Thursday, January 12, 2017

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1)Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a mystery with great suspense, or for a lead character who has flaws she needs to overcome, Maisie Dobbs probably isn't the book for you. But if you are looking for an interesting, romantic, story set during World War I and in the years following, you'll like this one.

Maisie is an extremely beautiful woman with superior intellect, compassion, and intuition. She does show one human failing toward the end of the novel, but most of the book's interesting character flaws are found in the people around Maisie, not in her. And even the minor characters seem to come around to the right way of thinking or have a good excuse for not doing so. There's a social climber who works for the war effort in a dangerous situation and a party girl who volunteers for the service. I won't mention others, to avoid including too many spoilers.

The story starts out with a typical mystery, a man believes his wife is having an affair and hires Maisie Dobbs to check on her. But the book takes a long detour back to the war years, where we get to learn about Maisie's time as a battlefield nurse. There's a wartime romance as well as an interesting friend, who serves as an ambulance driver.

The book also deals with the separation of classes that existed in England. Maisie plays a role in Winspear's portrayal of that era's social discrimination, giving the reader something to think about.

I listened to the audio and enjoyed it. The narrator, Rita Barrington, did a wonderful job and Jacqueline Winspear writes with a clear, interesting style that isn't overdone. It doesn't gets in the way of the story, yet she uses colorful language appropriate for the period.

Steve Lindahl - author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children I'd heard it was the next Harry Potter. I suppose that's a valid claim, since they are both YA novels with odd schools requiring something akin to magic just to get there. I haven't seen the Peregrine film yet, but plan to soon. The Rotten Tomatoes ratings are above average, but not as high as the first Harry Potter film. It will be interesting to see how far this idea can go.

I enjoyed this novel, especially Jacob's relationships, first with his grandfather then with Emma, one of the students at the Peregrine school. Jacob starts out as a lonely sixteen year old who has trouble fitting in. He only has one good friend and is working at a job he hates because it is his family's business. He loves his grandfather, but long since lost his belief in the wild stories the old man tells. Then a tragic incident causes Jacob to be on the other side of unbelievable stories.

His story is so strange he doesn't believe it himself. On the advice of a therapist he's been seeing, Jacob goes on a trip with his father to a remote island that was central to his grandfather's tales. Here's where he meets Emma and the rest of the peculiar children. Jacob's relationship with Emma also feels real, with the appropriate awkwardness for two teenagers who like each other, but have their own backgrounds and agendas.

The plot includes time manipulation, which is, in this case, a complicated form of time travel. Every time travel book I've ever read has some conflicts and this one is no exception. Overall it's a fun read, with a well written plot. I recommend it to anyone who likes YA novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Avalon by Anya Seton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Years ago I read two books by Anya Seton: Katherine and My Theodosia. I remember loving both of those and I'm currently working on my own novel set in tenth century Sweden and England. I decided to read Avalon partly as research and partly because I knew I would enjoy it. In my memory, the other two Seton novels were more powerful than this one, but that could be due to the span of years since I read them. In any case, this is a five star read.

The plot tells the story of Rumon, a French nobleman, and Merewyn, a young Cornish woman, whom we first meet as a teenager. Rumon, whose formal name is Romieux de Provence, is on his way to serve in the court of Edgar I, the current King of England. He encounters Merewyn, whose mother has just died. Rumon agrees to bring the young woman to her Aunt Merwinna, the current Abbess of Romsey Abbey.

As with Anya Seton's other novels, this is fiction based on historic fact. Many of the characters are historic figures. I believe Merewyn is fictional, but Rumon has some connection to a real character. The story also includes King Edgar I, King Edward (Edgar's son), Queen Alfrida, King Ethelred (Alfrida's son by Edgar – known as “the unready”), Dunstan (the Archbishop of Canterbury), Erik the Red, and Leif Erikson (Erik's son). The settings include England, Ireland, Greenland, and a brief stay in North America. The history of this era has conflicts and voids, but I felt that Anya Seton did an excellent job of resolving those. Avalon feels accurate in historic fact, portrayal of the hardships people faced at that time, and in the personalities of the characters, both fictional and real.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

Monday, December 19, 2016

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Defending Jacob takes place in a courtroom with a lawyer, Neal Logiudice, questioning a witness, Andy Barber, a former assistant district attorney. Barber's answers transition smoothly into the events that have led to his appearance on the stand. As a result, the plot has real time tension in both the present and the past. There were some cases where it was clear that Barber could not have revealed every detail of the story I was reading, but overall the technique worked well.

