Micro-Reviews, December


I’ve been reading a lot, but not finding much time to write full-on reviews. So, here are some micro-reviews, all for books that are either just published, or coming out in the next few months.

8703F7E4-AA98-463F-9179-F2CB1EB0CEA1Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins – New fantasy series get started all the time; some are better than others. This one, my friends, is going to be EPIC! There is nothing here not to love, from the gorgeous cover to the big, fat, luscious story that features women in non-traditional roles (well, at least one of them!) The power held by the women in this story is remarkable, even if some of the characters aren’t always likable. Bluebell is a character to remember. Is there anyone like her in literature today (I haven’t read Game of Thrones, so maybe there is…). Even so, she is the alpha and omega here, the male and female, hero and antihero, and oh, how I love her! Highly recommended.
Publication Date: March 2018

 

2A530BA3-E296-46CF-A7B5-6FF5B4FD18BBChord of Evil by Sarah Rayne – Sarah Rayne has become a go-to author for me – I eagerly read anything she writes, and I constantly recommend her to people in the library and friends in my Reader world. Rayne has a remarkable ability to weave history, horror, mystery, and a little bit of romance into can’t-put-it-down books. She succeeds again with Chord of Evil, the second in her Phineas Fox series. Not every author can pull off a parallel narrative with one set of characters in the present day and another in the past. Rayne has mastered this technique in previous books, and uses it again here as we learn the present day story and how it entwines with the past. If I have one issue with this book, it’s Phin’s reaction to actually meeting the fabulous Arabella in person. He’s disappointed? Are you freaking kidding me? At that moment, Phin is pretty much a jerk, but he comes around. Despite this one issue, this is a winner.
Publication Date: December 2017

72ADCE41-784A-46A7-BC38-AE7768839B2EThe Darkling Bride by Laura Anderson – This transported me back to the 1970s, when I would spend hours browsing the Gothics section of bookstore and library shelves. Everything I loved about Gothics is here – the spunky heroine with a tragedy in her past, the brooding but ridiculously handsome “lord of the manor,” his disagreeable sibling, and the forbidding matriarch – all squished up together in a remote castle or manor with a mystery and maybe a few ghosts. If you love Irish folklore, you will love this book. The story here is original and well developed, the characters appealing, and the outcome satisfying. I had a hard time putting this one down. Recommended for lovers of mysteries & family drama, and for the YA audience.
Publication Date: March 2018

400E1E62-1235-4258-B8FD-77893114B8EADemon Crown by James Rollins – James Rollins delivers another pulse-pounding, action-packed, roller-coaster ride of a story. Once again, we’re dropped down into the world of Sigma Force, and are carried along with the action as Gray and the team race against time to stop a deadly enemy from ending the world. There’s no question about Rollins’ writing ability. He *knows* how to write in a way that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let you go until the very last moment, when you need to breathe more than anything in the world. And that definitely happened here. I’m still having dreams about those effing bees! There are a lot of authors writing action-adventure like Rollins, but where he draws ahead of the pack is in his ability to weave non-fiction elements into whatever global disaster he’s cooked up. In Demon Crown, we learn about bees, a little bit about Imperial Japan, and about amber. Pair that with likable, kickass characters, and there’s no way this one won’t shoot to the top of the charts. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: December 2017

Hide A Book Day – September 18


HideABookDayDid you hide a book today? I did!

I hid this lovely book somewhere in downtown Rochester. It didn’t take long for someone to find it and pick it up. Where did YOU hide books today, or did you find a book?

 

 

 

 

 

 

EmmaGoodreads, that corner of the internet occupied by Readers, turns 10 years old this year. To celebrate, they have partnered with the Book Fairies to create Hide a Book Day, scheduled for September 18. What is Hide a Book Day? Literally what it says – you pick a book you really love and leave it somewhere in public for someone else to find and enjoy.

I found out about this whole Goodreads/Book Fairies partnership too late to order the stickers they are recommending you put on the books, but really, the stickers aren’t necessary. Just write a personal note on the inside of the book and leave it. Someone picks it up and starts reading. Bam! Same result.

