Sunday, December 30, 2018

LJ's Favorite Reads of 2018

It wasn't easy to pare down my list.  I read so many very good books both by favorite authors, as well as those authors who were new to me, but are now on my list to follow.  However, this is a list of those books I particularly enjoyed in 2018.  You may notice my list leans toward licensed investigators (police procedurals, legal mysteries, etc.) and historical mysteries, but not all. So enjoy. Perhaps you'll find a book to pique your interest.

With a connection to the Kennedy assignation, "November Road" is an exceptional book.  It is a love story with danger and suspense enough to keep one reading late into the night.  Berney's previous book "The Long and Faraway Gone," was excellent.  "November Road" surpasses even that.  Simply put; read it!

"Wild Fire" is yet another excellent read from Ann Cleeves. Set in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland, Cleeves doesn't rely on twists, but when she does include one, it's very effective.  She also does a very good job of increasing the level of mystery and suspense, keeping the killer's identity from the reader until the last possible moment. It is said that this is the last book in the Shetland series.  An intriguing and subtle Easter egg leaves us wondering what's coming next.  

Joe Talbert Jr., a cub reporter, wrote a story about a Senator which went to press without confirmation, with the result that he has been suspended and may be fired. However, he has come across the story about the murder of a Joseph Talbert in southern Minnesota.  Could this be the father he never met?  "The Shadows We Hide" is a story of secrets, lies, and addictions; of the harm people can do to themselves and one another.  But in the end, it is a story of redemption and is very well done.

Retired PI Leo Waterman is asked by Art Fowler, an old friend, to help find answers as to why his grandson would suddenly kill a city councilman and then himself. When Art allegedly commits suicide two days after making the request, Leo knows he can't ignore things.  Leo's questions into the matter nearly cost him his life and take him into a situation he'd never expected. "Soul Survivor" presents a very different, and much darker, G.M. Ford than we've ever known.  It's not a comfortable read, but it's an honest one with several "wow" moments.  One can only hope to see more of Leo in the future.

Twenty years ago, Aaron Falk had been accused of murder.  Now a Federal Agent, Aaron has returned for Luke's funeral. Together with Sergeant Raco, the cop new to the town, they work to learn what really happened.  "The Dry" is filled with very effective twists that one doesn't see coming even though Harper plays completely fair with the readers.  Secrets; everyone has secrets, but secrets will out and Harper does an excellent job of exposing them all.  What an excellent debut.

Psychologist Joe O'Laughlin is coping with Parkinson's, recent widowhood, and raising his two daughters.  Receiving a call that his father has been attacked and in a coma introduces yet another challenge.  This is a story about families, and secrets, and the lengths to which one is willing to go for one's family.  "The Other Wife" is a rollercoaster of twists and surprises, filled with excellent characters, thought-provoking truths, and an ending of hope.

It is difficult to say much about this book without giving away spoilers.  My best recommendation is to read it cold without having looked at any information about the plot, impossible as that may be."Dancing on the Grave" is an excellent read which deals with the psychology of the characters as well as the forensics of the crimes.  It is both suspenseful and disquieting, clearly demonstrating Sharp's true skill as a writer.

Inspector Ian Rutledge, driving on deserted roads in the middle of the night, doesn’t expect to come across a stopped motorcar, a dead man, and a woman with blood on her hands.  The Gatekeeper” is so well done.  Its multifaceted plot is equaled only by the excellent, multifaceted protagonist, and the quality of the writing.  This may well be the best book in the series to date. 

A rare devotional in an exquisite box moves from person-to-person, affecting the life of each person by whom it is possessed.  Not tied to either their Ian Rutledge or Bess Crawford series, this novella is a lovely way to try Charles Todd.  "The Pretty Little Box" is fascinating and thought-provoking.  It leaves one with more questions than answers, but that's part of its appeal.

