Thursday, March 31, 2011

White Raven by Deborah Cannon

Published by Trafford Publishing

Book Two in this Haida series. The protagonist of this series, half-Haida archaeologist Jake Lalonde, abandoned as a baby and determined to find out who his parents were, has finally arrived in the Queen Charlottes, Haida Gwaii, where it all began. His assistant and lover, Angeline, is there with him, working on her own archaeology PhD dissertation, which means they will often be working on mutual projects. But Jake is so absorbed in locating his lineage that all is not well in this love nest. This book began a little slow for me, probably because I read the third book in the series first and then the first book, but it quickly picked up speed and became a brilliant thriller featuring danger not just to Jake but to many people.

This episode in Jake's life happens at a time when there were many logging disputes between loggers, the Haida, environmentalists, archaeologists, and the British Columbia government. For various reasons, Jake, Angeline, and Jake's old college friend, Damon, all get tangled up in these events. Damon is also working in Haida Gwaii, looking for culturally modified trees. Unfortunately, he is also working with the loggers, trying to prevent the logging of these special trees by tagging them to be left standing. The loggers are ignoring his tags. It gets worse when the Golden Spruce is felled when no one was witness. This tree was a very spiritual tree, steeped in myth. I vividly recall this true event when it happened, as well as the logging disputes. These events are fictionalized in the book but are based on truth.

Jake's persistence in searching for his parents creates mistrust between Jake, Angeline, and Damon. Jake and Angeline really do love each other, but have lost their way to communication temporarily. Damon has a secret that he doesn't want to spill, and it's paramount that he get Angeline, who has moved into his cabin but not his bed, back together with Jake. So here we have some angst, what to Jake's mind is a love triangle, and all that goes with it, running through a lot of the story. An interesting situation, as everything each of them says is misinterpreted.

For many different reasons, not just the loggers, although the foreman of the loggers is a vicious, self-serving man who bullies everyone and beats his family, there is upheaval in this community that is pitting the families against each other. Jake is sure his mother is here, and that he knows who she is, but the woman who is listed on his birth certificate denies she is his mother. Possibly that could be subterfuge because she is married, in fact she is married to the bullying foreman, but there is another, a wise man who seems to understand everything about Jake, even his thoughts as he thinks them, who also says she is not. Jimmy Sky believes in Jake and appears to share similar "inherited" dreams that have plagued Jake for so long. Those dreams have become more frequent and in-depth for Jake since he has been here.

Ancient myths come to life, and there is palpable fear in the village as animals, domestic and wild, are ripped apart and left to die. Everyone is afraid to be out alone at night. "Wasgo" is blamed. Why are the women disappearing? Is the legend of the Seawolf true? A huge sea elephant has been spotted in the waters around the islands, is this animal the basis of the resurgence of the myth? Why is there a totem pole with a white sea captain midway up and why did Jake have an old photograph of this totem? Why is there a copy in the Cultural Centre? All these questions send the story off on a high speed adventure, full of suspense, life-threatening disappearances, a mind boggling seal hunt, death, and heart-pounding chases.

Deborah Cannon writes of the beauty of the islands bringing pictures to the mind of what this relatively untouched area is like. The dense old growth forests, the origins of the people, the brutal strength of the ocean, the sudden storms, thousands of years of life and death. She has put her knowledge of archaeology, the West Coast of British Columbia, Native myths and culture together with an excellent sense of timing and suspense, and created a shocking thriller that kept my eyes and attention glued to the book. Breathtaking. I think I have to go back and read "Ravenstone" again so I can relish the full story in order.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Burned: A Tragic Mystery by J.A. Nevling

Published by Outskirts Press, Inc.
Reviewed for
Review the Book

Being burned is a very tragic event, especially when it is a baby who is badly burned, even through the efforts to keep this to a minimum by her father who is also burned. A tragedy which could so easily happen through a brain focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time. An overtired brain, a stressed brain, or in this case, a distracted brain.

