A SEASON OF REVENGE by P. J. Dunn

This is a murder mystery set in the 1800s in St. Louis.  It stars a retired police officer who is pressed back into service to solve a strange murder of Doc Baker’s wife.    While dealing with the scene of the crime, loose floorboard were discovered, revealing three more bodies in the cavity, all women, all dressed in yellow.

Working on the solution to the crime takes Sgt. O’Hara and his confederates into the world of voodoo queens and kidnapping, and maybe even a serial murderer.

Lots of unexpected twists in the story,  and an ending that was just right.

My small gripe about the book is  its tumble into anachronisms from time to time, such as calling the area of murder the ‘crime scene’,  and talking about the ‘evidence techs’ who would examine the findings at the scene.  Then there was the reference to the ‘wide area bolo’,  and none of these would have been called that back in either 1881, 1886, or 1896.   I have read a number of detective stories written in the late 1880s and early 1900 and none of them used those terms.   Which brings me to my other nit, as long as I am picking.  The date of the murder is given as happening in three different years, in different places in the book.

Still, all in all, a pretty nifty story and mystery, (and I LOVE a good mystery), but I would have liked to have seen evidence of some more meticulous content  editing.   There were a few redundant explanations of situations or people,  the anachronisms I spoke of, etc.   So don’t expect perfection, but do expect a fine story that moves right along with a steady pace, keeping the reader trying to get the jump on Sgt. O’Hara.

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THE TEACHER’S GUIDE TO SPYING by Daniel Abbott

TeacherThis book was a hoot!  Set in England, we have a likeable guy in his forties,  Gus Fox, who likes his life teaching school.  He likes the kids for the most part,  and is a caring guy for his autistic brother.   Alas, single since his divorce eight years ago,   the chick he has googoo eyes for is in a relationship with someone else, but they are still good friends…. again, alas, without any benefits.

Life is going along more or less swimmingly.  (Did you see what I did there?  That British expression?  I crack myself up.)  He is pressed into service against his will by some shady M15 character to spy on a Russian gangster.

OK, OK, you’re saying, whaaaaa, that would never happen.  OK, maybe not, but this is FICTION, people, F.I.C.T.I.O.N.  — the definition of which is Not Real.  Get in touch with your Inner Child and suspend belief for just a bloody minute.

Now where was I?  Oh, yeah.  So he gets recruited to spy on a Russian baddie type, and things escalate pretty quickly from marking test papers to nasty encounters with ……

Well written, although the first person narrative flow is somewhat interrupted by being chopped up into number segments, but so what. That isn’t going to diminish the high fives it gets from me.   It’s a fun read.

Anybody remember “I Spy” with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby?  I loved that show.

Ta-ta, cheerie boo, and khorosho moi druz’ya.

THE RECKONING by Glyn Smith-Wild

The-Reckoning_eCover-amazonThis is the third and final volume of a trilogy.  The first two were Sanctuary and then Repercussions, and now The Reckoning.

Ben Coverdale sees his love life take a nose dive when the chick he is enamored of leaves him to take up with some dude named Donald.  So Ben goes to the Loire Valley in France, and buys an old cottage which he restores and is hoping for a peaceful life.

Alas, this tranquil  life is not to be.  One of his lady friends insists on Mary, the runaway bride, come face to face with Ben in France to tell him she has left The Donald, and oh by the way, has a four-month-old boy who is Ben’s child.

Turns out The Donald is rather a nasty person who arranged for Mary to be killed, but the murder goes awry, Mary is saved, and now Ben is hell-bent-for-leather to find Donald and ….. well, I don’t know.  Kill him, I guess.

So in this third volume we meet some bottom feeders of the criminal class, some mid-level baddie types, and a criminal big cheese.

I must say that that following the activities of the malevolent Donald a/k/a several other aliases was delightful, as nothing seemed to go right for the dear boy.  C’est domage.  Karma is such a bitch.

Among the characters was the weeping girlfriend wannabe, and another gal kinda sweet on Ben.  Mary, as can be imagined, is not very happy with all that, but the weepy one goes back to England, thanks be to Buddha, and the other one actually helps out around the place, because they also have a cottage they rent out to tourists.

So, while Ben is doing what he can to find Mr. Nasty, he and Mary make plans to get married.

Romantic thriller-lite, surprise ending.    Something for everyone.  The Loire Valley sounds lovely.  Maybe I’ll get there myself some day.  Without the entourage with murderous intent, of course.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312I fell in love with Kim Stanley Robinson back when I read his Mars Trilogy.  That, coincidentally, is when I fell in love with Mars.  Now I am a card-carrying Mars-o-phile.

In 2012, he published 2312, which is mainly about Mercury, plus Jupiter and its moons, and Venus, and Earth.  It stars a long-lived chick named Swan Er Hong and a froggy looking man from Jupiter, Titan, to be exact, named Fritz Wahram.    There is also Inspector Genette, a small, and a number of other interesting characters.

