Tuesday, June 28, 2011

False Mermaid by Erin Hart

Published by Scribner

In this the third instalment of the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire mystery series, Nora, a pathologist, has returned from Ireland to Minnesota with the firm intent to finally prove her brother-in-law Peter Hallett guilty of murdering her sister five years earlier. She is very concerned now that her niece is older that she will be in danger from her father as well. She renews her connection with Frank Cordova, the police investigator who was one of the few who believed her, not realizing he believes she is reconnecting on a personal level as well. Nora is shocked to learn that her ex-boyfriend's sister Miranda is about to marry Peter and go to Ireland for their honeymoon. She is afraid that he will kill her the same as he did Triona.

Erin Hart has a wonderful sense of the mystical history of Ireland and how to weave the songs and lore of the islands into her stories whether in Ireland or America. In this book the folklore is mostly tied to the traditional Celtic Selkie stories, and one in particular. The Selkie traditionally is a seal that can change into a human by taking off her sealskin, but if her sealskin is taken, she is trapped in her human form. This is the basis of the legend in this book. The author's descriptions are beautiful, lyrical, and mystical, or they are vivid, harsh, and irrefutable, according to time and place. In other words, her writing is truly atmospheric. Nora and Frank find more evidence pointing to Peter, but there is always something cross-contaminating evidence just enough to blur the facts. Two witnesses are discovered, but the only people they have seen are women. Why would that be? Who is coming to the scene of the crime and what is the connection with another body found three weeks before Triona with the same cause of death and the same distinctive clues? Where do the witnesses fit into the scenario?

As always, Erin builds on the history, mystery and many connections, linking them all together and binding them tight. The tension mounts as Nora and her niece Elizabeth become targeted when Nora returns to Ireland. She has returned to rescue her after learning that not only did Peter and Miranda insist on taking Elizabeth with them on their honeymoon instead of leaving her with Nora's parents as planned, but a phone call from her neighbor in Dublin has alerted her that Elizabeth ran away from the airport when the plane landed in Ireland and they will keep her safe until Nora gets there..

There is an on-going thread about seals throughout the story that takes us from Pacific Ocean to Ireland, tying in the tale of the Selkie. It is as though the seal that Elizabeth knew on the Pacific Coast beach is the same one that appears on the coast of Ireland. There are many highlights in this book, particularly a Fiddle Festival. Trying to solve Triona's murder has opened much more than anyone would have anticipated, the suspense grows to the final outcome. Though this book does not involve archaeology or the bog people, it does involve the forensics of the crime scene, in particular the soil and flora samples. I not only recommend this book, I recommend the entire series for its flavor, mystery, suspense and surprise.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Under a Texas Star by Alison Bruce

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed in e-book format

A good old-fashioned western romance novel. The west is still barely settled, the Civil War not long over, and Marly Landers is on the trail of the man who conned the townspeople out of their money. Marly feels a personal responsibility for this event, so he is heading off to El Paso from the small town of Cherryville, Kansas to collect the money and see that justice is served. Dressed in hand-me-downs of oversize shirt, pants, boots, worn droopy hat, and oilskin duster, he looks like a young teen trying to beat the odds of solitary wandering in the deserts and mountains as he tracks the culprit, Charlie Meese.

In the meantime, Texas Ranger Jason (Jase) Strachan is on the trail of a confidence man who has cheated some high powered people in Austin. He is currently in Dog Flats, about as small and desolate a town as it sounds. As he's finishing a beer, our protagonist Marly arrives, looking for work to pay for a room for the night, a meal, breakfast and a packaged lunch. He offers to do anything from mucking out to waiting tables, even cooking. Jase has seen this boy on his past few stops and is very interested in him because he's discovered they are both trailing the same man. He's seen him work at every stop. Jase knows Marly has been traveling on foot for most of the way from town to town. He is taken with Marly's tenacity and is interested in why they are after the same man. Of course, he's not going to get into that part of it yet. Not sharing his own business in El Paso, he does mention his destination and suggests they travel together. Jase will supply horse and tack, and the boy will work for him.

In Abilene they get Marly a horse and saddle, but he has never been on a horse and definitely not a mulish one. After being thrown and giving his horse a stern talking to, while guffawing cowboys watch the whole procedure from the railings, they are once again on their way with Marly riding the newly but aptly named "Trouble". The next purchase was new clothes and about this time Jase gets the feeling that Marly may be older than he first guessed, maybe about sixteen.

