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Abattoir Blues (Inspector Banks series)
Abattoir Blues (Inspector Banks series)

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent & Compelling, April 20, 2015
When Homicide and Major Crimes is called out to investigate a stolen tractor, they're not exactly thrilled. But the new police commissioner considers rural crime a priority so they just have to suck it up. However, when it is linked to a possible murder in a vacant hangar at an abandoned WWII airfield, the disappearance of two local lads, and a gruesome discovery at the scene of a crashed lorry, the case becomes a lot more interesting for DCI Banks and his team.

This is the 22nd Inspector Banks novel by author Peter Robinson and I read it under the title, In the dark Places. But regardless of title, it is clear that Robinson still knows how to write a compelling and intelligent police procedural. The thing I like about his novels - he's never flashy, there are no wild car chases through major thoroughfares, his characters, though well-rounded, aren't extraordinarily beautiful, witty, or able to solve crimes with little more than a random throw-away line apropos seemingly of nothing and the use of their little grey cells. They investigate crime scenes and follow the clues and put hard work into solving the case. There is, to be sure, some graphic and rather disturbing violence here especially as much of the story is set in abattoirs but this violence fits into the story and never feels gratuitous. Like the other books in the series, this entry is grounded in real possibility. There are lots of twists and the occasional dumb but human mistake by a character but it never stretches the credulity of the reader.

Banks himself is missing for part of the story and, this time, it is the lasses who get to have most of the fun especially DS Winsome Jackman who may have found a possible love interest. When Banks is present, his signature music obsession is also in evidence and, to be honest, I kind of prefer the title Abattoir Blues. It seems more fitting because it references not only the setting but the song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (great song) which links it nicely to the last DCI Banks novel (and my favourite T-Rex song), Children of the Revolution. But, again, regardless of title, this is a well-written, intelligent, and satisfying mystery and I recommend it highly.


Hotter Than Helltown: An Urban Fantasy Mystery (Preternatural Affairs Book 3)
Hotter Than Helltown: An Urban Fantasy Mystery (Preternatural Affairs Book 3)
Price: $0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun Fast Read, April 19, 2015
There's a serial killer in town who mutilates the bodies of his victims in horrible way and he seems to be escalating. Worse, all of these murders seem to be the work of someone with supernatural power and lots of it. Agent Cesar Hawke has been assigned to the case but whoever this bad guy is, he is way ahead of him and Cesar is somewhat lacking in the skills to catch up...or so everyone tells him.

Hotter than Helltown is the third installment in the Preternatural Affairs urban fantasy series by S.M. Reine but the first I've read. This did mean that I was lacking some background to the series including world-building and character development so I cannot comment on them other than to say Cesar is very likable. Still, despite this, I enjoyed the book. My lack of knowledge didn't interfere too much with the tale as it felt, in many ways, like a self-contained stand-alone. It's a fun fast read with plenty of action and should appeal to fans of Jim Butcher and Simon R, Greene.


Borderline
Borderline
by Liza Marklund
Edition: Paperback
35 used & new from $6.33

4.0 out of 5 stars Intense Thriller, April 16, 2015
This review is from: Borderline (Paperback)
Journalist Annika Bengtzon's husband, Thomas, is an EU delegate to Kenya to advise on strengthening the borders but also, Annika suspects, to continue an affair with one of the female delegates. Annika was in the process of investigating a recent murder of a young woman when her world is turned upside down by the news that the delegation has been kidnapped near the Somali border. While Thomas' boss, Jimmy Halenius, assists with the ransom negotiations, Annika struggles to put together the money while explaining what has happened to her children. Unfortunately, neither her family nor her best friend are willing to help and she must seek aid from other unlikely sources.

Along with a realistic depiction of the ransom negotiations, the narrative switches between Thomas in Kenya giving a raw and brutal description of the treatment of the captors and Stockholm where it looks like that first murder may just be one of several which has led the police and the media to suspect a serial killer although Annika is convinced they are all the result of domestic violence.

Borderline by Liza Markland and translated by Neil Smith is an intense and, at times, terrifying thriller perhaps because so much especially about the treatment of the captors is so believable. Markland's strong descriptions make the reader feel viscerally Thomas' sense of fear and Annika' sense of helplessness giving the narrative a real sense of immediacy and tension. More, she makes the reader feel invested in the outcome for the captors as well as for Annika. Borderline is a truly addicting tale and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from beginning to end.


