Reviews


All of the reviews I've written thus far can be found on my goodreads page at  http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/971945-kathy


 The Long and Faraway Gone: A NovelThe Long and Faraway Gone: A Novel by Lou Berney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


One of those books that you ask yourself why you didn't read as soon as you laid your hands on it! Having now read The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney, I am wowed by its brilliant writing and unique story. Berney has taken two tragic events and shown readers how loss and survival can become overwhelming definitions to a life, a life lived in the shadow of enormous loss and guilt of survival. Answers to the "why" of tragedy often plague those left behind and prevent connection with the life left to live. So it is for the two main characters of this novel, Wyatt and Julianna, survivors of two separate tragedies, but seekers of answers to why.

The summer of 1986 in Oklahoma City was the scene of one of those tragic events that become a landmark of time, when people remember where they were in their life at the time of a certain crime or horrendous act. On a hot August night, a movie theater is robbed and six employees, five of them teenagers, are left behind dead from an execution style shooting. Miraculously, there is also one survivor in the carnage of death and despair, one teenage boy who escapes the fate of his friends and co-workers. The lone survivor as well as the senseless deaths baffle those faced with solving this crime. It's nothing to how survival baffles the lone survivor, who ends up moving away from Oklahoma City, changing his name, and putting a twenty-five year distance between the scene of his living nightmare and his newly adopted life. . That the three murders were caught up with only a couple of months after the killings and were themselves killed in a shoot-out with law enforcement does nothing to answer Wyatt's big "why."

But, twenty-five years later, Wyatt has created a successful life for himself as a private investigator, living in Las Vegas and keeping that distance between his present and his past intact. Then, he agrees to take on a case before he realizes that the case is in Oklahoma City and that he will have to travel there to deal with it. As the person who has asked him to take the case is a major source of his investigation cases, Wyatt feels he has no choice but to honor his agreement. From the moment Wyatt returns to the city that forever marked his life, the memories, both good and horrendous, pull at him and beg to be given attention, and the "why" question that has shaped his life of surface existence demands answers. Working the case for his Las Vegas connection and re-examining the past will bring pain and danger that will require Wyatt to call on every skill of survival he has.

There was another tragic occurrence for another young person in the waning days of the summer of 1986 in Oklahoma City, and while it didn't garner the attention of a mass murder scene, it too would affect the life of a survivor and sentence her to a lonely existence of wondering and wanting answers. Julianna was just twelve when her seventeen-year-old sister Genevieve disappeared at the Oklahoma State Fair when the two sisters were attending together, and no trace of Genevieve was ever found. Julianna has so many questions she needs answers to, including why Genevieve left her alone to go seek out a carney and why she never came back for her. Working as a nurse in Oklahoma City twenty-five years later, Julianna, too, has made a decent life for herself, although her life, like Wyatt's, is devoid of any real closeness to others. When Julianna learns that the now ex-carney, who was the first suspect in her sister's disappearance, has returned to Oklahoma City, Julianna digs in her efforts to have her questions answered, whatever the cost.

The two stories that Lou Berney tells never seem to be abrupt changes from one story to another, as Wyatt and Julianna are forever connected through their loss and their search for answers, the all-consuming "why" of their lives. And, what is so heart-wrenching for these characters becomes so real for the readers, as Lou Berney makes the reader feel the loss of lives cut short, what might have been but never was. The characters never become pitiful or whinny or annoying in their need for answers. Some losses are harder to move on from than others, especially those with such mysterious loss of resolution. The author flawlessly blends past and present into a hauntingly fascinating story that is easily one of my favorite reads this year.




Heart of StoneHeart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Heart of Stone may be the best yet in the Ellie Stone mystery series. I’ve been an enthusiastic fan since the first book, Styx and Stone, and James Ziskin deftly continued the story of my favorite twenty-five-year-old reporter in the next two tales. This fourth entry is special to me because the very first page gobsmacked me with gorgeous writing that I had to read several times before I continued on with the book. When students study creating atmosphere in writing, they should study this page. The woods become alive and you will gasp and declare that it is the stuff of your childhood nightmares. Don’t misunderstand. James Ziskin’s previous three books are wonderfully written with language, story, and character that are amazing. Heart of Stone just made me catch my breath. To be reading a murder mystery with a fierce character and have the language take you to a level of euphoria is like wishing for a cake and getting one made by Ace of Cakes. There are layers of delicious that you never anticipated. The combination of all the ingredients is electric. Bold, well-developed characters; suspenseful plot that twists and turns unexpectedly, but in a natural unfolding; and voice that beguiles. Damn, you’re good, James Ziskin!

Set in the early 1960s, 1961 to be specific, Ziskin doesn’t miss a beat with the trappings of that period. And, yet, he gives us the irrepressible Ellie, who defies the expectation of females at the beginning of a decade when change was coming to so many areas of the world and life. Ellie is ahead of her time, but symbolic of the path ahead. One of the most impressive aspects of this series is how James Ziskin, a man, writes from the viewpoint of Ellie, a woman. As if undertaking the setting of the 1960s isn’t enough, the author must be the voice of a female protagonist and get that right, too. Well, get it right he does, and there is never any question of authenticity of setting or character.

In Heart of Stone, Ellie is on vacation from her newspaper reporter job in New Holland, New York. She has joined her aunt Lena and cousin Max for an August holiday at Lena’s cabin on Prospector Lake in the Adirondacks. Familiar to Ellie from her childhood days with her family here, it’s a spot that promises relaxation and a rest from her constant struggle for respect at the newspaper. Enter two dead male bodies, one mid-thirties and one seventeen, at the bottom of Baxter’s Rock diving point, and add Ellie’s immediate involvement, and you have no rest for the curious. Having a camera, her prized Leica, Ellie is commandeered into taking pictures of the death scene by the bumbling, obnoxious, and highly creepy chief of police, who wants to wrap up the incident as an accident as quickly as he can. But, Ellie feels the scene is wrong, something is off, starting with why a thirty-something man, who has no identification, and a seventeen-year-old boy from a nearby music camp ended up at the same time on the rocky shore beneath a known danger spot. One of the best attributes of a good reporter is a dogged commitment to finding the whole story and the truth, and Ellie is the proverbial dog with the bone times ten.

In addition to the death investigation that Ellie is bent on continuing, she becomes reacquainted with some friends from her childhood who are ensconced at Arcadia, a nearby community of Jewish intellectuals and artists. Of particular interest is Isaac, with whom Ellie makes an immediate reconnection and current romantic attachment. We know that our intrepid reporter has a healthy attitude toward sex, something that the 1960s would become known for. However, book four introduces a vulnerability that we haven’t yet seen in Ellie’s emotions. Her relationships with Isaac and her aunt and her cousin provide readers with a satisfying look at a support system for her heart and a journey for Ellie to knowing herself better. The other Jewish friends with whom Ellie reconnects are an interesting, quirky group that includes an outspoken communist and an enigmatic musician. Ziskin does an amazing job bringing these characters to life and addressing issues of the day through them. And, not surprisingly, the Arcadia community plays an important part in what Ellie has determined is the murder of the two men who fell from Baxter’s Rock.

