Thursday, August 3, 2017

Among the Dead ~ J.R. Backlund (August 8, 2017)





Backlund, J.R. 2017. Among the Dead. Crooked Lane Books. ISBN 978-1683312734. $26.99 USD.

J.R. Backund's debut novel, Among the Dead, has all the ingredients of a good mystery/thriller: a protagonist with a few "issues," realistic secondary characters, good dialogue, a little romance and an interesting murder case, without a lot of clues.  The author does does a good job of creating a charming southern setting, with a seemingly unsolvable initial crime.

Rachel Carver, the main character, has quit her job as an investigator with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations over a case that haunts her, but needs a distraction.  She agrees to help out a former colleague when the small town where he lives experiences its first murder in many years.  The Sheriff's department is woefully unequipped to handle the crime, and the state is slow in sending resources.  Rachel relies on her excellent training to organize the staff in order to proceed with the investigation.  Before long, they realize they have a serial killer on their hands.  The novel has a slower pace, but it's intriguing enough to keep the reader engaged.  The resolution of the mystery is satisfying and readers won't necessarily figure out the motivation of the killer(s) until close to the end.  I enjoyed this debut and would recommend it to my mystery customers.  Hopefully, there will be more books forthcoming in this series!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Taking a Break.....




I'm deep into reading for the Texas Library Association Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List Committee, and I prefer not to review those books on my blog for ethical reasons.  But if I happen to read something "just for fun," I'll try to post a review sometime soon!  Thanks for checking out my book review blog!


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Two slim volumes of Fiction....

I read two slim volumes of fiction recently that were very different, but enjoyable in spite of being the types of books I don’t usually read!



Universal Harvester by John Darnielle, author of Wolf in White Van, which was a NYT bestseller and National Book Award Nominee, could be classified as a horror novel (which I never read!), but turns into something quite different by the time it’s over.

Set in a small Iowa town in the late 1990's, when video stores were still ubiquitous, it tells the strange story of people reporting cut-away images showing up on the VHS tapes they check out at the local Video Hut.  The images interrupt the regular movie and seem dark and disturbing.  Jeremy, the young man working the counter of the video rental store, comes across as an aimless, disinterested character, but as the novel progresses, we see that he and his father are quietly still coming to terms with the recent fatal car accident of the matriarch of the family.  The store owner, Sarah Jane, becomes obsessed with the strange videos and then seems to disappear on the farm where she recognizes the scenes have taken place.

The overall tone of this novel is disquieting and eerie.  It is written in three parts, and all three deal with what ultimately happened on that farm in Nevada, Iowa.  The novel has an extremely strong sense of place, with beautifully descriptive passages of the Iowa landscape, which becomes a character in itself.

This book was favorably reviewed in the NYT Book Review, but the Amazon reviews aren’t great.  I think that it’s possible people reading it had expectations that weren’t met, as the big reveal of the mysterious images on the videos is something unexpected, yet still disturbing.  I really enjoyed it for the story it told, the excellent writing and inner lives explored by some of the characters.  For me, a story well told, with interesting characters and a unique perspective is worth reading, and this short novel met those requirements for me.



Melanie Wallace’s The Girl in the Garden is also a short novel, but tells a complete, fully developed story.  I love Ms. Wallace’s writing, but it takes a little getting used to.  The sentences are long and descriptive, and I found myself getting lost in them.  The dialogue is not set out in quotations, which is a device I’ve noticed that authors are using more often.  It was so well done in this book that I didn’t even notice it at first.

A young couple with a baby arrives in New England and rents a cabin on the shore.  Shortly thereafter, the man abandons the young girl and the baby setting wide reaching ripples in the small community.  The book is written from a variety of perspectives – the young teenage mother, the cabin owner, the recluse who eventually houses the little family, her daughter and her lawyer and the sage community historian who knows the history of the town, and plays a role in helping many of the characters find peace and redemption.  It’s a beautiful book, though sad in some places – kind of like life.

