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Monday, March 25, 2019

The Peddler of Wisdom: Healer, Diviner, Rebel

 This post is an expanded version of one that I originally wrote for Flying High Reviews, my blog for books with strong female protagonists.  The original version of this review appeared here .

I'm glad to be reviewing a historical fiction with a strong woman protagonist during women's history month.  I won a digital copy of The Peddler of Wisdom by Laura Matthias Bendoly in a giveaway on the Historical Fictionistas group on Goodreads.  The author sent it to me as a gift from Amazon, and this is my honest review.

                           

Central character Irène Guéri is a healer and a diviner who resides in Les Échelles, a fictional village in the south of 17th century France. Les Échelles was invaded by an army of  Sardinians.  Sardinia is an island in the Mediterranean.  In the 17th century, it was under Spanish rule.  See the historical section in  the Wikipedia article about Sardinia here.  The Sardinians were  led by Domenico, a tyrannical nobleman with strange obsessions that involved cruel practices.  

When Domenico demanded that the villagers consult his alchemist/physician instead of Irène, I expected that she would become the victim of a witchcraft hysteria which were quite common in the 17th century.  It turned out that I was being too pessimistic.  While there were a few collaborators with the invaders,  most of the village wanted to resist Domenico. So Irène became a rebel. I love women who take a stand.

There were other amazing female characters. One of them was Bijou, a female raptor who was very protective of Noisette, the ten year old girl who'd adopted Bijou.  I was also impressed by the courage of  Irène's closest friend, Simone.

There's a romance element in The Peddler of Wisdom.  We even get a HEA ending.  Yet I wouldn't categorize this novel as a romance.  I think that the romance content is insufficient.  I would say the same about characterizing The Peddler of Wisdom as a fantasy.  There is a great deal of discussion about magic, but there are relatively few magical acts.   I wouldn't count Irène's Tarot readings as magic.  For me, they exhibit insight/intuition.   

I did have some problems with the Tarot aspect of The Peddler of Wisdom. In order to discuss the most significant one, I need to explain the structure of Tarot.  The Tarot is composed of Major Arcana,  and Minor Arcana.  The Major Arcana are the trumps.  All of them have illustrations.  The Minor Arcana are  the court cards of each suit (King, Queen, Knave AKA Jack and Page) and what were known as"the pip cards" in a playing card deck.  These are the numbered cards in the suits.  Until the 20th century, these would have displayed representations of  the suit in the quantity that matched the number of the card.  So the Three of Cups would show three cups with no human figures or any additional illustration. The first fully pictographic deck was the Waite-Smith deck.  Occultist Arthur Edward Waite was the designer and Pamela Coleman Smith was the artist.  This deck was published in 1910.  This means that there should be no numbered Minor Arcana in Irène's readings that are illustrated with anything other than playing card "pips" which are those representations of the suit that I mentioned previously.   I suppose it's possible that a hand drawn 17th century deck might have been fully illustrated, but I wonder about the motivation.  It would have been a great deal of additional work.  The numbered cards could be interpreted using concepts from numerology.  This is why I was so astonished to find that there were fully illustrated numbered cards in Irène's readings.  I can't imagine why that would have happened when there were nothing but pips on those cards in any playing card deck that existed at the time.

I also noticed what is likely to be an editing glitch.  In one of Irène's readings, she lays  out the Five of Swords twice.   There should only be one of each card in the deck.  I find it very odd that this error went unnoticed during the editing process.
 
Some would say that the 17th century was too early for Tarot divination since the earliest historically recorded use of Tarot for that purpose was in the 18th century.  Tarot images were originally utilized for playing cards, not as divination tools. (In my review of Braided Dimensions here, I complained that there was a Tarot reading taking place in Wales before playing cards existed in Europe.  I would be inconsistent if I didn't even mention the earliness of the readings in this book.) I should point out that recorded history has tended to focus exclusively on the doings of the wealthy and powerful.   Irène learned about divination with Tarot cards from a Romani woman.  It seems to me at least possible that the Romani might have been reading Tarot somewhat earlier than history indicates.

The Romani are called "gypsies" in this book.    I have been guilty of using the term "gypsies" myself, but that was before I learned the history of  "gypsy" as a pejorative.  It's enough for me that members of this ethnic group prefer Romani.   My policy is that people should be called what they want to be called.  Of course, 17th century Irène wouldn't have known better.  It did bother me that Irène was insulting toward Romani  at the end of the book.   Hurtful stereotypes about the Romani have been common and they still do have a great deal of currency.  Irène seemed advanced in a number of ways.   That comment caused me to think less of her.  It also left a bad taste in my mouth since it was literally the last thing Irène said.

The protagonist of The Peddler of Wisdom was by no means perfect, nor did she need to be perfect.   Characters seem more real if they have flaws or complexity.   A number of characters in Bendoly's book were well-developed including the villainous tyrant Domenico who had a background, and an unpredictable degree of ambivalence.

Despite the problems mentioned in this review,  I did like The Peddler of Wisdom for the most part, and was glad to have the opportunity to read it.

