Thursday, December 7, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Second Looks at Past Books

Philip Pullman is an author widely known for his children's books The Dark Materials series.  The Golden Compass was made into a popular movie that I very much enjoyed.  He has at long last come out with at sequel to these books, The Book of Dust, this fall.  However, it is another series of Philip Pullman's that is dear to my heart, that is one of the few set of books that I want to reread.  The four books in the Sally Lockhart series are books that I would love for everyone I know to read.  Reading them is an experience that I long to talk about with my other book loving friends.  Maybe I should start gifting them to ensure that.  I couldn't possibly pick out just one to feature, so I am including descriptions for all four books.  You can buy them as a boxed set, which would make a great Christmas gift for readers aged 10 to 110. 

The four book titles, in order of publication, are The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well, and The Tin Princess.  The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North were made into movies in 2006 and 2007 by the BBC and starred Billie Piper, of Doctor Who fame.  I haven't seen these movies, a conscious decision to not risk spoiling what are treasured reads for me.  I'm wavering a bit on that decision these days, since Billie Piper does portray Sally.  

Below, I have a mixture of jacket descriptions and my reviews.  For #1, The Ruby in the Smoke, and #4, The Tin Princess, I have given the jacket descriptions.  For #2, The Shadow in the North, and #3, The Tiger in the Well, I have given my shortened reviews.  I found the jacket descriptions for #2 and #3 rather lacking in, well, description, and that is the reason for the reviews instead.  I've also included two covers for each book, both owned by me.

Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty. Her knowledge of English literature, French, history, art and music is non-existent, but she has a thorough grounding in military tactics, can run a business, ride like a Cossack and shoot straight with a pistol. When her dear father is drowned in suspicious circumstances in the South China Sea, Sally is left to fend for herself, an orphan and alone in the smoky fog of Victorian London. Though she doesn't know it, Sally is already in terrible danger. Soon the mystery and the danger will deepen - and at the rotten heart of it all lies the deadly secret of the ruby in the smoke...


Pullman is a great storyteller--characters, plot, setting are all beautifully and deftly developed. The Sally Lockhart series is as engaging a mystery series as you'll find. Sally, who is now 22, and her friends/business partners are a delightfully intelligent group who come upon a major mystery that joins a magician's trouble with some shadowy pursuers and a retired teacher's loss of investment money. Something insidious is entrapping Victorian England, and Sally's life becomes    dependent upon discovering its source.


Nail-biting best describes the third book in the Sally Lockhart mysteries by Philip Pullman. Sally Lockhart, now 25, endures much in The Tiger in the Well, as her life is turned upside down by an unseen and unknown enemy. At the center of the chaos is the attempt to take Sally's daughter, Harriet, from her. Two of her staunchest allies, Jim Taylor and Webster Garland are away on a trip to South America, and so are completely unaware of Sally's crumbling world. A man is claiming to be Sally's husband and accusing her of abandonment, seeking her assets and her child. The plot thickens and thickens and thickens again in this unnerving mystery. Help comes from unexpected sources, but it is ultimately Sally alone who must face an evil from her past and confront its secrets. Once again, Sally Lockhart must prove herself strong and able in a world where women are considered anything but.


Sally Lockhart's friend and partner-in-adventure Jim Taylor has just solved a mystery. For years he's been searching for Adelaide, the little girl enslaved by toothless crone Mrs Holland in The Ruby in the Smoke. And now he's found her - just as she's about to become a princess. Crown Princess of Razkavia, to be exact, and a princess in danger. Her future husband is desperate to protect his bride, and employs Jim as their bodyguard - Razkavia's quaint little streets are full of danger.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Favorites from My Past Reading

Today's Throw-Back Thursday selection is from author Matthew Pearl.  I've been a fan of this author since his debut novel, The Dante Club, published in 2003.  He has been referred to as a master of the popular literary historical thriller.  I would add mystery onto that, as in thriller/mystery.  His other fiction books include The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens, The Technologists, and The Last Bookaneer.  He has also written some non-fiction books, and lots of short non-fiction and short fiction.  His next novel will be out the summer of 2018 and is entitled The Dante Chamber, a sequel or connected story to his first novel, The Dante Club.  Today I'm featuring Pearl's The Last Dickens.  So, here's look back at a favorite book of mine some readers might have missed.

Jacket Description:
Boston, 1870. When news of Charles Dickens’s untimely death reaches the office of his struggling American publisher, Fields & Osgood, partner James Osgood sends his trusted clerk Daniel Sand to await the arrival of Dickens’s unfinished novel. But when Daniel’s body is discovered by the docks and the manuscript is nowhere to be found, Osgood must embark on a transatlantic quest to unearth the novel that he hopes will save his venerable business and reveal Daniel’s killer.

Danger and intrigue abound on the journey to England, for which Osgood has chosen Rebecca Sand, Daniel’s older sister, to assist him. As they attempt to uncover Dickens’s final mystery, Osgood and Rebecca find themselves racing the clock through a dangerous web of literary lions and drug dealers, sadistic thugs and blue bloods, and competing members of Dickens’s inner circle. They soon realize that understanding Dickens’s lost ending is a matter of life and death, and the hidden key to stopping a murderous mastermind.

