Thursday, September 21, 2017

Throw-Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past


There are books I've read that go to a special place in my heart.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of those books, and it is a story in which the heart is fully engaged during and after its reading.  Jamie Ford brilliantly combines history with an intimate story of what love must overcome to survive in a time of war, racism, and a country's betrayal of its citizens.  It is thought provoking and emotionally consuming .  And, as it seems with so many of my selections, completely unintended, this book is bound for the big screen.  Through many years of appeals to the author, there is finally an offer that will honor the integrity of the novel and not mangle or maim its essence.  George Takei has just recently come on board as Executive Producer, and production is to start in 2018.

I had the great privilege and pleasure of meeting Jamie Ford a few years back, after his second book, Songs of Willow Frost, was published.  He is a person of great humor, and I enjoyed talking with him so much.  He saw that my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet had post-it tabs sticking out, and he had to have a picture of it.  Just a great guy.  Jamie doesn't put out a book every year, not even every two years, but his books are well worth the wait.  His third book, Love and Other Consolation Prizes was just released last week, and I am so excited to read it.  I will be going to see Jamie Ford in Evansville, IN next week at a "One Book, One Community" event featuring Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  It's something I've been looking forward to for some time.



Book Description:
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history - the internment of American-Japanese families during World War II - Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us about forgiveness and the power of the human heart.

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.



My Review: 
Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is historical fiction at its finest. The format of alternating time periods of the 1940's and 1986 serves to bring this story full circle, which is indeed informatively satisfying. Ford takes on a multiplicity of subjects that stem from the setting of Seattle's area of Chinatown and Japantown in the 40's and the characters of Henry, a Chinese boy, and Keiko, a Japanese girl, and he connects them all brilliantly. Racial prejudices, Japanese internment, jazz in Seattle, father/son relationships, friendship, and love--Ford aptly weaves it all into a compelling story that is impossible to put down until you've finished. And, finish it does, in keeping with Ford's attitude towards endings, which is, in his own words, "a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending." With many books published about Japanese internment during WWII, Jamie Ford's novel stands out as unique. The inclusion of Chinese and Japanese animosity as a major feature assures this novel's innovative place in books examining the Japanese ordeal in our country.

 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Gia in the City of the Dead by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review


Whoa! Kristi Belcamino has done it! She has created yet another take-charge, intoxicating character who is a fierce protector of those she loves. The new girl in town is named Gia Valentina Santella, and she is smoking awesome. Belcamino's first kick-ass series' character was Gabriella Giovanni, and I have been such a fan of Gabriella that I was a bit skeptical of falling quickly for another contender. But, when this author writes, this reader falls, into storytelling and characters compelling to the core.

Gia Santella is adrift in the world. Drinking herself into oblivion, driving fast cars fast, one-night stands, and spending her well-endowed bank account as fast as she can. Living in San Francisco in a luxury apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, she is the quintessential Italian Princess, disconnected to any meaningful existence. The death of her beloved parents two years earlier has frozen the capacity of the twenty-three-year-old to move forward with her life. As it turns out, she must move backwards first anyway. 

Having been told that her parents, who were living in Geneva at the time of their deaths, had died in a house fire, Gia is shocked back into the land of the living when a letter arrives from the coroner's wife stating that the Santellas' deaths were no accident. The letter makes it clear that Gia's parents were murdered. This revelation comes right on the heels of a new death in her family, her estranged brother's. The Santella family is slowly slipping into nonexistence, and Gia must use her physical training as a student of Budo karate and her plentiful intelligence to avoid becoming the last coffin in the crypt and finding out who murdered her family. Knowing who to trust is the first tangled web that Gia must unsnarl. However, even care must be taken with those she can trust, because the success of her mission could mean their deaths. Gia Santella begins a life on the run, searching for answers from Monterey to San Franciso to Geneva to Sicily and back to Colma, California that is the City of the Dead. There is not one dull moment in that search.

Kristi Belcamino has a gift, telling thrilling stories with all the excitement they demand. The plots, the action, the descriptions, the characters are all so brilliantly thought out and executed. I am ecstatic that readers have yet another prodigious protagonist and spectacular series to enjoy. Kudos to Kristi, again!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

In 2013, I attended my first Bouchercon Convention in Albany, New York.  Bouchercon is the largest gathering in this country of mystery and crime authors, fans, and book world people.  I read like mad that year in preparation for meeting revered authors and getting books signed.  There was one author that was in my sights who was getting lots of buzz and who, by that time, had three books out.  I had only read her first, Dust and Shadow, but I was crazy to meet her because of how much I loved it.  Lyndsay Faye had her first two books of the Timothy Wilde trilogy in Albany, too. The Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret were bought by me in joyful anticipation, and Lyndsay signed all three books, a thrill I'll never forget.  How little I knew then that I was at the beginning of a whole new reading relationship that is one of the most special I have.  Lyndsay is brilliant, and every book I read of hers is a new favorite.  But, it all began with my interest in Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes being combined in a story that would bring alive a time of deepest, darkest fear on the streets of London.  I'm not including my review of Dust and Shadow because when I read through it again for this post, I couldn't help thinking that, even though it was a glowing review, how naive it was, how much I had to learn about just what an amazing author Lyndsay Faye is. 

 
Jacket Description:
From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.

As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.