Although this book has “Girl” in the title, it’s not a thriller like other “Girl” books published lately.  It’s simply a story of a variety of intertwined lives, doing the best that they can, with the hand they’ve been dealt.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Wrong Side of Goodbye ~ Michael Connelly





Connelly, Michael. 2016. The Wrong Side of Goodbye. Hachette Audio.  ASIN: B01K3EKBXS.

I took a break from the 16 book Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva that I’m listening to on my commute and checked out Michael Connelly’s latest Hieronimus Bosch title, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. The author has been writing this series since the early 1990s and it started 21 books ago with Black Echo.  I’ve found, however, that you don’t necessarily need to read all the books in order. Some of them are connected, and you can tell which ones by reading the summaries.  This series has also been made into a TV show on Amazon, starring Titus Welliver.

Harry Bosch was a homicide detective for the Los Angeles police department, and was kind of a maverick: not always following the rules to get the job done, and getting on the wrong side of his superiors.  Over the years he as been transferred, demoted, retired, and re-hired, and now works part-time with the San Fernando Police Department, while also pursuing cases as a private investigator.

In this latest book, two cases are going on at the same time: a serial rapist, called the “Screen Cutter” has been targeting young women in San Fernando, and an aging billionaire hires Bosch to try to locate an heir, conceived in a liaison over 50 years previously.  Bosch juggles both cases and, as it turns out, runs into trouble trying to work both.

Bosch is a rather cynical, melancholy fellow – and who wouldn’t be after all he’s seen in his career as a law enforcement officer.  But he has a strong sense of justice and is more softhearted than you would expect, especially for the victims of crime.  He is also a veteran of the Vietnam War, and some of his experience during that war are brought to the forefront in his work on the P.I. case.  The story flows seamlessly and is hugely entertaining.  The narrator, Titus Welliver, the actor who plays Bosch in the TV series, does an excellent job, with a gravelly voice for Bosch, and enough difference in other characters to make the story flow effortlessly.

I’ve hunted down the audio-book for the first title in the series from another library; they are pretty old by now and not every library carries them all.  I’m looking forward to that one and learning how Harry got his start as a character in this best-selling series!

p.s. Michael Connelly also writes books starring Harry Bosch's half-brother, Mickey Haller, a defense attorney, the most famous of which was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey called The Lincoln Lawyer - a very good film.....

Monday, March 6, 2017

Himself ~ Jess Kidd (Pub. Date March 14, 2017)




Kidd, Jess. 2017. Himself. New York, NY: Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1501145179. $26.00 USD.

“I See Dead People.”  Not really, but the enigmatic Mahony, protagonist in Jess Kidd’s luminous debut, has been blessed (or cursed) with that ability, and the dead have been following him around his entire life.  Abandoned as a baby at an orphanage, and left in the not-so-tender care of Irish nuns in the 1950’s Mahony has been floating through life using his wits and charm to get him what he needs.  When a priest tracks him down and hands him a post-card that was left with him at the orphanage (but hidden by a bitter nun), it opens up a whole new adventure that lands him in Mulderrig, an Irish village with a lot of secrets, and people willing to do anything to keep them buried.

With a wonderful cast of characters, both living and dead, a chilling mystery to be solved, and an historic village worth exploring, this novel satisfies on many levels.  As one reviewer said, it needs to be read (or listened to) with an Irish accent!  Some of the vocabulary and sentence structure was challenging for this American reader, but the enchanting language and the antics of the living and dead kept me entertained and intrigued.  The book is structured with chapters written from both the past and the present, which keeps the pace leisurely.  Ultimately, it’s a book worth savoring, preferably in a comfy chair, late at night, and curled up with a cup of Irish Tea…..

Silence Fallen ~ Patricia Briggs (Pub. Date: March 7, 2017)

Silence Fallen (A Mercy Thompson Novel) by [Briggs, Patricia]

Briggs, Patricia. 2017. Silence Fallen. New York, NY: Ace Books, a division of The Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0425281277. $27.00 USD.


