A Few Teeny Reviews

thrice-the-brinded-cat-hath-mewdThrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
A Flavia de Luce Mystery #8
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-345539960
Hardcover
Audible
Unabridged Downloaded Audio Book
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.

My favorite pre-teen sleuth (although this is not a series targeting young readers) is back home in England at her beloved Buckshaw but her return from Canada is not a completely happy one what with her father lying very ill in the hospital. At loose ends, Flavia goes in search of something to occupy her mind and a dead body is just the ticket. As precocious as ever, Flavia sets out to prove that this was murder but she’s unprepared for a shattering event. Not precisely a cliffhanger, this event makes me want the next book yesterday.

As always, narrator Jayne Entwistle is Flavia de Luce to a “T” and kept me captivated from beginning to end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

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michelangelos-ghostMichelangelo’s Ghost
A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #4
Gigi Pandian
Henery Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-63511-069-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters… When Jaya’s old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy’s Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail. From San Francisco to the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer. Untrustworthy colleagues, disappearing boyfriends, and old enemies—who can Jaya trust when the ghost wails?

Jaya Jones is one of the most appealing protagonists I’ve come across in recent years and each book is better than the last. She’s an academic, an historian interested in unique artifacts, and she loves chasing after treasures even though she’s usually reluctant at first. In short, Jaya is a modern-day Indiana Jones, just not quite as much over the top, and I love her for that. Adventure is just around every corner and I happily go along with her on every treasure hunt.  Of course, there’s a mystery or two or three to be solved, including the question of how her former professor died, and having her brother and his girlfriend along this time adds to the entertainment. Oh, and the cherry on top is the secret romance between Jaya and Lane, the man with a thieving past. All in all, Michelangelo’s Ghost is a tale not to be missed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

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the-stranger-gameThe Stranger Game
Cylin Busby
Balzer + Bray, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-235460-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When Nico Morris’s older sister mysteriously disappears, her parents, family, and friends are devastated. But Nico can never admit what she herself feels: relief at finally being free of Sarah’s daily cruelties.

Then the best and worst thing happens: four years later, after dozens of false leads, Sarah is found.

But this girl is much changed from the one Nico knew. She’s thin and drawn, when Sarah had been golden and athletic; timid and unsure, instead of brash and competitive; and strangest of all, sweet and kind, when she had once been mean and abusive. Sarah’s retrograde amnesia has caused her to forget almost everything about her life, from small things like the plots of her favorite books and her tennis game to the more critical—where she’s been the last four years and what happened at the park on the fateful day she vanished. Despite the happy ending, the dark details of that day continue to haunt Nico, and it becomes clear that more than one person knows the true story of what happened to Sarah. . . .

There isn’t anything more devastating than the disappearance of a child, the not knowing and the endless questions, but how much worse is it when a family member is not entirely sorry that child is gone? Nico is a normal young girl who misses Sarah and yet can’t help feeling relief that she doesn’t have to contend with her sister’s bullying and meanness anymore but, of course, that natural reaction is loaded with guilt. How Nico and her parents cope and her feelings of inadequacy because she can’t fill the gaping hole are an engaging study in how the ones left behind handle…or don’t…such a terrible scenario. When Sarah miraculously returns, Nico’s search for the truth ratchets up the tension and leads to almost unbearable suspense.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

The Art of Flânerie

Jeanne Matthews 2Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

A flâneur is what the French call an idler.  He strolls about the city at his leisure, taking in the sights and the smells and the sounds.  He is an explorer of the urban landscape, a connoisseur of faces and scenes and random snatches of dialogue.  His curiosity takes him into the cafés and the galleries, the parks and the arcades, the markets and the boutiques. He observes, but is careful not to be seen observing.  He is a human camera, a mirror reflecting his unique understanding of the people and the culture around him.  He is the narrator of all that he perceives.  There’s no equivalent for the word flâneur in the English language unless, perhaps, the word “writer” comes to mind.

