Saturday, August 30, 2014

Outlander, Episode 3, The Way Out - Recap

The episode begins with a flashback to WWII: Claire and Frank are parting at a train station as she heads for the front to nurse.  Frank is frustrated at this role reversal, that his Intelligence work is an office job and Claire will be the one in danger (perhaps this is the beginning of his feeling of inadequacy to Claire).  He acknowledges that no one can influence her once she’s made up her mind and commands her to return to him after the war (i.e., not to die), and Claire promises.  This was not in the book but I suppose it shows Claire is used to danger, is stubborn, and has never waited for permission from any male to do what she feels is right.  This explains attributes about her that would otherwise seem anachronistic.  Also, it helps explain why she feels compelled to return to Frank when Jamie is much more attractive!

Back to the 18th century.  As if she doesn’t have a busy castle to manage, Mrs. Fitz is helping Claire wash her hair, and is so motherly that Claire confides in her that Frank is not dead but rather hasn’t been born yet.   Claire tells Mrs. Fitz she has fallen through time from 1945 and describes what happened.   Instead of reacting with her typical brusque kindness, Mrs. Fitz is horrified, calls Claire a witch and slaps her.  Fortunately, it turns out to have been a sort of test balloon or daydream – Claire was just imagining how her confession and request for help might be received and didn’t really confide at all.  Tricky, tricky, especially, as her confession has been in the trailer and seemed real. 

Mrs. Fitz tells Claire everyone who is anyone in the Highlands is coming to Castle Leoch for a Gathering in a few days.   She advises Claire that her work as a healer may endear her to Colum MacKenzie, the laird.  Frustrated that Colum is keeping her at Castle Leoch when she wants to return to the Standing Stones, Claire tries to figure out a way to use her 20th century medical knowledge in a non-threatening 18th century way, recognizing that anything too unusual could upset her patients and boomerang on her.    Soon there is a regular procession of patients to Claire’s “surgery” in the bowels of the castle and even Colum, who suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome although he doesn’t know it, asks for treatment and Claire provides a soothing massage.  (It’s kind of a joke on the audience that we get to see Colum’s unattractive backside when everyone is yearning for more naked Jamie.)  
In the Hall that night, there is a Very Awkward Triangle, when Claire sits down next to Laoghaire (it is definitely pronounced Leery) and introduces herself, attempting a friendly chat about cute guys, specifically Jamie, who, unaware they are talking about him, comes over and sits between them.   They talk about Colum’s bard (singing soulful songs in Gaelic) and Jamie’s first visit to Leoch when he was a teen, and Laoghaire asks if he remembers her.   Jamie, self-deprecating, says that he was a typical 16 year old then, too impressed with himself to pay attention to snot-nosed kids.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that he is looking at Claire the whole time he is answering her question, Laoghaire takes the “snot-nosed” comment as an insult.  Even worse, Jamie asks Claire to change his bandage (it’s an odd moment to choose, just as the festivities are beginning), and hands Claire’s wine goblet to Leoghaire to dispose of.   Once in Claire’s surgery, Jamie explains that he avoids showing his back to people who will pity him but Claire has shown empathy rather than pity.   Suddenly shy, he tries to leave, but Claire, a bit intoxicated from Colum’s Rhenish wine, insists on taking off his shirt (excuses) and tells him the shoulder is healing nicely.

