Friday, June 16, 2017

Blog Tour - Murder Between the Lines: A Kitty Weeks Mystery by Radha Vatsal

Murder Between the Lines (Kitty Weeks Mystery, #2)
ISBN-10: 1492638927 - Paperback $15.99
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (May 2, 2017), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
When Kitty Weeks's latest assignment writing for the New York Sentinel Ladies' Page takes her to Westfield Hall, a well-regarded girls' school in New York City, she expects to find an orderly establishment teaching French and dancing -- standard fare for schoolgirls in 1915.  But there's much more going on at the school than initially meets the eye.  Kitty especially takes note of the studies of Elspeth Bright, the daughter of a scientist heavily involved in naval technology, who has inherited her father's interest and talent for scientific inquiry.

I love historical fiction and detective novels and am excited to review the latest Kitty Weeks mystery.   Like Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple, Radha Vatsal's Kitty Weeks is a journalist for a women's magazine working around the time of WWI and the years thereafter.  While Daisy lost the family estate when her father and brother died and the fortune passed to the next male heir, Kitty Weeks lives in luxury in Manhattan with her widowed father.    Kitty's social connections and wealth allow her to access exclusive circles. She's able to identify and understand incongruities that would have been lost to the less socially savvy.  Fortunately, Kitty is both likable and socially liberal so while she spends time at the Waldorf Astoria or among "The First Four Hundred" we cheer for her and appreciate the peek into the New York's high society. 

In Kitty's second adventure, Murder Between the Lines, Kitty meets a brilliant young woman scientist during her visit to Westfield Hall.  When young Elspeth Bright is found dead in the snow, her mother asks Kitty's help to find out what might have led her daughter to Central Park in the middle of the night.  Kitty's investigations take her back to Westfield Hall, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to investigate the manufacturing and use of batteries, a new and untested technology and to suffragette meetings at the Waldorf.  Jealous girlfriends, good-looking executives, women's rights advocates and an unexpected visit from President Wilson -- Radha Vatsal brings this time period to life and delivers an unusual mystery.

About the Author:
Radha Vatsal is the author of A Front Page Affair, the first novel in the Kitty Weeks mystery series.  Her fascination with the 1910s began when she studied female filmmakers and action-film heroines of silent cinema at Duke University, where she received her PhD from the English Department.  She was born in India and lives with her husband and two daughters in New York City.

Radha Vatsal's Murder Between the Lines is the second book in the acclaimed series featuring rising journalism star Kitty Weeks.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  • ISBN-10: 0062654195 - Paperback $16.99
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017), 528 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
1947.  In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family.  She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive.  So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915.  A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy.  Sent into enemy occupied-France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies," who manages a vast networks of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.  

More than 30 years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house.  Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the matter where it leads.

I enjoy historical novels but am particularly drawn to British heroines, so the brave spy in The Alice Network broke my heart.  I expected to enjoy the espionage, the adventures, the risks that these women spies undertook but was fully drawn into the world of Eve, Lilli, and their comrades.  

As Kate Quinn describes England and France after World War II and during the German occupation of World War I, it is easy to understand how the period remains such a large part of cultural awareness even as we are nearing the 100 year anniversary of World War I.  

As Quinn deftly shifts from the two periods, Eve and her past shine through.  Her companions during the "present day" 1940s are strong, determined and finding their way. The characters of The Alice Network stayed with me long after I'd finished the story.  If you enjoy period mysteries and spy novels, lose yourself in the brave women of The Alice Network.

About the Author:
Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California.  A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome saga, and two books on the Italian Renaissance.  All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Adhieh

Flame in the Mist by Renee Adhieh
  • ISBN-10: 0399171630 - Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (May 16, 2017), 416 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
There was only ever one expectation for Mariko, a prominent samurai's daughter: that she would marry. Her twin brother was the one trained in the way of the warrior while Mariko was left to nurture her love of science and invention in secret.  But on her way to the imperial city, where she was to meet her betrothed for the first time, her convoy was attacked and everything changes.  The assassins kill everyone -- or so they think. Despite almost being burned alive, Mariko escapes.

Driven by vengeance, she flees the forest and seeks out her would-be assassins, the Black Clan, joining their ranks disguised as a peasant boy.  She's determined to discover who ordered her death and why -- and to make them pay.  Little does she expect to find a place for herself among the Black Clan.  A place where her talents and intellect are appreciated.  Little does she expect to fall in love.  And never did she expect to have to choose between them and everything she's ever known.  But when the secrets of the imperial city, the Black Clan, and her family converge, choose is exactly what she must do.

Flame in the Mist is the first in a new series by Renee Ahdieh. Set in a mythical medieval feudal Japan, it follows the story of the twins of a high ranking feudal samurai as they are starting to come into their own. The older male twin Hattori Kenshin is known as the Dragon of Kai for his courage and skill as warrior. The younger sister Hattori Mariko is chosen to marry into the Imperial family.  While Kenshin is popular and well regarded, Mariko is often seen as too intelligent and too blunt to conform to society's expectations.

