Monday, June 22, 2020

The Darkest Evening (Vera Stanhope #9) by Ann Cleeves

The Darkest Evening (Vera Stanhope, #9)The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vera Stanhope is one of my favorite detectives both on TV and in Ann Cleeve's mysteries. This latest The Darkest Evening is my favorite of the novels so far!

The Darkest Evening differs from the others in the series because it reveals so much about Vera. Vera comes across an emergency situation and must interrupt a dinner party to seek help. This encounter occurs at the Stanhope family estate.

We know Hector was a difficult father - distant, mean, miserly, and belittling with strange habits. We know a little of how Hector lived and the small cottage that he had, where Vera lives now. But in The Darkest Evening we learn about Hector's family, his heritage, and how his family members regarded him. We learn Hector was a black sheep, the disappointing younger son who made scenes during family reunions and the awkwardness and discomfort Vera felt around her relatives.

But this time around Vera is the detective in charge of the investigation. As she seeks answers to the suspicious death, Vera uses her insights into the area and the people. This added complication for Vera gives this particular mystery an added dimension and it is a treat!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
  • ISBN-10: 132878150X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1328781505 Hardcover $16.99
  • Clarion Books (March 3, 2020), 272 pages.
  • Age Range: 10 - 12 years. Grade Level: 5 - 7

The blurb:
April 1880, LaForge, in Dakota Territory, strikes Hanna as promising.  It's a growing town with a railroad depot, a main street where Papa can open a business, and -- best of all -- a school.  Papa is ready to put down roots, and Hanna is more than ready to stop traveling.  She hopes they can make a home here.

But Hanna is half Chinese, and she knows from experience that most white people don't like to have neighbors who aren't white themselves.

Hanna has a plan, however.  She will go to school, find a friend, and then figure out how to reach the people who aren't friendly.  She is determined to make the people of LaForge see past her surface.

I recommend Prairie Rose whether or not you enjoyed Little House on the Prairie as a young reader.
Prairie Rose takes us to the Dakota Territories in 1880 and Linda Sue Park tells us a story of hope, adversity and perseverance from the point of view of a young girl.

In Prairie Lotus introduces us to Hanna, a half Chinese and half Caucasian young girl just as Hanna and her father reach the town that they have hoped to settle in. We learn that it has been a difficult journey and that it began soon after Hanna's mother died in Los Angeles after the riots.  Hanna's father sells supplies and has worked in railroad towns.  Hanna and her father have set up different shops ranging from dry goods to clothing supplies but they have chosen this town because they know the justice of the peace and know him to be a fair man.  They hope this means they can build their business and lives here.

This new town has a school and Hanna hopes to attend school and get her diploma. She dreams of work as a dressmaker, using the skills that her mother taught her and her own love of materials and design.  Hanna's been homeschooled all her life. Her father wants them to settle in, to avoid drawing attention, to bypass the hostility that comes when the other settlers learn that Hanna is half Chinese.

I found that I liked Hanna from the start.  It isn't just because she's the underdog, but because she has a strong sense of justice.  She's smart and cautious - she doesn't open up too quickly or reach out to be rebuffed. But she's always willing to make friends and is generous in her actions.   Hanna's hopes and worries are relatable. I like that Hanna is a planner - she dreams of school and making friends but prepares for rejection and mean pranks.  Hanna thinks of ways to avoid trouble but she isn't a doormat. It might scare her but she will pull herself together and speak up even when it is risky.
Park captures so well the emotions, the small moments that make a friendship and the injustices that bury underneath the skin.   I read Prairie Lotus straight through and was sorry when it ended.

About the Author:
Linda Sue Park is the author of A Long Walk to Water and the Newbury Medal winner A Single Shard.  She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family.  Visit her online at and on Twitter @LindaSuePark

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Long Call (The Two Rivers Series, Book 1) by Ann Cleeves

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
  • ISBN-10: 1250204445 - Hardcover $27.99
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (September 3, 2019) 384 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. Once loved and cherished, the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.
Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.
The case calls Matthew back into the community he thought he had left behind, as deadly secrets hidden at its heart are revealed, and his past and present collide.
In The Long Call, Ann Cleeves introduces another detective hero and begins the Two Rivers Series.  