What does a Texas Ranger do when he suddenly discovers that the boy is a girl? Well, once he gets over the shock, he knows there has to be a very important reason why this girl is traveling as a boy, a strong, hard-working and strong-willed boy at that. He must protect Marly's disguise, whatever her reason, and does not let her know he is aware of her gender. With lessons from Jase she soon proves to be well-able to handle all situations she finds herself in, and able to do her share of watch shifts when camping, rifle at the ready.

Alison Bruce does an excellent job on setting the scenes and customs of the old west. History, characterizations, and the long ride of the heroes of the story are convincing for the time. There is lots of action and gun-play as they work together on a case in Fortuna. For the rest of the journey the tension builds between the two as jealousy raises its green-eyed monster more than once, with neither being aware of the feelings of the other. Again the author works this tension beautifully. The arrival in El Paso is almost, but not quite, diminished by the avoidance of communicating these feelings to the point that I wanted to say, Get on with it! A very satisfying read all in all, with an interesting blend of fun and trickery at the end. A mixture of many points of view, the author covers a lot of ground in personalities, geography, and lifestyles. If you're looking for a dish of the old west with a dash of romance and humor minus the raunch dressing, this book is for you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Flowers For Her Grave by Jean Sheldon

Published by Bast Press

A twenty-year-old mystery is about to come to life again, stirring up old doubts, old fears and, perhaps, old memories. On this, the twentieth anniversary of a murder and a disappearance, the Gazette, this small town's local paper, has run a story revisiting the long ago unsolved crime. Louise Vandenberg, the only surviving member of the family has just passed away. She chased the mystery for years, writing every clue into diaries, did she have the answer to who killed her husband and what happened to her daughter? Who killed Jack? Was five-year-old Kimberley kidnapped? Is she alive or dead?

The little town of Raccoon Grove was stunned by this crime in their usually crime-free community, but twenty years is a long time and memories fade. David and Tracy run the paper, and Tracy definitely has an inquiring mind. When two unsigned letters arrive at the paper, one purporting to know who killed Jack, and another simply saying Kimberly is alive in Chicago, and giving a phone number, her clue-sniffing persona takes over. Tracy and Kate are best friends, so sleuthing together does not deter them.

This is also a tale of renewal, family relationships, growth and confidence, and how terrible things can happen without intent. Kate, never with faith in herself, lived in an empty shell most of her life until she discovered her love of flowers and her skill with arrangements. Jean Sheldon is an expert at description, and no less so in this book. Her description of the flower gardens is so beautiful it is possible to picture them in the reader's mind. I'm sure if I didn't suffer from lack of smell, I would even have smelled them. Her gardens have given Kate a feeling of worthiness she has never known before and made her stronger.

Jack Vandenberg was "the" attorney many women chose to obtain divorces, for his compassion, understanding, and as a very good divorce lawyer. We meet several quirky characters in this book, many ex-husbands firmly ensconced in their bar stools. Some husbands blamed Jack for the breakups of their marriages and convinced themselves their wives were having an affair with him. Kate's ex-husband Dirk was one of these. Was it possible that a disgruntled ex-husband had done the deed?

Tracy and Kate begin with old files from the Gazette and an interview with Ben, ex-police chief, who soon turns up dead raising even more questions. Coincidence or accident? There are enough dead ends, false leads, threats, and pretenders to keep the reader guessing. Sara Collins as Kimberley's best friend spent many years treated for depression after the disappearance, but with 20 years behind her and an excellent therapist, she is doing very well, even with the inevitable gaps in her memory. When Kate takes her on as assistant in her gardens and mentors her, her health improves dramatically, but Sara is unable to go near pink roses. Is there a connection?

Throughout the book, odd incidents happen. The tension mounts bringing with it danger for our protagonists. In their haste to stall off more crises, some errors in judgment occur, but a reality check makes up for those slips. Uncertain memories sometimes steer them in wrong directions as the townspeople try to remember who was where, and when. The most crucial evidence is expected to show up in Louise's journals, but a break-in at the Vandenberg house has resulted in the disappearance of the most recent ones. Can they ever be found? Will they be destroyed? When Tracy and Kate find themselves as targets, they become more determined to find the culprit.

