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