Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Germania: A Novel of Nazi Berlin by Harald Gilbers

Germania by Harald Gilbers

Germania: A Novel of Nazi Berlin by Harald Gilbers
ISBN-10 : 1250246938 - Hardcover $28.99  
Publisher : Thomas Dunne Books (December 1, 2020).
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:  Berlin 1944: a serial killer stalks the bombed-out capital of the Reich, preying on women and laying their mutilated bodies in front of war memorials. All of the victims are linked to the Nazi party. But according to one eyewitness account, the perpetrator is not an opponent of Hitler's regime, but rather a loyal Nazi.
Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer, once a successful investigator for the Berlin police, is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced onto the case. Oppenheimer is not just concerned with catching the killer and helping others survive, but also his own survival. Worst of all, solving this case is what will certainly put him in the most jeopardy. With no other choice but to further his investigation, he feverishly searches for answers, and a way out of this dangerous game.

My review: Germania by Harald Gilbers is a gripping detective novel set during the 1940s in Nazi Germany.  When the novel takes place, Richard Oppenheimer lives in a designated "Jewish House" and is surviving on bare scraps.  His wife is a German but is excluded from her community and penalized because she married Jewish Oppenheimer.  As for Oppenheimer, he had won the Iron Cross during World War I and had been a highly respected homicide detective but has been forced out of his job.  

Oppenheimer wakes up in the middle of the night to find SS officer Volger in his bedroom. Volger takes Oppenheimer to a crime scene and requires Volger to assist in the homicide investigation.

Oppenheimer's situation and the dangers that he faces as a Jew in Nazi Germany are made apparent during the investigation.  Even as Oppenheimer is granted privileges in order that he can investigate unimpeded, he is aware of precarious position.  I was drawn into the story almost immediately.  Gilbers created a sympathetic character who faces terrifying odds and repeatedly proves his character and skill.   Germania is a detective mystery with an unusual premise told by a talented storyteller.  I'm looking forward to reading Harald Gilbers' next novel!

About the Author:  Harald Gilbers studied English and history in Augsburg and Munich. He is the recipient of the Glauser Prize for the best crime debut and the French Prix Historia for Odins Söhne (Odin’s Sons) for his first novel, Germania.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry and How to Do Better by Our Dogs by Shawn Buckley & Dr. Oscar Chavez


Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry and How to Do Better 
by Our Dogs by Shawn Buckley & Dr. Oscar Chavez
ISBN-10 : 1250260051- Hardcover $27.99
Publisher : St. Martin's Press (December 1, 2020), 320 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:  What's really going into commercial dog food? The answer is horrifying.

Big Kibble is big business: $75 billion globally. A handful of multi-national corporations dominate the industry and together own as many as 80% of all brands. This comes as a surprise to most people, but what’s even more shocking is how lax the regulations and guidelines are around these products. The guidelines—or lack thereof—for pet food allow producers to include ever-cheaper ingredients, and create ever-larger earnings. For example, “legal” ingredients in kibble include poultry feces, saw dust, expired food, and diseased meat, among other horrors. Many vets still don’t know that kibble is not the best food for dogs because Big Kibble funds the nutrition research. So far, these corporations have been able to cut corners and still market and promote feed-grade food as if it were healthful and beneficial—until now.

Just as you are what you eat, so is your dog. Once you stop feeding your dog the junk that’s in kibble or cans, you have taken the first steps to improving your dog’s health, behavior and happiness.

You know the unsavory side of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. Now Shawn Buckley and Dr. Oscar Chavez (founder and owners of Just Food for Dogs) and Wendy Paris explain all you need to know about unsavory Big Kibble--and offer a brighter path forward for you and your pet.

Review:  If you have a pet or plan to have a pet, I recommend reading Big Kibble.  The authors are not unbiased - they have created their own dog food company that uses whole foods fit for human consumption.  However, their interests in drawing attention to the problems in the dog food by Big Kibble are aligned with the interests of regular dog owners. They  raise important points and draw our attention to facts that are easy to gloss over.

There are currently a small group large food and agricultural companies that produce most of the dog food. Feed is not subject to the same level of regulation or supervision as human food and the ingredients and processing of dog food as described in Big Kibble is horrifying.  Reading it reminded me of reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle about the early days of canned meat production.  

Big Kibble also contains recipes for dog food so as you try to figure out what to feed your pet, you're able to make healthier food from home.  

About the Author:  Entrepreneur and founder SHAWN BUCKLEY and veterinarian and professor in clinical pet nutrition DR. OSCAR CHAVEZ are the owners of Just Food for Dogs, a pioneer and disrupter in the dog food industry, and the leading brand of dog food made with USDA approved whole foods, fit for human consumption.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

ISBN-13 : 978-1643854403 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher : Alcove Press (December 8, 2020).
Review copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley.