Ellie has her work cut out for her in slogging through all of the different suspects and scenarios in trying to piece together murder, motive, and opportunity. Distractions such as an escaped murderer from a prison and John Birchers voicing their fanaticism add to an atmosphere of fear and volatility. Secrets and deceptions run amok, but not without purpose, providing twists that keep the reader guessing to the end, and that end is spectacular. Heart of Stone is absolutely a thrilling, scary, delightful mystery that has as its star one of the wittiest, most resolute, most curious of heroines. Sometimes she drinks a bit too much and sometimes she is reckless in her pursuit of the truth and sometimes she makes a bad choice in a bed mate, but Ellie Stone keeps it interesting, always.

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 The Bengal BridegiftThe Bengal Bridegift by Anne Cleeland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Anne Cleeland writes it and I read it. I know when I sit down with one of her books, be it in one of my favorite series featuring Lord Acton and DCI Doyle or one of the author's stand-alone books, I am in for an adventure that sweeps me away. After reading Anne's latest, The Bengal Bridegift, I sighed happily and thought to myself that I had just had so much fun reading it. And, then I realized that one of the aspects of her remarkable characters is their witty dialogue. No one does witty dialogue better than Anne Cleeland. Another part of her successful characters is the presence of both a male lead character and a female lead character, and the larger-than-life male meets his match in the enterprising, resourceful female. It's a most satisfying arrangement. And, the stories that Anne creates with these characters do justice to the characters' existence. Of course, the settings are exciting, too, whether it be foggy London or the high seas.

The Bengal Bridegift has pirates. That's really all I should need to say to entice readers, but I suppose a bit more might sweeten the pot for someone who isn't as thrilled with pirates as I am, if such people really can be found. But, before the pirate, there is a young English girl, who finds her world, which has been in India as a small child, turned on its head. Her father, and employee of the East India Trading Company, is dead, and the convent school in Calcutta she attended has been attacked and ransacked. Saving herself by hiding in a chicken coop, Juno Payne survives the attack only to come to face with a Barbary pirate, a Dutchman named Jost Van dar Haar. With little choice, she accepts help from this handsome pirate as she endeavors to gather her brother Horry, who is at the fort hospital with malaria, and make her way to England, where she has financial matters to see to and hopes to find a doctor and treatment for Horry.

Juno soon learns that she has a most pressing matter to resolve, one of life and death. Rumors are that her father left her a bridegift of an impressive cache of diamonds hidden somewhere safe, but Juno had no knowledge of this fortune. When Juno tells Jost that she is engaged to her father's financier, a Nabob, the pirate suggests that the Nabob is interested in her bridegift, which is the first word of it Juno hears. It certainly won't be the last word of it, as there are men from different factions that are trying to find it and steal it. Not sure if she believes such a gift exists but unable to convince anyone else that it doesn't, Juno and Horry must flee India and solve this mystery of the missing diamonds if they are to live. The pirate Jost is Juno's only viable means of escape, so she must rely on his sworn friendship with her father as proof that Jost can be trusted. The way to England will be fraught with many obstacles and much danger. There are enemies seemingly everywhere, including England. And, readers will love every minute of the treacherous journey with Juno and Jost.

Thank you, Anne Cleeland for yet another great tale. I can't wait for your next one.


 

 
The Good GoodbyeThe Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Reading Carla Buckley's first book, The Things That Keep Us Here, and meeting her right after that book had been published was a gift readers don't often receive. Being in on the ground floor of an amazing author's works is winning the reading lottery. Now, in her fourth book, Buckley has long since established herself as an accomplished storyteller, with the ability to score an emotional impact with her tales of families and their struggles to remain intact. Comparisons to Jodi Piccoult are formed from this powerful effect that family members have upon one another, the consequences that must be dealt with and survived. Carla Buckley owns your heart when she tells a story.

Arden Falcone and Rory Falcone are first cousins who have grown up more like sisters, with their fathers being brothers and Arden's mother and Rory's father operating a Washington, D.C. restaurant together. Rory appears the leader, with her popularity and ease of relationships often overshadowing Arden's more reserved, quiet demeanor. When it comes time to go to college, the girls had chosen schools on opposite sides of the country due to their interests, but Rory's father, Vince, made a bad business investment that costs both families dearly, so the girls end up at a nearby Maryland college that is small and not on any top college list. Rooming together seems to be the natural thing to do, although Arden's mother, Natalie, has her reservations about it.

But, the story of how the girls ended up at the same college in the same dorm room and how that continued closeness affected their lives comes after Natalie receives receives a devastating phone call in the very first chapter. Arden and Rory have been in an all consuming fire that started in their dorm room and have been taken to the hospital where they are fighting for their lives. A friend of theirs is dead in that fire. Both sets of parents rush to the hospital to find their daughters in ICU, unconscious and with life threatening injuries. The wait commences to see if the girls regain consciousness and if they can overcome the seemingly impossible.

The story is told from three viewpoints, with alternating chapters. Natalie, Arden, and Rory all bring their perspectives and knowledge of how they arrived at this tragedy, at this crucial point in their lives. Natalie's POV is in the present, with some backtracking. Arden and Rory speak from the past, bringing us to the point of the explosive action. Love, hate, loyalty, betrayal. It's not a straight line, and it's full of secrets that fester. As the police conduct the investigation into how and why the fire started, the parents are faced with the unraveling of perfection in the daughters they love. But, then, parents and children both are revealed for who they really are and aren't. Innocence and guilt are slippery concepts, and assigning blame is an exercise in futility.

Carla Buckley has once again proved her superior skills at the psychological thriller. There is no rest for the reader in this suspenseful tale. Great character development with the characters true selves revealed layer by layer, vignette by vignette. The brilliant structure of big beginning and big ending, with the story told through the three POVs keeps the reader engaged completely. I can't wait to see what Carla Buckley has in store for us next.




 
Walleye JunctionWalleye Junction by Karin Salvalaggio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Walleye Junction is the third book in the Macy Greeley series by Karin Salvalaggio, and it clearly solidifies this series and author as major players in the mystery/crime genre. Karin Salvalaggio is as dedicated to excellence as her character Macy Greeley is to finding justice for victims of violence. These stories set in the vastness of Montana find their relatable rhythm in the small communities populating it. And, each of the three books in this series has a different issue that is brought to the reader’s attention through great storytelling and characters. I’m always left with a new awareness of an issue after reading one of Karin’s books, but it is an awareness born from a story into which I’m deeply drawn showing the effects that issue has on ordinary people, and which in the world of Macy Greeley result in murder. Karin Salvalaggio uses sufficient description, but never overdoes it. She deftly uses revealing dialogue to move the story forward, which keeps the action on point. Walleye Junction is announcing that the Macy Greeley series and its author are in the building.

Macy Greeley’s being a detective with the Montana State Police often sent from her home base of Helena to different parts of the state to investigate crimes. This time the trouble spot is Walleye Junction in the Flathead Valley area, with a kidnapping turning to murder. Philip Long was a local radio personality in the Flathead area who spoke his mind, often in clashing opinions to others in the community. Aware that Long has become a kidnap victim, Macy and her team try frantically to find him, but before they can bring him to safety, he is killed, right in front of Macy. All she knows though is that the killer was riding a motor scooter and wore high-end motorcycle gear, and that her own service gun was used to deliver the fatal shots. The search is on to find who kidnapped and murdered Philip Long and why. When two long-time drug addicts, a husband and wife, are found dead from heroin overdoses and their fingerprints match those from where Long was held in captivity, there is some momentary relief, but evidence soon leads Macy to believe that at least one other person was involved in the crime. One question that must be answered is what Philip Long was working on before his kidnapping and death. What big story was threatening someone to the point of murder. There are many players in this tale of greed, and the author takes the reader through the maze of these characters with great attention to detail, so that important connections can be made and dots connected leading to the murderer hiding among the town’s residents. Wives, ex-wives, husbands, ex-husbands, daughters, sons, cousins, friends. Who had the most to lose with Philip Long’s new story?