And…..SHE’S BACK!  I’ve been a fan of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series since the very beginning, and have read them all (more than once)!  I was a little disappointed in Fire Touched– it did not cover much new ground and, although enjoyable, it did not seem to be up to the usual standards of the series.  I have read enough to know that not all authors can hit it out of the park with every book in a series, even though fans, unrealistically, seem to expect it.  However, in Silence Fallen, Ms. Briggs breathes fresh air into the series by moving the location from Washington State to a new location – Europe.

This new title takes off at a breakneck pace, and doesn’t let up.  The alternate viewpoints of Mercy, alone and struggling to stay safe in Italy and Prague, and Adam and his cadre trying to track her down, creates a gripping reading experience – you want to keep going to see what happens (this is what a great book should do).  The author also introduces several new characters (good and evil), which makes it a more interesting read.  Some characters are left behind, but that’s OK because we know (hope!) we will see them again in future books.

The political maneuverings of the Italian Master Vampire and the other characters involved in the plot to find Mercy were sometimes hard to follow, but it’s worth hanging in there and re-reading if needed. The author’s note at the beginning of the book about paying attention to comments in the chapter headings was helpful in keeping track of the timeline, and although that type of device isn’t something I’m used to reading in a novel, I’m giving the author the grace to get away with it.  After all, “her imaginary friends” made her do it!  

After finishing Silence Fallen, I grabbed the first title of the series, Moon Called, off the shelves at work to start the series over again!  

As a side note, Urban Fantasy does not circulate well in my library, though I am a huge fan.  That being said, this particular series always has high holds, so I make sure to have enough copies.  That says a lot to me, as a reader and librarian, about the quality of Patricia Briggs writing and the unique world she has created in the Mercy Thompson series.  I was lucky enough to get to read an ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher, for which I am very grateful, as I had been looking forward to it for months; and reading it made a rainy, dreary Texas weekend wonderful!  

Etched in Bone ~ Anne Bishop

Etched in Bone (A Novel of the Others) by [Bishop, Anne]

Bishop, Anne. 2017. Etched in Bone. New York, NY: Roc Books, an imprint of Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0451474490.  $27.00 USD.

I was thrilled to have an opportunity to read an Advanced Reader Copy of Anne Bishop’s latest book in The Others series, Etched in Bone, which is scheduled for publication release tomorrow!  It’s one of my favorite series,which begins with Written in Red, and I have recommended it to many of my library patrons during readers’ advisory.  I remember that after originally reading the first title in the series I researched the author to find out when the next title would be released.  I saw that there was a planned trilogy.  When the 4th book came out last year, what a bonus!  And now, with the 5th and possibly last book, it's one I savored.

The Others series is what I would call Urban Fantasy (yes, one of my favorite genres)!  In it there is a species of creatures who came before humans called "terre indigene," or earth natives.  They ruled the land and took on the shape of certain animals over time, such as wolves, bears, crows, etc. They can shift between forms, at will. There are also more fierce creatures called Elders and Elementals who are very powerful.  After humans came onto the scene, the terre indigine liked some of the inventions and products humans created, and entered into trade agreements.  But the Others own the land and all the water, and the humans only lease space on the earth from them.  In this series, the terre indigine don't have a lot of respect for the humans, whom they refer to as "monkeys," and see humans as prey most of the time (an interesting about-face).

Within each major city on earth is a Courtyard ruled by Others where "human law does not apply," and into this courtyard, in the first book, a strange human (or is she?) named Meg Corbin arrives. The Lakeside Courtyard Business Association Leader, Simon Wolfguard, runs a bookshop called "Howling Good Reads," and offers Meg a job as the human liason, and from there the series takes off. In the first 4 books, the author develops wonderful characters, both human and Other, and the plots usually involve how the two groups interact with each other.