The big game is on TV and Jim, the father, is baby-sitting his nine month old daughter, Anna, who is currently sleeping, to give his wife, Sharon, some time out with her friend Katie. When he hears Anna fussing, he does all the right things, cleaning her, changing her, and putting her bottle on to warm. What he doesn't realize is going to change all their lives in the next several minutes. A gas explosion is going to set the house on fire, not a small fire but a raging fire. Jim's efforts to get the baby out of her crib are next to impossible. The crib is burning and as he tries to bring her out avoiding the worst of the flames surrounding her, she falls through the side of the fiery crib. He does the right thing to try to protect her, stumbles outside and passes out.

When Sharon arrives at the hospital she learns both that her husband will survive, but Anna has been so badly burned it will mean a long recovery at best, but they don't know at this point if she will survive. Though the doctor does not want Sharon to see her at this time, she absolutely insists, and this action will clinch the effects that soon will engulf the whole family. Sharon will soon turn her back on her husband and they will be separated. The stage is now set for the mystery part of the book.

J.A. Nevling certainly knows how to write emotion. He also knows how to write a sequence of awful proportions in a way that the reader knows what is going on, but is not horrified to the extent that he/she will find the book so upsetting it will be impossible to read further. The reader instead will stay focused on the story as it unfolds and will have trouble putting it down. This book is meant to be read. It will be emotional by its nature, but there is so much more than the fire and its results. Once Sharon has moved away, Anna is going through her various treatments, and Jim is dealing with his feelings of guilt, remorse, and the loss of Sharon, the mystery portion of the book begins to unfold.

Sharon has found a small apartment and a good job at Prescott Industries, a new life she can not quite separate from the old. When a marriage is based on real love, it doesn't separate easily. Yet soon it becomes apparent that a transition has happened in Sharon's personality. She can't understand it, she often sleeps too much and feels strangely different. She seems to lose time, her ability to focus has changed, and she has some memory lapses. When she is run off the road as a car rams her from behind, she begins to feel someone is out to kill her. The detectives she talks to have some doubts but decide they should look into it. This is a real mystery, and there are several suspects, but the ending is shocking, and at the same time satisfying. This book is a definite adventure in reading. It speaks to the fallibility of people, love in its truest form, runs the gamut of several emotions, and is well worth the read. I enjoyed the book, which seems strange in light of the difficulties involved, but that is how well-written it is.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

FM for Murder: a Pamela Barnes Acoustic Mystery by Patricia Rockwell

Published by Cozy Cat Press

Another unique foray into the forensic use of acoustics in aiding murder investigations. Who would have thought what a great tool this can be? I had the privilege of reviewing Patricia Rockwell's first book in this series, Sounds of Murder, this is the second. We have several of the same characters as in the first, but this time out the location is completely different. The book is written in two time periods as well as the present. This may sound confusing, but the times are well laid out, and essential to the mystery.

The story begins December 15 just before midnight with a late-night radio broadcast of alternative music, hosted by "Black Vulture", normally running from midnight to 4:00 a.m. During his patter, he mentions that he can hear that he has a visitor coming, the door opens, and the listening world hears the shooting death of the local celebrity, Black Vulture a.k.a. Theodore Ballard, on air, then deathly quiet as the mike is switched off. So here we are with a mysterious death and the shocked alternative music world as audio witness, right in the first two pages, the Prologue.

Back to a previous day in the week, December 11, we meet a dying carpet king, his son Daniel who is currently running the business, and the family lawyer Harold Vickers, among others. Now, what could a carpet manufacturing business possibly have to do with an alternative music disk jockey? There are a few secrets in this family, including Amy, Daniel's secret sweetheart and his desire to reunite his father and his long-missing and disowned brother before his father passes away. This is no easy task because they have never heard a word from him since he left many years before, but he asks the lawyer if he will look into it..

Next, we move into "present" time, which at this moment in the story is December 16. Before long, a pattern of timing will appear explaining why these three time periods are important, how they connect up, and eventually reach the present in all three parts. We are now at the home of the intrepid and feisty heroine, Pamela Barnes, who is trying to sleep in on this Sunday morning, while her dog is trying to wake her up. We also get to know her husband Rocky, and daughter Angie. Rocky is the main cook in this family and there are recipes in the back of the book. Rocky is also against his wife "sticking her nose in" when it comes to murder, akin to Columbo-like Detective Shoop, nor does he approve of Angie's relationship with Pamela's graduate assistant, Kent, and refers to him as "that hoodlum" and says he "looks like a weirdo".