Ms. Sheldon has a wonderful sense of history, mystery, and the flaws of mankind. She has written several stand-alone books, and though mysteries, they are entirely unique. They all pique the reader's interest. Each is carefully researched, presented, and keeps us reading. She is sharp as a tack in nailing her diverse mysteries, always with a touch of humor. My thanks to the author for keeping me entertained and guessing! Another great mystery by Jean Sheldon, who will shock you by the end of this book

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Realms of Gold: The Colorful Writers of San Francisco 1850-1950 by George Rathmell

Published by Infinity Publishing
Reviewed for Review the Book

A history book with a twist, we learn about the beginnings and growth of San Francisco as seen by its many famous writers and poets through a century. I thought this was a novel way to learn the fullness and diversity of this early city. From the '49ers scrambling for gold to the post-WWII era, George Rathmell has covered a lot of ground. I was surprised to find that the early writers were primarily poets, even those who went on to writing articles and books.

This book has been well-researched, the city and inhabitants raucous and lively. The author makes use of plausible conversation and real quotes, working with these to form his own brand of writing, entertaining yet informative. To get so much history of these great writers all in one book is quite an accomplishment. The problem is that it is neither here nor there, not just a history of the city and not just a history of the more famous writers who either lived for some time in the city or visited. Don't expect the book to feature one or the other exclusively.

This is also a work showing how different California was, especially prior to statehood, from the east and the south of the country. Different climate, cultures, entertainments, freedoms, and possibly more opportunity for women. I enjoyed meeting these characters of the early days. Some authors and entertainers who have stood the test of time were featured in this book: Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson and Samuel Clemens, all were long-term visitors to historic San Francisco. Clemens did not go by his Mark Twain persona until later. Young Jack London, born in San Francisco, Bret Harte, and the famous dancer Isadora Duncan. All wonderful entertainers in their own right. To read the progressions in the lives of these people, combined with the progress of the city, brings the book alive.

As the century changes, so too does the city and its people. Several local and world events take place over the next 50 years changing San Francisco forever. The Great Earthquake of 1906 and the ensuing maelstrom of fire destroying the city, and many of the authors’ manuscripts, is vividly described from the eyes of these authors. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 with the International Congress of Authors, underscores a new breed of writer and the aging of the original group. World War I, and the Spanish Influenza, authors Dashiell Hammett and John Steinbeck. The death of Ina Coolbrith in 1928, the last of the original Bohemian group. The Depression of the ‘30s, bringing people from the Dust Bowl of the central States into San Francisco, and new authors such as William Saroyan. The Golden Gate Exposition 1939-1940 followed by the attack on Pearl Harbour which threw the United States into World War II. A mix of devastation and exhilaration.

The early days are laid to rest but the earliest writers and poets of San Francisco are immortalized in parks and monuments, the spokespersons of the Golden Era of San Francisco. What a challenge this story must have been. The author has managed to squeeze a century into this book, bringing the city to life through the writings of these "Bohemians" who saw and documented these earliest days. Considering the volume of information he must have accumulated, this book is well written.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thirteen Virtues to a New Life: A Journey Around the Medicine Wheel by Ralph P. Brown (Tawennihake)

Published by BookSurge Publishing
Illustrations by Ralph P. Brown
Reviewed for Review the Book

A little book with large motivation, the tales told and lessons to be found in this book can propel us to our goals. As quoted in the beginning, "One man dreamed of becoming something. Another remained awake and became." Ralph Brown (Tawennihake) is of the Mohawk nation, his research has taken him through several nations, including Mohawk, Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Cherokee and Navajo, meeting with many storytellers and Medicine Men. He has collected some of these tales, some might call them morality tales, through his travels, and some of the interpretations found in this book

These tales are incorporated into the Thirteen Virtues of the Medicine Wheel. These are profound and mysterious until with patience the reader begins to "See" with new eyes, eagle eyes that are so clear and can see so many ways and so far, the need to passionately seek whatever their goals are. The book is written in such a manner that reading once you only see part of the whole. It should be read more than once to take the most from it. As mentioned, this is a small book, it does not require much time to read, but it needs to be reread to get the whole of the journey. These tales, or fables, are all representations, there are more ways than one to interpret them, but the author is very clear in describing how to perceive everything that is there. He does not tell you what you must see but provides guidelines to help you to perceive whatever the representations mean to you personally.

These are life lessons that most of us have heard in one form or another, but have we really understood them? Have we "Seen" everything there is to see and have we actively set a goal and gone after it? Or have we denied ourselves that goal by not perceiving the way to look at it, to achieve it. The book gives us the guidelines to finding that perception and obtaining our goals and regain balance in our lives. This book is entertaining, educational, and completely natural, not technical in any way. Life is natural. This book can help us retain or regain our connection with the natural world. Well-written, non-demanding, it is a book well worth reading.