.  Always a great time between these covers!

Thursday, June 2, 2016


I think that if C. W. Gortner's latest historical fiction novel, Marlene - A Novel of Marlene Dietrich (#571) had been half the length, it would have been twice as good.  In his Acknowledgements, he does say that he wanted to concentrate on Marlene's early years and struggles, not so much her "seemingly meteoric rise to fame". 

So the first half of this novel is a salacious account of Marlene's many, many, many sexual encounters.  I would hesitate to call them love affairs, because the way she is portrayed here, it doesn't seem that she was capable of actually loving anyone except in a physical sense.  Between the tedium of bisexual trysts, her fondness for cross-dressing, and her mother issues, I would have given up on this book, except for the fact that I owed GoodReads a review after winning a copy.

Frankly, I found the most interesting part of this book Gortner's recounting of her loathing of Hitler and her refusal to return to Germany to become part of his propaganda machine.  After she became an American citizen, and a target for Nazi reprisals, she spent her time entertaining the troops in war-torn Europe with the USO.  Sharing the same hardships as the soldiers near the front lines, these tours eventually earned Marlene Dietrich the French Legion d'honneur, and Medals of Freedom from the Belgian, Israeli and US governments.  That's a Marlene I could admire.  I wish we had seen a lot more of that woman here.

I can't recommend this book.  I wish I had read a straight (!) biography of Marlene Dietrich instead.  I would have learned more about her that way and skipped the boring bits Gortner finds so titilating. 

P.S.  I should have known from the cover photograph; of all the glamour photos that exist of Marlene Dietrich, those in charge of this publication choose one that emphasizes her left hand, making it look like a huge claw wearing an enormous ring.  Rather sinister, I think!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

War Hawk

Tucker Wayne is ready to explore the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park with his military war dog and constant companion, Kane.  Both have retired from the Army, and Tucker is anxious to leave it all behind him.  He didn't appreciate being pressed into service recently by SIGMA, a group operating under the aegis of the Defense Department branch DARPA, but he and Kane sucked it up and did their duty.  But when a friend from his Army days reaches out to him for help, he cannot refuse.

Jane Sabatello was working on a project outside Washington that was abruptly closed down.  Everyone else associated with the project has turned up dead, seemingly from accidents, but Jane is sure she and her little son Nathan are next on the list.  Their mutual friend from Army days, Sandy Conlon, has also gone missing from a similar project in Alabama, and Jane wants Tucker to see if he can find her.  What he uncovers puts them all in danger from a mysterious enemy armed with the next generation of weapons.  But what's the end game here?

Readers will be familiar with most of the components James Rollins and his co-author Grant Blackwood use in their nail-biting thriller, War Hawk (#570).  The ways that they are already being used and abused are apparent from even a cursory glance at a week's headlines and newscasts.  That's the element which makes Rollins & Blackwood's thrillers so very scary.  Oh, and you might want to rethink that vacation to Trinidad...

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!