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Cynthia K. Robertson RSS Feed (beverly, new jersey USA)
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The Secret Chord: A Novel
The Secret Chord: A Novel
by Geraldine Brooks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.83

3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., July 16, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I think that Geraldine Brooks is one of the most gifted writers today and I adored her novels Year of Wonders, March, People of the Book, and Caleb’s Crossing. I was happy when Amazon Vine offered her newest effort, The Secret Chord. I shared all four novels with friends and purchased them for gifts. Unfortunately, I found The Secret Chord not as engaging and more difficult to read. I almost gave up on this novel several times, and I can count on one hand the number of books that I decided weren’t worth my time. It’s something that I rarely do. Only the fact that it was a Vine book kept me reading until the end.

The Secret Chord is a historical novel about the life of King David. Most of what we know about King David is written in the Bible. This story is told in the first person by Natan [Nathan] the Prophet. Natan was a seer and advisor to King David. Late in life, David tasks Natan with writing his biography and gives him permission to speak with those who witnessed his past. David had a colorful life from his early childhood to his slaying of Goliath. Then there are his many battles, his wives, his children, his music, and his rise to greatness. While David is a mighty king, he is a very flawed man and suffers greatly for his sins. Because we only know the basics about David, there is a lot of room for Brooks to flesh-out the details of his life.

Unfortunately, I found The Secret Chord difficult to read. Brooks uses names “in their transliteration from the Hebrew of the Tanakh.” Maybe she considered it more authentic, but I didn’t like reading Shaul, Shlomo, Avshalom and Yoav instead of Saul, Solomon, Absalom and Joab. The Secret Chord is filled with different groups including Ammonites, Yebusites, Moavites, Plishtim, Benyaminites, and Hitties—to name just a few. It would have been helpful to see a map where these groups were located, as well as the towns and cities that are mentioned. The Secret Chord is also liberally sprinkled with vocabulary that is primarily Jewish in nature, but Brooks doesn’t provide a translation. So every time I saw a word like “mamzer” or “merkava,” I had to stop reading and look them up—something that slowed down my reading and disrupted the flow of the book. Thank goodness that The Secret Chord did pick up toward the end.

Even though I found The Secret Chord more difficult to read than Brooks’ earlier novels, it did peak my interest in King David and that time period. I guess that is a worthy goal in a book despite some disappointments.


A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache, Book 7) (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel)
A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache, Book 7) (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel)
by Louise Penny
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.29
114 used & new from $4.78

5.0 out of 5 stars Darker and more complex..., July 16, 2015
Louise Penny has once again produced another excellent novel in her Inspector Gamache-series with A Trick of the Light. This is her seventh book in this series and Penny just continues to grow as a writer with each subsequent novel.

Clara and Peter Morrow have been struggling artists living in Three Pines their entire adult life. While Peter has had some very moderate commercial success, nobody seemed to appreciate Clara’s work: until she turned 50 and created a brilliant series of portraits that were worthy of a show at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal. After the opening in Montreal and a party back in Three Pines, Clara discovers a dead woman in her backyard garden the next morning. And it’s not just any woman. The victim is Lillian Dyson, Clara’s childhood best friend-turned arch enemy. Even though Clara hasn’t seen Dyson in decades, she is now a major suspect in a murder investigation. The investigation is being conducted by Chief Armand Gamache and his usual team including Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste. Gamache’s team is introduced to the cut-throat world of art dealers and gallery owners, and several of those individuals are possible suspects. Dyson was also a recovering alcoholic and they’re drawn into the sphere of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dyson was originally an art critic—nasty, vindictive and even career ending. Several of the artists she destroyed are suspect, as well, although it appears at the time of her death, Dyson was trying to make amends to those she harmed as per AA Step Number 9. The list of suspects just gets longer and longer, and it is up to Gamache and his crew to separate the truth from the speculation. We also discover a dark side to several of the regular characters that will bring major changes to the lives of those around them.

In Penny’s writing, she shows that she has a good grasp of a murder investigation. But she also shows subtly in humor and the politics of an investigation. In the course of the investigation, Gamache runs into Chief Justice Thierry Pineault and Pineault dresses down the chief inspector. “And he [Gamache] recognized it for what it was. Chief Justice Thierry Pineault was pissing on him. It was delicate, sophisticated, genteel, mannerly. But it was still piss. The problem with a pissing contest, as Gamache knew, was that what should have remained private became public. Chief Justice Pineault’s privates were on display.” How funny and how true.

