Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vicious Circle (A Joe Pickett Novel),by C.J. Box

In "Vicious Circle," C.J. Box's master storytelling allows the reader to smell the cold, fresh scent of Wyoming's pine tree forests, and see the hard whiteness of the stars and moon over the dark blue of the Teton Mountains.

Picking up from the 16th novel, Box weaves a tight multilayered plot involving a few very bad and very corrupt characters. Dallas Cates, the rodeo star who abandoned Pickett's daughter by the side of the road, is out of prison. Together with two ex-cons, he intends to avenge himself and his family by killing Pickett and his whole family. As Pickett desperately tries to keep his family safe, he is confronted with seemingly honest individuals conspiring to destroy his reputation, and the riddle as to where Cates is getting the money to buy them off. "Vicious Circle" is a page turner that I literally could not put down.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 377 pages
* Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (March 21, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 21, 2017
* Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016, by Rich Horton

Rich Horton packs this anthology to the brim with bite size stories with unexpected plot twists and surprise endings. Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a lead role in many of the stories. There are AIs that love humanity, such as the android in "I am Paul, Martin," by L. Shoemaker, where a future android provides medical and sweet empathetic care to Mildred, an elderly woman with Alzheimers disease. And in "Cat Pictures Please," by Naomi Kritzer, there is a caring AI who wants only to help you since it knows everything about you, and wants cat pictures in return.

In some stories, time travel happens in unique, surprising ways. For example, in "Time Bomb Time," by C.C. Finlay, the author cleverly poses the implied question, what if you read a story about time travel and find yourself reading the same conversation twice? Is it a typo? An heuristic device? Or have you traveled back a few minutes in time?

A science fiction and fantasy anthology would be incomplete without a few dystopian futures, and Mr. Horton does not disappoint. In Ray Nayler's, "In Mutability," two strangers, Sophia and Sebastian, reside in a future world where death apparently is no longer inevitable, but neither stranger has many memories. One day, at the cafe in which Sebastian spends his days, an unknown woman, Sophia, befriends him and shows him a photo of the two of them, centuries old. Neither remember each other or the photo, but why not?

In "Folding Beijing," by Hao Jingfang, (translated by Ken Liu), a future Beijing has become so crowded the population is divided into three spaces where First Space contains the rich and well educated, and Third Space contains the poor and lower classes. As each class awakens, another space rotates and folds up. Lao Dao, a Third Space waste processor, wants to enroll his daughter in a music and dance kindergarten. To do so, he must get more money by illegally carrying messages and goods to and from First Space. Author Hao Jingfang's story, however, is more than a glimpse at a possible dystopian future based on class and privilege. Rather, it is an Aesopian tale about love and friendship, and where true contentment lies.

Most of the writers in this anthology are exceptionally talented, and a few will take your breath away. In "The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club," by Nike Sulway, an older female, who loves her solitude and her library room, walks alone in a Serengeti-type outdoors and fears that her type will be extinct because the daughters do not see the need for procreation. In this beautifully told tale, are the women human?

Another author who captivates is Will Ludwigsen, whose channeling of a 1940s pulp science fiction writer and his writing for a 1960s, "Twight Zone"-type of television show, "Acres of Perhaps," is sheer genius. As the writer grieves for his lost love who has died of cancer after 50 years together, he remembers the 60s and the two other writers for the show, one of whom believed he was living in an alternate universe. The story is a loving homage to rural America, 1960's science fiction and two great romances. Ludwigsen is an award wining author and this story demonstrates why.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 576 pages
* Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
* Publisher: Prime Books (June 10, 2016)
* Publication Date: June 10, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Downward Dog: Very Serious Haiku from a Very Serious Dog, by Samm Hodges and Phinheas Hodges, Illustrated by Idil Gozde

Martin is a dog who stars in a forthcoming ABC television show called, "Downward Dog." He has written "Downward Dog: Very Serious Haiku from a Very Serious Dog," a poetic homage to his life, his poop, his food, and to his beloved human, Nan. Of course, since Martin has not yet learned to write (I think), Samm Hodges and Phinheas Hodges, transcribe his thoughts for him, with Idil Gozde doing the illustrations.

Martin's funny, bitter sweet poetry reflects the innocence and soul of a "good dog." He thanks his "Mom and Dad, whoever you are," and his Nan, his human, "my moon and my stars for ever and ever. I love you so much I can never tell you, I will always love you, I love you, I love you, I can’t believe how much I love you. Also, please never leave again for the whole weekend; it was so, so horrible."

