Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Sound of Broken Glass

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie
HarperCollins: 2/25/2014
Trade Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061990649
Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James Series #15

In the past. . .home to the tragically destroyed Great Exhibition, a solitary thirteen-year-old boy meets his next-door neighbor, a recently widowed young teacher hoping to make a new start in the tight-knit South London community. Drawn together by loneliness, the unlikely pair forms a deep connection that ends in a shattering act of betrayal.
In the present. . .On a cold January morning in London, Detective Inspector Gemma James is back on the job while her husband, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, is at home caring for their three-year-old foster daughter. Assigned to lead a Murder Investigation Team in South London, she's assisted by her trusted colleague, newly promoted Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. Their first case: a crime scene at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. The victim: a well-respected barrister, found naked, trussed, and apparently strangled. Is it an unsavory accident or murder? In either case, he was not alone, and Gemma's team must find his companion—a search that takes them into unexpected corners and forces them to contemplate unsettling truths about the weaknesses and passions that lead to murder. Ultimately, they will question everything they think they know about their world and those they trust most.
My Thoughts:

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie is highly recommended.
In London’s Crystal Palace area, Barrister Vincent Arnott is found murdered at the squalid Belvedere Hotel. Arnott, who was strangled, was left naked and trussed up in a compromising position. This is Gemma James' first case asDetective Chief Inspector (DCI) for Scotland Yard's South London team. Detective Sargent Melody Talbot is back as Gemma's assistant in the investigation. In the meantime, Gemma's husband,  Detective Superintendent Duncan Kinkaid, is currently on leave as a stay at home father for the children because the orphaned three year old they are hoping to adopt, Charlotte, needs some extra TLC.

Coincidence leads them to look into Andy Monahan, an up and coming guitarist who happened to be playing at the pub Arnott was last seen at the night before his murder. Arnott was seen exchanging angry words with Andy after Andy punched some loser who approached him in between sets. Melody feels an immediate attraction to Andy when she is sent to interview him. It also turns out that Duncan knows some of the players in the investigation. When another barrister is found murdered in exactly the same way, Gemma and Melody are scrambling to try and piece the clues of these cases together.

At the same time we are following the murder investigation in  The Sound of Broken Glass, we are following Andy's past, when he was thirteen years old. He was a poor kid who had to take charge of his mother's wages or she would spend it all at the pub. He had to keep the house clean and make sure his mother went to work every day. His only joy was playing the guitar. Andy also had a couple of rich punks tormenting him, so he also had to watch out for them.  When a young widow, Nadine Drake, moved in next door, he finally had an adult who cared about him. She encouraged him, made sure he ate and listened to him play.

Certainly Crombie is a seasoned writer and knows how to please her fan base with her fast paced police procedural series featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, and their cohorts. The novel sets up the suspense and complex plot wonderfully. This is the 15th novel in Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James Series, so if you haven't been reading the series you might be scrambling a bit to catch up. I have read one or two in the series (I can't remember which ones) so I had some background on the characters. I didn't find it terribly hard to figure out many of the connections between people and fill in missing background information. Or, alternately, it didn't seem to matter if I had the complete picture of all the interpersonal connections. I know I was missing some background stories.

I had one issue, which seems inconsequential, but after numerous times it was written it became annoying. During the investigation Gemma and Melody would pick up sandwiches or something to eat because they were always on the go and hungry. Inevitably Gemma would be described as nibbling her sandwich and never finishing it. For all the food they acquired because they were hungry, they were always nibbling, never eating. It was just too much nibbling for me. Or anytime Gemma or Melody got tea it was never finished. I promise I would not have looked down on any of the characters had they taken some hardy bites of a sandwich or even wolfed it down quickly. And please, drink that tea down. Fluids are important too.

Crombie leaves readers with a tantalizing mystery about the direction the next novel will take. To Dwell in Darkness is due to be released in September 2014.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun
Penguin Books: 2/25/2014
Trade Paperback, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670786107

In isolated British Columbia, girls, mostly native, are vanishing from the sides of a notorious highway. Leo Kreutzer and his four friends are barely touched by these disappearances—until a series of mysterious and troublesome outsiders come to town. Then it seems as if the devil himself has appeared among them.
In this intoxicatingly lush debut novel, Adrianne Harun weaves together folklore, mythology, and elements of magical realism to create a compelling and unsettling portrait of life in a dead-end town. A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is atmospheric and evocative of place and a group of people, much in the way that Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones conjures the South, or Charles Bock's Beautiful Children provides a glimpse of the Las Vegas underworld: kids left to fend for themselves in a broken world—rendered with grit and poetry in equal measure.

My Thoughts:  

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun is a gratifying, atmospheric debut novel that is highly recommended.