Other books I enjoyed, and highly recommend are:

You'll find all the other books I've read on my Goodreads page.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

First Sentence:  He was going to die.  That was quite obvious. 
Joanna Langley returns to the place which was once the family estate in order to plan her father's funeral.  In going through her father's things, she comes across an unopened letter addressed to Sophia.  All Joanna knew of her father's past is that he had been shot down over Tuscany during the war and left with a permanent limp.  With the revelation of the letter, Joanna decides to travel to Tuscany in order to learn more about her father, and her own past.   
There is nothing more effective than a powerful opening to get one's attention.  Bowen's opening is all that and more.  It is visual, terrifying, and demands one keep reading.  That it then segues from 1944 to 1975 is even more compelling, both due to the transition in time and ambiance, as well as introducing the protagonist, Joanna Langley, establishing both the family's, and Joanna's, history, before switching back to Hugo, Italy, and the war.  
Bowen conveys emotion in a very British manner—"To realize that one has nobody in the world—this is a sobering thought."—and contrasts that with the Italian sentiment—"Don't look so sad,' she said, touching my cheek. 'All is well.  We are tested and we survive, and life will be good again.'"  She also does a good job of conveying Joanna's shock at learning an unexpected bit of news, and at building one's curiosity about what is to come.   Bowen also makes an interesting comparison between Hugo's life with a title, large house, and staff; and Sophia's life with a husband she loved which beautifully illustrates what in life are true riches.
The sense of place is wonderfully done.  By the time Joanna reaches Italy, one is ready to pack and join her there, with Paola being the person with whom one would wish to stay.  A word of warning; one should not read this when hungry. 
This is not a perfect book.  There are portents and large, very convenient coincidences.  Although there is a mystery, it seems secondary to romance.  For those who enjoy history, Bowen does provide an interesting look at the impact of WWII on a small village in Italy.  That is something one doesn't often find.
"The Tuscan Child" is a lovely, rather idealistic story. However, it is also a pleasant read with a happy ending, and there's nothing wrong with that.

THE TUSCAN CHILD (HistMys-Hugo Langley/Joanna Langley-England/Italy-1944/1975) – G+
      Bowen, Rhys - Standalone
      Lake Union Publishing – Feb 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

First Sentence: On the hottest day of the year, Larry Glassbrook has come home to his native Lancashire for the last time, and the townsfolk have turned out to say goodbye.
Police detective Florence Lovelady's career was made when she brought about the arrest and conviction of serial child-murderer Larry Glassbrook.  Thirty years later, Florence, with her son, returns to witness Glassbrook's funeral and to the small village where events took place.  Revisiting the property where she originally stayed, she finds an effigy, similar to those found with the murdered children, but this one looks like her.  Another child disappears calling into question whether Glassbrook really was guilty or is there a copycat.  When Florence's son disappears, it becomes very personal.
Having the story set in two time periods, 1969 and 1999, works very well.  One becomes immersed in the case from the beginning, meeting all the significant characters.  In 1969, Bolton establishes the relationships, and illustrates the sexism professional women faced.  Florence "Flossie" is well-created and is an example of so many women caught in that time.  The example of Florence having achieved the rank of inspector, yet still expected to type notes, was so classic for the time.  In the present-day setting, her son Ben is a wonderful source of relief from the increasing tension of the plot.
Bolton very effectively builds the feeling of suspense and threat against Florence—"The sense of something dark on the loose in Sabden was growing. If I spent any time alone, I could almost see a shadow ahead of me, slipping out of sight, and if I stopped moving, even for a few seconds, the silence around me started to feel ominous."  There is just the right touch of psychic ability and creepiness, which is perfectly offset by occasional touches of wry humor.  One can appreciate that when Florence gets into a situation which could flounder into a TSTL (too-stupid-to-live) moment, she doesn't go there—"I'm not an idiot.  Of course I thought Trap as soon as I saw it."
The setting of the Pendle Hill and the history of the Pendle witches, as well as the story being set in a small village, creates a perfect backdrop to the story.  The subject of witches and witchcraft is a fascinating one, and one which has gone on through the ages, including the last witchcraft act being repealed by the English Parliament in 1951. The characters of Daphne and Avril are the perfect tutors, as well as also providing some humor—"Don't look so worried, dear.  We don't turn people into toads anymore.".  The power of the Freemasons is another fascinating topic which is included, as well as enlightenment about priests and corpse roads.  Those who enjoy learning about the unusual will feel right at home.
Each of Bolton's books is not only a standalone, but each is unique in theme and tone.  Although Bolton has played with the idea of the paranormal before, the actual inclusion of it, employing witchcraft, is new to her writing.  It brings in just the right touch of tension which is significantly increased as the story progresses and raises the question as to the identity of the actual killer.  Although the twist is somewhat predictable, it is still very effective and is followed by one which is completely unexpected.
"The Craftsman" is a gripping read with gothic overtones, filled with suspense, surprises, and an ending which will be hard to forget.  Bolton has created another very individual story.  One can't wait to see what she does next.