                             
                  

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Bones Of The Earth-Eliot Pattison Once Again Brings His "A" Game To Tibet

When I realized that there were no mysteries in my March reading line-up, I decided to default to one of my favorite series.  There were ARCs from two of them waiting to be read.  I chose Bones of the Earth by Eliot Pattison because it's going to be released later this month.  I love Eliot Pattison's protagonist, Shan Tao Yun, once a highly skilled investigator in Beijing who was transformed into a dissident and an ally of Tibetans by his government's policies.

I have to confess that I haven't loved all the books in the series.  It's particularly unfortunate that the last time I was provided with a review copy of a volume from the Inspector Shan series, it was Mandarin Gate which I ended up liking less than I anticipated.  See my review on my earlier blog here.  Let's just say that I didn't consider it one of Pattison's best.  I hoped to have a better reading experience with Bones of the Earth  which I downloaded from Net Galley.

                             


The central conflict in this book was over the building of a hydro-electric dam which involved destroying a mountain under the protection of a type of pre-Buddhist  spirit known as Gekho. Bon is the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet.  According to a web page dealing with Bon that I found, Gekhö means demon tamer.  That web page also contained an image of a Gekhö spirit.

 Since the Chinese authorities don't believe in demons or protective spirits, their view was that Tibetan superstition was standing in the way of progress.   There was also an archaeological team at the site which included an American woman.  They too were regarded by the Chinese in charge of the dam project as an obstacle to be removed.  Yet strange events were associated with the dam project.   Was there really a spirit protecting the mountain, or did these incidents have  a more rational explanation?

Character development was another strength of Bones of the Earth.  I particularly liked seeing more of the human side of Chinese Colonel Tan, Shan's superior.  While Tan needed to be ruthless when he was challenged by would-be rivals, he also displayed compassion and decency.  There was a minor character whose name I enjoyed.  Her name was Tinkerbell though she was often called Tink. I found her rather unexpected.  Shan himself was in a state of change, moving on to another stage in his life.

If this is really the last book in the Inspector Shan series, as the description states, I can say that I thought that it ended well.   I would like to imagine that  Shan's future life is going to be happy, or as happy as can be managed in Chinese occupied Tibet.  Bones of the Earth ranks with the best books in this series.   The political, spiritual and personal elements combined to make this book a superior mystery.

                            


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Drops of Cerulean: A Tale of Houston History and Reincarnation

I got a request to review Drops of Cerulean by Dawn Adams Cole from publicist Wiley Saichek.  Wiley Saichek normally promotes mysteries and thrillers.  This book is in neither of those categories.   It's a dual period novel dealing with reincarnation.  Fortunately, I am a very eclectic reader with an interest in spiritual themes.   I downloaded a review copy from the publisher via Net Galley.

                              


Drops of Cerulean reminded me of Braided Dimensions, a recent read by Marie Judson which I reviewed here.  Both books deal with a mysterious spiritual connection between two women who live in different historical periods.  Dawn Adams Cole and Marie Judson have different spiritual perspectives.  After reading Dawn Adam Cole's Q&A, I would say that my own spiritual approach is more akin to Marie Judson's, but I feel that there is room for a great deal of variation in spiritual outlooks.

Although I was critical of some fine points in the portrayal of medieval Wales in Braided Dimensions, I had no such problems with  Drops of Cerulean.  Everything that I checked out about Cole's depiction of life in Houston, Texas during the 1930's was authentic.  As a native of Houston, Cole would certainly have been motivated to get every detail right.

I hadn't been aware that the Great Depression hit Houston later than in other parts of the United States. This means that it lasted for less time in that city.  So I imagine that it would have been easier for Houston to recover economically.  The characters in Drops of Cerulean from the well-heeled Doyle family had some setbacks during the Great Depression, but they seemed to have pretty much retained their wealth and status afterward.

Prejudice was an important theme in Drops of Cerulean.   Historical protagonist Ilona had to deal with ethnic and class prejudice.  Her son Cadmus later faced prejudice over his gay identity.  They both experienced rejection by the Doyles.

Delphina appeared late in the narrative, but she turned out to be a pivotal character.   I wondered if her name was intended as a connection to the ancient priestesses of Delphi who were visionaries like Delphina.

I appreciated the integration of the themes in this book with the lives of the characters, and the times in which they lived.  The spiritual aspect wove them all together in a satisfying way.   I would give Drops of Cerulean four stars.

                     


                              

  



Monday, February 25, 2019

A Fictional Mass Shooting at a Mosque in Quebec in A Deadly Divide

Mystery writer Ausma Zehanat Khan has been navigating the difficult path of Muslims in the West through her Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty series.  Each volume deals with cases taking place in different types of Muslim communities and the issues they face. The only novel in this series that I've reviewed on this blog was the first one, The Unquiet Dead which dealt with Bosnian Muslims who were survivors of the 20th century horrors in that part of the world. You can find that review here. In A Dangerous Crossing, the fourth book in the series, Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty became embroiled in a case involving Syrian refugees on a Greek island.