The next day Geillis and Claire go out looking for herbs, and Geillis tells Claire the local priest is planning an exorcism of Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, Tammas, who has fallen mysteriously ill after visiting an abandoned monastery.  Claire looks skeptical.  “Do you not believe in demonic possession, Claire?” asks Geillis with surprise.  She tells Claire she believes in the powers of magic and asks if Claire has ever found herself in a situation with no real explanation, “a path you’ve never expected.”   Oh yes, thinks Claire, but has enough sense not to confide in someone who has already shown she is a big gossip and is very nosy besides.  Worried about the boy, Claire visits him uninvited, and tells Angus (still following her per Dougal’s orders) that a priest said her healing skills were a gift from God.  Claire thinks Tammas shows symptoms of poisoning, not of possession but his mother would rather rely on the ignorant local priest, Father Bain, who does not like competition and is furious that his dogmatic and quite over the top utterances about Satan are being challenged by Claire.  Claire has made her second enemy in one episode.  She is looking extremely fetching, however, with her hair up and a cowl neck scarf to liven up her demure gown. 
Back at the castle, while Claire is trying to figure out how she can help the boy, she sees Jamie kissing Laoghaire in a corner.*   At dinner, she teases Jamie about his lip being swollen and Jamie steps on her foot to shut her up.  After Jamie leaves in a huff, Alec warns Claire to be careful or Jamie might find himself married to an immature girl (due to the watchful eyes of the girl’s father) when he needs a woman. Hint, hint.  Claire tells herself she isn’t jealous of Leoghaire per se, just misses Frank, but we know that is not true.  Or, at least, not totally true.

The next day Dougal takes Claire to visit Geillis at her home.  Geillis warns Claire to steer clear of Father Bain, who sees women as evil temptresses.   There is a commotion outside, and Geillis explains that her husband, the local magistrate, is dispensing justice to a boy thief.  Arthur is much older than his pretty wife and in poor health.  Claire can’t help mentally diagnosing his condition but is more concerned with begging for compassion for the boy.   To please Claire, Geillis coaxes her husband to spare the boy’s hand, which might otherwise have been chopped off as punishment.  Instead, the boy is sentenced to a mere hour in the pillory with his ear nailed to the framework.   Jamie comes to fetch Claire back to the castle, and Claire is glad to escape Geillis’ inquisitive questions about her background.  When Claire realizes the poor boy has to tear himself loose from the pillory, she asks Jamie to help.   Claire stages a faint to distract the rotten townspeople enjoying the spectacle so that Jamie can free the boy’s ear.  In case anyone is wondering, they make a great team!

Claire asks Jamie to take her to the Black Kirk, the abandoned monastery where Tammas was allegedly contaminated by Satan.  She finds a poisonous plant, and becomes convinced that Tammas ate some, mistaking it for wood garlic (hard to believe there’s only one poisonous plant in that ominous place!).  She asks Tammas’ family if she can give him an antidote, but Father Bain says the boy’s soul will be eternally damned if Claire interferes.  Mrs. Fitz agonizes but tells Father Bain that it’s her sister’s house and Claire can try to save the boy.

I smell the vapors of hell on you,” sneers Father Bain to Claire – I must use this on a guy at work who is clearly one of Satan’s minions – but she saves Tammas and is praised as a miracle worker by everyone else.   Claire becomes worried about the combination of awe and suspicion that now follows her (way to keep a low profile, Claire), and feels she is no closer to figuring out how to get back to Inverness and is still under surveillance.  Back in the Great Hall where everyone knows your name, Jamie translates the bard’s Gaelic, telling a story about a woman who lived among strangers, touched magical stones and traveled back to a man she had left behind.  “She came back through the stones?” asks Claire tremulously.  Although it’s just a ballad, this is the sign Claire needs that she must escape back to the stones or die trying.

What’s Important About This Episode:

·        The MacKenzie brothers have no secrets: Dougal knows Claire gave Colum a massage and makes a snide comment about taming a feral cat (meaning Claire).  He is so creepy!
·        Claire’s efforts to be nice to Laoghaire are a waste of energy: of course, Laoghaire hates her for capturing Jamie’s interest.  And Jamie is no more perceptive than modern men - he is completely oblivious about Laoghaire’s jealousy of Claire.
·        Claire knows, or should know, it is risky to help Tammas but as a healer she can’t ignore someone in need, even if it means arousing the enmity of Father Bain.
·        Claire and Jamie’s rapport is more than physical, although the chemistry is still palpable.  Their friendship may have begun when she brought him lunch at the stables and he told her about Captain Randall but there is something moving about his telling her she’s one of the few people he will allow to see his back.