THE CRAFTSMAN (Susp-AC Florence Lovelady-Lancashire, England-Cont) – VG+
      Bolton, Sharon - Standalone
      Minotaur Books – Oct 2018

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskins

First Sentence:  I'm lying on the hood of my car, my back reclined against my windshield, knees bent, fingers laced together on my stomach, my breathing relaxed to ease the throb of pain.
Joe Talbert Jr., a cub reporter, wrote a story about a Senator which went to press without confirmation, with the result that he has been suspended and may be fired. However, he has come across the story about the murder of a Joseph Talbert in southern Minnesota.  Could this be the father he never met?  Rather than someone to be admired, the dead man's death isn't mourned but was felt to be long overdue.  Responsible for his brother, contacted by his addict mother who claims to be recovering, with the encouragement of his girlfriend Lila, Joe is determined to learn about his family.  Someone is out to stop him.
A good, evocative opening is something to be savored, and this truly succeeds.  It engages both the senses and the emotions, as well as informs.  For those who read Elkins' previous book, "The Live We Bury," it is a true pleasure to have Joe, Lila, and Jeremy back again.  For those who haven't read it, Eskins provides all the background one needs, and more, to feel comfortable starting here.
Eskins effectively conveys Joe's feelings about finding information on the family he never knew.  One surprise after another keeps things interesting.  Joe's family, start to end, has issues that are monumental.  And just because someone is a relative doesn't mean they're a good person or can be trusted. 
Each of the main plot threads holds one's interest.  There are so many facets to the story.  Eskins skillfully makes elements of it very personal and emotional, while painful to read even if one hasn't experienced such things for oneself.  Joe's relationship to his autistic brother, Jeremy, is beautifully done with a portrayal of Jeremey which is neither condescending nor contrived. 
The structure of the book is interesting in that Part I is the first 261 pages of the 339 pages total.  Sadly, there are a couple unfortunate and unnecessary portents. 
"The Shadows We Hide" is a story of secrets, lies, and addictions; of the harm people can do to themselves and one another.  But in the end, it is a story of redemption and is very well done.

THE SHADOWS WE HIDE (Myst-Joe Talbert Jr.-Minnesota-Contemp) – VG+
      Eskins, Allen – 2nd in series
      Mulholland Books – Nov 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

Body & Soul by John Harvey

First Sentence:  The house was at the edge of the village, the last in a row of stubby stone-built cottages backing onto fields which led down to the sea.
Retired policeman Frank Elder hasn't seen his daughter for a while, so is surprised when she shows up with bandages on her wrist.  Unwilling to talk about it, Katherine stays two days and is gone, with events of Katy's past still being a major wedge between them.  Frank wants to help, which leads him into the world of painters and life modeling.  Yet once a cop means you never know what danger may lie in wait.
The recounting of what happened to Katherine when younger is succinct and very painful to read.  Harvey also provides a good accounting of Frank's history, including his periodic work with DI Trevor Cordon, and his current relationship with jazz singer Vicki Parsons.  It is Harvey's definition which makes one put Frank's life in perspective—"Loneliness is just solitude taken a step too far."

One thing to love about Harvey's style is his subtlety.  That DCI Hadley is gay and D.S. Phillips is black are details one comes to know as casually as its being a sunny day.  And isn't that as it should be?—"Living in London as long as he had, thirty-one of his thirty-five years, it was possible to go for days, sometimes, without being reminded of the color of his skin."
There are twists, and then there are knock-you-back-twists.   It is the latter which Harvey has created.  Although there are references to a previous case, enough information is provided so that there is no sense of pieces missing.  Harvey builds the suspense steadily, keeping one completely enthralled.  
"Body & Soul," the final book in the Frank Elder series, is apparently also the last full-length novel Harvey plans to write.  It is extremely well done, very emotional with a shocking turn, and a devastating ending.  However, if one is curious about the series, do start with "Flesh and Blood," the first book of the series.

