Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Butcher Bird

The Butcher Bird is a sequel to Sarah Sykes' Plague Land.  In this installment of the series Oswald de Lacy must solve the murders of infants Catherine Tulley and Margaret Beard. The villagers of Somershill believe that they were killed by a butcher bird but Oswald knows that no such bird exists.  Oswald also has to contend with the villagers who work his farm fields.  With half of them dead from the Plague, the survivors have twice as much work to do and want to be paid more money.  The Ordinance of Labourers prohibits raising wages above what they were before the Plague and the local earl enforces the Ordinance with the area lords. Oswald does not want to break the law and he certainly fears getting caught if decides to increase wages.  As usual he has to contend with his contrary mother and sister who manipulate him well.

Oswald is a loveable character. However, I think I like his spiteful mother and sister Clemence better. Clemence knows how to push Oswald to his limits in order to get what she wants, a trait that I share. His family reminds me of my own so their interactions are humorous to me. Ah . . . sibling rivalry.  You gotta love it!

It goes without saying that the author knows her medieval history well.  She shows the era as it was and uses many terms of the day.  I have had to pull out an old English language medieval dictionary that I bought years ago at a travel bookstore to keep track of everything. However, if you do not have such a dictionary you should be fine using the glossary at the end of the book.

I am looking forward to reading the next Somershill Manor Mystery.  Since The Butcher Bird was published last year I assume the third book in the series will be published in 2017.  Can't wait.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wizzywig

Wizzywig is a story about a brilliant child computer hacker.  Kevin Phenicle gets beat up daily at his elementary school until he finds a way to cheat the phone company out of excessive fees.  He then becomes popular.  His first hack is of the phone company.  After overhearing 2 older men discuss sex as "boingthump" he takes that word as his online name.  After finding ways to scam free pizza and rigging radio contests, Kevin creates some of the world's first worms and viruses all before graduating high school.  He has to go on the run though as several companies have each lost $10,000,000 from his hacking of their computer systems.

I loved this kid.  He is a composite character of 3 young hackers of the early computer era.  If you want to learn about this era you should read this book. Though informative, it is hilarious.  I really enjoyed this one.

Insomnia Cafe

Peter Kolinsky is an expert on rare books and had a good job at an auction house. After black marketers use him in their schemes Peter loses his job and a friend gets him a job at a book depository company.  However, Peter has insomnia, stays up all night, wakes up late and is frequently late to his new job.  He is fired again.  Peter has found a cafe that is open all night called Insomnia.  There he befriends a waitress named Angela and she helps him get a job at the cafe.  On one of their dates she takes him to the archives-a place where books being currently written by famous writers are on the shelves.  However, the black marketers have not forgotten about him and are pursuing him.  Peter is terrified and seeks refuge in the archives.  Most of the story, though, takes place at the cafe.

Insomnia Cafe is a cute book and is a fast read since it is only 80 pages.  The artwork consists of black and white drawings in comic strip panels. Turkish illustrator M. K. Perker wrote and drew the book.  It was a relaxing read for me last weekend where I read it in a park on a hot and sunny day.

5 out of 5 stars.

Plague Land

This is S. D. Sykes' first novel and it was published in 2015.  The sequel, The Butcher Bird, was published last year and I hope that this series has an annual installment.  They are both medieval mysteries featuring Oswald de Lacy as the Lord of Somershill Manor and the amateur sleuth.

Upon hearing of the deaths of his older brothers, Oswald de Lacy has to leave the monastery where he is studying to be a priest in order to take over the management of his family's estate. His mentor, Brother Peter, comes with him. Oswald has not been trained to manage the property as he entered the monastery at age 7 and is now just 17.  The Pestilence has changed the estate with half of its residents succumbing to the Pestilence and those that survived are now quite fearful and superstitious.

After his arrival home, Oswald hears of the death of a local girl, Alison Starvecrow, and is told by Brother Peter that it is his job to investigate the death as he is now Lord of the manor.  The parish priest John Cornwall believes she has been killed by a demonic dog headed monster and convinces the village people that they are in danger of these creatures.  Oswald knows these creatures do not exist but has to deal with the villagers' beliefs in order to solve the crime.

Oswald gets grief from his mother and sister Clemence as well as from John Cornwall as he learns how to investigate the crime and manage an estate as well. He gets alot of advice from Brother Peter who seems to always know what the best approach to a problem is.

I am so happy that someone is writing a medieval mystery series.  I haven't seen too many of them lately and miss them. The medieval period is my favorite period in history.

Anyone who loves the medieval era will like this book.  The author has well-researched the era and it shows.  She has created plausible characters and there are many twists and turns in the solving of the crime.  A great read.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pachinko

I just finished reading Min Jin Lee's 2007 novel Free Food for Millionaires.  I loved it so I had to pick up her latest novel Pachinko.  It took the author 30 years to write this story and I am glad that she persevered.  It was wonderful.

The story involves 4 generations of a Korean family who originated in Pyongyang.  The novel covers the early 1900s through the 1980s. After Sunja Kim became a pregnant teen whose father refused to marry her, a Christian missionary lodging at her parents boardinghouse, Isak Baek, offers to marry her and take her to Osaka, Japan where he will be serving a church as its pastor.  The family had cared for him while he suffered a bout of tuberculosis during his stay.  The family feels this is a generous offer as Sunja and her baby will be ostracized if they stay.

Sunja and Isak leave North Korea for Japan where they will live with his brother Yoseb and Yoseb's wife Kyunghee.  Sunja and Kyunghee become fast friends and the newlyweds become accustomed to harsh discrimination from the Japanese who even Japanize their last name to Boku.  Koreans are believed to be a lesser sort of people and are treated accordingly by the Japanese. However, life is better for them in Japan because food is more prevalent.  Sunja gives birth to a son, Noa, and a year later gives birth to another son, Mozasu. Yoseb and Kyunghee treat them as their own as they are unable to have children.

Noa is smart at school and plans to take college entrance exams so that he can attend university.  Mazuso gets into alot of trouble for repeatedly fighting with Japanese classmates at school and is told to go work for a family friend who owns a couple of pachinko parlors.  There he blossoms but Noa is unhappy with the arrangement because he feels that it is beneath the family's dignity to be involved in pachinko.

Pachinko is a mechanical game that is both an arcade game and a gambling device which is popular in Japan.  It is similar to slot machines in Western casinos but operates differently.  Small steel balls are given to the operator to use inside the machine and they are both a bet and a payout.  Many pachinko parlors are run by Yazuki (organized crime).

I loved the characters in this novel, especially the women.  They had hard lives and were constrained by societal expectations of what a woman can do. Sunja got lucky with Isak.  They had a good marriage even though it was short. Kyunghee was barren but her husband stayed with her.  Sunja's mother, Yangjin, married Sunja's father Hoonie, who had physical disabilities, so that she would have food to eat but they had a good marriage too and ran a boardinghouse together.

The story moved along at a good pace. The plot grew out of the tumultuous lives of the characters who lived in an uncertain time for Koreans, both in Korea and in Japan. The Baek family's experiences with discrimination kept them at hands length from the Japanese as much as possible.  One wrong move by any of them and they could have been deported back to North Korea even though most of the family was born in Japan.  It did not make them Japanese citizens and it was difficult for Koreans to obtain Japanese citizenship.