"That wasn’t the first summer girls went missing off the Highway, not the first time a family lost its dearest member to untraceable evil, but it was the first time someone I loved was among that number—spirited away, it seemed, although I knew better." Leo Kreutzer is the narrator in Harun's novel about five friends, all seventeen, who meet the devil in earthly forms during one hot dry summer in a small British Columbia logging town. Girls have been going missing along the highway for years but during this summer the five friends may actually meet the prince of lies and his handmaiden.

"The five of us—Jackie; Bryan; Bryan’s sister, Ursie; Tessa; and me—had been oddball friends since swaddling days, and as soon as we started school, that friendship had been cemented. Part Kitselas, part Haisla, part Polish and German, Ursie, Bryan, and me fit with neither the white nor the Indian kids, who spurned us in different ways. But Jackie, who held her whole generous nation in her blood, adopted us..." (Location 106)

While the five friends try to find a diversion from their bleak lives by shooting at the town dump together, they know their lives are rife with prejudice, poverty, drug abuse, and alcoholism. They were hardly prepared for the mysterious arrival in town and in their lives of Hana Swann and Kevin Seven, and the evil they set into motion. Although it could be easily argued that evil was already in their town with the violent drug dealing Nagel brothers and Gerald Flacker. 

"Revenge, resentment—a kind of low-level heat that burned constantly within us, tamped down by the silence we knew would be our only protection until we couldn’t stand it anymore and the flames burst through. We had seen that happen to others and wondered when it would happen to us, break us wide open so that we would be set free or singed beyond repair. Jackie would be the first, the rest of us were sure. She was tough and stoic, but beneath it, her sense of fairness was acute, and her pain at every injustice became harder and harder to hide."(Location 156)

While telling the story of that fateful summer, Leo also shares folk stories his dying uncle Jud has told him, which he has written down in notebooks. His uncle's stories are central to the plot and illustrate/illuminate the narrative, giving the action a sense of timelessness as old as evil itself. But everyone has a story, as Leo's tale unfolds we know this, only as Leo points out, "Almost everybody who shows up here has a story, usually embellished and smoothed out. That’s one big difference right off between those who arrive and those who live here. Our own stories were unedited—sprawling and unpretty—and nothing could clip and shape and redefine them as long as we stayed here." (Location 199)

We know that something bad is going to happen, as Leo foreshadows, "I guess we both must have known then that trouble was not on its way; it was already here. Although how could we have known how many forms that trouble would take?"(Location 358) And that is the crux of the question: exactly what form is the evil going to take and who is going to be harmed?

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is poetic and full of magic realism along with supernatural stories and a mythology of its own. All these elements intertwine and weave together to form a truly memorable debut novel. The title is taken from one of the stories told to Leo by Uncle Jud.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin Books via Netgalley for review purposes.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Wives of Los Alamos

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
Bloomsbury: 2/25/2014
Hardcover, 240 pages

ISBN-13: 9781620405031 

Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago—and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a rugged military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with P.O. box addresses in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together—adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery.
And while the bomb was being invented, babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up, and Los Alamos gradually transformed from an abandoned school on a hill into a real community: one that was strained by the words they couldn’t say out loud, the letters they couldn’t send home, the freedom they didn’t have. But the end of the war would bring even bigger challenges to the people of Los Alamos, as the scientists and their families struggled with the burden of their contribution to the most destructive force in the history of mankind.
The Wives of Los Alamos is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history. It's a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.
My Thoughts:

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit is a fictionalized account of the experiences the wives endured as they moved to Los Alamos for their husband's jobs. They were a diverse group of people who were called together and forced into the mold of a community in a remote place all in support of a common cause that the woman knew little about. The novel chronicles their daily lives, hardships, entertainment, children, chores, etc. While this is fiction, it really feels like nonfiction as Nesbit lists what the women felt, or liked, or experienced as a result of living at Los Alamos.

The biggest hurdle/challenge to readers is that The Wives of Los Alamos is written entirely in the first person plural. Since I can't really quote from my advanced reader's copy, I've included a link to the publisher's website, Bloomsbury, that has an excerpt for interested readers to check out below. This is a book where you might want to read an excerpt before you try the book simply because of the style in which it is written. There are no main characters.

The daring choice to  write the entire novel in the first person plural does do a nice job of highlighting the similarities and differences between the women. At the beginning the collective "we" strongly reminded me of Tim O'Brien's short story "The Things They Carried" where O'Brien used the past tense "they" while chronicling what the soldiers carried. While I can see where exclusively using the first person plural for a story could be used to create a strong effect, I think it is more effective if used sparingly rather than for an entire novel. Personally I liked the tense choice at first and began to tired of it.

If you can handle a novel written entirely in the first person plural, The Wives of Los Alamos is highly recommended.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Bloomsbury via Netgalley for review purposes.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Troop

The Troop by Nick Cutter
Gallery Books: 2/25/2014
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476717715

Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well-liked and easygoing; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked . . .
It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.
And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected . . . or one another.
Part Lord of the Flies, part 28 Days Later—and all-consuming—this tightly written, edge-of-your seat thriller takes you deep into the heart of darkness, where fear feeds on sanity . . . and terror hungers for more.