About the book: In the aftermath of World War II, Goh Junja is a girl just coming into her own. She is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. Confident she is a woman now, Junja urges her mother to allow her to make the Goh family's annual trip to Mt. Halla, where they trade abalone and other sea delicacies for pork. Junja, a sea village girl, has never been to the mountains, where it smells like mushrooms and earth. While there, she falls in love with a mountain boy Yang Suwol, who rescues her after a particularly harrowing journey. But when Junja returns one day later, it is just in time to see her mother take her last breath, beaten by the waves during a dive she was taking in Junja's place.

Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father. Everywhere she turns, Junja is haunted by the loss of her mother, from the meticulously tended herb garden that has now begun to sprout weeds, to the field where their bed sheets are beaten. She has only her grandmother and herself. But the world moves on without Junja.

The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan's forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops. Junja's canny grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea's occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. When Suwol is arrested for working with and harboring communists, and the perils of post-WWII overtake her homelands, Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she's ever known.

My review: Sumi Hahn's The Mermaid from Jeju captivated me from the start. I didn't know much about the Japanese invasion of Korea or the Korean war before reading this book. In The Mermaid of Jeju, we learn the story of Junja Goh at the end of her life in America. Her husband and two daughters are mourning her, preparing her funeral. Her husband has started to dream of ghosts and as he tries to calm his life, he decides to return to South Korea and Jeju Island.

The novel switches from the present to the past and we learn Junja's story as a young girl. She is the eldest daughter and a powerful swimmer, one of the famous divers of Jeju Island. She learned this skill from her grandmother and mother - women equally famous and well respected for their strength and skill. Junja has been sent on an errand to deliver live abalone to a family in the mountains. The trip is long, difficult and exhausting and Junja travels on foot with the burden on her back. She meets Suwol, the firstborn son of the house, during this trip and he becomes an important part of her story.

We learn of the violence and cruelty of the different occupiers of Jeju Island - from the Japanese to the Americans and the Mainlanders. As we learn of the difficulties that Junja and her family have gone through, we get a sense of the difficulties the South Korean people had to endure. The Mermaid from Jeju is told with humor, sympathy and beautiful prose.

#MermaidfromJeju #NetGalley

About the Author:  Sumi Hahn was born in Korea and immigrated to the United States when she was a year old. A former English teacher, she got her Bachelor's in English literature from Harvard University and her Master's from UC Berkeley. She was a columnist for the Times Picayune in New Orleans and has written on food and music for various publications in Seattle. Sumi and her family now live in New Zealand but divide their time between Korea and New Zealand. The Mermaid from Jeju is her first novel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

In Her Tracks (#8 of 8 Tracy Crosswhite series) by Robert Dugoni

In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite, #8)

In Her Tracks by Robert Dugoni

ISBN-10 : 1542008379 Paperback $15
Publisher : Thomas & Mercer (April 27, 2021), 384 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

The blurb:  What family secrets are behind two disappearances? Seattle detective Tracy Crosswhite is determined to uncover the truth in the latest installment of New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni’s heart-stopping series.
Returning from an extended leave in her hometown of Cedar Grove, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself reassigned to the Seattle PD’s cold case unit. As the protective mother of an infant daughter, Tracy is immediately drawn to her first file: the abduction of a five-year-old girl whose parents, embattled in a poisonous divorce, were once prime suspects.
While reconstructing the days leading up to the girl’s disappearance, Tracy is brought into an active investigation with former partner Kinsington Rowe. A young woman has vanished on an isolated jogging trail in North Seattle. Divided between two critical cases, Tracy has little to go on except the treacherous deceptions behind a broken marriage—and now, the secrets hiding behind the closed doors of a deceptively quiet middle-class neighborhood.
To find two missing persons, Tracy will have to follow more than clues, which are both long cold and unsettlingly fresh. Given her own traumatic past, Tracy must also follow her instincts—to whatever dark and dangerous places they may lead.