I loved being back in the world of Meg, her human pack, and her terre indigene friends in the 5th title, Etched in Bone.  This time around, the conflict occurs when human detective Crispin Montgomery’s ne’er-do-well brother, Cyrus, shows up in the Lakeside Courtyard after fleeing the destruction wrought by the Elders and Elementals in Toland on the East Coast (all the major cities and continents in these books have interesting and differerent names than in our own world).   The community in the Lakeside Courtyard is growing, and the Elders have decided to observe the interactions between the humans and the terre indigene who live there in order to decide whether or not humans will be allowed to continue to exist (as in possible extinction).  Meg and Simon’s relationship continues to grow, and it appears as though they might get their unprecedented HEA, if they survive.

If you haven't had an opportunity to visit this wonderful world created by Anne Bishop, head to your local library or book store and check out Written in Red to get started.  I've never had a customer tell me they didn't like this intriguing and entertaining series.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes ~ Susan Bishop Crispell



Image result for the secret ingredient of wishes

Crispell, Susan Bishop. 2016. The Secret Ingredient of Wishes. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers.

Who can resist a novel where secrets are baked into pies and wishes can some true (with unpredictable results, natch)!  Susan Bishop Crispell’s debut novel is hard to resist, indeed.

Rachel Monroe has been given an unusual gift (or is it a curse?): she can grant wishes.  When she wishes for her annoying little brother to get lost, she discovers the devastating consequences of her ability.  Unable to convince her parents that their other child ever existed, and scaring them with her insistence, she experiences years of therapy and commitment to a mental facility through her teen years.

Driven to resist reading the little pieces of paper containing random people’s wishes which float around her constantly, she lives a lonely life.  When she accidentally grants an unintended wish that could hurt her best friend’s family, she impulsively packs her bags and leaves town, ending up in a place called Nowhere.  There she meets a woman who has the ability to bake secrets into pies and embarks on a new life that provides her a new home, new friends, a new love and the possibility for redemption.

I’ve always been drawn to books with elements of magical realism, perhaps because I remember wanting to magically change things about my own life as a child.  Ms. Crispell has created wonderfully engaging and wounded characters that are fully realized and realistic in their emotions, even if their magical abilities are of the fantastical bent.  Readers who enjoy books by Sarah Addison Allen and Cathy Lamb should find this book irresistible and will find themselves suspiciously hungry for a piece of pie……

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mercy Thompson Series ~ Patricia Briggs




Image result for moon called


With the publication of Patricia Briggs’ Silence Fallen coming next month (which I read as an ARC and truly enjoyed), I was inspired to go back and re-read the earlier books in the Mercy Thompson series because I just love getting lost in this unique Urban Fantasy world!

Mercedes Thompson is a walker, from the Native American mythos, and transforms into a 35 pound coyote at will.  Her mother was a teenage barrel racer who hooked up with a rodeo cowboy named Joe Old Coyote who was killed before she was born (or was he)?

The first clue her mother had that Mercy was different came when she went to get her baby from the crib and found a coyote pup instead!  Not knowing what else to do, she sent her daughter to live with a pack of werewolves in Montana, and Mercy was raised by the Marrock, named Bran, who is the leader of the North American werewolves.

In the beginning of the series, Mercy lives in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State and makes her living as a Volkswagon mechanic.  She lives in 1970’s era mobile home on the edge of property owned by Adam Hauptman, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack.  She keeps to herself, but has a friend who is a vampire, Stephan, and a former boss who is fae named Zee, short for Siebold Adelbertsmiter.

After establishing this cast of characters in the first title, the series goes in many different directions, with adventures involving werewolves, vampires, witches, the fae and even ancient gods.  Mercy is an engaging character who has never really belonged anywhere and who has become quite independent as a result.  Her conflicts with the werewolf Alpha are numerous, often funny, and gradually transforms into a passionate relationship as the series progresses.

Patricia Briggs has created a unique Urban Fantasy world in this series and it’s a lot of fun to see what mischief Mercy will get into in each book.  Her father was Coyote, after all – the Trickster. But Mercy has good intentions in all her actions and most of the plots of the books involve her getting into trouble trying to protect her friends.  If you haven’t visited Mercy’s world, visit your local library to check out the first title, Moon Called, and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva







I have a thirty minute commute to and from work, so I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to listen to audiobooks for some time.  Lately, I’ve gotten hooked on Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series (which is up to 16 books)!  I didn’t read them in order in the beginning, and was able to enjoy the books without all the back story; but I recently started at the beginning with The Kill Artist, and have made it up to number 7, The Secret Servant.