House of Echoes: A Novel
House of Echoes: A Novel
by Brendan Duffy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.77
43 used & new from $12.91

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Creepy & Atmospheric, April 16, 2015
Things had not been going well for the Tierneys in Manhattan. Ben, a writer, was suffering from writers block; his wife, Caroline has been diagnosed as bipolar; eight-year-old Charlie was being bullied at school; and Bud's birth meant a need of more space. When they purchase The Crofts, a slightly dilapidated but still beautiful house in the small village of Swannhaven, they are determined to make a new better life here. At first, things go well as the family settles into village life. Ben begins to delve into the history of the town where his ancestors were among the first settlers giving him new material for his novel; renovating the house as well as the teas an elderly neighbour is making for her seem to be helping Caroline control her disease; and, if Charlie isn't making any friends at school, he loves exploring the woods surrounding the house. But then strange frightening things begin to happen and it all starts to fall apart. Ben finds a deer head left on their porch, Caroline begins to act strangely causing Ben to lose patience with her, and Charlie is becoming withdrawn and secretive. There is an old saying in Swannhaven - "demons in the wood and devils at the door" - and Ben is beginning to believe that there is more than a grain of truth in it. He begins to believe that the move was a mistake but winter has come and it may already be too late for the Tierneys - winter holds particular significance for Swannhaven and it definitely isn't good for its newest family.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that `there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it'. Clearly, author Brendan Duffy shares this sentiment and works it beautifully in his debut novel, House of Echoes. The story begins quietly creating an image of a family healing thanks in great part to the friendly and welcoming village. It builds slowly, offering a sense of new beginnings to the family but slowly tearing it away and replacing it with tension and terror. This slow buildup makes the story that much more chilling. House of Echoes is one creepy and atmospheric tale - it may start slow, but, as it moves towards the terrifying denouement, the anticipation will keep you on the edge of your seat.


Mystery, Inc. (Bibliomysteries)
Mystery, Inc. (Bibliomysteries)
Price: $1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Chillingly Entertaining, April 11, 2015
Charles Brockden (not his real name) is the owner of several bookstores dedicated to the mystery novel. He has acquired these stores through unconventional but perhaps fitting means. Now he has found a new store that he just has to have. Unfortunately, the present owner isn’t ready to give it up but, then, Charles was never one to take no for an answer.

I’m not usually a fan of the short story – unless it’s really well-done, it always seems at least to me that there’s just too much missing for me to feel satisfied after finishing one. But Mystery, Inc. is Joyce Carol Oates’ entry in the Bibliomysteries series for Mysteriouspress and her typical clean, precise language makes it a complete and fully self-contained tale examining the inner workings of the obsessive mind and the lengths it will go to obtain the object of its obsession. There is even a touch of the macabre to ramp up the creep factor. The story, to be sure, is predictable in the way that, say, Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado is predictable – there is no doubt that we, the reader, know long before the main character what is going to happen – but this foreshadowing just makes the tale that much more chilling.

Mystery, Inc. is both a satisfactory murder mystery and an homage to the murder mystery from Poe to Chandler and to the bookstores dedicated to them. The pace is more like a slow-acting poison than a quick thrust to the heart with a sharp knife but that just serves to give the goose bumps more time to rise.


To the Far Right Christian Hater...You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can't Be Both: Official Hate Mail, Threats, and Criticism from the ... of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation
To the Far Right Christian Hater...You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can't Be Both: Official Hate Mail, Threats, and Criticism from the ... of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation
by Bonnie Weinstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: $2.83
61 used & new from $2.83

4.0 out of 5 stars Frightening But Important, April 7, 2015
My son is in the Canadian Military. He is also an atheist. I had never considered that that fact would matter. After all, isn't the purpose of the Military, at least ostensibly, to protect liberty and doesn't that include freedom from as well as freedom of religion? One would think that if anyone should enjoy these freedoms, it would be the men and women who are willing to risk their lives for little pay to protect them. So when I saw this book on Netgalley, I thought it might give me some insight even though it is about the US Military.

Author Bonnie Weinstein and her husband Michael founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) in 2005 and since then, the Foundation has been nominated six times for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, as Ms Weinstein writes

`...it has taken an extreme amount of intestinal fortitude to stay the course. We fight against those who, at worse, seem hell-bent on dismantling our Constitution, and at best, seem to have little idea of what they are talking about.'

The book, itself, is a very quick read divided between letters from some of the people who object to the Foundation and a list of some of the important successes it has achieved.

The letters are divided into categories and go from bad to worse . Many of the writers seem to aim their vitriol at Jewish people in general, believing, based solely on their name, that somehow the Weinsteins are motivated by a Jewish anti-Christian bias despite the work of the MRFF in aid of soldiers of all faiths or none including Muslims, atheists, and both Protestants and Catholics who do not share the same beliefs as the far right Christians and do not enjoy being a captive audience to the proselytizing of both fellow enlisted men and officers. The anti-semitism, Islamaphobia, racism, and gay bashing of these letters are, to say the least, shocking especially as it is all coming from self-avowed Christians.