My Thoughts:

The Troop by Nick Cutter (pseudonym) is a true horror novel full of enough graphic, gory, disgusting scenes to make anyone's stomach heave. If you are a fan of terror novels it's highly recommended.

In The Troop something is very hungry. When the emaciated man shows up in Prince County diner on Prince Edward Island, and can't get enough to eat, it raises suspicions. It is the beginning of a nightmare for a boy scout troop camping out on Falstaff Island, PEI, when the hungry man steals a boat.  Looking like death itself he ends up on Falstaff island, and comes to the scout's cabin looking for food.

The boy scouts are led by Dr. Tim Riggs. The five boys - Kent, Ephraim, Max, Shelly, and Newton - are all Venture Scouts and around 14 years old. They have known each other their whole lives. This camping trip is probably their last trip together before they all begin to go their separate ways.  When Tim hears the boat approaching the island he knows two things. It is a boat and that he and the boys had no weapons other than knives and a flare gun.

When the skeletal wreck of a man shows up, Tim knows instinctively that this man is sick in some unnatural way that he has never encountered. It sends a spike of pure dread down his spine and he knows that this man is unclean. What the scouts don't know is that the military has been tracking the sick man. They know about the bioengineered nightmare the man's body contains, the threat it poses, and they cordoned off the area, establishing a no-fly, no-watercraft zone. It means the scouts are left to face the unknown terror on their own.

Cutter uses excerpts of newspaper clippings, interviews, journal entries, and magazine profiles interspersed in the story to provide background information or give extra insight into Dr. Clive Edgerton's scientific experiment gone terribly wrong. This works quite well in the story. We're privy to information the scouts don't have but we also gain extra insight into the scouts themselves.

Clearly, the scouts themselves are all obvious stereotypes of various types of teens. This is blatant enough that it does seem formulaic and you know that in reality these kids would not still be in scouts together. This didn't bother me because the point of the novel is the gruesome story and the terror it induces as you read.

The Troop is not for the faint-hearted or anyone with a sensitive stomach. There is some pure terror along with blood and guts and gore. Cutter is graphic in descriptions of scientific experiments on and abuse of animals. Most importantly, if you have any squeamishness over worms, skip this one.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Gallery Books via Edelweiss for review purposes.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Deep Winter

Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey
Blue Rider Press: 2/20/2014
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399165962

In the small town of Wyalusing in eastern Pennsylvania, a woman is found brutally murdered one winter night. Next to the body is Danny Bedford, a misunderstood man who suffered a tragic brain injury that left him with limited mental capabilities. Despite his simple life, his intimidating size has caused his neighbors to ostracize him out of fear of what he may do. So when the local bully-turned-deputy discovers Danny with the body, it’s obvious that Danny’s physical strength has finally become deadly. But in the long, freezing night that follows, the murder is only the first in a series of crimes that viciously upset the town order—an unstoppable chain of violence that appears to make Danny’s guilt undeniable.
With the threat of an approaching blizzard, the local sheriff and a state trooper work through the predawn hours to restore some semblance of order to Wyalusing. As they investigate one unspeakable incident after another, they discover an intricate web of lies revealing that not everything is quite what it seems.
...Samuel W. Gailey’s Deep Winter is a richly atmospheric and ingeniously plotted debut, surprising to the final page. It’s impossible to escape this bone-chilling story of deception, where the truth is uncertain and something sinister lurks just below the surface. . . .
My Thoughts:

Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey is highly recommended debut novel of suspense for those with a taste for noir set in a frozen rural landscape.

It is the dead of winter and Danny Bedford, a mentally challenged man, is framed by the real killer as the murderer of Mindy Knolls, one of the few people in the small town of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, who is his friend. As the body count rises, this dark novel is told from the point of view of several different characters.

Is Deep Winter by Samuel W. Gailey good? 

Oh, yes - it is very good and had me racing to the end to see what could possibly happen next. Here is the dilemma: it is unrelentingly violent, feels hopeless, and everyone - save a few timid souls-  is a nasty piece of business who enjoy bullying a mentally challenged man. There seems to be debauchery and drug use and excessive drinking and guns and murders happening left and right.  I read it at a break-neck pace right to the end but I hated almost all the characters and wondered why on earth anyone would want to live someplace where everyone is a jerk with greasy unwashed hair. I felt emotionally drained after I was done reading. 