My review:  I am a huge fan of the Tracy Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. As In Her Tracks makes clear,  Detective Tracy Crosswhite worked hard for every promotion and award. No one smoothed her way but she's proven herself many times over and won the respect of her colleagues. She's not free from the intrigue and politics that permeates the workplace. Certainly, her police chief takes great pleasure in making her life difficult.  This latest time is particularly bad. Tracy  returns from a leave of absence to find another woman has been given her slot in Serious Crimes and been assigned to her partner.  Tracy can take a lateral move to Cold Cases where she would work alone and be subject to greater emotional distress or she can retire.  And she's given the day to decide. 
Cold Cases had been managed by one officer and he cared deeply about the victims. He appeals to Tracy's empathy with the victims and their families.  Though Tracy expects that Cold Cases will be difficult emotionally, she takes it on. 
Soon, her old partner asks for her help with an active case -- a young woman has been abducted and might still be alive.  Tracy investigates but under the cover of her cold cases.  As she zeroes in on a suspicious family, she searches for dark secrets and another young woman who went missing.  
Dugoni delivers another suspenseful and satisfying mystery in In Her Tracks. We are drawn into Tracy's struggle but even the antagonists are human.  In Her Tracks gives us a well developed, character driven mystery.  I read straight through the night and am looking forward to finding out what is next in Tracy Crosswhite's life. 
About the Author:  Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York TimesWall Street Journal, and Amazon bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series, which has sold more than six million books worldwide; the David Sloane series; the Charles Jenkins series; the stand-alone novels The 7th CanonDamage Control, and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, for which he won an AudioFile Earphones Award for narration; and the nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary, a Washington Post best book of the year. He is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Book Award for fiction and has twice won the Friends of Mystery Spotted Owl Award for best novel. He is a two-time finalist for the International Thriller Awards and a finalist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, the Silver Falchion Award for mystery, and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards. His books are sold in more than twenty-five countries and have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Visit his website at www.robertdugonibooks.com.

Prodigal Son (An Orphan X Novel #6 of 6) by Gregg Hurwitz

ISBN-10 : 1250252288  Hardcover $ 27.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books; 1st Edition (January 26, 2021), 432 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Minotaur Books and NetGalley. 

The blurb:  As a boy, Evan Smoak was pulled out of a foster home and trained in an off-the-books operation known as the Orphan Program. He was a government assassin, perhaps the best, known to a few insiders as Orphan X. He eventually broke with the Program and adopted a new nameThe Nowhere Man—and a new mission, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. But the highest power in the country has made him a tempting offer—in exchange for an unofficial pardon, he must stop his clandestine activities as The Nowhere Man. Now Evan has to do the one thing he’s least equipped to do—live a normal life.
But then he gets a call for help from the one person he never expected. A woman claiming to have given him up for adoption, a woman he never knew—his mother. Her unlikely request: help Andrew Duran—a man whose life has gone off the rails, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, bringing him to the deadly attention of very powerful figures. Now a brutal brother & sister assassination team are after him and with no one to turn to, and no safe place to hide, Evan is Duran’s only option. But when the hidden cabal catches on to what Evan is doing, everything he’s fought for is on the line—including his own life.

My Review:  Even though I've read every Orphan X novel over the past few years,  it took reading Prodigal Son to remind me just how much I missed the character Evan Smoak.  I'm a bit of thriller/mystery fiend and these Orphan X novels are a bit like stepping into a righteous James Bond scenario.  Except in Prodigal Son you peek into just how awful things were for young Evan as an orphan growing up in the system.  When this is juxtaposed against his incredible physical and mental skills and his sense of justice, it is hard to stop reading. 

In this last installment, Evan has won a pardon which can be revoked if he undertakes to save another person as Nowhere man.  Evan has started to live a normal life - meeting people, relaxing, appreciating his gorgeous condo, etc. Just as he was starting to relax he gets a call for help from someone claiming to be his birth mother. She asks him to step back out as Nowhere Man and to save someone in a dire situation.  The victim has had all sorts of bad luck but has been trying to do right by his young daughter.  Incurred all sorts of debt but is up to date on his child support, etc. As Evan weighs the consequences of helping versus walking away, we can't help but be so upset at the unfairness of life and drawn into the story.

I should have been working on my taxes, tidying up our home, getting ready for our move, etc. but all I wanted to do was read Prodigal Son.  So, if you're looking for a satisfying escape - grab this book. If you have tons of things you need to get done ASAP, you'll be hard pressed to put this book down.

About the Author:  GREGG HURWITZ is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including the #1 international bestseller Orphan X, the first in a series of thrillers featuring Evan Smoak. He has also written young adult novels: The Rains and its sequel, The Last Chance. Hurwitz's books have been shortlisted for numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been translated into twenty-eight languages.

Hurwitz is also a New York Times bestselling comic book writer, having penned stories for Marvel (WolverineThe Punisher) and DC (Batman). Additionally, he has written screenplays for many major studios and written, developed, and produced television for various networks.

Hurwitz resides in Los Angeles with two Rhodesian ridgebacks.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

ISBN-10 : 1728209390 - Paperback $10.99
Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire (April 7, 2020), 320 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks and NetGalley.

The blurb:  Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?

Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate's colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate's problems, and she needs the money too.

If the two of them team up, Nate has a real shot of winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact…

My Review: If I could give Suzanne Park's debut novel  The Perfect Escape 10 stars instead of 5, I would! When I think of debut novel, I am excited but am willing to overlook holes in the plot or flatness in the characters.  The Perfect Escape doesn't feel like a debut novel because the characters of Nate Kim and Kate Anderson are so well crafted!  They come alive so clearly and their humor, foibles, generosity and kindness shine through.  

