Sunday, 9 June 2019

A Sunday in June Reading Update

It's a nice cool Sunday and Jo and I are both somewhat under the weather. She's feeling a mite poorly with a headache and somehow I've managed to tweak my shoulder; feels like a pinched nerve maybe. I guess I slept wrong. Anyway, hurts like heck and finding it a bit difficult to turn my head. So we're just sitting in the family room, feeling sorry for ourselves. What better time to do an update.

I have finished two books in June so far and will update those. I'll also update the next books I've started and also some new books that I got this past week. I might also continue with my ongoing look at the Mystery genre, Part 3 of the American cop series sub-genre.

So let's get on with it.

New Books

1. The Red Eagles by David Downing. I've enjoyed the first two books in Downing's John Russell series. This is one of his standalone books.

"World War II is nearly over. For the Russians, the enemy is no longer Nazi Germany, but the American behemoth that threatens to topple the Communist revolution. Deep within the walls of the Kremlin, Stalin’s top man hatches a brilliant plan that will alter the course of postwar history—and it’s all based on a deception as simple as the shell game. Five years later, an atomic bomb detonates deep within the borders of the Soviet Union, stunning the experts who had predicted that Russian science could not produce such a devastating weapon for at least another generation.

The Red Eagles traces the adventures of two spies, Jack Kuznetsky and Amy Brandon, as they track down the most deadly force in the world while hiding their true allegiances and intentions from their compatriots. They are the “red” eagles, sent to America by one of its enemies to steal the greatest secret of all: the key to producing the atomic bomb."

2. Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge (SciFi). I've been looking for another book by Vinge and have one by Joan Vinge, so thought I'd give this book a try as well.

"Robert Gu is a recovering Alzheimer's patient. The world that he remembers was much as we know it today. Now, as he regains his faculties through a cure developed during the years of his near-fatal decline, he discovers that the world has changed and so has his place in it. He was a world-renowned poet. Now he is seventy-five years old, though by a medical miracle he looks much younger, and he’s starting over, for the first time unsure of his poetic gifts. Living with his son’s family, he has no choice but to learn how to cope with a new information age in which the virtual and the real are a seamless continuum, layers of reality built on digital views seen by a single person or millions, depending on your choice. But the consensus reality of the digital world is available only if, like his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Miri, you know how to wear your wireless access—through nodes designed into smart clothes—and to see the digital context—through smart contact lenses.

With knowledge comes risk. When Robert begins to re-train at Fairmont High, learning with other older people what is second nature to Miri and other teens at school, he unwittingly becomes part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to use technology as a tool for world domination.

In a world where every computer chip has Homeland Security built-in, this conspiracy is something that baffles even the most sophisticated security analysts, including Robert’s son and daughter-in law, two top people in the U.S. military. And even Miri, in her attempts to protect her grandfather, may be entangled in the plot.

As Robert becomes more deeply involved in conspiracy, he is shocked to learn of a radical change planned for the UCSD Geisel Library; all the books there, and worldwide, would cease to physically exist. He and his fellow re-trainees feel compelled to join protests against the change. With forces around the world converging on San Diego, both the conspiracy and the protest climax in a spectacular moment as unique and satisfying as it is unexpected."

3. The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor (Thriller). This is the first book in Thor's Scott Horvath thriller series. I've heard good things about it so have been looking for the first book to see what it's like.

"On the snow-covered slopes of Utah, the President of the United States has been kidnapped and his Secret Service detail massacred. Only one agent has survived—ex-Navy SEAL Scot Harvath. He doesn’t buy the official line that Middle Eastern terrorists are behind the attack and begins his own campaign to find the truth and exact revenge. But now, framed for murder by a sinister cabal, Harvath takes his fight to the towering mountains of Switzerland—and joins forces with beautiful Claudia Mueller of the Swiss Federal Attorney’s Office. Together they must brave the subzero temperatures and sheer heights of treacherous Mount Pilatus—where their only chance for survival lies inside the den of the most lethal team of professional killers the world has ever known…" 

4. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Fantasy). Jo and I have just enjoyed the first season of this series on AMC so I've been interested to see if the books are just as good.

"A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it.

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels..."

Just Finished

1. Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock (Alternative History). This was a re-read for me, even though it's been 30 or 40 years since I read it the first time.

"I have read Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock once before, many years ago. I saw it in a used book store on one of my visits a few years back and decided it would be worth trying again. So there you go, a bit of back history before my review.

The book was originally published in 1971. It purport to be a story written by Michael Moorcock's grandfather, from events he recorded back in 1903. It's a neat tale, told to Moorcock Senior by Oswald Bastable, a Victorian Captain who is thrust into the future. Sound confusing? Well, it is only somewhat but the story is rich and interesting.