So, Deep Winter held me by the throat and had me frantically reading to the end but I was angry at almost all the characters (and the author, truth be told, until the very end) but I had to keep reading to find out what happened because it couldn't get any worse and then when it did I had to keep reading just to see if....
I have to guess that my very emotional reaction to Deep Winter was exactly what author Gailey planned. Well played. I'll be looking forward to Gailey's next novel.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin Books via Edelweiss for review purposes.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Runner by Patrick Lee
St. Martin's Press: 2/18/2014
Hardcover, 336 pages

ISBN-13: 9781250030733
Sam Dryden Series #1

Sam Dryden, retired special forces, lives a quiet life in a small town on the coast of Southern California. While out on a run in the middle of the night, a young girl runs into him on the seaside boardwalk. Barefoot and terrified, she’s running from a group of heavily armed men with one clear goal—to kill the fleeing child. After Dryden helps her evade her pursuers, he learns that the eleven year old, for as long as she can remember, has been kept in a secret prison by forces within the government. But she doesn’t know much beyond her own name, Rachel. She only remembers the past two months of her life—and that she has a skill that makes her very dangerous to these men and the hidden men in charge.
Dryden, who lost his wife and young daughter in an accident five years ago, agrees to help her try to unravel her own past and make sense of it, to protect her from the people who are moving heaven and earth to find them both. Although Dryden is only one man, he’s a man with the extraordinary skills and experience—as a Ranger, a Delta, and five years doing off-the-book black ops with an elite team. But, as he slowly begins to discover, the highly trained paramilitary forces on their heels is the only part of the danger they must face. Will Rachel’s own unremembered past be the most deadly of them all?
My Thoughts:

 Runner by Patrick Lee is a highly recommended action packed thriller.

At 3 AM one morning off the coast of Southern California Sam Dryden can't sleep and goes running on the board walk when, suddenly, out of the mist, another runner crashes into him. The other runner is a terrified preteen girl named Rachel. With fear in her eyes she tells him she will explain everything but first she needs his immediate help to escape the armed men chasing her. Dryden has seconds to assess the situation and decides to help her hide from the men. It soon becomes clear to Dryden, 36 years old and retired Special Forces, that the men after Rachel are all heavily armed and highly trained.

When they are able to talk, Rachel tries to explain that she has been drugged and can only remember the last two months of her life. Along with her limited memory she has an incomplete picture of why the men are chasing her to kill her. What she does know is that she can hear everything people are thinking, every thought and idea. What she can't remember is what other information she knows that would make anyone want to kill her and she is unsure why she has been the captive of a clandestine group up to the time of her escape.

Dryden accidentally loses his wallet during their run and the people after Rachel, who have high reaching government connections, know who he is and what his skill set involves. Dryden and Rachel search for answers while trying to escape the unprecedented ability of their pursuers to track their every move as they make their way across the country. While on the run and hoping Rachel's memories will return, we also learn about the personal tragedy in Dryden's past. While Rachel is on the run from something she can't remember, Dryden has been on the run from his memories.  Although this fact is clear, it is certainly not the overwhelming arc of the story.

Runner is an extremely well written thriller that provides heart pounding action at an unrelenting pace. While there are some science fiction elements they are totally on the spectrum of  believable scientific advances, akin to Michael Crichton's work. I appreciated the alternating points of view between Dryden and his pursuers. The mind boggling skin-of-your-teeth escapes from being ambushed and killed certainly added enough twists and turns to please this thrill seeking reader. The fast pace and careful release of information makes this a good choice for escapism.

Since this is considered the first book in a Sam Dryden series we can look forward to more action-packed adventures!

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via Netgalley for review purposes.


Monday, February 17, 2014


Ripper by Isabel Allende
HarperCollins: 1/28/2014
Hardcover, 496 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062291400

The Jackson women, Indiana and Amanda, have always had each other. Though their bond is strong, mother and daughter are as different as night and day. Indiana, a beautiful holistic healer, is a free-spirited bohemian. Long divorced from Amanda's father, she's reluctant to settle down with either of the men who want her—Alan, the wealthy scion of one of San Francisco's elite families, and Ryan, an enigmatic, scarred former Navy SEAL.
While her mom looks for the good in people, Amanda is fascinated by the dark side of human nature—as is her father, the SF PD's deputy chief of homicide. Brilliant and introverted, the MIT-bound high school senior Amanda is a natural-born sleuth addicted to crime novels and to Ripper, the online mystery game she plays with her beloved grandfather and friends around the world.
When a string of strange murders occurs across the city, Amanda plunges into her own investigation, probing hints and deductions that elude the police department. But the case becomes all too personal when Indiana suddenly vanishes. Could her mother's disappearance have something to do with the series of deaths? Now, with her mother's life on the line, Amanda must solve the most complex mystery she's ever faced before it's too late.
My Thoughts:

Isabel Allende devotes her talent to a murder mystery and investigation in her latest book, Ripper, a recommended novel.

Ripper opens with the ominous warning from Amanda Martin concerning Indiana Jackson, her mother: "Mom is still alive, but she's going to be murdered at midnight on Good Friday..."  Amanda and her mother are complete opposites in many ways but she shares a strong bond with Indiana, a holistic healer, and even more so with her grandfather, Blake Jackson. Amanda's father is Deputy Chief Bob Martin. Amanda plays an online role playing game called Ripper with 4 friends and her grandfather. 