This is a must read.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Free Food for Millionaires

The theme of Free Food for Millionaires is resentment.  The main character, Casey Han, resents her parents expectations for her success and whenever they find out about a mistake that she has made her father hits her. The parents, likewise, resent Casey for not following their native Korean customs while living in their new American homeland.  They also resent her for not having a job lined up yet especially after all they have saved from their dry cleaning business to help support her.

The story opens with Casey returning home with a degree from Princeton. After a fight with her father she is thrown out of the house and with no where to go other than her white, American boyfriend's house. Upon arrival she sees him in bed with 2 girls and walks out.  Eventually they get back together and she lives with him; a secret from her parents and their Korean friends.  All of Casey's friends have trust funds and have great opportunities after graduation but Casey doesn't.  Since she has no money she has to adjust her expensive habits to her pocketbook.  That proves to be difficult and she gets into alot of debt, another secret she must keep from her parents.

Casey takes a job as an assistant at an investment banking firm which is basically secretarial.  She is qualified to be a banker but failed to apply for jobs while she was still in school and was unable to get one of those jobs.  She lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend and socializes with her Korean girlfriend Ella and Ella's Korean husband.  In order to make a few extra bucks she continues to work weekends at her mother's friend Sabine's retail shop.

Sabine would like Casey to take over her shop when she retires but Casey cannot decide what she wants to do with her life.  She seems to be just going through the motions with her career and personal life and does just that for several years.

As I have said in earlier posts I like Asian fiction so I loved this book.  The fear of and the need to break cultural traditions by the first generations in America are always fascinating to me.  The native Korean culture is on full display with the thoughts and actions of her parents. Casey, her sister Tina and friend Ella all have different ideas on how to assimilate into the American society.

The younger characters were perfect examples of the dilemma facing Korean Americans.  The author did a great job creating them as well as how they related to each other.  The pace was perfect for this 500+ page book as was the writing. If you decide to read this book I don't think that you will be disappointed.  It is wonderful.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

This is the first book of Dominic Smith's that I have read and it was fabulous.  The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is part mystery and part historical fiction.  The book alternates between the 17th century, the 1950s and year 2000.

The back cover blurb summarizes the book as follows:  "Amsterdam, 1631: Sara de Vos, the first female master painter in the Guild of St. Luke, defies convention by painting a haunting landscape. New York City, 1957: Her only known surviving work, At the Edge of a Wood, hangs in the bedroom of a wealthy lawyer descended from the original owner. Ellie Shipley, a struggling art history student, paints a forgery for an art dealer. Sydney, 2000:  Now a celebrated art historian and curator, Ellie mounts an exhibit of female Dutch painters and finds that both versions are en route to her museum."

Loved, loved, loved this book.  Each era depicts women artists in the male dominated art world.  There was alot of information on art history, art restoration and forgeries which I found to be exciting.  Of course, there is also alot of information about Dutch painters of the 17th century.  The author was well researched in these areas.

All of the characters were appealing, especially Sara.  I enjoyed reading about her life even though the author created her from a composite of real Dutch female painters.  She seemed real to me and I felt that I had known her.  Another great feature was that there were at least 3 strong female characters, remarkable in a book written by a man and done so well.

This book is a must read.



The Obsidian Chamber

The inside cover blurb summarizes the book as follows:

"After a harrowing, otherworldly confrontation in Exmouth, Massachusetts, Special Agent A. X. L. Prendergast is missing, presumed dead. Sick with grief, Pendergast's ward, Constance, retreats to her chambers beneath the family mansion at 891 Riverside Drive-only to be taken captive by a shadowy figure from the past. Proctor, Pendergast's longtime bodyguard, springs to action, chasing Constance's kidnappers through cities, across oceans and into wastelands unknown.  And by the time Proctor discovers the truth, a terrifying engine has stirred-and it may already be too late."

The Obsidian Chamber is the 16th Special Agent Pendergast mystery.  I have only read one other book in the series, Blue Labyrinth and my lack of knowledge about the series definitely affected how I felt about the book. I felt that it was a little slow.  There is alot of back story written into the novel which I needed to know to understand what was happening, but it made the reading less suspenseful for me.  The book is described as a thriller by the publisher but I did not feel any thrill.  The plot was definitely interesting but because half of the book was back story, it fell a little flat to me.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Runaway

I had a hard time getting into this novel but after the first 50 pages I became interested. The story alternates between events that occurred in 1965 and the present time.  I liked the 1965 story better but it ended with the present and all the loose ends were wrapped up.

The story opens in 2015 with 4 childhood friends getting reacquainted. The story then goes back to 1965 with 5 teenage friends running away from their homes in Glasgow for London with hopes of making it big in the music industry. Guitarist Jack Mackay makes the decision to leave after being expelled from high school and his bandmates decide that they don't really want to stay home either. Luke is tired of going door to door with his Jehovah Witnesses parents, keyboard player Maurie wants to give up the opera lessons his parents have forced him into taking , drummer Jeff is a school dropout selling cars and bass player Dave just wants to leave. They lose all their money from a fellow traveler who takes advantage of them and upon arrival they are taken advantage of again by a man who says he can get them a demo record that they can market to an agent.  While they are in London a new friend is killed. When the group are seniors they decide to retrace their steps in London.  Maurie gathers the group together telling them that he has something to finish in London that got started all those years ago.  With Jack's grandson as the driver they set off for London.

While this was a good book it was not as good as earlier May novels.  The plot was simpler and the characters were less developed.   It just wasn't as interesting as the usual Peter May novel.

3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Hostage

Hostage is Guy Delisle's newest graphic novel.  It was published last month by Canada's Drawn and Quarterly.  The book recounts the experiences of Christophe Andre who was kidnapped in 1997 in the Caucasus where he was working for Doctors Without Borders.  He was held for four months in Chechnya. The story is told just as Andre told it to the author.

Andre spent his days counting them so that he could keep track of time.  He was held in empty rooms and a closet during his captivity.  In order to remain sane he would replay in his mind old military battles.  He was fed the same soup for every meal of every day.  His thoughts about what his NGO was doing to rescue him and when it might happen created some suspense as you felt that it might actually happen the way he fantasized about it.

I have read all of Delisle's travelogues and they were cute and humorous. Hostage is a different book.  Not only is it a serious book, the reader cannot help but feel the same thoughts that Andre was feeling, understanding the discomfort of being handcuffed to a radiator, and wondering along with Andre when he will next get some information about his situation.  You feel that you are in that room with him.

The color scheme is various muted greys for each page which conveys the heavy mood of the story.  It is most appropriate for a tale such as this.

I think that Hostage is Delisle's best book to date.  While his other novels were great they did not contain any suspense and as a mystery reader I appreciate that.





The Arab of the Future

The Arab of the Future A Childhood in the Middle East 1978-1984 is a graphic memoir by Riad Sattouf covering his life from birth through age 6.  It recounts his childhood in Libya, France and Syria in the 1970s and 1980s and is written from his perspective.  Sattouf is a former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

The book opens with his French mother Clementine and Syrian father Abdul-Razak meeting in France where both were in school at the Sorbonne.  It was not love at first sight but they eventually married and graduated.  His father had received his doctorate in history and accepted a job as an assistant professor in Libya where the family then moved.

