Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

From the publisher: Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, aged 52, is a widow living in Hampstead with her confidante and landlady, Mrs. Bentley, who once let rooms to John Keats, Laetitia makes her living as a highly discreet private investigator. Her brother is a criminal barrister living in the neighboring village of Highgate with his wife and ten children. Frederick finds the cases, and Laetitia solves them using her arch intelligence, her iron discretion, and her immaculate cover as an unsuspecting widow. When Frederick brings to her attention a case involving the son of the well-respected, highly connected Sir James Calderstone, Laetitia sets off to take up a position as the family's new governess--quickly making herself indispensable. But the seemingly simple case--looking into young Charles Calderstone's “inappropriate” love interest--soon takes a rather unpleasant turn. And as the family's secrets begin to unfold, Laetitia discovers the Calderstones have more to hide than most. Dickensian in its scope and characters, The Secrets of Wishtide brings nineteenth century society vividly to life and illuminates the effect of Victorian morality on women's lives. Introducing an irresistible new detective, the first book in the Laetitia Rodd Mystery series will enthrall and delight.

I am in my 50s and I enjoyed the premise of The Secrets of Wishtide. It's 1850 and the main character, Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, is a widow of 52 and of limited means. She is kind and intelligent. Her brother, a barrister, sometimes calls upon his sister as a kind of private detective to help him gather information.

I liked Mrs. Rodd, and I enjoyed her relationship with her brother and her landlady Mrs. Bentley (who is apparently based on a real person). The book was inspired by David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, which I totally did not pick up; although I've read David Copperfield I don't remember it all that well. The historical facts seem accurate.

I would have preferred that the book be told in the third person; Mrs. Rodd narrates in the first person, and sometimes her voice seemed a little too modern to me. Also, the author a few times had Mrs. Rodd pause and explain something a reader today may not understand, which pulled me out of the story. (For example, "NB Snapdragon is a game that has understandably fallen from favour; you have to pick currants out of a dish of flaming brandy, and I've lost count of all the cuffs I've burn over the years." (p. 126 of the advance reader copy) and "People don't seem to make Smoking Bishop nowadays: it's a fragrant concoction of red wine, port wine, and spices" (p. 249).)

Mrs. Rodd seems to be telling the story from some point in the future, and I found that odd and a little disconcerting. Although this is said to be the first in a series, there were references to previous cases Mrs. Rodd had worked on, and previous interactions with Inspector Thomas Blackbeard, that made me check to see if this really was the first in a series.

Still, those are not major complaints; I had no trouble staying with the story and wanted to see how it would end. There are plenty of threads left over for future episodes with Mrs. Rodd, and I expect I will pick up the next book in the series if it continues.

I read an advance reader copy of The Secrets of Wishtide. It will be published in mid-September 2016 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

From the publisher: In the Barrens, a vast wilderness in northern Canada bordering the Arctic Circle, night consumes every hour of the winter. Humans are scarce; ferocious predators roam freely. Locals say spirits do, too. Rookie cop Tana Larsson doesn’t mind the dark and quiet. Five months pregnant and hoping to escape the mistakes of her past, she takes a post in Twin Rivers, population 320. With her superior out of commission, Tana becomes the sole police officer in 17,500 square miles. She gets a call about the fatal wolf mauling of two students, and the only way to reach the remote scene is to enlist the help of the arrogant, irritatingly handsome Cameron “Crash” O’Halloran, a local pilot with a shady reputation and a past cloaked in shadow. When the scene they uncover suggests violence much more sinister than animal, Tana must trust Crash if she wants to protect the town—and herself—from the evil that lurks in the frozen dark.
In the Barren Ground is a violent but compelling story set in the wilds of northern Canada. A young female cop is called to the scene of two murders. Amidst the carnage of dead people and dead wolves, there are clues that the deaths may not have been due to an animal attack. The more Tana investigates, the more she believes that a serial killer is at work, setting up crime scenes so they appear to be animal attacks. When the killer feels hunted, the killer’s attention turns to Tana.

The author does an excellent job of building and maintaining tension as the threat grows. She also does a good job of ramping up the growing attraction between Tana and Crash, the local bad boy pilot. I liked Tana as the strong but flawed and vulnerable female main character. Crash was a little more stock.

The killer’s motives are not original, but overall the big reveal of the murderer’s identity was handled well. The way the author works a book about a local legend into the plot is also neatly done. I usually don’t like too much graphic violence in the books I read and found the level of detail in this one off-putting, but I was compelled to keep reading by the strength of the narrative.

I enjoyed the Canadian setting. I don’t know whether the portrayals of Native voices and customs are accurate, but I hope so. They definitely added to the story. The small village has its problems, but the people pull together when they need to. On the whole I’d describe In the Barren Ground as a feel good story of terrible violence.

Although In the Barren Ground is from Montlake Romance, the romance is not prominent. A romantic relationship forms but not quickly. This book reads like the first in a series, and I look forward to reading book 2.

I read an advance reader copy of In the Barren Ground. It will be published on August 16 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Infomocracy by Malka Older

Wow, this is hard book to classify. I found it hard to get into at first - really, really hard. It's set in a near-distant future where nations no longer exist but governments do. Every 10 years groups of 100,000 people choose which government they want to live under.

Many of the governments have formed from corporations, like Coca-Cola and Philip Morris. Others are remnants of former nation states; Liberty it seems pretty clear has sprung from the United States. There is also a global internet organization called Information that is like Facebook and Google etc. many times squared.

I had a hard time getting into Infomocracy because there are so many characters, and many had names I am unused to so I wasn't immediately able to picture even whether they were male or female. The action also jumps all over the world, and the names of all the governments were confusing. The world building was grand and chaotic, and the important characters were compelling. (Some of the characters introduced in the beginning faded away into minor importance.) 

Once I got about 100 pages in I really enjoyed Infomocracy. I wonder if my interest was partly sparked by reading this during the U.S. political conventions. There is a lot of subterfuge, and questions about who can trust who, and think I found that more interesting because there is a U.S. presidential race going on. 

As I said, this book is hard to classify. It's hard to even say, for example, that If you liked xxx, you will enjoy InfomocracyIt is a very intelligent work, and it was refreshing to read something that really, really is not English or American-centric. I recommend it to science fiction readers willing to take a chance on something a little unusual, and to readers looking to take their mind off American politics and the election by reading a book about...politics and an election.

The Galesburg Public LIbrary has Infomocracy as a print book and as an ebook.