 

A masterly re-creation of history’s most diabolical villain, Lyndsay Faye’s debut brings unparalleled authenticity to the atmosphere of Whitechapel and London in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters. Jack the Ripper’s identity, still hotly debated around the world more than a century after his crimes were committed, remains a mystery ripe for speculation. Dust and Shadow explores the terrifying prospect of tracking a serial killer without the advantage of modern forensics, and the result is a lightning-paced novel brimming with historical detail that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Murder in Shadow by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review


Murder in Shadow by Anne Cleeland is the sixth entry into the Doyle and Acton Mysteries/New Scotland Yard series, and it is an exciting, thrilling read. It's almost embarrassing how involved I become with the characters and action in these books. I know it's fiction, but it's so engrossing following Kathleen Doyle and Michael Sinclair, aka Lord Acton, and their personal and professional lives. Told from Kathleen's point of view, we are still able to gain great insight into the other character's thoughts and motives due to her intuitive gift. And, at the beginning of each chapter is a short clip of thought from Acton, allowing more insight into his take on the current situation. Murder in Shadow is a complex tale that engages the reader from beginning to end with its layers of actions that build upon each other.

Kathleen Doyle is indisputably pregnant with Acton's son, known to be a son already not because of ultra sounds, but because of Doyle's touch of the fey abilities. These abilities are often used by Acton to determine if a suspect or witness is lying or telling the truth. Doyle makes good use of them, too, in keeping up with her ever secretive husband's tendency to misdirect her. It is her intuitive skills that have her scalp itching with suspicion when Doyle is called to the scene of a murder and finds herself in charge of the scene, with Acton off supposedly testifying on police corruption and DI Thomas Williams, Doyle's closest friend and Acton's right-hand man, also conveniently tied up. Doyle smells manipulation, and since her instincts, even when someone is deliberately trying to cross her wires, sooner or later arrive at the truth of the matter, it's a beeline to Parliament that Kathleen makes to discover Acton in a hearing to protect his claim to being Lord Acton.

But, the manipulated murder case to which Doyle was assigned is not just a red herring for Acton's activities. It is a murder case that will have significant connections to other cases. This murder of a well-to-do man who is left shoe-less in an alley will come back to haunt even the major investigation that Acton is dealing with concerning corrupt officials in Scotland Yard. And, speaking of haunting, Doyle, who has dealt with a ghost or two before, is having nightly visits from a dead psychiatrist who briefly treated Acton, and the ghost is giving her vague warnings about Acton and Williams and her co-worker, Detective Sergeant Isabel Munoz. The dead and the living are constant sources of alarm in this story where Doyle is working frantically to save the lives and reputations of those she cares about. There are so many twists and turns in this thrilling story that GPS navigation would be needed in a lesser skilled author's hands. But, Anne Cleeland deftly controls the multiple threads and characters and guides the reader through the maze with clarity and purpose. 

The storylines in the Doyle and Acton series are always so smart, so clever, and so complex, and Cleeland is such a masterful storyteller. But the stories are deeply enriched by the absolute genius of the author's characters, starting with the insanely (using that word cautiously, Lord Acton) perfect matching of DCI Acton and DS Doyle. The rags and riches romance of Kathleen and Michael is one of the best developed relationships I've read. Their witty dialogue is something I can never get enough of. Detective Inspector Thomas Williams is forever devoted to both Kathleen and Michael, and like Kathleen, I am always buoyed by his appearance. Williams has some troubling matters to deal with in this story, and while he has matured quite a bit, he has made some mistakes that threaten to harm him and his friends. Doyle's somewhat nemesis, DS Isabel Munoz, continues to bait Doyle about her good fortune with Acton and dismiss Doyle's detective skills, but she, too, is coming into her own in both her police work and her personal relationships. Munoz has to walk a fine line in this current story, but she has good instincts that are getting better all the time. Of course, it's fortunate for Acton, Williams, and Munoz that they have Doyle watching their backs. As much as Doyle professes to be thick as a plank, she proves herself sharp as a tack and an invaluable resource time and time again, and it's so satisfying that Acton values her as well as loves her. 

Murder in Shadow, the sixth book in the Doyle and Acton Mystery series, is simply a smashing success. I recommend it highly and will no doubt be rereading parts of it myself. These books are truly places that I don't want to leave.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

One of my favorite books ever is Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, the first in her Oxford Time Travel series, and I will feature that book another day.  Today I'm talking about the second book in that series, To Say Nothing of the DogDoomsday Book and the other books in this series, Blackout and All Clear, are serious, contemplative novels, and I thought we all might be needing a lighter touch today.  Ned Henry, one of the time traveling historians of these books finds himself going back in time from 2057 to Victorian England, 1888,  in conjunction with his pursuit of  "the bishop's bird stump" and a much needed rest.  The phrase "the bishop's bird stump" alone should send readers scurrying to the library or bookstore.  The result of Ned's journey is a comedy of errors, a mystery, a romance, and a delightful homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.  This witty story will have you finding some laughter and joy that is much needed today.  

As a reader of mostly mystery and crime, science fiction has never been my preferred genre, but Connie Willis is such a brilliant writer and storyteller that not reading her because of the genre would be an egregious error.  Repeat winnings for the Hugo and Nebula awards, Willis is one of the top five authors I would still love to meet.  I haven't yet read her latest novel, Crosstalk, which came out a year ago and was selected by NPR as one of the best books of the year, but I will and hopefully soon.  I consider Connie Willis one of the best examples of why readers should keep an open mind about genres and thinking that one is not for them.