* I have always wondered about the incident where Jamie makes out with Leoghaire.   How did it come about?  Did Laoghaire waylay Jamie in some way?  Is he just a normal guy experimenting with a willing young woman?  Is he trying to force an interest in someone more suitable than Claire?  He is not the type to try to make Claire jealous but it works, whether planned or not.

 Images copyright to Starz

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Green Gables, Prince Edward Island

Anne of Green Gables has been one of my favorite books since I was 11, 
and I finally made it to Green Gables in July!
"It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves."
Anne's room was just as I imagined it.
We walked through the garden to the Haunted Wood...

where we met Anne Shirley, strolling by...  
Looking back at Green Gables from the Haunted Wood

I was afraid I might be Rachel Lynde, based on some of my 
answers, but I am Anne, of course!

Visiting Lucy Maud's grave
For my Top Ten Anne Shirley-Gilbert Blythe 
Most Romantic Moments, 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Outlander, Episode 2 - Recap

Claire has arrived at Castle Leoch, the ancestral home of the MacKenzies (not that anyone has bothered to tell her where they were going or explain to her that her primary captor, Dougal, is the brother of the laird, Colum).   As Dougal’s group arrives, the men scatter, leaving Claire gazing around the castle courtyard which she recognizes from her visit with Roger, a few days earlier, although in the 20th century, it is a ruin.  It is beautiful and will doubtless attract American visitors now.

A plump and jolly lady, clearly the housekeeper, greets the returning warriors, insults one of the louts affectionately, and is perplexed by Claire’s unexpected and disreputable appearance.  Jamie introduces Claire to Mistress FitzGibbons who warms to Claire when she realizes Claire is a healer.  “Are you a Beaton?” she asks, referring to a clan known for such skills.   Claire agrees warily and follows Mrs. Fitz and Jamie into the castle and is given what passes for first aid supplies in the 18th century (Mrs. Fitz also promises to find something that is a “bit more” appropriate for Claire to wear, leaving no doubt of her opinion of the skimpy white dress).  Claire and Jamie are left most unsuitably without a chaperone (Claire probably has no reputation left anyway after several nights with Dougal and his merry men) but her mind is on other things – she is having flashbacks to her earlier visit when she and Roger wondered what this dark dungeon-like room was used for (and came up with a diversion not in the book).
When Claire removes Jamie’s tattered shirt to clean his shoulder wound she sees terrible scars on his back and is horrified.  Jamie explains that the Redcoats flogged him twice, and reveals his feud with Captain Randall which began four years ago when the Redcoats raided his family’s farm.  Jamie returned from the fields to find the English soldiers molesting his sister Jenny and when he tried to come to her rescue, Captain “Black Jack” Randall sadistically had Jamie beaten as Jenny watched.  To save Jamie’s life, Jenny was forced to submit to Randall’s sexual assault, while Jamie was arrested and taken to Fort William, where two floggings took place.   Eventually he was rescued but an English soldier was killed during the escape, and Jamie has been charged with obstruction and murder and remains a fugitive from English justice. (Jamie alternates between looking like a dangerous warrior and a choirboy).

Jamie appreciates Claire’s tender touch on his sore shoulder and says her husband is a lucky man.  Claire ignores the flirtatious comment and starts worrying about Frank again, and we see a flash forward to Frank and his genealogy buddy, Reverend Wakefield, finding her abandoned car and searching for her near the stones.   Claire begins to cry and tells Jamie her husband is dead (“Hello, I’m single!”).  He enfolds her in his arms and it is hard to imagine caring about boring Frank (although he had a certain Agatha Christie/Patricia Wentworth mid-20th century hero charm) when Jamie is right there.  The chemistry between Claire andJamie was so strong in Episode One that Starz renewed Outlander for a second season before this episode even aired!   Claire realizes this embrace is getting way too intense and pulls away, much to the disappointment of the audience and probably Jamie, and Jamie gazes at her seriously, uttering the swoonworthy lines we have seen in the trailer but can’t get enough of: “You need not be scairt of me.  Nor of anyone else here, so long as I’m with thee.”   He warns her that being English is a dangerous but Claire is so tired she just falls asleep without absorbing his warning.  Jamie departs with his shirt tucked under an arm (readers know Jamie is sensitive about the scars on his back so would have dressed before leaving but Starz viewers doubtless want to see more of him shirtless).