Moorcock Senior has moved to Rowe Island, a small island near Indonesia to recover from a nervous disability. While there, he encounters Bastable, who has disembarked from a tramp steamer, his clothes worn and shredded and also appearing to suffer from a heroin addiction. Moorcock takes him under his wing, feeds and bathes him and tries to stop him from using heroin. While with Moorcock, Bastable tells his fascinating tale.

While in the British army in India, Bastable takes a troop of Sepoys and Gurkhas to a remote Himalayan country, Teku Benga to stop the warlord / magician from continuing to threaten border outposts. Bastable and a few of his men go to the capital city and are drugged. An earthquake strikes and while trying to escape, Bastable is lost in the passage ways of the palace. (He has been warned that there are doorways to unknown places below the palace.

Waking up, Bastable finds himself in rubble of the destroyed city and is unable to get off the mountain due to the destruction. He is very surprised to find himself rescued by an airship of the Royal Indian Air Force. Thus begins Bastable's adventure. It turns out that he has moved from 1902 to 1973, in a different, modern world. The world is at peace, airships are the norm, the world is divided into major empires; the British, the American, the Russian, the Japanese, etc.

Bastable finds himself in this new, seemingly peaceful world. After exams he trains for a job on one of the commercial airships as an Security Air Policeman. And from this point the adventure builds and moves into a time of less peace.

It's a fascinating fantasy adventure. Reading this again in 2019, trying to picture both the Victorian era from which Bastable starts to the 1970's, which is different from that we've experienced and comparing with some of the actual events that occurred in 'our' world's history makes for a surprisingly rich layer of textures. It's a simple story in many ways but also quite complex. Meeting some historical characters and events that take place in Bastable's future add to the story. I'm glad I read it again; I think I appreciate it more. (4 stars)" 

2. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (Penn Cage #4). This was my first exposure to Iles and it was an engrossing, exciting story.

"Natchez Burning is the 4th book in the Penn Cage series by Greg Iles. But for some reason, it's also the first book in his Natchez Burning trilogy (all of which make up the Penn Cage books too). At any rate, after reading this book, I didn't seem to have missed not reading the first three Penn Cage books. But my interest in this book will get me to delve back into those other books. Confused yet?

So, this book begins in 1964 with the murder of a black music shop owner in Natchez, Mississippi and others by a sect of the Ku Klux Klan, known as the Double Eagles. With this introduction we move to 2005 and the arrest of Tom Cage, a local doctor, and Penn Cage's father for the murder of Viola Turner, a woman who'd been his nurse and lover back in those same '60s. Viola, who had moved to Chicago after the events mentioned above, with the help of Tom Cage, had returned to Natchez, still under threat of murder by the Double Eagles, to live her last days. Tom Cage had been treating her for her cancer and upon her death, he has been charged, first with assisted suicide and then murder. This charge has been laid by Lincoln Turner, Viola's son, who also claims that Tom is his father.

Whew! That's just the beginning. Penn Cage, now mayor of Natchez, has now to try to find the truth about this from his father, who is reticent to tell him anything, all the while fighting off pressure from the local DA, Shad Johnson and also the sheriff, racist, redneck Billy Byrd. Of course, it's not that simple a story. This story will delve back into the past as Penn tries to find out the truth of the murders in the '60s, to break down who caused them, to fight the remnants of the Double Eagles, and their sons. He will require the assistance of local reporter, Henry Sexton, who has made it his life's work to find the truth; FBI agent Jim Kaiser, who is trying to make amends for the failure of the FBI to solve the crimes in the past; and also Kaitlin, publisher of the other local newspaper, and Penn's fiance, who also wants to get her own story.

And that's just touching the tip of the iceberg of this rich, engrossing, and at times, scary thriller and look at the troubling past of southern states like Mississippi. Iles has delved greatly into similar incidents in the past to create this fascinating story. It's so well written, it holds your attention right from the get-go. There is a large cast of characters that each share the spotlight in their own right, from those crusaders who want to expose the truth to those who want to continue their 'evil' work and to crush those who would dare to try to stop them.

While the ultimate ending wasn't totally satisfying, the story on the whole is rich, powerful and will keep you turning pages. I do know I'll be reading more books in the Penn Cage series. (4.5 stars)"

Just Started

1.  The Dante Club by Michael Pearl (Historical Mystery). I've had this book for 7 years and have kept putting it aside. I'm enjoying the start so far.

"In 1865 Boston, the literary geniuses of the Dante Club—poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher J. T. Fields—are finishing America's first translation of The Divine Comedy and preparing to unveil Dante's remarkable visions to the New World. The powerful Boston Brahmins at Harvard College are fighting to keep Dante in obscurity, believing that the infiltration of foreign superstitions into American minds will prove as corrupting as the immigrants arriving at Boston Harbor.

