Book Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood
Laura McHugh
Spiegel & Grau, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-8129-9520-6
Hardcover

Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane lives in the tiny rural town of Henbane, in the Ozark Mountains. Lucy is an appealing narrator: smart, practical, empathetic, pretty, and resourceful, she is not judgmental and tends to take the side of the underdog. Lucy seems to have a lot going for her, as she looks forward to finishing up high school. Her father, Carl, is protective and loving, a hard worker who supports the goal of getting Lucy away to college. Her uncle, Crete, owns the restaurant and store in town, as well as much of the surrounding land, and his prosperity makes him an important figure in Henbane. Birdie, the savvy old woman who is Carl and Lucy’s closest neighbour, is like a grandmother to Lucy, teaching her important skills about cooking and gardening. All of these relatives and friends have done their best to support Lucy through a significant loss in her life:  Lucy’s mother, Lila, died when Lucy was just a year old, under mysterious circumstances. Lila’s body has never been found, and there are rumours that she committed suicide in one of the old mineshafts in the area.

Although Lila’s death has left a permanent mark on Lucy, and grief and loss are always with her, she still manages to be a typical teenager in many ways.  She enjoys giggling with her best friend, Bess, about Daniel, a boy Lucy likes who is also smart and college-bound. Even in the Ozark Mountains, Lucy has a cell phone, and she and Bess get up to no good at parties held by the riverbank.

Henbane may be beautiful in many ways, but it is seedy and dark in others. Drug dealing is prevalent, and just a few months before the story begins, the town has been shocked by the murder of a mentally challenged girl named Cherie, who had been particularly close to Lucy. It is Cherie’s brutal death that really galvanizes Lucy into action and forces her to begin looking more closely at the people around her, as she tries to discover who killed Cherie. Are the people Lucy has grown up with who she really thought they were? She begins to pay keener attention to the rumours about other girls who have gone missing, and of course she can’t help but connect this with Lila, her own young mother who disappeared so many years ago.

The Weight of Blood has a strong sense of immediacy. The novel begins with first-person alternating narratives between Lucy and Lila. While Lucy relates what is happening in the present, the reader is shown, in Lila’s words, what has happened in the past, so that the stories of mother and daughter unfold together. Then, as the book goes on, more characters begin to pick up the threads, and chapters are written from Carl’s point of view, from Crete’s, from Birdie’s, and from others who know Lucy and who had known Lila.

Unfortunately for Lucy, it begins to seem more and more obvious that it may be someone very close to Lucy who is responsible for the horrible crimes she learns about. Henbane seems to become creepier and more sordid, and Lucy faces danger both for herself and for those around her.

The Weight of Blood is a perfectly titled novel. While the plot revolves around Lucy gradually solving the questions she has about Cherie’s death and Lila’s disappearance, the book is also very much about what Lucy will do with this information once she has uncovered it. The Dane family has lived in the Ozark Mountains for generations; Lucy can’t divide herself from her own ancestors, no matter what they might have done. Lila was an outsider, so Lucy struggles with her sense of herself as someone who is, like her mother, quite different from many of the people around her. At the same time, Lucy is entrenched in the town’s ways, as her Dane grandparents were before her. McHugh has done a very successful job of writing a creepy, oppressive-feeling thriller, while at the same time exploring how someone can accept themselves when they discover harsh truths about the people they love the best.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, July 2016.

Waiting On Wednesday (37)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: Hard Latitudes by Baron R. Birtcher

Hard LatitudesHard Latitudes
Mike Tavis #4
Baron R. Birtcher
Permanent Press, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-57962-390-6
Hardcover

The fourth entry on the Mike Travis series is just as good as the earlier books, and that is high praise indeed.  The novel begins with the protagonist looking back at incidents that began eleven years prior, and an intricate and fascinating tale it is.  It starts in Macau in 1994, with an act of violence whose repercussions are felt in different far-flung parts of the world and do not, initially, involve Mike in any way.

Mike, 6’2” and a retired LAPD homicide detective, since leaving LA has been living in Hawaii, where he runs a chartering service for private scuba and luxury cruises out of Kona, on his 72’ sailing yacht, the Kehau, after running a similar operation off the Southern California coast.  Mike is the son of a very wealthy man, which he tries to forget, mostly with success, nor make others aware of it.  When his brother, heavily involved in the family business, calls from LA and tells Mike that his “indiscretions” have come back to haunt him in a big – and very public – – way, Mike makes immediate arrangements to return to LA to help him out (making his relationship with his significant other, Lani, even more problematical).

