Thursday Throwback – loved it!

25810271Woman with a Blue Pencil

Reading Decathlon, book 2

Title: Woman with a Blue Pencil

Author: Gordon McAlpine

Genre: literary mystery

Themes: racism, war, patriotism, stereotypes, love

Setting: Los Angeles/California 1941

Source: Found it on Goodreads/Library

Story: Is it about Sam Sumida, Japanese American looking for the murderer of his wife? Is it about Jimmy Park, Korean American, hunting for an evil Japanese mastermind intent on destroying America? Is it about William Thorne, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and father of four, writing spy thrillers under an assumed name? Is it about Takumi Sato, young Nisei confined to a camp in California with an ailing father? Or is it about the woman with the blue pencil, who manipulates them all for her own gain?

The answer is yes, it’s about all of these and more. It’s about the power of narrative to sustain us through the most difficult times in our lives. It’s about the drive to honor our truth, no matter what the cost.

I can’t recommend this strongly enough. It’s a puzzle and a book and a triumph. I wish I had written it. 5 stars.

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What Hides Beneath – a Review

standalone-sunday

Standalone Sunday was started by Bookslayer and you can find more here. It’s for titles that are not part of a series.
35833852I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. 

Title: What Hides Beneath

Author: Julie L. Canfield

Setting: Virginia modern day

Synopsis:

Hidden beneath a lump of clay and dirt is a very rare art work crafted by a Japanese warrior. Two museum curators, who specialize in Asian art say it is valuable but renowned appraiser, Annette Williams claims it is worthless and her words carry weight in the art world. So which is it?
Pete White, an insurance investigator disappears from the museum where he is researching the treasure. Did he uncover its true value or find it’s a fake?
Lieutenant Detective Philip Samyn wonders why he is assigned to investigate a low priority robbery from a museum. Is his boss trying to push him to retire? he never thought his last case would be a missing laptop. That’s not how he envisioned leaving the force.
His investigation proves we never see the complete picture. There is always something hidden beneath.

Review: This book was a lot of fun! I don’t check in with Net Galley regularly, but when I saw this one I thought it sounded like one I would enjoy. I liked the description and the setting in an art museum.

I was right. I did enjoy it. I’ve never read anything by this author, but she does a good job setting the scene and drawing the reader into the action. I liked the characters too.

I do have a couple of complaints though. For one thing, she skips around with POV so that I was not sure who the real main character was. I think it was Alison, the curator who discovers a muddy vase. But you could also say it was Annette the appraiser or even the police officer investigating the case. I guess it doesn’t have to have a MC; it could be several people. But I kept expecting one of them to take over more.

Besides that, I felt there were a few plot holes. It takes a while to really build to where I just couldn’t wait to see what happened next. But it was an easy read and I liked the ending. I recommend this one and I’d like to read more by this author. Now I want to go visit an art museum and look for hidden treasures!

The old opened book is christian Psalter
19st century Psalter. Isolated over white with clipping path

Throwback Thursday – Princesses

Since I have a book about Norman Queens on here, I thought I would rerun this post about princesses, as a sort of companion piece. Enjoy!

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Title: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History – Without the Fairy Tale Endings

Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Setting: worldwide, across history, across time

If you’re thinking Disney has the scoop on princesses, you are so far wrong. Real princesses are fierce, ruthless, vain, spendthrift, ambitious, violent, mystical, proud, and occasionally, mentally ill. Not really all at once, but as a whole, they are about as far from the sweet virginal doll as it’s possible to get.

This is a book club read and it’s going to be  a fun discussion next month. McRobbie sorts the women out by type – heroes, warriors, madwomen, etc. Some of these stories were totally shocking. And some were already familiar to me. I knew quite a bit about Hatshepsut, who started as a princess right enough but wound up as a pharaoh in her own right.

But others were entirely new to me. Princess Olga of Kiev was absolutely dedicated to the cause of revenge. When her husband was murdered, she embarked on a terrific campaign of getting her own back against the country responsible. When she was through, hundreds of men were dead and she was a national hero.