What I really like about Robinson’s sci fi books is his wonderfully creative vision.   This is because of my almost total lack of one, so I can really appreciate a writer who sees whole worlds and their populations where I only see gases.

Mercury, being so near the sun, is probably never going to be terraformed and livable like Mars has become.  The sun just cooks everything while it is in the ascendant, and the only time you can be on the surface is at night. So the Mercurians came up with the splendid idea of building a city which sits like a giant train car on tracks.   As the sun rises in the east, the heat makes the tracks expand just a tad, which forces the city forward, away from the rising sun and its unbearable heat.   There have come about folks who are sunwalkers:

The sun is always just about to rise.  Mercury rotates so slowly that you can walk fast enough over its rocky surface to stay ahead of the dawn;  and so many people do.  Many have made this a way of life.  They walk roughly westward, staying always ahead of the stupendous day. Some of them hurry from location to location, pausing to look in cracks they earlier inoculate with bioleaching metallophytes, quickly scraping free any accumulated residues of gold or tungsten or uranium.  But most of them are out there to catch glimpses of the sun.

There are loading platforms at regularly spaced intervals and you can hop onto the city as it passes from these platforms.

More cool stuff:   there are in orbit several thousand ‘terreria’, asteroids that have been hollowed out and environments designed for their interiors. such as savannahs, beaches, mountain regions, etc. and into which have been placed animals from earth, as a way to save them for future repopulation of earth.  These terreria have regular orbits and are very fast, so the ‘spacers’, those living in the various planets in space, use them as transport.

The city of Mercury, Terminator, is attacked, and derailed, and thus starts the search for the perpetrators, and the search for the reason for the attack.  It is suspected that the personal supercomputers which are owned by some individuals, our gal herself owning one which was implanted in her skull, may have somehow acquired consciousness, and are posing as ‘people’  on the various planets.

As in most of Robinson’s work, the themes of super longevity, eco sustainability, and gender diversification are prominent.  Our protagonist Swan is 137, her grandmother died suddenly at almost 200.   Earth is a mess with the ice caps melting, cities having been drowned,  rampant hunger and housing issues globally, the animals almost all gone.

One of the things I like about Robinson’s books is the minute detail of the landscape, and the minute detail of the characters’ minds and musings.  However, it can get a bit tedious, but frankly, all that detailed landscape description is what made me fall in love with Mars, so I ingest as much of it as I can before skimming over the wearisome and laborious  parts to get back to the action.

The novel won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and it is easy to see why.

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THE BACKSTORY OF WALLPAPER by Robert M. Kelly

wallpaperI admit it.  I am not ashamed.  I LOVE wallpaper.  As a matter of fact, I am a pretty good wallpaper hanger myself.  And when I walk into a room that has been papered, I can see instantly if the motifs match at the seams, how the corners are treated, and in fact, whether it is the teeniest bit off plumb.  I rock.  I am a wallpaper rock star.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled across this charming history of wallpaper and wall coverings covering the period 1650-1750, a serious history written in such a lovely manner that draws you into the history of how covering our walls with paper actually came to be.

Actually, papering the walls got its start in the Orient.  Westerners of the seventeenth century were amazed at the vast amount of paper used in Chinese interiors, and soon a brisk import business of ‘India pictures’ made especially for the West was established.

As our author tells us

there are four design-free traits of paper-hangings:  their uselessness, their portability, their cheapness, and the versatility.   Paper hangings are supremely useless.

Makes you think, though, doesn’t it.  Wallpaper is ‘useless’ when examined from a utilitarian point of view.   But we have been putting decorative images on our walls since the days of the cave people, so adapting paper for this decorative purpose shouldn’t surprise us in the least. Asa matter of fact, in the new world, with their walls made of wood boards instead of the more insulating wattle and daub houses of Europe, paper on the walls helped with the insulating factor.

And the British government soon found paper hangings useful:  as a nice source of income,  and began to tax them in 1712.  Figures, doesn’t it?

Papering the walls actually started with pasting up pictures above the fireplace mantle, , and with lining boxes, wardrobes, trunks and closets.  As paper manufacturing became more prevalent, larger pieces began to be made, and the upholders (or upholsterers   or what we call today the paperhangers) would join a number of individual sheets together to make up a piece large enough for a wall.  These were often sewn together.  Sewn?  Who knew!   It was a while before printed papers came in long rolls.

I think we might consider the early designs less than gorgeous because they tended to be large and flamboyant, often with black design borders.    Like this one:  miter closeAnd an example of those big prints:

set border

They were often put up with nails, using a frame with canvas underneath.

One last fun fact:  One guy in in the Netherlands in 1568 was beheaded for printing heretical ballads.  But what had happened was that his worker had printed them in his absence, and when he saw them, he refused to deliver them, and tossed them in a corner.  He subsequently used them to overprint them with ‘roses and stripes for the papering of attics’ (a common practice so as not to waste paper.)  All to no avail.   He lost his head anyway.  And so, wallpapering would seem to have a rather bloody beginning.