Book Jacket Description:
Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful - to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths is the third book in the new Stephens and Mephisto or Magic Men series. As an ardent fan of Griffiths' first series, Ruth Galloway Mysteries, I didn't know if I could love this second series as much. Rather like a mother pregnant with her second child wondering if a new child could ever be as thrilling as the first. Well, having had two children, I know that the second child brings out every bit as much love as the first. And, having now read three books in Elly Griffiths' second series, I know that I have plenty of love to go around for it, too. Set in the early 1950s, the historical aspect of England shortly after WWII is fascinating, and the added presence of the variety acts, especially magic, that had long been a part of the British theater of performance create a setting that is constantly evolving amidst the changes of a new world after war.

The story begins at a pivotal point in British history after the war, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a new era of a woman once again on the throne of England. Preparations for the coronation are busy everywhere throughout England, from the ceremony and events in London to the celebrations throughout the towns and villages of the country. The few days before this spectacular event finds Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens investigating the death of a Brighton Gypsy fortune-teller, who met her fate of drowning by either her own hand or someone else's. Max Mephisto, Edgar's friend and former teammate in the Magic Men unit for diversion and misdirection in WWII army operations, is performing his famous magic act in London at the Theatre Royal. A mysterious call from a General Petre brings both men to the London address of their former commander, Colonel Cartwright, who has been murdered. With Cartwright's body having already been removed by the police, Edgar and Max are asked to look around for clues. The most significant is the discovery of the ace of hearts playing card, which Max recognizes right away as the "blood card." There is also an old playbill for a variety performance show, a crossword puzzle, and a news article featuring a story about an American mind-reader. Not easy clues to decipher, but ones which the friends are determined to follow. Petre also tells Max and Edgar that General Cartwright was on the trail of an anarchist scheme to disrupt the coronation when he was killed.

Before he can say Bob's your uncle, under the direction of General Petre, Edgar is on a plane to Albany, New York to decipher why his old commander had the article about the American performer in his possession, with the man's phone number on it. Edgar's experiences in Albany further convince him that there is a connection to the murder investigation. Meanwhile, Max is busy contacting past members of the Magic Men to try and uncover if there's a connection to Cartwright's death. Max is also preparing for his television debut in a variety show to be part of the coronation celebration. His daughter Ruby is also on the show, and they both could be in danger's way. And Emma Holmes, Edgar's Sergeant on the Brighton Police force, is conducting a dogged inquiry into the death of the Gypsy woman, Madame Zabini, and in the process discovers disturbing and important information tied to an anarchist scheme. Edgar, Max, and Emma arrive at a shocking conclusion in their investigations, but the timing may be too late.

The two areas which I was especially enamored of in book #3, besides, of course, the story itself, were the historical features and the further development of minor characters. With so much written about WWII itself, this series is a breath of fresh air in its setting of the early 1950s when rationing was still in effect, television was just becoming a desired item (which the televised coronation did much to promote), variety stage shows were undergoing a shake-up, and air travel was new to most people. Griffith's description of the flight Edgar took to New York was marvelous. So different than modern day plane trips, the amenities described are unbelievable. I won't spoil the description here, as it's such a delight to read. The reactions to having a television set in the home, from it being front and center to it being hidden away with curtains drawn across it to conceal it, are as entertaining as the forum itself.

The Blood Card takes us further into the supporting characters' lives, too. Emma Holmes, who is one of my favorites in the series, has her role expanded into sharp investigator, infatuated admirer of Edgar's (but in a dignified manner), and unsettled daughter. Ruby, who is Edgar's intended is given more insight as to her motivation, ambition, and feelings for Edgar. The variety of entertainers is always enchanting, with their talents and quirks exposed. I felt that this book has brought so much together for the reader of the series, connected so many dots, with, of course, many story threads that could go down many different paths. Elly Griffiths is a master pacer, and her delivery of these developments is perfect timing. 

I do hope that those who are devoted fans of the Ruth Galloway series are giving the Magic Men series its proper attention, too. Elly Griffiths is no one-trick pony. She is a brilliant creative source for multiple stories and multiple characters. To limit her to one set is to deny great storytelling to be shared in all its glory. This reader will take all she can get from this author because it's all exceptional reading.

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Books: New Publications to Start out Your Fall Reading


September is here, and it is a month that will kick off your fall reading to a great start.  So, grab your blanket and your cup of coffee or tea to snuggle down in the cooler weather with some of the following outstanding new books.



September 5th
The Blood Card (Stephens and Mephisto/The Magic Men #3) by Elly Griffiths
Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton
Under a Pole Star by Stef Penny
Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison
Genuine Fraud (YA) by E. Lockhart
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
The Seagull (Vera Stanhope #8) by Ann Cleeves
Idyll Fears: A Thomas Lynch Novel by Stephanie Gayle


September 8th
House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson
That Last Weekend by Laura DiSilverio


September 12th 
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Lightning Men (Darktown series) by Thomas Mullen
Death at the Seaside (A Kate Shackleton Mystery) by Frances Brody
Body on Baker Street: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany
Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet (A Jesse Stone Novel) by Reed Farrel Coleman


September 19th 
Gia in the City of the Dead: A Gia Santella Novel (Book #1) by Kristi Belcamino
Close Enough (Kate Fox #1.5) by Shannon Baker
Keep Her Safe by Sofie Hannah
Wicked Deeds (Krewe of Hunters) by Heather Graham
An Echo of Murder (William Monk #23) by Anne Perry