After Amanda's astrologer godmother, Celeste Roko, predicts a bloodbath in San Francisco, the murder of Ed Stanton occurs. Amanda and her grandfather mark this as the first murder in the coming bloodbath and transform the online Ripper from a game into a criminal investigation as a series of murders take place in San Francisco. Since Amanda's father, Bob Martin, is leading the murder investigations, Amanda and her grandfather Blake have unprecedented access to all manner of inside information on the investigation from the police, which certainly will stretch believability for most crime aficionados. Feeling much younger than 17, Amanda repeatedly reminded me of Alan Bradley's young female sleuth, Flavia de Luce. 

Allende extensively covers the three months leading up to the threat to Indiana's life while thoroughly and exhaustively analyzing the eccentric cast of main characters.  All of this results in making Ripper a rather unconventional murder mystery, but certainly a very enjoyable mystery. We are privy to a vast amount of inside information about many of the characters. Having never read Allende to this point (don't judge - I have some issues with magic realism) I have to guess that this is Allende's preferred way to establish characterization. It's just not the norm for this genre. 

I felt at a certain point that I was just being given too much superfluous information and it was slowing the pace down. Part of the thrill in reading mysteries for me is the fast pace and the slow, miserly release of information. However, the other part of enjoyment I find in mysteries is guessing who-dun-it and Allende did an excellent job embedding the killer into the story, although part of that is simple due to the sheer volume of information about people.

In the end, while I enjoyed her writing and the descriptions of her characters, her writing style didn't quite work for me in a mystery. I can't fault the book for her writing, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the HarperCollins for review purposes.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Earthquake Storms

Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault
by John Dvorak

Pegasus: 2/15/2014
Hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781605984957

The lives of millions will be changed after it breaks, and yet so few people understand it, or even realize it runs through their backyard. Dvorak reveals the San Andreas Fault’s fascinating history—and it’s volatile future.It is a prominent geological feature that is almost impossible to see unless you know where to look. Hundreds of thousands of people drive across it every day. The San Andreas Fault is everywhere, and primed for a colossal quake. For decades, scientists have warned that such a sudden shifting of the Earth’s crust is inevitable. In fact, it is a geologic necessity. The San Andreas fault runs almost the entire length of California, from the redwood forest to the east edge of the Salton Sea. Along the way, it passes through two of the largest urban areas of the country—San Francisco and Los Angeles. Dozens of major highways and interstates cross it. Scores of housing developments have been planted over it. The words “San Andreas” are so familiar today that they have become synonymous with earthquake. Yet, few people understand the San Andreas or the network of subsidiary faults it has spawned. Some run through Hollywood, others through Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. The Hayward fault slices the football stadium at the University of California in half. Even among scientists, few appreciate that the San Andreas fault is a transient, evolving system that, as seen today, is younger than the Grand Canyon and key to our understanding of earthquakes worldwide.

My Thoughts:

Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault by John Dvorak is very highly recommended for those interested in earthquakes and essential for anyone living in or near California.

Earthquake Storms John Dvorak does an admirable job presenting the history of earthquakes in California, and the San Andreas fault: "Running for 800 miles from the redwood forests of Cape Mendocino southward to the rugged Sonoran Desert on the east edge of the Salton Sea near the border with Mexico, the San Andreas Fault passes beneath dozens of communities and close to two of the nation’s largest cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It lies under major highways, pipelines, and crucial aqueducts. Scores of housing developments have been platted directly over it." Location 79

The title, Earthquake Storms, comes from knowledge gleaned from the studying the San Andreas Fault: "We also know from a study of the San Andreas Fault and its many subsidiary faults—the Hayward Fault, the Hollywood Fault, the Newport-Inglewood Fault, the San Jacinto Fault—that earthquakes do not occur randomly, nor do they reoccur like clockwork. Instead, large earthquakes can occur as clusters. And when a cluster of large earthquakes strikes over a period of, say, 100 years or so, there is an “earthquake storm.” Location 102

Dvorak discusses the many people who made important contributions to furthering the collective scientific knowledge in this area. Starting with Josiah Dwight Whitney and his four assistants who began a geological survey of the entire state of California, Dvorak also covers: John Muir and his observations; Andrew Lawson, the University of California geology professor who named the San Andreas Fault; Grove Karl Gilbert's creative observations about the origin of some mountain ranges; and naturally Charles Richter, who developed his magnitude scale "initially for southern California—for earthquakes along and near the San Andreas Fault." And these are just a few of those involved.