The Book Fairies are based in the U.K. and are probably best known for their most famous “Fairy” – Hermione Granger herself, Emma Watson. She has hidden copies of the books discussed in her book club, Our Shared Shelf, and is a self-proclaimed Reader.

Hide a Book Day reminds me a bit of World Book Night, which used to be celebrated on April 23. We in Rochester participated in that a couple years in a row and had a blast handing out free books to people all over the area. The good will that activity generated was immeasurable.

If you live in the Rochester area, you know we have a problem with literacy. Local newspaper columnist Erica Bryant wrote about Rochester’s reading crisis just a few days ago, positing that solving our literacy issue would go a long way towards affecting the other issues that go hand in hand with illiteracy – unemployment, poverty, and crime.

How do we, as a community, tackle this issue? It’s not through another task force, initiative, or blue ribbon panel. It’s grassroots. It’s Readers. It’s you and me, talking to the community about books, giving books away, helping people learn to read. If you want to make a difference in our community, try some of these actions:

  • Go see Bob Mahar at Literacy Volunteers and sign up to be a tutor and actually help someone learn to read.
  • Volunteer at a school or daycare and read to kids a couple times a week.
  • Model your own reading behavior whenever you can. Talk about what you’re reading.
  • Always carry a book with you and be willing to give it away or leave it somewhere for someone else to enjoy.
  • Organize a book drive to collect new and gently used books for schools and libraries to give away.
  • Start a Little Free Library in your neighborhood.
  • Wear Reader gear as often as possible. Try BookRiot, Out of Print, and Bas Bleu for ideas. Identify yourself as a Reader with a capital R.

Finally, on September 18, Hide A Book! Hide dozens of books! Share the love…our community will thank you!

Anticipated Fall Releases


Autumn is my season for many reasons, not the least of which is the slew of brand new books that hit the market. Here are some I am anticipating:

September

Blood Card by Elly Griffith – The third in Griffith’s Max Mephisto series and every bit as good as the earlier entries. In this case, Max, his comrade in arms Edgar, and his daughter Ruby help foil an anarchist’s attack during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Secret History of Witches by Louise Morgan – See my full review of this captivating tale of a line of Romani witches.

October

Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – If you loved Practical Magic, this prequel is a must-read. Telling the stories of the Aunts and Sally & Gillian’s parents & grandparents from Practical Magic, as well as filling out the history of the Owens family, this one gives you all the feels.

Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle – See my full review of this wonderful story where fantasy and fairy tales collide.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – A story of love, kindness, and humanity revolving around three people brought together by accident in Brooklyn. And really…it’s Isabel Allende. How can you go wrong?

Strange Weather by Joe Hill – Thinking this will be just the ticket for the cold, dark days leading up to Halloween. Horror stories from the current Master of the genre.

Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire – Maguire takes on the Nutcracker story in this imaginative look at the German origins of the story blended with the tale of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves the title character.

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush – A funny, readable memoir from the former First Daughters.

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan – The first official biography of the man who shaped rock-n-roll and defined generations through the last four decades. Total juiciness!

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake – A fresh take on the Manson Family from its youngest member who helped prosecute Charlie and the others.

December

Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – I’ve been waiting for the sequel to Arden’s clever, lyrical debut, The Bear and the Nightingale. This is it. For anyone who loves Russian folktales, or a skillful blend of fairytale, adventure, and romance featuring a strong female lead.

What are you anticipating this fall?

 

Reading Apps

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A couple days ago, my friend Mr.Book (aka Jason Vigorito) posted a question on Litsy asking everyone to list their favorite reading or bookish apps. I dutifully went off to look at my Reading folder, and realized I might have a teeny-tiny problem.

I have A LOT of book-related apps. However, they are all there for a purpose, meaning I use most of them at least once a month. Some are better than others, some are spectacular. I thought I’d share them with you here.

Apps for Reading E-Books

I source my e-content from multiple locations, and some require different apps to download and open the content.

  • Kindle – probably my most frequently used app. Judge me if you will, but I adore Amazon.
  • Bluefire Reader – an alternative to Kindle which I use most often to open advanced reading copies from NetGalley.
  • Aldiko Reader – another alternative, when Bluefire won’t format the content in a readable size.
  • Adobe Digital Editions – the Momma of PDF readers. Sometimes a little quirky depending on which device I’m using.