There are villains a plenty among the private school classmates that Nate deals with.  But Nate's closeness to his family and his relationship with his 5-year old sister are so real.  Suzanne Park captures the sacrifices that Nate's parents make and their frugality is treated with sympathy and humor.  Even a non-Korean American understands the relationship, the expectations, the difficulty and the pride that Nate must have in his parents' persistence in the face of poverty and no safety net.  

If  you are looking for a funny, heartwarming boy-meets-girl story, you'll be glad to find that The Perfect Escape also contains bullies, zombies, overstretched parents, helicopter parents, entrepreneurial zeal and a double dose of humor. 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks #SuzannePark #AsianAmericanLiterature #KoreanAmericanWriters #NetGalley

About the Author:  Suzanne Park is a Korean-American writer who was born and raised in Tennessee.   In her former life as a comedienne, she appeared on BET, was the winner of the Seattle Sierra Mist Comedy Competition, and placed as a semi-finalist in NBC's "Stand Up For Diversity" showcase in San Francisco.  

She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, female offspring, and a sneaky rat that creeps around on her back patio. In her spare time, she procrastinates.

The Silver Shooter (3rd of 3 in the Rose Gallagher series) by Erin Lindsey

ISBN-10 : 1250623448 - Paperback $17.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (November 17, 2020), 352 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of Minotaur Books and NetGalley.

The blurb: It's the spring of 1887, and Rose Gallagher is finally coming into her own. She's the proud owner of a lovely little home near Washington Square, where she lives with her mother and friend Pietro, and she's making a name for herself as a Pinkerton agent with a specialty in things . . . otherworldly. She and her partner Thomas are working together better than ever, and mostly managing to push aside romantic feelings for one another. Mostly.

Things are almost too good to be true―so Rose is hardly surprised when Theodore Roosevelt descends on them like a storm cloud, hiring them for a mysterious job out west. A series of strange occurrences in the Badlands surrounding his ranch has Roosevelt convinced something supernatural is afoot.

It began with livestock disappearing from the range, their bodies later discovered torn apart by something monstrously powerful. Now people are dying, too. Meanwhile, a successful prospector has gone missing, and rumors about his lost stash of gold have attracted treasure hunters from far and wide – but they keep disappearing, too. To top it all off, this past winter, a mysterious weather phenomenon devastated the land, leaving the locals hungry, broke, and looking for someone to blame.

With tensions mounting and the body count rising, Roosevelt fears a single spark will be all it takes to set the Badlands aflame. It’s up to Rose and Thomas to get to the bottom of it, but they’re against the clock and an unknown enemy, and the west will prove wilder than they could possibly imagine…

My review:  New York City during the Gilded Age has always fascinated me, so I've enjoyed reading Erin Lindsey's Rose Gallagher mysteries with fantasy.  Aside from supernatural phenomena, in Lindsey's world there is the concept of "luck".   Though only about 1% of the population has "luck"/supernatural powers, this special gift is prevalent among the wealthiest citizens.  In this 3nd installment,  The Silver Shooter, Rose Gallagher is further from her role as former housemaid and comfortable in her position as Pinkerton partner to her former employer the dashing and wealthy Thomas Wiltshire of Fifth Avenue/England.  Rose and Thomas work in the Pinkerton Agency's Special Branch and are hired to deal with supernatural problems/phenomena.  Rose Gallagher's special skills in identifying and dealing with the dead are critical to their investigations.

When Erin Lindsey takes us to New York City's Gilded Age, she doesn't hold back. In the previous book, Rose and Thomas worked to save Teddy Roosevelt's life during his unsuccessful run for mayor.   Roosevelt has luck in the form of his unusual charisma and a physical draw that he has on people.  This time, Teddy Roosevelt is back and has requested their help to deal with strange and large scale deaths of cattle in the Badlands.  

I like the characters and Gilded Age New York as Erin Lindsey paints it.  Lindsey gives us a diverse city with ethnic neighborhoods but there is respect for the different cultures and what the Asians ("Celestials") and other new immigrants (Italian, Irish, etc) face.  I like how Rose mingles and befriends people from the different communities from Chinese Mei and her father Wang to African American Clara and her family's longtime Italian tenant Pietro.  In Lindsey's New York the differences exist without animosity, racism or cruelty.  

As an aside, I've read books that proclaim their historical or cultural authenticity with open displays of prejudice.  Sure, the character may think and say "chink" or "gook"  but I don't have to spend time in that world with that character.  Even if I was getting into the book, the "chink" is enough to stop the suspension of disbelief and set me looking for something else to read. Rose Gallagher's books have the opposite reaction -- they are a sort of celebration of hope and it comes across clearly. 