The next day Mrs. Fitz wakes Claire up and helps her get dressed in 18th century clothes (she is shocked by Claire’s 20th century underwear) and put her hair up elegantly.   Claire looks lovely but very different from her post WWII appearance (in which indulgent smiles at Frank were her most noticeable accessory) when she is brought to meet the laird.  She looks desperately around his study, which is full of books and looks much more civilized than the rest of the castle.  When she sees a letter dated 1743, she is relieved to know the date and tries to remember what was happening in Scotland at that time, asking herself who the king is.   Remembering Frank (who worked in Intelligence during the War) had once told her that the most effective spies stick to the truth as much as possible, she tells Colum she is a widow from Oxfordshire who was attacked first by bandits, and then by Captain Randall.   Colum is skeptical and asks why an English officer would attempt rape for no good reason.  “Is there ever a good reason for rape?” Claire asks coldly (and somewhat anachronistically), and Colum is surprised and apologizes.   He agrees to help her find transport back to Inverness in five days.  Cheered by the thought of finding her way back to the stones, Claire thanks Colum and retreats to a nearby turret where she gazes down at the courtyard and she sees Dougal playing with a red-headed child.

At dinner in the Great Hall of the castle, Claire makes a late entrance and wonders nervously where to sit.  Dougal escorts her to the head table where she is given a seat of honor next to Colum and is introduced to his wife, Letitia.  Colum fills Claire’s cup frequently with wine and quizzes her about the French relatives she pretended she was going to visit, and her answers are unconvincing.   When the red-headed boy, Hamish, approaches the table, Claire introduces herself and says she saw him playing in the courtyard with his father. From the icy silence, she realizes she made a mistake – it turns out Colum is the boy’s father, not Dougal.

Seeking out her only friend, Claire goes to the stables to visit Jamie, ostensibly to change his bandages (Mrs. Fitz isn’t convinced by this excuse but provides a picnic lunch).  Claire finds him breaking a horse (both looking quite attractive) and over lunch he tells her more about his escape from Fort William.  Claire is touched but surprised when Jamie reveals there’s a price on his head, and he tells her he trusts her with this secret.   He also explains that Dougal and Colum are his uncles.  Dour old Alec tells Jamie to get back to work, so Claire departs, joking that Jamie should avoid getting flogged or stabbed for a whole day, if possible.  On her way back to the castle, Claire realizes she is being followed by one of Dougal’s men who laughs at her annoyance.  It is a shame they are so hirsute and unwashed it is hard to tell them apart but I think it is Rupert.  He isn’t trying to harass her is guarding her for Dougal.   When confronted, Dougal tells Claire he suspects she is an English spy so is having her closely watched.

Claire is determined not to arouse any more suspicion before she can leave for Inverness so helps out Mrs. Fitz in the kitchen and explores the castle grounds.   Out picking mushrooms, she is befriended by Geillis Duncan, an attractive young woman from the village who is even more expert on herbs than Claire, whose hobby it is.  Geillis’ idea of lively conversation is to talk about which plants are poisonous and announce she is a witch but she sits next to Claire at the banquet that night and provides lots of useful gossip in an undertone in her role as new BFF. Claire has guessed that Colum suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome, a bone structure disease.