The members of the Dante Club fight to keep a sacred literary cause alive, but their plans fall apart when a series of murders erupts through Boston and Cambridge. Only this small group of scholars realizes that the gruesome killings are modeled on the descriptions of Hell's punishments from Dante's Inferno. With the lives of the Boston elite and Dante's literary future in America at stake, the Dante Club members must find the killer before the authorities discover their secret.

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and an outcast police officer named Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the Boston police department, must place their careers on the line to end the terror. Together, they discover that the source of the murders lies closer to home than they ever could have imagined."

2. An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters (Cadfael #11). I've enjoyed this historical mystery series very much so far.

"This is the eleventh chronicle of Brother Cadfael, of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury. In the year of our Lord 1141, August comes in golden as a lion, and two monks ride into the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul bringing with them disturbing news of war...and a mystery. The strangers tell how the strife between the Empress Maud and King Stephan has destroyed the town of Winchester and their priory. Now Brother Humilis, who is handsome, gaunt, and very ill, and Brother Fidelis, youthful, comely (and totally mute) must seek refuge at Shrewsbury. And from the moment he meets them, Brother Cadfael senses something deeper than their common vows binds these two good brothers. What the link is he can only guess...what it will lead to is beyond his imagining. But as Brother Humilis' health fails, and nothing can stop death's lengthening shade, Brother Cadfael faces a poignant test of his discretion and his beliefs as he unravels a secret so great it can destroy a life, a future, and a holy order." 

3. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. I've enjoyed both Atkinson's Jackson Brodie mysteries and her standalone stories as well, so far. This was her second novel and I'm reading it to satisfy a genre challenge in one of my book clubs - Magical Realism.

"Once it had been the great forest of Lythe--a vast and impenetrable thicket of green with a mystery in the very heart of the trees.  And here, in the beginning, lived the Fairfaxes, grandly, at Fairfax Manor, visited once by the great Gloriana herself.

But over the centuries the forest had been destroyed, replaced by Streets of Trees.  The Fairfaxes had dwindled too; now they lived in 'Arden' at the end of Hawthorne Close and were hardly a family at all.

There was Vinny (the Aunt from Hell)--with her cats and her crab-apple face. And Gordon, who had forgotten them for seven years and, when he remembered, came back with fat Debbie, who shared her one brain cell with a poodle. And then there were Charles and Isobel, the children. Charles, the acne-scarred Lost Boy, passed his life awaiting visits from aliens and the return of his mother. But it is Isobel to whom the story belongs--Isobel, born on the Streets of Trees, who drops into pockets of time and out again. Isobel is sixteen and she too is waiting for the return of her mother--the thin, dangerous Eliza with her scent of nicotine, Arpege and sex, whose disappearance is part of the mystery that still remains at the heart of the forest."

My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops Part 3

James R. Benn
James R. Benn - Billy Boyle. James R. Benn was born in 1949 and is best known for his Billy Boyle, wartime mystery series set during WWII. His character, Billy Boyle is a Boston Police Detective. When WWII arrives, his father, use their connections to get him assigned to the staff Dwight D. Eisenhower. Billy eventually gets appointed as staff investigator to solve crimes. These crimes form the basis for the Billy Boyle stories. Since 2006, Benn has written 13 Billy Boyle mysteries. I've got the first two on my book shelves.

a. Billy Boyle; A World War II Mystery.

"What’s a twenty-two-year-old Irish American cop who’s never been out of Massachusetts before doing at Beardsley Hall, an English country house, having lunch with King Haakon of Norway? Billy Boyle himself wonders. Back home in Southie, he’d barely made detective when war was declared.

Unwilling to fight — and perhaps die — for England, he was relieved when his mother wangled a job for him on the staff of a general married to her distant cousin. But the general turns out to be Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose headquarters are in London, which is undergoing the Blitz. And Uncle Ike wants Billy to be his personal investigator.

Billy is dispatched to the seat of the Norwegian government in exile. Operation Jupiter, the impending invasion of Norway, is being planned, but it is feared that there is a German spy amongst the Norwegians.

Billy doubts his own abilities, with good reason. A theft and two murders test his investigative powers, but Billy proves to be a better detective than he or anyone else."

2. The First Wave.

"Billy Boyle is dispatched to help arrange the surrender of Vichy French forces in Algeria. But dissension among the regular army, the militia, and De Gaulle's Free French forces allows black marketers in league with the Germans to divert medical supplies, leading to multiple murders. Billy must find the killers and rescue the woman he loves, a British spy."

The remaining books in this series are -
- Blood Alone (2008)
- Evil for Evil (2009)
- Rag and Bone (2010)
- A Mortal Terror (2011)
- Death's Door (2012)
- A Blind Goddess (2013)
- The Rest is Silence (2014)
- The White Ghost (2015)
- Blue Madonna (2016)
- The Devouring (2017)
- Solemn Graves (2018)

Well, there you go. Any sound interesting? Enjoy your week!

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