In The Silver Shooter, we go beyond New York City to the Dakotas on the request of Teddy Roosevelt. Before leaving, Rose and Thomas approach Tesla to ask if he has any inventions that will help them identify "luck".  Telsa's abilities as an inventor are magnified by his "luck" working with electricity and inventiveness.  The appearance of historical figures in the narrative are a wink to the reader and much appreciated.

But the real problem that Rose and Thomas face is finding the cause of deaths of cattle and men in the Dakotas.  The destruction, thievery, loss of horses and cattle has increased the tensions between the ranchers and the Native Americans. The few Native Americans in the area have already been forced out of their land and homes but are in danger of being destroyed by the US Army on the request of powerful ranchers.  Thomas and their team must determine what is causing the attacks and find a way to solve the problem before the loss of another innocent life.  Rose, Thomas and their friends from New York's Fifth Avenue set risk life and limb.  In The Silver Spoon, Erin Lindsey delivers another fun, engrossing read! 

About the Author: ERIN LINDSEY has lived and worked in dozens of countries around the world, but has only ever called two places home: her native city of Calgary and her adopted hometown of New York. In addition to the Rose Gallagher mysteries, she is the author of the Bloodbound series of fantasy novels from Ace. She divides her time between Calgary and Brooklyn with her husband and a pair of half-domesticated cats.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

A Golden Grave by Erin Lindsey

ISBN-10 : 1250180678  - Paperback $17.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (September 17, 2019), 400 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Minotaur Books and NetGalley.

The blurb: Rose Gallagher always dreamed of finding adventure, so her new life as a freshly-minted Pinkerton agent ought to be everything she ever wanted. Only a few months ago, she was just another poor Irish housemaid from Five Points; now, she’s learning to shoot a gun and dance the waltz and throw a grown man over her shoulder. Better still, she’s been recruited to the special branch, an elite unit dedicated to cases of a paranormal nature, and that means spending her days alongside the dashing Thomas Wiltshire.

But being a Pinkerton isn’t quite what Rose imagined, and not everyone welcomes her into the fold. Meanwhile, her old friends aren’t sure what to make of the new Rose, and even Thomas seems to be having second thoughts about his junior partner. So when a chilling new case arrives on Rose’s doorstep, she jumps at the chance to prove herself – only to realize that the stakes are higher than she could have imagined. Six delegates have been murdered at a local political convention, and the police have no idea who–or what–is responsible. One thing seems clear: The killer’s next target is a candidate for New York City mayor, one Theodore Roosevelt.

Convinced that something supernatural is afoot, Rose and Thomas must track down the murderer before Roosevelt is taken out of the race–permanently. But this killer is unlike any they’ve faced before, and hunting him down will take them from brownstones to ballrooms to Bowery saloons. Not quite comfortable anywhere, Rose must come to terms with her own changed place in society–and the fact that some would do anything to see her gone from it entirely.

My review:  New York City during the Gilded Age has always fascinated me, so I've enjoyed reading Erin Lindsey's Rose Gallagher mysteries with fantasy.  In the 2nd installment,  A Golden Grave, Rose Gallagher is no longer the housemaid but living in the regular quarters of Thomas Wiltshire's Fifth Avenue townhouse.  Rose is in training as a member of the Pinkerton Agency's Special Branch and works alongside her former employer Thomas Wiltshire.  The Special Branch deals with supernatural powers and Rose Gallagher's special skills are critical to their investigations.

When Erin Lindsey takes us to New York City's Gilded Age, she doesn't hold back. We visit private clubs, meet with Teddy Roosevelt as a young man and candidate for Mayor of New York City.  Though only about 1% of the population has "luck"/supernatural powers, this special gift is prevalent among the wealthiest citizens.  When multiple deaths of Roosevelt's supporters occur during a political convention, Rose, Thomas and their team must determine whether a new form of luck is involved and how to find those that wield power.  It takes ingenuity, courage and special sleuthing but A Golden Grave is an adventure worth following! 

About the Author: ERIN LINDSEY has lived and worked in dozens of countries around the world, but has only ever called two places home: her native city of Calgary and her adopted hometown of New York. In addition to the Rose Gallagher mysteries, she is the author of the Bloodbound series of fantasy novels from Ace. She divides her time between Calgary and Brooklyn with her husband and a pair of half-domesticated cats.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Death of A New American (A Jane Prescott mystery) by Mariah Fredericks

Death of a New American (A Jane Prescott mystery) by Mariah Fredericks
ISBN-10 : 1250252350 - Paperback $11.99
Publisher : Minotaur; Reprint Edition (March 17, 2020), 320 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Minotaur Books and NetGalley.