Along the way the author reflects on the history of both South Central LA in late April 1992, during the time of the riots, when he was still on the police force, as well as descriptions of the natural beauty of Hawaii, about which he says, e.g., “Twilight is my favorite time of day to walk the Kona waterfront.  The flickering lights of the village begin to cycle on, piercing the encroaching darkness, the heat of the day leeching from the concrete and up through the soles of your sandals while cool wind drifts in off the water.”  He pays tribute to LA as well, describing the sunrise as presenting a sky that is “a purple so deep that it appeared to bruise the sky.”  At the same time, he also says “Every time I come back to this town, it slithers back inside me.  I had never intended to be a cynic, never imagined I would feel such contempt, and especially had never wanted to lose hope.  I wanted to believe in greater things, like grace, like justice, like integrity; I wanted to believe in heroes or a higher purpose.”

The narrative is interspersed from time to time with the events set into motion in Macau over a decade ago.

Mike’s efforts on behalf of his brother as a “reluctant pi” have repercussions that place both him and his brother in jeopardy, as well as Mike’s former partner on the LAPD, Hans Yamaguchi, who assists him in his efforts, which have unexpected and serious consequences.  In addition to this story line, this is a tale of sexual slavery and human trafficking, not for the faint of heart I might add, with fairly frequent violence (happily, for the most part not graphic.)  It is a gripping story, beautifully written, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

This Raging LightThis Raging Light
Estelle Laure
HMH Books for Young Readers, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-53429-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Lucille Bennett is pushed into adulthood after her mom decides to “take a break”…from parenting, from responsibility, from Lucille and her little sister, Wren.  Left to cover for her absentee parents, Lucille thinks, “Wren and Lucille. Lucille and Wren. I will do whatever I have to. No one will pull us apart.”

Now is not the time for level-headed Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Having coffee (a smoothie in my case) with a friend last week, I told her about this book I’d just finished reading for the second time. I’m not talking about the usual kind of re-read that you might do months or years after the first time; this was immediately following my first read and that’s unheard of for me. I only very rarely re-read and never immediately but I guess I can’t claim that anymore.

So, why did I have a need to re-read right away? It’s because I was so consumed by outrage that I had to find out if it was just because of the initial shock or if my outrage was real. It was indeed real and still roiling in my innards, so to speak. I’m appalled that any parent could walk away from her own children without any concern for what would happen to them and my feelings about this mother are even stronger because I know this happens in real life.

The story opens on Day 14 since Lu’s mother left, supposedly on a brief “break” and Lu is becoming more and more panicked as she begins to realize that the woman—hard to call her a mother—is probably not coming back. That compounds the devastation of losing her father to a mental breakdown and the level of narcissism both of these parents display is amazing. They prove the point that some people should never have children.

This is also a story of the deep bonds between siblings, in particular Lu and Wren but also Lu’s best friend, Eden, and her twin brother, Digby, and the four of them pretty much save the day, with a little help from….who? Certainly Lu’s boss and her co-worker and friend, Shane, go above and beyond but someone else is really helping behind the scenes.

A troubled romance plays a part in Lu’s story but it doesn’t overwhelm the core of the tale, the ability of a girl to overcome great adversity and heartache with a little help from those who really do care. In the end, I’m still outraged but I also am left with a feeling of hope and belief in the goodness of most people.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

Book Review: The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann—and a Giveaway!

The Ninja's DaughterThe Ninja’s Daughter
A Hiro Hattori Novel #4

A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-181-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival samurai threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

Each time I read a new book in Susan Spann’s series featuring a pair of most unusual private investigators, I find more to like and that’s the case this time, too. Father Mateo and Hiro Hattori have completely solidified their status among my very favorite sleuths. A more likeable and appealing duo would be hard to find.

Also, once again, Ms. Spann has broadened my knowledge of the culture and mores of 16th-century Japan, most especially in the way class distinctions were viewed. I doubt that today’s actors would appreciate knowing that the murder of one of their own would evoke absolutely no interest or concern in the eyes of the law but that’s the rigidity of the class system in place at the time. When the Kyoto police consider that the clearly murdered Emi was not murdered simply because no one cares about an actor’s daughter, the Portuguese Jesuit priest is understandably outraged. His samurai companion, on the other hand, discovers an even more compelling reason to investigate, quietly and, he hopes, without alerting the authorities.

Political machinations are also at play and I find this aspect of the series, and this book, to be just as interesting as the murder investigation. I always learn something when I read one of these books and, in The Ninja’s Daughter, I picked up bits about the particular kind of Japanese theater called Noh as well as the societal class distinctions, not to mention some of Hiro’s own family history and, of course, there’s a cracking good mystery and highly intelligent sleuthing.