The worst letters are from the far right Christians who believe that the United States is a Christian nation and that the purpose of the Military is to bring their (ie far-right Dominionist) Christian values to the `lost' nations and peoples of the world even at the end of a gun. If these letters are examples of how they want the world to look, it is truly a terrifying place. I would give an example of one of thee letters but I doubt they would pass Amazon's guidelines.

Suffice it to say that apparently, Real Americans also won't be tied to the tyranny of spell check or rules of grammar. By the time I finished reading these letters, I literally felt ill - I wanted to take a shower and wash my eyes and brain out. I found myself thinking (and hoping) that the writers of these letters must suffer from a mental illness and that they make up only a tiny fraction of the American population. Nothing, judging from these letters, is too vile, too beyond the pale in the fight to protect the rights of these so-called Christians to force their brand onto those who don't share their beliefs.

Clearly, this book is not for everyone. The Religious Right will obviously hate it and those outside Military families may not see its value although, given the influence the religious Right has gained in the political arena I would suggest otherwise. I am not sure I can say I enjoyed reading this book but I'm glad I did. For those of us with relatives in the Military who hold different religious views than those of the Right-wing Evangelists, this makes for a very interesting and eye-opening read but, if you do decide to read it, I hope you have a strong stomach.


To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science
To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unorthodox History of Science, April 7, 2015
Confession time: I studied history at university and one of the first thing I learned - you can't judge the past by the present for a whole lot of reasons not least of which is that they didn't have the same access as us to, well, history. Which brings me to the recent book by Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World. Weinberg isn't an historian and feels no need to follow this rule. In fact, he rejects it out of hand which meant at least to me once I got over the shock of his approach some rather unorthodox but still interesting thoughts on the history of science. Take for instance his views on Aristotle versus Plato:

"I confess that I find Aristotle frequently tedious, in a way that Plato is not but although often wrong Aristotle is not silly, in the way that Plato sometimes is."

He begins his foray into the history of science in classical Greece. He feels the early Greek philosophers were arrogant and smug in their ruminations about science while lacking any proper methodology or, to be precise, any methodology. To make matters worse, they were almost invariably wrong even about things they could have easily verified if they tried doing some real work outside of their heads. He is more impressed with the Hellenistic Greeks who actually developed methods to calculate such things as the size of the earth and were surprisingly accurate in their calculations. After Greece, he looks at other non-western countries only as they influenced western thought and even then pretty much dismisses any contribution by them to science. The one exception to this is the Arab scientists who made some very important scientific advances.

His main concern, however, remains the west and he has some interesting views on many of the thinkers who are often seen as the precursors of modern science. For example, he admires Galileo and Isaac Newton despite some of their more wacky theories but he clearly thinks Descartes gets way too much praise for his contributions to science. He also limits his ruminations pretty much to pre-Enlightenment and to physics and astronomy.

One thing I learned way back in those halcyon university days: all history has biases if only in the facts an historian chooses to look at and regardless of whether I agree with his tendency to make judgmental statements about his subjects and their lack of real scientific methods, it certainly made for some interesting reading. Admittedly, I am not a scientist although I find it intriguing but it's hard to study any history without encountering science eg Newton, not Luther, is considered by many historians as the beginning of Early Modernity. I will also admit I didn't always understand the science as Weinberg laid it out, especially the astronomy. But, despite his unorthodox approach to history and my lack of knowledge on the subject, it was definitely fascinating and more than a little enlightening to read a history of science written by a scientist.


At the Water's Edge
At the Water's Edge

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Fairy Tale, April 3, 2015
At the Water's Edge by author Sara Gruen is the story of three spoiled rich brats who make a scene at a party, are disowned by their fabulously wealthy parents, and decide to go off to Scotland in the middle of WWII to discover the Loch Ness monster.

Okay, so I might be understating things a bit and it probably sounds like I didn't like the book when I actually enjoyed it a lot. I've seen it compared to many things both good and bad and some of them were genius but, to me, it felt like a modern fairy tale. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about those modern romance fairy tales Hollywood constantly makes for us womenfolk, I'm talking more Grimm which, admittedly, are sanitized versions of earlier folk tales. I know, sounds like a bit of a stretch but hear me out:

1-after being abandoned by her guardians or inlaws for an infraction outside of her control, an orphan (well, okay father's alive but uninterested) is captured by two evil witch types ie her rich spoiled husband and his even richer and more spoiled BFF who, having her under a kind of sleeping spell, take her to a far-away and dangerous land (Scotland during WWII) and keep her locked up in a tower or, in this case, a hotel

2-in a very short space of time, she is awakened or to be more accurate is shown the error of her ways by the kind and gentle denizens of this land and she makes everyone around her love her even though she's a bit of an insipid passive weakling because fairy tale heroines are almost always passive `good girls'. Although they cannot openly free her, the denizens take pity on her especially after she offers to help around their cottage or, in this case, said hotel. Some of these good folk must suffer but only because they attempt to abandon their proper place in the story - in this case, fall for a Canadian soldier

3-which brings us to Prince Charming who any Snow White must fall in love with suddenly and without any real explanation of why and who is in disguise as a peasant, farmer, sheepherder or bartender and hotel manager but turns out to be a prince or Lord (because class structure and all) who rescues her from the evil doers who are punished quickly as in two paragraphs quickly and everyone except said evil doers lives happily ever after.