Colum, as laird, is administering justice, and a young woman named Laoghaire is dragged before him by her irate father who wants her punished for loose behavior.  She is about to be beaten in public when Jamie, still wounded but gallant, offers to take her punishment.  Claire is appalled to see Jamie bashed about by his uncles’ henchman for this quixotic gesture, and it takes Dougal a long time to call a halt to the beating.  Geillis holds Claire back from interfering but tells her a discreet way to leave the hall so she can go repair Jamie yet again (and not for the last time, I promise you).  Claire is mystified by Jamie’s having subjected himself to such abuse when he barely knows the girl but he explains it would have humiliated Laoghaire but he will recover in a day or so.   Mrs. Fitz appears with some helpful remedies and explains that the blonde hussy is her granddaughter so she appreciates his gallantry.  Claire tells Jamie she is leaving on Saturday for Inverness and he seems sorry.  They gaze into each other’s eyes and say goodbye, using first names for the first time.   As Claire leaves Jamie, the blonde trollop is waiting for him (she already seems jealous of Claire).  I have always wondered how to pronounce her name – it sounds like L’heere or Leery.

Claire is about to leave for Inverness escorted by a tinker when she is summoned to speak with Colum. Dougal brings her through the dark rooms where she and Frank had sex days ago and Claire keeps seeing glimpses of Frank in the corners.  Colum tells her she is to stay at Castle Leoch as a healer and as his guest until he is satisfied that her secrets cannot harm his clan.  “You mean as your prisoner, don’t you?” Claire says bitterly.   “Only if you try to leave,” he responds, and Claire stares in despair into the darkness, wondering if she will ever return home as Episode 2 ends.

What is important about this episode:  Increasing sexual tension between Claire and Jamie; Jamie’s gallantry is established (plus the fact that he is always going to be recovering from some form of fight); Claire’s 20th century sensibility surprises 18th century men (not for the last time); Jamie’s uncles don’t mind seeing him get beat up; Laoghaire has her eye on Jamie; Claire adds to her herb knowledge with help from Mrs. Fitz and Geillis; the MacKenzie brothers are convinced Claire is a spy; Claire misses Frank and wants to get back to the stones in Inverness.

(photo copyright to Starz)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Nightingale Girls (Book Review)

TitleThe Nightingale Girls (Book 1)
AuthorDonna Douglas
Publication Information:  Arrow, 2012, available in paperback or digital edition
Genre: Historical Fiction/Nursing 
Plot:  Three very different young women attend nursing school at Florence Nightingale Hospital in London’s East End in 1934 and become friends.   Dora Doyle is an inarticulate young woman from the slums whose enthusiasm and work ethic impresses the new matron sufficiently to gain her a place in the training class.  Dora wants to be a nurse but she also desperately wants to escape her vicious stepfather so is grateful that training includes accommodation at the hospital.  Dora is assigned to room with two young women from more privileged backgrounds.  Millie Benedict is the only daughter of an earl and could lead a life of luxury and fun but after one official Season she refused to stay home and allow her grandmother to find an eligible husband, determined to find something worthwhile to do.   Despite good intentions, Millie had a hard time with her first three months of training and is on probation – she will be dropped from the program for any transgression.  Helen Tremayne is the third roommate, brilliant but shy and lacking in confidence, overshadowed by her carefree brother, a young doctor at the hospital.   Her unpleasant mother, Constance Tremayne, is on the Board of Trustees and insists on controlling every aspect of Helen’s life.  Constance is appalled by the slack standards of young people and is on a one-woman crusade to keep the Nightingale trainees focused on their nursing responsibilities.  However, all three young women have admirers and cannot work 24 hours a day, which adds dimension to the story.

This book is set about five years before the outbreak of WWII – I hope the series continues until then.  You know I love women and war work!

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and of Call the Midwife; women who enjoyed reading about Sue Barton and Cherry Ames in their youth.   Click here for my other recommendations for fans of Call the Midwife.

What I liked: I have always been a fan of books about nurses, as well as of books about young women from different backgrounds who become friends.   While some of the plot was predictable (Dora’s stepfather’s behavior), I enjoyed the description of hospital life, from the lowly porters (don’t overlook how helpful they can be if you are a trainee nurse slipping in after curfew) to the new matron, Kathleen Fox.  Chosen by the Board of Trustees to modernize the hospital, the new Matron faces challenges from the colleague overlooked for the job and from the sanctimonious Mrs. Tremayne (why is the villainess always named Constance?) as she tries to run the busy hospital.  I hope she gets her own book!

