Sunday, September 5, 2021

summer reads

by Catherine Coulter РI almost didn't finish this book. In fact I was more than halfway through before I quit considering putting it down. Not because it got better really but just because I was already halfway through. The author cranks these out one a year, sometimes 2 a year, there's already 26 in this FBI series (I assume the main characters are in every one), and the writing shows it. This 'thriller' involves two cases really. Case 1: the young enough to be his daughter new wife of a senator, Rebekah gets a call from a medium saying that Rebekah's, grandfather who recently died after 15 years in a coma has contacted her and wants to speak to Rebekah. She goes to the s̩ance where her grandfather supposedly speaks through the medium Zoltan and a story he told her as a child about the 'Big Take' and the poem he made her learn and keep secret that would tell Rebekah where this money is. Rebekah is already financially well off and does not intend to tarnish her grandfather's legacy and walks out without divulging any information. The next day two men try to kidnap her but fortunately FBI special agent Dillon Savich witnesses and prevents the attempted abduction. Convinced it is connected to the medium Zoltan and the Big Take, the investigation is on. Meanwhile, case #2, Marsia Gay, in prison awaiting trial for attempted murder has a hard on for Savich who put her there and orchestrates her revenge from prison on Savich and his family and during the investigation of the mysterious puzzle he receives and the arson attempt on the life of his wife and child, they uncover another murder and blackmail scheme involving Marsia. I doubt I will pick up another of her books.

The Dead Of Winter by S. J. Parris – three novellas about the origin and beginnings of Giordano Bruno, the Italian-philosopher sleuth in 16th century England. I have not read any of the 6 books already published in this series but I think I'll seek them out. The writing is well done and came as a relief after the previous book. The following synopsis is an overview of all three stories rather than individually. Giordano Bruno, 15 year old son of a soldier from a small village in Italy, was born with a quick and inquisitive mind and whose only desire was to absorb all the knowledge he could but as a poor man's son his only avenue to learning was to take vows in a Dominican monastery in Naples. There he meets Friar Gennaro, the monastery's healer/physician who swears Bruno to secrecy and enlists him in his studies of human anatomy (forbidden) and through him a secret group of scholars who are engaged in learning and research also forbidden by the Catholic Church. By the time he's 21, his youth, his arrogance, the rumors of his familiarity with forbidden knowledge, his memory system that allows him to recite scripture forwards and backwards, and his complete unsuitability to a monk's life of prayer and faith which constantly gets him in trouble causes him to humiliate a visiting senior friar which results in a summons from the Pope, the head Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition before becoming pope, to appear before him to demonstrate his famous memory system. The Prior of the Naples monestary sends Bruno to Rome even though they fear this is a trick to get Bruno to incriminate himself to the Inquisition because you just don't ignore a summons from the Pope. And, of course, Bruno manages to get himself in all kinds of trouble before and after his Audience during which he barely escapes being sent to prison and the stake. His few allies manage to get him back to Naples safely where he faces a lifetime of constant scrutiny by the spies engaged by those who would see him burn.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – set in the late 1700s and as well as the present day, the story is told by three women, Nella and Eliza in the past and Caroline in the present day. Nella sat at her mother's knees and learned all of nature's bounty and healing properties as her mother dispensed to women only as the (male) doctors tended to dismiss women's ailments and complaints. And then Nella's mother caught a cold and died within a week when Nella was 22. Nella took over the apothecary and in her grief let a man into her heart and shop who betrayed her and turned Nella to dispensing a different kind of relief to women, ridding them of the men in their lives that hurt them. She hides the apothecary behind a false wall and waits for notes in the secret place to prepare the particular poison. One day 12 year old Eliza shows up on behalf of her mistress for the poison to kill her husband, a lech who has already impregnated one young serving girl who died in childbirth. Against her better judgement, Nella lets Eliza into her life which initiates a set of events that eventually lead to a poisoning that goes awry and discovery. In the present, Caroline, a woman who gave up her interest in history and a master's degree to get a good paying job while her husband set up his career to get to the point of having children. The day before a trip to London to celebrate their 10th anniversary, she learns her husband was having an affair and Caroline goes to London alone to determine what her future will be. On her first day she gets drawn into a mudlarking session on the river Thames and finds a small pale blue apothecary bottle with a crude etched image of a bear the only markings. She is sent to the British Library to see if she can find out more about it and embarks on a research project to find out more or find the lost apothecary. While she is researching and exploring her husband shows up unannounced and so is forced to deal with him before she is ready. In the end, Caroline finds herself and her future and the lost apothecary and pieces together most of the end of the lost apothecary. It's a good story, I enjoyed it.