Those of us readers who are already ardent fans of the Macy Greeley series will be pleased at the continuing development of Macy’s personal life and struggles, too. Macy’s son is now two years old, and is cared for by Macy’s mother when duty calls Macy away from home. Having been disappointed in love, Macy treads carefully in her relationship with Aiden Marsh, Wilmington Creek Chief of Police. In Walleye Junction, Macy faces decisions that will move her toward taking control of her life from her past mistakes and embarrassments.

Walleye Junction is told from two points of view. The first and most significant is, of course, Macy Greeley, who so ably steers the investigation and storyline from murder to solution. The other POV is that of the character Emma Long, Philip Long’s daughter, who has been gone from Walleye for twelve years, leaving right after high school graduation and her best friend’s death from a drug overdose. Emma, like Macy, is looking for answers to her father’s death, as well as events happening before she left town. Emma’s narration in the book gives us the background the reader needs to better understand the characters and motivations of different suspects in this small Montana community. The two POVs work together beautifully to present a complete picture and a suspenseful tale. So many secrets. Which ones lead to murder?
 

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The Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, #14)The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The title of this latest Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes is enough to make long-time fans, including me, of this series wring their hands and bite their nails. Murder of Mary Russell? Has author Laurie King lost her mind? Have fans not shown how much they love Mary? Well, there was nothing to do but read the book and hope for the best.

So, what to tell those who haven’t read The Murder of Mary Russell. I can tell you that Laurie King has written a brilliant book, one of the best in the series. There is so much of the unexpected and it’s all so beautifully written that I can only conclude Laurie is a genius. The characters are all cleverly written, creating a sustained interest in the scoundrels as well as the more admired, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes. But, it is Mrs. Hudson who steals the show in this book. It so happens that Mrs. Hudson has a past, and, what an interesting past this quiet, efficient woman has. She didn’t just appear at 221 Baker St., a grown woman with no history. Her story is quite worthy of its own telling.

And, now I have to stop short of revealing the plot of this gripping story, as that would diminish the joy for others of discovering every savory, surprising tidbit that makes this book one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The only final information that I dare impart is that there is blood, quite a substantial bit, on the floor of the parlor in the Sussex house shared by Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and Mary Russell is missing. Ready, set, read!




 Blessed are Those Who Mourn (Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries #4)Blessed are Those Who Mourn by Kristi Belcamino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


You might think that having read the previous three novels in the Gabriella Giovanni series, you are prepared for almost anything. You would be wrong. Blessed Are Those Who Mourn takes living in a character's head to a whole new level. When you read this book, you will feel pain and suffering and hopelessness. You will fall into a hole so dark and deep, so filled with evil, that your heart beats wildly and your breath comes in ragged gasps. How do people cope with certain unimaginable events of horror? Following Gabriella Giovanni and Sean Donovan through this story will give you an insight that will give you some understanding of that.

Five years has passed since Gabriella and Donovan have had their lives and their love tested to the core in Blessed Are the Meek. Gabriella has recovered from the despair that had almost shut her down and has learned coping skills to deal with her past traumas. She and Detective Sean Donovan finally have everything they ever wanted. Five-year-old Grace Donovan is a beautiful, fierce child who has fulfilled every dream that Gabriella ever had about a family life with Sean Donovan. The nightmares of Gabriella's past have been replaced with happiness and love, but, evil isn’t finished with Gabriella Giovanni yet.

Still working as the crime reporter for the Bay Herald in San Francisco and Donovan still working as a detective for the Rosarito Police Department, it's not unusual for the two to be working the same case, so to speak. As young college women start showing up dead in the Suisun Bay area, there is an eerie and unavoidable common thread, Bible verses left with the bodies. Gabriella is all too familiar with these verses, and suddenly, the nightmares of yesterday have returned. Someone is sending a message, a message that if interpreted incorrectly will cost Gabriella her world. She will be called upon to find strength to battle an all-too familiar evil in the midst of all-consuming despair, and, of course, it wouldn't be a Gabriella Giovanni mystery if the ticking of the clock wasn't a driving force in Gabriella's fight for the right answers.

The hold that this story has, the very gripping claws of emotional involvement that the reader experiences is reading at its best. As in all the novels in this series, the action moves rather quickly, but it will not move fast enough for the reader. Blessed Are Those That Mourn makes a speed reader out of the slowest, something to which I can personally attest. The story can simply not be left to resolve the next day. It demands a full-on commitment as soon as page one is begun. So, clear your day or night to read one of the most engaging books you will ever cry your way through.





The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway, #8)The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Sometimes, I think that the hardest reviews to write are for the books you most love. Trying to do justice to a favorite read, a favorite author, a favorite character and series is a tall order in a short space. So it is with the latest entry into the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Of course, I haven't read anything by Elly Griffiths that I haven't loved, and Ruth Galloway is such a special character to me, one in which I'm so emotionally invested. The Woman in Blue took my emotions to a whole new level, as it is a pivotal book in Ruth facing her own emotions and truths. I felt like both Ruth and I were wrung out by the end, except Ruth is always more composed than I.

The action, and there is plenty of that along with the emotion, gets underway when a beautiful young woman is discovered strangled and left in a ditch outside of Walsingham, a Norfolk village known as "England's Nazareth" because of its shrines, medieval religious ruins, and pilgrimage site. Its connection to and sightings of the Virgin Mary enhance its Nazareth moniker, and it is the incomparable character of Cathbad, Druid friend of Ruth's, that mistakes this murdered woman as a possible vision of the Holy Mother the night before her body is found. House-sitting for a friend in Walsingham, Cathbad sees a woman in a white gown with a blue coat-like attire in the graveyard next to where he is staying, but she slips away before he can discover who or what she is. So, a bit of the other-wordly atmosphere is set up in a place where religious history and myth are the bones of the community. DCI Harry Nelson is called into investigate, and the woman is identified as a somewhat famous model who was in residence at a local drug rehabilitation center called The Sanctuary.

Ruth is on a parallel course to Walsingham, as an old college friend named Hilary Smithson emails Ruth about meeting in Walsingham. Hilary, who is now an Anglican priest, is attending a course for female priests on becoming bishops. Not everyone is thrilled about Hilary and her fellow female priests being in the priesthood, and Hilary confides in Ruth about nasty, threatening letters received from an anonymous source. Religion is not Ruth's passion by any means, but she is interested in the archaeological history of Walsingham and the welfare of her friend, so Ruth agrees to read the letters. She then encourages her friend to contact the police, and, thus Nelson, the father of Ruth's five-year-old daughter becomes involved in Hilary's problem. When one of the female priests who is attending the course with Hilary is also found murdered, Nelson has to consider the possibility that the letters and the two murders are related. Ruth and Nelson find themselves once more in the thick of a case that brings them together trying to solve murder and trying to figure out their place in one another's lives.