The importance of paleoseismology, (a new term for me) or the study of the geologic effects of past earthquakes is discussed.  Paleoseismology would include "the fracturing, warping, folding, or sliding of sedimentary layers that were laid down at the bottom of swamps, rivers, or lakes. The key is finding a place where the layers were deposited continuously for many, many years and where they lie over an active fault." This also means a real tie in with archeology can be made to show earthquake storms in the past.

The most sobering statement is that it is predicted that "there is a 59% chance that a magnitude-6.7 or larger earthquake will occur along the Desert Hot Springs–Salton Sea segment of the San Andreas Fault in the next 30 years. That is almost twice the probability for a comparable earthquake happening on the nearby San Jacinto Fault or on the Hayward Fault." Location 3668

While I enjoy reading books about geology, I really think many people will find that Earthquake Storms is an informative book that is also very accessible to readers who enjoy history and only have a passing interest in geology. Included is an index (yes!), and photos (yeah!), as well as some other sources mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road Integrated Media via Netgalley for review purposes.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Scribner: 2/18/2014

Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781451693560

Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.
Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.
The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.
With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

My Thoughts:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is a highly recommended historical fiction novel set in New York in the early 1900's. The story is told through alternating narratives from two characters, Eddie (Ezekiel) and Coralie, and takes place before and during two well-known fires of the time: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911, and the Coney Island Dreamland fire of May 26, 1911.

Coralie Sardie lives with her father, the Professor, in his Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island. The museum is really a freak show where her father displays natural curiosities while taking advantage of his human marvels for his side shows. Due to her webbed hands, Coralie has been in training her whole life to be the mermaid in his show. The Professor is an abusive man who exerts absolute control over his daughter. If not for Maureen, the house keeper and her mother figure, Coralie would not be shown any love or attention.

Eddie (Ezekiel Cohen) has left his birth name, religion, and his father behind him to become a photographer. He felt that his father was a coward and weak. Eddie is distancing himself from his emotions as well as his past while he pursues his photography. But Eddie also has a reputation as someone who can find missing people which eventually leads him to meeting Coralie.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is part mystery, part love story and part historical social commentary. The historical setting is very compelling since this was a turbulent time where the gap between socioeconomic groups was wide. Factory owners took advantage of the poor. Women and children were treated as lesser beings or possessions of men. The mystery comes into play when Eddie begins searching for a missing girl. And the love story is, obviously, when Coralie and Eddie are almost mysteriously drawn to each other through dreams.

In this historical fiction setting, Hoffman embraces magical realism in a writing style that is very descriptive and sensuous.  It's important to note that in the first part of the chapters the characters are talking about their past. The print is italicized and it is written in first person, so it is set apart, but it will be helpful to take note of that distinction since the other part of the chapter will be what is happening currently in the story. I will admit that this wasn't working for me and I kept feeling like the story was flipping back and forth or repeating itself too much. I am willing to concede that it could have been due to my digital advanced reading copy and the published edition will flow more fluidly between transitions.

Disclosure: My Kindle advanced reading copy was courtesy of Scribner for review purposes.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Where Monsters Dwell

Where Monsters Dwell by Jørgen Brekke
St. Martin's Press: 2/11/2014
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250016805

A murder at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, bears a close resemblance to one in Trondheim, Norway. The corpse of the museum curator in Virginia is found flayed in his office by the cleaning staff; the corpse of an archivist at the library in Norway, is found inside a locked vault used to store delicate and rare books. Richmond homicide detective Felicia Stone and Trondheim police inspector Odd Singsaker find themselves working on similar murder cases, committed the same way, but half a world away. And both murders are somehow connected to a sixteenth century palimpsest book—The Book of John—which appears to be a journal of a serial murderer back in 1529 Norway, a book bound in human skin.
A runaway bestseller in Norway, Jørgen Brekke's Where Monsters Dwell has since sold to over fourteen countries. Where Monsters Dwell is the most awaited English language crime fiction debut in years.
My Thoughts:

Where Monsters Dwell by Jørgen Brekke is a highly recommended murder mystery for fans of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs.

Originally published in Norway, Where Monsters Dwell by Jørgen Brekke follows a serial killer who is discovered through the investigations into two murders. The crimes are eerily similar - both involve flayed corpses with the heads removed - only one murder is in Richmond, Virginia, while the other is in Trondheim, Norway. Clues in both crimes show a connection to an old, rare book. Investigators in this mystery are  Richmond homicide detective Felicia Stone and Trondheim police inspector Odd Singsaker. But at the heart of the book is the story of the rare Johannes Book and a set of knives. It was an odd collection of texts from the 1500s, written on parchment by a mendicant monk, who seems to know a lot about anatomy.

The plot itself, with its multiple narratives, is complicated but most readers are going to be able to follow the action and keep the characters straight. Storylines include those in Richmond, Trondheim, and from the original writer of the rare book, starting in 1528. Where Monsters Dwell opens with the murder of a mother and child and then jumps back in time to 1528 before returning to the present. These transitions from place to place and back and forth in time continue throughout the book, keeping all narratives moving along at an equally frantic pace. 