Paperback editions are not available in the US but Ms. Douglas sent me this helpful link to Great British Reads which US readers can use to buy her ebooks.

Source: This is the first book I read from NetGalley.  Thank you to Random House UK for allowing me to read this book in return for an honest review.  This is the first in a series and I am eager to read more.   Several years ago I read two of Donna Douglas’ books written as Donna Hay, which I also liked.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Supreme Justice (Book Review and Giveaway)

Publication Information:  Thomas & Mercer, Trade Paperback, 2014
Genre: Suspense/Political Thriller
Plot: When one conservative Supreme Court justice dies in a seemingly random robbery, it is shocking enough, but when a second conservative justice is murdered, it is clear to former Secret Service agent Joe Reeder that some enemy of the Court has an agenda and could be planning a dramatic reconfiguration of the court.  Reeder once saved the president’s life by taking a bullet but that heroic act indirectly led to his retirement.  Now his friend, Gabriel Sloan, is the FBI’s agent in charge of the case and asks for Joe’s help investigating the crimes that threaten to bring DC to a standstill.

Audience: Fans of suspense, legal thrillers, and readers like me who wish they had clerked for a Supreme Court justice.

What I liked: This is a fast paced thriller with several interesting characters, and although they are not fully developed, it is a fun if predictable summer read which I will share with my father.  Reeder is an interesting protagonist: someone who was dedicated to his job as a Secret Service agent and respected the presidency although not the incumbent whose life he saved.   Unfortunately, he shared his feelings too openly so while he was admired for his dedication to duty he was pushed into retirement.   Now that I have thought about it, I would prefer that those who guard the President avoid political partisanship as I had to do when a federal employee.  However, in fiction, I found the differing political viewpoints of the characters interesting.   I am reminded of something I read earlier today - that we should not be divided into conservatives and liberals but haters and non-haters (of course, I can't recall where I saw it or I would provide a link).  

I particularly enjoyed the quotations from Supreme Court justices which begin each chapter.   This is billed as a standalone by prolific author Collins but I would read another book about Reeder and FBI agent Patti Rogers.   

What I disliked: The author’s research on Supreme Court justices was incomplete: even if Patti is clueless enough to call the Chief Justice “your honor,” Reeder had met him before so would have known to address him as “Chief Justice.”   Moreover, the justices are guarded by a special police force in DC and by federal marshals when they travel so perhaps would not have been quite such sitting ducks as implied (although the book is set slightly in the future so I suppose security cuts could have been made).   And, given that Justice Venter’s invitation to his clerk, Nicholas Blount, (which results in his death) was spontaneous, how did the killer know they would be at the bar in time to set up the attack?   Perhaps Amazon’s new imprint does not include any actual editors who could have provided some suggestions to Collins and Clemens.

Giveaway:  Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy to give away.   If you are interested, please leave a comment telling me something you have enjoyed reading recently and I will pick a name.

Source:  I received Supreme Justice from the TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other reviewers had to say about this book.   

Max Allan Collins’ TLC TOUR STOPS:

Monday, June 16th:  5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, June 18th:  FictionZeal
Thursday, June 19th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, June 23rd:  Reading Reality
Wednesday, June 25th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, June 26th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Friday, June 27th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, June 30th:  Bookchickdi
Tuesday, July 1st:  Bookish Ardour - excerpt
Wednesday, July 2nd:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, July 7th:  Bibliotica
Tuesday, July 8th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, July 9th:  From the TBR Pile
Thursday, July 10th:  Traveling with T
Wednesday, July 16th:  Literally Jen

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Blade of the Samurai (Book Review)