Elly Griffiths does so many things well that there's always the risk of leaving something out when talking about why her Ruth Galloway series is so special. The characters are always at the top of the list when readers praise the series. Ruth and Nelson, with their complicated relationship (after all Nelson is married and seems to want to stay that way, but does he?) is one of my favorite parts of every book. I was delighted that The Lady in Blue had both characters doing some real soul searching and some affirmation of repressed truths. Ruth's witty conversation, both to herself and others, tells us so much about this dear friend. Cathbad is just a gem of a character, and he definitely puts the cool in Druid. All the supporting cast and the newly introduced characters for this particular story have such attention to detail and development that I truly want to meet them all. Setting is another area in which Elly excels, and readers get to become ensconced in the village of Little Walsingham, as well as still enjoy the beautiful geography of Ruth's marshlands. There is something oddly peaceful about the wilds of Norfolk. Elly Griffiths seems to have a bond with the land and sea of this area that transfers beautifully to the written page. Of course, the stories in which these wonderful characters and settings exist are always suspenseful and thrilling, and as in most first-rate mysteries, time is always ticking on the page and in the reader's mind.

I received an ARC of The Woman in Blue, which was greatly appreciated, as the book doesn't come out in the U.S. until May 3rd. It is, however, already published in the UK if readers can't wait, and so many fans of this series just can't. I have loved all the books in the Ruth Galloway series, but I will have to admit that this new one is a favorite amongst favorites. It checked all the boxes for me. Thank you Elly Griffiths for once again providing such great writing for all to read.
 

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 I Let You GoI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When one of my most trusted sources for great reading literally puts a book in my hands, I, of course, read it. When it promises to be a powerful psychological thriller and is compared to Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, I grimace just a bit, because, while I enjoyed those two books, I thought the hype was overplayed. And, then. Then, I started reading I Let You Go and fell into one of the cleverest, well written, thrilling psychological stories I've ever read. It's the real deal. It delivers completely. Every sentence, every page taking the reader on a journey unlike any you've ever experienced, to an ending you never see coming. Clare Mackintosh has achieved in her debut novel what I hope for in every book I open. An unforgettable, gripping tale.

The story begins with tragedy. Five-year-old Jacob lets go of his mother's hand crossing the street to his house on a rainy Bristol afternoon, and in that split second of separation, a car appears and hits Jacob. The car backs off down the street, leaving the scene of the accident and Jacob dying in the street. A mother's unbearable sorrow and a community's horror at the hit-and-run follow.

Jenna Gray's only hope of surviving this tragedy is to move away from the constant barrage of news and talk of it, so she relocates to small village on the coast of Wales, where she sets up a spartan existence in an isolated cottage. Despite her efforts to remain alone and friendless, she discovers a new career of photography, which leads her to interaction with others, albeit limited. Her friendship with a local veterinarian, however is harder to keep impersonal. She struggles with how much of herself to make accessible.

To relay any more of the plot and characters would, I feel, cheat readers just picking up this book of the experience to turn the corners and see who and what is there. There are plenty of suspenseful twists, and each one will cause a gasp of surprise. There is nothing unfair in any revelations, only ingenious storytelling by an author of brilliant skills. Told from the viewpoint of three different characters, I Let You Go is an extraordinary novel that will haunt you long after all is read.





 Murder In Thrall (Scotland Yard #1)Murder In Thrall by Anne Cleeland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Delighted is what I am with this new mystery from Anne Cleeland.  It has me speaking like the fair lass, DC Kathleen Doyle, that is half of the Scotland Yard team in this first in the series of Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard Mysteries.  Cleeland presents this story in a fresh, original style that opens each chapter with the very private thoughts of Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, who also happens to be Lord Acton and the other half of the Scotland Yard team and brilliant, revered detective.  Acton has tapped Doyle to work with him, finding most useful her intuitive skills discerning a witness's veracity. 

The murder that begins the complex sequence of events in this mystery is that of a horse trainer at a London racetrack.  Acton and Doyle begin interviewing witnesses with a prearranged signal from Doyle if interviewee is lying.  Before 24 hours has passed, another murder has occurred, and thus begins a trail of bodies and mixed clues that make solving this case particularly difficult.  Doyle's fellow DCs are disgruntled that she has been handpicked to assist Acton, and some wonder if it's more than just Doyle's detective skills that are admired.  The partners play their personal lives close to the vest, so no one has any real ammunition to support any rumors.  As Acton and Doyle find themselves involved in a quagmire of leads and false leads, they get to know each other on a personal level, too.  It's a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end, trying to finger the rotten apple in the barrel. 

I enjoyed the dialogue between Kathleen Doyle and Michael Acton as much as I've ever enjoyed a dialogue.  Kathleen's Irishness is full of good humor and cheer, and Acton's often dry humored responses are a perfect match.  I found myself laughing aloud at some points, and at all times, I was just mesmerized at how seamlessly the dialogue flowed. If ever there were a book to use as an example of great dialogue, this one is it.  I am truly smitten with this two new characters, and I can hardly wait to hear them talk again. 



Murder in Retribution (Scotland Yard #2)Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


One of the most thrilling discoveries for a mystery genre reader is that of a new series.  That has indeed been my pleasure with the New Scotland Yard series by Anne Cleeland.  I was most fortunate to receive an advanced copy of the second in this series, Murder in Retribution, and reading it has cemented my addiction to the characters of Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle as they work together both professionally and personally.  I think Cleeland's real gift in this series is its unexpected bluntness of events, an original approach that ignores the normal unfolding of life and relationships.  I am hopelessly hooked, just as Acton is with Doyle.

In this second novel of the series, the husband and wife team of Acton and Doyle become involved in the underworld murders in London that seem to be a tit-for-tat turf war affair.  It's a dangerous matter of investigation, and as seems to be the norm for the anything but normal couple, the investigation turns personal.  Acton has his own interests in bringing to justice certain criminal elements, and Doyle becomes a sitting duck for a most callous killer.  Even the brilliant Acton can't anticipate the insidious plan of attack that ensues. 

Anne Cleeland has created a captivating series full of intrigue and originality.  The delightfully witty dialogue of her characters is not limited to the main characters' give and take of intellectual sharpness and Irish good humor.  The entire cast is gifted with clever quips and interplay.  I find myself rereading dialogue in various scenes just to experience the satisfaction of it again.  Doyle is perhaps the most gifted, as even in dire circumstances, she seems to be capable of seeing the irony or insanity of it.  And, her understanding of and acceptance of Acton's special problem is most welcome, as the reader doesn't have to spend time wading through misunderstandings and immature relationship issues.

So, it is with unrestrained enthusiasm that I endorse and recommend Anne Cleeland's novel Murder in Retribution, due out the end of July.  I encourage pre-ordering it to ensure a quick arrival.  And, if the first in the series, Murder in Thrall, hasn't been read, it's a must to enjoy the full impact of the Acton/Doyle partnership.  I confess that, even though I'd already read the first book, I went back and reread it before delving into the second.  Now, you know just how much I am enraptured by these novels.