Kent and Angie are into alternative music. They had been to a movie the night before, then at a friend's home where they were listening to Black Vulture's show and so it is that they also became audio witnesses to his murder, and called the police. When she mentions his real name, Rocky is shocked to learn that he has met him. He is one of the doctoral students in the English Department at Grace University, where both Pamela and Rocky work. Their friend Trudi is his advisor.

Of course, Pamela's mind switches into investigative mode, while Rocky slips into his over-protective mode both for his wife and his daughter. Since the murder was recorded, this time Detective Shoop asks for Pamela's help in analyzing the audio with her specialized equipment for any possible clues. Pamela, naturally, jumps at the chance to help. She soon has others helping her with knowledge of accents and guns, as well as her entire class as a project they jump right in to. Her research also extends itself into attending a Vampires Ball in New Orleans.

There is a blend in Patricia Rockwell's writing of pathos and humor, intelligence, surprises, shock and very interesting investigative methods. For all the switches in time, it's fascinating how she draws all these into one. Patricia, you totally shocked me with the murderer. I thought it was between 3 possible suspects, but no. Fantastic!.Again, I look forward to what's in store for Pamela, her family and friends, next time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Raven's Pool by Deborah Cannon

Published by Trafford

As stated on the book cover, this is "An ancient feud, a modern love triangle," and "a twisted plot for revenge." I don't normally mention what is written on the cover, but this description is right on the mark. This is the first book in a series of archaeological thrillers. Unfortunately, I read the third book first, so I will have to shift my mind backward in time to review this one. Here, our characters are introduced and most definitely well-fleshed out. Book one is set in the San Juan Islands, a group of West Coast islands on the US/Canada border.

Deborah Cannon plots this series around the historical myths of the several nations of the West Coast, from Alaska to Oregon, but particularly the historical myths and legends of the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. As an aside, these islands have been officially renamed Haida Gwaii as of December 2009, after this book was written. At the time of writing the books, the islands were known as both the Queen Charlottes and Haida Gwaii, causing some confusion geographically. Why is this important to us, the readers? Because the protagonist of these books is half-Haida, so the islands are important to the story.

Deborah has a special knack of weaving suspense, murder and mystery into the ancient myths and legends of the Raven. I was hooked in the Prologue! Her writing grips the imagination, and keeps the suspense at high level all the while weaving romance, anthropology and archaeology, and history into the mix. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a deadly rivalry between two men part-Haida, who have directed their lives in opposing directions with the exception of searching the myth of Eagle and Raven. These two men are the arch-rivals of this reading journey. Both are totally invested in their goals.

Discovery of a cave with petroglyphs on a small island is the main centre of activity in this book, with a nearby "wet" site where a Raven rattle of indeterminately ancient age is discovered where it should not be. Immediately, the rich and powerful Clifford Radisson wants to buy up all the land and turn it into a theme par, while the dedicated but poor archaeologist Jake Lalonde fights to preserve it. Even though there are some petroglyphs that are obviously faked, he sees much more. Radisson will stop at nothing from trying to take away Jake's girlfriend to burying the opening to the cave in rubble while Jake and Angeline are in there. Will they be able to escape? Well, obviously since there are more adventures to come, but how will they manage it? In trying to find a way out, they stumble on a very important find they are able to keep secret, and Angeline's escape brings help but not before more of Radisson's dirty tricks. Does Radisson accomplish all the feats by himself. Hah! No way! Why should he get his hands dirty, he has too much to lose, but with all his money he can buy anything or anyone. Which will win this rivalry, theme park or heritage site? Many surprises are in store in this book which will keep your attention from wavering. Strong, suspenseful, action-packed thriller, an excellent entry into the series, and I know having read the third book it just gets better!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Safe Haven by Kimberley and Kayla R. Woodhouse