BODY & SOUL (Pol Proc-Frank Elder-England-Contemp) - Ex
      Harvey, John – 4th in series
      Pegasus Books – Nov 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  Worm stood and stared, overcome with wonder.
Worm is a former Thames River urchin, somewhere around nine years old, who has never known a family Christmas.  He now has a job and a place to stay at Hester Monk's clinic and is looked after by volunteer Miss Claudine Burroughs and bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson. When Worm witnesses the possible kidnapping of the most beautiful woman he's ever seen, he begs Squeaky's help in rescuing the lady.  However, the mystery woman is not the victim she seems and has her own plans for revenge, with Squeaky and Worm providing assistance.
Perry's ability to establish a sense of time and place is transportive.  She takes one to the sights and sounds of Victorian London and truly engages all our senses—"He had time to get a piece of bread from the larder and a little bit of meat dripping to go with it. It tasted salty and meaty and buttery, all at the same time.'
All the preparations for Christmas impart memories many may have known.  More than physical things is the recognition that holidays are best when shared—"Claudine looked at him closely, 'I will like Christmas very much if everyone else does.  Christmas is not a good time to be alone.  We must make sure everybody is included.'"
Squeaky's introspection as to why helping Worm matters to him shows how much Squeaky's character has developed over time.  Although this is particularly meaningful for those who have followed the series, Perry provides enough information for new readers to appreciate the transformation.
Perry's bits of wisdom are insightful and quote-worthy.  It's hard not to include them all, but this particularly stands out—"Everyone has to accept disillusion sometime.  Hardly anyone was as good as you believed.  He supposed that was what love was: accepting someone the way they were."
"A Christmas Revelation" has an exciting climax and a lovely ending.  Yes, the story is sentimental, but it is also a wonderful gift one may give oneself. 

A CHRISTMAS REVELATION (HistMys-Worm/Squeaky-London-1868) – VG
      Perry, Anne – 16th Novella
      Ballantine Books – Nov 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  I've come up with a solution to the homeless problem.
Semi-retired attorney Andy Carpenter can never pass up a dog, especially when it's the companion of a homeless man.  The dog, Zoey, bites a man in defense of an attack on his owner, and the dog is quarantined. Laurie, Andy's former-cop wife, decides they should help by taking Zoey into their kennels and his owner, Don Carrigan into the apartment over their garage.  When Andy accidentally mentions Don's name in an interview, they learn that he is wanted for a murder from two years ago, of which Don has no knowledge.  It's up to Andy to prove Don innocent.
Rosenfelt created an opening which not only touches the heart but makes one wish to be in a position to commit similar acts.  However, it may also cause one to search the internet for corn crème brûlee recipes.  The short summary of Laurie's background is just enough.  Andy's friends and co-workers are a diverse and interesting group who appear throughout the series, although one can become a bit annoyed with a couple of them over time.  Carrigan, however, is a character who reminds one not to make assumptions about people based on their appearance or their situation.  That is very well done.
The story starts fairly low-key.  Then the switch flips and the risk factor becomes higher.  However, an element Rosenfelt uses, often to lighten the mood, is Andy's internal narrative—"The door is opened by a woman who is clearly some kind of housekeeper/maid.  She is wearing a sort of uniform, mostly white with some dark blue trim.  The skirt looks like one enormous doily; I shudder to think how many normal-sized doilies were killed in the making of that garment."
Rosenfelt's plots remind one of complex Venn diagrams with numerous overlapping circles.  What's nice is how well it all works, and the overlaps never feel like coincidences.  That Andy isn't one's usual macho protagonist is a refreshing change.  That Marcus, the muscle, works with Andy's wife Laurie is even better.  As the chain of evidence builds, the center of the diagram becomes clear.  Even the identity of the killer is a very effective twist.
Following the trial is always interesting.  Rosenfelt clearly explains the process along the way, including what can, and cannot, be done.  At the same time, there is a nice balance between the case and Andy's home and family life, which makes the characters more real.
"Deck the Hounds" has plenty of bodies and a very twisty plot which is anything but boring. One will appreciate that the author doesn't do the expected or go for the easy solution.