Apps for Acquiring Content

I read widely – current fiction and non-fiction, stories, essays and recipes published in earlier centuries, self-published work, longreads, shortreads, and so on. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Overdrive/Libby – The BEST source of free content, offered through your local public library. As a New York resident, I have library cards for my home (Monroe County), New York Public Library, and Brooklyn Public Library, which triples the amount of content I can access. The Overdrive app has dramatically improved since it was first launched so downloading and opening content is a breeze.
  • BiblioBoard/Self-e – Provides access to classics, rare volumes, and independent publishing.
  • Playbooks – Provides access to reading content via GoogleBooks.
  • Audible – The best source for quality e-audiobooks. Pricey, but they often run amazing deals.
  • BookShout – Another source for purchased content which frequently offers great deals.
  • Open eBooks – I have access to this huge database of children’s books because I am a librarian and have worked to make this content available to kids who qualify for it. This was an initiative of the Obama Administration.
  • Serial Reader – Very like “Chapter a Day,” an email reading “club” from the 90s. A portion of a selected title (usually a classic) is pushed to your app daily. This is one I use less than most. I have found that Wuthering Heights is no more engaging in small chunks than it is in full.
  • Simply-e – The fabulous app from New York Public Library that makes selecting, downloading, and reading from their enormous e-book collection a total snap. You’ll also find content here that is not available in other library collections.
  • Gutenberg – Gives you access to a variety of public domain books.
  • FanFiction – A treasure trove of fan fic, heavy on the sci-fi/fantasy side but still entertaining.

News Readers

I use fewer news readers, but do find different content on each that I regularly check.

  • Pocket – You can save longreads from various websites to Pocket so you can go back later when you have time to spend with your selections.
  • Flipboard – Aggregates stories based on my preferences; I really like the grid layout of the app.
  • Feedly – Sort of a grown-up version of a RSS aggregator.
  • Medium – My current favorite for longreads written by real people on topics that matter. Each article tells you how long it will take to read. Slightly similar to Reddit in that articles get more exposure as people “like” them.

Miscellaneous Apps

  • NYPL Biblion – This was an early product from NYPL that opened access to some of their marvelous collecitons of images and documents. Get lost in the World’s Fair, or Frankenstein collections. My iPad keeps telling me Biblion is not compatible with future versions of iOS, so I hope NYPL updates it.
  • BookOut – This is a neat little app that lets you track how long you spend reading.
  • Litsy – I’ve saved the best for last, so I hope you’ve read all the way through. Litsy is the best thing to happen to Readers…maybe ever. Simply put, this is a mashup of Instagram and Goodreads and is a community of people who (gasp!) are nice to each other! There’s no judgment – people share romances next to graphic novels next to classics next to whatever.

So, are you beginning to see why I say I am a Reader with a capital R? I hope you check some of these apps out and find one or two that speak to you.

The Library of Light & Shadow by MJ Rose


IMG_0110MJ Rose continues the La Lune series begun in Witch of Painted Sorrows with this story of Delphine Duplessi and her gift of painting people’s secrets. The pattern is familar to fans of the La Lune series – a passionate love affair gone wrong, a young artist struggling with her gift, and people who want to use her and her gift in nefarious ways.

We first meet Delphine in New York City, where she is engaged to a wealthy young man and is the current cause celebre at all the fabulous parties where she performs her “party trick” of drawing people’s secrets while blindfolded. That, you see, is her talent. Having been blinded at age 8, then her vision miraculously restored by her witch of a mother, she can see all the things people want to keep secret when she puts on a blindfold, or when she looks in a mirror. Her talent is a form of scrying and makes her constantly in demand at parties, until one night when the “party trick” reveals a dangerous secret that results in tragedy.

Shocked and numb, questioning her art and her purpose, Delphine slides into a deep depression, rescued only when her twin, Sebastien, arrives to take her home to France. Once there, Delphine continues to struggle with her art, refusing to put on the blindfold again in fear of creating more tragedy. At the same time, Sebastien, who is also Delphine’s manager, pushes her to put the blindfold back on and resume her work, specifically for Madame Calve, who wants Delphine to draw the secrets of her castle in order to find a valuable book hidden there for centuries. Underpinning all this is a failed and painful love affair, which is what initially sent Delphine to NYC. We learn about her passionate affair with Mathieu through entries in Delphine’s diary, all leading up to the two meeting face to face at Madame Calve’s.