Reading Room Short Review:
The Last Dickens is a mystery that revolves around the last half of Charles Dickens' last book, The Mystery of Edward Drood. Dickens died of a stroke at age 58 having only submitted the first half of his last book for serial publication. Matthew Pearl creates a mystery of his own, with good vs. evil forces in pursuit of the missing last half of Edwin Drood. The facts about and insights into Dickens as an author and a person are interspersed into Pearl's novel with a marvelous even handedness. The world of publishing in the late 1800's, especially in America, adds to the intrigue and interest of this fascinating novel. The Last Dickens may well be Matthew Pearl's best to date of his literary fiction offerings

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen was just the perfect book for me to read at this time. As I am unpacking Christmas decorations and putting ornaments on the tree, I couldn't have asked for a better book to start bringing out my Christmas spirit. I am a fan of all the Molly Murphy books, but this one was was so timely and its story was such a gift. I had thought to save it for closer to Christmas, but I'm so happy that I didn't wait.

Molly has had a most trying year in 1906, with the nightmare of being in the San Francisco earthquake and suffering a miscarriage. Husband Daniel's job with the NYCPD is in jeopardy due to his commitment to honor and not Tammany Hall. And, Bridie's father has contacted Molly and Daniel saying he plans to return and take Bridie, their precious ward, back to Ireland with him. Depression has settled in to haunt Molly, and she is hoping for a nice, quiet Christmas at home in Patchin Place in Greenwich Village with Daniel, son Liam, and Bridie. When Daniel's mother arranges for them to be invited to a mansion on the Hudson in the country where she is staying, along with her young maid-in-training Ivy, for Christmas, Daniel decides it will be a good change of pace and a relaxing opportunity for Molly. So, off they go to experience a grand style Christmas in a picturesque setting.

However, it doesn't take long for Molly to get a sense of all not being right with their hosts, the Van Aikens. Learning of their daughter's disappearance ten years prior when the girl was only three years at Christmas time old helps to explain Winnie Van Aiken's melancholy state. Winnie's husband Cedric seems quite past it though. There is much to enjoy at this magnificent estate for Molly and her family over the holidays, and it does help to lift Molly's spirits. More of the old Molly comes back when a young girl appears at the Van Aikens' door on Christmas Eve claiming to be their long-lost daughter Charlotte, and Molly works her investigative skills trying to put the pieces of this extraordinary puzzle together. There are some great unexpected twists that only make sense when the whole picture is revealed. 

For those of us who are steadfast followers of the Molly Murphy series, you will be delighted with this new addition. Although it has some darkness to it, I didn't at any point feel that as the overwhelming tone. For those who are just now reading the first Molly Murphy in this Christmas book, you too will be thrilled, and, of course, you will develop a great desire and need to go back and read the series from the beginning. Rhys Bowen is such a master storyteller, combining the elements of character, plot, and setting into tales that captivate the reader. The historical details that run throughout this series and Bowen's Lady Georgie series are smoothly intertwined and spot on accurate. It's not hard to imagine how readers become invested in this author's characters, who are both true to their period of time and yet wanting more of their lives and the world. Take a look at The Ghost of Christmas Past's cover and know that what's inside is as wonderful as the outside.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe: Reading Room Review

To say that Anna Blanc is a woman ahead of her time in 1908 is the definition of understatement. Her bravery and commitment in being an independent woman is undeniable. Forsaking a life of leisure and riches as the daughter of a wealthy banker to pursue a career in police work defies her contemporaries’ understanding and resulted in her father disowning her. Introduced to Anna in The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, readers will be delighted to learn that she hasn’t changed her unconventional ways of pursuing criminals in this second book. While exasperating to her ex-boyfriend, Detective Joe Singer, Anna is as focused and dedicated an investigator as there is, even though that’s not supposed to be her job. Police matrons, as the scarce number of women employees in the department were called at that time, were limited to dealing with women prisoners and children. Of course, Anna is the exception to almost any rule of the day. Beautiful, smart, and resourceful make Anna a force to be reckoned with, but her compassion for victims is her stimulus for pursuing a case. 

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk takes us into the Chinatown area of Los Angeles, a part of the city that is dangerous and perplexing to those who aren’t of that ethnic affiliation. The LA policemen assigned to the China Squad, including Joe Singer, walk a fine line between keeping the peace and working within the framework of Chinese culture. It’s no place for a woman, but women are a large part of this story, and being a woman hasn't yet deterred Anna. A white missionary woman is found dead in a trunk in the living quarters of a Chinese man, and the Chinese landlord’s wife won’t talk to the policemen, key word being men. So, with more than a little reluctance, Anna is sent with Detective Joe Silver to interview the Chinese woman. Anna’s toe is in, and after viewing the remains of the missionary in the trunk, she is intent on inserting her whole being into the investigation. An investigation that must be kept secret, as the repercussions to Chinatown and its residents would be bloody and relentless if knowledge that a white woman was discovered dead in a Chinese man’s room, and that the Chinese man was her lover. With the lover missing, solving the murder looks to be a long shot, but long shots are Anna’s favorite causes. She and Joe must navigate the warring factions of the two major tongs, or gangs, as well as a community whose distrust of white people is well ingrained. But, an unexpected development makes the case personal to Anna, and nothing will deter her from pursuing a resolution, not even Joe’s dating other women to find a wife. Anna does, however, begin to have some second thoughts about turning down Joe’s proposal to her. 