After Mariko's convoy is ambushed and all her attendants and guards murdered, she runs away into the woods.  Mariko undertakes to infiltrate the closed rogue group, the Black Clan.  Before the attack, Mariko had been pampered and protected.  But with her world and resources gone, she finds that she's able to think on her feet and to save herself from dangerous situations.  Mariko is an engaging heroine with her commitment to the Code of Bushido, her creativity and resourcefulness, her determination to be honorable while being forced to remain in disguise.

Mariko pretends to be a young, penniless boy with scientific and military skills.  Okami, one of the leaders of the Black Clan, doesn't know what he finds unsettling about the new recruit  "Sanada Takeo" and he fluctuates between distrusting him to wanting to give Takeo and his inventions a chance.  Takeo/Mariko is surprised to find friendship and companionship among the Black Clan as well as a greater sense of belonging than she had as the daughter and heiress of the Hattori clan.  But Mariko must push past her discomfort and the sense that she is betraying her friends in order to discover who betrayed the Hattori, who is behind the plot to have her killed and what their true goal is.

Flame in the Mist is a deeply engrossing, fun adventure where honor, loyalty and identity force good people into heart wrenching situations. Politics, martial arts, and the code of the samurai all give this story an added level of complexity. Highly recommended!

About the Author:
Renée Ahdieh is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog.

Lisa Scottoline's Exposed - the next in the Rosato & DiNunzio series

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline
  • ISBN-10: 1250099714 0 Hardcover $27.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (August 15, 2017), 352 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
Mary DiNunzio wants to represent her old friend Simon Pensiera, a sales rep who was wrongly fired by his company, but her partner Bennie Rosato represents the parent company.  When she confronts Mary, explaining this is a conflict of interest, an epic battle of wills between the two ensues--ripping the law firm apart, forcing everyone to take sides and turning friend against friend.
My mother introduced me to Lisa Scottoline's legal thrillers when I was at UPenn Law school. Scottoline's thrillers center around young women lawyers, UPenn Law graduates who somehow become entangled in investigations that involve murder or a horrific crime. Scottoline has two manin heroines: Bennie Rosato - athletic (nearly made the US Olympic crew team), so focused she comes across as cold and determined, a brilliant litigator and appellate attorney, name partner in the firm. Mary DiNunzio, the younger lawyer, formerly an associate in Rosato's firm. Italian American from South Philadelphia who has strong ties to the community. She knows nearly everyone in the neighborhood and has developed a strong practice helping small businesses and individuals solve their problems. She'd prefer to settle cases than litigate them. She is great at helping people cut through red tape and regulations.

In this latest novel, Exposed, Scottoline gives both Rosato and DiNunzio equal billing as leads. The story begins with DiNunzio having been promoted to partner in the firm. When her father and family friends bring a case of illegal termination to her attention, Mary decides to take it on without doing the requisite conflicts check. It turns out that Simon, the dismissed employee, works for a subsidiary of Bennie and the firm's oldest and largest clients, Dunbarton. Bennie tells Mary that they're conflicted from taking the case, but Mary decides to dissolve the partnership instead of decline the case.

The interaction between Bennie and Mary lead us to think through the nature of partnership, of loyalty, and of individual responsibility. As the employment case goes forward, sudden violence leads to murder and both Bennie and Mary put aside the employment issues and join forces to solve the murder. Exposed is one of my favorite Scottoline novels so far. It gives us a fuller insight into both of her lead lawyers and is a testament to friendship.

About the Author:Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels including her most recent, THINK TWICE, and also writes a weekly column, called Chick Wit, for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has won many honors and awards, notably the Edgar Award, given for excellence in crime fiction, and the Fun Fearless Female Award from Cosmopolitan Magazine. She also teaches a course she created, called Justice and Fiction at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and regularly does speaking engagements. There are twenty-five million copies of her books in print, and she is published in over thirty other countries.Lisa graduated magna cum laude in three years from the University of Pennsylvania, with a B.A. degree in English, and her concentration was Contemporary American Fiction, taught by Philip Roth and others. She graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She remains a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her array of disobedient pets.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike
ISBN-10: 1524759449 - Hardcover $25
  • Publisher: Crown (May 23, 2017), 256 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
When her parents died in a plane crash, the last thing twenty-year-old Catriona Menzies-Pike knew how to do was grieve.  One day she'd been a punked-out art student worrying about her semiotics thesis, the next she was answering questions like Where will the family live?  What will you do with the house? The following decade was a period of searching--hard drinking, bad living--and though Catriona made it through in one piece, it often felt as if she was barely holding it together.

Something changed when, at age thirty, she signed up for a half marathon. Her enthusiasm surprised no one more than her, until she recognized that during the years of her coping with her parents' deaths she had already been "preoccupied with distance and endurance."  She realized running, a "pace suited to the precarious labor of memory," was helping her to process the loss in ways that she had been, for ten messy years, trying to run from. 

As Catriona excavates her own past, she also grows curious about other women drawn to running. What she finds is a history of repression and denial--running was thought to endanger childbearing, and as late as 1967 a Boston Marathon official tried to drag a woman off the course, telling her to "get the hell out of my race" -- but also of incredible courage and achievement.  Cartoon intertwines the stories of women who defied convention with her own journey of coming to terms, in what becomes a fierce and moving testament to our power to reshape the stories the world tells about us and the ones we tell about ourselves.

