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Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, August 31, 2015

Meet Vanessa Michael Munroe--a Female Jason Bourne

I rated this book 4 out of 5 stars This is the first installment of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series that I've read, although it is the fifth of six installments available. The author states that this is a stand alone action adventure and it is, but the constant referral to Munroe's teen years and her struggle for survival that seems to have turned her into a emotionless reactor to her surroundings leaves the reader at a loss for detail. It is enough, though I wasn't crazy about this book, to entice me to read the first book. Perhaps starting at the beginning would make the heroine more appealing, Here we find Vanessa, obviously a woman and flaunted by author and publisher the next best thing to " catwoman in plain clothes, Lisbeth Salander sans Dragon Tatoo, Jack Reacher with an extra X chromosome ( a genetic disorder XXY I seem to recall from my days of teaching biology) ", posing as a 19 year old boy, Michael. This is explained away by the fact that women aren't safe in the places where this superwoman operates. Quite true, Somalia, Kenya, etc tend to have problems with knife wielding --two fisted I might add--female mercenaries or whatever she is. It isn't quite clear, though it would seem that she is working for a marine security outfit out of Djibouti. What is also not clear is whether her boss just doesn't like Michael, a white African from Cameroon, or whether he, Leo, thinks his wife, Amber, has the hots for the cute teenager. That is another issue not clearly defined. What is the relationship between Amber and Michael and how does it change, if it does, once Amber learns that Michael is not a he? One of those strands left dangling though not terribly important to the plot--just curious--as though the author wasn't sure what she wanted to do with that situation. So as not to keep the androgynous thing going too long, Michael very soon is referred to as Munroe when named at all. The action and pace is exciting but once more the repetition gets in the way of the reader's own response. In case our own heart rate does not increase we are alerted to the rush of adrenaline Munroe experiences whenever she is cornered. Once she has gotten out of the fix, we are allowed to relax and recover and we are told there has been an adrenaline dump. This would be fine the first or second time things get iffy but each time interrupts the action. So, too, does the repetition of the pain Munroe is suffering throughout the second half of the book, resulting from a severe beating. The repetition of the ingestion of pain killers, the repetition of the blood lust she cannot control when pushed too far and the God awful repetition of the stench of body odor, rotting vegetation, human waste etc in almost every place Munroe finds herself. Like Munroe, the reader is grateful for the few times a shower, change of clothes and clean linens make their appearance. If this review tends to focus on many descriptive issues rather than the plot it is because the plot is so padded with these distractions. When Munroe is out and about, tracking down why the ship on which she has been assigned to protect is hijacked by Somali pirates, who hired them, where the bad guys are and how to thwart them, when she is skulking in dark alleys and on crowded buses and finding allies to rescue the crew of the hijacked ship and her fellow armed protectors, the story is exciting and riveting. It is a fast read and the ending is a thing of wonder --she is indeed a female Jason Bourne--all action and organization and stealth. If you like him, you'll like her--but she is a she, and so , unlike Jason there is a bit of nose wrinkling and lightheadedness and debilitating pain--well, at least, he doesn't dwell on it so much! "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Do I love Fingal or Barry More? Fingal's More My Age--Barry Could Be My Son. So

An Irish Country VillageAn Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an example of winning a Goodreads review copy and deciding to read the series of books from which it comes. I won the 9th book in this wonderful group of books about Fingal O' Reilly: Irish Doctor is the title of that volume. So taken was I by the story of an older widowed GP in the Northern Irish fictional village of Ballybucklebo and the recently graduated new doctor, Barry Laverty that I went to the first volume to start the series. This, An Irish Country Village, is #2 and continues into the 6th month of Barry's tenure as a conditional member of Fingal's practice. If all goes well after a year, Fingal is going to offer Barry a permanent position.

Through #1, Barry, not really used to a small country practice and the intimate relationships with the community, has gotten his sea legs and is feeling fairly adequate though inexperienced. Nevertheless by this installment he has overcome his nervousness working with the bluff former sailor and has even adapted some of his elder's methods of interacting with the rural patients that make up most of their clientele. During this tale, however, an elder has died after Barry's diagnosis and treatment and it is possible that the widow is going to file a malpractice suit against him. Even without that threat the loss of the patient has rocked some of the inhabitants' confidence in the young newcomer's abilities. So, in Barry's eyes, he has to go back to square one to gain back their belief and has to depend upon a pathologist's findings to avert the suit.

In addition, Barry's sweetheart, Patricia is trying to receive a full boat scholarship to study at Cambridge University for the next three years. If she passes the exam he worries that such a long separation will destroy the young relationship that he has with a woman he's pretty sure is the love of his life. Should he stay in Ballybucklebo if she succeeds or seek a place in England?

All the while, we encounter the people of the village, the trials and tribulations both in health and in daily life and we move with Barry and Fingal among them. It is a warm and welcoming village with gossip and antagonisms, love and death, gambling and drinking, marriages and new life. It is a pleasant place to be and like Barry it would be hard for the reader to choose to leave.

Looking forward to #3--what is going to happen to Barry and Patricia's relationship and their careers? And who is this Kitty woman who has re-entered Fingal's life? Oh, and what new recipes will Kiki provide at the end of the next story. How are Arthur Guinness, the wellie napping dog, and Lady MacBeth, the diva cat, doing?

These books can be read alone with no problem but let me tell you, if you like Irish folk and country tales, once you've read one, you'll want to read them all.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Girls of August--A Lazy Day Read

The Girls of AugustThe Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An easy read, I completed it in one day. The girls of August are the four wives of doctors. They met each other when they were the girlfriends of medical residents. As they married they set aside a week in August each year when they chose a house somewhere on the Oceanside or Gulf Coast and had a ladies' vacation. Three years ago, one of them, Melinda, the second wife of Teddy is killed in an auto accident in which Teddy is the driver. Barbara, Rachel and Maddy, who is telling the story, never cared much for Teddy's first wife, Cornelia, but they all adored Melinda. After her death they just couldn't seem to want to get together anymore and so their friendships, as often happens over time, diminish to Christmas cards and emails etc.

Now, however, Teddy has remarried--to Baby, a twenty something beauty. She has a home on Tiger Island and the girls of August are, once more, going to spend time--this time two weeks--together with this newcomer. The Island has nothing on it but the house and, on the other side, a small Gullah community. As one can imagine, life with a girl young enough to be their daughter is interesting for both sides. And, as happens when friends of twenty plus years get together the conversations tend to include memories not shared by Baby.

There are no surprises in this book. Any of the personal problems each of these women have are easy to see coming. Hints of what will be revealed are quite blatant and the characters responses to the revelations are as low keyed as the reader's. As a result, though probably meant to be moving, the developments left me flat and unmoved. No elation, no sorrow, no surprise.

This was a Goodreads giveaway read for review purposes

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mary Handley Is A Delightful Sleuth in The Second Street Station

We first meet Mary as a precocious 12 year old wandering the darkened corridor of a train heading from the end of Long Island to Brooklyn. She sees a man in a bowler hat leaving the compartment of a man, who moments before had shooed her away from his open door when she'd lingered in curiosity as he fiddled with a curious device like none she'd seen before. Now, as Bowler Hat pauses momentarily to size her up, she again peers into the compartment only to see its occupant is now hanging suspended and quite dead. Bowler Hat expects screaming and hysteria but Mary calmly seeks help from a conductor as she also observes the compartment and its lack of the device. She disagrees with the verdict of suicide but who listens to a child? We next meet Mary about ten years later. Her brother, on whom her mother depended to make a name for himself, is a policeman--a bit of a disappointment. Mary? Well, she is still precocious, works in a sweatshop and has not found herself a suitable man to marry--just what her mother, Elizabeth expected. She's a disappointment but then she has always been in her mother's eyes. Getting fired from the sweatshop does nothing to change her mother's assessment and she is not adverse to vocalizing her dismay. At this point, the fiancé of another girl living in the tenement with Mary is found dead. His death, too, is determined a suicide but once more Mary worms her way into the scene and pronounces the death a murder. She is shuffled off despite the coroner's determination that she is correct. However, Mary can be a tool for a couple of police Commissioners in Brooklyn--she can be hired by the police to investigate the case. When she fails to find the murderer, and of course, she will fail--the women who have been picketing and clamoring for women police of the force will be silenced and the Police Chief who hires Mary will be disgraced and removed. And so the story takes off. Mary ranges throughout the City and into New Jersey following leads. The victim had worked for Thomas Edison as an accountant--the road starts there--before long it takes in many prominent people, among them JP Morgan, Tesla, George Westinghouse among others. Lawrence Levy has incorporated much of the history of the late 19th century development of the use of electricity. This thread is woven very well into the recounting of the actual Mary Handley who did investigate a murder much like the one described. Many of the other characters are also people who actually lived and were truly a part of the story. The description of Brooklyn when it was still a town apart from New York City is interesting as is the various areas Mary is lead into across the famous bridge that at this time is a wonder only five years old. It is amazing as is the description of the casual use of cocaine in wine and, most famously, Coca Cola, although that particular beverage is still not in widespread use. All in all, an engrossing, entertaining who done it--with the added surprise of who actually did! Looking forward to Mary's next adventures. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lady Emily and Lord Colin Hargreaves Solve Their 8th Murder!