If you have ever loved a dog, you will recognize the truth in Martin's Haiku, and you will read it over and over again to catch every nuance and thought that Martin wants you to know.

Paperback: 52 pages
Publisher: Animal Media Group LLC (June 20, 2017)
Language: English
(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Other Daughter: A Novel, by Lauren Willig

There is a mistaken belief that the Jazz Age of the 1920s was a romantic time of flappers and long necklaces. Instead, there was little romance in this decade where the remnants of the generation that had not been killed in the slaughter of World War I, threw off Edwardian constraints, raised hemlines, bobbed their hair, partied all night, and obsessed over cocktails. In "The Other Daughter," Lauren Willig skillfully captures the crazy hysteria of the English upper classes during this time. She makes clear that it was a backlash against the overwhelming grief and despair that had drowned veterans, and families of the war dead during and after the war.

Rachel Woodley, an English governess to the children of a wealthy, cold French family, finds herself catapulted into this mess when her beloved mother dies of influenza. Raised in a quiet English village as the daughter of a proper, widow who gave piano lessons, Rachel returns to England only to learn that her father is not dead and he has become Lord Standish with another family, including another daughter. Crushed that her beloved father had abandoned her, and her life had been a lie, Rachel wants revenge. Accordingly, she sets out to infiltrate what she believes is the happy, modern set. As she befriends her half-sister, and others, the fragile veneer peels away, and the ugly truth of the so called "Roaring Twenties" is laid bare.

* Print Length: 305 pages
* Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 21, 2015)
* Publication Date: July 21, 2015
* Sold by: Macmillan

The Sound of Rain, by Gregg Olsen

When a slot machine hits a jackpot at the Snoqualmie Casino, in Washington State, it makes the sound of rain. The poetry of the title and the musical sound of the jackpot on her favorite slot machine, frames Detective Nicole Foster's life. A compulsive gambler, Foster must fight the dark side of a gambling addiction, which constantly sinks its claws into her every waking moment

When three year old, Kelsey Chase, is kidnapped from a car outside of a Target store, while her mother and five year old brother are shopping, Foster and her partner, Detective Danny Ford, are assigned to find the little girl. When Kelsey turns up murdered, Foster must battle her addiction and wade into a deep muck of deception and psychotic betrayal that engulfs the murder, and her professional and personal life at every level.

Gregg Olsen skillfully creates a complex, absorbing plot while giving believable voices to both his male and female characters, a talent many authors lack. "The Sound of Rain" captures you emotionally and intellectually, and does not let you go until you finish the book. Five stars.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 350 pages
* Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (December 13, 2016)
* Publication Date: December 13, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The White House Wedding: A Solve-the-Mystery Blog Tour by Radha Vatsal

Radha Vatsal, the author of The Front Page Affair and Murder Between the Lines, has a mystery for you to solve involving the wedding of President Woodrow Wilson and Mrs. Edith Bolling. The following six book bloggers, including me, have published sequential clues to the mystery:

CLue 1: http://katherineschronicle.wordpress.com
Clue 2: http://janereads2.blogspot.com/
Clue 3: https://benjaminlclark.com
Clue 4: jroslynsbooks.blogspot.com
Clue 5: http://mymerriway.com
Clue 6: https://bookishjottings.wordpress.com/

If you would like to solve the mystery, read the clue provided by Radha Vatsal below and visit the blogs above. Good luck!

From Radha Vatsal:

The White House Wedding: A Solve-the-Mystery Blog Tour by Radha Vatsal

At 8:30 PM on Saturday, December 18, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson married Mrs. Edith Bolling. The new Mrs. Wilson would go on to become one of the 20th Century’s most powerful first ladies and shepherd the United States through turbulent times. In the course of this blog tour, I describe four different aspects of their wedding plan: The Location on Jane Reads, Guest List and Attendants on Benjamin Clark, Ceremony and Officiants on J. Roslyn's Books, and Dress and Flowers on My Merri Way. The wedding went off as arranged, except for one significant last-minute change. Your mission is to guess what changed and why. The answer will be revealed in the final blog post. For more on the president and Edith Bolling/Wilson’s relationship, see the Introduction on Katherine’s Chronicle, http://katherineschronicle.wordpress.com.