Published by B&H Publishing Group

Kimberley and Kayla R. Woodhouse have put together an indelible thriller that will keep your heart pounding, yet uplifting and heartwarming at the same time. With trials and tribulations enough to make Job's miseries seem almost trivial in comparison, this intrepid trio face incredible odds against survival while their Christian faith stays strong, at least for two of them. The third member of the party will come to it but has two injured "girls" to rescue off one of the highest, steepest mountains in Denali park in an Alaskan winter, all the while being pursued by terrorists who are looking for something they believe the mother has information on, and then to leave no witnesses alive. They are out to kill these three and they are very good at what they do, leaving no trace.

This book is a wonderful story of faith and survival, but it is also full of tips for survival woven into the story, and an awareness of a rare neural disorder that can be deadly in a matter of moments, a disorder that one of the authors actually suffers from. I was aware of this disorder, but learned more for which I'm grateful to the authors. So, we have a mixed bag in this book Terrorists, a man who has lost too much in his life and must learn to live again, a fast-paced, wild ride of a thriller, a 12 year old girl, Andie, with a rare disorder of unimaginable consequences, families disrupted by death, a love story, and deep, inspiring faith.

What sounds like a very complicated story is actually a book that I couldn't put down. Action-packed from the moment the plane they were flying home in is sabotaged and crashes high on Sultana Mountain to the final murderous attempt. The plane was originally owned by Andi's father Marc until his murder, and now is owned by her mother, Jenna. It was flown by Hank, a "trusted" friend of Marc and Jenna prior to Marc's death. Who was the mysterious last minute passenger? After he took over piloting the plane when the radio was shot out, what caused him to pass out? Was he responsible for the crash or was he trying to correct the damage? Can Jenna and Andie trust him? When Jenna took over piloting she realized that none of the controls were responding. That there would be a crash was inevitable.

I took away so much more from the book than just a great story. Living in the north myself, I found the survival techniques very useful, especially how to keep warm through the bitterly cold nights and what to have with you for survival preparation. I also took away a refreshing of my faith. I applaud the authors for the smoothness with which they wrote this book, the interaction of the characters, more noticeable because of the manner in which the chapters are written, the heart-pounding action, the exciting plot, and pulling it all together so believably. The chapters are told mostly by the three main characters in the first person, almost giving a feeling that the reader is invested in the story. I look forward to more from this author pair, mother and daughter. This is the duo's debut as a writing team, and an exceptional one.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Semisweet - A Maggie and Odessa Mystery by Jill Brock

Reviewed for: Review The Book
Published by CreateSpace

This is the third book in the Maggie and Odessa series, however this is the first I have read. The book is entertaining with distinctive continuing characters, as well as a mixed bag of tricky characters filling out the current book. I found it unusual and interesting that although I believe Maggie is the main character, the story is told by Odessa, like Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Maggie is ostensibly working as file clerk and receptionist for a private eye but she is determined to take on a case of her own. In "Semisweet" she gets her chance, or more correctly, she makes her chance. Odessa, O to her friends and Dessa to her boyfriend Lee, is Maggie's "sidekick". Odessa is a dessert chef, working both privately and at her sister Candace's restaurant, the Blue Moon, when she isn't running after Maggie helping solve crime.

The story opens with a terrified Odessa being held with a knife at her throat in the almost empty restaurant. Good opening, certainly gains the reader's attention, and I liked the humourous touch in this scene as well. We meet Maggie first via cellphone, as the knife wielder is handcuffed and led out of the restaurant. A bright, cheery happy voice breaking the tension. We meet her in person two days later accompanied by the woman involved in what Maggie refers to as her first case. Her boss was out when she took the call and she decided this was a good time for her to take on a case of her own, licensed or not.

The story revolves around this case, a strange one if ever there was. Maggie is to act as a wedding planner for Mrs. Verde's daughter, Eloise. The well-to-do Mrs. Verde will pay whatever the cost. Odessa is to make the wedding cake and desserts, and even Candace is involved as caterer and assistant to Maggie as a planner. Strangely, while planning the wedding for Eloise, Maggie is also supposed to be digging up dirt on Henry, the bridegroom-to-be, and make sure the wedding doesn't happen! What could be cozier? If this were not enough, Maggie has to take along her 8 year old Houdini son part of the time, frustratingly helpful as he is. This, then, is the theme of this humourous but captivating book.

