Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place - Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place is the ninth entry in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series - a series that I absolutely adore!

1952 England. Tragedy struck in the last book and Flavia and her sisters are still coming terms with the new direction their lives have taken. When faithful family retainer Dogger suggests a small getaway trip to help, they (unusally) all agree to go. The four are drifting down the river near Volesthorpe, with Flavia dangling her hand in the water when....she snags something.

"My fingers were inserted firmly in the corpse's open mouth, locked behind it's upper teeth."

Voesthorpe also just happens to have been the scene of a triple murder two years ago. And suddenly things don't look quite so bleak for our twelve year old detective.

Bradley's mysteries are always well planned and executed, but it is the irrepressible Flavia who is the main draw for me. Her curiosity, her quick cleverness, her inner dialogue, the way she views herself and the world around her. And her desire to solve the crimes before the local constabulary does have me reliving my desire to be Nancy Drew. Her skill with poisons is always helpful as well. ;0)

"I cannot pretend that it was unpleasant to be questioned by the police. I had in the past become quite accustomed to occasion quiet chats with Inspector Hewitt: chats during which, as often as not, I was able to set the inspector straight on some of the finer points of chemistry and even, on one or two occasions, certain other matters as well."

"To me, an unexamined corpse was a tale untold: a knotted ball of a tale that was simply crying out to be unraveled until the last strand had been picked free. The fact that it was also a study in progressively putrid chemistry simply made it all that much more lively and interesting."

I've always been fond of the enigmatic Dogger. Bradley gives him a larger role in this latest and we learn a bit more about him and his background. Flavia's relationships with her sisters are also growing and changing, in a direction Flavia couldn't have predicted. They too play a larger role in this ninth entry.

With these changes comes a new avenue for Flavia - one I think is going to open up all sorts of new possibilities for our intrepid sleuth.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...."Flavia is one of the most endearing, captivating, curious, beguiling, precocious characters I've ever discovered in the pages of a book."

Absolutely, positively recommended! If you haven't read any of this series yet, I encourage you to start at the beginning. For established Flavia fans - you won't be disappointed. Read an excerpt of The Grave's a Fine and Private Place.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Stowaway - Laurie Gwen Shapiro

I am not a winter person at all. But a recent cold, blustery week seemed like the perfect setting to listen to Laurie Gwen Shapiro's latest book - The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica.

While adventures and tales can by imagined by authors, sometimes the most intriguing and captivating stories are those plucked from real life. Such is the case of Billy Gawronski. In 1928, Billy was a seventeen year old high school student. Explorer Richard Byrd was putting together an expedition to Antarctica. Over sixty thousand people volunteered to go along with Byrd. And Billy? Well, Billy stowed away on one of Byrd's ships, determined to go along. His attempt to join was not smooth sailing though. But his spunk, determination and heart captured the public's interest.

Shapiro's telling of this fascinating story is really well done, bringing intimate details of Billy's life and family to the story, through interviews and mementos shared from family members. The details surrounding the actual expedition, time period and players are equally captivating.

Jacques Roy was the reader. His voice is well modulated and pleasant to listen to. His enunciation is clear and easy to understand. His accents were believable. Roy's interpretation is understated, letting the listener absorb the details and imagine the time and events. Listen to an excerpt of The Stowaway.

This armchair adventurer quite enjoyed The Stowaway, imagining the tenacity, fearlessness and courage it would take to follow such a dream - all from my comfy chair by the fireplace.

Friday, February 16, 2018

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #198

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true.
But you can like one cover version better than another.

US cover
UK cover
Find You in the Dark is the debut thriller from Nathan Ripley. Surprise! It's on my TBR list. "Martin Reese is an average guy who just happens to be obsessed with digging up the undiscovered remains of serial killer victims." Well, with that line from a publisher's description, the dark, ominous colours, tones and images see to capture the feel of the book. For me this week it comes down to which image I prefer. I do like the dark woods and dark figure in the US cover. And the title font peeking out from behind the trees is clever. But I think I prefer the more graphic image of the bloody shovel in the UK version. And the tagline is clever..."There's a villain in every hero. You just need to dig a little." So, UK for me this week. Which cover do you prefer? And plans to read Find You in the Dark?
You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Robicheaux - James Lee Burke

Of all of James Lee Burke's novels and characters,  Dave Robicheaux is my favourite. The latest, (#21), featuring this iconic character is Robicheaux.