Wonderland by Zoje Stage – While Orla focused on her ballet career with a NYC troupe, even regaining her position after the births of their two children, her husband Shaw worked jobs and tried out mediums for his artistic career. When it was time for Orla to retire at 40 and Shaw's turn to focus on his painting, they moved out of NYC to a small cabin in a remote area in the Adirondack mountains in the middle of winter. Almost immediately strange things start happening to and around Orla like the hallucination of a clumsily made snow dragon made by Shaw and their 2 year old son Tycho coming to life or the aurora borealis that can't possibly be that far south or the freak white out in which Shaw was trapped outside the house. She wonders if she is going crazy trying to adjust to the total isolation of the cabin after decades in NYC. Slowly she comes to realize that Shaw and their daughter Eleanor Queen are also suffering weird intrusions into their minds. Shaw closes himself in his studio painting constantly and the paintings are showing much talent but also strange imagery of a person trapped in the ancient towering pine behind their house. Orla finally concludes that there is something out there that is doing all this, preventing them from leaving the property, and wants something from them but she doesn't know what. After a tragic accident that causes Shaw's death Orla is determined to protect her children but every attempt to leave causes unreal weather events like a glacier at the end of their driveway. Orla must enlist the aid of 9 year old Eleanor Queen who is able to sense the thoughts of the Being as they try to communicate with it to find out what it wants, why it won't let them leave, and they are running out of food. They know the tree is dying and the Entity will die with it unless they give it what it wants. Can they outlive the tree so they can leave or will they die first from starvation or will they have to give It what it wants in order for them to survive. I found some of Orla's mental gymnastics to be repetitive but the ending, when I finally got to it, was good with a little twist.