The president was Presbyterian, Mrs. Galt was Episcopalian, so they decided that both faiths ought to be represented. They would follow the complete Episcopalian service, which would be performed by an Episcopalian Bishop with the Rev. James H. Taylor, pastor of President Wilson’s Presbyterian church assisting. Rev. Taylor delivered the benediction as the close. When the question: “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” was asked, Mrs. Bolling, Edith’s mother, stepped forward and put her daughter’s hand into that of the president’s.

Did any of this change? The number or type of officiants, perhaps? Or the precedence given to one type of service over another? At the last minute, did Edith Galt, as a woman who ran her own business and had been previously married, ask her mother to stand back and in a gesture of independence “give herself” to Mr. Wilson?

Next Up: Dress and Flowers on My Merri Way

The new First Lady and Woodrow Wilson make a dramatic appearance in Murder Between the Lines, the second novel in the Kitty Weeks Mystery series, which features the adventures of bold newswoman Capability “Kitty” Weeks in World War I era New York. For more historical surprises, sign up for the Kitty Weeks newsletter: radhavatsalauthor@gmail.com

Friday, May 5, 2017


Radha Vatsal is the author of two highly rated historical novels set in New York City during the years leading up to America entering World War I: "The Front Page, Affair," and, "Murder Between the Lines. We have reviewed both books in our prior post.

We asked Ms. Vatsal why she chose the years of World War, and she graciously provided us with the following guest column.

"World War I isn’t usually considered to be America’s war. The US joined the fighting late – the war began in the fall of 1914 and America joined the fray in 1917. By and large, stories about the war tend to focus on the experience “over there”—in English or French country homes, or in the battlefields of Europe. To me, it seems that we know more about World War II, in part because of that war’s atrocities and in part because it had clear good guys, Roosevelt and Churchill, and bad guys, Hitler and Stalin. World War I is more complicated. It was started by Kaiser Wilhelm--first cousin to King George of England--but was the result of military buildup that had been going on in Europe during the so-called “Belle Epoque,” a seemingly tranquil period of peace and prosperity—and the setting of many beloved period series and films. But tensions were mounting behind the scenes and when they exploded, the world changed. Empires that had ruled great swathes of the world for centuries fell: the Hapsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Romanovs of Russia, the Ottomans of Turkey, and the seeds were set for the modern world of nation-states that we inhabit and for political strife that haunts us to this day.

Across the Atlantic, the US didn’t remain untouched by all this upheaval. It faced what we would now call domestic terrorism on its shores (the subject of A Front Page Affair) and rapidly went from being a second-tier country to a global superpower. Along the way, President Wilson had to convince the public that America could no longer remain “a provincial nation”—part of a speech he gave at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The speech forms the climax of Murder Between the Lines and a crucial part of American history. The American economy prospered, thanks in no small part to the ramping up of the military—Kitty Weeks delves into this as she investigates the Edison company’s work on new submarine batteries.

I chose to set the Kitty Weeks Mystery series during the WWI-era because so much happened during this period, and there so many colorful stories that have remained under-explored and under-reported. In addition to the world history aspect, the late 1910s also saw a seismic shift for women: women won the right to vote after WWI in 1920. In the course of her adventures and investigations, Kitty Weeks meets and interviews (as is only fitting for a reporter at the New York Sentinel’s Ladies’ Page!) influential women of her day. In A Front Page Affair, it’s Anne Morgan, the philanthropist sister of banker J.P. Morgan. Anne Morgan championed the cause of working women, was active in war relief efforts in France, and was one of the founders of the first women’s-only club with its own building, the Colony Club in Manhattan, which still exists today. In Murder Between the Lines, Kitty interviews the divorcee and widow Alva Belmont. Belmont had originally been married to W.K. Vanderbilt, whom she divorced—much to society’s dismay—and then married financier, O.H.P. Belmont. After Belmont died, she devoted her energies and fortune to promoting the cause of woman suffrage, even producing a “suffragist operetta,” Melinda and Her Sisters—Kitty observes the rehearsals in Murder. Kitty grows, learns and is inspired by these women, many of whom are forgotten today.


-Radha Vatsal is the author of the Kitty Weeks mystery series. Her latest book, Murder between the Lines (Sourcebooks), was published on May 2, 2017.