Rose layers on more fascinating detail to the world of the Duplessi’s with each entry in this series, while still keeping some key elements common to each story. In addition, there are connections to and mentions of characters from Rose’s earlier books worked in throughout, which add a great deal to the world-building going on here.

My only issue is the pace of the storytelling, which is super slow for the first half, then very rushed at the end. For me, the best part of the story is what happens once Delphine and Sebastien get to Madame Calve’s, which doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. All the angst and self-pity Delphine experiences in the first half just bored me, as did her diary entries about Mathieu. Rose is known for incorporating some pretty steamy sex in her books, and that remains true here in the diary entries; however, I find it is getting repetitive and not adding much to the story. I wish there had been less of the first half and more of the second half of this book. I found the ending to be very rushed and would have liked to see a resolution between Delphine and Sebastien, given the surprising revelation that occurs near the end.

All that said, I continue to be fascinated with the world of the Duplessi’s and all who inhabit it. The story is, as always with Rose’s work, captivating. I expect the final entry in the La Lune series will focus on youngest sister, Jadine, who can read people’s tears. I look forward to it!

Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald


IMG_0117The concept of this book strongly appealed to me: a young woman visits a dying midwestern town and revives it by opening a bookstore. To anyone other than a complete and utter Book Fool, this sounds….improbable-dull-ridiculous? To me, it sounds like love.

Sara Lindquist sets out from her home in Sweden (yes, that’s right. Sweden. The Country.)  to visit Amy Harris, a woman in Iowa with whom she has corresponded for a while. The two bonded over books, and Sara feels she knows Amy’s hometown of Broken Wheel, Iowa through Amy’s descriptions of the people and places there. For Sara, this is a huge step forward out of a quiet, unremarkable life as a bookstore employee. Sara’s anticipation of an entertaining visit talking with Amy about books is deflated upon her arrival when she discovers Amy has died. But then a remarkable thing happens. The town takes her in as Amy’s guest, just as though Amy were still alive. Sara comes to really know all the people Amy wrote about, and their stories, blended with the quiet desperation of a dying town, change course as they merge with Sara’s own story.

Truth be told, I nearly gave up on this book after the 100 pages. There wasn’t much happening and it just seemed incredibly sad. However, all the positive reviews this was getting kept me pushing through, and I am glad I persevered. The pace of the story remained slow through much of the book, but it accurately matched the pace of life in a town slowly fading away…until the last quarter of the book, that is, when everyone’s story seems to speed up and change.

The author uses Sara as a catalyst for change in this little town. Her arrival sets in motion a whole pattern of events that dramatically change the lives of several Broken Wheel residents. It’s as though Sara is Amy Harris’ parting gift to the people she loved, and that Broken Wheel is her gift to Sara.

This is a gentle, homey type of story that will appeal to book clubs, especially those in small towns. Bivald has captured some of the sadness and helplessness felt in Small Town America, but tempered that with the message that things can always change.

Helen by Anita Mishook


IMG_1299A dream turned inside out. That was California.” Helen Rice, the protagonist in Anita Mishook’s masterful debut novel, Helen, certainly finds truth in this statement. We first meet Helen as she travels from New York to California to join her older sister and her family in lovely Glendale, California. The sisters, Polish Jews orphaned jointly by the Great War and influenza, survived great hardship and made it to New York, where Sarah labored to ensure Helen acquired the best education possible. Now an adult, Helen finds herself drifting and decides to join Sarah, her husband Harry, and their two children in the land of golden opportunity.

However, Helen soon learns that sunny California has a dark and dirty underbelly which includes gangers, corrupt cops, and Nazis. Helen, passing as a “Good German Girl,” becomes the darling of a dangerous group of Nazi supporters known as the Silver Shirts. At the same time, Helen’s friend from New York, a spy for the Anti Defamation League, arrives and immediately enlists Helen as a spy. Helen, by default, begins to live a dangerous double life, culminating in foiling a Nazi plot and triggering a new life as a double agent.

