Summer has arrived in the Pacific Northwest with beautiful blue skies and wonderful temps. It’s the reward for all the months of endless rain, and I’m taking advantage of it.
I shared five reviews before taking a blog break and have another handful to pass along for the second half of the month. May’s (Part Two) reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of two memoirs, a murder mystery, a fantasy adventure, and a sci-fi/colonization tale.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
You Can Take the Girl from the Prairie by Darlene Foster
This is a lovely memoir about the author’s young life growing up on the Canadian prairie. In her introduction, she describes how her childhood made her the person she is today. And though her story starts with memories of how she felt the world passing her by, the result is a realization that what she had was special—“the freedom, safety, fresh air, homegrown food, friendly neighbors, and grasshoppers. Well, maybe not the grasshoppers so much.”
From that last line, it’s easy to see that humor is part and parcel of this memoir. But there’s also heartbreak and a huge helping of endearing moments of kindness and unabashed love. I was especially moved by Foster’s chapters about sewing, the love of her grandmothers, Bambi the Antelope, and the loss of her brother Tim. The admiration for her father starts the book off and wraps it up in the end. This memoir is less than an hour’s read, and I highly recommend it to readers of all ages who want a feel-good pick-me-up and who love stories about family and rural life.
The Body in the Trench by Judi Lynn
Jazzi and “her Viking” Ansel, along with Jazzi’s cousin Jerod, have plans to fix up and flip an old house. They’ve just started the work when Ansel’s uncle calls – a retaining wall has collapsed into a trench, killing an employee, and he’s worried that one of his sons will be blamed. At the same time, a series of break-ins in a nearby wealthy neighborhood is putting everyone on edge. Between their renovation tasks, amateur sleuths Jazzi and Ansel start asking questions about both cases.
They also plan menus, cook, eat in, and dine out. Foodies will get a kick out of this read since every meal is covered from beginning to end with at least a mention. And every item on the menu sounds mouth-watering. Food “consumes” about 25% of the text, with another 25% dedicated to the renovation project, pets, family, friends, and daily life.
This left about half of the book focused on the plot and investigation, which they conduct in tandem with the police. Jazzi and her cohorts are never in danger, so the focus is mostly on unraveling clues and interviewing the players involved in both cases. There are a lot of potential suspects (characters), and I didn’t know whodunnit until the end.
The pace is moderate, but the characters and the mystery kept me entertained. I do wish that Jazzi and Ansel played a bigger part in ultimately solving the crimes, but with that said, they’re highly relatable characters and easy to root for. I felt as though I knew them well by the end, along with many of the secondary players. This is Book 7 in the series, but I had no trouble reading it as a standalone.
An entertaining cozy mystery that I can easily recommend to foodies and problem solvers who enjoy getting to know the characters while following clues. (Kindle Unlimited).
The Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim
After getting caught in a trap, Lena’s street gang, the Talons, is wiped out. Now under the thumb of the Blackbloods, she’s forced to steal and shred a sacred tapestry for the jewels woven into the design. Her thievery angers Rui, the Emperor of the Dokkaebi, a magical man who steals her away and offers her a challenge—she must kill him within 14 days. At stake is the life of her 8-year-old sister, not to mention her own beheading.
The plot is way more complex than the above summary and it kept me engaged. Time is of the essence, and there are some mysteries to be revealed about what happened to the Talons and why Rui gives her such a strange way to save herself. There’s a strong romantic undercurrent to the story that works at odds with the murderous dynamic. That was fun. My only disappointment was that the ultimate solution seemed completely out of the blue.
The story unfolds in Lena’s POV. She’s a richly developed character, plagued by guilt about the Talons and determined to save her sister at all costs. I understood her murderous agenda even though Rui was my favorite character. Their natural attraction kept me rooting for both of them.
The pace is moderate. Despite the consistent action, there are lots of flashbacks to Lena’s life among the Talons, and the narrative is full of beautiful, but slowing description. The story’s end is satisfying with a few threads left open for book two. Recommended to readers who enjoy a good fantasy.
The Rat in the Python by Alex Craigie
This book is a departure from the thrillers I’ve come to expect from this author. Instead, Craigie ventures into the realm of memoirs with her experience growing up in the UK in the 1950s. The “rat in the python” is the group of baby boomers who created a bulge in the population chain, and therefore there are a lot of “us” boomers who can relate not only to the way it was… but to how much things have changed.
Humor plays a lovely part in the book, though this isn’t as much a book about feelings as it is a collection of memories about the broader aspects of life in the 50s – housing, food, furniture, heat, chores, and more, often told through the eyes of the women who managed the household. A lot of this is relatable to those of us across the pond, but Craigie also shares her perspective on the differences that occurred post WWII.
My memory of childhood is a bit later – in the 1960s. But there was a lot to relate to since progress sometimes takes a while. I remember “the wrangler,” single-pane windows, laundry lines, and the old dial telephones. What also struck me is how dramatically technology has transformed our daily lives. When Craigie puts the trends in perspective, the pace of change becomes mind-numbing.
This afternoon’s read will surely be a trip down memory lane for many boomers as well as eye-opening for younger generations. Highly recommended to readers who have an interest in the details of life in the fifties.
The Name of the Shadow by Mars G. Everson
This is an unusual book, one that’s hard to pinpoint while it lingers in the back of my mind. A utopian colony begins a long slide away from its peaceful, thoughtful existence when a dark creature starts stealing cattle and, in time, colonists. The resulting fear, and the vacuum it creates for a strong man to take control, is deeply tragic for all.
The story unfolds with a clear omniscient narration. The pov starts close to the main characters, particularly the young adults Arlan and Nara. There are some thrilling action scenes in the first half of the story, up until a climactic encounter with the shadow beast. Then the narration backs up and takes a much broader/distant view of events.
The rest of the book reads like a summarized account of what happened as Arlan takes control, determined to change the colony, shape its future, and learn the secrets of the beast. He’s not a likable character, but watching him is like watching a train wreck. It’s hard to look away from his ruinous choices. Despite the omniscient pov, the book has a lot of mysteries, and I enjoyed the way they unraveled and came together, though it’s far from a happily-ever-after ending.
I recommend this read to sci-fi fans who don’t mind ambivalent endings, who enjoy colonization/first-contact books, and who want to try something different. (Kindle Unlimited).