The blurb: In 1912, as New York reels from the news of the Titanic disaster, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott travels to Long Island with the Benchley family. Their daughter Louise is to marry William Tyler, at their uncle and aunt’s mansion; the Tylers are a glamorous, storied couple, their past filled with travel and adventure. Now, Charles Tyler is known for putting down New York’s notorious Italian mafia, the Black Hand, and his wife Alva has settled into domestic life.

As the city visitors adjust to the rhythms of the household, and plan Louise’s upcoming wedding, Jane quickly befriends the Tyler children’s nanny, Sofia―a young Italian-American woman. However, one unusually sultry spring night, Jane is woken by a scream from the nursery―and rushes in to find Sofia murdered, and the carefully locked window flung open.

The Tylers believe that this is an attempted kidnapping of their baby gone wrong; a warning from the criminal underworld to Charles Tyler. But Jane is asked to help with the investigation by her friend, journalist Michael Behan, who knows that she is uniquely placed to see what other tensions may simmer just below the surface in this wealthy, secretive household. Was Sofia’s murder fall-out from the social tensions rife in New York, or could it be a much more personal crime?

My review:  I'm always up for a mystery and I'm delighted with Mariah Fredericks' Jane Prescott series. In Jane Prescott we get a close look into the lives of Fifth Avenue society during the Gilded Age. Jane works as lady's maid to Charlotte Benchley, the daughter of a wealthy inventor. The Benchleys have nearly unlimited wealth but need the help of tastemakers to navigate society. Jane's previous employer had been related to everyone in society either by birth or marriage. Jane's education, intelligence and discretion have won her the friendship and appreciation of her employers and their friends. So, when a suspicious death occurs, Jane wants to clear suspicion from people that she cares about. Her investigations take her upstairs and downstairs in Fifth Avenue mansions. It is a delight to follow Jane Prescott into the homes and streets of New York during the Gilded Age in Death of a New American.

About the Author: MARIAH FREDERICKS was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives with her family. She is the author of several YA novels. Death of a New American is her second novel to feature ladies’ maid Jane Prescott.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Ellie Alexander's Without A Brew (4th out of 4 Sloan Krause mystery)

 Without a Brew (Sloan Krause #4)

Without A Brew (4th out of 4) by Ellie Alexander
ISBN-10 : 1250205778 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher Minotaur Books (November 10, 2020), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Minatour Books and NetGalley.

The blurb:
While one couple staying with them seems completely smitten, a flashy group arrives in the evening demanding rooms. Sloan and Garrett are less than impressed, but agree to rent to them anyway. The night takes a turn when brewery patron Liv Paxton finishes her frothy pint and, with no previous plan for an overnight stay in Leavenworth, eagerly takes Sloan up on the offer of sanctuary from the snow—until she has a strange run in with some locals and the other guests. Sloan could be imagining things, but when Liv's room is found trashed the next morning, a hateful message painted on her car, and Liv herself is nowhere to be found, Sloan is convinced another mystery is brewing. With many of the potential suspects hunkering down under Nitro's roof, she knows her co-workers and friends won't be safe until she serves up the killer a hoppy pint of justice.

My Review:

I've have fallen in love with Ellie Alexander's writing and her two mystery series set in fictional small towns in the Pacific Northwest.  The Bakeshop Mysteries and the Sloan Krause mysteries transport you to communities and towns that I would love to visit for their climate, the friendliness of the inhabitants, the absence of crime (except as relates to these mysterious murders) and the delicious food available.  In the way that I'd escape to St Mary's Mead, I am happy to spend hours in Leavenworth, Washington with Sloan Krause and her Krause family and Garrett and her Nitro workplace family.  

From the earlier mysteries, it is clear that while Sloan and her husband have separated, the Krause holds Sloan close and she remains an important part of the brewery and the town. In #3 of the series, Beyond A Reasonable Stout, Sloan learns about her mother and that the Krauses had known her  biological family.  Sloan is upset at Ursula and draws away from the Krauses as she learns more about her past.  But there is only so much that you can push away family and in Without A Brew we return to the mystery of Sloan's past and try to heal the breach with her mother-in-law and close friend Ursula.  

I'm drawn to the Sloan Krause mysteries because of the relationships in the Krause family.  But as Without A Brew is a murder mystery,  Ellie Alexander goes far beyond the family drama.  Nitro is led to open their B&B earlier than they'd hoped.  Their soft opening brings them a strange mix of guests.  When one of their guests is found dead, Sloan and Garrett are led to investigate the murder. They uncover more than one motive and several potential suspects.  With more bravery than sense, Sloan undertakes to test the alibis and narrow down the suspects.  Without A Brew delivers the sense of community, delight in food and drink and an engaging mystery. 