Murder in Hindsight (Scotland Yard, #3)Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


There are those book series with which I’m so besotted that a new book in the series has me fairly dancing to begin.  Of course, the down side is that the book only has a countable number of pages.  So it began when I received my advanced reader’s copy of Anne Cleeland’s latest New Scotland Yard Mystery starring Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle, Murder in Hindsight.  Euphoria upon opening the cover and reading this fascinating story and dreading the end, where you long for just one more scene, one more glimpse at one of mystery’s most unique duo.

Murder in Hindsight presents Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle with a real connect-the-dots case.  Trying to ease Chief Inspector Acton’s worries over his trouble prone wife, she has taken up the job of reviewing cold cases.  But, Doyle becomes involved despite her best intentions and her husband’s over protectiveness in an apparent serial murder case.  Someone is meting out justice that didn’t get served in the courtroom by putting a bullet in the guilty party’s head, and the murder victims are all related to different cold cases.  Acton is also on the scene to investigate, but he has his own set of problems to solve, which involve a reporter whose intentions go far beyond getting the latest scoop.  Doyle slowly discovers Acton’s perilous position that has him dodging scandal and ruin.  Unwittingly, Doyle becomes entwined in the conspiracy against Acton as she begins communications with a man who,  after he rescues her from an attack,  proves to be  an associate of a criminal serving time because of Acton.  Doyle must figure out who she can trust if she is to stop the vigilante killings and keep Acton’s secrets, of which he has many, from destroying him and their life together.  Doyle’s strong sense of loyalty and intuition will serve her well in her tasks.

There are few series that have engaged me to the point that Anne Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard Mysteries.  Cleeland has the ability to bring characters to your heart and bind you to them.  Kathleen Doyle is so full of wit and devotion to the people she loves that she continues to delight and charm in each book, making Acton’s obsession with her completely reasonable.  Lord Michael Acton never disappoints in his commitment to Doyle and to a system of justice that serves up the guilty to their just desserts.  Doyle and Acton have such a complete understanding of one another that the reader will develop strong protective instincts of his/her own. The supporting characters of the ever irritating DS Isabel Munoz and Doyle’s could-have-been boyfriend, now friend, DS Thomas Williams add so much to the narrative and the life of Doyle.  The stories are so intricately plotted and layered that the action is always moving forward at just the right pace. 




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 A Flame in the Wind of Death (Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries #3)A Flame in the Wind of Death by Jen J. Danna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan have created a series that has proved its staying power with its third tale of Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott and forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell.  A Flame in the Wind of Death is the second full-length book in the series, with the first being Dead Without a Stone to Tell It.  No One Sees Me ‘Til I Fall was a novella in between last year’s debut novel and this April 2014 release.  I am dazed by the flawless flow of these narratives. 

Not wanting to play favorites, but having topics of particular interest, I must confess that A Flame in the Wind of Death captured me especially.  It’s Salem, Massachusetts with Halloween on the doorstep, and a murderer strikes with a vengeance.  When a fire in a Salem antique shop reveals grisly remains of a woman with ties to the  Witchcraft community Abbott and Lowell have their work cut out for them in determining the victim's identity and finding the murderer.  So, the setting and setup are perfect for a tale in which bones must talk and shadows must be chased.  The pressure is on, as Salem prepares to welcome an outpouring of tourists on its busiest days of the year.  When a second similar murder occurs without any obvious connection to the first, nerves quickly become frayed.  Both murders are over the top, with the victims never having had a chance for survival.  Someone has an axe to grind, and whether he or she is finished is anyone’s guess.  Caught up in the intensity and pressure of the investigation, Abbott and Lowell aren’t finding much time for romance in their blossoming relationship, but then again, they are quite resourceful.  

The forensics are fascinating in this latest addition to Abbott and Lowell, as all of this series deals with detailed forensics, not skimming the top, but delving into the intricacies of bone, muscle, tissue layers -- and, yet, in Matt breaking it down and explaining it to Leigh, the reader comes to understand, too.  Never do the explanations outweigh the narrative of the story.  They enrich it, cleverly woven into the narrative and ever moving Abbott and Lowell closer to solving the case.  In A Flame in the Wind of Death, there is the additional element of fire and charred remains that add to the complexities of Matt Lowell’s job as a forensic anthropologist.  It is through the examination and close scrutiny of the skeletal remains of the victims that answers will be found as to the final minutes of life and means of death, which cry out to be heard.     

Beginning the chapters with a well-defined piece of the jargon used in the subject of the book, in this instance fires and fire fighting, greatly enhances the understanding of the action.  The research on fires and fire fighting has been thoroughly conducted, and the reader can be assured of authenticity in the gripping storyline.  Also, there is a conciseness of language to be enjoyed, use of the apposite word instead of a plethoric ramble.   The authors are so adept at this practice that I can’t help but delight in such well-placed words.  

The characters of this series are evolving at a steady pace in each novel, and the reader can’t help but feel a bond with not only Abbott and Lowell, but Matt’s forensic team as well.  Then there is Matt’s father, the ME, and Leigh’s co-workers.  All the characters are so well fleshed out, adding the familiarity and back story that readers crave and appreciate.

Sound structure, sound narrative, and sound writing.  You don’t pay your nickel and take your chances with this series.  You pay your nickel and get great reading.





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No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall (Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries #2)No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall by Jen J. Danna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The e-book novella between full length books in a series is becoming a popular device for authors to keep readers involved with the series' characters and these novellas can be used to present a new story (in this case mystery), or to expand upon an event that happens or a character mentioned in one of the longer stories.  Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan have used this e-book to give the reader another adventure, albeit shorter, with the fascinating characters they've created. The new story novella serves to move the characters along and reveal more about them.  No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall gives fans of the newly minted series a satisfying length of a story where the progression of the characters and supporting characters is played out in a thrilling new case of forensic identification and smart police work.  Trooper Leigh Abbott of the Massachusetts State Police and Dr. Matt Lowell, forensic anthropologist, must combine their skills for a second time to solve a baffling murder.

In this second tale of gruesome murder, Leigh consults Matt about a just discovered quickly decomposing body that has been dumped in a landfill.  The body's enclosure in a garbage bag and being heated up by the garbage pile beneath it has resulted in major loss of tissue, so Matt and his graduate students team are needed to piece together a human being from the bones beneath.  The news that the body belongs to a female from age 18 to 23 is not a surprise, but the uncovering by Matt of a heinous abuse stuns everyone involved in the case.  Determined not to let the monster who abused and most likely also murdered this young woman escape justice, Leigh and Matt pool their resources and skills and those of Matt's enthusiastic grad students. Matt will unfortunately have to relive some painful war memories to aid the search for the killer, but his unique experiences are key.  Leigh and Matt will find their personal relationship gaining ground along with their smooth working partnership as the evidence unfolds.

Jen Danna magically weaves words to enable the reader to feel the intensity of the investigation in this story and feel a part of the action.  At times, I felt as if I were sitting at the table discussing the leads with the pair or running alongside in a chase.  Engagement is fully achieved.  One of the lines from the story expresses Leigh's admiration for the forensics involved in helping to give a face to the faceless victim, the words describing it as "marvelling at the skill that brought bone to life."  This series is so impressive in its detailed accounting of that forensics and the amazing results.  I can hardly wait to read the next book to learn more about how science and detective work take the impossible to the solvable. 