BLOG TOUR:* Murder Between the Lines and The Front Page Affair, By Radha Vatsal


In her second Kitty Weeks novel, Radha Vatsal again takes us back to the 1910s, a tumultuous time in U.S. history, where women are demanding the long promised right to vote, and, as World War I bloodies Europe, the American government and defense industries are quietly preparing for war.

Set in 1915, New York City, "Murder Between the Lines," depicts an America that, on the surface, appears to be as it has been for decades. Kitty Weeks, the daughter of a wealthy man who simultaneously tries to protect her as he encourages her to be independent, knows that war is coming. The signs are not hidden well. Her best friend returns from nursing soldiers on the battlefields of Europe a broken woman. She has seen the horror of trench warfare first hand. At the same time, former President Theodore Roosevelt has "called for a navy that would be second in size and efficiency only to that of Great Britain," and government money is pouring in to test Edison's batteries for use in submarines.

A writer for the ladies' page of "The Sentinel" newspaper, Kitty has pushed hard against covering tea parties and has successfully convinced her editor to allow her to cover suffragettes and Woodrow Wilson's visit to New York City. When Elspeth Bright, a young, vibrant woman, connected to the Edison battery-research, is found frozen to death in Central Park, Kitty is driven to use her journalist skills to try to bring her justice.

Vatsal's meticulous historical research broadens Kitty's world to include the famous suffragette, Alva Belmont (also known as Alva Vanderbilt), and the actress Marie Dressler, known later for, among other things, her brilliant performance in "Dinner at Eight." We also attend the "first annual dinner of the Motion Picture Board of Trade of America" at the newish Waldorf-Astoria. Here, President Woodrow Wilson prophetically states: “America will always seek to the last point at which her honor is involved to avoid the things which disturb the peace of the world, ...there will come that day when the world will say, ‘This America that we thought was full of a multitude of contrary counsels now speaks with the great volume of the heart’s accord, and that great heart of America has behind it the supreme moral force of righteousness and hope and the liberty of mankind!'”

Radha Vatsal is an exceptional writer and gifted historian. In the first Kitty Weeks novel, "The Front Page Affair," and again in this second novel, Vatsal has successfully recreated the mood, the sights, smells and controversies of New York City in the years leading up to the deployment of American soldiers to fight in the Great War. As the United States enters into the centennial anniversary of America's involvement in that war, Vatsal's books allow us to reflect on the small fires that led to the conflagration, and they allow us to recognize that the fight for female equality is not a recent endeavor.

"Murder Between the Lines" deserves more than five stars. Read it and you will agree.

Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (May 2, 2017)
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

*A virtual blog tour is underway where six book bloggers, including me, post clues provided by Radha Vatsal to a mystery involving President Wilson's 1915, wedding. Click here to read clue number four, and to find links to other five clues.*


Although World War I raged in Europe starting in 1914, the United States did not declare war on Germany until April 6, 1917. As we enter into the centennial anniversary of America's involvement in that war, historical novels, such as Radha Vatsal's excellent, debut novel, "The Front Page Affair," provide clear and insightful glimpses into the tension-filled and fearful miasmas that permeated New York City in the years preceding 1917.

Specifically, Ms. Vatsal recreates the 1915, New York City world of Kitty Weeks, a wealthy young woman who has traveled the world with her cosmopolitan father. Although she is considered from the "wrong side of town," (at least, according to Kitty's debutante friend), Weeks is a well educated, modern woman.

Constrained by the social mores of the time, Kitty is prohibited from covering news stories, and instead she is forced to write for the Ladies' Page of one of the many New York City newspapers. Born abroad, raised in Europe and educated in Switzerland, Kitty struggles to find her niche. After stumbling upon a murder while covering her first society event, she finds herself enmeshed in what may be an espionage scandal that has major implications for America's continued neutrality concerning the war with Germany.

It is very rare to find a debut novel so well written and so engrossing. "The Front Page Affair" is on a par with the Maisie Dobbs novels of Jacqueline Winspear. More than that, Ms. Vatsal clearly understands the importance of creating an historical novel that transforms 1915 from a dusty, ancient year in America's past, to a vibrant and dangerous time not unlike our own.

* Print Length: 338 pages
* Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (May 3, 2016)
* Publication Date: May 3, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Radha Vatsal is the author of two highly rated historical novels set in New York City during the years leading up to America entering World War I: "The Front Page, Affair," and, "Murder Between the Lines." We have reviewed both books, above.