4-there are supernatural elements: magic, giants, or, here, a dragon AKA the Loch Ness monster but they are mostly incidental to the real purpose of the tale

5- which is to give the audience both a morality and cautionary tale meant to warn of the dangers lurking outside the pale whether in the woods or relationships for innocents but promising that, in the end, there will always be a happy ending if the innocent remains or, in this case, becomes pure and good

Anyway, that's my take-away from this book. As I said, I did like it a lot. It's very well-written and Gruen has a deft hand with description - her Scotland even in wartime is a magical place. And, if it's a bit black and white with mostly one-dimensional characters who rarely depart from their role as hero or villain and if it's implausible in many parts, well, that's the way of fairy tales. On the other hand, I might just be over-thinking this whole thing and it's simply a very well-written romance novel.

3.5


The Dark Side of The Road: A country house murder mystery with a supernatural twist (An Ishmael Jones Mystery)
The Dark Side of The Road: A country house murder mystery with a supernatural twist (An Ishmael Jones Mystery)
by Simon R. Green
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.85
30 used & new from $16.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Whole Lot of Fun, April 3, 2015
Ishmael Jones is someone who lives his life on the dark side of the road. He works for the enigmatic Colonel and together they work to uncover the secrets and horrors that lurk in this dark. Thing is, Ishmael has secrets of his own that must be kept buried which means he tries to remain unseen and unknown. But when he receives a strange invitation from the Colonel to join him and his family for Christmas at their remote mansion, he doesn't hesitate because there must be something terribly wrong for the Colonel to summon him. Despite a raging snowstorm, he rushes to the manse but when he arrives, the Colonel has disappeared. As the storm worsens preventing anyone from leaving, it becomes clear that there is someone or something trapped here with them and it's very very hungry.

The Dark Side of the Road is the latest by author Simon R Green and introduces his new character Ishmael Jones. It has been compared to Agatha Christie's very British closed room country tea cosies but with supernatural elements. This comparison is, in many ways, a fair one what with the setting in a remote country manor; a dinner party among the gentry; everyone trapped inside by a snowstorm; a rising body count; the fact that Ishmael is not a native of Britain albeit from a bit further than Belgium; and the gathering of suspects in the drawing room to unmask the evil-doer; well, and there's that subtitle, A country house murder mystery with a supernatural twist which, if you'll pardon the pun, is kind of a dead give-away.

Despite the `whodunnit' quality, Dark Side is pure Simon R Green. The tale is told by Jones in a first person narrative and, because of his need for secrecy, the reader can't always be sure he's reliable. Nor is he much of a detective, depending more on an extremely good sense of smell, strength and hearing rather than any `little grey cells'. He is, however, like all of Green's heroes, wittily sardonic, making this a whole lot of fun to read. Definitely for fans of Green's other series or urban fantasies in general.

3.5


The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle (The Demon Cycle Series 4)
The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle (The Demon Cycle Series 4)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of Twists and Intrigue, March 31, 2015
The Skull Throne is the forth installment in The Demon Cycle series by Peter V Brett and it takes up where The Daylight War stopped with the battle between Arlen and Ahmann which ended abruptly when they threw themselves off the cliff leaving the world without a Deliverer and the Skull Throne without an occupant. The struggle for control of the throne pits Ahmann's sons against each other. In her attempt to prevent chaos, Inevera uses the dice to convince Jayan, her first-born son to lead an invasion against Docktown, an event that will have far-reaching consequences.

Meanwhile, Leesha and Rojer are in the Hollow with both of his wives. Leesha's relationship with Thamos has developed into love and she is fearful of what will happen when her baby is born and it becomes clear that it isn't Thamos'. Rojer has problems of his own when Jasin, the man who killed his mentor and left him for dead, arrives to summon Leesha and her people to Angiers, a summons fraught with danger for everyone.

Okay, I know that all of this may not sound terribly interesting but I'm trying to avoid spoilers here and it's hard to talk about this book without giving too much away. But trust me, if you've been following this series, you are really going to enjoy this installment. I even found the relationship parts interesting and I usually skip over them. My one criticism: there is very little about Arlen here and his presence is missed. Still, there is so much else going on that this was just a tiny irritation.

For me, The Demon Cycle by Brett had started out brilliantly with the first book, The Warded Man but lost some of its luster with the following two books. The Skull Throne brings back a great deal of the shine - it is chock-full of twists and intrigues and I am really looking forward to the next book in the series.


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