DECK THE HOUNDS (LegMys-Andy Carpenter-New Jersey -Contemp) – G+    
      Rosenfelt, David – 18th in series
      Minotaur Books – Oct 2018

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit by Amy Stewart

First Sentence:  On the day I took Anna Kayser to the insane asylum, I was first obliged to catch a thief.
Deputy Constance Kopp is a target of politicians who don't believe women belong on the police force.  With her boss, Sheriff Heath, running for higher office, she is in a precarious position.  Jumping into a river at night to save a prisoner who escaped from another officer is bad but becoming personally involved in the case of a wife whose husband repeatedly commits her to the local mental asylum puts her at risk of losing her job.
What a wonderful character is Constance Kopp.  At one moment she's chasing down a thief, saving a man from a raging river, making the female prisoners as comfortable as she can, and worried about a woman being taken against her choice, to an insane alyssum for the fourth or fifth time.  However, the most important thing one must know about Constance Kopp is that she was a real person, 6 feet tall, and believed that--"A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.” Many other characters in the book were also real people.  []  One may find that this, and that the newspaper stories, too, are real, makes the book even more fascinating.  They are a true look at both life during this period and a woman's life during this time.
How nice to have an opening which makes one smile.  Even better is how distinct is Stewart's voice.  Not every author can give the impression that the story is being told just to one personally, and with such clarity that perfect visual images are created—"…there I happened to be, in my uniform, equipped with a gun, handcuffs, and a badge.  I did what any officer of the law would do:  I tucked my handbag under my arm, gathered my skirts in my hands, and ran him down."  That wonderful combination is further topped by a touch of humor'—"The boy was too engrossed or slow-witted to step out of the way.  I'm sorry to say I shoved him down to the ground, rather roughly.  I hated to do it, but children are sturdy and quick to heal."
One doesn't often think about the women who would be in jail and the various reasons why they would be there.  This was a time of unions and workers' strikes, but it was also a time when a man could have his wife committed for long periods of time, for "nervous hysteria," with only his words and the substantiation of a friendly doctor.    Stewart so captures the sexism and pomposity of some of her characters, it's difficult for one not to be incensed.  This was also the period leading up to World War I with anti-European sentiment, particularly against Germans, Poles and Austrians, and Constance's sister Norma designing a traveling cart for homing pigeons, and Fleurette wanting to entertain the those learning to be soldiers.
Stewart is very good at weaving together the numerous threads of the story.  They mesh beautifully, yet each is distinct, and the finished cloth only adds to the reality of the story. The twist may have been anticipated, but it was nonetheless effective when it came.  It does lead to a very interesting turn of events that is even relevant today.  The use of actual newspaper stories is both interesting to see for the journalistic style of the time, and for the reality it brings to the story.
There really are some brilliant lines—"I wish I could say that we left Mr. Courter speechless, but an incompetent man is never without another terrible idea."  The secondary characters of Constance's family add both veracity and richness to the story.  One can't help but like Bessie, the blunt and pragmatic sister-in-law.
"Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit" is another wonderful book within a fascinating series.  The ending and the promise of the next phase of life for the Kopp sisters is perfect and enticing.  Don't forget to read the Historical Notes and Sources.  

MISS KOPP JUST WON'T QUIT (HistMys-Constance Kopp-New Jersey-1916) – VG+
Stewart, Amy – 4th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Sept 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