September 26th 
Before It's Too Late (An F.B.I. K-9 Novel) by Sara Driscoll
This Side of Murder (A Verity Kent Mystery) by Anna Lee Huber
The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti 
Casualty of War (Bess Crawford #9) by Charles Todd 
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
There's Someone Inside Your House (YA) by Stephanie Perkins















Thursday, August 31, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

Stef Penny is a Scottish author who seems to fly under the radar, at least here in the states.  She is a screenwriter and has written many adaptations for radio, too.  She is a former agoraphobic who oddly enough, or maybe because of, has a special relationship with wide open spaces and isolated people, and she is drawn to write about them.  I have been a fan of hers since her first book, The Tenderness of Wolves (2006), which won Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year.  Her second book, The Invisible Ones, came out in 2011, and it is that book that I'm featuring here today.  And, I'm delighted to announce that Stef Penny has a new book coming out next Tuesday, September 5th, entitled Under a Pole Star.  There is a lot of time between Penny's books, but they are well worth the wait.  I hope that, with only three to catch up on, readers and reader friends of mine will give themselves the treat of this gem of an author and her amazing stories.


Jacket Description:
In a hospital bed, small-time private detective Ray Lovell veers between paralysis and delirium. But before the accident that landed him there, he’d been hired to find Rose Janko, the estranged daughter of a traveling Gypsy family, who went missing seven years earlier.
Half Romany himself, Ray is well aware that he’s been chosen more for his blood than for his investigative skills. Still, he’s surprised by the intense hostility he encounters from the Jankos, who haven’t had an easy past. Touched by tragedy, they’re either cursed or hiding a terrible secret—the discovery of which Ray can’t help suspecting is connected to Rose’s disappearance…
Seamlessly toggling between Ray’s past and present, and the perspective of the missing woman’s young nephew JJ, Stef Penney builds a gripping page-turner that doesn’t let go until its shocking end.


My Review:
I've been waiting and waiting for a new Stef Penney since reading and loving her debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves. Well, the wait was worth it. Stef Penney has written another great novel that delves into the secret lives of people who are set apart from the mainstream life of the world. In this latest novel, it is the Gypsy life of the Travelers that is the focus of the action and the mystery involving a missing woman of that life. While many Gypsies have left the road and settled in "brick," or permanent houses in the 1980's England, the small group of which this missing woman was a part is still living in their trailers and banding together for support. Ray Lovell, who is half Romany himself, is hired as the investigator by Rose Janko's father to find out what happened to his daughter seven years ago when she disappeared. As in her first novel, Penney has shown great skill at creating an isolated world full of secrets and survival. Her ability to give the reader characters that draw the reader in and keep said reader riveted to their unfolding lives is second to none. The story is told in alternating chapters by Lovell, starting with his near death hospitalization and working backwards for a while, and by J.J. Janko, a teenage member of the Janko group of Travelers from which Rose disappeared. I was fascinated with the insights into the Romany life. I finished this book quickly, as I just couldn't stop reading its captivating story. I do hope that Ms. Penney doesn't keep me waiting as long for her next brilliant book as she did this one. She is an extraordinary talent, and we readers are lucky to have her.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

Today's selection for my Throw Back Thursday read is one that will satisfy mystery, crime, police procedural, and historical fictions fans all.  And, especially that group of mystery fans who are devotees of the famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.  Sir Arthur is such a fascinating character in his own right, apart from Sherlock Holmes.  The Cottingley fairies hoax tied in with Doyle's ardent belief in spiritualism is itself enough to earn him unique interest.  But, it is another piece of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's history that I bring you today.  Arthur and George is a fictional account, but factual in details, of Doyle's taking on the case of  George Edalji, an English born solicitor of a Parsee father and a Scottish mother, who was wrongly convicted of a crime in 1903 and served three years in prison for it.  After writing a newspaper account of his own innocence, Edalji sent a copy of it to Doyle, who became interested in exonerating George Edalji of the conviction.   In a life imitating art situation, the author of Sherlock Holmes employs the methods of his creation to produce evidence of innocence.  Does he succeed?  That's easy enough to check in online reports of this famous case, because famous it was.  It resulted in a change in the English court system through establishing the Court of Appeals. There is so much rich material in this book about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his life in addition to his thrilling adventure of playing detective that it really should be a must read for anyone who is a fan of the author.  And, that it's written by Julian Barnes guarantees that the story flows beautifully from beginning to end.  


Jacket Description:
As boys, George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, living in shabby genteel Edinburgh, find themselves in a vast and complex world at the heart of the British Empire. Years later—one struggling with his identity in a world hostile to his ancestry, the other creating the world’s most famous detective while in love with a woman who is not his wife–their fates become inextricably connected.

In Arthur & George, Julian Barnes explores the grand tapestry of late-Victorian Britain to create his most intriguing and engrossing novel yet.




Movie Connection:
It seems that so many of the throw-back reading selections I've chosen have had movies or television series made of them, so I'm adding a new feature to my Thursday Throw Back Reading.  For the book Arthur and George, there is a recent three episode Masterpiece Theater production (here in the states, ITV in Britain) starring Martin Clunes (the wonderful Doc Martin) as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I would definitely recommend reading the book first.   

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from my Past

Whirligig by Paul Fleischman

Today's selection for Throw-Back Thursday is a book that had a profound effect on me with its message of how we affect other people's lives, sometimes with known results to us, but often without our realization that something we did or said had an impact.  Whirligig by Paul Fleischman is a young adult book that deserves a wider audience than an age label.  While it is important for young people to absorb the message of this book, it is equally important for adults to be cognizant of it, whether for the first time or as a reminder.  You affect others' lives.  It's as simple and as complex as that.  I have given this book to friends over the years, and I think it's time I started to do so again.  