This was an extra treat since the author picked such a wide range of princesses. Instead of the usual choice of white Europeans, she went world wide – African, Asian, all over. She also makes an effort to tell the whole story, not the traditionally accepted Eurocentric story. The book is organized generally by the accepted story first, then the real story after. Some of the stories are quite short, but others are really long.

As far as the “mad” princesses go, it was enlightening to see the way women with mental illness were treated throughout history. Some of them clearly  needed restraint or something, but it was sad to think that so many of them could have been helped with modern treatment. One princess with an eating disorder and a distorted body image seemed especially sad to me.

Some of the stories were a little racy, many were violent, and some were seriously messed up, so I wouldn’t recommend this one for kids, but teens would get a kick out of it. Nothing deep, but a good introduction to the real stories behind this figures. There are also suggestions for further reading.

Who is your favorite real life princess? Tell me in the comments.

Queens of the Conquest: A Review

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Title: Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens, Volume 1

Author: Alison Weir

Source: NetGalley

Setting: roughly 1050 – 1200 England and Normandy

Publishers Synopsis: The story of England’s medieval queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, stateswomen and lovers. In the first volume of this epic new series, Alison Weir strips away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to reveal the lives of England’s queens in the century after the Norman Conquest.

Review: This book was a beast. If you’ve ever wanted to know anything at all about the Norman Queens of England, the answers are in here. What they ate, what they looked like (probably), what historians said about them, their families, their children, their hobbies, how they dressed, what they did, and most of all, who they were – it’s all in here.

It’s just very slow to get through. I felt like I read this book for a month and I barely got through it. It’s not the writing. That was pretty entertaining, and I liked that Weir’s own opinions were in here. I think it was the format. I read this on my phone, and that made it feel like a chore to read.

I would recommend it, if you like dense, meaty history with a lot of detail. Just don’t expect it to be a quick or easy read.

Band of Brothers – Review

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Encore review

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E. Ambrose

Genre: History, WWII

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.

Australian Police Mystery

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Title: The Dragon Man, DI Challis #1

Author: Garry Disher

Setting: Australia present day

Off the Shelf challenge

Meet Hal Challis, Detective for the Mornington Peninsula police force in Southeast Australia, in the first investigation in this prize-winning crime series

“A serial killer is on the loose in a small coastal town near Melbourne, Australia. Detective Inspector Hal Challis and his team must apprehend him before he strikes again. But first, Challis has to contend with the editor of a local newspaper who undermines his investigation at every turn, and with his wife, who attempts to resurrect their marriage through long-distance phone calls from a sanitarium, where she has been committed for the past eight years for attempted murder—his.”

The police procedural is a name for a type of mystery which is pretty much like the name implies – it centers around a group of police officers and one or more crimes they are trying to solve. Generally there’s one central case and a few others minor ones. Depending on the writer, there’s also some stuff about the officers, about their home lives, their relationships, their backgrounds. It’s like Law & Order or NCIS.

Normally I like police procedurals. I’ve read a lot of them, set throughout the 20th century up until modern ones. My favorite authors tend to be out of print, but there are some writers who are still producing first class books.

This one was not one of them.

I see that it won quite a few awards and has all kinds of blurbs on the back. What can I say? I was not impressed. It wasn’t that I hated all the characters. DI Hal Challis, the MC, is interesting with quite the back story.

It’s just that I got bored. I thought this was about a serial killer, but the writer wound up spending so much time on other crimes, on the personal lives of the police officers, on accusations of police misconduct, that the serial killer case got lost. I think if I had been in a different mood, I might have enjoyed it more.

I did like the setting. I don’t read much Australian fiction, so it was nice to get out of my comfort zone and see what else is out there. So that part did work for me.

Overall, I don’t know if I’d recommend this one or not. Maybe if you want to try a police novel and are looking for an unusual one, you could give it a try. Also, it’s the first in the series, although it doesn’t necessarily read that way, and it’s possible the series gets better as it goes. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could find any more by this author if I wanted to. And I guess that’s OK. I think I’ll just call it quits here and move on. 2.6/5 stars

Trigger Warning: sexual violence

 

 

Hidden Inside

A friend of mine asked, “Everyone out there has a story. Can we love them before we know it? And will we take the time to find out?” That’s the burning question in the book, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

Ove is not an old man, not in years, but he has become the grumpy old neighbor. He complains about everything and everyone. Some days he only talks to complain. Other days he doesn’t talk at all.