We asked Ms. Vatsal why she chose the years of World War I as the setting for her Kitty Weeks novels, and she graciously provided us with a guest post, found here.

*A virtual blog tour is underway where six book bloggers, including me, post clues provided by Radha Vatsal to a mystery involving President Wilson's 1915, wedding. Click here to read clue number four, and to find links to the other five clues.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lilli de Jong: A Novel, by Janet Benton

Author Janet Benton writes that "in the long days and nights of nursing and nurturing" her own baby, as she held her in her "arms and listened to the ticking of a clock, a voice came now and then" into her mind. "It was the voice of an unwed mother from long ago." The voice clearly inspired this novel about an unwed mother and the hypocrisy and corruption of late Victorian, Philadelphia society that preferred the death of illegitimate children over exercising a duty of care for them and their mothers.

Protagonist, Lilli de Jong, is a teacher at a Quaker school. Her family has deep roots and is well respected in her community. Like other members of her religion, they have eschewed luxury and live plainly without the modern comforts of gas lighting or water pipes. Lilli's mother has recently died, and Lilli, her brother, and her father have become rudderless. After her father has an adulterous affair with a mean-spirited "spinster cousin," the family is exiled from their Quaker Friends community. Her brother and her suitor leave their jobs in the family's furniture business to seek their fortunes in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Isolated, and pregnant by her suitor, Lilli is ordered out of her home by her father's lover-turned wife. Forced to give birth in a charitable institution, Lilli defies convention and refuses to abandon her child to abusive adopters or foundling homes.

Her journey, as an unwed mother, is told through her diary entries. Through her eyes, we see the horrors that society of that time heaped on the most vulnerable: the poor, the elderly, the disabled Civil War veterans, orphans, and, at the bottom of the unwanted pile, unwed mothers and their babies. Benton writes of one scene these unwanted people faced living on the streets: "Early-rising laborers pass, mostly hidden by umbrellas, and sodden rats and dogs run along the bricks, sniffing for tidbits dropped by the street cleaners."

Benton's intelligent prose and meticulous, extensive research sets this novel apart from popular, romantic versions of similar stories. The people, the streets and the buildings of 1883, Philadelphia are described in such detail, reading about them is akin to time travel. This book definitely is a must-read.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)
Print Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese (May 16, 2017)
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Sold by: Random House LLC

Papaya Sunset, by Robert E. Schiller

Robert E. Schiller knows basketball, and in "Papaya Sunset," he manages to draw the reader into the excitement of a close game, a last minute basket, and the intricate moves of the players. As skillfully and colorfully as he describes a basketball game, he tells the story of Stewart Anderson (Sam) Mackenzie, an extremely successful Chicago lawyer who married into a wealthy society family in his early 20s, became a partner in his father-in-law's law firm, and whose life goes bottom up after his extra-marital affair is discovered.

On a "sabbatical," a euphemism for being tossed out of his family and his law firm, Sam lands in Key West, aboard his sail boat, the "Jump Shot." The crisis of his forced sabbatical coincides with his middle aged crisis. Together they are a five alarm fire. We learn that Sam was a star, All American, basketball player who destroyed his leg while making a game winning shot. With pro-basketball an impossibility, he allowed his girlfriend's well-connected family to take control of his life: marriage, law school, partnership, and summers on Mackinaw Island.

After sleepwalking through his life, Sam lands in Key West (the "Conch Republic"), apparently as far from a button down, white shoe law firm as he could get. If you have visited Key West, you will appreciate Schiller's wonderful description of its people, its food, its bars and restaurants, and the beauty of its sunsets. Schiller also skillfully introduces us to the colorful people who befriend Sam, including Freddy, the extroverted Cuban fishing boat captain who loves women from the cruise ships because they get back on the ship and leave after a passionate night. They also include Moira and Felicia, a beautiful Cuban refugee and her small daughter. Schiller clearly has a talent for bringing his characters to life. Although a tad didactic, each character has a chance to tell his/her story and each has a different, recognizable voice. This is the hallmark of a good writer.

Papaya Sunset is a good read. I know little about basketball, but Schiller kept me involved in the game. Similarly, Schiller skillfully framed Sam's middle aged crisis without resorting to tired cliches. This is definitely a five star book.

* Print Length: 409 pages
* Publisher: Robert E. Schiller (January 27, 2016)
* Publication Date: January 27, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC