Monday, August 5, 2019

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine

From the publisher: A beautifully told and intriguing mystery about two generations of Scottish women united by blood, an obsession with the past, and a long-hidden body.

A Viking legend. A family story. And the excavation of an ancient mound amid the family drama of a storied mansion. These three timelines are woven together to form the plot of Sarah Maine’s Women of the Dunes.

Libby Snow is an archaeologist with a particular family interest in the legend of Ulla, a woman running from one brother and in love with another over 1000 years ago. Libby gets permission to excavate Viking ruins on Sturrock land in Ullaness off the coast of Scotland. Stern but attractive Rodri Sturrock manages the estate for his absent brother Hector. Libby keeps secret her family’s connection to Ullaness – her grandmother’s grandmother had moved to North America from this part of Scotland, carrying an ancient cross with her.

The story weaves together tales of star-crossed lovers. Excavation reveals the bones from more than one body, from more than one time period. The setting on the coast of Scotland is breathtaking. The plot takes some predictable turns, foreshadowed by the legend of the past, but surprised me at times as well. And I was happy when one villainous character proved not to be “foaming at the mouth stark raving mad,” as happens so often (too often) in mysteries, but a narcissist who acts entirely true to their spiteful nature.

Women of the Dunes is even better in my opinion than Maine’s first book, The House Between Tides. The characters are well developed, and humor is done with a light touch. My favorite scene happens in Chapter 13, when Libby’s pretentious boss comes to visit the manor house and Rodri and his housekeeper Alice put on a lordly homeowner/simpering servant act for him.

Women of the Dunes is a definite recommend from me for anyone who enjoys a historical mystery/romance and the wilds of ScotlandWomen of the Dunes is available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library, as is The House Between Tides.

Monday, July 22, 2019

What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr

From the publisher: Rose Dennis wakes up in a hospital gown, her brain in a fog, only to discover that she's been committed to an Alzheimer's Unit in a nursing home. With no memory of how she ended up in this position, Rose is sure that something is very wrong. With the help of her computer hacker/recluse sister Marion, thirteen-year old granddaughter Mel, and Mel's friend Royal, Rose begins to gather her strength and fight back—to find out who is after her and take back control of her own life. But someone out there is still determined to kill Rose, and they're holding all the cards.

I love Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon books – they are one of the mystery series I recommend the most when people ask me for suggestions. Barr really has a gift for putting you where her characters are (in Anna’s case, left behind in a cave, sheltering in a fire tent during a raging wildfire, trapped in a sunken wreck and running out of air). What Rose Forgot is a standalone title.

I found it a little slow starting but very enjoyable once it got going. I did have to remind myself a few times that the main character of Rose isn’t Anna Pigeon, as she has a very Anna-Pigeon-like personality and a sister she turns to for advice and support.

Rose has a sweet relationship with her granddaughter-by-marriage and is a strong and capable woman at age 68, despite dealing with the issues of middle age. Parts of the mystery surprised me and parts of it did not, but the real fun is in the characters and their sometimes surprising interactions. I also enjoyed the use of technology and the fact that Rose does her sleuthing using Lyft drivers. This is a super fast read and would be great on the beach or a plane.

If you enjoy oddball mysteries with unusual protagonists, you may enjoy What Rose Forgot. I read an advance reader copy; it is scheduled to be published in September and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in multiple formats.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Imagine a world ravaged by gun violence and environmental damage, where a huge corporation that sells everything to everyone and delivers the items by drone limits the choices of where you can live and work. In Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, the giant company Cloud has put other retailers out of business and become the only place to work. Paxton and Zinnia pass the test and start their jobs. Paxton ends up in security;  Zinnia works long days racing against the clock, picking items to mail to customers. They work at Cloud. They eat at Cloud. They sleep at Cloud. Zinnia puts up with sexual harassment from a manager; Paxton competes against others for the approval of his boss.

But neither Zinnia nor Paxton is who they seem. Each is keeping secrets, and each has an agenda. However, it’s not easy to stand up for yourself when you are a tiny cog in the Cloud.

The Warehouse is likely to be this year’s big, almost-there dystopian novel. And it all feels like it could come true next week.