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Dead, Without  a Stone to Tell It (Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries #1)Dead, Without  a Stone to Tell It by Jen J. Danna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This novel is the debut for Jen J. Danna, who along with Ann Vanderlaan, has written quite a compelling forensic thriller.  The amount of information on body decomposition and bone aging is enough to satisfy any forensically inclined reader.  The crimes are brutal, which is somewhat outside of my comfort zone, but when the madness is finally revealed, the scheme of it all is interesting indeed.  From the discovery of a single bone, Trooper Leigh Abbott, with the help of forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell, is led on a nightmarish journey to catch a serial killer.  The title is a particularly appealing and telling one, with its connection to the Civil War and nameless graves of soldiers.  Leigh and Matt are driven by the determination that the remains of the brutal killings will not go unidentified and will be returned to their loved ones.  I'm looking forward to more from Jen Danna and this new series.



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The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie
The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie


In the last novel so far of the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series, Deborah Crombie continues to develop the relationship and growing family of Duncan and Gemma, with Gemma newly promoted to lead a murder squad in southern London and Duncan in the midst of childcare leave from his job as as Superintendent at Scotland Yard. As usual, Duncan and Gemma both manage to become involved in the same murder investigation. This time the victim is a barrister found hogtied in a seedy hotel in the Crystal Palace area. Past events and grudges have surfaced into acts of vengeance, and Duncan and Gemma find it is indeed a tangled web. Andy Monahan is a talented guitarist who is on the verge of his big break when he finds his past from Crystal Palace could very well determine his present. As usual, the supporting cast in this novel are as well developed as the main characters, and they serve to create drama of their own. Gemma's sergeant, Melody Talbot, and Duncan's sergeant, Doug Cullen, add to the mix with witty banter and some relationship involvements. The end of this 15th book in the series leaves the reader with a cliff hanger, a bit of a change for Crombie's style. As luck would have it, I'm now caught up in the series and have to wait a year for resolution. Arghh!






My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Continuing the excellence of this series, this novel finds Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James traveling to Cheshire to spend the Christmas holidays with Duncan's parents and his sister's family. Of course, it can't just be a calm, uneventful holiday with Duncan and Gemma. The remains of a baby are found by Duncan's sister at a building site she's renovating, and a murder happens along, too. Kit's first Christmas with his new-found grandparents and cousins proves to be quite the challenge for Duncan's son, while Toby, Gemma's son, fits in seamlessly with the ease of innocence afforded young children. Gemma's concerns about fitting in with Duncan's family are quickly put to rest and the pursuit of justice once again becomes the focus. A former acquaintance of Duncan's is the Chief Inspector investigating both the old and new deaths. As always, Crombie does a stellar job of engaging the reader with the new characters as well as the old. Creating and developing interesting characters seems to be quite the specialty of this author. Of course, with the perfection of plot and setting, it is hard to find an author with a more complete package than Deborah Crombie.




Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan BradleySpeaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
 
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Flavia de Luce continues to be one of my favorite characters in all my reading. She is a genius in her chemical meanderings and in her skill of detection, but we are often reminded that she is still indeed a child, not yet twelve. This latest entertaining tale centers around the disinterment of a saint's bones, St. Tancred, who was laid to rest in Bishop's Lacey in the church bearing his name. Hidden passages, a powerful diamond, and a dead choir master all become a part of the mystery which Flavia takes upon herself to untangle. Along the way, she uncovers some interesting secrets of her mother's, whose shortened life Flavia has had to piece together herself over the years of silence from the rest of her family. Of course, Flavia's adventures are never without danger to her, and, yet, she faces danger and fear with the good sense and balance she does her life. In every marvelous book in this series, I keep wishing for 3 things for Flavia--1) good food to eat, rather than the apparent swill served by Mrs. Mullett 2) someone to love Flavia in the role of a parent and treasure her for the gem that she is 3) the financial woes of Buckshaw to disappear, leaving Flavia secure in the home she so loves. Alan Bradley has created a character and a series that will become stamped upon your heart. The wonderfully absurd titles of these enchanting books are also part of the magic.






Now May You Weep by Deborah CrombieNow May You Weep by Deborah Crombie


Deborah Crombie just keeps giving me everything I love in a mystery, and this time she throws in Scotland as the setting for a murder. Perfection! Gemma James, an Inspector with the British police and her friend Hazel Cavendish travel to the Highlands of Scotland to a B&B run by a former schoolmate and friend of Hazel's. Gemma quickly discovers that the weekend that she thinks is a cooking school adventure is much more personal for Hazel, who reconnects with her first and true love, Donald Brodie, and her Scottish roots. Donald is the owner of a Scottish Whiskey distillery, which has been in his family for generations. As is the fascinating norm for Deborah Crombie, she provides not only a riveting mystery, but she allows the reader to become ensconced in the scenery and history of the setting, the Highlands of Scotland and its whiskey-making traditions in this novel. While Hazel is at first a suspect in the murder that occurs, she is quickly cleared, and many others are suspect in their motives and opportunities to have done the deed. Duncan, Gemma's companion and a Superintendent at Scotland Yard arrives to help sort out the murder and lives of those involved. One of my favorite Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James so far!




The Beautiful Mystery by Louise PennyThe Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

 

Gregorian chants are at the heart of Penny's latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery. A monk, the choirmaster, has been murdered on a quiet, isolated island off Quebec where the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups has been home to the Gilbertine monks since the middle of the 17th century. Only recently discovered after centuries of obscurity, these monks have the mission of singing and preserving the purity of the Gregorian chant. Gamache and his right-hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, must break through vows of silence and mistrust of outsiders to discover who amongst the holy monks could have murdered one of their own. The task is complicated by the arrival of Superintendent Sylvain Francoeur, a corrupt force in the police who would like nothing better than to be rid of Gamache. Francoeur works his own evil, while Gamache and Beauvoir search for a killer.

Every year, Louise Penny gifts readers with a superbly written mystery, and this year was no exception. I did miss the village of Three Pines and its endearing characters of her past novels, but I suppose even Three Pines needed a break from murder. I do hope Penny hasn't left the setting permanently. The Gregorian chant focus and the reclusive monks were an interesting departure. Gamache remains one of my favorite characters in fiction today, and the story moves at just the right pace. The character of Jean-Guy Beauvoir takes an unexpected twist, which I'm anticipating a resolution to in the next novel of the series. The ending will not particularly please fans of the series, but it is in keeping with the developing storyline of the entire fictional world of the stories.





Hold Fast by Blue BalliettHold Fast by Blue Balliett

 

Blue Balliett is one of the best children's authors writing today. Her characters are always well developed and worthy of great admiration. In this latest novel, Hold Fast, reading is front and center as the glue that holds together a family of four living on the poor in Chicago, and it is reading, with a major emphasis on Langston Hughes, that is their hope for survival when 11-year-old Early Pearl's father disappears and she ends up in a shelter with her mother and 4-year-old brother. Early must use all she learned about language and its rhythms from her father Dash to try and save her family and find her father. As usual, Balliett enchants the reader with the beauty and power of language. And along with an intriguing story full of words and mystery, the author throws the door wide on the problem of homelessness and the children who suffer daily because of it. Books that make you look at your own life differently are the best, most lasting kind of reading, and Blue Balliett has given us the gift of Hold Fast to touch hearts and impact lives.