Burke takes us back to Louisiana. Now semi-retired as a cop with the New Iberia force, Dave is struggling with the loss of his beloved wife, his battle with alcohol and the ghosts of the past. He loses the battle with the bottle one night, blacking out with no memory of anything the next day. A murder took place that night, one that has ties to his life. He couldn't have done it, could he? He's not sure, despite assurances from his daughter Alafair. And Clete - Dave's former partner and life long friend. There's so much more to the plot - drugs, the mob, bent politicians, an assassin, low life thugs and so much more. Burke's plotting is impeccable. Clete too is in trouble, having made some bad financial decisions, and now finds himself indebted to the mob.

But the biggest draw for me is Burke's descriptions and characterizations. His prose are beautiful, bringing time and place vividly to life. The good, the bad and the ugly of his beloved Louisiana. The social commentary woven into his stories are thought provoking. Dave's inner dialogue is raw and real. I love the sense of justice, right and wrong, that Dave and Clete share, even though justice sometimes takes a step over the line the wrong way.  The friendship between the two is unbreakable. But I worry as the two grow older. Burke has moved his books along in real time.

I chose to listen to Robicheaux. The narrator was Will Patton - and he was fantastic. His voice for Dave Robicheaux was perfect - measured, contemplative and easily evoking his thoughts and view of his world. But he also ramps it up into tightly controlled anger and rage. The voice for Clete is wildly different, but absolutely perfect - quick talking, sharp and caustic. I almost thought it was a completely different reader. The most chilling is the assassin. He speaks with a lisp that is truly terrifying. Again, another completely new tone, cadence and voice. All were clear and easy to understand. I appreciated having such distinct voices for each character. Listen to an excerpt of Robicheaux. 

James Lee Burke is a consummate storyteller. Five stars for this latest.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Over the Counter #405

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Eating out...outside, that it.......

A Year of Picnics: Recipes for Dining Out in the Great Outdoors by Ashley English.

From Roost Books:

"Savor good food and good company while lounging beneath the shady canopy of trees or under the sparkle of a starry sky. With just a picnic blanket and a little inspiration, you can transform mealtimes into an opportunity to relax, connect, and enjoy the outdoors. A Year of Picnics presents everything you need to picnic through the seasons, with over 70 picnic-perfect recipes, tips on selecting your location, advice for packing your basket, and creative ideas for outdoor activities. Through 20 themed picnics—celebrate the bounty of summer produce with a Table to Farm Picnic or revel in the colors of autumn with a Falling Leaves Picnic—you’ll discover the ways food can be elevated by your surroundings. From mountaintops to meadows, rooftops to formal gardens, let your picnicking take you to new places."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But... I can mention them and maybe one of them will catch your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Undertaker's Daughter - Sara Blaedel

Sara Blaedel has been called Denmark's 'Queen of Crime'. I've enjoyed her Louise Rick mysteries. Blaedel herself has moved to the US, and her newest novel mirrors that move.

In The Undertaker's Daughter, Dane Ilka Jensen inherits a funeral home from the father she hasn't seen in over thirty years. It's in Wisconsin, but she decides to travel to the US - perhaps she will learn more about her long absent father.

The book is set in and around the funeral home and funeral practices. This was a decidedly different setting, one that opens up lots of possible avenues for plotting. I was initially drawn to Ilka as she arrived in Wisconsin, but that changed a few chapters in. I allowed for cultural shock, but viewed her  thoughts, actions and reactions odd in many situations. The two employees of the funeral home treat her badly and chastise her for not immediately jumping in and conducting business right away. She does, and I found it a bit of a stretch. The same with her non-reaction to their attitudes. I can't believe that the funeral business in Racine would operate in the manner depicted, but hey, who knows. Ilka discovers Tinder and finds some sexual outlets, but I found this part of her character felt forced and I never really bought it.