Book Jacket Description:


When sixteen-year-old Brent Bishop inadvertently causes the death of a young woman, he is sent on an unusual journey of repentance, building wind toys across the land.

In his most ambitious novel to date, Newbery winner Paul Fleischman traces Brent's healing pilgrimage from Washington State to California, Florida, and Maine, and describes the many lives set into new motion by the ingenious creations Brent leaves behind.

Paul Fleischman is the master of multivoiced books for younger readers. In Whirligig he has created a novel about hidden connections that is itself a wonder of spinning hearts and grand surprises.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

 

Oh, Lady Georgie! You do make me so happy that I'm a reader and that I found Her Royal Spyness series four years ago. Having a new Royal Spyness book to look forward to each year is a guaranteed favorite read for the year. Rhys Bowen is a born storyteller that charms readers with her fascinating characters, witty dialogue, captivating settings, and suspenseful story lines. Always fun reads, there is still the serious undertone of a murder to be solved. On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service is the eleventh book in this series, and each one is a treasure of exceptional narrative.

It is 1935 and Lady Georgie is still in Ireland at her fiance Darcy's castle after they both helped exonerate Darcy's father from a murder charge. But, Darcy has jut left for another of his "secret missions," and Georgie decides she needs to return to London to check on her request to the Queen. The request is an important one, a relinquishment from Lady Georgie of her place in the line of succession to the English throne, which is currently 35th. It must be granted before Georgie and Darcy can legally marry in England, as Darcy is Catholic and a royal cannot marry a Catholic.  Upon her arrival in London, Darcy finds two letters waiting for her at her brother's house, which used to be her house, too, and both of those letters end up working together to send Georgie to Italy. Georgie's friend Belinda is hidden away in Italy awaiting the birth of her baby and has asked Georgie to come stay with her, and the letter from the Queen is an invitation to tea, which results in the Queen giving Georgie a mission of her own while in Italy. Georgie is to act as spy at a house party given by a past school chum of hers where the Queen's son, David the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson are to be guests. The Queen fears that the couple are using this house party as a cover to marry.

After seeing Belinda, Georgie is off to the house party of her old school chum, who really wasn't quite a chum. It is an odd assortment of fellow party guests that Georgie encounters, with the first surprise being her mother Claire and her mother's fiance Max, a German industrialist. There is a German general and his aide and a couple of more German soldiers present, too. The hostess of the party has married into a wealthy, distinguished Italian family, and her husband is Mussolini's top aide. A very strange gathering for a house party indeed. And, one of the Germans is blackmailing Georgie's mother, who, of course, asks Georgie for help. The dynamics of Georgie's and her mother's relationship are always interesting to follow, but our dear Georgie is learning how to stand up for herself a bit.  The catty banter between Claire and Mrs. Simpson is something to not be missed, too. 

With secret meetings and locked doors, there is much to cause suspicion that there is more than just a house party occurring. Then, one of the Germans is murdered, and the stakes become life and death for everyone. Lady Georgie must not only try to determine who the murderer is, but she is determined to help her mother as well. As Georgie works frantically to put the puzzling pieces into a complete picture, she is barely one step ahead of her own demise. And, will Darcy take any part in this killer party? Well, you might want to look for some early signs of that.  Georgie and Darcy always have an entertaining way of showing up in the same places.

It is amazing how many things a book in this series can do. From entertaining with humor to thrilling with a murder mystery to sharing pivotal moments in history, the Royal Spyness series satisfies many appetites. The characters in these books, both old and new, are full of fascinating quirks and witty words. Of course, there is a masterful hand guiding all of these elements, and so kudos to the brilliant Rhys Bowen once again. On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service is a smash hit!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Blessed are the Peacemakers by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review


Blessed are the Peacemakers is the 5th Gabriella Giovanni mystery, and I am solidly addicted to their spell. I should know better than to start a book in this series at night, but I did it anyway and the next time I looked at the clock, it was 6:30 a.m. But, what a glorious night/morning of reading it was! Well worth any sleep lost or dreams missed. Can't imagine any dreams being better than this book. Gabriella and the danger she finds herself in make reading this series a thrill like few others. This character is smart, strong, and tenacious. She is a fierce defender of the truth and those she loves. Gabriella Giovanni is simply one of the best female characters in mystery/crime fiction.

In this latest chapter of Gabriella's life, she is once more in the role of protecting her family and trying to survive tough personal blows. Gabriella and her husband Sean Donovan have been married seven years, with their precious daughter a seven-year-old testament to their love. Living in her step-father's penthouse in San Francisco, with all the protection and luxury it provides gives her family a place to heal and relax after threats in the past. Gabriella has a job she loves as a crime beat reporter, and her husband has a job with the DEA. Looking forward to taking the first vacation with just the two of them since their marriage, Gabriella and Donovan must first get through a week of his absence on a DEA assignment. That vacation never comes, as Donovan's plane goes down in the jungles of Guatemala and he is presumed dead. After two months of barely being able to get out of bed, Gabriella decides that she must visit the area where the plane was last on radar, to find his body or learn what happened to him, as the DEA has ended their inquiries. The decision to travel to these jungles is one that will place Gabriella in a dangerous environment of nature and drug cartels, but she feels that she must endure it in order to put her life back together for her daughter and herself. 