Behind the Shattered GlassBehind the Shattered Glass by Tasha Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 8th in the Lady Emily series does not disappoint. This story begins in the drawing room of Anglemore Park, the home of Lady Emily and her husband, Colin Hargreaves. They, with her mother, Lady Bromley are settled in for a quiet evening, the children having been put to bed, when a formally dressed gentleman enters through one of the French doors, looks toward Colin and proceeds to fall dead at their feet. He has a bloody skull and is at first not recognized as the Marquess of Montagu, recently arrived from London, and the guest of honor at the party being given by his cousin at their home, the closest neighbor of the Hargreaves.

This installment takes Emily and Colin to the Montagu Manor as well as London and other parts of England to explore the life of the dead Marquess who has just announced his intention to move into the manor, which until now he has left in the capable hands of his cousin, Matilda. His death brings a distant male cousin who now appears to be the heir to the estate, much to Matilda's dismay, since it is his intent to renovate the property and otherwise take control.

Revelations about Archie's life before his murder, since that is what it is, bring to light many possible suspects. Intertwined with the aristocracy and those members who arouse suspicion are the revelations of life below stairs, including the possibility of romantic entanglements between the two classes. All very interesting and all leading to the final explanation of who among his enemies actually killed Archie and why. Just great fun--on to episode 9!

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children

Usually two stories set in the same place but with different characters many years apart are confusing and irritating. The rhythm and plot are disrupted abruptly when the upcoming chapter takes the reader either back or forward in time. the story moves back and forth between Sarah Brown, the daughter of John Brown the famed abolitionist, beginning with his death in 1859 in Harpers Ferry, Virginia and Eden Anderson presently living in the house where the Brown family stayed. As stated above, the reader just gets into the events surrounding Sarah's family and the Hills with whom they stayed when the plot line changes to Eden, a woman who has, with her husband been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant. They have moved from Washington DC into the smaller town of New Charleston, West Virginia . She has given up a successful career and is going pretty crazy at home all day, depressed at not having conceived despite years of many different attempts, and lonely since her husband is on the road most of the week for his job. Just as one gets into this thread, once more we are carried back to Sarah and her family and the problems surrounding Brown''s death and the Hill's involvement in the Underground Railroad. Back and forth the stories go--each of them interesting but never actually picking up steam before another shift. It was well into the book before I actually realized that many of the characters in the present time shared surnames with the families of the Civil War period. Also as a result of this pendulum treatment many of the characters in both periods are less developed than they might have been, leaving the reader with a desire to know more about certain ones. The best developed and my favorite characters were the dog, Cricket, and the little girl next door, Cleo--both of whom were in the present time. It is a shame--I think both stories could have been developed into a satisfying book. Instead, the author has attempted to align the stories of two women who happened to share the same home in different times. Of the two, Sarah Brown is the more interesting and sympathetic heroine. I've been to the Brown homestead in North Elba, New York--many years ago, before it was spruced up to be a destination. I've read much about John Brown and don't find him a sympathetic character at all. Even his Committee of Six became rather disillusioned with him and his methods. But, next time I go to visit my sister in Saratoga, I intend to seek out Sarah's paintings--I'm fascinated my her story thanks to this book. It is hard to rate the book on a star basis--it was tedious going but the stories are interesting. I love the new approach to dog food--Beneful anyone--after years of being told by the vet that feeding my dogs human food--veggies and meat and fruit--was bad for them--now it is all the rage. Affluence does funny things to people. Don't think many other cultures treat dogs and cats as pseudo-children--the way we do. Call me guilty. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New Story of Alcoholism and The Toll It Takes To Get and Stay Sober

Summer SecretsSummer Secrets by Jane Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometime in the 60's I remember seeing an article in the paper about the singer Lillian Roth being found passed out in the gutter in front of the London Terrace Apartments where she was living in New York City. I'd grown up right around the corner and when I mentioned it to my Mom she sadly told me about this woman who'd been an alcoholic and written a book about it called I'll Cry Tomorrow in 1954. And now several years later, after having become sober, her she was drunk lying face down in a dirty gutter in front of a fancy apartment building. I went out and got a copy of the book and it was such a harrowing story about a talented woman unable to leave alcohol alone.

Around the same time as I read the book a movie with Jack Lemmon, a favorite of mine, and Lee Remick was released. The Days of Wine and Roses had a beautiful but sad theme song written by very popular Henry Mancini and it won the Academy Award. But the story was not beautiful--it was harrowing and sad and tragic. Two beautiful talented people who marry but because they are raging alcoholics ruin their lives and marriage.

And then, in 1994, another beautiful couple, this time popular Meg Ryan and new comer, Andy Garcia, fall in love --When a Man Loves a Woman--again with a memorable sound track--this time a desperate crying dirge by Percy Sledge--and they, too, become the victims of the wife's uncontrollable affair with alcohol.

Now, here comes another story of that disease. This time, it is a young English woman who is a social drinker--like all the other friends who work with her. Drinking, getting drunk, one night stands, black outs, all very normal and laughed about. But when the rest of the world moves on into marriages and families and control, she continues the pattern of the young single swinging woman. It is the same harrowing story once more. She meets a man, they marry, they have a child, they divorce. AA meetings and the AA steps to sobriety cycle throughout. It is harrowing and so unbelieveable and yet so real.

The story is told through the voice of Cat Coombs----such a really nice woman but one with so many insecurities and with an addictive personality. The reader is on the same roller coaster as she and the friends and family who keep hoping that this time sobriety is here to stay. If there is one sure thing that comes through in this book as well as the stories that came before, it is that sobriety in an alcoholic is NOT a sure thing. It requires work and vigilance. The first step on the slippery slope into that gutter is never far away.

In the prologue, Cat finds an old bottle of vodka hidden way in back of a kitchen cabinet. She is feeling tired and lonely--two of the danger modes of HALT---hungry, angry, lonely, tired. She sits and holds the bottle and her story begins. At the end, like Meg and Andy, things with Cat and her ex-husband, Jason, seem to be on the mend and life for these two recovering alcoholics looks rosy. Like the little girl, who asks Jack, will Mommie ever get better? and he responds, I did, didn't I? ( But--that isn't true--the alcoholic is never better--well maybe better but not in the sense of cured), perhaps Annie's parents will BOTH be better. What is never told the reader, however, is whether Cat dumps that bottle of vodka or if she succumbs to just one small sip and heads back.

Lillian spent 18 YEARS sober and then fell off the wagon and was never able to climb back on. She spent 15 more years blacking out, falling in gutters before she finally succumbed to a stroke. So, what did Cat do with that vodka--one hopes that as before she tossed it away and not back and that she had one more day of sobriety as she moves on to the next and the next and the next--but one never knows. That's what it means to be a recovering alcoholic--an alcoholic--one never knows but one must always keep trying.