Gabriel Allon is an old masters art restorer and former art student who was recruited by the Israeli intelligence service (they never name the service) at a young age to exact vengeance on the terrorist group Black September after the massacre of the Israeli Munich Olympics team in 1972.  Historically, then Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized the operation, named “Wrath of God,”  and 11 members of Black September were assassinated in retaliation.  The fictional novels open over 25 years after that event, and though Gabriel has retired from the service to focus on his art restoration, he is unwillingly drawn back in to further operations in each novel.  He is haunted by the memory of a car bomb, meant for him, that killed his young son and horrifically damaged his wife physically and mentally.

These books are narrated by several different people (Tony Goldwyn being one), and each narrator does an excellent job with the various accents of the characters.  They are a bit brutal at times, but the suspense of the storylines has made me stay in my car in my driveway or at the parking lot at work longer than I should, just to finish the chapter!  Each book takes place in a variety of locations besides Tel Aviv, such as Switzerland, Rome, Venice, Austria, Moscow and Corsica, to name a few.  Each book also tells a bit more of the history of Gabriel and his fellow agents, and introduces historically accurate information, which the author notes at the end of the books.

I’ve really enjoyed these audiobooks and being immersed in the lives of these characters who feel so much commitment to their country that they are willing to risk their lives for the safety of their people. Being familiar with the history of Israel is helpful, but I’ve found it easy to enjoy the novels without knowing all the details.  Wikipedia is helpful while reading these!!



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Church of Spilled Blood ~ Jesse Miles




Amazon Kindle e-book

I saw this title as a "read now" on NetGalley, and in spite of the strange title, the description sounded interesting. (The title is in reference an actual cathedral in St. Petersburg called "The Church of the Savior on Splilled Blood" - see photo below - and a climactic scene in the book takes place near it). After falling into the story, when I stopped to take a breath, I couldn't believe this was a self-published debut!  It reads like a book written by a much more experienced author, and I was pleasantly reminded of Robert Crais' Elvis Cole series, which I love.  The dialogue is realistic and the steps the private detective, Jack Salvo, undertakes to solve the crime are intricate and creative.

I love the fact that the main character is a Philosophy teacher at a community college in L.A. as well as a P.I, that he has a snarky internal and external voice, that the author did not reveal all of the character's back story in the first book,  that the plot involved a Russian ballet troupe, and the Los Angeles and St. Petersburg settings. Very enjoyable and well done!!  I also read the second title in the series, Dead Drop, which was even better and involved a case of embezzlement gone out of control.  There is a third title underway called The Middle Sister, which I'm awaiting eagerly.  I have a sneaking suspicion this author and his series are about to be snatched up by a publisher.

Image result for church of spilled blood st petersburg


Dead Drop by [Miles, Jesse]

Amazon Kindle e-book


Atlas Obsura ~ Joshua Foer, et. al.



Foer, Joshua et. al. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0761169086. $35.00 USD.

I ordered this book for my library collection not really knowing what it was all about.  When it came in from processing for the shelves, I happened to pick it up and browse through it.  What a find!  www.atlasobscura.com is a website created in 2009 by Joshua Foer, a science writer and author of international bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein, and Dylan Thuras.  It is a collaborative effort where people from all over the world can add information about interesting and obscure places, people, histories, art and architecture, just to name a few.  The website gave birth to the book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, published in late 2016 by Workman Publishing Company. It was my Non-Fiction pic for #libfaves16 this year, and when I tweeted “It’s like porn for information junkies,” the publisher retweeted it with the comment “what else can be said?!”