BLOOD IS BLOOD: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  I detest Mondays with all my soul. 
Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn have become highly successful enquiry agents.  But with success comes enemies.  With only a fortnight before Thomas is to marry Rebecca, a bomb destroys their offices. With Barker in a coma, it is up to Thomas to uncover the villain.  When a contractor goes missing, his wife comes to Barker & Llewelyn for help.  Help appears unexpectedly in the shape of Barker's brother, Caleb who has been in America as a Pinkerton agent.  Can Thomas solve the cases and prevent his fiancée from canceling their wedding?    
What a great opening.  It is one with which anyone who works can identify, and the introduction to Thomas is delightfully self-deprecating and unusual, which is a nice change.  The inclusion of information on Cyrus Barker, Thomas' employer, is neatly done, and very succinct background of Thomas is provided. It is also the calm before the surprising storm which dramatically alters the tenor of the story.  The introduction to Barker's inamorata, Phillipa Ashleigh, certainly makes an impression—"It was the sound of a woman's boots clicking in fury.  Every man on earth is acquainted with the sound, it is instinctual."
Assembling the list of suspects is an effective way of acquainting, or re-acquainting, readers with previous cases in the series.  A delightful reference is made to the address of their new office.  With the case of the missing builder, it is very well done by the author that one is allowed to be suspicious very shortly before Thomas comes to the same realization.  It's a clever way to make the reader feel directly involved in the story, and the first major twist is a corker. 
What an apt description—"Ah, the Wealden murders."  He replied.  "Three men dead in a display of firearms, all Americans.  It is as if they come from the womb with a gun in each hand."  It is not easy to convey the action and danger of hand-to-hand combat in words, yet Thomas does a very credible job of making it real, visual, and with plenty of action.  One certainly doesn't want for excitement or plot twists.  They come one after the next in swift succession.
It's hard not to like the advice Caleb offers Thomas—"'A woman prefers a man who is confident.' 'I hadn't considered that.' 'And when she talks, listen, by god. She feels she has important things to say.  Maybe she does and maybe she doesn't, but listen anyway.'"  And Phillipa is such a wonderful character.  She's the woman one would like to be and offers sage advice to Thomas when trying to win back his fiancée—"Don't shave; it shall make you look desperate.  She'll complain, but she'll like that.  Give her all the control."
The relationship between Thomas and Barker is truly that which draws one to the series.  We know how the two men met, yet much of the appeal is Thomas' desire to grow and please Barker, not in a subservient way, but in the way of one who wants to earn the regard of someone greatly admired.  As for Barker, he respects who Thomas is and who he has become, and that, in spite of everything, Thomas is—"still keen as you ever were."
It's amazing what one may learn—"There are a dozen of types of rain in London…"—and who knew about the difference between a noose with a Marwood ring rather than one without.  One theme which is somewhat unusual for a story such as this is religion and faith.  It is there not in a preachy way but in the best representation of it.
Will Thomas created an excellent reveal of one character's true purpose, the surprising appearance of an historical figure, and a very lovely ending.
"Blood is Blood: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel" is another wonderful read in an excellent historical mystery series filled with humor, suspense, great characters, and a wonderful sense of time and place. It can be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the books in order.
BLOOD IS BLOOD: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel (HistMys-Barker/Llewelyn-London-1890) –VG+
      Thomas, Will – 10th in series
      Minotaur Books – Nov 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

First Sentence: Armand Gamache slowed his car to a crawl, then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.

Armand Gamache, former head of the Sûreté du Quebec, Myrna Landers, a bookseller, and a young builder have been named as liquidators (executors) for the will of an apparent stranger.  But why the three of them, and not the woman's children? And how does a murder play into the disposition?  Of greater concern to Gamache is locating the highly dangerous missing drugs over which Gamache was suspended.  Cadet Amelia Choquet, a former prostitute and drug user, has been kicked out of the Sûreté Academy for possession. What is her connection? One instinctively knows these threads will join; or will they.  One is compelled to find out.  
Reading Louise Penny can be a very personal experience.  It can take one back to childhood with the inclusion of a favourite poem, the memory of meeting a special author and a very kind man before dementia clouded his memories or a lovely, but simple, childhood song.  For those who have read the series from the beginning, it is a reminder as to why these books have become important to us.  For new readers, it is a welcome to, yet a reminder of, life's truth that—"Things sometimes fell apart unexpectedly.  It was not necessarily a reflection of how much they were valued." And haven't we all, at some point, proclaimed that we are FINE, hoping a listener would truly understand.
Although each book stands on its own, much is gained by having read the previous books. Not only do the characters and their relationships become better known, but one then truly feels a part of the Village of Three Pines.  One of the things of which readers may be assured is that Penny's characters don't stagnate.  They evolve and grow, certainly no one's more than Jean-Guy, acting head of homicide, and Gamache's son-in-law

There are so many dynamic, strong characters; characters one comes to know and who become personal and real, such as Myrna, Gabri, Clara, Ruth and Rosa, the duck. A new character, Benedict, is appealing.  The poetry battle between him and Ruth is delightful.  Isabelle Lacoste, now the head of homicide, is the type of person one wants to be; determined, trusted by someone one admires, and wise.  Agent Cloutier is transferred into a department she dislikes and is stuck there by circumstances.  It is the realness of her character which is so appealing, as it is she who brings a touch of humour and veracity to the story, but also an opportunity to witness her growth.  Ruth, who, for all her eccentricities, has a sense of clarity. 