Jennifer Kincheloe does so many things well and right in this book. When the beginning sentence to the book is “Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man,” the reader knows it’s going to be a remarkable story. The historical detail, from Anna’s clothes to police procedure to cultural prejudices, is well researched and flows seamlessly into the story. The humor that Kincheloe infuses into the life of Anna is a major point of enjoyment, starting with Anna’s living arrangements. Surrounded by her riches of belongings she brought with her when kicked out by her father, she is crammed into a low rent room, continually behind in her rent. The plots are clever and layered, with unexpected connections to the past. 

I thank the publishers for providing an advanced reader’s copy for this book in a series that I find so much enjoyment in. Jennifer Kincheloe has proved herself an author to follow.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

Today's Throw-Back Thursday selection, The Loop, was prompted by a video I recently viewed about the introduction of 14 wolves from Canada into Yellowstone Park in 1995.  The videos show how the introduction of these wolves saved Yellowstone and even changed the course of rivers.  Below is a link to this video.  Now, under the current administration, there is a leaning towards and steps already taken to withdraw protection of wolves.  The pro-wolf and anti-wolf factions are both fierce and committed.  I've also provided a link to and a jacket description of a recent non-fiction book entitled American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee (Crown Publishing, Oct. 2017).  It addresses this passionate debate through "the enthralling story of the rise and reign of O-Six, the celebrated Yellowstone wolf, and the people who loved or feared her."

But first, before the non-fiction links, I present to you an amazing novel by Nicholas EvansThe Loop is on my list of all-time favorite novels, a story that is impossible for me to forget and one I plan on rereading soon.  I rarely make time to reread a book, so it speaks strongly to the special impact of The Loop that I will do so.  Evans has written other outstanding novels, such as The Horse Whisperer, The Smoke Jumper, The Divide, and The Brave.  His writing has slowed down due to a near-death experience eating mushrooms, which ultimately resulted in dialysis and a kidney transplant.  I'm hoping he returns to writing these deep, soul searching stories soon.  It's been quite a while since we've heard from him.

Jacket Description:
A pack of wolves makes a sudden savage return to the Rocky Mountain ranching town of Hope, Montana, where a century earlier they were slaughtered by the thousands. Biologist Helen Ross has come to Hope from the East, fleeing a life in shambles, determined to save the wolves from those who seek to destroy them. But an ancient hatred awaits her in Hope, a hatred that will tear a family and ultimately the community apart. And soon Helen is at the center of the storm, by loving the wrong man, by defying the wrong man . . . by daring to lead a town out of the violent darkness of its past. . . .

Yellowstone Wolves Videos:     

Jacket Description:
Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.

With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. Uncommonly powerful, with gray fur and faint black ovals around each eye, O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.

But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s 

Penguin Random House Link for American Wolf with Author Q & A


Monday, November 13, 2017

November Nuggets

I have lagged behind this year on posting monthly previews of what's new in the coming month, but in an effort to get back on track, I'm offering a few choice nuggets for the month of November.  It's a great month for reading.  Grab one, two, three, or more of these books and find yourself a nice cozy corner to curl up in and take a break from the upcoming Thanksgiving doings.  I've included one book that isn't out in the U.S. yet, but it is out in the U.K. and available through Book Depository and other UK vendors.  I've included the 4th Stephens and Mephisto book by Elly Griffiths because there have been a some people who have asked me about it, and some of us just can't wait until next year for it.  

November 7th


November 13th

November 14th


The UK Edition out November 2nd

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gia and the Forgotten Island by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review

Gia Valentina Santella is back for a second novel, and she is ramping up the action in her chosen neighborhood of the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Having lost her parents, her brother, and her godfather to murder in the recent past, Gia has adopted the people of the Tenderloin as her family, those that she will fight for with all her being. Of course, Gia is also fighting her own demons of drinking, personal relationships, and inherited business responsibilities. Still, this young Italian-American woman is a karate-trained, intelligent, passionate, and resourceful person who is willing to jump into the fray to protect or save those about whom she cares. Author Kristi Belcamino gives us this wonderful character who is able to rise above her own hot mess of a self and be the person who anyone would be lucky to have on their side. 

With enough inherited money to generously give to herself and others, Gia is having her old apartment building that burned to the ground rebuilt with major improvements for all the tenants who lost their homes and possessions in the fire. After all, it was because of Gia that the fire was set. While waiting for the building to be finished, Gia catches wind of the disappearance of some the Tenderloin’s homeless, in particular, African-American homeless. When a hate group decides to hold a rally in Gia’s beloved area, counter-protestors show up, too, and there are those attending bent on provoking the peaceful protestors. Then Gia’s friend Darling’s granddaughter, who is a journalist for the U.C. Berkley student newspaper is kidnapped from the rally, and the Darling asks Gia for her help in finding Sasha. Sasha was working on a story that would rock the political scene in San Francisco, so her disappearance is especially alarming and time to find her is of the essence. With Darling counting on Gia, we see the best of what Gia can be, and we see it in non-stop action. In her pursuit of Sasha, Gia will uncover a heinous plan to destroy the Tenderloin. The stakes are high in this latest Gia Santella adventure, and every page is a thrill to read.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

Today is the last Thursday in October, the last before Halloween, so I'm featuring an author today, not just one book.  Katherine Howe is an outstanding choice to finish off this haunting season with.  Her writing has delved deeply into the world of witchcraft and the supernatural, with her non-fiction book The Penguin Book of Witches being a well-respected and fascinating account of witches, witch hunts, and persecutions of the falsely accused.  The fiction selections, beginning with The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, are stories connecting the present and the past in some other worldly directions.  Here are Katherine and her amazing books.