Every page of this book has interesting facts and anecdotes, and for those of you who love wallpaper, and for those of you who are history buffs, this is a wonderful book to read and keep on your shelf as a valuable reference.

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THE LIGHT NEVER LIES by Frances Guenette

Never LiesThis is the sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight,   which I have not had the pleasure of reading.   So although I am happy to say that is is a stand alone book,  before you get to the standing alone part, you have to get through the throngs of characters that come pouring off the pages at you.   It put me in mind of those 50’s movies ads for their “cast of thousands”.    At one point I thought I might need to set up an Excel spreadsheet to square away who was who and who was related to who else and all their backstories.  Whew!

But once I got past all that (which really wasn’t all that bad, I just like to exaggerate a smidge),  holy patoly, what a read!  It is all about the characters in a Canadian summer camp for abused/troubled teens, both the residents and the staff, and we are quickly caught up in the drama of their ongoing lives.   It seemed to me like an awful lot of drama, having conveniently forgotten my own family and its theatrics, but then I got thinking that we all know lots of people with their dramas and tragedies, so this wasn’t so rare after all.

And it all seemed so familiar.   Not the storyline, or the individual characters, but the general feel, the tone of the book.  And then it hit me.  Maeve Binchy.  I LOVED Binchy’s books because everybody seemed so real.  Well, so do all the folks in The Light Never Lies.   You find yourself saying to one character, “Cripes.  Get a GRIP.”  or  “She’s the one for you.  What are you waiting for?”  You know, stuff like that.  And then when your husband in the other room asks who you  are talking to, you have to make something up, like “It was the TV.”

The ending was satisfying, without being The End, if you know what I mean.  Kind of like episodes in our lives that end, but are not actually finished.  Does that make any sense?

I’m not going to get into the story or the characters, because it is complex and by the time I explain it all to you in enough detail for you to have some idea of what is going on, it will be tomorrow already.   Just know it is one of those books that could have twenty sequels and still not get through everybody’s lives.

Heartwarming, heartbreaking, all those kinds of adjectives.  Now I have to go read the first book.  I hate it when that happens.

THE SHROUD by David W. Moore

shroud1046 AD.  Monks, an Abbot.  I’m sucked in already because I love anything that starts off in medieval times, especially in monasteries.   It’s a weakness, I know.  So what we’ve got here in the middle of the Middle Ages is a monk obviously possessed by some force, ranting and raving about

When golems walk through firefly rain, when mankind lives in the heart of glass playing out vitrified un-lives in formless clouds, then there shall come to pass a great plague.  It will be the longest plague to threaten this world.

Wow.  I expected his head to twirl around in a full circle after he vomits green yak a la The Exorcist, but no,  after a lot more raving, he dies.  And those black shadow-y things — oh, did I forget to mention the evil shadowy things? — slink out of the monk’s cell.

Well!  Gonna be a little hard to top THAT act, but wait til you see what ensues!

Next we have some priests in modern times sneaking into where the shroud is kept — yeah, THAT shroud, the holy one with the alleged imprint of Christ’s face.   But they don’t steal it — they scrape off a little of the blood onto a small knife, replace it back in its container, and sneak out.

I know, you want to know when are we going to get to the cloning part.  Here is where we get to it.   They clone Jesus from that blood scraped off the shroud, hoping to bring goodness and peace back into the world and banish evil.  Yeah, well, nice try.  I don’t think playing God ever works out too well, do you?

The new Jesus is named Christian.   Makes ya wanna smile, doesn’t it.  Christian doesn’t live up to the hopes of his creators. In fact, he seems downright…… strange.  Worse than strange.  Bad.  Evil.  But how can this be?  That’s what happens when you mess with the Almighty.

The rest of the book drives relentlessly on to its inevitable conclusion.  Or is it inevitable?   The body count piles up, the supernatural nasties multiply, and we even get to meet Moloch and Samael.   Moloch in the Old Testament was one of those who sacrificed their children by fire and has been used figuratively in literature to refer to a person or thing demanding or requiring a very costly sacrifice.   Getting goosebumps here.    Samael was an archangel with often grim and destructive duties.  In the New Testament he is called Satan, and in Jewish lore, the Angel of Death.   You might get the idea that these two bode nothing good.  You would be right.

I will leave you with one last quote:

Why must prophecies always be spoken in riddles?

My thoughts exactly.

Bottom line:  well-written fast paced paranormal thriller with way more blood and gore than I like to contemplate, (which perhaps makes is a horror story as well?), great premise, and some wisdom about unintended consequences we can all take to heart.

Looks like there is a sequel in the works, because the title is Volume I, and because the ending….. well, read it yourself to see if you agree.