Jill Brock has created many opportunities for sleuthing, especially when finding dirt on Henry is not panning out very well and time is running out. When strange events start gearing up, usually with Odessa as a victim, things get interesting.. This causes the story, though focused, to take several changes in direction. These events run the gamut of lies to murder, but who is really involved? Is Henry really Mister Nice Guy, or is he an expert at illusion? There is a lot of fun and adventure in this cozy mystery, with enough questions to mull over and enjoy. I predict these characters will become favorites.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Posted in Colombo: A Glance at Toiling Women and the Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka by Shizue Tomoda

Illustrated by Edwin Batawala

In this non-fiction book, part memoir part historic, Shizue Tomoda is working for a United Nations specialized agency. She is assigned to Colombo, Sri Lanka as the director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) for three years beginning late December 1997. Arriving on Christmas Eve, the next day she hears what appears to be an attack with rifle fire not far from her hotel, unnerving at the best of times but particularly in a country with ongoing attacks. However, this time it was fire crackers. She will be living in Colombo through some of the most high-profile assassinations. Indeed, during her stint in Sri Lanka, the assassination of a political leader by suicide bombers will take place very near her home. While she is still in Sri Lanka, a major turning point in the war happens, the fall of Elephant Pass to the LTTE.* She begins the book with a brief history of this civil war-torn country. The early part of "Posted in Colombo" reads somewhat like a text book, but becomes much less formal as it goes along.

One of the first things she must do is locate an apartment that will both allow her to have her two cats Taro and Tomi, and also be a safe home for them. Shizue had not had time to become familiar with the languages of Sri Lanka, Sinhalese and Tamil, which created a problem when hiring someone to do cooking, grocery shopping, and cleaning. The person she will be hiring must speak and understand English fairly well, be prepared at short notice for dinner guests and will also be responsible for taking care of the home when she is away on a project, as well as caring for the two cats. One of these cats, Taro, is a Norwegian Forest cat, and seems unusually aware and intelligent. With his very thick fur bred for northern winters, he will require air conditioning.

As mentioned, some of the book brings some of the history of Sri Lanka, but also a history of the tea plantations and the treatment of the workers, particularly women, many of them working in other countries away from their families in order to support them. Another problem that upsets her is the lack of education for the children on the plantations extending into the 21st century, and the child labour.

The historical background of the country and its people I found interesting and was surprised at what I did not know. She is concise in her descriptions and backs them up with many references and sources as endnotes. As in most governmental positions, and no different in the UN, almost every project and department has a long name, a fertile environment for the use of acronyms. Fortunately for the reader, Shizue has put a glossary of these at the front of her book.

I enjoyed the connection between Shizue and Devi, her housekeeper, an Indian Tamil mother of four, with an unstable alcoholic husband. Devi's family lives and works on the plantation. As a quick study, Shizue offers Devi several opportunities to learn employable skills that will help her ability to obtain work when Shizue's term is up. Devi lives with her and usually goes home once a month.

Through the conversations between the two, we learn even more about the life of a Sri Lankan woman, and what changes are slowly being made. Overall, I enjoyed this vision of Sri Lanka, I feel I have a better understanding of the situations in the constant conflicts between the two main factors, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, the Tamils also split between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils. I also have an understanding and compassion for the plight of the women and children and am glad to see there are inroads being made to provide proper schools and education, put a stop to child labour, particularly in dangerous jobs, as well as assistance with housing and employability. There appear to be major changes over the past 50 years, but they were, and possibly still are, slow in coming. Devi was very fortunate to work for someone who knew the ropes and which ones to tug on. This was an entertaining and informative book, particularly what is learned from the interactions of Shizue and Devi. The book is also an easy read due to its layout and the author’s narration.
*LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

I have previously reviewed “Sachiko”, a book of fiction by Shizue Tomoda