Although Gabriella has had a senator's help in planning her trip, with a guide and arrangements on the ground set in place, Guatemala is a place where plans are seldom allowed to follow their intended course. The drug cartels make the rules and have their own plans. Gabriella Giovanni and Sean Donovan are pawns in a cut-throat business where human life is only as important as it is beneficial to the cartels. Gabriella soon learns that trust is a slippery slope of disappointment and dire consequences. Her quest to find her husband is a twist of the unexpected in the most gripping tales yet in this series. 

One of the many talents of author Kristi Belcamino is the ability to create suspense, the kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat excitement that keeps a reader racing along with the characters to escape danger and death. However, Belcamino also has a deft touch at the slower moments of suspense, where waiting behind a door in a breathless panic raises the reader's pulse along with the character waiting. This story and all the other Gabriella Giovanni stories, are participatory reading at its finest. All bets are off in the struggle to survive, and the moment-to-moment peril is palatable.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reads from My Past

When a book lover has a favorite book, it's rarely enough to own just one copy of the book or one format of it.  The book becomes a collector's item for the reader, who delights in finding anything from the original hardback or paperback to the audio version to a bobble doll of the main character.  So, it is with Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon for me.  It is without a doubt my favorite Stephen King novel, as well as one of my favorite novels.  This particular tale of King's is one of his shorter ones, 244 pages, but it is one of his most powerful, too.  I own book versions, audio, and the pop-up edition.  I haven't seen the movie version because I just don't want to take the risk of something so special being ruined by a movie adaptation.  The images I've formed in my mind from reading the book are truly too precious to ruin. 

Published in 1999, the Tom Gordon in the title was a real pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and it came out on April 6th that year, opening day for the 1999 Red Sox season.  It rose to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, and it was King's current book when he was hit by a car that June and almost died.  An article that gives great background on this book and King's relationship to it can be found @ http://www.tor.com/2015/07/24/the-great-stephen-king-reread-the-girl-who-loved-tom-gordon/  This  2015 article is written by Grady Hendrix, who is the author of the 2014 novel Horrorstor and the just released My Best Friend's Exorcism.  




Description from Publishers Weekly:
"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted." King's new novel, which begins with that sentence, has teeth, too, and it bites hard. Readers will bite right back. Always one to go for the throat, King crafts a story that concerns not just anyone lost in the Maine-New Hampshire woods, but a plucky nine-year-old girl, and from a broken home, no less. This stacked deck is flush with aces, however. King has always excelled at writing about children, and Trisha McFarland, dressed in jeans and a Red Sox jersey and cap when she wanders off the forest path, away from her mother and brother and toward tremendous danger, is his strongest kid character yet, wholly believable and achingly empathetic in her vulnerability and resourcefulness. Trisha spends nine days (eight nights) in the forest, ravaged by wasps, thirst, hunger, illness, loneliness and terror. Her knapsack with a little food and water helps, but not as much as the Walkman that allows her to listen to Sox games, a crucial link to the outside world. Love of baseball suffuses the novel, from the chapter headings (e.g., "Bottom of the Ninth") to Trisha's reliance, through fevered imagined conversations with him, on (real life) Boston pitcher Tom Gordon and his grace under pressure. King renders the woods as an eerie wonderland, one harboring a something stalking Trisha but also, just perhaps, God: he explicitly explores questions of faith here (as he has before, as in Desperation) but without impeding the rush of the narrative. Despite its brevity, the novel ripples with ideas, striking images, pop culture allusions and recurring themes, plus an unnecessary smattering of scatology. It's classic King, brutal, intensely suspenseful, an exhilarating affirmation of the human spirit.





                                          Tom Gordon








Pop-up Version of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon




                



















Audio Version of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, narrated by Anne Heche


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Path into Darkness by Lisa Alber: Reading Room Review


With the third installment of the County Clare Mysteries, Lisa Alber has cemented the series’ success. One of the descriptions heard in reviews of this series is that it is atmospheric, and that is indeed a delicious element of each book. There is always a lingering of the fey, both its positive and negative mysterious underpinnings. Another strength is Alber’s adeptness at developing interesting characters whose stories weave together from book to book, anchoring the readers to the community of Lisfenora, Ireland and its charm. 

The action gets underway quickly in Path into Darkness, with a local man called Elder Joe found murdered in his cottage. Series favorite Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern is called to the scene where he encounters the bloody corpse of his fellow Plough and Trough Pub patron and the person who found Elder Joe, Merrit Chase. Merrit, who hails from California, now resides in Lisfenora with her father, whom she had come to Ireland in search of, and who is the local matchmaker. As Danny and Merrit have a tense relationship, the investigation into the death begins on a troubling course for Danny. Add in that the investigation is beginning on a Saturday, the day that Danny takes his children to see their comatose mother in the hospital, a situation that Danny feels great guilt about, and it is a trying day indeed. 

Suspects are hard to come by for the murder of Elder Joe, even though he could be a rather reprehensible person. But, a relatively newcomer to the area, Nathan Tate, a potter, becomes a person of interest. Nathan has a troubled past, including a stay in a mental hospital, and his overbearing adult daughter Zoe, whom he abandoned as a teenager, has recently found him and moved in with him. The Tate family has lots of demons and secrets. Nathan’s slippery grip on reality and his memory lapses coupled with Zoe’s claim to be a healer make for some high drama and suspense. Danny must try to sort through what he can uncover to determine if Nathan is indeed a suspect.

The mixture of old and new characters in this story provides plenty of intrigue. Annie, another newcomer to the Lisfenora area, brings a whole other scenario for the murder of Elder Joe, and her journal entries scattered throughout the book provide titillating insight into a psychological mind game occurring. I was happy to see that Merrit had a larger part in this story, along with her father Liam, and their relationship. At this point in the series, Lisfenora has become a familiar place in whose residents the reader has vested affection and concern. I feel that Path into Darkness has solidified the bond between reader and characters that will continue forward. 

Path into Darkness deals with multiple stories, back stories and the murder at the forefront, but Lisa Alber deftly handles all the strings in the web, throwing in a twist or a turn, and brings all to a completed picture, which defies prediction. There are themes of resurrection, second chances, family secrets, family love, and unbearable grief running throughout this clever narrative. Get comfortable and keep a light on because once you start reading Path into Darkness, you will have to chase the thrill to the end.

I received a copy from the author of this book, and I have given a clear, unbiased review.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal: Reading Room Review




The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal is #7 in the Maggie Hope Mystery series set during WWII. I have been an ardent fan of this series since the beginning, and I was rather surprised when I realized that we were to the seventh title already. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, or when you’re reading an amazing series. What first engaged me in this series was the absolute connection to Maggie in her surroundings, war-torn London. MacNeal had brought the feeling of walking down a bomb ravaged street in London in 1939 into sharp focus for readers. Through Maggie Hope, we see history as if it’s unfolding before us. And, here we are at book #7, and the author has never wavered from bringing the reader into the scene, immersing us into a time and place where history so affected our future.

It is now 1942, and Maggie, through her called-in favor from the Queen of England, is in Paris, which is occupied by the Germans, as is the rest of France--well, except for Vichy France, whose rule is maintained by a Nazi-collaborating Frenchman. But it is Paris, the city of lights, where Maggie awaits her documentation allowing her to enter daily life in this tightly controlled German military zone. What she finds when she does get her new identification and papers is a city covered in swastika banners and muted life. The city of lights has lost its once brilliant color and amore. Posing as an Irish young woman who has come to Paris to shop for her bridal trousseau, Maggie settles into the Ritz Hotel, where the German Luftwaffe is headquartered. Because Ireland is neutral in the War, she is granted freedom to move around as she pleases. But, of course, there is always the watchful eye of the Gestapo and whoever may be collaborating with them. “Trust no one” is advice that is given to Maggie upon her entry into Paris. Her real purpose in getting herself smuggled into this dangerous place as a spy is to find a SOE, Special Operations Executive, agent whose communications have gone rather odd of late. Also, Maggie is in pursuit of her half-sister, who was last seen in Paris when she escaped from the safety of the SOE handlers. 

The characters include some with whom we are familiar from earlier books, and it certainly is to the reader’s advantage to have read the preceding six stories in the series, as the bonds with those characters will be stronger.  Of course, the story is so captivating that prior reading isn't essential.  There is also a whole new cast of characters, consisting of German officers and French spies and the lovely addition of Coco Chanel. Coco’s befriending of Maggie is another avenue of exploring the conditions of occupied Paris, how the fashion capitol of the world dealt with fashion and its continuation through the hardships of war. Also, the inclusion of Maggie’s friends and fellow agents, Hugh Thompson and Sarah Sanderson, who are undercover as part of the Paris ballet company, is a window into the arts in Paris at this time. The Germans may have been monsters, but their interest in the finer things of life allowed the artistic and musical talent to survive, albeit under the strict regulations and pillaging of the Nazi regime. 

On the line in these behind-the-scenes war efforts is the Allied invasion of France, keeping the location of Normandy a secret. It’s a win or lose the war move that Churchill and those working in the secret organizations of the British war-fighting machine are desperate to protect at all costs. Sacrifice has never meant more or been so great. Evil has never been more threatening to take over.  Maggie and her fellow spies know what is at stake.

This book may be my favorite yet in the Maggie Hope series, mainly because the history of Paris under Nazi rule is such a fascinating subject, and Susan Elia MacNeal spins a suspenseful, gripping story out of real people and circumstances, facing peril with their every step. There is no comfort of home or time off for the participants in this drama. Every day is a challenge to make it through alive. The story will seize you with its life and death struggles in a fight to prevent the Nazi takeover of the world. The author recreates the feelings and sacrifices of these brave spies in this powerful narrative that will make it all too real to the reader.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

On September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, four young African American girls went to church.  Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley never got to return home that day.  They were killed in a racially motivated bombing at their church, 16th Street Baptist Church.  Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund is not the story of those four girls, but instead is a tribute to their spirits, who do occasionally appear.  It is the story of the city of Birmingham itself at that turbulent moment in history, of its people, black and white, and how the Civil Rights movement played out there.  Told through the viewpoints of different characters from different ends of the racial divide,  it's not a pretty story, but it is one that bears revisiting.  

Sena Jeter Naslund is a favorite author of mine, and this powerful book is probably my favorite of her books.  She is an author who is a master at taking epic subjects and making them into unforgettable stories.  


 
Book Jacket Description: 
From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's Wife comes an inspiring, brilliantly rendered new novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation.

Written with the same scope and emotional depth as her previous award-winning novel, Four Spirits is set in Sena Jeter Naslund's home city of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in the 1960s was known as Bombingham. Naslund brings to life this tumultuous time, weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, civil rights advocates and racists, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression, to create a tapestry of American social transformation.

Stella Silver is an idealistic, young white college student brought up by her genteel, mannered aunts. She first witnesses the events of the freedom movement from a safe distance but, along with her friend Cat Cartwright, is soon drawn into the mounting conflagration. Stella's and Cat's lives are forever altered by their new friendships with other committed freedom fighters.

A student at a black college, Christine Taylor is inspired to action by the examples of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. She courageously struggles to balance her family responsibilities, education, and work with the passions and dangers of the demonstrations. Her friend Gloria Callahan, a gifted young cellist and descendant of a runaway slave, tries to move beyond her personal shyness and family coziness to enter a wider circle, including blacks and whites, men and women, all involved with the protests. Lionel Parrish, teacher, preacher, and peddler of funeral insurance, battles his own demons of lust and self-preservation, while New York activist Jonathan Green gives up a promising career as a pianist to work for racial justice in the South.

These characters all add their voices to the chorus that makes up this symphony of innocent children and the mythic elderly, the devoutly religious and the skeptical humanist, the wealthy and the poor, the city and the country. Poignant and evocative, rich in historical detail, and filled with the humanity that is the hallmark of Naslund's fiction, Four Spirits is a compelling tale that transcends tragedy and evokes redemptive triumph.
 




Author's Notes:  When I was a college student in the early sixties in Birmingham, Alabama, I promised myself, if I ever did become a novelist, that I would write about the acts of courage and tragedy taking place in my city. I would try to re-create through words what it was like to be alive then; how ordinary life went on, how people fell in and out of love, how family members got sick, how people worked ordinary jobs, tried to get an education, worshiped, looked for entertainment, grew up, died, participated in the great changes of the civil rights struggle or stood aside and watched the world change.

There were many horrors and haunting events but none more powerful than the murder of the four young girls to whom this book is dedicated. In my imagination they stand in a sacred circle, a ring of fire around them. I do not step into that Circle. That is to say, I do not try to re-create them. Their families and friends are holding them dear the way they really were.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Brooklyn Wars by Triss Stein: Reading Room Review



  
One of the greatest pleasures of reading is learning about unfamiliar places, being surprised at how interesting a place is that you hadn't given much thought to.  In the Erica Donato series by Triss Stein, I have fallen in love with Brooklyn, New York and its rich, diverse history which comes into play in the present day.  The character of Erica Donato was brilliantly created by the author to be a cultural historian working on her PhD in urban history.  Through the connection of Erica doing research for her dissertation and her part-time job at the Brooklyn History Museum, there are plenty of opportunities for mysteries from the past and even murder.  Many people don't want the past disturbed, and Erica comes to realize that some will even kill to keep it quiet.  Her natural inclination to uncover the secrets of the past and relate them to the present often places her right in the path of danger.

In this, #4 of the series, Erica is investigating the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was a big part of our country's WWII effort and employed 70,000 plus at its height of operation.  She has decided that because of the Yard's important history, even before WWII and after, and because of current plans being made to redevelop the area, she needs to include a chapter about it in her dissertation.  Attending a community meeting about redevelopment plans at the Navy Yard's Museum, Erica discovers that there are lots of emotions and opinions concerning the Yard's history and future.  Looking around after the meeting in an isolated and condemned area of the Navy Yard known as Admirals' Row, Erica is a witness to murder.  Although she doesn't get a look at the shooter, she realizes that the dead man is the speaker at the just finished meeting.  Erica learns that the man, Michael Conti, has a long personal history with the Navy Yard as a political and financial opportunist, having betrayed those who looked to him to save the Yard when it closed for his own personal gain.  Things, as usual, become complicated when Erica decides she needs to find out all she can about Michael Conti to include in her research and paper, and there is much to find.  Erica even gets entangled in the relationships of the women in his life.





As fate would have it, or the author's clever maneuverings would, Erica's teenage daughter is doing a history of her father's family as a school project.  Since Erica's husband died when her daughter Chris was just three, Erica hasn't had much contact with her mother-in-law, but Chris instigates a trip to see her grandmother in Buffalo to talk about the family history, and Erica has no choice but to go.  While looking through old boxes of family documents and pictures and mementos there, Erica is surprised to learn that there is a connection to the Brooklyn Navy Yard through her late husband's family, a "Rosie the Riveter" girl named Philomena.  Philomena and some of her brothers worked at the Yard during WWII, and Philomena lost her job to men returning from the war at its end.  But, there is more than just a fading memory of a young girl who was part of history and who died young.  There is a mystery of her disappearing boyfriend and her family's association with the man Erica saw murdered.  It does seem that Brooklyn is like a spider web, with many strings of interlacing points from the past to the present.

With this addition to the series, Erica Donato finds herself on the cusp of several life changes.  Her time as a student and working on her dissertation is coming to a close, she has some major revelations about her personal relationships, and she faces the transition from student to searching for employment in her field of study.  Triss Stein has developed Erica's character and her journey to this point in a plausible and fascinating progression.  With each book, the reader has greater insight into Erica, just as Erica has greater insight into herself.  The supporting characters are also well-drawn, and their stories are unfolding in a timely manner that keeps pace with Erica's development.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Triss Stein is a master at intertwining great storytelling with engaging history in a story-rich setting.  Her research is exceptional, rooting out all the behind-the-scenes aspects that make any history intriguing.  Her love and respect for Brooklyn is evident.  I recommend that in reading this captivating series, you come for the story, but be prepared to leave with that and an appreciation for Brooklyn as a major player in our country's history.  Brooklyn Wars is a book you will enjoy on many levels.


I received an advanced reader's copy of Brooklyn Wars from the author in exchange for this objective review.