I’m already looking forward to reading book number eight, The Beautiful Mystery. The only negative is that I’m reading this series much faster than Louise Penny is writing her novels.


Journey Through Time : A Pictorial Review of Burlington County, NJ
Journey Through Time : A Pictorial Review of Burlington County, NJ
by Burlington County Times
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating photos, but could have used a little more background information in spots..., July 7, 2015
I have lived in Burlington County my entire life and am always interested in the history of my New Jersey county. Journey Through Time…A Pictoral Review of Burlington County, NJ by the Burlington County Times is a delightful book chronicling the history of Burlington County through photographs. Formally established in 1694, Burlington County history covers 321 years. Journey Through Time provides a look at people, places, things, and events that span those years from the introduction of photography and into the 21st Century.

Burlington County is one of New Jersey’s largest counties, and Journey Through Time covers not just the riverfront towns, but also rural areas and towns in the Pine Barrens. There are quite a number of photographs of schools, churches, houses, hotels, stores, factories and hospitals. There are many pictures of people at play and it was interesting to see recreational venues and sports teams. There are photographs of prominent leaders in Burlington County as well as group shots and candids. I enjoyed seeing places that I remember from my childhood including Millside Dairies in Delran and Hunts Circus winter headquarters in Florence. It was fascinating to see places that were so prominent in Burlington County, but are no longer in existence. The Fairgrounds Shopping Center on Rt. 541 in Mt. Holly was actually named for Fairgrounds Park, which featured a racetrack, large grandstand and exhibition buildings. The park was used from 1847 until it was torn down around 1955. It is also hard to believe that quiet Florence once housed the impressive Florence Hotel, as well as a very large building called “Dr. Trall’s ‘Hygeian Home and Hygeio-Therapeutic College.’” This building was also used as a hospital during the Civil War. I was also amazed to see the photos of the transition from rural Willingboro to the residential community of Levittown.

My one complaint is that I would have liked just a little more information about some of the photographs. For instance, there is a picture of an Episcopal church in the Village of Rancocas. It actually looks more like a chapel or mission church, but it is not given a name. We are only told that it was demolished in the 1930s. There is also an interesting photograph of the 1934 Florence Township Beach Patrol. There are over two dozen men and boys and they are even all identified. But I would have liked to know more about the beach patrol and why it was so big. Was Florence a major resort or tourist destination in 1934? There must have been quite a few swimmers to require that many lifeguards. There were many photos that could have used a little more background.

Still, Journey Through Time was a fun way to stroll down memory lane and beyond. Both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed this pictoral history of Burlington County.


The English Spy
The English Spy
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It's not important who fires the shot. It's who pays for the bullet.", July 7, 2015
This review is from: The English Spy (Kindle Edition)
The only thing more thrilling than a new Daniel Silva novel is to see him in the flesh the day a new novel is published. I got a chance to do just that last week when I saw Silva at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ. Both The English Spy and his author talk were real treats. The English Spy is Silva’s 18th novel and the 15th in his Gabriel Allon series.

The English Spy opens with the bombing of a luxury yacht in the Caribbean. One passenger is an unnamed English princess, the divorced wife of the heir to the throne (think Diana and Charles). Graham Seymour, director of MI6, suspects an act of terror. Uvi Navot, director of the Israeli Mossad (called The Office) provides the name of a person of interest: Eamon Quinn. Quinn is former IRA and now that Ireland is relatively quiet, he’s had to ply his trade on the open market, becoming a gun for hire and a “superstar of international terrorism.” He’s helped train bombers for many groups including Hamas and Hezbollah. Seymour convinces Gabriel Allon of The Office to find Quinn, with the help of former English spy and current assassin, Christopher Keller. Seymour directs the two that “It’s not important who fires the shot. It’s who pays for the bullet.” The English and the Israelis have made enough enemies over the years that it could be any number of groups or countries. Once again, Allon assembles his team for the op, although they play a lesser role than in other Silva novels. The means they take to discover Quinn are true Silva and will keep the reader actively engaged until the end.

I always enjoy Daniel Silva novels in that there is always something new to learn. In The English Spy, he weaves the history of the Irish Republican Army and the Real IRA into his novel, as well as the Irish bombers looking for new employment opportunities. I also like the recurring theme in The English Spy of restoration. Allon is a restorer of fine art, and he has been trying to restore himself, as well as his paintings. But there is also restoration in intelligence work. “In both intelligence and restoration, his goal was the same. He wished to come and go without being seen, to leave no trace of himself.” There is also the restoration of Allon’s family life, which was destroyed after Operation Wrath of God. My only recommendation is to read this series in order. Otherwise, you won’t always know the background information that is required to truly enjoy these novels.