Most of all, there is Armand Gamache, a man guided by a code of conduct—the four statements that lead to wisdom, whose underlying foundation is kindness, but is far from naïve and understands, too well, Matthew 10:36.  Even the title, when one learns the meaning behind it, not only makes perfect sense but is something one may tuck away and remember.
It is the story's balance which makes Penny so remarkable.  This is not a cozy which ignores the hard realities; especially those of Gamache's job and responsibilities, of the losses or injuries, or the often-overlooked fact that—"When a murder was committed, more than one person died."  Penny also acknowledges the importance of being conscious and remembering the good things; the things one loves.  There is wisdom here.  One need only take the time to absorb it.

In case one is concerned about a lack of suspense, fear not.  There is a situation which causes one to catch one's breath and fear for the safety, if not lives, of the characters.  Yet even then, there is the reminder of hope through the explanation of the book's title.

"Kingdom of the Blind" has a well-done twist and a wonderful summation containing humour, love, and is bittersweet.  This is an excellent and somewhat more complex book than those in the past, and it certainly provides an interesting transition for the books to come.

KINGDOM OF THE BLIND (Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
Penny, Louise – 14th in series
Minotaur Books – Nov 2018

Thursday, October 25, 2018

November Road by Lou Berney

First Sentence:  Behold!
Frank Guidry of New Orleans is a fixer, a loyal lieutenant to mob boss Carlos Marcello.  But loyalty isn't always a two-way street.  Charlotte is a woman with a dream but is stuck in Oklahoma.  Taking her daughters and their dog, Charlotte runs away from Oklahoma hoping to realize her dream.  She didn't plan on meeting Frank along the way.  For Barone, it's nothing personal.  Frank is simply a job to Barone, and Ted is just a driver.  But roads have intersections which can change lives.
This review is going to be very different from those I normally write.  Most of my reviews break down the elements of the book and addresses the strengths, weaknesses, and highpoints I found therein.  Not this one because how does one describe the indescribable?  How does one dissect a book so well written, one's overall reaction is simply "Wow!"? 
Berney has created a compelling set of characters and hardly any of them are quite what one expects.  Dooley, Charlotte's alcoholic husband, isn't a bad guy, just addicted, and Charlotte knows nothing in her life will change as long as she stays—"Charlotte dipped her brush again and not for the first time imagined a tornado dropping from the sky and blowing her far away, into a world full of color."  Sometimes one has to be one's own tornado.  Charlotte becomes the embodiment of who women strive to become.  Some of those who are younger sisters may identify with being the stronger sister of the two.  Frank isn't cruel, but he doesn't mind if others die.  Seraphine is an administrator whose job it is to make certain what mob boss Carlo's Marcello wants to be done, gets done.
The blending of history, real figures, and fictional characters is so well done.  While those involved in the Kennedy assassination are real, so, too, was Carlos Marcello.  Adding "Wizard of Oz" actor Ray Bolger was a nice touch.
One has to admire an author whose character quotes from "Dante's Inferno" by Milton.  In fact, one finds Berney a wonderfully quote-worthy author on his own—"'My philosophy is that guilt is an unhealthy habit,' he said. 'It's what other people try to make you feel so you'll do what they want.  But one life is all we ever get, as far as I know.  Why give it away'."
The 60's were a time of cataclysmic changes in society. "The Negroes, you mean," Guidry said. "Civil rights and all that…"  "Not just the Negroes," she said. "Women, too.  Young people.  Everyone who's been pushed aside for so long that they're sick and tired of it."  Berney captures the feel of the period perfectly, both the uncertainties and the possibilities—"With every decision, we create a new future," Leo said. "We destroy all other futures.  There's nothing quite like traveling down Route 66, listening to Bob Dylan, or looking for a phone booth to anchor one to a sense of time and place.  
"November Road" is an exceptional book.  It is a love story with danger and suspense enough to keep one reading late into the night.  Berney's previous book "The Long and Faraway Gone," was excellent.  "November Road" surpasses even that.  Simply put; read it!