Both mother and son stood out from their neighbors because of their blonde hair and were thought by most to either be American or Jewish.  Riad took notice of the Gaddafi regime's provocations toward Israel and America and had to deal with food shortages as well as the cultural differences between France and Libya.  When Gaddafi ordered people of different social statuses to switch jobs his father started looking for a new position. After two years in Libya they returned to France for the summer and then traveled to Syria where his father had been hired as an assistant professor at a university.

In Syria Riad suffered abuse from his cousins because they thought he was Jewish due to his blonde hair.  He saw a country in ruins and posters of Hafez al-Assad everywhere.  Again, Riad had to deal with a new culture.  The family returned to France for the summer to visit with Clementine's parents and then went back to Syria.  It is here that the story ends with a promise that the story will be continued in another book.

While the artwork consists of basic black and white line drawings there are alternating color schemes for the different locations of the author's life. France is light blue, Libya is yellow and Syria is light pink.

The name of the book was inspired by the author's father who said that he was trying to raise his son to be an arab of the future, one that would get an education to escape religious dogma.  His father, while educated, was sexist, racist and an anti-semite despite himself being an arab of the future.  He treated his wife abysmally and I have to wonder why she stayed married to him.

The Arab of the Future shows the Arabic mindset and was educational for me. The story was not as compelling to me as other graphic novels but I am still looking forward to reading the sequels to this novel.

Rolling Blackouts

Rolling Blackouts:  Dispatches From Turkey, Syria and Iraq is a graphic novel summarizing a trip that the author took to the Middle East with friends who are international journalists.  It is a comic about how journalism works and is based on true events that occurred during the two month trip.

The journalists have formed a collective called Seattle Globalist and have planned a trip through  Turkey, Syria and Iraq to write reports primarily about the region absorbing refugees with dwindling resources, an underreported subject in the mainstream media.  All but one are friends from childhood and includes a former Marine who had been stationed in Iraq.  The author observed her friends interview civilians, refugees and officials including a UN refugee administrator, taxi driver, Iraqi refugee deported from the U. S., Iraqis seeking refuge in Syria and the American Marine.

The journalists use their first interview with a subject mainly to get to know them personally.  Then they meet afterward to discuss what kind of story they can get from the person and how to lead the interview.  Follow-up interviews focus on how the war affected them and if the interviewee was a refugee the journalists discussed their life before the war, how they became refugees, what their future plans and/or desires are and what kind of life they think is actually possible for them.

I found it interesting that none of the refugees wanted to resettle in the U. S. They believe the U.S. invasion of Iraq caused their life to be permanently over. It was also interesting that while the refugees were both rich and poor, most of them were formerly middle class with degrees. There is no longer a middle class in this region and that is why these countries are finding it impossible to rebuild.  All of the people with skills that are needed to rebuild are sitting in refugee camps.

I loved this serious non-fiction graphic novel and hope that more serious graphic novels are written in the future. The information inside its pages was very informative.  The artwork was created with colorful watercolor drawings done in comic panels.  This book is a must read for our national politicians as they do not seem to understand the problems facing the Middle East.  Highly recommended!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen begins with a quote from a July 26, 2007 Economist magazine article "Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called 'ghost marriages.'  Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave.  Sometimes, when a man dies unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a 'wedding,' and bury the couple together... A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides.  Marriage brokers - usually respectable folk who find brides for village men - account for most of the middlemen.  At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlors, body snatchers - and now murderers."

The story opens with the death of Deshi Li's brother Wei.  Deshi accidentally kills him during a fight at the air force base where he is stationed.  When he tells his parents that Wei is dead his mother sends him off to bring back a corpse bride for Wei to be buried with so that he is not alone through eternity.  Deshi hires a man to dig up a grave of a woman for him but Deshi is grossed out after seeing the bones of an old corpse and leaves him at the cemetery to seek a "crisp" corpse.  He then begins to travel looking for a bride when he runs across Lily Chen who is getting water from a well for her parents.  Lily joins him believing that he will take her away from her remote village to Beijing for a better life.  Deshi is planning to kill her though.  As they travel they run into some strange folks and Lily's sassiness begins to grow on Deshi.

What makes this book special is the incredible artwork.  The author has used watercolors, pens and inks in her drawings in gorgeous colors that leap off of the page.  She has detailed Chinese papercuts drawn in red as well as colorful landscapes and simple line drawn characters.  This could really be displayed as an art book on a coffee table.  The art is that good.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.  The story was well paced and had an interesting storyline that could actually happen in China today.  Lily is hilarious with her sass.  I love her character.

I give it a 10 out of 5 stars!





The Lost Order

The Lost Order is Steve Berry's 12th Cotton Malone mystery and his 16th book to date.

Cotton accepts an assignment from the Smithsonian Institution and travels to Arkansas to locate a lost treasure.  He becomes involved with the remnant of the most powerful group in American history-the Knights of the Golden Circle. The Knights were founded in 1854 and disappeared in the early 20th century. The KKK was an off-shoot of the group. However, there are now only about 550 sentinals of the Knights that are rumored to be guarding billions of dollars worth of Confederate gold.  The Smithsonian is not government funded and would like to have the gold to finance their museums. The only problem is that the treasure can only be found by locating 5 stones with clues to the location of the treasure.  All of the clues have been encrypted in a code that has been unbreakable for 150 years. Cotton travels from Washington, DC to Arkansas and then to New Mexico to solve the code and locate the treasure.

There is a subplot about the Speaker of the House of Representatives putting a group of Reprentatives from the House Rules Committee to make a change in their rules that the House will only vote on legislation that originated in the House.  This makes the Senate powerless. Some elected officials want to push this rule through while others want to make this change by holding a second Constitutional Convention and write a new Constitution that 3/4ths of the states will have to ratify.  The idea for the rule change originated in the Confederate Constitution.  Most of the Knights were Confederate supporters. Who wins?  You have to read the book to find out.

The Lost Order was an interesting read.  I learned alot about our country's history from the Writer's Note at the end of the book wherein he explained which parts of the story were true and which parts he created in his mind.

Cotton's family history is central to the story and that added to his character growth.  Angus "Cotton" Adams, a Confederate spy, holds the key to everything needed to resolve this hunt for treasure.

While I loved the historical facts surrounding the plot, this installment of the series was not as compelling as earlier books in the series.  The earlier books were page turners but this one had a slower pace.  However, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.





The Golden Son

The Golden Son is author Shilpi Somaya Honda's second novel.  It is the story of Anil Patel, the oldest son of his family in Panchanagar, India.  He is the first to read in his class and the first to memorize math tables.  While he is expected to inherit his father's farm one day, his father knows he will be a doctor and encourages him to continue his education.  When he is 17 he leaves home for medical college in Ahmabadab, leaving behind his family, friends and especially his best friend Leena.  After gaining acceptance into a medical residency at Parkview Hospital in Dallas, TX Anil leaves everyone behind and travels to the U. S.