The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is one of the most consistent authors I read, as in consistent excellence. As with her previous tales, Morton has created a story with twists and turns that keep the reader on the edge of the seat trying to determine the outcome. The Secret Keeper is aptly titled. It is deliciously filled with the secrets of a lifetime, starting with Dorothy Nicolson's life in war-torn London during WWII and the discovery of inconsistencies by her daughter Laurel 50 years later. Laurel has kept her own life-shattering secret since she was 16-years-old, that of seeing her mother kill a man in their garden. The connections and revelations amaze not only Laurel and her brother, but readers will gasp at the conclusion of a life lived in quiet deception.




Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen
Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen

Simply delicious to the last drop! Tess Gerritsen always delivers a great read, but Last to Die is an especially tasty treat. Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are at their best in this blood chilling tale about three teens who have each survived two massacres involving their families and their foster families. Leave it to Jane and Maura to discover that the latest multiple homicide in Boston leaving 14-year-old Teddy Clock as the sole survivor is far from an unlucky home invasion. Teddy along with two other teens are being targeted, but there doesn't seem to be a connection to the three families. The teens end up at Evensong boarding school, which caters to traumatized teens, and promises to be a safe haven for them with its location in the Maine wilderness and carefully selected staff. But, evil can be a relentless adversary, and it soon is apparent that even a well fortified sanctuary can be penetrated. Gerritsen gives readers some tantalizing twists in a plot that is masterfully concocted. I couldn't stop reading, even though I knew that it meant the book would end more quickly, and one never wants a great read to end.





Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

With the reading of each of Lisa Genova's three novels, I have learned something about the workings of the mind. I like that she takes different ways in which the mind can operate from the "normal" path and explores the effects on the person experiencing that abnormality and those around the person, but with the focus on the person whose mind is in aberrant behavior. In this latest novel, Love Anthony, the brain so-called malfunction is autism. Genova states quite clearly in the afterward of her novel that she isn't trying to explain or explore the causes of autism, and the novel is not about that. We see a little more of the effect on others in the emotional aftermath of an autistic child in a family, but the story's core is unlocking the normalcy of the abnormal, as one deals with the reality that is given. While, I felt Genova's first two novels were strong 5s on the rating scale of 1-5, Love Anthony felt more like 4 or 4 1/2. I think if the reader had been able to access Anthony's thoughts a bit sooner, the impact might have been greater.


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Sometimes, not nearly often enough, a book comes along that you must finish reading no matter what the time of night, or morning, and in spite of a full day facing you after your dearth of sleep. I only halfheartedly tried to put the book down once last night/early this morning, and then I gave in to the power of the need to finish it. I originally balked at reading this book, as I wasn't sure when I would ever be in the mood for a book about teens dealing with cancer. All I can say now is, don't judge a book by what you think its subject matter is. Yes, Hazel and Augustus are two teen who struggle with cancer and all that entails, including loving parents who want so desperately to banish the evil monster that has imprisoned their children. But, this gripping book is not about cancer; this book is about people, two people who are amazing. As Augustus tells Hazel early on when he ask what her story is and she starts to remind him of her cancer diagnosis, "No, not your cancer story. Your story. Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, etcetera."

The first book I read by John Green was Looking For Alaska, and I was impressed by his ability to get inside the teenage mind, the one that is questioning the rules and wisdom of the ages, as teens should and actually do. Then, when I read An Abundance of Katherines, I fell in love with Green's witty characters. Wit is very much valued by me in writing, and Green is a master with it. In The Fault in Our Stars, the wit is a continual feast of delight. Yes, cancer kids can be wonderfully witty and passionate about life, just like, well, just like any kids.

Don't misunderstand, there is the dreaded disease of cancer always there in this book. How could it be otherwise? It is treated by Green as it is, ugly and humiliating. That teenagers can have fun, find love, and share favorite books while talking about death suits and last wishes is nothing short of miraculous, normalcy against all odds.

I will probably at some point reread this moving book to embrace all the wit and wonder that it contains. It's a book that you just know will maintain its power for the rest of your reading life.




 Caleb's CrossingCaleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Another "wow" from Geraldine Brooks!  There's a level of writing and storytelling that consistently sets the bar high, and Brooks sets this high bar with every stroke of the key.  She continues to find the obscure thread of history and create a story around it that completely enthralls the reader.  As with her previous novels, I became ensconced into the time, places, and people of this tale.  There is always a higher calling to the stories, a David vs. Goliath struggle that finds you passionately pulling for the underdog and exasperated with the ignorance and intolerance of those in power. 

Caleb's Crossing is a tale inspired by the first Native American graduate of Harvard, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe from what is now Martha's Vineyard.  In 1665, he accomplished this extraordinary feat, having learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in the process.  Brooks was able to take scant information about this amazing scholar and spin a plausible and intriguing story that vividly recreates the era of history in which Native Americans were usually referred to as salvages (savages) and women were routinely denied control of their destinies.  The narrator of the story is Bethia Mayfield, daughter of Great Harbor's, as part of the island was called then, minister.  Her grandfather had purchased the land from the Indians, attempting in his own way, a fair settlement.  Bethia and Caleb become friends at a young age, unbeknownst to their families and friends, and exude some influence over each other.  She teaches him English, and he teaches her his native tongue and the riches of the island's natural beauties.  Life is hard on the island, and indeed in the late 17th century America, and Bethia and Caleb must overcome many prejudices and tragedies to claim a piece of the budding new world for themselves.  Both clash with controlling family members, Bethia with her brother and Caleb with his uncle, and their relatives' ideas of what is best for them in contrast to what the two friends secretly covet.  The novel is as much about breaking free of the chains that bind one as it is about Caleb's rise to Harvard graduate.  The treatment of Native Americans and women had much in common in the 1660's age of white man's suppressive authority.  Some would allow that the struggle still continues.

As with her previous novel, People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks has given readers a fascinating historical fiction read in Caleb's Crossing.  Her writing is superb and her subjects are unparalleled in their captivating ability to transport the reader to another time and place.  Perhaps, Brooks' novels should more accurately be listed under time travel.    



Aunt Dimity's Christmas (An Aunt Dimity Mystery, #5)Aunt Dimity's Christmas by Nancy Atherton  
's review
Aug 17, 12  

4 of 5 stars false

Sometimes you need a series that you can go to that is predictably comforting.  Such is the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton.  Having just finished some rather heavy reading material, my mind and soul needed something that would soothe me and let me relax into a safe world of hope and light.  Aunt Dimity's Christmas was just the ticket.  Not that the book is devoid of sadness.  It's just that the sadness overwhelmed by by joy and positive self-discovery.  I usually race through a mystery series without stopping to catch my breath, but I'm approaching this series a little differently, using a modicum of self-restraint.  I am interspersing the delightful novels into my other reading, in two or three at a time, especially where I need pick-me-up and a relax-my-mind read.  Of course, the setting being England, the main residence being a charming cottage, and, in this case, a snowy Christmas help to ensconce me into a world of pure magic.