Beach Town
Beach Town
by Mary Kay Andrews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.19
110 used & new from $8.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but predictable--a good beach read..., June 27, 2015
This review is from: Beach Town (Hardcover)
There’s nothing like a new Mary Kay Andrews novel to read during the summer and Beach Town is an appropriately named beach book. Although I enjoyed Beach Town, I thought it was just a little too long and a little too predictable.

Greer Hennessy is a location manager, and she is scouting a locale for a big-budget movie to be filmed in Florida. Bryce Levy, the director, wants “the Florida of his imagination [that] no longer existed—if it ever had. He just wanted palm trees and Spanish moss and rusty shrimp boats. And an Alamo that he could blow up.” On a recommendation, she discovers the perfect location in Cypress Key, a town that is stuck in the past and has seen better days. Soon, Hennessy realizes that the man she thinks is the custodian of her seedy hotel, Eben Thibadeaux, is actually the mayor, the town engineer, a realtor, the owner of a local market, and the owner of a marina—and she will require his approval for almost everything she needs for the movie. And of course, they don’t get off on the right foot. Once the movie production comes to town, there is the usual high drama associated with filming including a demanding director, an alcoholic script-writer, a young out-of-control singer (think Justin Bieber) making his first film, money and equipment problems, arguments with city hall and Cypress Key residents, jealous co-workers, affairs between staff, and ample amounts of alcohol and drugs. It’s an explosive mix.

In addition to the movie, Hennessy has her personal issues. Her mother recently died of lung cancer, and the father that she hasn’t seen since she was very young now wants to become a part of her life again. Plus her last romantic relationship ended badly and she’s reluctant to become vulnerable again. Even so, you can see how this novel is going to end from the very first pages. Still, Andrews has some good dialogue and observations. As Hennessy is dealing with her father, she tells Eben “’I think every girl wishes she had Atticus Finch—or Gregory Peck—for a father. Unfortunately, most of us end up with somebody who’s somewhere between Jed Clampett and Homer Simpson.’” She also discovers that she never knew the true story about her parents’ divorce.

As Mary Kay Andrews continues to write, her characters are becoming better developed, her plots are more intricate, and there is a more serious side to her stories. Beach Town is a good example of her growth as a writer.


Recalculating (Kindle Single): An eShort Story
Recalculating (Kindle Single): An eShort Story
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., June 23, 2015
One of the benefits of writing an eShort Story is that an author can experiment with a totally different genre. Jennifer Weiner does just that in Recaculating. Instead of her usual chick-lit, Recalculating is a Halloween tale that is a cross between science fiction and horror with a splash of chick-lit sprinkled here and there (think Jennifer Weiner meets Stephen King). I enjoyed this darker side of Weiner, although I don’t think I’d want a steady diet of this style.

Recalculating opens before Halloween. In her fifties, Maureen is a new widow, her husband Tommy dying of cancer not too long ago. In getting out her Halloween decorations, Maureen discovers a wrapped present with her name on the card. She opens the box to discover a GPS with a card signed “Love always, Tommy.” Maureen can’t believe that her husband would have left her this gift, but her daughter hooks up the new GPS in Maureen’s car. At first, Maureen enjoys the new GPS and the freedom that it gives her to explore and expand her world. But Maureen has a horrible secret—Tommy was an abusive husband, mean, controlling, foul-mouthed and manipulative. And soon, it seems as if Tommy is speaking to Maureen from the grave through her GPS. Will the abuse ever stop?

Recalculating is a good tale to read, especially at Halloween. As always, Weiner manages to weave some of her self-deprecating humor into the story. “Maureen was tall, five feet ten inches, broad in the hips and the shoulders, and pretty much everywhere else these days, too, since she’d turned fifty and some malevolent god had summoned an extra twenty pounds out of the air and sent them to live around her midriff.” But there is also a very disturbing dark-side to Recalculating. Why did Maureen put up with Tommy’s abuse for so long? The first evidence of his violent temper appeared three nights before their wedding and then continued to get worse through the years. At that first episode, “Perhaps she sensed dimly that this moment was a pivot, the axis on which the rest of her life would turn…but if she had even guessed at its importance, she couldn’t remember. She’d been thinking about the wedding, not the marriage itself; the wedding, and not the rest of her life.”