About the Author:  ELLIE ALEXANDER is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she's not coated in flour, you'll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the Bakeshop Mysteries, including Meet Your Baker and A Batter of Life and Death, as well as the Sloan Krause mysteries.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

ISBN-10 : 0593129466 - Hardcover $27
Publisher : Ballantine Books (April 21, 2020), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Ballantine Books & NetGalley.
Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.
Down the hall in their building lives Ara, a hairstylist whose two preoccupations sustain her: an obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that she hopes will change her life.
And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to have a baby that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise in Korea’s brutal economy.
The blurb: Kyuri is an achingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a Seoul “room salon,” an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake threatens her livelihood.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal, in which their tentative friendships may turn out to be the thing that ultimately saves them.

My Review:  Sometimes reviews mention that a book doesn't read like a debut novel.  If I Had Your Face is complex, riveting and combines the stories of women's friendships with several dark mysteries.  It's different from many of the books I've read lately and isn't easy to characterize as a mystery or a thriller even though the story has many unexpected twists. 

Regardless of how it can be characterized, I loved it.  I was drawn to the book by the beautiful cover and an affinity for Asian American writers but this is turned on its head.  Though the writer is Asian American, the book is about South Korean women living in Seoul.  The stories of these women and their experiences are shaped by where they live.

If I Had Your Face ties together the lives of a group of young women living in a centrally located condo-office building in Seoul. 

Kyuri is a beautiful young woman who works at a top ten "room salon" that boasts of having the top 10% of beauties to entertain wealthy Korean businessmen.  As one of the top earners, Kyuri receives expensive gifts from her recurring clients.  

Her neighbor Sujin dreams of looking like Kyuri and earning the large sums that top room girls bring home every night.  Sujin believes that a face like Kyuri's will free her to a different life altogether.  The prevalence of plastic surgery comes across clearly as author Frances Cha describes the procedures Sujin has already undergone and those that she has been saving for, coveting, hoping will differentiate her from the other girls in her situation.  Sujin had grown up in the Loring Center  - a place for orphans and disabled individuals.

Sujin's hometown and girlhood friend is Ara.  Ara has a disability that occurred after her birth although we're not sure what happened or the extent of it.  We do know that her disability is known to strangers and that they treat her differently. Ara feels singled out and her disability affects how she works at the hair saloon.  Despite the disability, Ara is talented. Though Ara is not an orphan, she feels disconnected from her parents and avoids returning home for the holidays. She prefers to spend her time and emotions on friends like Sujin.

Miho is an orphan who had been with Sujin in the Loring Center.  But Miho has given special treatment and attention at the Loring Center because of her talent in art and her unusual beauty.  Through the Loring Center, Miho was able to win a scholarship to New York University and this opportunity led Miho to meet and befriend the rich and powerful children of chaebol owning families.  

Miho works for Ruby's gallery and spends her time with Ruby and her longtime boyfriend Hanbin.  When Miho returns to South Korea, she lives with Kyuri and in the same floor as Sujin. Miho has a special fellowship at a university and spends her time with Hanbin and on her art.

Miho, Sujin, Kyuri and Ara opt to live on the cheapest floor - the 4th floor of the building.  Four is considered an unlucky number since it resembles the character for death in Chinese.  Above these young girls lives Wonna, a married woman, who watches their comings and goings with some envy. 

Frances Cha shows us both the lives that these women present and the lives that they keep hidden.  The way that Cha reveals the secret desires and pain of each of the five women is so skillful and carefully done that I couldn't stop reading.  If I Had Your Face takes us to another side of life in South Korea and we learn to appreciate the friendships and trials that these young women face.   If I Had Your Face was so different from what I had expected from the cover and I am grateful to the publisher and NetGalley for making this available. I recommend it highly!

About the Author:  Frances Cha is a former travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul. She grew up in the United States, Hong Kong, and South Korea. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Columbia University MFA writing program, she has written for The Atlantic, The Believer, and the Yonhap News Agency, among others, and has lectured at Columbia University, Ewha Womans University, Seoul National University, and Yonsei University. She lives in Brooklyn. 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ellie Alexander's Beyond a Reasonable Stout


Beyond a Reasonable Stout (#3 of 4 A Sloan Krause mystery) by Ellie Alexander

ISBN-10 : 1250766109 - Mass Market Paperback $7.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (September 29, 2020), 304 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:  In the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington, the tourists are gone and the local villagers prepare for the upcoming winter light festival. Soon the German-inspired shops and restaurants will be aglow and visitors will return to the northern Cascades to drink warm mulled cider and peruse the holiday markets. Until then, Sloan Krause and her partner in crime Garrett Strong are experimenting with a new line of “hoppy holiday” craft beers at their brewery.
But the low-key vibes at Nitro are suddenly disrupted by a local political scandal: City Councilmember Kristopher Cooper is running for re-election on a platform of making Leavenworth dry―until, just before election night, Kristopher turns up dead. Now, with every beer-related businessperson in Leavenworth coming under suspicion, it’s up to Sloan to find out who the guilty party really is…before someone else gets tapped for murder.