Mishook, a psychologist, developed Helen’s story out of research into her own family history. She uncovered evidence of the emergence of an American Nazi Party in California in the 1930s as she researched her mother-in-law’s immigration from Poland to California, and spun that family history into a readable, informative novel. There are wonderful and disturbing nuggets of historical information here about the motion picture industry and American Nazis, much of which I never knew. Mishook’s writing is smooth and conversational, and she handles dialog well, especially given this is her first novel. The character development is skillful, resulting in some very well-drawn personas. Helen, for example, walks a fine line between irritating, charming, shallow, and badass. She’s a rather vain, unformed young woman who has drifted through her life pretty much guided by her older sister. We watch her move from uncertain girl still depending on older sister Sarah to tell her what to do, to a more confident, daring young woman who has a purpose.

Other characters like Harry and Ralph are interesting, while Joe and Winona could have used a bit more development. However, these characters all fit their roles just fine and contributed what was needed to the story. If I have one quibble with this story, it’s a small one. Sometimes authors really, really like a descriptive phrase and tend to repeat it multiple times throughout a book. That happened here, with the author repeatedly describing Helen as “chewing the soft interior of her cheek/lip” during moments of uncertainty. By the end of the book, the inside of Helen’s mouth should have been a bloody pulp if she chewed her cheek so much! But, that is a minor quibble with an otherwise wonderful book. I hope Mishook continues to produce novels and am looking forward to her next one! Recommended.

Most Anticipated Books in 2014

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When I was assembling my “Best of 2013” lists, I also asked friends, family and colleagues what books they were most anticipating in 2014. Quite a variety!

January 2014

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen – Patricia Uttaro – From the author of New York Times bestseller Garden Spells comes a beautiful, haunting story of old loves and new, and the power of the connections that bind us forever…

Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen – Patricia Uttaro – Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs – Patricia Uttaro – This sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Pandemic by Scott Sigler – John Scalzo (Irondequoit Library) – The entire human race balances on the razor’s edge of annihilation, beset by an enemy that turns our own bodies against us, that changes normal people into psychopaths or transforms them into nightmares.

February 2014

Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffamn – Patricia Uttaro -With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band by Alan Paul – Patricia Uttaro – One Way Out is the powerful biography of The Allman Brothers Band, an oral history written with the band’s participation and filled with original, never-before-published interviews as well as personal letters and correspondence. This is the most in-depth look at a legendary American rock band that has meant so much to so many for so long.

March 2014

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie – Patricia Uttaro – A favorite series! In the tradition of Elizabeth George, Louise Penny, and P. D. James, New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie delivers a powerful tale of intrigue, betrayal, and lies that will plunge married London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James into the unspeakable darkness that lies at the heart of murder.

Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You by Greg Gutfield – Patricia Uttaro – From politics to the personal, from fashion to food, from the campus to the locker room, the desire to be cool has infected  all aspects of our lives. At its most harmless, it is annoying. At its worst, it is deadly, on a massive scale.  The Cool are the termites of life, infiltrating every nook and cranny and destroying it from within. The Cool report the news, write the scripts, teach our children, run our government—and each day they pass judgment on those who don’t worship their coolness.  The cool fawn over terrorists, mock the military, and denigrate employers. They are, in short, awful people.

The Wicked by Douglas Nicholas – Patricia Uttaro – Something evil has come to reside in a castle by the chill waters of the North Sea: men disappear and are found as horribly wizened corpses, knights ride out and return under an enchantment that dulls their minds. Both the townspeople and the court under Sir Odinell’s protection live in fear, terrorized by forces beyond human understanding. But rumors of a wise woman blessed with mysterious powers also swirl about the land. The call goes forth, and so it comes to be that young apprentice Hob and his adopted family—exiled Irish queen Molly, her granddaughter Nemain, and warrior Jack Brown—are pitted against a malevolent nobleman and his beautiful, wicked wife.

April 2014

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige – Patricia Uttaro – The other girl from Kansas must travel to Oz to deal with a power-hungry, corrupt Dorothy.

Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems – Tonia Burton (Central Library) – The Pigeon needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to get the Pigeon to take the plunge.

June 2014

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon – Sally Snow (Monroe County Library System) – In her now classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon told the story of Claire Randall, an English ex-combat nurse who walks through a stone circle in the Scottish Highlands in 1946, and disappears . . . into 1743. The story unfolded from there in seven bestselling novels, and CNN has called it “a grand adventure written on a canvas that probes the heart, weighs the soul and measures the human spirit across [centuries].” Now the story continues in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.

July 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness – Patricia Uttaro – After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception.

August 2014

Lock In by John Scalzi – John Scalzo (Irondequoit Library) – Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

Disclaimer: all links go to Amazon, and annotations have been borrowed from there as well.

 

Playing Catch Up


I’ve been reading, reading, reading, but, alas, not writing. Here’s a down-n-dirty recap of my recent reading adventures….

  • Discovery of Witches & Shadow of the Night by Deborah Harkness – Discovery had been on my wait list for months, and I finally got around to it just before Christmas. I roared through it, and went right on to the sequel, Shadow of Night. Wonderful stories, both, which will appeal to those of you who like supernatural-historical-romance. Quick synopsis: a repressed witch uncovers a long hidden book of serious magic in the Bodleian, attracts the attention of a 1500 year old vampire, and ends up going back in time to 1590 to sort things out.
  • A Murder at Rosamund’s Gates by Susanna Calkins – Read the ARC from Netgalley and enjoyed this debut from an author who reminds a bit of Jill Paton Walsh. A raw and honest description of Restoration England and a spunky, smart young maid who embarks on a private investigation to save her brother from the hangman make this a pleasant enough read.
  • Inspector Ravenscroft series by Kerry Tombs – I stumbled on this series via some mindless browsing on Amazon and spent a couple weeks plowing through the series of four books – The Malvern Murders, The Worcester Whisperers, The Ledbury Lamplighters, and The Tewksbury Tomb. All decent enough mysteries set in 1880’s England. An unusual twist on Jack the Ripper provides some suspense in the series.
  • Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience by William Blake – I try to re-read something “classic” every year, and I was reminded of how much I love Blake by a reference passed by a friend online. I found a beautifully illustrated digital versi0n of Blake’s masterpiece and immersed myself in his weird but wonderful world for a time.  So worth it.
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – Had to have something less fiery than Blake, so I turned to Whitman’s collection of some of the most evocative words ever written. So gentle.

Lots of quick, little mindless mysteries filled in the gaps, although there wasn’t a whole lot of time to fill in. My goal for 2013 is to read more nonfiction. Any suggestions?

The Scroll


Not long enough to be called anything but a short story, The Scroll is somewhat of a departure for Anne Perry. The reader is immediately introduced to Monty Danforth, a bookstore clerk hard at work unpacking boxes from a new acquisition made by his employer. At the bottom of the last box, he finds a mysterious scroll. Unrolling it, he discovers patchy writing in a language he thinks is Hebrew. He attempts to copy it, but the copies come out blank; the same thing happens when he photographs the mysterious scroll. As he tries to come to grips with the idea that the scroll is something very special, a man named Judson Garrett and a young child appear in the store, offering to buy it. Their appearance is followed by two other potential buyers, one a Prince of Church and one a scholar.

Monty seeks advice from a friend who recognizes the language as Aramaic, and dates the scroll to the time of Christ. Monty frantically attempts to contact the store owner, and eventually travels to his home, where he finds the man burned to death and the house tossed upside down. Monty eventually comes to believe the scroll is the lost Gospel of Judas Isacariot, and he suspects each of the three buyers have devious motives for wanting to acquire the scroll. He invites them all to the shop owner’s home for a private auction, where all hell breaks loose.

This cautionary tale reminded me of classic folktales in which antagonists appear in groups of three to torment or aid the protagonist. Perry causes the reader to speculate upon who each antagonist represents and why they want the scroll, while at the same time identifying with Monty as he struggles with whether he should allow the information in the scroll to be released to the world. Perry has offered up a delicious little morsel of a tale that blends philosophy, theology, and hubris, all in a neat package. Very nicely done.