                                                                    Katherine Howe

Jacket Description:From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft.

Jacket Description:
A spellbinding, beautifully written novel that moves between contemporary times and one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history--the Salem witch trials.

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman's story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation.

Jacket Description:
It’s July in New York City, and aspiring filmmaker Wes Auckerman has just arrived to start his summer term at NYU. While shooting a séance at a psychic’s in the East Village, he meets a mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful girl named Annie.

As they start spending time together, Wes finds himself falling for her, drawn to her rose-petal lips and her entrancing glow. There’s just something about her that he can’t put his finger on, something faraway and otherworldly that compels him to fall even deeper. Annie’s from the city, and yet she seems just as out of place as Wes feels. Lost in the chaos of the busy city streets, she’s been searching for something—a missing ring. And now Annie is running out of time and needs Wes’s help. As they search together, Annie and Wes uncover secrets lurking around every corner, secrets that will reveal the truth of Annie’s dark past.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

With Halloween quickly approaching, today's selection needed to be something deliciously scary and appropriately atmospheric.  I could think of nothing better than the best Dracula related tale I know, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  It is brilliant and one of my top ten favorite books ever.  

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history....Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of-a labyrinth where the secrets of her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known-and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself-to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed-and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler's dark reign-and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions-and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad's ancient powers-one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful-and utterly unforgettable.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton: Reading Room Review

Careful with this one. This story is going to grab you in and not let go until you finish it, and probably not even then. Dead Woman Walking is Sharon Bolton at her dead-on best. I first start reading Bolton through her stand-alones, and although I always crave more Lacey Flint stories, I have to admit that stories don't get any more thrilling than this latest one. That I was rather perturbed about one of the twists, and there are some stunners, and I am still blown away by the genius of this plot, says that the story has a power of enormous magnitude. The characters are as sturdy as the Northumberland setting and often as unpredictable, but their complexity is in perfect step with the unfolding of a deeply layered tale. The physical action and the psychological drama will run you ragged, and you will thank Sharon Bolton for every minute of it. 

The story starts off simply enough. Two sisters, Jessica and Isabel, and Jessica is treating her older sister to a hot-air balloon ride for Isabel's fortieth birthday. But, as the thirteen people in the balloon's rectangular basket are floating over the moorlands of Northumberland National Park in the northernmost region of England, they witness the unthinkable, a man murdering a woman among the ruins of an ancient hilltop house. And the man has seen them watching. Desperate to elude the man on the ground, who is following the balloon on a quad bike, the balloon meets disaster and crashes. There is but one survivor, one of the sisters, who had eye contact with the killer and now must run for her life on the ground as he pursues the last link to his criminal actions. And, yet, finding a safe place is a challenging matter, what with a concussion and some complicated issues with the police. Danger is palatable on every page, and suspense has you in a firm grip as the hunter and the prey confound and reveal. 

To say more about this book would risk spoiling the read for those who haven't had the intense experience yet. Suffice it to give one last warning. Dead Woman Walking will rock your desire for a top thriller read, but hang on tight, because some twists may turn you inside out.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

I can't let a throw-back Thursday in October go by without a nod to my first and favorite storyteller of scary tales.  Edgar Allan Poe is a must-read for this wonderful season of fright.  I chose this edition of his writings because I think Penguin does the classics better than any other publisher.  So, don't let this Halloween pass you by without visiting the master of the macabre. 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
 Only this, and nothing more."

Jacket Description:
The Portable Poe compiles Poe's greatest writings: tales of fantasy, terror, death, revenge, murder, and mystery, including "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the world's first detective story. In addition, this volume offers letters, articles, criticism, visionary poetry, and a selection of random "opinions" on fancy and the imagination, music and poetry, intuition and sundry other topics.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Trevega House (Davies and West Mystery #3) by Will North: Reading Room Review

Trevega House by Will North is the third book in the Davies & West Mysteries set in Cornwall, England, and it is as solid a mystery as they come. Book three has catapulted this series into serious contention as an award worthy one. There is much with which to be satisfied and captivated in Trevega House. North has great talent in creating characters in whom the reader becomes invested. Morgan Davies and Calum West head the list of these characters, but most authors can do main characters well. Will North shows his character genius in bringing to life even the most minor of characters, with a special knack for the circle of characters directly surrounding Davies and West. And, in this book, we are even given the pleasure of revisiting some characters from another book of Will North's, not in the Davies & West series. Of course, descriptions of the Cornish countryside are another area of author expertise, borne out by the fact that North has spent enough time in Cornwall (and Devon) to actually have written walking guides to the areas. The descriptions are never heavy-handed, just particularly enough to ensure the charm and beauty of Cornwall shines through. And, then there is that other skill in storytelling that the author possesses to make a complete success of this book. The plot is smart, even-paced, engrossing, and unpredictable, and the story is written with a voice that echoes the old and embraces the new. So, all the bases are covered to result in, as I mentioned at the beginning, a solid success of a read.