Leena marries someone else while he is gone but the marriage is marred by her demanding husband and abusive in-laws.  Anil on the other hand struggles with adapting to American culture and the most difficult part of his life, being an intern at Parkland.  While he used to be good at everything it seems that Anil cannot get anything right in his new position.  A few years later Anil and Leena see each other again and struggle together with their past and present circumstances.

Loved, loved, loved this novel. The characters of Anil and Leena were sympathetic.  They both had heart wrenching challenges to deal with as they each broke with tradition in a different way. Their old-school parents Mina and Jayant Patel and Nirmala and Pradip were stereotypical Indian parents and I loved reading about all the cooking Mina did.  I wish I knew how to make those foods.  The family arguments between the Patel brothers was also interesting to watch as each tried to carve out their own destinies within the family business.

This family saga was fun reading.  Give it a try.  5 out of 5 stars!



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Last Jew

The Last Jew covers the life of Yonah Toledano of Toledo, Spain.  When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella he remained behind, having missed the last boat out of the country.  He was 15.  The novel is a story about the Spanish Inquisition where Jews either had to convert to Catholicism or leave the country.  Those that converted, the so called "new Christians," were still in danger of being accused of heresy, a crime punishable by death.

Yonah witnessed the death of his father and brother during the 3 month period that they had to leave within and vowed to his father that he would always remain a Jew.  Yonah changed his name and frequently changed jobs.  When he felt that he was in danger of being exposed, he left the job. He worked as a farm worker, seaman, shepherd, armorer and finally apprenticed as a physician.

You really get an idea of what life was like during this time period.  The author well-researched the history and it shows. I felt sorry for this character who had to keep running away from potential trouble.  It reduced his life to basic terror.  While I know that many people lived this way at the time, it is hard to come to grips with it as a modern person.

I did not know much about the Inquisition before reading this novel and my curiosity has been peeked.  I would love to read more about this era both in historical fiction and non-fiction.  

Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Black Widow

I am a big fan of Dan Silva and The Black Widow is his 19th novel in the Gabriel Allon spy series.  The Black Widow begins with master spy Gabriel Allon putting off becoming chief of Israel's intelligence service in order to do one more operation.  ISIS agents have attacked France's Jews and killed Allon's friend Hannah Weisberg.  The man running ISIS has taken the name Saladin and Allon has decided to put a live agent in the caliphate in order to destroy it.  He recruits a young female doctor for the job who will pose as a possible ISIS recruit.  She will be a black widow - a woman who becomes radicalized after losing her boyfriend to an attack from the West.  The recruit will travel from Israel to Paris to Greece then to Raqqa and eventually to Washington DC while performing her mission.

The Black Widow is one of my favorite installments of the series.  Here we get to see how a spy is recruited and trained. Also, Allon's personal life has changed as he now has two kids and he is beginning to see how his life will change when he becomes the head of the Office, as the intelligence service is called in the series. These are interesting character developments which we don't get to see too often.  Our Gabriel Allon is moving on with his life.

This book is a thriller writer's thriller. There was so much suspense that it kept me reading until I finished its 500+ pages in one Sunday morning.  It has been a long time since I have had the luxury of reading a thriller this good.

If you have never read a book in this series I highly recommend that you give it a chance.  They all move fast and have a good balance between exposition, rising tensions, and action.  I doubt that you would be disappointed.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Last Chance Olive Ranch

The Last Chance Olive Ranch is Susan Wittig Albert's 25th China Bayles cozy mystery.  In this installment of the series there are two separate plots which are unrelated to each other.  China Bayles and her business partner Ruby Wilcox are scheduled to teach a workshop at the Last Chance Olive Ranch the next day. However, China's husband and ex-cop McQuaid gets a phone call advising that a killer he put on death row has escaped and has killed 2 people already.  He suspects that he is on the killer's list of people to exact revenge from.  China does not want to go to the workshop so that she can stay home and keep her husband safe.  However, she is talked into going and finds herself involved in a dangerous matter at the ranch where 2 characters battle for ownership of the ranch.

I have read the entire China Bayles series and this is the first time that China's activities and those of her husband were not related to the same plot.  I did not feel that it took anything away from the story though.  I know and love all of the characters in the series and they are strong enough to carry separate plots on their own.  Both plots were complex and interesting.

When you love a series you come to love the characters.  The sad part about finishing a book is that you have to wait another year before the author can write and publish the next book and separation anxiety sets in.  That just shows the strength of the series though.

The Last Chance Olive Ranch has alot of information on the almighty olive which was fun to read about.  There is also some suspense with the chapters alternating between China's story and McQuaid's story.  All in all, this was another great read from Susan Wittig Albert.


The Empress of Tempera

The Empress of Tempera by Alex Dolan begins with protagonist Paire Anjou watching a man stab himself to death after sobbing in front of a painting in the window of the Fern Gallery where she works.  The  Empress Xiao Zhe Yi, Seated was painted on wood with tempera paint by an artist named Qi and was on loan from an unknown source.  Paire, while being in shock from watching a man kill himself, was surprised to see the painting in the gallery as the gallery was hosting an exhibition of works by her boyfriend Derek Rosewood.  Hundreds of people from all over the world come to the gallery and obsess over the Empress's stare and clothing, including Paire.  The painting is stolen, stolen again and stolen a third time as Paire researches the painting and the artist's histories.  She sets in motion a plethora of crimes by others as they bribe, steal and kill in order to possess the painting.

The story shows the dark underside of the art world. It is also about art history and the family secrets of those who are trying to possess the painting.  Paire's own family background is a part of the story which was interesting to read about.  Nobody seems to be whom they say they are which gave the novel a lot of suspense.  The plot was complex with many twists and turns.

I loved this second novel by Mr. Dolan.  He is a new author for me and I will be following him in the future.

Shelter

Shelter is a family saga about 2 generations of a Korean American family in America.  Kyung Cho is a husband and father of one son with financial problems due to not being able to live within his means.  After considering selling his house and moving back in with his wealthy parents who he does not get along with, tragedy strikes his parents and they become dependent upon him.  Kyung tries to re-enter their lives as he takes care of them but he is rejected and does not know why.  He believes that he is doing his duty as a Korean son.

Shelter shows the cultural differences of Korean Americans.  The way they think about family life, community life, and religion is clearly shown.  While the author was born in South Korea she was raised in North Dakota by her immigrant parents just as Kyung was.  She obviously knows what she is writing about here.  The story moved along at a good pace and much of the tension was between how differently Kyung perceived his duties compared to what his parents actually expected of him.

This was a lovely debut novel from Jung Yun and I am looking forward to reading more from her.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Vatican Princess

I read C. W. Gortner's first novel The Tudor Secret and liked it.  After seeing The Vatican Princess on my public library bookshelves I knew that I would have to get caught up with reading his other books.  I knew nothing about the Borgia family before reading this and was not sure if I would like it as much as other historical mysteries from the Tudor era. It did not disappoint however.