William Landay also writes excellent dialogue, filled with tension that creates a fast pace. That was another technique that helped me love this book.

Jacob Barber is the son of Andy and Laurie Barber. One of the students in Jacob's school has been found dead in a local park. When Jacob is accused of the murder, his mother and father have very different reactions. This is the strength of the book. It is less about the killing than it is about the trauma parents go through when their child is in trouble.

There are multiple plot twists in the story, which make it exciting and even a bit addicting. I was up at 2:00 AM one night, trying to reach a place where I could put the book down.

I recommend Defending Jacob to anyone who likes psychological thrillers.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Canoples Investigations Exposes Space Dodger release tour

Welcome to the Canoples Investigations Exposes Space Dodger release tour. This is the third novel and fourth story in this series. Strap on your restraints and be ready for an exciting ride… oh, once you have the book in hand, you will discover there’s a special added attraction—the first chapter of Secret Society: A Canoples Investigations Novella!


There’s a carnival on the station, with all kinds of “legally” cloned animals, more than a few zero-G acrobats, and miniature clowns. BD’s ever present suspicious mind latches onto one thing when the advance team for Galactic Carnival arrives to begin preparations for a weeklong visit. The ringmaster looks familiar, but the man swears that he has never been to Canoples Station before. Even worse, children five and under are disappearing. A bit of investigating on BD’s part clues him in to the fact this has happened on every station Galactic Carnival has visited so far. He’s determined to uncover the true identity of the ringmaster and solve the mystery of the missing children, but at what cost. Is BD willing to lose his lifelong friends to solve this case? Will they prove Jenna Rock, Wade’s girlfriend, isn’t involved?

About K.C. Sprayberry

Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.

She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.


The normal sounds of the promenade seem wrong. I have a sensation of impending doom, much like the moments before the space pirates showed up. The desire to leap into action is very strong, so much so that I’m literally leaning forward with my fists clenched at my side.

Easy,” Carl murmurs. “You don’t know for sure it’s him.”

Of course, I know this man we’re watching is our quarry. How can I not know that? Not that his appearance is anywhere close to his daughter, who right now is aboard Fomalhaut for a very long stay. Erin Markus did lead Spacers Rule, a galaxy wide ring of splifters, but she wasn’t in charge.

Oh, no, she was far from in charge of those thieves. The person with that responsibility has just entered Canoples Station and is talking with none other than our less than ethical governor, but I have no definitive way of proving that.

Back off, BD,” Terry says in a low voice. “You can’t be sure, not with that man wearing what he is.”

Interview with the Author

Please tell us about your latest book.

Canoples Investigations Exposes Space Dodger is the fourth installment in the Canoples Investigations series. It’s a fast paced action/adventure science fiction book specifically for teens. In this book, BD Bradford and the team are split up, attempting to get the goods on a sketchy space circus owner. In usual Canoples Investigations style, they tend to dive in first and think later.

What can we expect from you in the future?

There are currently eleven books planned for this series, but that may change. I’ve begun developing short stories and novellas for the shorter adventures these characters dream up. Of course, all of this is done around the myriad of other books in my to-be-completed folder, but this series seems to take precedence over anything else.

How do we find out about you and your books?

You can find me on my Facebook fan page, website, blog, and Twitter. That is, when I’m not deeply immersed in my latest novel. Those days, very few people can locate me, including my family, but they’re used to that.

Interview with BD Bradford

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement? You mean like when I hung off a girder thirty-five hundred feet above the deck? Or maybe when I was chasing down space pirates? There was the time when I had to deal with a gang of splifters, Spacers Rule. I guess I can say that I have a lot of achievements and all of them are pretty much the same. The latest one, with the circus, forced me into a place I hate going, and I finally figured out that I can do a few things I’m always shoving onto the others. So, maybe learning how to research can be considered my greatest achievement, since I really hate sitting still. But don’t tell the rest of my crew that.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Well, if you’ve had a chance to check out my adventures, you probably already know this. My idea of perfect happiness is an unending supply of Gut Buster Deluxe Pizzas. Snorts. I can see from your expression that you have no clue what a Gut Buster Deluxe is. Let me explain.