Rob Hart dedicated his book to Maria Fernandes, a woman who worked part-time at several Dunkin’Donuts to make ends meet and who died from gas fumes while taking a nap in her car. In the meantime, Dunkin’ CEO Nigel Travis earned $10.2 million the year she died. The Warehouse is not a perfect book, but it will make you think hard about the relationship between corporations and their employees and about income inequality.

I read an advance reader copy of The Warehouse, which comes out on August 20. The Galesburg Public Library will have it in print and as an ebook.

Monday, May 27, 2019

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

This novel is about a 17-year old girl named Stella who is headstrong, reckless, athletic and possibly a bit of a sociopath. She has only one friend, her best friend Amina, and they've been friends since they were six years old. She lives with her parents - her dad is a pastor in the Swedish church and her mother is a criminal defense attorney. The story unfolds with her father standing outside a courtroom where he has to go in and testify as to whether or not his only daughter has committed a brutal murder of a man who was 15 years older than her. A man nobody in the family knew she was even dating. It is obvious that Stella's parents have absolutely no idea what she does in her free time and because her dad is a pastor, a lot of things they discover have to be kept hidden from everyone. Lots of secrets in this family, which makes them all suspicious and a little shady. This novel is written from three different perspectives, and will make you wonder just how far each of these people will go to protect the ones they love. This the first novel published in the United States for this Swedish author, and he has three previous novels and two books for young readers in Sweden. If you like a psychological legal thriller, than this novel is for you!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Recursion by Blake Crouch

From the publisher: Memory makes reality. That’s what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it. An intricate science-fiction puzzlebox about time, identity, and memory.

Blake Crouch’s Recursion is not a perfect book but it is a highly enjoyable one. It’s a classic time travel story with a twist – if someone goes back in time and changes the timeline, everyone affected by the change remembers their old timeline as well as their new timeline. This causes confusion, paranoia, and an increased suicide rate. The inventor of the technology that allows this to happen is trying to erase it from time, while others want to use it for good to change the past … but unexpected consequences are not predictable.

Recursion has a compelling narrative, and I found it hard to put down. I couldn’t quite follow all the timey-wimey stuff and have no idea whether the science is somewhat real or utterly ridiculous, but the characters are sympathetic enough that I did not worry too much about the timelines. I found the overall resolution predictable but not the steps the author took to get there. (I am confused by the very end – someone read it and tell me what it means!)

Recommended for readers who enjoy contemporary thrillers with a futuristic touch.

Recursion comes out on June 11 and has already been purchased by Netflix for a TV series. It will be available in print and as an ebook at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

So literally, two pages into this novel I knew the main character was crazy. Crazy in a terrifying, twisted and sociopathic kind of way. She's the kind of woman you have nightmares about if you're a guy in the dating world. Juliette loves a man named Nate. Nate doesn't love Juliette anymore and asks her to move out of his apartment, probably because he realizes she is insane. Juliette is not taking this well, which is an understatement. This novel is a carefully crafted journey into the frightening world of a person who is truly unhinged, and will not take no for an answer. This is a first novel for Karen Hamilton, and she is a skilled writer with a good sense of humor. Be prepared to read well into the night because this novel is hard to put down. If you like psychological thrillers that scare you because you KNOW women like Juliette exist in the real world, than this novel is for you!

Monday, March 18, 2019

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

From the publisher: On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert. 

When the Emperor Was Divine is the Galesburg Public Library's 2019 NEA Big Read title. It's a short book about a family torn apart by fear and prejudice in the United States during World War II. In spare, lyrical prose the author recounts what it was like for one Japanese family to be forced to dispose of their pets, leave their home, and travel to a crowded camp in another state.

Pick up a free copy of the book at the FREE Big Read Kick-Off Event on March 30 at 2:00 pm at the Orpheum Theatre, where a Japanese drumming group from Chicago will introduce us to taiko drums and drumming. Remaining books will be available at the library after the event, while supplies last. The library has a slate of programs for all ages scheduled for April. Pick up a program brochure at the kick-off or at the library, or visit or the Galesburg Public Library on Facebook.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Save Me from Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuk

Bookseller by day, Private Investigator by night, Nikki Griffin is truly All That! In our introduction to Nikki, we find her literally kicking the daylights out of a man she'd been stalking because he needed to learn a lesson. He did indeed learn that lesson. Nikki is not a girl you want to mess with, especially if you are a man who hurts women. She will make you pay for that. She is smart, resourceful, patient, capable and throws one heck of a right hook. She works at her craft, keeps herself in shape and has lots of weapons. Some of which are legal. After being hired for what seemed to be a straightforward job, Nikki realizes that things are not adding up. Her first clue was that people around her investigation were starting to die, which made her wonder who she could trust and who might be trying to kill her. This is the perfect first book for a series, and I for one will be keeping an eye out for the next in line. Nikki Griffin has everything you want in a main character. She's also got a smart mouth on her and is probably a little insane, but she's working that out in therapy. A must read!!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd is an unusual and fascinating romance novel. It was inspired by the true story of a British sailor marrying a Hawaiian princess in the late 1700s. The author is a descendant of John Harbottle and Papapaunauapu, who had eight children. Ilima Todd grew up on the island of Oahu.

The author weaves together some historical facts that occurred at different times to make the novel tighter and more informative. For example, Captain James Cook is present in the book, but he visited the Pacific islands at a different time than John Harbottle. She also used her imagination to detail the courtship of her ancestors. The novel focuses on two people from two different cultures learning to understand each other.

Although A Song for the Stars is part of Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance series, it is more of a historical novel than a traditional romance. While the couple do end up together, their courtship is an unusual one. Only at the very end does it even become possible for them to marry. Not only must the princess and the sailor learn to work together, so must the Hawaiians and the British. The author uses Hawaiian words to help set the scene, and a helpful glossary is included at the end.

If you enjoy learning about other cultures and watching as two people come to know, respect, and love each other, you may enjoy A Song for the Stars. It will be released in April 2019 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna

From the publisher: When Prosecco‑loving Auntie Poldi retired to Sicily from Germany, she never dreamed her tranquil days would be interrupted by murder. But Sicily had other plans, and Poldi found herself honor‑bound to solve the disappearance of her beloved (and cute) handyman. Now she’s finally ready for some peace and quiet—interrupted by romantic encounters with handsome Chief Inspector Montana, of course—when the water supply to her neighborhood is cut off and a dear friend’s dog is poisoned, telltale signs that a certain familial organization is flexing its muscles. Poldi knows there will be no resolution without her help. She soon finds a body in a vineyard, tangles with the Mafia, and yet again makes herself unpopular in the pursuit of justice. But once wine and murder mix, how could she possibly stay away? 

The Auntie Poldi series appeals to me for a couple of reasons. First off, the story is narrated by her nephew, and as a childless aunt I’m always interested in stories about interesting aunts and their relationships with their nephews and nieces. Secondly, it is set in Italy, which I’ve visited twice and hope to visit again. I haven’t been to Sicily but I really want to go (and probably should have saved this book for that trip, but I couldn’t wait).

The author was born in Munich, Germany to Italian immigrants. It feels like he has done his research or has visited Italy often. I’m sure some of the stuff is stereotypical – there is a lot about the Mafia and organized crime – but I know firsthand some of the stuff is not. The sweetened espresso, the crazy driving. There are a lot of dogs in these books, including a scary pair of German shepherds named Hanz and Franz. The Italian love of dogs also seems very typical. A scene involving Poldi, her sisters, her brother-in-law, and the dog was amusingly madcap, as was a scene in which Poldi, her priest, and her sad Signora friend break into a house to search for a clue to a murder. I enjoyed the many references to the active volcano Mount Etna and its continual smoking.

The nephew is a good narrator but a terrible writer who comes to stay with Poldi and work on his terrible novel. (“Another week at my Auntie Poldi’s was over, and I was feeling proud of myself. That needs saying occasionally. I was in full flow. I was the adjective ace, the metaphor magician, the sorcerer of the subordinate clause, the expresser of emotions, the master of a host of startling but entirely plausible turns of events.” (p. 325 of the advance reader copy) His descriptions of his plot are just as bad and show the startling turns are anything but plausible.) Poldi tells him what happened as she investigates crimes, and he tells us, and they are both unreliable and entertaining.

Auntie Poldi reminds me a bit of the best of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, although Poldi is more interesting and the plots so far are more original and less formulaic. She is sixty years old and living her best life. Looking forward to a long-running series.

I read an advance reader copy of Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna. It is scheduled to be published in early March 2019 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library. The first book in the series, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, is available now.