Lucrezia Borgia is growing up in a household owned by the widow of her father's brother Adriana de Mila.  She had left her mother Vannozza's care when she was seven.  Lucrezia is her father's favorite child and he decides that she should be educated and sends her to school, a rarity in the 1490s.  Pope Innocent VIII has just died and Lucrezia's father, Rodrigo Borgia, is soon elected to the papacy as Pope Alexander VI.  With Lucrezia's great education she becomes her father's pawn in the marriage market in an effort to gain him power.

While much of this story is about her family, it is seen through the eyes of an innocent Lucrezia.  She is used by her father and brothers throughout her father's papacy in order to gain money and power for the family. Everything that they do is all for the family.  Lucrezia is completely devoted to her father and brothers until she learns their true natures.  After that she only desires happiness, but not at the expense of the family of course.

I found it amazing that a priest who openly acknowledged his four illegitimate children could become Pope. While Pope he allowed them to violently play the political scene of the times.  In fact, Lucrezia's brother Cesare was Machiavelli's inspiration for his book The Prince.  The Borgias certainly earned their reputation in history and I enjoyed reading about them.

Salem's Cipher

Salem's Cipher is Jess Lourey's debut novel and it is a fabulous start to what I hope will be a long writing career.  I loved this book which I believe is going to be a series with Salem Wiley as the main character. She is a cryptanalyst, able to decipher codes.

The story opens with the mothers of Salem and her best friend Isabel "Bel" Odegaard being kidnapped.  The mothers were also best friends and Salem and Bel grew up together.  After being contacted by the police about the crime the two of them meet at the scene of the crime where Salem finds a note that her mother wrote years ago.   The note was hidden in a wooden box that Salem had made for her when she was a child.  The note references a Dr. Keller who is a curator at a local museum and gives them a clue to look at a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi called Judith Slaying Holofernes.  After examining the painting Salem finds some words written deep within the painting.  Dr. Keller is vague about how he knows the mothers but gives them enough clues to send them off to Salem, Massachusetts in a search for the truth about what the mothers were up to.  As Salem and Bel follow numerous word and number puzzles they are led to travel  cross country all while being followed by men who are trying to kill them.

This was a wonderful story.  The puzzles that the women, in particular Salem, had to solve were difficult.  I had no idea how they were going to be figured out.  As an aside, the truth of the story involved the first woman presidential candidate just days before the General Election.  This added a nice element. Also, it is always great to see a novel with alot of strong female characters.  There are 5 here so you know the book was written by a woman.

Simply fabulous!


Friday, May 5, 2017

A Change of Heart

This is the first book of Sonali Dev's that I have read. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the book.  I just could not get into it.

The back cover blurb summarizes the story "Dr. Nikhil 'Nic' Joshi had it all - marriage, career, purpose.  Until, while working with Doctors Without Borders, in a Mumbai slum with his wife, Jen, discovers a black market organ transplant ring.  Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze.  On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim:  she received Jen's heart in a transplant and has a message for him.  Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala's story as absurd, but there's something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out if a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters - her young son Joy.  She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication"

After reading 100 pages I did not know any of the above other than that Nic was an alcoholic cruise ship doctor.  So, I stopped reading.  My rule is that if I cannot get hooked after reading 50-100 pages, I put it down.  Alot of verbage was wasted on descriptions of Nic's alcoholic state which did not interest me and I did not see anything developing in the story. Better luck with the next book.


The Killing Ship

This is my first time reading Simon Beaufort and I was not disappointed. The Killing Ship is a short novel with only 217 pages but alot of action is packed into its pages.  It takes place in Antarctica where a group of scientists are spending the summer doing research.

With 10 days left to finish their research, marine biologist Andrew Barrister turns down a request from his co-workers to take a long hike to view the scenery on Antarctica's remote Livingstone Island. No one is supposed to leave the station on their own due to hazardous conditions.  However, a few leave but do not return.  No one knows if they were together or went out on their own.  A crew is dispatched to look for them but one hears gunshots and another sees a ship.  It is too late in the season for ships to be in the region so it is a suspicious arrival.  Then one of the scientists discovers that their food and supplies have been sabotaged and there is not enough food to go around until their rescue ship comes to pick them up.  As they leave the station to search for their crew members the scientists run into killers on the island who are pursuing them for reasons unknown.

I loved this story.  It was very fast paced and suspenseful.  The ending was surprising and a little shocking too. Psychological thrillers are my favorite mystery subgenre for a reason.  They are engrossing with each chapter ending with suspense and characters who are so shocked by their circumstances that they begin to lose reality.  The Killing Ship aptly fits the bill.  Highly recommended!

Dragon Springs Road

Dragon Springs Road is Janie Chang's second novel.  It takes place in early twentieth century China and follows the childhood of Jialing from age 7 when her mother abandons her through age 21.

Jialing and her mother reside in the Western Residence on Dragon Springs Road.  On the day her mother left Jialing, she burned incense and sat with the fox spirit who has lived in their courtyard for centuries.  She promised to return but after 3 days she had not returned yet.  Jialing does not leave the Western Residence because her mother told her never to do so.  She is Eurasian and is not accepted by society.  A new family soon moves in to the recently vacated Central Residence and Jialing meets a friend her age, Yang Anjuin. Anjuin becomes her best friend and introduces her to Anjuin's grandmother, Grandmother Yang, and Jialing is hired as a bondservant to do housework in the Yang home in exchange for food and the few coins Jialing's mother left her. Jialing continues to sleep in the Western Residence where she talks daily with the fox spirit and continues to wait for her mother to return.

When a new white family moves into the Eastern Residence Jialing befriends their daughter Anna Shea.  She soon learns Mrs. Shea is unhappy living in Shanghai and takes it out on her husband and daughter with abusive behavior.  After Anna mysteriously dies the Sheas move and a group of teachers from a local Christian school move in.  Jialing is offered an education and the Yangs agree to let her attend in exchange for money.

Jialing grows into adulthood, always relying on advice from the fox spirit and always looking for her long lost mother to return.

There is alot more to this story than what I summarized.  I found it to be engrossing and read it in one sitting.  I loved the characters.  Jialing and Anjuin are sympathetic characters as is Jialing's fox spirit friend.  The story moves along at a nice speed with Jialing having to deal with alot of obstacles including racism.  I have always been attracted to Asian fiction which is one reason why I loved this story.  However, I must say that this is one of the best books that I have read in awhile.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero

I read a few good reviews of this novel and decided that I had to read it.  I found it to be engrossing and read all of its 500+ pages in one sitting.  I became curious to find out what parts of the novel were historical and what parts were fiction and embarked on some research into Nero's life.

The novel begins with a 3 year old Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus being thrown into a lake by his uncle Emperor Caligula to drown as a sacrifice to the goddess Diana.  He is saved by a woman and returns home where he is being raised by an aunt. He did not know his mother, who had been sent in exile after his birth, or his father.  His father had been killed.  As Lucius learns his family history he becomes aware early in life that it is better to be cruel than dead.  He watches as his relatives scheme and poison each other in order to gain power.

Lucius/Nero is fascinated by the arts and athleticism and pursues both of them as he learns to navigate the politics of Rome.  His harshest tests come from his mother whose goal is to control the empire even if it means assassinating her son.