The German critic Walter Benjamin made the concept of flânerie emblematic of the writer.  The writer wanders through the crowd, eyes alert for the juicy detail, the tantalizing morsel that will inspire a new character or provide intellectual food for a new plot.  Honoré Balzac, himself a writer and flâneur, described his observations as a kind of “gastronomy of the eye.”  It’s an apt metaphor.  Writers are insatiable consumers of the human panorama.  We stalk the streets in search of personalities and happenings that we can adapt and convert to our literary purposes.  Each time we walk out our doors, we become spies.  We eavesdrop shamelessly.  We collect incidents and images and appropriate them freely and without a qualm in our writing.  A writer will steal the very nose off a person’s face and pin it on a character in his next book.

Charles Dickens was a flâneur of London, rambling as much as thirty miles a night.  Frank O’Hara has been described as an American flâneur.  His “lunch” poems were written in restaurants, bars, and hotel lobbies where he loitered and listened.  And Edgar Allen Poe invented a new genre in which he put the flâneur to use as a detective. Not all the literary ramblers were men.  The most notable flâneuse is probably Virginia Woolf, who haunted the dark corners and vine-laced courtyards of Soho and Holborn.  She named the title character of one of her novels Mrs. Dalloway, a woman who likes to dally along the way.  My series detective Dinah Pelerin has encountered murder and strange cultural customs in the Australian Outback, the Norwegian Arctic, and a small Greek village on the island of Samos.  But in Where the Bones Are Buried, she becomes a flâneuse of the city of Berlin where the past and the present mingle in disconcerting ways.  Being Dinah’s chief research assistant, I was obliged to reconnoiter the city on her behalf.

Berlin is a fascinating amalgam of neighborhoods and walking is the best way to enjoy the sights.  Actually, “walking” implies too purposeful a stride.  The flâneuse should saunter or, better yet, mosey – with no particular destination in mind.  I moseyed for miles.  When my feet got tired, I stopped and loitered in the cafés, soaking up the atmosphere, noticing the tics and habits of the other customers and making up backstories for them.  Some of the Berliners I ran across during my meanders through the city appeared as characters in the book.  So did a few of the places where I got lost.

It’s hard nowadays to get lost anywhere in the world what with our cell phone genies telling us every turn to make, but the flâneuse and the writer embrace the thrill of being lost in unfamiliar territory.  It opens the mind to other kinds of experience and other ways of being.  In certain settings it brings a frisson of fear as night begins to fall.  Not knowing the way home concentrates the attention marvelously and stimulates the imagination.  Sans Siri, sans guidebook, I wandered along the graffitied remains of the Berlin Wall, the bohemian, funky streets of the Kreuzberg Kiez, and the winding banks of the River Spree.

Where the Bones are BuriedWhen not scouting foreign locations for Dinah, I live in the suburbs south of Seattle where it’s harder to be a flâneuse.  Automobiles are the primary mode of transportation.  Sidewalks are less common and pedestrian crossings more hazardous. Travel is rarely aimless.  Everyone has somewhere to go and a time by which they need to be there.  The cafés are mostly fast-food eateries and the patrons tend to be in a hurry.  They don’t linger over their coffee to contemplate the odd behavior of the guy behind the counter.  They don’t mull the mysterious utterances of their fellow diners and imagine their guilty secrets.

Wherever I find myself, I try to cultivate the art of flânerie.  It’s more a state of mind than a specific landscape.  It’s an attitude of awareness, of curiosity and creative interpretation.  It’s a way of seeing and understanding the world.  For most writers – for me – it’s an addiction.

Book Reviews: Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod and Every Boat Turns South by J.P. White

nantucket-five-spotNantucket Five-Spot
A Henry Kennis Mystery #2
Steven Axelrod
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0342-8
Hardcover

Nantucket Island is the setting for this full speed ahead thriller and it stars. Axelrod is adept at inserting appropriate attractive descriptive language in his manuscript and the location of his stories about the adventures of poetry writing police chief Henry Kennis trying to maintain law and order on a restless, tourist-driven island off the Massachusetts coast.