See, you have a monumental pizza, big enough to feed a whole SpaceBall team. The crust is a bit thick but it has to be. Add a layer of sauce, not too much or everything will be soggy. Then drop on every meat, vegetable, and cheese known to the galaxy on top of that. Bake that baby until it’s done. You now have what is known as a Gut Buster. The deluxe part is really yum-yum. Grins wickedly. You ladle on some terrifically magnificent chili and sprinkle on a pound or more of grated cheese. Serve that sucker steaming hot to me and my buds, and step back. We are diving into that airlock and gobbling down a delight that will keeps our stomachs filled for an hour or two.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m good. Really good. Kind of between cases right now, but we’re heading out on our next one in a few days. Just have to stock up the flitter and make sure there’s nothing pressing on the station to deal with before we leave. Oh, yeah, and we’ll need to do some research on Believers and Founders first.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read novels by both Jane Austen and P. D. James, but it has been a while for both. Still, when I saw a Goodreads recommendation for Death Comes to Pemberley, I thought it would be an interesting read. It's a sequel to Pride and Prejudice and it's a murder mystery keeping with P. D. James' genre.

Sometimes when listening to an old Lennon/McCartney song, I find myself guessing whether it was John or Paul who wrote it. I did something similar when reading this book. I know P. D. James wrote the entire novel, but I wondered which sections she wrote with Jane Austen's style in mind and which ones show her own style exclusively. I would guess that the parts where the dispute between George Wickham and Fitzwilliam Darcy was described were Austen and the trial was mostly James. Those two guesses probably come from an oversimplification, but it was fun to think about when reading the novel.

Death Comes to Pemberley had some moments when the action slowed enough to start to lose me, but it came back. Yet, the trial was great and, unlike some of the other reviewers, I didn't figure out the mystery until P. D. James let me know. I think it's fun to find out what has happened to the Bennet sisters since we left them and it's always fun to read a good P. D. James novel.

I recommend this to readers who enjoy books set in the early 19th century and like mysteries. Much of Pride and Prejudice is about which young woman will end up with which young man. Although there's a little of that revolving around Georgiana Darcy, it isn't emphasized here. But the mannerisms, the style, and the morality of the time are all in this story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviewing a book by Wallace Stegner is difficult, because a little research shows that he led an admirable life, dedicated to writing, history, and environmental activism. He won a Pulitzer in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977. He also started and led an acclaimed writing program at Stanford University. But I'm not reviewing his life, I'm reviewing one specific book.

Crossing To Safety is my introduction to his writing and it left me feeling awe with some aspects and disappointment with others.

I love Stegner's writing. Here are some of my favorite metaphors/similes:

Meeting his eyes was like taking hold of a hot wire.
She's dividing herself like some inexhaustible Eucharist. She's going around to everybody she loves, saying. 'Take, eat, this is my body.'

Some of my favorite descriptions:

Her eyes were suspicious and pocketed in radiating wrinkles.
The skimpy whorl on the top of his tanned skull reminded me of something Lyle Lister had told me once, … that south of the Equator the crowns and cowlicks of the natives, like the whirlpools in bathtub drains, go counterclockwise, the opposite of the way they go up here.

Some of my favorite moments of self-examining thought:

Can I think of anyone in my whole life who I have liked without his first showing signs of liking me?
She saw objectives, not obstacles, and she did not let her uncomplicated confidence get clouded by other people's doubts, or other people's facts. Or even other people's feelings.

Despite my admiration for the writing, I found it easy to put the book down and was never excited to pick it up. Some of my reaction has to do with the plot. It is about relationships and how they weather life. It's the type of plot that has the reader thinking about what happened rather than wondering what will happen next. Another aspect that put me off a bit, was a pretentious feel in some of the dialogue. Larry Morgan and Sid Lang both taught in university liberal arts departments and were able to do some literary name dropping. Here's an example of that:

This door was yanked open, exposing the brilliantly lighted interior, and in the doorway stood – who? Theseus and Ariadne? Troilus and Criseyde? Rusian and Liudmila?

Maybe most readers would do better, but I only recognized 1 of those 3 couples, which I assume are all from classic poetry.

Crossing To Safety is about people who get less out of life than they expected, then, while looking back, become aware that they got more than they thought they had. I recommend it to people who like well written, introspective novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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