This is a well written, intelligent mystery. Brekke provides a plethora of information and clues for the reader, along with one character, Siri, who gives actual mini-lectures on how to evaluate a crime novel.  Where Monsters Dwell reads smoothly, so I'm assuming that there were no problems in translation. There are a few little descriptions/comments to which those living in the USA might object or at least shake their heads.

There are parts that are disturbing and gruesome, so this may not be a good choice for those who prefer cozy mysteries. There are also several sexual scenes that seem gratuitous and don't really add to the actual plot. There were a few times when descriptions made me shake my head, such as this description of Felicia: "She’d recently passed thirty, but she still looked young." Really? Maybe that is because she IS young. 

In the end this is a satisfying mystery. Hopefully we can look forward to more novels by Brekke translated from the Norwegian since it appears that this might be the start of a series featuring Felicia and Odd as an investigative team in Norway.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books, via Netgalley for review purposes.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Deadly Memories

Deadly Memories by S. D. O'Donnell
WindStorm Books: 1/29/2013

eBook, 326 pages
ISBN-13: 9780988455603

Who is the beautiful Jayne Doe? And why does someone want to kill her? Ex-detective Saul Becker learned the hard way not to get involved in the troubles of beautiful women. But what else can he do when a barefoot, catatonic Jayne Doe turns up practically in his backyard? Who is she, and what is she so afraid of?Jayne Doe doesn't remember anything about her life before she crawled into a hollow tree at the lake next to Saul's home. All she knows is that she's afraid of something-or someone. Together, Saul and Jayne set out to uncover her past. But they are in more danger than they know, and it will take all of Saul's skill and training to track down the past that's stalking them.
My Thoughts:

Deadly Memories by S. D. O'Donnell is recommended.

When his elderly neighbor Mrs. Blackstone calls him to help, retired detective Saul Becker finds himself thrust into the life of a beautiful woman who is found in a catatonic state on Saul's property. The police and doctors call her Jayne Doe. Because Saul managed to get her to say a few words after she was found, he's persuaded to visit her daily in the hospital until she comes out of her self-induced catatonic state. But Jayne is still suffering from amnesia and has no clue about her past.

Saul is very aware of his past, and he is trying to steer clear of any entanglements in his current life when Jayne shows up. He has had plenty of danger in his past and reason's to keep his life simple and quiet. The arrival of Jayne changes all of that and soon Saul finds himself working with her, trying to untangle the answers found in her mysterious past. At the same time there are odd things going on around Saul that makes him wonder if someone is stalking Jayne. Maybe she has a reason to hide too.

Deadly Memories did manage to keep me engaged and entertained. It is well written and proved to be a quick and easy read with a clear, linear plot. O'Donnell keeps the action moving along with just a few slowdowns here and there along the way. Don't expect any startling plot twists in this solid debut mystery with hints of a psychological thriller.

There are a few places that ask you to take some leaps of faith to accept the actions of the characters. For example Becker has had no contact with anyone on the police force, including his ex-partner, until Jayne shows up and then he's down there talking to them again - and they are all hail-and-hearty good with his actions. Even if he was a legend on the force there would be some animosity. Additionally, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for this to turn into a love story. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of WindStorm Books for review purposes


The Waking Engine

The Waking Engine by David Edison
Tom Doherty Associates: 2/11/2014
Hardcover, 400 pages

ISBN-13: 9780765334862

Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die.
Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.
Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.
Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.

My Thoughts:

The Waking Engine by David Edison is recommended for fans of China Miéville New Crobunza series.
What is death? Cooper wakes up to find himself in the City Unspoken, the place where people truly come to die. He is shocked to discover that death isn't final. When you die you move on and awaken someplace else, another world, another city. He's told upon awakening, "When we die, we don’t cease to exist or turn into shimmering motes of ectoplasm or purple angels or anything else you may have been brought up to believe. We just . . . go on living. Someplace else." So... you live and die, then wake somewhere new. You live more, die again, then wake once more in another place. You can return to life older, younger or the same age, but you will return and you will be the same person. 

While Cooper is trying to wrap his head around this fact that reincarnation is real, he also learns that he is unusual for two reasons. First he has come to The City Unspoken right after his first death. Most people arrive at the City Unspoken when it is their true time to die. The gateway to death is here. Second, Cooper has a belly button. He may be the only person who was dead who has one. The belly button is a scare, and scares are erased when you start your new life. 

Clearly, something is not working as it should and that something may be the gateway to Death.

I was anxious to read The Waking Engine because it is described as being part of the new weird steampunk-influenced writing style, akin to that of China Miéville. Edison's writing did remind me of Miéville's fictional New Crobuzon in many ways. I thought the writing was excellent. Any issues I had were more with the plot and what felt like excessive additions to the narrative. In the end I thought the plot could have used a bit more consolidation of main themes and a few less tangents off into exploration of the city and its inhabitants. This may be a good example why Miéville wrote several books featuring New Crobuzon because the story was too big and lavish for one book.