His characters, and there are many, are weird, strange, excellent, upstanding, careful, bright, thoughtful and good-looking specimens. Some of them are patient, evil, criminal and inept. When this author feels the need to bump up the action, he just inserts a new character who may or may not have anything significant to do with the central. So there are small side plots dealing with immigration, smuggling, fighting in the Middle East and so on.

The Chief of Police, a central character in the novel, is beset on all sides by criminal elements and by law enforcement who are often portrayed as rigid and impatient. A possible terrorist bomb attack on a holiday concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra is the apparent target. Law enforcement agencies from every level descend on the poor police chief who must struggle against their incompetence, short-sightedness, and his personal romantic feelings about one of the federal agents.

Plots within counter-plots and world-wide maneuvering infest the pages of this novel. What saves it is the almost relentless action and there is plenty of that, however unlikely in a few places. There’s even an occasional funny bit.

If I was vacationing in a place like Nantucket and wanted some relaxing light-weight down time, this novel would definitely fill the bill.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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every-boat-turns-southEvery Boat Turns South
J.P.White
The Permanent Press, September 2009
ISBN 978-1-57962-188-9
Hardcover

For a great many people the incalcuable persistent rhythms of the seas that surround us, the tides, the fog, crashing surging waves, all serve to remind us of the vast unknown. Water has no permanent shape, it cannot drive a nail. It can form long-enduring shapes on the shores of our continents and drive islands into clusters we label archipelego but no island lasts forever. In the north, when winter comes and water in the ponds freezes into temporary hardness, something often urges us to look to warmer circumstances closer to the equator. We revel in the snow and crave the sun-baked climes of the tropical island.

There are a thousand stories of sailing voyages, likened to the human voyage of life and like life, those voyages are, in turn, filled with storm and peace, ecstasy and sorrow. Here is one such filled with rich images, turbulent emotions, sadness, joy and death. After years separated from his family, second son Matt returns to his home on a journey of expiation. The family torn apart by the death of the favored first-born, needs to heal, at least a little and Matt tries to make that happen. Of course he fails and in the process weaves a tale of life in the islands off our southern coast, replete with passion, drugs, storms, smuggling, love and mixed results. For the sailor there’s great and kindly detail, for the rest, the relentless drive of the author’s poetical structure and language carries us alongside Matt to an uncertain conclusion.

At times the exalted language and structure may bother some readers, just as other readers may find the quantity of technical detail confusing and off-putting. For those, I suggest trying to relax with the story, enjoy the scenery and the passion, but stay with Matt through his adventure in this fine poetical novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Waiting On Wednesday (55)

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: I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill—and a Giveaway!

i-shot-the-buddhaI Shot the Buddha
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery Set in Laos #11
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-722-3
Hardcover

It’s 1979 in Laos. Retired coroner Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng, have settled into a life running her noodle shop and living in the apartment above. Having no skill at making noodles, Siri is happy to involve himself in problems of the local citizens. They also have a small house that they’ve opened to an assortment of people in need of shelter and advice. One of these residents is Noo, a Buddhist monk, who bicycles off one day and doesn’t return. The only clue to his disappearance is a note in the refrigerator—a plea to help a fellow monk escape across the Mekhong River to Thailand.

It’s the fifth year of socialist rule in Laos. The farmers and villagers trust in the spirits of animism to help with their lives—they can’t count on the communist officials. So when three women are murdered in three different locations—one by sledgehammer, one by knife, and one by poison—the frightened peasants turn to Siri and his wife to investigate.

Siri and his wife embrace the spirits—Siri vanishes from time to time, and his wife has grown a tail, but perhaps they are growing old and these are flights of their imaginations. Siri soon runs afoul of Lao secret service officers and famous spiritualists.

Cotterill has a delightful way of playing with language, and breathing life into even minor characters. One he described in this way: “He walked as if he expected a wild boar to run between his legs.” This is the eleventh book in the series—readers who enjoy an exotic setting with entertaining characters and clever plotting will want to meet Siri Paibourn and Madame Daeng.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.