Lucius, later known as Nero, is obviously traumatized by the betrayals he experienced in his early life and became a harsh ruler because of it.  The novel covers his life from age 3 to 25 with a promise of a part 2 from the author in her Afterword.

The era is extremely well researched. Everything that I learned from independent Internet research into the Roman Caesars was on display in the book.  However, the author presents a different Nero.  His true interests are quite ordinary and he does not shy away from them even though it is not seemly for an Emporer to participate in them. In the end he does not care what others think because he is the Emperor and if the old rules do not work for him, he changes the rules.

This is a very entertaining book and I cannot recommend it more highly.



The Seventh Plague

I am a fan of James Rollins' Sigma Force novels.  The Seventh Plague is his 18th novel in the series and his 23rd novel to date.  The inside front cover blurb summarizes the novel as follows:

"Two years after vanishing into the Sudanese desert, the leader of a British archeological expedition, Professor Harold McCabe, comes stumbling out of the sands, frantic and delirious, but he dies before he can tell his story.  The mystery deepens when an autopsy uncovers a bizarre corruption: someone has begun to mummify the professor's body-while he was still alive.

His strange remains are returned to London for further study, when alarming news arrives from Egypt.  The medical team that had performed the man's autopsy has fallen ill with an unknown disease, one that is quickly spreading throughout Cairo.  Fearing the worst, a colleague of the professor reaches out to a longtime friend: Painter Crowe, the director of Sigma Force.  The call is urgent, for Professor McCabe had vanished into the desert while searching for proof of the ten plagues of Moses.  As the pandemic grows, a disturbing question arises:  Are those plagues starting again?

Before Director Crowe can investigate, a mysterious group of assassins leaves behind a fiery wake of destruction and death, erasing all evidence.  With the professor's body incinerated, his home firebombed, Sigma Force must turn to the archeologist's only daughter, Jane McCabe, for help.  While sifting through what's left of her father's work, she discovers a puzzling connection tying the current threat to a shocking historical mystery, one involving the travels of Mark Twain, the genius of Nikola Tesla, and the adventures of famous explorer Henry Morgan Stanley.

To unravel a secret going back millennia, Director Crowe and Commander Grayson Pierce will be thrust to opposite sides of the globe.  One will search for the truth, traveling to the plague ridden streets of Cairo to a vast ancient tomb buried under the burning sands of the Sudan; the other will struggle to stop a mad genius locked within a remote Arctic engineering complex, risking the lives of all those he holds dear.

As the global crisis grows even larger, Sigma Force will confront a threat born of the ancient past and made real by the latest science-a danger that will unleash cascading series of plagues, culminating in a scourge that could kill all of the world's children. . . decimating humankind forever."

I expected alot from this story but was disappointed.  I found myself skipping pages because I was only interested in the part about the ancient past.  This was not a thriller for me at all.  First of all, this is not your typical Sigma Force novel.  Some of the series' dominant characters had small roles and the storyline was not a usual Sigma Force plot.  Second, the subplot involving the assassins did not fit well with the rest of the story and neither did the subplot about the genius in the Arctic. I think the author should have stuck with the main plot and run with it.

Very disappointed as James Rollins is one of my favorite authors.


Monday, April 17, 2017

The Last Days of Cafe Leila

I received an ARC of this book through the Early Reviewers Club at Librarything. It is a story of three generations of the Yadegar family in post-revolutionary Iran.

Zod Yadegar has written his daughter Noor in California asking that she return home to Tehran where he runs the family business Cafe Leila.  She agrees to come and brings along her angry teenage daughter Lily.  Noor, a nurse, notices her father appears to be ill but is not aware how sick he is.  She soon learns he has terminal pancreatic cancer and decides to stay longer than the week she had originally planned to stay.  This, of course, upsets Lily who did not want to come to Tehran anyway.  While she is there, Noor gets reacquainted with longtime Cafe Leila employees Naneh Goli, Soli, and Ala who have always been considered family.

The family saga alternates between Noor's family problems, Zod's marriage and family life with Noor's mother Parvaneh, and Zod's parents Yanik and Nina who emigrated to Iran from Russia and opened Cafe Leila. Yanik and Nina created a tight family bond that begins to fall apart after Zod forced his children to leave Iran when they became college age and the country became too dangerous to live in. However, when Zod's kids return 30 years later the family bond appears to still be alive.

The setting of the restaurant and food is prominent.  All life problems seem to be solved by working hard to create an inviting place for their customers.  While Iran has changed over the years, Cafe Leila has not changed one bit and offers its customers a respite from a quickly changing society.

I loved this debut novel by Donia Bijan. The characters were loveable and I enjoyed reading about the history of this family through each generation's stories. The descriptions of the food served at the restaurant not only made me hungry but was also historical to the family.  Yanik brought his mother's recipes with him went he came to Iran.  Every aspect of this wonderful book is family related.

Highly recommended.






The Empress of Bright Moon

The Empress of Bright Moon is part 2 of a duology on the early life of Empress Wu, China's only ruling female.  The story picks up where part 1, The Moon in the Palace, ended with a dying Emperor Taizong and his son Pheasant,  formally Emperor Gaozong, being declared as his heir. Pheasant is in a relationship with Wu Mei, our protagonist.

When Pheasant becomes Emperor his uncle advises the court that Taizong made a will before his death installing the uncle as Regent over Pheasant even though Pheasant was an adult.  Pheasant is married to Lady Wang, now Empress Wang, who has been barren during their 7 year marriage. Empress Wang has become a bitter woman and treats the concubines abysmally, especially Mei whom she is jealous of. Mei has been able to produce 2 children for the new Emperor and is not only her rival but a rival of the new Regent. Mei is promoted to the Most Adored title (the Emperor's favorite) early in the story and is given another new title that is higher than the other high ranking concubines, Luminous Lady.  There are concubines titled as Talents, Graces, Beauties and Leading Ladies.  Mei struggles to obtain power as she battles her 2 rivals.

I have loved both of the books in the duology and am thinking about re-reading them soon.  They are that good. The female characters are strong but there are less of them in book 2.  The plot is mainly about Mei's problems with the Regent and Empress Wang as well as Pheasant's struggles with his Regent and the court in general.  The other high ranking concubines are not as central to the plot as they were in book 1.  Both books are well researched.  The political intrigue during the Tang dynasty and in the palace are represented well.

A must read for historical fiction fans.

The Moon in the Palace

This book is part 1 of the Empress of the Bright Moon duology.  It takes place in 7th century China and is a fictionalized account of the early years of China's Empress Wu, the only ruling Empress in China's history.

13 year old Wu Mei is excited to be chosen as a concubine for Emperor Taizong.  She believes that she can help her family regain its standing if she is able to impress the Emperor and become his Most Adored ie, his favorite.  It is hard to be summoned by the Emperor as there are many concubines and a bedding schedule that must be followed. Being young and unfamiliar with court rules and politics she is taken advantage of by another concubine named Jewel who takes Mei's place after Mei is summoned by the Emperor and soon becomes Most Adored.