He wasn’t always like this. He used to be less grumpy. Not warm and friendly, but not so prickly and angry. That was before Sonia died. Now Ove is ready to give up on life. But life, in the form of new neighbors, a homeless cat, and a couple of teenagers, is not ready to give up on him.

I wasn’t sure I would like this one, as it sounds like a “message” book, and I hate those. It was a book club pick, and those are always unpredictable. But with this one I was laughing out loud in the first chapter. The writer uses humor and pathos masterfully to have your emotions swinging back and forth. And yes, it did make me cry, but I didn’t feel like I was being manipulated into it.

Ove reminds me of some people I know and love. He has a big heart, he just has very little tolerance for stupid people. And there are a LOT of stupid people about. I’m giving this one 5 stars out of 5! And if you want to read it, you should try the audiobook. The narrator captured all the voices so well plus the dry humor comes through.

Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen

Title: Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen 👑 🔪💈 (Sheriff Dan Rhodes #19)

Author: Bill Crider

Setting: small town Texas present day

Petty young Lynn was a favorite stylist at the beauty shop, especially with the men. But someone didn’t like her – enough that they got her over the head with her own hair dryer. Is her murder connected to the string of thefts in the county? Or was it her love life? The sheriff needs to catch the killer before someone else dies.

I really like these books. There’s a lot of humor in them, as well as a slice of small town life. As a former Texan, I just really get a kick out of this series. I would start with the first book in the series, Too Late to Die. They’re all pretty quick reads.

Newt’s Emerald: Sunday Standalone

Standalone Sunday was started by Bookslayer and you can find more here. It’s for title that are not part of a series.
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Title: Newt’s Emerald: Magic, Maids, and Masquerades

Author: Garth Nix

Setting: Alternate England 1830s

On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” will inherit her family’s treasure: the Newington Emerald. A dazzling heart-shaped gem, the Emerald also bestows its wearer with magical powers.

When the Emerald disappears one stormy night, Newt sets off to recover it. Her plan entails dressing up as a man, mustache included, as no well-bred young lady should be seen out and about on her own. While in disguise, Newt encounters the handsome but shrewd Major Harnett, who volunteers to help find the missing Emerald under the assumption that she is a man. Once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure that includes an evil sorceress, Newt realizes that something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.

In Newt’s Emerald, the bestselling author of Sabriel, Garth Nix, takes a waggish approach to the forever popular Regency romance and presents a charmed world where everyone has something to hide. ”

Lady Truthful’s family has guarded the Newington Emerald for generations, using its magic to control the waves. One stormy night, her father displays the emerald to her and her cousins when there’s a violent crash. When everything is cleared up, the emerald is gone. Her father is distraught over the loss of the heirloom. Truthful decides she must recover the jewel on her own.

Garth Nix has done it again. He is such a versatile writer. I just finished a review of Frogkisser! which I really enjoyed. This book was just as much fun. He takes all the conventions of a Regency romance and turns it into something fresh and new. Every romance trope is in here – a heroine in disguise, a masquerade ball – but uses them to gently poke fun at the conventions. The addition of the magic was a fun touch.

The romance in here was a lot of fun too. Major Charles Hartnett – or is it Robert? – is dashing and heroic, but it’s Truthful who manages to rescue him more than once. Their attraction is combined with some nicely managed sexual tension, but it’s all PG rated.

My biggest complaint is that I wanted to see the emerald’s powers used more. There’s some stuff at the end, but it could have been used better. In general though, Nix does a great job of taking a traditional Regency romance and weaving in magic. The fantasy aspect is well thought out and a lot of fun.

This one is recommended for fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer or those looking for a romance with something extra.

Review: Hawkeye

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Title: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon

Authors: Matt Fraction, David Aja

Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, and Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye, team up in a series of adventures. The first stories are mainly about Clint, while the last story is mainly about Kate with the Young Avengers. The art was good, but the stories weren’t anything special. The exception was the last story about Clint and Kate. That one I really liked. This is part of the Marvel Now! series, which I have generally enjoyed and is available free through Kindle Unlimited.