A cast of characters and a glossary of Japanese words are highlights and make this even more enjoyable while secondary characters Ana, Luis and Gato feel like family to me as they must to the priest and the shinobi. A reader new to the series will be comfortable starting mid-stream since the author gives enough background information to allow the book to work as a standalone.

I had a hard time sleeping while I was reading because I just didn’t want to put it down. Susan Spann has one of the very best historical mystery series being written today and The Ninja’s Daughter has earned a spot on my list of favorite books read in 2016. I’m already anticipating Hiro’s and Father Mateo’s next adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

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Goodreads
Pre-order Links:

Barnes & Noble // Books-A-Million // Kobo

Amazon // IndieBound // Seventh Street Books

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About the Author

Susan Spann 2Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Connect with Susan

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour:

Monday, July 25thBuried Under Books
Tuesday, July 26thReading Reality
Tuesday, July 26th:Book Dilettante
Wednesday, July 27thIn Bed With Books
Thursday, July 28thWorth Getting in Bed For
Friday, July 29thWordsmithonia
Friday, July 29thWrite Read Life
Monday, August 1stHoser’s Blook
Tuesday, August 2ndLavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, August 3rdNo More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 4thA Holland Reads
Tuesday, August 9thOpen Book Society
Thursday, August 11thLuxury Reading
Friday, August 12thSJ2B House of Books
Monday, August 15thBooks and Tea
Monday, August 15thMusings of a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 16thA Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 17thBroken Teepee

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To enter the drawing for a
print copy of Claws of the Cat,
first book in the Shinobi Mystery
series
by Susan Spann, just leave

a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Thursday
night, July 28th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Wake of VulturesWake of Vultures
The Shadow: Book One
Lila Bowen
Orbit, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-316-26431-0
Hardcover

This was both a joyful and inspiring read.  With a fabulously frantic fast pace, the action-packed adventure to find and conquer the Cannibal Owl sucked me in and carried me along.  The variety of monsters that are encountered all along the way totally tickled my adoration of fantasy, while the main character, Nettie Lonesome, grounded me and filled me with hope and pride.

Nettie’s spunk, whole-hearted courage and unconditional admiration and adoration of all animals are delightfully demonstrated by her actions and blunt dialogue.  Her rough edges are only a thin disguise for her compassion and empathy, making her into the quintessential heroine, in my eyes.

“What if it was a good monster having a bad day?”

Already a huge fan of Delilah Dawson (aka Lila Bowen), I was nevertheless blown away by her clever capability of tackling serious social issues with subtle undertones in this captivating, compelling story.  I think Chuck Wendig summed it up best when he said, “WAKE OF VULTURES doesn’t just fly—it soars.”

“I ain’t white, and that’s all that seems to matter to folks.”

“Suicide was a pleasure she couldn’t afford.”

If you are looking for something completely different yet comfortable and familiar, this is the author for you.  Enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2016.

Book Review: The Considerate Killer by Lene Kaabersol and Agnete Friis

The Considerate KillerThe Considerate Killer
A Nina Borg Thriller #4
Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-528-1
Hardcover

This is the last book in the Nina Borg series. The previous books are The Boy in the Suitcase, a new York times best seller, Invisible Murder, and Death of a Nightingale.

Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse who serves in dangerous areas all over the world, is attacked in the parking lot after grocery shopping. Her assailant, after hitting her in the head with a pipe, apologizes to her and says the Lord’s Prayer over her broken body in a language that sounds familiar, but she can’t quite place.

Soren Kirkegard, a policeman out on sick leave and Nina’s lover, is contacted by the hospital. He’s listed as her next of kin on her ID, which surprises him. He didn’t think their relationship had progressed to that level. They hadn’t even talked about moving in together. Why not her ex-husband or her mother? When Soren calls Marten, her ex-husband and father of her two children, his reaction takes Soren by surprise. “What is it this time?” he asks angrily. In the past she’s been shot at, had radiation poisoning, and their daughter was attacked and kidnapped, all because of Nina’s job. Her family resents her traveling over the world to dangerous situations.

The investigation into the attack on Nina alternates with the story of Vincent Bernardo, a young and somewhat naïve student in Manila just starting his studies at St. Francis College of Medicine. He’s received a church scholarship and is nervous that he will disappoint his family if he does not do well. On his first day at school he meets the large but mild mannered Victor, whose tuition is paid by his uncle, and the wealthy and popular Vadim, who is more interested in his social life than medicine.

After the first few chapters, readers will be on the edge of their seat waiting for the two worlds to collide. It’s an interesting and painful look at how the families of people who do dangerous work in disaster and war zones suffer, and what drives people who work for those organizations.

Fans of Scandinavian noir, like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will appreciate this tightly written and gritty series. The previous books in the series are The Boy in the Suitcase, Invisible Murder and Death of a Nightingale.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2016.