Set in a remote, beach and tourism town in North Devon, we follow Detective Matthew Venn and his loyal team of detectives.  DI Venn is an unusual hero - gay, married and formerly part of a strict religious group.  A hard worker and a dedicated detective, Venn is not one to seek attention and prefers not to deal with the media.  Instead, Venn must balance the demands and laziness of his superior officer and the ego and flash of his younger detectives.   The politicking is one aspect of the detective's job, but Ann Cleeves makes the interpersonal and the backstory a strong part of The Long Call

Matthew's home life with his husband Jonathan gives another layer of emotion.  Indeed, Ann Cleeves makes each of the detectives come alive with their home life, their strengths and weaknesses. 

I'm looking forward to reading the next in the Two Rivers series. 

About the Author:
ANN CLEEVES is the multi-million copy bestselling author behind two hit television series―the BBC’s Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall, and ITV’s Vera, starring Academy Award Nominee Brenda Blethyn―both of which are watched and loved in the US. Her brand new Two Rivers series will launch in September 2019, with The Long Call.

Shetland is available in the US on Netflix, Amazon Video, Britbox, and PBS, and Vera is available on Hulu, Amazon Video, BritBox, and PBS.

The first Shetland novel, Raven Black, won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel, and Ann was awarded the CWA Diamond Dagger in 2017. She lives in the UK.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson
  • ISBN-10: 1620405466 Hardcover $30.
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (June 11, 2019), 464 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
For more than 5,000 years, "old" has been defined as beginning between the ages of 60 and 70.  That means most people alive today will spend more years in elderhood than in childhood, and many will be elders for 40 years or more.  Yet at the very moment that humans are living longer than ever before, we've made old age into a disease, a condition to be dreaded, disparaged, neglected, and denied.

Reminiscent of Oliver Sacks, noted Harvard-trained geriatrician Louise Aronson uses stories from her quarter century of caring for patients, and draws from history, science, literature, popular culture, and her own life to weave a vision of old age that's neither nightmare nor utopian fantasy -- a vison full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope about aging, medicine and humanity itself.

I find myself sharing stories from Elderhood with friends and family.  Elderhood discusses how the lack of resources and research placed on the treatment of older patients leads to uneven and inadequate medical treatment.  The is gap is attributable to doctors, hospitals, drug companies, etc but the dangers of errors - big and small - are almost incalculable. 

I found Aronson's Elderhood is as engrossing and as informative as Mukerjee's Emperor of All Maladies.  While Aronson focuses on anecdotes and examples more than Mukerjee's examples in medical history, Aronson writes clearly, succinctly and eloquently.  Elderhood is makes strong arguments for reform in medicine and I hope that doctors in all areas of medicine read this book.

About the Author:
Louise Aronson, MD is a doctor, writer, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Fransisco.  The author of A History of Present Illness, she has received a MacDowell fellowship, the Sonora Review proize, and four Pushcart nominations.  In medicine, she has been recognized with a Gold Professorship for Humanism, the California Homecare Physician of the Year award, and the American Geriatrics Society Geriatrician of the Year award.  Her writing has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, Narrative Magazine, New England Journal of Medicine, and Bellevue Literary Review. She lives in San Fransisco where she cares for older patients and directs UCSF Health Humanities.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
  • ISBN-10: 0062834304 - Hardcover $30
  • Publisher: William Morrow (June 4, 2019), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss.

 The blurb:
It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother - and then vanishes. 

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn't rejoin her family in America until age nine.  Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers, Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it's Amy's turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister's movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen.  But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth.  Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets. . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy's complicated family - and herself - than she ever could have imagined.

I'd loved Jean Kwok's earlier novels and was not sure how different Searching for Sylvie Lee would be.  I thoroughly enjoyed Searching for Sylvie Lee. It was unexpected and drew me in.  Kwok's earlier stories had focused on a young Asian American woman's coming of age story.  While Searching for Sylvie Lee  delivers this depth and drama as we learn about Sylvie and her sister Amy and their family's sacrifices, this latest work also incorporates a mystery.

