Monday, 21 July 2014

Secrets to the Grave

Finished July 21
Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag, read by Kirsten Potter

This mystery novel is set in the town of Oak Knoll, California in 1986. A local artist, Marissa Fordham has been found brutally murdered,stabbed dozens of times, with her 4-year-old daughter strangled and left for dead. Except that young Haley survived.
In this time before many of the scientific tools available now, the police have less to go on in terms of evidence. Young Haley is severely traumatized and when led to her memories of the attack refers to the murderer as "bad daddy". But no one seems to know who Haley's father really is, and she seems to call nearly everyone she meets "daddy".
Anne Leone, child advocate, takes Haley into her home and works carefully to heal Haley, as she recovers from her own recent close call with murder. But will this put both of their lives into more danger?
Her new ex-FBI husband Vince, now a consultant, has volunteered his services to the local police and works closely with the lead officer Tony Mendez.
Marisa's sponsor, Milo Bordain, is a self-centered woman who is used to telling others what to do. She is horrified at the murder and tries to get custody of young Haley, despite her lack of mothering instinct.
A good friend of Marisa's Zander Zahn is a well-known math professor, but comes across as odd due to his autism and quirky collections. He is the one who discovers her body, and it seems to have brought back painful memories of his own.
Marisa's best friend Gina is devastated by the loss of her friend, but still seems to be hiding something from the police. Will she survive to tell the tale?
Lots of interesting characters, lots of twists and turns to this plot.
I had already read the book before this one Deeper than the Dead, and it was interesting to see how the characters from that novel were a few months down the road.

A Small Weeping

Finished July 21
A Small Weeping by Alex Gray

This was a new author for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery novel set in Glasgow. The main character here is DCI Lorimer and the case begins with the discover of a prostitute's body in an elevator in the railway station in the wee hours. The station is closed at this time of day, but the murderer appears to have avoided any of the cameras. She has been strangled to death and then placed carefully, with a flower between her hands, which are set as in prayer.
With little to go on, Lorimer asks psychologist Solomon Brightman (Solly) to assist by creating a profile of the killer. He has some ideas, but the case seems stuck until another murder occurs with the same positioning of the body. This time, the victim is a nurse at a private mental institution, and both the staff and the patients come under scrutiny.
The case focuses on the people in a big way, which I always find interesting and although the action mainly takes place in Glasgow, there is a lovely sidetrip to Skye.
There are some side stories here as well: the growing relationship between Solly and Rosie, the very competent pathologist; a visiting police officer from Florida, Lipinski, sharing methods and practices; and Lorimer's wife Maggie, a schoolteacher with dreams of her own.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Plantagenets

Finished July 20
The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones

This extensive history of the Plantagenet line of English royalty includes most of the Norman kings as well, taking us from the reign of Henry I to the ascension of Henry IV.
It begins in 1120, with the shipwreck that killed the son and heir of Henry I, William the Aetheling, which set up a power struggle between King Stephen, nephew of King Henry I and Empress Matilda, Henry's daughter and heir.
The Plantagenet Dynasty began with the next king, Henry II, eldest son of Empress Matilda, who married another powerful woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry II took the throne in 1154. The Plantagent kings reigned as follows.
Henry II (1154-1189)
Richard I (1189-1199), second son of Henry II
John (1199-1216), fourth and youngest son of Henry II
Henry III (1216-1272), eldest son of John
Edward I (1272-1307), eldest son of Henry III
Edward II (1307-1327), youngest son of Edward I
Edward III (1327-1377), eldest son of Edward II
Richard II (1377-1399), grandson of Edward III, second son of his eldest son Edward, The Black Prince
Henry IV, who took the kingdom from Richard II, was also a grandson of Edward III, by his son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his reign began the rule of the House of Lancaster.
This book definitely shows the human failings of the kings, but also the courageous acts and leadership abilities. We see the fear and jealousy, the misguided advice and bad decisions, the political intrigues and the emergence of British law. This is the line of kings that brought us the Magna Carta and parliament, the line that showed that a king had responsibilities towards his subjects of good government.
This set of kings won large portions of what is now France, and lost them again.
Laid out in short chapters, this book shows us predominantly the public side of these men, with glimpses of the personal.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Silence for the Dead

Finished July 14
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

This novel is set just after World War I, in 1919. Kitty Weekes has just lost her factory job in London. In her desperation she applies for a job at a remote hospital for mental patients, and she is accepted. She spends the last of her money getting there.
What had she expected, she isn't sure, but it isn't what she has found. The hospital is desperately understaffed, and despite her lack of real credentials, she muddles through her duties as a nurse. The men who are patients here are a mix from kind to cruel, from lost to angry. But one thing they all have in common is the nightmares. They don't talk about them, but they all know that there is more here than mental issues. Kitty's lack of knowledge and rebellious nature lead her to break the rules, but also complete the horrific tasks that she is given. When she learns of a secret patient, Patient Sixteen, she finds that she must discover the reason for the lack of information on him.
Given her past experience, Kitty is pretty good at reading people, and she finds that many of the men here turn out to be people that she cares about. She also finds that despite her lack of training, she's not that useless as a nurse as she thinks.
This is a story of ghosts intent on finishing what they started, and of men vulnerable to the influence of such spirits. This is a story of cruelty and madness, but also a story of hope and renewal.
I like the spunkiness of Kitty. She isn't about to give in and do what others want her to unless that is what she wants herself.