Hour Of The Witch by Chris Bohjalian – set in Puritan Boston in the mid-1600s, 24 year old Mary Deerfield is married to a man old enough to be her father but there were few men then that were single and wealthy enough to be her husband, being the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in the colony. Thomas Deerfield was a widower with a grown married daughter, Peregrine, with children of her own but after five years of marriage, Mary was still childless and considered barren by her husband and everyone else. Mary's other fault was that she was intelligent and failed to hide the fact too often at a time when women were supposed to be meek and powerless and her husband Thomas used it as an excuse to 'discipline' her for her arrogance, telling her he was just trying to save her soul. He was a cruel man, especially when drunk, which he was often. One day when Mary visited the wharf to see what goods her father's ship had brought in she had an encounter with a young man, Henry, who proved to be the nephew of her father's business partner and though he sparked a feeling in her she should not, as a married woman, feel, she did not act inappropriately but that didn't stop her neighbor from chastising her. On that day, her father had imported 3 tined forks, a novelty, which she had brought home for her and Thomas and their servant girl Catherine but the religious were horrified at the devil's tines. Accusations of witchcraft were far too common and one day Mary discovered the forks buried in the garden in front of the house. She confronted Catherine asking if she had planted them which she denied but that night, Mary could not sleep and decided to put them back where she found them in the dark of night in an effort to discover who had planted them in the first place and while she was doing that Catherine awoke and saw her, accused her of being a witch and fled the house. The next day when she was explaining to Thomas why Catherine was not there, he took one of the forks and plunged it into the back of Mary's hand. Mary fled the house taking refuge with her parents and filed for divorce, which, of course was not granted as Thomas was very good about not having witnesses around during his cruelties. She is sent back to his house but is determined that this will not be her life. Soon enough she is accused of being a witch and stands once again before the zealot magistrates in control of her future. The story wraps up quickly and surprisingly in the last 10 pages. It's a good book and kept me engaged but not being religious myself all the religious mental recriminations as she tries to find her way, were a bit tedious.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – by the same author that wrote The Martian which hooked me with the very first sentence. I imagine it's hard to come up with a great second novel when your first takes the world by storm and everyone will measure it by the first. But Project Hail Mary is damn good. Ryland Grace wakes up in a strange place hooked up to the wazoo with tubes and electrical stimulators with no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he got there. He goes back to sleep. He's finally awake enough to realize that the other two beds are occupied by well preserved mummies, his only companion is the nannybot, arms that extend from the ceiling, that have cared for him and keep asking him what his name is. As his strength and memory slowly return and he gets access to the other parts of the ship, he realizes that 1. he is on a spaceship, and 2. that the sun he sees out there is not Sol but Tau Ceti, 12 light years away. Flashback and we learn that a Russian scientist accidentally stumbles on an arc of energy from Sol to Venus which is causing the sun to dim which is a catastrophe for Earth and a mission is sent to gather a sample from the arc. Grace, a middle school science teacher who walked away from a promising scientific career because his paper on non-water based life was roundly panned by his contemporaries, is drafted to determine if there are living organisms in the sample and if so learn as much about it as possible. He discovers that it is a living organism that lives on the sun absorbing energy and then migrates to Venus to procreate and then heads back to the sun to absorb more energy and repeat causing the sun to dim to lethal levels for humans. They have about 40 years before all life on the planet is dead. Further study shows several stars infected and dimming and Tau Ceti which is infected but not dimming. A no holds barred world wide effort to save Earth sends a suicide mission to Tau Ceti to find out why and hopefully send back life and planet saving data via 4 small robots. Back to the present, Grace has survived the induced coma, his shipmates did not, and while he is still remembering important stuff and learning how to operate the ship (he is the science officer, not the pilot) it's not long before he notices that there is another ship out there and it's not from earth. Turns out it's there for the same reason, two sole survivors of their missions desperate for help to save their respective planets. This is the heart of the story I think, and it's good.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – The Brat aka Victoria McQueen aka Vic is 8 years old when she leaves the house while her parents are fighting over her mother's lost bracelet and jumps on her bike and pedals into the woods behind her house where she discovers a bridge that was demolished, crosses it, and comes out at the very place her mother left her bracelet. Over the next four years, Vic 'finds' things that have been lost but at a terrible cost to herself. The last time she crossed the bridge looking for someone to tell her she wasn't crazy, she finds Maggie. Maggie explains there are others like her and Vic who can reshape reality and tells her she must stay away from Charlie Manx, an evil man who kidnaps children and takes them to Christmasland after sucking them dry leaving little monsters. Vic leaves Maggie, suffering from a tremendous headache, crosses the bridge, and somehow finds her way home without her bike, delirious and feverish for days. Her bike gone, Vic tries to live her life like any ordinary child, trying to convince herself that the stories she made up about finding the things she found were the truth and not the magical bridge. At 17, after a fight with her mother (her parents now divorced) Vic storms out of the house, sneaking in later she finds her bike hidden in the basement all these years, she grabs it and goes looking for trouble. She finds it in the form of Charlie Manx and his vintage Rolls Royce with the license plate 'NOS4A2'. She barely escapes with her life, Manx is captured, decades pass while Vic fights for her sanity, and then Manx is dead...until he isn't and he is out for revenge. He snatches Vic's son Wayne and now Vic must rescue Wayne before it's too late and Manx takes him to Christmasland but first she must come to accept the unreal as real. This nearly 700 page book had me in fight or flight mode practically the whole time.


  1. I, too, have given up on Catherine Coulter. There is a sameness to the books now. That last book sounded pretty weird and awful. Good book reports!

  2. When a series'starts to read as if machine made I wonder if it's really ghostwritten by uncredited writers. Happens more than we realize, once there's an established format, characters, plots and an audience.

  3. I don't usually read these book posts carefully, because there's not a chance I'm going to read one, but I do skim them. This time, I ran across a word I've never heard: mudlarking. When I looked it up, I found this cool article. Now I want to go to London and muck about in the Thames!

  4. Ooo - there are several here I might add to my list. Which is currently so long that I'll probably never finish it... I need to do my book post, but I'm not feeling it today. Maybe tomorrow!

  5. There is nothing worse than trying to slog through a book that feels like work. (Re. your first selection in the list.)

  6. My kindle died and I had to buy a new one. I like the larger font size for reading. I ended up reading a 'real' book and also the Kindle book. Both involved a mystery, murder in or near a castle. Both were really different so I did not mix them up.

  7. I'm soooo impressed you read all these books this summer. What is wrong with me that I only meandered through three books all summer, that last still in progress. My attention is so fractured, but yours is firing on all cylinders! Kudos, and thanks for the reviews.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.