Mei meets a boy at court called Pheasant and falls in love with him.  They secretly arrange to meet on several occasions. However, Mei continues to pursue the Emperor and receives several promotions and demotions that seem to be controlled by Jewel.  One evening while she is in the Emperor's bedroom she is seen by Pheasant.  Mei discovers that Pheasant is one of the Emperor's sons and is embarrassed by her actions. Still feeling a need to help her family Mei plays court politics to her advantage but continues to be challenged by Jewel.

I was spellbound by this story and read it in one sitting.  It was impossible to put down and I was up at 2 am trying to finish reading it.  The story is primarily about the political machinations of the Emperor's concubines as they befriend, betray and befriend each other again in order to gain power.  As such, there is alot of court intrigue as they battle each other to become Most Adored or even the new Empress.

What is unusual about the story is that there are many strong female characters. These concubine are no dummies and are more than adept at court politics. Other interesting aspects of the book are the rules concerning the Emperor's wardrobe and the running of the silkworm houses.  I especially enjoyed the information on how to raise silkworms.

All in all, The Moon in the Palace was a great read.







The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

I am a fan of Lisa See and had to pick up her latest novel.  The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane follows the life of Li-Yan, called Girl by her family as she is the only daughter in her family.  She is a member of China's Akha ethnic minority. They are animistic in belief and Ms. See covers their traditions in great detail. They live in the countryside in a remote village without electricity and running water in stark contrast to the majority of people in 1980s China and they all pick tea leaves for their livelihood.

Girl walks for hours each day with her family in order to pick pu'er tea leaves all day that are then sold to a tea collective.  Her mother is also the area's midwife and Girl is expected to learn this skill too. She is one of her school's best students and hopes to advance to higher education if her family will let her.  Girl wants to grow up and leave her village for a better life.

One day a stranger arrives looking for the rare pu'er tea.  Girl is asked to translate for her village leaders. Also at this time Girl begins to question the traditions of her village and after having a child out of wedlock refuses to kill the infant which society requires her to do. She drops her infant off near an orphanage in a nearby town and subsequently leaves her village to pursue her education and career. After getting reacquainted with the father Girl tries to get her daughter back but she has already been adopted by a California couple.  Both mother and daughter search for a stable family life through those they meet through their study of pu'er tea.

I loved this story.  While I am attracted to Asian fiction it still has to be well written to capture my imagination.  The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane does just that with loveable characters and a compelling plot.  There is alot of information about the tea industry both locally and internationally which was enjoyable to read about.  The author also writes about her Chinese culture with its family traditions, government practices, religious superstitions, and ancestor worship practices.

A fabulous read!






Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Tapestry

I decided to read Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge after finding it at my public library.  It is a novel of Tudor England.

The story opens with Joanna Stafford, an ex-novice nun of a Dominican Order that was destroyed by King Henry VIII, vowing to live a quiet life weaving tapestries as a home business.  However, the king hears about her talent and summons her to his court to make a tapestry for him.  When she arrives an unknown assailant tries to kill her and the noblemen at court use her to further their plots.  Joanna finds that her friend Catherine Howard is present at court and is a favorite of the king while he tires from being married to his 4th wife Anne of Cleves.  Joanna becomes involved in court politics which she had tried to avoid but could not.

After reading this book I found out that it is the third novel in a series involving Joanna Stafford.  Of course, I now have to read the first 2 because The Tapestry was an engrossing story.  While I felt that the beginning was slow the author was probably introducing alot of background information from the earlier novels.  The story quickly picked up and I could not put it down.  I read it in one sitting.

The author provides a fascinating insight into the religious passions and politics of the era.  She shows the difficulties of being Catholic in a Reformed era with characters who have been displaced from the destroyed priories and monasteries by Henry VIII.

I highly recommend this book and give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It was a fabulous read.




Sunday, April 9, 2017

Jade Dragon Mountain

I picked this book as a selection for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.  It is the author's debut novel for a series featuring former Forbidden City librarian Li Du and takes place in China in the early 1700s.

Li Du has been recently exiled from China by the Emporer for being associated with traitors.  As he walks across China to leave the country he stops in Dayan near the Tibetan border where his cousin Tulishen is the magistrate.  Since the Emporer is expected to arrive in 6 days Tulishen has been planning to hold a festival for him where the Emporer is expected to show his subjects that he has control over the skies by predicting and producing an eclipse of the sun while he is there. While Li Du is there a Jesuit priest, astronomer Pieter van Dalen, suddenly dies.  The magistrate declares the death to be natural but there are signs that he has ignored indicating there was foul play. Tulishen does not want a murder investigation occurring near the time of the Emporer's arrival as it would upset the Emporer.  Li Du goes on his way but returns the next day asking his cousin if he can look into the priest's death. Tulishen gives him 5 days to come up with an answer before he has to leave again.

I loved this story.  There were interesting characters from Li Du and Tulishen to East India Company representative Nicholas Gray, Tulishen's consort Lady Chen, another Jesuit priest Brother Martin and assorted employees of the magistrate.  The historical aspect was well researched.  The author certainly knows her stuff.  Astronomy is prominent to the story and it added another interesting aspect to the plot.

This was an amazing read.  Highly recommended!


Friday, April 7, 2017

Pekoe Most Poison

I read Laura Child's latest tea shop mystery for the Craving the Cozies Reading Challenge.  It is the 18th installment of the tea shop mystery series and I have read every one of the books.  This is one of my favorite series.

In this installment of the series one of Charleston's wealthiest men, Beau Briggs, dies suddenly after drinking a cup of pekoe tea while at a rat tea party in his home.  Rat tea parties were prominent in Charleston in the mid 1900s and the waiters all wear rat headwear.  The main character, Theodosia Browning, owns the Indigo Tea Shop and is a guest at the event as is her tea master Drayton Connelly.  Her sleuthing begins immediately after Briggs collapses when she says that she thinks that the tea was poisoned.  With a reputation in the community for solving crimes Theodosia is asked by the victim's widow Doreen Briggs to look into his death.  So whodunit?  Was it the wife, the business partner, the neighbor or the publicist? Someone else?  You will have to read the book to find out.

One thing I like about Laura Childs' writing is that the crime occurs early in the story, usually in the first chapter. Some mystery novels don't have the crime committed until well into a third of the book.  I think that is a waste of paper. I want to know right away what crime needs to be solved so that the entire book is really about solving the crime.

The author also follows the cozy mystery formula perfectly.  What you get is a well crafted, fast paced story with several twists and turns and red herring or 2. This is must read for cozy lovers.


Exit Wounds

I have been looking forward to finding another Rutu Modan book ever since I read The Property.

In this graphic novel Koby Franco, a Tel Aviv cab driver, is contacted by a female soldier, Numi, who is looking for Koby's father Gabriel whom she believes was killed in a suicide bombing at a bus station cafeteria.  Gabriel was also her lover.  Together they follow clues and interview witnesses to the bombing to see if anyone knows whether Gabriel was in fact at the cafeteria at the time of the bombing.

The artwork consists of simply drawn characters with detailed background drawings of buildings.  I liked the use of bright colors.