The Long Run is a memoir by a young woman in Sydney who hadn't identified as an athlete or a runner.  The books and articles that she'd read about running seemed to focus on ambitious, Type A people or on self improvement or weight loss.  Menzies-Pike shares her own story of how running opened up a "new geography" of her home city.  She discusses books about running from the point of view of a reader (as compared to reading the books as a runner).  With self-depreciating humor shines through whether she discusses what first women marathoners faced in 1896 or her family anecdotes or her own travel stories, Menzies-Pike delivers an engaging, well thought-out discussion.  Her book is about running but it is also about determination, perseverance, and taking control while keeping a sense of humor.

About the Author:
Catriona Menzies-Pike is the editor of the Sydney Review of Books. She has worked in digital media for a decade and her journalism and essays on feminism, literary culture, and politics have been widely published. She holds a PhD in English literature and has taught film, literature, journalism and cultural studies units to undergraduates since 2001. In 2008 she ran her first half-marathon, and five marathons and dozens of half marathons later, she's still running.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd (A Bess Crawford Mystery)

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd
  • ISBN-10: 0062386271 - Hardcover $ 25.99
  • Publisher: William Morrow (August 30, 2016), 304 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Publisher.

The blurb:
France, October 1918.  Though the war is nearing its end, the German enemy refuses to go quietly. During a nighttime barrage, British stretcher bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds, clinging to life at the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire.  The soldier is brought to Bess Crawford's aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a base hospital.

Surprisingly, the officer isn't British -- he's wearing the tattered remains of a French uniform.  And even stranger, when he shouts out in anger and pain, he speaks in fluent German.

When Bess reports the incident to the hospital's matron, her weary superior offers a plausible explanation.  The soldier must be from the Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which was won by the Germans. Of course, Matron could be right. Still, Bess remains uneasy -- and unconvinced. What was a French soldier doing so far from his own lines. . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight? And if he is Alsatian, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?

Before she can inquire further, Bess is wounded while helping to evacuate soldiers from the battlefield.  Sent to Paris to recuperate, she discovers that her mysterious soldier is also in the French capital. . . but has disappeared.  Could he have been the infamous German spotter for the "Paris Gun" that is the talk of the Allied Army? It had shelled terrified Parisians earlier in the year, then fell silent. Or could he be involved in some other dark treachery?

With the unexpected help of Captain Barkley, the congenial American whose path crossed with hers once before, the intrepid Bess -- a soldier's daughter and dedicated nurse -- embarks on a dangerous hunt to find the man and uncover the truth, even at the risk of her own life.

I am an avid fan of historical mysteries in general and of these Bess Crawford mysteries in particular.  This latest novel gives us the familiar sense of frustration as Bess ignores her safety to take on obligations and make difficult promises to virtual strangers in order to fulfill her sense of honor and justice. There are junctures where I was begging her to tell Simon or another military ally what dangers she faces, but Bess is determined to assert her independence and follow her instincts.  It's both admirable and foolhardy.  Her instincts take her to considerable danger and to the dark world of espionage.

The Shattered Tree does have those heartwarming moments when Bess and character shine through. She wins the loyalty of the people she meets and many soldiers who she's treated are fiercely protective.  I find it satisfying when her personality comes across and strict officials recognize the value of the work that she does.  Bess is determined, smart, fearless to the point of being near foolhardy - she's an endearing heroine.   The Shattered Tree takes us on another satisfying adventure!

About the Authors:
Charles Todd is the author of the Bess Crawford mysteries, the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, and two stand-alone novels.  A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
ISBN  0062388959 - Paperback $15.99
William Morrow Paperbacks (January 10, 2017), 400 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return....

In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai.  Jialing is zazhong--Eurasian--and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she's led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother's protection, she can survive only if the estate's new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.

Dialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries.  But Jialing's life as the Yangs' bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.

Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love. . . Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother.  Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.

Dragon Springs Road takes us to China at the turn of the century, close to the time of the Opium Wars, of foreign missionaries teaching Chinese religion and English, when women suffered foot binding and family restraints on their freedoms, education, opportunities.  

We meet our heroine when she is 7 years old, living with her mother in an remote compound.  They are friends with a "fox spirit".  Her mother has a wealthy patron who occasionally visits for an evening (during which Jialing stays out of sight).  When Jialing's mother's patron goes bankrupt, her mother leaves for a short trip -- and does not return. While Jialing stays on the estate as a bondservant of the new owners, she learns what it means to be alone, Eurasian, and poor.  Jialing is tough, positive, and loyal -- as she faces all sorts of prejudices and problems, she finds friends and ways to survive.  Dragon Springs Road delivers a satisfying tale of a young girl with ambition, smarts, and bad luck living in a quickly changing China.  Janie Chang's story drew me in from the start.  If you're interested in China in this period, it's a wonderful read!

About the Author:
Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She has a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer's Studio Program at Simon Fraser University.  She is the author of Three Souls.