Not only was it fun to read Jennifer Weiner write in a new style, but Recalculating is a little tease until her next novel is published.


Speaking in Bones: A Novel (Temperance Brennan)
Speaking in Bones: A Novel (Temperance Brennan)
by Kathy Reichs
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.99
70 used & new from $11.35

4.0 out of 5 stars Always something to learn but the plot-formula is growing old...., June 16, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I don’t watch the television series, Bones, but I do enjoy the books from which they are based—the Temperance Brennan series written by Kathy Reichs. Speaking in Bones is the 18th book in her series and I was happy to order it when offered through Amazon Vine. While I enjoy all of Reichs’ books and always find something new to learn in them, I will admit that her plot-formula is getting a bit tired.

Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist who splits her time between Charlotte, NC and Montreal, Canada. Her job begins when remains are discovered and there is not enough soft tissue left to indicate victim identity, cause of death, etc. Speaking in Bones opens with Hazel “Lucky” Strike visiting Dr. Brennan in her Charlotte office with evidence that might be tied to unidentified remains that Brennan catalogued several years ago. Strike found a recording device near where the bones were discovered and believes that the bones belong to 18-year old Cora Teague. But Teague’s family has never reported her missing. Strike is just one of the many amateurs who are now trying to solve cold and missing persons cases through the internet, using websites like websleuthing.com. But the bones were not found in Brennan’s jurisdiction, so she needs the help of local deputy Zeb Ramsey. What they find is very disturbing and leads them to an Uber break-away Catholic church, Jesus Lord Holiness, and their renegade priest, Granger Hoke. Along the way, they also discover at least one more body along with several unexplained deaths. Very early in the case, it’s apparent that someone is willing to do everything it takes to protect their secrets.

I was fascinated about the information and history of missing persons that was given in Speaking in Bones. At any given time in the United States, there are 90,000 missing persons and more than 40,000 unidentified remains. This is where the amateurs come in to “assist.” “Many websleuths seemed straightforward, eager in their desire to bring long-ago killers to justice, to match nameless remains with missing persons…It was also obvious that some were in the game not for justice but for glory. These players were cagey and guarded. Having accumulated vast files, they were loath to share their hard-won information, particularly with legitimate sites such as NamUS or the Doe Network.” But what I found a distraction in Speaking in Bones is the typical formula that Reichs uses in almost all her novels. The steps are almost always the same: Brennan starts working on a case, Brennan finds information pertinent to the case and refusing to wait to help, she sets off on her own, and then she finds herself in a life-threatening situation and has to be rescued by others. Reichs then fills in the gaps with the on-going drama with not-quite ex-husband Pete, boyfriend Detective Ryan, her daughter Katy, and her bi-polar mother Daisy.

But despite the formula, Kathy Reichs and her Brennan series are definitely worth the effort. It is especially helpful that Kathy Reichs is herself a forensic anthropologist, so you’re getting the real deal in a fictional setting. Most mystery writers can’t make that claim.


Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
by Louise Penny
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.41
94 used & new from $5.93

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterwork..., June 14, 2015
I have been on a Louise Penny streak, reading her Inspector Armand Gamache series in order. I was a bit disenchanted with book number 5, The Brutal Telling and almost considered taking a break. After reading Bury Your Dead, I’m glad that I didn’t. Not only is it the best book in the series so far, but it’s alsot one of the best mysteries that I’ve read in quite a while.

Bury Your Dead weaves together three different story-lines. The novel opens with Chief Homicide Inspector, Armand Gamache and his staff recovering from a terrible tragedy. Gamache and his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvior, are both on medical leave recovering from near-fatal wounds. Gamache has gone off to Quebec, where he is staying with his now-retired mentor, Emile Comeau. While doing some historical research at Quebec’s Literary and Historical Society, the body of an amateur archeologist is discovered in the basement. Despite his protests, Gamache is finally convinced to help with the investigation, even though it is not within his jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Gamache asks his deputy inspector, Beauvoir, to spend some time in Three Pines to unofficially reopen the case from book five. While alternating between Quebec and Three Pines, Louise Penny has Gamache reliving the prior tragedy. He is plagued by flashbacks about what went wrong, what mistakes were made, the lives that were lost, and who is to blame. It seems that his physical injuries are healing quicker than his psychological ones. But what really endeared me to Bury Your Dead was the history of Quebec including the Father of New France and the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain. The search for his grave plays a major part in Bury Your Dead. I was also interested in the ever-continuing battles between the Anglophones and Francophones in Quebec.