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The last giveaway of 2016!

To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance reading copy of
I Shot the Buddha by
Colin Cotterill,
just leave a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Saturday night,
December 31st. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

its-not-me-its-youIt’s Not Me, It’s You
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Point, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-95258-3
Hardcover

When Avery’s dumped mere days before the senior prom, that would be bad enough, but she’s prom committee chair and all the guys have dates. All the guys except the Nerd Squad who avoid things like prom in favor of an all night game rage. Included in that group is Hutch, her lab partner for all four years at their California prep school.

Determined to hold her head high and look successful on prom night, Avery turns her oral history assignment for English class into a psychological autopsy of her long and unsuccessful dating career. She hopes that by interviewing every one of her old boyfriends, she can learn why there were so many and what caused each breakup. Avery imagines this knowledge will somehow help her stay single and happy.

She enlists the help of Hutch and Coco Kim, her best friend, to accomplish this task. The list of exes is impressive, stretching back to fourth grade. The story is arranged in brief interview form, alternating between Avery, Hutch, Coco and whoever is the topic at the moment. Said topics include her arch nemesis Bizzy Stanhope, her parents, the principal, Ms. Sergerson, the teacher who gave her the assignment, the former boyfriends, random kids from school, a Vespa riding Italian boy, a TV star and even a pair of helicopter parents.

Avery must bulldoze (convince isn’t even on the table here), her teacher to let her forge ahead with this as a valid oral history project. After all, as she notes early on, history can be what happened five minutes ago. At first, the short paragraphs with rapidly changing viewpoints can be a bit disconcerting, but once you get into the flow and start being comfortable with the main characters’ personalities, it’s a mad and funny ride. There are times when you’re likely to cringe at Avery’s ‘blondness’ (after all more than a few exes bring up her long blonde hair as among their first impression of her) and a reader could get frustrated with what seems to be an aura of cluelessness and self-absorption, but Avery manages to dance back from that abyss at the right moment each time.

Halfway through the book, I realized where it was headed, but that made it all the more fun reading to see how Avery and the rest got there. It was particularly satisfying to read how she and the guy she was meant to be with saved the prom after it was sabotaged two days before it was to happen.

I’ve read and really enjoyed the author’s other books. She writes teen funny extremely well while keeping her characters sympathetic. Those are rare talents. This is a good book to offer young adults who like funny high school drama or a quirky love story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2016.

Happy Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

christmas-candle-border

My contractor promised we’d have a working kitchen
by the end of the day on the 23rd and he came through.
All the appliances are in but there are things still to be
done like re-cutting and aligning a couple of drawers,
adding the backsplash, giving the trim a second coat
of paint and tweaking the plumbing and electrical.

kitchen-renovations-christmas-eve-1

kitchen-renovations-christmas-eve-5

Holly and Giselle can’t figure out what this strange and
wonderful thing called a dishwasher could be but it makes
some pretty interesting noises (and it’s the quietest
dishwasher I’ve ever come across).

kitchen-renovations-christmas-eve-3

My older daughter, Laura, also came in on Friday from
Kentucky and the three of us went to see the GardenFest
of Lights: Living Color at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

lewis-ginter-2016-1

lewis-ginter-2016-2

lewis-ginter-2016-3

My favorite display was this bunch of balloon shapes that
continuously changed colors. If we hadn’t been so cold, I
could have sat and watched it for a long time.

lewis-ginter-2016-4     lewis-ginter-2016-6

lewis-ginter-2016-7

lewis-ginter-2016-8

Grandson Drew came in late on Christmas Eve afternoon
and, after visiting some relatives that evening, we had a
lovely Christmas Day along with the three cats and one dog.
Holly curled up with Drew while Giselle suffered stoically
in her Christmas sweater. This was a fitting consequence
after her exploits with the hole in the wall and the
firemen, don’t you think?  😉

holly-and-drew-christmas-day-2016

giselle-christmas-sweater-2016

Next up…a finished kitchen!