Ghost Girl

Finished July 12
Ghost Girl by Helena McEwan

This novel is set in the 1970s. Cath is thirteen and is the new girl at the Catholic convent boarding school in England. Her father works in the foreign service and she has not lived in England until now. Most recently, she was in South America.
Her older sister Very is at art school in London. When Cath has school breaks, she travels to London and stays with Very. Very cares deeply about Cath, that is clear, but Cath must find her own way, both at school and in London.
Luckily, I never had to go to boarding school, but I've been the new girl, and I felt for Cath in her uncertainty, her lack of knowledge of the current pop culture, and her nostalgia for the life she knew until now. Certainly at many times, the girls at school were cruel in the way only girls can be, but she is not the only new girl, and not the only one singled out for embarrassment.
What surprised me the most was the cruelty of some of the nuns who are teachers at the school. The teachers who weren't nuns seemed better, and not all of the nuns had cruel streaks, but some of them seemed to delight in making the girls' lives unhappy.
The novel is split into four parts, with the first and third parts being in London, the second part being at school, and the fourth part mostly at school until the end of term when Cath arrives back in London.
I found the writing very interesting, with Cath's thoughts often moving to school when she was in London and vice versa. Other than the words themselves, there is no indication of this change so it gives a real sense of the distracting nature of the thoughts at times.
Cath was a delight, a quiet girl, a thinker. She enjoys the astronomical facts she learns from the other new girl, Olive, sharing them with Very. She delights in the experiences she undergoes in London with Very's friends, for the most part. She likes being alone, sitting quietly with others, observing the world around her. School is not easy, but she finds it may not be as bad as she first thought, although there are moments that are worse than she imagined. This is a unique coming of age experience, uniquely told.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Never Saw it Coming

Finished July 11
Never Saw It Coming by Linwood Barclay

This novel is set in the town of Milford, like some of his other novels.
Keisha Ceylon is a woman who makes a living as a psychic, telling fortunes, and, as she sees it, giving hope to those who have missing loved ones. When she sees a Wendell Garfield and his daughter Melissa on television begging for help in finding Wendell's wife Ellie, she sees a potential client.
But when she encounters Wendell, her visions relating to Ellie's disappearance are closer to the real situation than she would have guessed, and stating them puts her own life in danger.
This novel is like a set of dominos, with each action leading to another in a way that seems impossible to predict or stop. The deaths accumulate in a way that the reader doesn't see until it seems too late to change the outcome.
Keisha is a con woman, but one who is trying to do her best by her son Matthew and one who is willing to work to survive. Her upbringing gave her a certain outlook and skill set that both led her to the life she lives and allow her to get herself out of a tight situation. She can think on her feet, and her reading of people likely helps in the line of work she has chosen.
Thoroughly enjoyable in a macabre sort of way.

The Invention of Wings

Finished July 9
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, read by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye

This novel is based on the real lives of two sisters during the early 1800s. The sisters are Sarah and Angelina Grimké some of the first women to fight for abolition and women's rights. The novel begins on Sarah's eleventh birthday in 1803 in her home in Charleston, South Carolina. Her mother marks the occasion by a move from the nursery to having her own bedroom as well as the gift of a slave girl, Hetty, who is ten.
Sarah is appalled at the idea of owning a slave, but her efforts to free Hetty are stifled. As the novel continues over the next thirty-five years, the narrative moves back and forth between Sarah and Hetty. Hetty is the name that the owners have given this slave girl, but Handful is the name that her mother has given her and the one she uses for herself. Because of the girls' similar ages, and Sarah's attitude towards slavery, the girls grow closer than normal for an owner and a slave. The Grimké household treats slaves better than many, but still has many instances of cruelty. It is one of these instances that is linked to Sarah's intermittent speech issues.
Kidd mingles the real facts of Sarah and Angelina's lives and the world they lived in, with the invented life of Hetty and her experiences, to create a story that is enlightening and emotive.
Sarah experiences love, loss, betrayal, frustration, embarrassment, and triumph over this time, but never loses sight of her promise to Hetty's mother Charlotte to do what she can to free Hetty. Hetty undergoes love, loss, torture, and happiness in her life, always striving for the right to do as she chooses.
The interactions between the two are nicely done, with Hetty always more grounded in the practical and the confident than Sarah. She often supports Sarah emotionally when Sarah becomes despondent. Sarah, and her sister Angelina, support Hetty in different ways, with material goods, permissions, and the gift of literacy.