As always, Louise Penny has a knack for knowing what is important in an investigation. Inspector Gamache knows a lot about murders and murderers including the fact that he “knew that most killers didn’t consider their act a crime. They’d somehow convinced themselves the victim had to die, had brought it on themselves, deserved to die. It was a private execution.” Penny’s writing continues to evolve and the plot in Bury Your Dead is expertly woven together. Her characters are also taking on more depth and the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys aren’t all good.

Bury Your Dead has won five prestigious awards including the Agatha Award, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Nero Award. They are well deserved, all.


Divorce Horse (Walt Longmire Mysteries)
Divorce Horse (Walt Longmire Mysteries)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tasty but unsatisfying..., June 14, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
You have probably had a box lunch that comes with a sandwich, a small bag of chips, a piece of fruit, and a drink. When you opened up that bag of chips, there were only 3 or 4 potato chips in the entire bag. That’s what I felt like after reading Craig Johnson’s Divorce Horse. It was tasty, but there just wasn’t enough to satisfy me. Divorce Horse is called a Walt Longmire Story. Believe me—it’s not a story, but a very short-short story. Plus for the little the reader receives, I thought it was way overpriced.

Craig Johnson wrote Divorce Horse to be a bridge between novels number seven and eight, Hell is Empty and As the Crow Flies. I don’t think that it took me more than 20 minutes to read Divorce Horse. On my Kindle, by the time I scrolled through the cover, a list of other Craig Johnson books, the inside title page, the copyright page, the contents page, the dedication page, and the acknowledgements, I had already read 8% of the book when I reached the first page of the story. Then it ends at 54%. The rest of the book is a preview of As the Crow Flies. The story itself is cute and entertaining. Sheriff Walt Longmire, daughter Cady Longmire and Henry Standing Bear are having dinner at the Busy Bee when they get a call that Tommy Jefferson’s horse has gone missing from the rodeo grounds. This horse played a prominent role in Jefferson’s nasty divorce and for that reason, Walt and his staff have nicknamed him the Divorce Horse. Walt and Henry are soon on the trail of the stolen horse, and Longmire, as always, is awed by his best friend’s skills. “At the other side of the horses, Henry kneeled and placed his fingertips in the impacted dirt. I felt like I always did whenever I followed his intuitive skills. The Bear was a part of everything that went on around him in a way that I could only witness. He had described scenarios to me so clearly from the remnants of events that I would have sworn that I’d been there.”

I have been reading all of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series in order, but from now on, I will skip his e-stories unless I can get them from the library.


Another Man's Moccasins: A Walt Longmire Mystery
Another Man's Moccasins: A Walt Longmire Mystery
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
2 used & new from $26.95

5.0 out of 5 stars The past and the present converging..., June 10, 2015
On a recent extended car trip, we had the pleasure to listen to four of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series on audiobook. Another Man’s Moccasins was the first book of the trip and read by George Guidall, was thoroughly suspenseful and entertaining. Another Man’s Moccasins is the fourth book in this series, and I strongly advise listening to them in order.

Walt Longmire is the sheriff in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. A young Vietnamese girl is found dead along the highway. Longmire has a clue to her ethnicity because of his military service in Vietnam. He finds it strange because very few Vietnamese are found in Absaroka County. Near the dead girl is a culvert containing her purse. It also is home to a very large Crow Indian, Virgil White Buffalo. While Virgil has had a very troubled and somewhat violent past, Longmire doesn’t figure him for the killer. But what has Longmire really troubled is that the victim’s purse contains a photograph of the sheriff when he was in the Vietnam War. It can’t be a coincidence.

I have enjoyed all of Craig Johnson’s Longmire novels. They’re extremely well-written, they’re fascinating, they’re funny, and they have a colorful cast of characters. I also learn a little with each one that I read. Plus, each one is a little different—no formulas for Johnson. You won’t think that they all sound the same after awhile. But what I really liked about Another Man’s Moccasins are the flashbacks to when Longmire and best-friend, Henry Standing Bear, were young. Their war years were especially poignant and they will give you a glimpse at the experiences that helped mold both men. Everything new to be learned about Walt Longmire is a treat, and I hope that Johnson continues to write this series for a very long time—even if the fictional sheriff keeps talking about retirement.


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