When Sylvie Lee disappears while visiting her dying grandmother in the Netherlands, her younger sister Amy takes her first big trip overseas to find out what happened to her big sister.  Sylvie had always seemed so successful with her top grades, her Princeton degree, her old money WASP husband and her job as a management consultant.  Amy only starts to see the cracks in her sister's life when she is led to search for her sister.  

Searching for Sylvie Lee still has the sympathy and sensitivity towards the Lee family's difficult move to the USA but this is only one part of the family story.  As we learn about what her grandmother, her mother and father gave up, we grow to care about the Lee and Tan families.  Jean Kwok has delivered another heartbreaking, beautiful read. 

About the Author:
Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling author of Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and is taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world.  She has been selected for numerous honors, including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarian Association Best Book Award, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award international shortlist.  She received her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and earned an MFA from Columbia University. She is fluent in Chinese, Dutch, and English, and currently lives in the Netherlands.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes as adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes (adapted by Rebecca Stefoff)
  • ISBN-10: 1609809173 - Paperback $17.95
  • Publisher: Triangle Square (May 28, 2019), 368 pages. 
  • Grade Level: 7 - 9, Ages 12 and up
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewer's Program.

The blurb:
Weaving together the behind-the-scenes history of the Eiffel Tower with an account of the 1889 World's Fair in Paris for which the tower was built, Jonnes and Stefoff create a vibrant tableau of people and cultures meeting -- and competing.

Art, science, business, entertainment, gossip, royalty, and national pride mingle in an unforgettable portrait of a unique moment in history, when Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley became the toasts of Paris and Gustave Eiffel, builder of the tower, rose to the pinnacle of fame, only to suffer a tragic fall from grace.

Above all, the 1889 World's Fair revolved around two nations, whose potent symbols were the twin poles of the fair.  France, with its long history of sophistication and cultivation, and with a new republican government eager for the country to take its place at the forefront of the modern world, presented the Eiffel Tower - the world's tallest structure - as a symbol of national pride and engineering superiority.  The United States, with its brash, can-do spirit, full of pride in its frontier and its ingenuity, presented the rollicking Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody and the marvelous phonograph of Thomas Edison.

Eiffel, Cody, Oakley and Edison are just a few of the characters in Jonnes and Stefoff's dramatic history. There are also squabbling artists, a notorious newspaperman, and a generous sprinkling of royalty from around the world.  Some of them emerge at the close of the World's Fair of 1889 winners, some losers, but neither they nor any among the vast crowds attending the fair ever forgot what they saw there. The drama, colors, crowds and personalities that made Jonnes's bestselling adult book so fascinating and acclaimed, are all here in spades as adapted for middle grade and above by Steffof.

I ordered Eiffel's Tower in part for my niece and partly for myself.  The current Jeopardy champion James H. mentioned that he prepared for the championship by reading Young People's versions of nonfiction books because they convey the information in an engrossing manner.  Eiffel's Tower is an example of effective writing for young people.

Eiffel's Tower tells the story of the World's Fair in Paris, France in 1889, the anniversary of the French Revolution.  The French government holds a contest for a monument that will reflect France's progress and enlightenment.  Most European countries are still monarchies and most refuse to participate in the World's Fair.  The USA and France do compete and France is eager to prove its scientific prowess.

Eiffel's design is controversial and Eiffel's Tower goes into the difficulties that he faced with the engineering, the financing, and its execution. He dealt with labor strikes, with difficult weather, with vast engineering problems in the construction and even with the elevators.  Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff cover these issues clearly and without dumbing them down. Instead, she conveys information on competition, trademark, labor laws, partnership and distributorship agreements in a way that makes sense for ordinary people and for young people eager to learn.

Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff tell the story of the World's Fair through Eiffel, through Thomas Edison and his amazing technological inventions (and his disputes with his business partners) and his emphasis on self-promotion, through Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill who further enhance their reputations with the demonstrations of their shooting prowess.  But in Eiffel's Tower,  Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff do not gloss over the plight of the Native Americans that accompanied Buffalo Bill during his shows or of the workers that continued under difficult conditions to complete the Eiffel Tower in time for the opening of the World's Fair.