The book is oversized (hence the larger purchase price), and is divided into areas of the world, such as Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada, USA and Latin American.  Within these sections are photos, drawings, maps, and, of course, written information about, well, obscure people, places and things that most of us have never heard about!  I, of course, started my review of this unique book in the USA section, “Four Corners and the Southwest,” which includes my native state, Texas.  In one entry, titled “Ozymandias on the Plains,” there is a picture of a sculpture of “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in Amarillo with references to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”  The sculpture is out in the middle of a field with cows grazing in the meadow surrounding it. Created by sculptor Lightnin’ McDuff, it is continually vandalized to include socks on the feet, perhaps to keep the legs warm…..


The Ozymandias on the Plains statue in Amarillo, Texas,


The other entry that captured my attention are the Pando Aspens located in Richfield, Utah.  Though it may look like a forest of trees, it is actually a single organism – every stem is genetically identical and is linked by a single root system, making it the heaviest, and one of the oldest, organisms in the world.   The root system is an estimated 80,000 years old!


Image result for panda aspens utah

These are only two of hundreds of entries from all over the world contained in the delightful book, Atlas Obscura.  I loved it so much, I gave it to several people for Christmas.  I highly recommend this title for anyone with curiosity and a sense of wonder about the world.



Monday, January 2, 2017

Taking a Breather....



I have not posted much Since October, 2016, as I was deep down in a reading frenzy completing  many, many books in preparation for the voting meeting in December for the Texas Library Association Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List. The Committee for the Lariat List is made up of 9 Librarians from across Texas. I was asked to be on the nominating committee for a three year rotation, and the 2017 List should be published this month.  Five of the titles I nominated made the final list!  The short list is available at this link:

http://www.txla.org/sites/tla/files/groups/lariat/docs/Lariat%202017%20Short%20List%20Press%20Announcement.pdf

The short list is the list of titles that each of the 9 members of the committee nominated to be on the Lariat List.  When we met on December 9th, we voted for the top 25 titles. The annual list of Lariat award winners calls attention to outstanding fiction published during the year that merits special attention from adult readers. The main criteria for selecting books for the Lariat List is that they are “a pleasure to read.”

I'm taking a breather from Lariat List reading and catching up on some other books I've been wanting to read, and should have some book reviews up in the near future.  There are so many amazing authors, especially debut authors, that have written excellent fiction, and I just wish I had time to read all the books that capture my attention!

If you would like to expand your reading horizons in 2017, and get outside your comfort zone, check out the 2017 Reading Challenge from the PopSugar website here:

https://media1.popsugar-assets.com/files/docs/PS16_JP_Living_2017ReadingChallenge_List_Printable.pdf


Happy Reading!




The Dry ~ Jane Harper


The Dry: A Novel by [Harper, Jane]

Harper, Jane. 2017. The Dry. New York, NY: Flatiron, a division of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1250105608. $25.99 USD.


I received an ARC from the publisher after seeing the pre-pub buzz about this debut from Australian author Jane Harper. It definitely lived up to the hype! The setting, a small farming town in Australia suffering from drought, was unusual and so well-described that I could feel the heat and see the cracked, dry earth - all of which played an important role in the novel.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of a former childhood friend named Luke. By all appearances his friend, a beleaguered farmer, snapped suddenly and killed his wife, his son and himself. Aaron would have skipped going back due to the bad memories of the town, except for a note he received at work: "Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral." Years earlier, Luke had provided an alibi for Aaron in the death of a female friend, and it appears that someone in the town knows that the alibi was not exactly true. Luke gets drawn in to what at first seems to be an open and shut murder/suicide case, and he is further haunted by memories of the past that the people in the town have not forgotten.

The novel moves at an incredible pace, alternating between the present action and scenes from the past. The author does a great job of sustaining the suspense to a surprising and unexpected conclusion.  This is an excellent mystery, with well-developed characters, believable dialogue and an unique setting - I had a hard time putting this one down!

Lots of accolades from famous authors, such as David Baldacci, who wrote "One of the most stunning debuts I've ever read. I could feel the searing heat of the Australia setting. Every word is near perfect. The story builds like a wave seeking the purchase of earth before it crashes down and wipes out everything you might have thought about this enthralling tale. Read it!" 

Well done, Ms. Harper!