Nicola Rhys-Jones and Andrew Stratton (from the novel Water, Stone, Heart) and their twelve-year-old nearly adopted daughter Lee are living in Trevega House, just south of the historic artists' colony of St. Ives in Cornwall. It has been three years since the massive flooding of Boscastle and the death of Lee's parents. Andrew, an architect, is still learning the art of stone wall building, and Nicola, an artist, is bringing the estate's garden back to glory. Their safe haven has been provided by Nicola's ex-father-in-law, Sir Michael Rhys-Jones, who owns the house and surrounding lands and loves Nicola like a daughter. But, the safe haven is under threat. Lee, who is already stunningly prescient and getting more so, warns that "Someone wants to do us harm. Someone evil" 

The discovery in a pasture on the Trevega estate of a bullock with its throat savagely cut and left to bleed out is found by Lee he escalation of danger to a burning building on the property next and a near miss of someone dying in that fire, there seems to be more to investigate and less to dismiss. More threatening incidents follow, and at last a murder occurs in the area. The connections are too close to ignore, and the tearself. Close inspection reveals that the bullock was killed by someone who meant maximum harm. With Sir Michael being a close friend of DCI Arthur Penwarren, the DCI calls in Davies and West to visit the scene of the killing. As expected, Detective Inspector Morgan Davies is not happy to be sent on such a case and views it as quite beneath her skills and concern. However, with them at Bodmin faces a challenge of rooting out a person who may have gone from murdering an animal to murdering a human being. Watching Davies and West and the rest of the team work is a suspenseful thrill, the interrogating and forensics leading to and away from suspects. 

I received a copy of Trevega House from the publishers for an honest review. I can assure readers that this book is the real deal, what mystery/crime readers crave in their search for excellence. The Davies and West series is now a sought after series for those who like a little murder along their Cornish walking path. 

Links to Reading Room Reviews of the first two Davies & West mysteries: 

Harm None by Will North

Too Clever by Half by Will North


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

One of my favorite books from my twenties (and still) is Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  What better selection for an October throw-back read than tales from the graves, from the people who weren't able or willing to tell their stories while alive.  So, grab a blanket throw and a cup of your favorite warm beverage, then settle in to read some secrets from the cemetery.  

Jacket Description:
In 1915, Edgar Lee Masters published a book of dramatic monologues written in free verse about a fictional town called Spoon River, based on the Midwestern towns where he grew up. The shocking scandals and secret tragedies of Spoon River were immediately recognized by readers as authentic. Masters raises the dead “sleeping on the hill” in their village cemetery to tell the truth about their lives, and their testimony topples the American myth of the moral superiority of small-town life. Spoon River, as undeniably corrupt and cruel as the big city, is home to murderers, drunkards, crooked bankers, lechers, bitter wives, abusive husbands, failed dreamers, and a few good souls. The freshness of this masterpiece undiminished, Spoon River Anthology remains a landmark of American literature.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford: Reading Room Review

Jamie Ford likes to make people cry, and he is completely unapologetic about it. But, of course, his stories so affect even the most resolutely determined thick-skinned reader. Ford's third book, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, is yet another epic historical fiction tale, with a tender and hard-fought-for love story at the heart of it. No one commands the English language better than Jamie Ford in taking readers on a journey through time, revealing not only a history and secrets of a human life, but bringing to life past periods of time in our country, in particular Seattle, where we can taste the cotton candy of a World's Fair and see the exploding fireworks and feel both the joy and despair of people constricted by their circumstances of birth. Life is hard and ugly and simple and complex and precious and beautiful, and Ford doesn't let readers miss a minute of its movement from point A to point B.

Ernest Young starts his difficult journey in China, born to a Chinese mother and a Caucasian father, a circumstance that immediately marks him as "different," a standout where standing out is not a desired trait. At the age of five, he is left by his starving mother in a cemetery to be collected by a man from America to sail to that new country with other young boys and girls. Ernest, who is given that name at a later date, survives the voyage and arrival in America against all odds. His first seven years are spent in a blur of wrong placements and a somewhat fortunate break for some education. However, it is when Ernest is twelve that his life takes a turn for the placement and adventure that will solidly shape his future. He is raffled off at the 1909 World's Fair in Seattle, and the winner is the Madam of the city's nicest brothel. 

Life at the brothel, named the Tenderloin, is better than Ernest has ever had it before. He is accepted into his role as the house boy by the other servants, and it seems at last he has a place where he feels he belongs. There is even someone he knows working as a kitchen girl, the girl that gave him comfort on his long ocean voyage years before, Fahn. Fahn and another young girl, Maisie, who is the madam's daughter, become instrumental in affecting the choices and paths that lead Ernest to adulthood. The trio form a bond that transcends time and space and pain of separation. 

And, the story is also about Ernest as a grown man of 65, who is grappling with a wife who doesn't always recognize him, a resurgence of memories brought on by the new 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, and the risk of long buried secrets surfacing to be discovered by his two adult daughters. The lives of those he loves have always been the most important concern for Ernest, and his struggle to keep promises and his world upright is put to the final test.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Halloween Reading Post 1: Short Story Collections by the Masters

Some old tales for you by the masters of the scary and the macabre  Enjoy your scare and then prepare to sleep with the light on in your reading room.

Some old favorites:

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
Jacket Description:
 One might not expect a woman of Edith Wharton's literary stature to be a believer of ghost stories, much less be frightened by them, but as she admits in her postscript to this spine-tingling collection, "...till I was twenty-seven or -eight, I could not sleep in the room with a book containing a ghost story." Once her fear was overcome, however, she took to writing tales of the supernatural for publication in the magazines of the day. These eleven finely wrought pieces showcase her mastery of the traditional New England ghost story and her fascination with spirits, hauntings, and other supernatural phenomena. Called "flawlessly eerie" by Ms. magazine, this collection includes "Pomegranate Seed," "The Eyes," "All Souls'," "The Looking Glass," and "The Triumph of Night."

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghosts Stories by Roald Dahl

Jacket Description:
Who better to investigate the literary spirit world than that supreme connoisseur of the unexpected, Roald Dahl? Of the many permutations of the macabre or bizarre, Dahl was always especially fascinated by the classic ghost story. As he realtes in the erudite introduction to this volume, he read some 749 supernatural tales at the British Museum Library before selecting the 14 that comprise this anthology. "Spookiness is, after all, the real purpose of the ghost story," Dahl writes. "It should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts." For this superbly disquieting collection, Dahl offers favorite tales by such masterful storytellers as E. F. Benson, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Rosemary Timperley, and Edith Wharton.

Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
Jacket Description:
The melancholy, brilliance, passionate lyricism, and torment of Edgar Allan Poe are all well represented in this collection. Here, in one volume, are his masterpieces of mystery, terror, humor, and adventure, including stories such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Pit and the Pendulum, to name just a few, that defined American romanticism and secured Poe as one of the most enduring literary voices of the nineteenth century.

The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Jacket Description:
Haunting, harrowing, and downright horrifying, this classic collection from the modern master of the fantastic features:
THE SMALL ASSASSIN: a fine, healthy baby boy was the new mother's dream come true -- or her nightmare . . .
THE EMISSARY: the faithful dog was the sick boy's only connectioin with the world outside -- and beyond . . .
THE WONDERFUL DEATH OF DUDLEY STONE: a most remarkable case of murder -- the deceased was delighted!
And more!

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Introduced and Illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger
Jacket Description:
Collected and introduced by the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry—including her own fabulous new illustrations for each piece, and a new story by Niffenegger—this is a unique and haunting anthology of some of the best ghost stories of all time.

From Edgar Allen Poe to Kelly Link, M.R. James to Neil Gaiman, H. H. Munro to Audrey Niffenegger herself, Ghostly reveals the evolution of the ghost story genre with tales going back to the eighteenth century and into the modern era, ranging across styles from Gothic Horror to Victorian, with a particular bent toward stories about haunting—haunted children, animals, houses. Every story is introduced by Audrey Niffenegger, an acclaimed master of the craft, with some words on its background and why she chose to include it. Niffenegger’s own story is, “A Secret Life With Cats.”

Perfect for the classic and contemporary ghost story aficionado, this is a delightful volume, beautifully illustrated. Ghostly showcases the best of the best in the field, including Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, A.S. Byatt, Ray Bradbury, and so many more.

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, Edited by Leslie S. Klinger
Jacket Description:
"With an increasing distance from the twentieth century…the New England poet, author, essayist, and stunningly profuse epistolary Howard Phillips Lovecraft is beginning to emerge as one of that tumultuous period’s most critically fascinating and yet enigmatic figures," writes Alan Moore in his introduction to The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft.  Despite this nearly unprecedented posthumous trajectory, at the time of his death at the age of forty-six, Lovecraft's work had appeared only in dime-store magazines, ignored by the public and maligned by critics. Now well over a century after his birth, Lovecraft is increasingly being recognized as the foundation for American horror and science fiction, the source of "incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates).
In this volume, Leslie S. Klinger reanimates Lovecraft with clarity and historical insight, charting the rise of the erstwhile pulp writer, whose rediscovery and reclamation into the literary canon can be compared only to that of Poe or Melville. Weaving together a broad base of existing scholarship with his own original insights, Klinger appends Lovecraft's uncanny oeuvre and Kafkaesque life story in a way that provides context and unlocks many of the secrets of his often cryptic body of work.
Over the course of his career, Lovecraft―"the Copernicus of the horror story" (Fritz Leiber)―made a marked departure from the gothic style of his predecessors that focused mostly on ghosts, ghouls, and witches, instead crafting a vast mythos in which humanity is but a blissfully unaware speck in a cosmos shared by vast and ancient alien beings. One of the progenitors of "weird fiction," Lovecraft wrote stories suggesting that we share not just our reality but our planet, and even a common ancestry, with unspeakable, godlike creatures just one accidental revelation away from emerging from their epoch of hibernation and extinguishing both our individual sanity and entire civilization.
Following his best-selling The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Leslie S. Klinger collects here twenty-two of Lovecraft's best, most chilling "Arkham" tales, including "The Call of Cthulhu," At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Colour Out of Space," and others. With nearly 300 illustrations, including full-color reproductions of the original artwork and covers from Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, and more than 1,000 annotations, this volume illuminates every dimension of H. P. Lovecraft and stirs the Great Old Ones in their millennia of sleep.
280 color illustrations

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
Jacket Description:
From one of the greatest storytellers in modern times comes this classic collection of twenty-two works of fright and wonder…unforgettable tales that will take you to where your darkest fears await. Whether it’s a mysterious impenetrable mist camouflaging bizarre, otherworldly terrors that could herald the destruction of humanity…or an eerie-looking child’s toy that harbors an unimaginable evil…or four college students on a deserted lake encountering something that crosses the boundary of sanity…or a man suddenly given the omnipotent ability to quite literally edit his own reality…the extraordinary narratives found in Skeleton Crew are the enduring and irresistible proof that Stephen King is a true master of the short fiction form.


Spellbinders in Suspense edited by Alfred Hitchcock
Table of contents:
"The Chinese Puzzle Box" by Agatha Christie
"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
"The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier
"Puzzle For Poppy" by Patrick Quentin
"Eyewitness" by Robert Arthur
"Man From The South" by Roald Dahl
"Black Magic" by Sax Rohmer
"Treasure Trove" by F. Tennyson Jesse
"Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper" by Robert Bloch
"The Treasure Hunt" by Edgar Wallace
"The Man Who Knew How" by Dorothy L. Sayers
"The Dilemma of Grampa DuBois" by Clayre and Michel Lipman
"P. Moran, Diamond-Hunter" by Percival Wilde

The Penguin book of Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Newton
Jacket Description:
'The ghost is the most enduring figure in supernatural fiction. He is absolutely indestructible... He changes with the styles in fiction but he never goes out of fashion. He is the really permanent citizen of the earth, for mortals, at best, are but transients' - Dorothy Scarborough

This new selection of ghost stories, by Michael Newton, brings together the best of the genre. From Elizabeth Gaskell's 'The Old Nurse's Story' through to Edith Wharton's 'Afterword', this collection covers all of the most terrifying tales of the genre. With a thoughtful introduction, and helpful notes, Newton places the stories contextually within the genre and elucidates the changing nature of the ghost story and how we interpret it.


American Gothic Tales, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
Jacket Description:
Joyce Carol Oates has a special perspective on the “gothic” in American short fiction, at least partially because her own horror yarns rank on the spine-tingling chart with the masters. She is able to see the unbroken link of the macabre that ties Edgar Allan Poe to Anne Rice and to recognize the dark psychological bonds between Henry James and Stephen King. This remarkable anthology of gothic fiction, spanning two centuries of American writing, gives us an intriguing and entertaining look at how the gothic imagination makes for great literature in the works of forty-six exceptional writers.
In showing us the gothic vision—a world askew where mankind’s forbidden impulses are set free from the repressions of the psyche, and nature turns malevolent and lawless—Joyce Carol Oates includes Henry James’s “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” Herman Melville’s horrific tale of factory women, “The Tartarus of Maids,” and Edith Wharton’s “Afterward,” which are rarely collected and appear together here for the first time.
Added to these stories of the past are new ones that explore the wounded worlds of Stephen King, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, Raymond Carver, and more than twenty other wonderful contemporary writers. This impressive collection reveals the astonishing scope of the gothic writer’s subject matter, style, and incomparable genius for manipulating our emotions and penetrating our dreams. With Joyce Carol Oates’s superb introduction, American Gothic Tales is destined to become the standard one-volume edition of the genre that American writers, if they didn’t create it outright, have brought to its chilling zenith.

Coming Out October 10th from Penguin Classics:

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
Jacket Description:
After the publication of her short story “The Lottery” in the New Yorker in 1948 received an unprecedented amount of attention, Shirley Jackson was quickly established as a master horror storyteller. This collection of classic and newly reprinted stories provides readers with more of her unsettling, dark tales, including the “The Possibility of Evil” and “The Summer People.” In these deliciously dark stories, the daily commute turns into a nightmarish game of hide and seek, the loving wife hides homicidal thoughts and the concerned citizen might just be an infamous serial killer. In the haunting world of Shirley Jackson, nothing is as it seems and nowhere is safe, from the city streets to the crumbling country pile, and from the small-town apartment to the dark, dark woods. There’s something sinister in suburbia.

The Best of Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle 
Jacket Description:
Among the greats of 20th-century horror and fantasy, few names stand above Richard Matheson. Though known by many for novels like I Am Legend and his sixteen Twilight Zone episodes, Matheson truly shines in his chilling, masterful short stories. Since his first story appeared in 1950, virtually every major writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy has fallen under his influence, including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Joe Hill, as well as filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. Matheson revolutionized horror by taking it out of Gothic castles and strange cosmos and setting it in the darkened streets and suburbs we recognize as our own. He infused tales of the fantastic and supernormal with dark explorations of human nature, delving deep into the universal dread of feeling alone and threatened in a dangerous world. The Best of Richard Matheson brings together his greatest hits as chosen by Victor LaValle, an expert on horror fiction and one of its brightest talents, marking the first major overview of Matheson's legendary career. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Throw-Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

Sometimes, life gets busy, and you forget what day of the week it is.  That happened to me this week, and my Thursday feature here, since June, suffered the consequences.  My Throw-Back Thursday book didn't get posted.  I do have an excellent excuse for forgetting, besides the day of the week one.  I attended a One Community/One Book event for author Jamie Ford last night, and I was focused on and excited about that all day long.  Last week's Thursday book was Jamie's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the same book that was the "One Community Book" last night.  So, I will post my Thursday post on Friday and endeavor not to slip up again.

Since this week is Banned Books Week, when the books that have been challenged and sometimes actually pulled from the shelves of libraries are discussed, I think it only fitting that I choose a book from the American Library Association lists of Challenged/Banned Books.  I used the ALA list for Young Adult (YA) literature for making a selection.  YA books face the majority of challenges, as parents are trying to protect/control their children's reading.  I'm not going to dismiss the fact that there are some age appropriate guidelines parents and teachers might want to consider, but trying to restrict a teenager's reading to books without sex or drugs or challenges to authority (just some of the reasons given for challenges) is just a head-in-the-sand reaction from the adults in charge of these young people.  I'm a big fan of people having the freedom to read what they want, which includes the young adults reading books that broaden their horizons from their insulated world at home and address real issues for them.

Author John Green is no stranger to the YA challenge/banned list.  In looking over the lists on the ALA web site, the 2014-2015 list contains four of his books--Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars.  I've read all four of these books and loved them.  John Green knows how to write a book with teenage characters, brilliantly!  The Fault in Our Stars is probably the best known and most widely read of these books, but I've always held a special place in my heart for An Abundance of Katherines.  It is a teenage boy's angst with just the right edge of humor.  There are no darkly depressing scenarios here, although the plight of the teenage boy is completely an important one to him.  So, my selection for yesterday's and today's Throw-Back Thursday is An Abundance of Katherines.  It is an endearing book that will stay with you in a positive sense.  

Book Jacket Description:

Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Before It's Too Late by Sara Driscoll: Reading Room Review

Reading the second book in a new series is always an exciting and somewhat anxious experience. If the first book in the series has captured your interest, you are in a state of high and hopeful anticipation. Will #2 solidify the series or not? Well, the new F.B.I. K-9 series by Sara Driscoll (aka Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan) is definitely on solid ground, with Before It's Too Late, the second book, hitting all the right marks for success. Not only do readers enjoy a fast paced, thrilling race against the clock, unfamiliar history of Civil War sites and associated people is brilliantly woven into each search and rescue attempt. 

F.B.I. Special Agent Meg Jennings and her search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, face one impossible challenge after another in this story. A service dog has been found wandering in a D.C. park with a note stuck in its waste bag carrier. The note is addressed to Meg, and the rest of it is in code. The service dog's owner has been kidnapped and will die if Meg, Hawk, and the rest of her K-9 team don't figure out the clues and find her before time runs out. With the help of the F.B.I.'s Cryptanalysis Unit, the code is deciphered and a location is determined from the cryptic clues, clues that point to a Civil War connection. Sandy Holmes, a veteran of the second Iraq War is buried alive somewhere in Arlington Cemetery, waiting to be rescued. Meg, Hawk, and the team work fervently to locate the correct grave site, and it is amazing to read how competently they arrive at the answers leading to the victim. But, time is not on their side, and this victim has only recently expired. Meg and the others are, of course, devastated. 

However, there isn't a chance to dwell on the death of Sandy Holmes, as the code-taunting killer strikes again, another kidnapping and another race against the clock to save another female victim. This pattern will be repeated, a message addressed to Meg and a code to crack in time to save a life. The messages to Meg are not the only unsettling link between these kidnappings and Meg. After the second discovery, Meg and her teammate Brian notice an eerie similarity between the victims' physical appearance and Meg's. Something is horribly personal about these crimes, and Meg must go outside the protocols of her job to get a handle on and a jump on the madman's game. With the help of her sister Cara, who is an expert at solving puzzles and word games, and Meg's reporter friend, Clay McCord, an expert on Civil War knowledge, Meg begins to feel some hope in catching up to the unhinged mind of a ruthless killer. If she is successful, Meg's career might survive her unorthodox methods, but if she isn't, her life and the lives of those she cares about are in danger of forever being scarred. 

This new crime series by Jen Danna and Ann Vanderlaan is such a distinct entry into the world of crime/mystery writing. Search-and-rescue dogs are highly trained animals who, working in sync with their human partners, are amazingly effective in rescue and/or recovery. I find the interaction between the dog and the human fascinating, as well as their success at the job. The authors have blended story, character, and setting into gripping accounts of high stake, life and death moments. Before It's Too Late is edge-of-your-seat reading at its best. 

I received an advanced reader's copy of this book, and my review is an honest, unbiased one.