Make a note that this does contain adult themes, content, and graphic violence that did become a bit too much for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Tom Doherty Associates via Netgalley for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Music Room

The Music Room by Dennis McFarland
Open Road Media: rerelease 1/28/2014
275 pages
ISBN-13: 9781480465046

Musician Marty Lambert’s life is already falling apart when he receives the phone call that changes everything. His brother, Perry, has killed himself in New York, and Marty—with his marriage on the rocks and his record company sliding into insolvency—decides to leave San Francisco to investigate exactly what went wrong. His trip sends him headlong into the life his only brother left behind—his pleasures and disappointments, his friends, his lovely girlfriend, Jane—and finally, to the home they shared growing up in Virginia. Along the way, through memories and dreams, Marty relives their complicated upbringing as the children of talented, volatile musicians and alcoholics. Through the tragedy, Marty finally faces the demons of his past, ones he pretended he had buried long ago, to emerge on the other side of grief, toward solace and a more hopeful future.

My Thoughts:

The Music Room by Dennis McFarland is a recommended novel that focuses on a dysfunctional family of alcoholics.

Marty Lambert's life is already in shambles when he receives the call informing him that his brother, Perry has committed suicide in NYC. Marty, a record producer in San Francisco, and his wife are divorcing and he has already started to reduce his possessions down to 2 suitcases when he recieves the phone call that sends him to NYC to try and figure what lead his younger brother to apparently commit suicide. When he arrives in NYC, Marty finds no easy answers explaining the reason for Perry suicide. He does meet Perry's girlfriend, Jane Owlcaster, and inherits his dog.

Perry's death leaves Marty with a mystery that he is determined to solve, although he goes about it in a befuddled, self-examination kind of trance rather than face his need for mourning. As Marty seeks answers, along the way he also reminisces about the past and recalls the neglectful, turbulent upbringing he and Perry experienced in a family of alcoholics. As can often be the case some of the answers may be found in the past. Or maybe there are no real answers to be found. Marty must also face his own inherited legacy of alcoholism.

McFarland's beautifully expressive prose carries the novel while the narrative itself can be trying. Reading about a family of wealthy, self-centered alcoholics doesn't usually guarantee any great connection with the characters for me. Although I certainly felt empathy for Marty, I grew weary of him wallowing in his unhappiness as he explored his emotions. That said, there are some very poignant scenes with a keen insight into these deeply flawed characters.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road Media via Netgalley for review purposes.

Thirty Girls

Thirty Girls by Susan Minot
Knopf Doubleday: 2/11/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages

ISBN-13: 9780307266385 
Esther is a Ugandan teenager abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army and forced to witness and commit unspeakable atrocities, who is struggling to survive, to escape, and to find a way to live with what she has seen and done. Jane is an American journalist who has traveled to Africa, hoping to give a voice to children like Esther and to find her center after a series of failed relationships. In unflinching prose, Minot interweaves their stories, giving us razor-sharp portraits of two extraordinary young women confronting displacement, heartbreak, and the struggle to wrest meaning from events that test them both in unimaginable ways.  

With mesmerizing emotional intensity and stunning evocations of Africa's beauty and its horror, Minot gives us her most brilliant and ambitious novel yet.
My Thoughts:

Thirty Girls by Susan Minot is recommended

By alternating between the narrative voice of Jane Wood and Esther Akello, Susan Minot creates a sharp juxtaposition of emotions in Thirty Girls, a fictionalized real life tragedy. Jane is an American journalist who has traveled to Nairobi and is planning to travel to Uganda in order to interview the girls who have escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA ) led by the infamous Joseph Kony.  Esther was one of the 30 Ugandan girls kept by the LRA from their convent school in 1996. This was after 100 girls were released to a nun from the school. While Esther is simply trying to recover from her years of rape and abuse, Jane hangs out with a privileged group of cohorts who decide to accompany her to Uganda.

Minot uses great discernment in capturing the subtle nuances of Esther's psychological as well as physical recovery. Esther's story is difficult to read, heart breaking. She is struggling to simply survive day by day, hoping to recover some normalcy but plagued by memories and thoughts of her detestable captivity. Her story is the heart and soul of the book - and it is tragic.

My problem with Thirty Girls is Jane. For me she detracts from the real story.  The horrific experiences Esther endured make Jane look shallow, narcissistic, and rather aimless. While Jane is in Africa to interview the recovering abducted girls, she seems less interested in Esther's story than in her own silly love affair with a younger man.  Jane is just annoying as heck.

Thirty Girls is a beautifully written novel, and Esther's story will touch your life, but I wish Jane had not been inserted into her story. It lessened the impact of the narrative for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday via Edelweiss for review purposes.