NOVEMBER ROAD (Thriller-Frank/Charlotte-USA-Contemp) - Ex
      Berney, Lou – Standalone
      William Morrow- Sept 2018

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Robert B. Parker's Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

First Sentence:  She thought she might pass out from the ache in the side or that her heart might explode in her chest as she ran barefoot along the dunes.
Police Chief Jesse Stone is back at his job after spending two months in rehab for alcoholism and is called to a neighboring town by the state's chief homicide investigator, Captain Brian Lundquist, to help with a murder investigation.  Officer Drake Daniels made an association between the condition of a current victim and a murder that was Jessie's first case in Paradise.  The so-called "Saviors of Society" have set up shop and are targeting interracial couples.  Do they have a bigger plan?  And who is the troubled young man with the huge chip on his shoulder?
Could the themes of a book be any more relevant?  It's a painful first chapter, but it sets the stage.
Although this book is well into the series, Coleman does a very good job of fleshing out the characters, particularly Jesse, so that new readers don't feel lost.  There is a real sense of who he is, what he has been through, and for what he stands.  The definition of police work is nicely done—"Cops rode the wave or followed the wave onto the beach.  It wasn't their job to get ahead of it.  Cops were really like the guys who followed the parade with brooms and shovels, cleaning up the mess the horses and the spectators left behind." 
Coleman's reference to Shakespeare and the Old Testament can make one smile. The interesting observation that—"Some forms of evil don't just appear in your house.  They have to be invited in."—is an interesting subject for debate.  One should never underestimate the determination of evil. 
The portrayal of Jessi's struggle with sobriety is very well done.  As anyone who has ever been down that road, or been close to someone who has, it is such a difficult path of constant temptation, and the inner devil is loud. In contrast to this is food; not fancy food, but good food and how to prepare it, such as an omelet with onion and sausage.  Such scenes help defuse the tension and add just the right touch of normalcy.
The story is filled with interesting characters who come to life from the page.  Some have been part of the series for a long time, such as Molly and Healy, while some, such as Alisha, who are more recent.  They give substance and depth to the story.  As for the antagonists, they, too, are well done and very effective.  One may not wish to believe such people exist, but one knows they do.
Following Jesse, as he starts to put the pieces together is filled with excitement.  The tension increases nicely as the pieces fall into place and build to a nail-biting conclusion.  The story is told in short chapters and very fast moving.
"Robert B. Parker's Colorblind" deals with issues that are timely wrapped within a very exciting police procedural.  The development in Jesse's life is a lovely touch. 

 ROBERT B. PARKER'S COLORBLIND (PolProc-Jesse Stone-Paradise, MA-contemp) - VG
      Coleman, Reed Farrel – 17th in series
      Putnam – Sept 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist

First Sentence: Barney Doyle sat at his cluttered workbench, attempting to fix Olaf Andersen’s ancient power mower for the fourth time in seven years. 

Phil Hastings, his wife Gloria, his daughter Gabbie and their twin boys Patrick and Sean move from Sunny California to an old farmhouse in upstate New York whose land includes virgin forest. They soon find they have more to contend with than they expected. Unexpected, and unexplainable, encounters with strange creatures, the boy’s acknowledgment of “the Bad Thing” living under a bridge and Gabbie’s almost sexual encounter with a farrier who died over a hundred years ago are only some of the strange goings on which threaten the family.

This is a book to read every year or so on Midsummer’s Eve or All Hollow’s Eve. However, this is not one's child’s faerie tale even though it involves brotherly love and courage. It is fantasy; it is horror. It is creepy, dark, at times violent, at times sexual and always a page-turner.

Those who love Celtic myth and Shakespeare will recognize magical elements of The Fool, elf-shot, Trooping Faeires, and more. It is one of those rare books that makes one feel as though it “could” be possible.  It may even cause even non-Catholics to wish for a vial of holy water, a silver sword, and a true faerie stone.

One may find oneself researching the legends and faerie folk involved, looking for erl-king hills and avoiding faeire rings at midnight. It's wise to remember to start earlier in the day so one is not up until midnight finishing it. Staying out of the woods is also a good idea.

"Faerie Tale" is the perfect blending of fantasy in contemporary life which makes this book so compelling, frightening and memorable. 

FAERIE TALE (Suspense/Fantasy-Hasting Family-Pennsylvania-Cont) – VG+
      Feist, Raymond, E. –Standalone
      Doubleday, 1988