My review: I am one of those readers that is reasonably comfortable starting a book in mid-series. if I like the characters and first book I find, I will go back and read all the books in order.  Honestly, if I find a book and an author that I like, I hunt down their backlist.  Ellie Alexander is one of the authors that I'd learned about through the publisher and NetGalley.  In the days of browsing bookstores and libraries, I likely would have found her books and loved them.  

Sloan Krause had grown up in the system as a foster child. She has mostly painful memories of her childhood but much of this is the distant past. She's built a family and strong friendships in the small town Leavenworth. It's Germanic town with German-inspired shops and architecture and families that immigrated from Germany. Sloan married into the Krause family and they've given her the stability and love that she wanted growing up. Even as Sloan and her husband separated, her ties to her in-laws are unharmed. 

While Sloan's life centers around her teenage son, her family and her love for brewing beer, she seems to be the glue/part of the center of the town. She knows how to keep a secret and is often the confidante of many other citizens. Her desire to help puts her in a strange position and she is more than willing to dive into a mystery.  

In Beyond  a Reasonable Stout, Leavenworth faces a strange challenge with the upcoming elections. A City Councilmember and candidate Kristopher Cooper is running on the platform of turning the town known for its beer and Octoberfest into a dry town.  When Kristopher Cooper is discovered dead so many are relieved and under suspicion.  Sloan finds herself drawn into the investigation and we follow her along as she balances the pressures of work, family and solving the latest murder.  Ellie Alexander combines an engaging character with a fairytale of a town and delicious food and beer to give us people that we care about and a place we'd love to move to and then mixes in a suspicious death. I'm hooked and certain that you will be too!

About the Author:  ELLIE ALEXANDER is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she's not coated in flour, you'll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the Bakeshop Mysteries, including Meet Your Baker and A Batter of Life and Death, as well as the Sloan Krause mysteries.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Angel's Share by Ellen Crosby

ISBN-13 : 978-1250164858 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (November 5, 2019), 369 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb: When Lucie Montgomery attends a Thanksgiving weekend party for friends and neighbors at Hawthorne Castle, an honest-to-goodness castle owned by the Avery family, the last great newspaper dynasty in America and owner of the Washington Tribune, she doesn’t expect the festive occasion to end in death.

During the party, Prescott Avery, the 95-year old family patriarch, invites Lucie to his fabulous wine cellar where he offers to pay any price for a cache of 200-year-old Madeira that her great-great-uncle, a Prohibition bootlegger, discovered hidden in the US Capitol in the 1920s. Lucie knows nothing about the valuable wine, believing her late father, a notorious gambler and spendthrift, probably sold or drank it. By the end of the party Lucie and her fiancé, winemaker Quinn Santori, discover Prescott’s body lying in his wine cellar. Is one of the guests a murderer?
As Lucie searches for the lost Madeira, which she believes links Prescott’s death to a cryptic letter her father owned, she learns about Prescott’s affiliation with the Freemasons. More investigating hints at a mysterious vault supposedly containing documents hidden by the Founding Fathers and a possible tie to William Shakespeare. If Lucie finds the long-lost documents, the explosive revelations could change history. But will she uncover a three hundred-year-old secret before a determined killer finds her?

My Review:
This is the first Lucie Montgomery book that I've read and I plan to read the 9 that came before it!
The book is set in a small wealthy Virginia town full of the first vineyards of America and families that have held their farms/land since before the US was a nation. The Montgomery family and the Averys (billionaire relatives by affinity) and many of their longtime neighbors have had their homes and estates in this town for over 300 years.
Honestly, I'm just counting the years until we've paid off our mortgage, so this sort of longtime ownership of huge fertile tracts of land is exotic and fascinating to me.
The mystery in this case involves a murder but also the rumored existence of papers taken from the White House hundreds of years ago. There is a tie to the freemasons and to President Madison and a hidden treasure. The characters are easy to like and the mystery is fascinating. Overall, The Angel's Share is a delight of a read with the bonus that it makes you want to explore small towns in Virginia.

About the Author: Ellen Crosby is the author of the Virginia wine country mysteries, two mysteries featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina and MOSCOW NIGHTS, a standalone. THE ANGELS' SHARE, her latest book, is #10 in the wine country series. Look for two more books in that series in early 2021 and 2022. Before writing fiction, Crosby--who has lived in England, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the former Soviet Union--worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, an economist at the US Senate, and Moscow reporter for ABC Radio News. Visit her website at www.ellencrosby.com and follow her occasionally on Facebook at EllenCrosbyBooks, sometimes on Twitter at @ellencrosby--but mostly on Instagram at ellencrosbyauthor. She also writes a very occasional (but interesting) newsletter.