This is a book that shares stories and conveys information and makes another place and time come vividly alive.

About the Authors:
Jill Jonnes, who holds a PhD in American History from Johns Hopkins University, is the author previously of Eiffel's Tower, Conquering Gotham, Empires of Light, and South Bronx Rising.  Founder of the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust, she is leading the Baltimore City Forestry Board's new initiative, Baltimore's Flowering Tree Trails.

As a staff member of the 2010 Presidential National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, she wrote the first chapter of the report Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.  In the fall of 2011, she was a scholar studying Trees as Green Infrastructure at teh Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. Jonnes was also named a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar and has received several grants from the Ford Foundation.  She lives in the Baltimore area.

Rebecca Stefoff has devoted her career to writing nonfiction books for young readers.  Her publications include histories, literary biographies, an encyclopedia of maps, and  numerous books on science and environmental issues.  She has also adapted a number of landmark works in history and science, including Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, Charles C. Mann's bestselling 1493, and Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Tin Badges by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Tin Badges by Lorenzo Carcaterra
  • ISBN-10: 0345483928 - Hardcover $28.
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 27, 2019), 304 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
A top NYPD detective is pulled out of retirement to take down a notorious drug dealer. But will he risk the only family he’s ever had to crack the case?

As one of the NYPD’s most trusted “tin badges”—retired detectives brought in to solve cases that are beyond the reach of the everyday force—Tank Rizzo has faced off against some of the city’s toughest criminals without breaking a sweat. To tackle a case involving a dangerous kingpin known as Gonzo, Tank turns to his best friend and ex-partner, Pearl; a former mobster living out a seemingly quiet retirement as the owner of Tank’s favorite Italian restaurant; and a team of expert misfits he would trust with his life. But Gonzo will stop at nothing to defend the empire he's built, and won't hesitate to make it personal.

Then Tank gets a call telling him that his brother and sister-in-law, estranged from him for many years, have been killed in a horrific car accident. Tank is the only family left for his orphaned teenage nephew, Chris, although he knows his lifestyle is ill-suited to win him father of the year.

Chris moves in with Tank, and the two circle each other warily. It’s only when Chris reveals an interest in true crime and a genius-level skill with computers that they begin to bond. Chris’s skills may be exactly what Tank’s team needs to take Gonzo down—but getting him involved could put his life at risk.

I devoured Tin Badges in one day.  I hadn't realized that Lorenzo Carcaterra had also written one of my recent favorites, The Wolf, because the stories were very different.

Tin Badges is a detective thriller - set in today's New York with retired Tank Rizzo and his partner Pearl and their team of unorthodox crimefighters.  Tank and Pearl were forced into retirement after significant, debilitating injuries in the line of duty. While Tank and Pearl are unable to work as regular police, their Captain gives them cold cases to solve.

The latest cold case leads to an eruption of violence and a link to a dangerous drug ring. Just as Tank and Pearl undertake to solve this case, Tank's younger brother is killed and Tank takes in his teenage nephew, Chris. Chris has plenty of anger and resentment against the uncle that was absent his entire life.  But Tank and Chris share an interest in solving crimes/mysteries.  Chris is a tech wizard and wants to help the team solve the latest mystery.  When their investigation leads gun wielding criminals to attack those close to Tank, Tank and Pearl must decide how far to take the fight.

I loved the characters - beyond Pearl, Tank and Chris  we have Tank's girl friend, the daughter of a "connected" boss, the retired mafioso (old school and with principles), the unconventional crime fighting team and their close relationships.  Tin Badges introduces us to a team of unorthodox skills and players their adventure draws us in.  Tin Badges is an engrossing, fun read!

About the Author:
Lorenzo Carcaterra is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Safe PlaceSleepersApachesGangsterStreet BoysParadise CityChasersMidnight Angels, and The Wolf. He is a former writer/producer for Law & Order and has written for National Geographic TravelerThe New York Times Magazine, and Maxim. He lives in New York City and is at work on his next novel.