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lucy Resnick of Dewberry Farm Is NOT China Bayles of Pecan Springs

Killer JamKiller Jam by Karen MacInerney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Charlaine Harris and Susan Wittig Albert, two of my favorite cozy mystery authors, had nice words for this one so I was really looking forward to reading it. A disappointment, however. Found myself more than once checking to see if I was reading an ARC the editing was so poor. At first the detailed description of everything the heroine, Lucy, saw, smelled, tasted, cooked, mixed, molded was pleasant but it soon became irritating. Her mouth watered everytime food was mentioned and it was mentioned often. It actually watered twice in three sentences when she was in the kitchen of the Blue Onion, owned by one of the locals of the small town of Buttercup, Texas--a name I kept confusing with her milk producing heifer--which unless she is a first calf heifer isn't producing any milk--Blossom.

The ongoing dislike of Czech vs German settlers of this part of Texas also became somewhat tiresome, especially when it seemed to be the basis for the sheriff's single-minded goal of getting Lucy arrested for the murder of his aunt Nettie, a Czech descendent who was thrown over a few decades ago by Lucy's grandfather, who preferred her German grandmother. Old Rooster, the sheriff's name, is as anti-Lucy as his deceased aunt became when she realized that Lucy, an outsider who purchased Dewberry Farm from her, actually had bought back her grandparent's place.

Unfortunately, MacInerney mentions Albert and her amateur sleuth, China Bayles several times in the book. This only reminded me of Albert's books and her more masterful handling of the genre. Actually, it made me feel as though this book was an Albert plot sketch filled in with this author's characters--there was so much similarity.

In summary, if you haven't read Albert this book is fine--slow paced with little meat. But if you, like me, have read almost all of the China Bayle's series you will find this a poor imitation.

This book was won by me in the Good Reads giveaways.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Early 20th Century Lonely Hearts---in Murray Hill

Murder in Murray Hill (Gaslight Mystery, #16)Murder in Murray Hill by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My grandmother, who was born in the 1880's, died when I was 15 and my Mom was born in 1901--both in NYC. So growing up in Manhattan myself and having heard so many of their stories about growing up in the City, this has been an absolute favorite series of mine. This installment deals with the kidnapping of less than beautiful spinsters by a man who advertises in the Lonely Hearts column of a city newspaper. He is found with his throat slit and one of his victims slumped in a corner of the room drenched in his blood.

Malloy is called to the scene of what turns out to be his last case as a NYC policeman. Indeed, he is removed from the case and the force but is hired by the girl's father to investigate as a private investigator. Many twists and turns and red herrings later the murder is solved and the arrest of the murderer is handled in a very clever and satisfying way.

On another note, Malloy and Mrs Brandt seem to have found a house to which to move once they are married and need to merge their separate families. He has a son and his mother, and Mrs Brandt has a daughter and housemaid. Neither of their present homes is large enough to accommodate them all, but trusty Mrs Ellsworth may have found a place and nearby, too. Sooooo, maybe the wedding will be coming soon.

Can't wait.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

An Old Betrayal--Charles Lennox and Friends save Victoria

An Old Betrayal (Charles Lenox Mysteries, #7)An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just love this series. Charles is super busy as a member of Commons so is not detecting anymore. BUT, John is under the weather and has been contacted by a young lady in distress. He can't meet her at the place she has chosen and calls upon Charles to go in his stead. Unfortunately, neither Charles nor John know that it is a lady who has contacted them and so Charles makes a mess of the meeting. Having no way to contact her, that is the first order of business--who needs help and why. In the meantime, rumor tosses its ugly head in the Lennox circle. Toto is distressed for it would appear that Thomas is cheating on her with a society beauty of iffy repute. AND, Edmund brings Charles news that Graham, butler now Parliamentary secretary to Charles, is rumored to be selling access to Charles.

A very satisfying romp past two murders, the goings and comings of a mysterious undersecretary at Buckingham Palace itself, late night meetings and debates at Commons, visits to the Lennox nursery to see the rapidly growing Sophia and her nurse, and evening tea with Jane and Charles. And at the end, all loose ends tied up tightly and the mystery solved handily.

On to the next installment!

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