This is a coming of age story with Koby trying to come to terms with his relationship with his father.  The mystery plot was well thought out and followed the pattern of a normal mystery novel with the usual 3 problems that a protagonist has to deal with in order to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading more from this author.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Hawaiian Quilt

I love Hawaiian quilts so when I saw this book on the shelf of my public library I had to check it out.  It is an Amish fiction novel but is more about Hawaii and its traditions than Amish traditions.  Die hard Amish fiction fans may not like this book as well as some others.  It is not about Hawaiian quilting either so it's title is a little off the mark.

Mandy Frey and 3 other girlfriends decide to take a cruise to Hawaii before deciding whether to join the Amish church.  Mandy leaves behind boyfriend Gideon whom she is considering marrying.  While visiting Maui Mandy and her friend Ellen miss getting back to the cruise ship before it leaves for another port.  They are stranded on Maui but get to know a couple who takes them in while their families come up with the funds to bring them home.  Mandy meets a boy there and is not sure whether she is fascinated with him or with the island vibe.

While I do not read romance fiction, I did enjoy this novel.  There was a lot of Hawaiiana to keep me captivated and the romance aspect intrigued me.   I may try some other Amish fiction books to see how I like them.







Monday, March 20, 2017

Coffin Road

I had already read Peter May's Enzo Files series when I saw this book at the library. I was hoping it would be another Enzo File novel but it was not.  It is better. Coffin Road is the best novel that I have read in a long time.  It had me spell bound and I could not put it down.

The story takes place on the Isle of Harris in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. The setting is central to the story.  The characters react to the flora and fauna of the scenery and the stormy weather patterns are part of the plot.  Since the author is a Scotsman he is an expert on the geography of this location.

The main character washes ashore on a beach on the Isle of Harris with amnesia. He has no idea who he is or why he is on the island.  He learns a few things about himself from other characters, including where he is living and eventually his name, but begins a search into his identity after finding a map of the island that leads to a path called Coffin Road. He feels led to this part of the island and begins his search there.

A rebellious teenager Karen Fleming stops attending school after her mother decides to let her boyfriend move in.  She feels her mother is betraying her father who has been dead for 2 years and determines to find out more about him.

Homicide detective George Gunn travels to a remote island to investigate the death of a man in an abandoned lighthouse where a century earlier 3 lighthouse keepers disappeared.

The stories of these 3 characters merge together in a tightly woven plot.  There is a lot of suspense in this book which turned out to be an eco-thriller.  I was not expecting the story to go there but it added an interesting aspect to the plot. An amazing read.  Highly recommended!




Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Shogun's Daughter


I read The Shogun's Daughter for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.  It is the 17th installment of a series with samurai Sano Ichiro as sleuth.  This is the first book of the series that I have read and it works great as a stand alone novel.

Tsuruhime is the shogun's daughter and she has succumbed to smallpox.  The mystery is whether she died of natural causes or was murdered.  She was the only person who could have produced an heir for the shogun.  After her death the shogun is told that he has a son named Yoshisato that he never knew about from one of his concubines.  Sano is tasked with finding out who killed Tsuruhime and gets caught up in the politics of feudal Japan in the 1700s.  

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  I have never read any historical mysteries set in Japan and learned a lot about life in this place and era.  In the beginning I had some trouble getting used to the Japanese names and expected it to be a long read.  Since the dialogue was modern the read went pretty fast.  It seemed , however, that most of the plot was about political intrigue instead of being about the solving of a crime.   The political intrigue, while fascinating, made the book seem longer than it needed to be.  

All in all this was a great book and I look forward to reading the entire series.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Kind of Mystery 2017 Reading Challenge

I am joining this challenge which runs from February 1, 2017 through January 31, 2018.  There does not appear to be any rules for the challenge so I assume you can read any number of books in any sub-genre of the mystery genre.  I sort of like a challenge with no required number of books.  It makes me feel more relaxed knowing I don't have to push myself to read x number of books per month.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Champagne Conspiracy

I read Ellen Crosby's The Champagne Conspiracy for the Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge.  This book is the 7th installment of the wine country mystery series. The author took a break from the series a few years ago so I was pleased to find this book in the library last week.

The main character is Lucie Montgomery, a disabled vineyard owner in Virginia. Her winemaker/boyfriend is Quinn Santorini and together they have decided to create a sparkling wine.  This aspect of the book takes a second seat to the family history of Quinn.  Quinn's California cousin Gino Tomassi arrives at the vineyard to find out who is blackmailing him over what happened to his grandfather's first wife Zara Tomassi. Zara died in 1923, the day after President Warren Harding died in California while on his way back home from a trip to Alaska.  Amateur sleuth Lucie delves into the Tomassi family history to help Gino get answers.  She finds the story begins in Prohibition era Washington, DC, travels across the pond to England and ends in California.

There were several subplots that made the plot a little confusing.  However, I loved getting to know the characters again and the subplots did all come together at the end.  The pace was fast and there were some interesting historical facts blended into the story which made it a fun read.  Of course, there was alot of information on the wine making process which I loved reading about.

Highly recommended!


Silk Tether Book Review

I read Minal Khan's Silk Tether for the 2017 New Authors Reading Challenge.  I had to read a few reviews to understand the title.  As one Goodreads reviewer bamed Beth stated "a tether is a rope or chain tied around an animal to restrict movement.  A silk tether can be slightly stretched..."  This makes sense in a novel about the bonds of family and society for 2 young girls who live in wealthy families in Karachi, Pakistan and who have been friends since the 3rd grade.

The story begins with a Prologue taking place in 2008 with a woman being questioned by TSA officials as she tries to enter the United States.  The story then moves to Karachi, Pakistan with a teenaged Ayla trying on clothes for an upcoming wedding and later at the wedding where Ayla becomes fascinated with the bride who does not seem happy. Next Ayla is off to school where a new student is introduced, Alia.  At first they do not like each other but soon become best friends.  When Ayla's mother invites some friends over to their house Ayla meets that bride, Tanzeena.  They soon become friends after an awkward start. As they grow both Ayla and Alia are pressured by their families to be traditional women and marry young. Both want to go to college, however.

I loved this novel.   The friendships among the women and their thoughts about the changing society that they lived in was eye opening for me.  The culture of a traditional Islamic country was on display here as well and was educational for me as well.  I highly recommend this novel to all who want to understand the world of Islamic countries.






Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Health of Nations Book Review

I received a free copy of The Health of Nations Towards a World Without Contagious Disease by Karen Bartlett from the Early Reviewers group at Librarything.  It counts, however, as a selection for the New Authors Reading Challenge.  The Health of Nations is a history of the successes and failures of scientists to eradicate diseases such as smallpox and polio from the planet.

The book begins with a few chapters on the effort to eradicate smallpox from the planet.  The effort was successful!  The author then takes us to the fight to find a vaccine for polio as well as attempting to remove the disease from all nations.  A chapter on Bill Gates' activities in this effort is included.  The author continues her history of 20th century diseases with malaria, HIV, measles, and ebola.  The anti-vaccine movement is also covered.

I am a layperson and found the book to be an interesting read.  However, it is a must read for medical professionals.  It names the doctors and scientists who had involvement in each of these diseases and what their specific contributions were.  The politics of the medical profession as well as the activities of the World Health Organization are discussed in detail. This is a great resource for future generations as well.  Maintaining the history of the fight against these diseases is important.