Title: Blade of the Samurai
Author: Susan Spann
Publication Information: Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Plot:  June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace.  The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Audience:  Fans of mysteries, historical fiction, those interested in Japan or Jesuits

What I liked: This is a fun and completely different mystery.  It was also very well written.  For someone like me who has been fascinated by the 16th century since childhood, it was intriguing to read a mystery set in an unfamiliar culture, rather than the England, France and Italy so familiar to a Ren/Ref major.  Hiro is the Jesuit’s bodyguard and they form an amusing detective duo.  Hiro is sometimes a little condescending of Father Mateo’s seeming cluelessness about Japanese and samurai culture but he often has insightful observations and is an essential part of the team as they investigate a murder at the shogun’s palace.  There is added pressure not usually found by amateur sleuths – a threat that if they don’t find the killer, their lives may be forfeit so the Shogun has a scapegoat, even if they are innocent.

This is the second in a series, and can be read alone but I instantly went looking for book 1, Claws of the Cat (you know I hate to read out of order).  Minotaur Books can always be relied upon for good mysteries!

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney, which intrigued me when I first heard about this mystery.  Her interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a 16th century ninja who tries to bring murders to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest attempting to convert the Japanese.   You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

What I disliked: I never forgot the setting but if it hadn’t been spelled out, I am not sure I would have guessed when the book took place.  The characters were not anachronistic exactly (my frequent complaint) but  I would have liked a stronger historical feel, not just a sense of different culture.
Source: I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other readers had to say about this book.   

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I'm Reading

Currently Reading

Boston and the Civil War / Barbara Berenson – my talented friend Barbara has followed up her successful Walking Tours of Civil War Boston with a book that reveals to Revolutionary War-obsessed fans that Boston was actually the hub of a second revolution that ended slavery.  My mother has a friend who is a descendant of William Lloyd Garrison so I was always aware of the role of the abolitionists – this provides a close look at those "dedicated to ending slavery and honoring the promise of liberty made in the Declaration of Independence."
Divergent / Veronica Roth – although tired of dystopian novels and unable to get into this in print form, I was curious enough to try it on CD a year later, and am now enjoying it (although why do heroines have to get beat up so frequently in this type of novel?).

Country of Broken Stone / Nancy Bond  - Next week I am heading to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to visit Fort Louisbourg, the setting of Bond’s Another Shore, which shows what a big fan I am of this talented Massachusetts author.  Somehow I had been unaware of this book, set near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, about a girl dealing with a new stepmother and stepsiblings.  Bond is gifted at making historical places seem magical.

In preparation for the Starz adaptation, I reread Outlander / Diana Gabaldon, which is just as amazing as when I first snagged an ARC on my last day at Bantam Doubleday Dell in 1991 (and after numerous previous rereads).  Of course, that meant I had to reread Dragonfly in Amber (despite all the library books waiting for me), and I just reclaimed my copy of Voyager (book 3) from my mother.  Here is a link to the forthcoming miniseries - I have put away my usual skepticism because it really appears to be a good and respectful production. The production company has really chosen actors who look the part, even if Jamie's hair isn't as red as I expected.

Just Finished

The Eyre Affair / Jasper Fforde – a belated thank you to Sessalee Hensley who gave me a copy of this book when it was brand new.  Somehow I got distracted; perhaps I found the beginning slow or maybe I was in the middle of law school exams.  However, once it got going I was completely captivated.  I would describe it as the Phantom Tollbooth for grownups, and what higher compliment could there be?

We Were Liars / E. Lockhart – which I liked but did not love.   Intriguing but ultimately too much prolonged melancholy and the ending seemed abrupt.  I didn't like the characters and maybe I just don’t care for unreliable narrators.   I prefer her Ruby books and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau but admire her for trying something new.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin / Mary Higgins Clark – predictable but this was a good book to listen to on CD during a stressful week because it was extremely repetitive (you would think she was writing a Dickensian serial) and undemanding.  However, the characters were mostly unlikeable and the killer unconvincing.  Not one of her best.

(Outlander image copyright to Starz)