The storyline starts two weeks before Christmas when Lori Shepherd is planning her first perfect Christmas, with her husband, two twin boys, her father-in-law, and a host of villagers and friends.  Of course, nothing goes according to plan after a stranger is found unconscious in Lori's driveway the morning after her much-wished-for snow has arrived.  Viewing this discovery as a most inconvenient interruption in her plans, Lori hopes that his hospitalization in an Oxford hospital will conclude her involvement in the matter.  Enter Father Julian Bright, who draws Lori into the puzzling identity of the stranger known only as Smitty to him.  The search provides much more than identity information, as Lori learns just how far from perfect her plan for Christmas was and how much more Christmas and life can mean.




Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
's review
Aug 06, 12  

3 of 5 stars false

It's always difficult to review a book that everyone seems to love and you didn't quite achieve that in reading it. In favor of Gone Girl, it was a fast read and worked as a psychological thriller quite well. I mean I definitely wanted to find out what happened to Nick, the self-absorbed, philandering husband, and Amy, the sociopath wife, and I was intrigued by the unveiling of Amy's twisted plan to ruin her husband. However, I found myself actually considering reading the end of the book to put to rest my wondering. I never do that! I never want to do that! So, to me, that was a red flag on this "loved by so many" book. I have nothing against dark tales, have enjoyed many such a tale (thinking Stephen King), so that wasn't really the problem. I think it has to do with the lack of redemption, the lack of anything positive. I know, I know. It's a dark, psychological thriller, not a Little House on the Prairie bedtime story. But come on, the psycho marriage of demented love? While the main characters of Nick and Amy were indeed a twisted treat, other characters, like Boney, came up short of satisfactorily developed. Of course, the format of the book with the alternating chapters told by the two main characters was the main obstacle to character development of supporting cast members. Then, there is the emphasis on plot, as in plot-driven, that interferes with character intimacy. Finally, we arrive at the ending. My thoughts on the ending range from "what?," "betrayed," "no way." The rating for this book is rather an easy choice, a 3, because I did "like" the book. I just didn't love it as many others have.




View all my reviews I'm kicking off my review page here with a book I read last year about the history of Hawaii by Sarah Vowell.  Nothing I love more than truths told in quirky!



Title and Author:  Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
's review
Sep 05, 11  

5 of 5 stars false



Review:
Sarah Vowell makes reading and learning history the most irreverent fun you can experience in confronting the reality of what actually occurred versus what textbooks sugarcoat or ignore. The United States' acquisition of the Hawaii islands is eerily similar to the acquisition of America in its infancy when the Native Americans had to be "civilized" and "Christianized." Acquisition is, of course, a well-used euphemism for stealing. Having just visited the island of Oahu and having some inkling of the United States' machinations and the greedy cabal of missionary descendents responsible for Hawaii's annexation in 1898, I was eager to read a book that told the story with the blinders removed. I couldn't have picked a better source than Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes. Her wit and uncensored revelations kept me intrigued throughout the telling of this blighting of the Hawaiian monarchy and attempted blighting of Hawaiian culture. Amazing story, amazing book.




Title and Author:  The Invisible Ones by Stef Penny
No. of Pages:  399 in hardback format
Reviewed by:  Kathy Reel

              



Rating didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it it was amazing (my current rating)
Bookshelves favorite-authors, highly-recommend, mystery, read
Status Read from March 02 to 04, 2012 

















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.


  


Title and Author:  The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
No. of Pages:  409 in hardback format 
Reviewed by:  Kathy Reel




rating didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it it was amazing (my current rating)
bookshelves fantasy, favorite-authors, read, teen, young-adult
status Read from January 02 to 06, 2012
format Hardcover (edit) 


I fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater's writing while reading her Wovles of Mercy Falls trilogy. I have to admit, though, that I wasn't too sure about what to expect with this latest novel. Well, I was pleasantly surprised (shouldn't have been)to have my Maggie love reaffirmed. The idea of water horses that are dangerous killers and racing them just falls together in a story that only this author could create. Her characters and setting intertwine with mythology of Ireland and Scotland to provide an unexpected tale of survival, romance, and family. Puck and Sean are two characters that embody the strength and resilience of the residents of the small island of Thisby, where every November the race of the water horses is held. Puck and Sean have different reasons for riding in this deadly race, but both have their futures at stake. It is a tale well told by one of YA's best fantasy writers.



Title and Author:  The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
No. of Pages:  527 in hardback format
Reviewed by:  Kathy Reel

  

rating didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it it was amazing (my current rating)
bookshelves favorites, historical-fiction, read, scotland
status Read from January 27 to 31, 2012
format Hardcover (edit) 



There's a good reason why this book was on my "why haven't I read this book yet" shelf. I should have read it long ago. The historical fiction aspect of the novel dealing with the Stewart claim to the English throne and the exile in France, with the Jacobites' attempts to restore the Stewarts to the throne, is an especially favorite part of history for me. The story within a story vehicle for presenting the intertwining centuries' tale is also a form to which I'm partial. Author Carrie McClelland is drawn to the Slains Castle in Scotland as she writes her lastest novel about the 1708 Jacobite attempt to land James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim the English throne. Carrie discovers her ancestral connection to this story, as the characters speak to her and guide her as to the true account. History, romance, and mystery in two centuries determine the life course of two women, related by blood and determination. I found myself completely immersed in the drama and characters, holding my breath often in anticipation of an outcome. Great read!  Scotland never lets me down.




Title and Author:  Emma by Jane Austen
No. of Pages:  392 in paperback format
Reviewed by:  Kathy Reel

 

rating didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it (my current rating) it was amazing
bookshelves england, favorite-authors, favorites, highly-recommend, read
status Read from March 31 to April 11, 2012

Patience is required when reading Jane Austen, never so much as in reading Emma. Ms. Austen doesn't get in a hurry, and if you are to enjoy Emma, as I thoroughly did, the reader mustn't get impatient. I admit to acquiring this patience only after the first 50 or so pages, and I was greatly rewarded for its acquisition. Relationships and characters develop at not so much a leisurely pace, as a evolved one. Emma is quite the exasperating young woman, full of herself, her position, and her sense of direction for others' lives at the beginning. One feels that a good shaking is in order to prevent her messing about with people. However, her missteps are never ill-intended or callous, and become an object of miscommunication humor. The only person who seems to be able to see clearly and through Emma's skewed vision is Mr. Knightly, who is also the only person on equal footing with Emma's forthrightness. Emma's character goes from exasperating to enjoyable due to the deft touch of Austen's wonderful prose and storytelling talent. I would prefer to rate this novel as a 4 1/2, if the rating system allowed, and may need to change to a 5 after it all has settled over me. I can now without qualification that I do indeed love Emma. 



Title and Author:  The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman
No. of Pages:  416 in paperback format
Reviewed by:  Kathy Reel

 

rating didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it it was amazing (my current rating)
bookshelves england, favorite-authors, mystery, read, series
status Read from April 30 to May 03, 2012

Nail-biting best describes the third book in the Sally Lockhart mysteries by Philip Pullman. Sally Lockhart 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. 

 

3 comments:

  1. Hi Kathy, love your reviews. Just letting you know I've added your blog to my list of Favourite Blogs / Blog Roll on my own blog My Four Bucks http://myfourbucks.blogspot.com.au/ to support you :-)

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  2. Thanks, Tracey. I am a big fan of you and your blog, and I love reading your posts on Face Book. I will make sure you are listed in my favorite blogs section on the main page here. If you're not there already, it's just an oversight, because I definitely intended to place you there.

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