There is a murder of course, but I found it weak as was the investigation into it. Every supporting character seems quite enigmatic and I found the non-answers grew tiresome after awhile.

I had not realized that this was the first book in a planned series and found the ending rather abrupt and unsatisfying. It literally ends with the words..."To be continued." I'm not sure if this was written in Danish and then translated? It just didn't flow and felt very awkward, both in language and plotting. Sad to say, but this one was just okay for me. Read an excerpt of The Undertaker's Daughter.

Elmore - Holly Hobbie

Holly Hobbie has just released a new picture book called Elmore.

Elmore is a porcupine, looking to make some friends. But when his quills fly off, the other animals don't want to be close to him. Elmore feels rejected, but the animals figure out a way to work around the quills and friends are made by the final pages.

This was the perfect time for Little Guy and Gramma to read this book. There are lots of discussion points that are quite pertinent to his age in Elmore, as he has just started nursery school. It is sometimes hard to make friends - how can we do that? How do you feel when someone doesn't want to be friends? Elmore has those quills which is a great way to illustrate 'differences'. Working together with others to find answers. Kindness and love.

The illustrations are sweet and so appealing. The facial expressions and body language of Elmore are relatable and 'readable', mirroring the words on the page. The colors and tones of the illustrations are warm, soft and inviting.

Little Guy enjoys reading the same story many times. With each telling, the opportunity arose to ask one of those questions and talk about his thoughts, ideas, opinions and experiences.

Elmore is a wonderful picture book, lovely to look at and a joy to read. Thumbs up from Gramma and Little Guy. Read an excerpt of Elmore.

Monday, February 12, 2018

This Fallen Prey - Kelley Armstrong

It was -21°C (-6°F) the day I sat down to begin the This Fallen Prey, the third installment in Kelley Armstrong's City of the Lost Series. The cold and snow falling outside was the perfect setting to immerse myself in the Yukon town of Rockton. An off the grid town that doesn't exist on any map, where people go to disappear...

Protagonist Casey Duncan is one of those who came to Rockton to hide. She's a former cop and is now the only detective on Rockton's small police force. Maintaining law and order in a town where everyone is hiding something isn't easy. And it's made even harder when 'the council' sends a serial killer to Rockton for the small force to imprison.

I really enjoy this series. Why? Casey is a great protagonist - she's tough, smart and determined, but isn't perfect. The setting allows for a large cast of supporting characters. They're all just as interesting and fleshed out. The other lead is Sheriff Eric Dalton. He's the only resident actually born in the area. He's also Casey's love interest. I'm not a big romance reader, but Armstrong does it well. Their relationship is believable, not 'over the top' and enhances the book, rather than being the main focus.

The mysteries are always intriguing and not easily figured out. The plot in This Fallen Prey was excellent. I honestly had no idea who was telling the truth and who was lying. There are a number of twists and turns that changed the direction of the investigation - and the final whodunit - which was a surprise to me. This Fallen Prey is action filled with danger always around the corner. (And on the next page. I admit it - I did flip ahead a few times....)

"It's a puzzle of configuration, and each place in it has two sides - guilt or innocence - and the meaning changes depending on which side I place up....Two ways of looking at everything, leading to two ways of investigating."

The premise of a hidden town full of residents with shady (to say the least) backgrounds is brilliant. It allows for so many avenues of possibilities. But not just in the town of Rockton. Outside of the town limits there exist others - a settlement, loners and those referred to as "Hostiles'. We've been given a closer look at these groups in This Fallen Prey, but there is more to discover.

The case is solved by the final pages....but the door is open for more. More questions, more lies, more deceit and more cases to come. And this reader cannot wait. Write faster please Kelley! Read an excerpt of This Fallen Prey.

You can connect with Kelley Armstrong on her website, like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.