The fifth novel, which is the subject of this review, is A Deadly Divide set in a small town in Quebec. I was provided with a digital copy free of charge from the publisher via Net Galley.

                            

St. Isidore in A Deadly Divide definitely isn't a clone of Three Pines, the small town in Quebec that is the setting of most of the mysteries by Louise Penny.  Fans of Louise Penny may object, but my feeling is that Three Pines is a rather typical small town that could be located anywhere in North America.  This is why I tend to prefer the Louise Penny novels that aren't set in Three Pines.

In Ausma Zehanat Khan's Quebec the French speaking Catholic community see themselves as an embattled minority trying to preserve their heritage in the majority Anglophone culture of Canada.   Many readers are unlikely to be sympathetic to their perspective when we are presented in a A Deadly Divide with a number of right wing Quebecois characters who are intolerant racists.  Yet there are also Quebecois who are respectful toward other minorities and mindful of cultural diversity.  The local Catholic priest,
Père Étienne , is most notable in this regard.

In Khan's author's note, she discusses the actual mass shooting at a Quebec mosque in 2017 which inspired the mosque shooting in A Deadly Divide.  The perpetrator of  The Quebec City Mosque Shooting,  Alexandre Bissonnette, denied being a terrorist.  He said he was overcome by fear.   It seems to me that he was probably projecting his own intolerance on Canadian Muslims.   He must have believed that they were all religious fundamentalists who would impose their religion on all Quebecois.   

We all know that when religious fundamentalists achieve positions of power, they destroy religious freedom.   I only need to take a look at 17th century Puritan Massachusetts.  The Puritans were a persecuted religious minority who fled England for religious freedom, and then persecuted religious dissenters in Massachusetts.  Israel provides another example of what happens when religious fundamentalists become dominant.    For discussion of the religious situation in Israel see my post Are The Haredi Jewish Taliban?   So there is good reason to fear fundamentalism in any religion. Yet the assumption that all Muslims are intolerant fanatics is based on ignorance. The Islamic world isn't uniform in its beliefs.  For an excellent overview of the diversity within Islam, I recommend a book by a Christian who interviewed Muslims from a variety of approaches.  It's called Halal Monk, and I reviewed it here.

 One of the reasons why I loved A Deadly Divide is because it gave rise to thoughts like the ones above on the issues it raised, but it was also an excellent mystery.  I was never really certain about whodunit until the reveal at the end of the book.

I consider A Deadly Divide the best book that Ausma Zehanat Khan has written since The Unquiet Dead.  She continues to be one of my favorite mystery authors.

                              





Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson--Blog Tour and Review



I have been an early follower of the blogger Shealea.  Her blog can now be found at Shut Up Shealea.  When I learned that Shealea was embarking on her first blog tour, I read the summary of debut fantasy Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson, and was intrigued.  So I joined the blog tour.   I was provided with a review copy free of charge by Shealea's Caffeine Book Tours. My review is below.

                          


My Review:

I pretty much knew that I was in a very different world when protagonist Maya Lilac arrives at her college dorm.  The world building is detailed without being overwhelming.  Information is presented to readers on a need to know basis which I consider ideal.  There are no lengthy info dumps.

Dreamer is a New Adult novel which means that this is a coming of age narrative.  Maya retains a number of adolescent traits as the book opens, but she is forced to mature over the course of the intensely dramatic story line.

Maya is placed in the rather unenviable position of having to make some horrendous choices.  Sometimes there are ethical dilemmas in which all alternatives result in heart-rending consequences.  At such times there are no easy answers.  This is a dark novel, but I thought it was an honest and insightful one.

                                       Author Photo

                                 
                            

For more information about Ja-Mel Vinson see his website at
https://jamelvinson.com/


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Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Shotgun Lawyer--A School Shooting Transforms An Attorney

The F2F mystery group that I attend selected The Shotgun Lawyer by Victor Methos to discuss at their upcoming meeting in March.  I wanted to make sure I read it on time.  So I started this legal thriller at my first opportunity, when I had free time between review commitments, in February. I purchased it on Amazon, and this is my review.

                       


   I saw a review from someone on Goodreads who raked this author over the coals. He read the bio included with the book which stated that he practiced law in Utah. That Goodreads reviewer said that he couldn't find a lawyer in Utah named Victor Methos.  There's a simple explanation.  Victor Methos is a pseudonym.  That's the first thing that occurred to me when I saw the name.  In fact, I'm convinced that it's a shout out to fans of  Highlander: The Series where Methos is the oldest Immortal.  The name of the protagonist in The Shotgun Lawyer, Peter Game, could also be associated with the Methos character on the Highlander series.  Methos was played by Peter Wingfield.  The Highlander Immortals fight one another in what is called The Game.  Of course Methos fans expect him to be the victor in The Game. Am I imagining these Highlander connections because I myself am a Highlander fan?  That could be, but it does seem to me that a character named  Peter Game in a novel by Victor Methos can't be a coincidence. 

For much of the novel I felt like I needed to have a great deal of patience with Peter Game.  I had expected him to be ethically challenged considering the type of law that he originally practiced, but he also made dangerous mistakes that showed a total lack of judgment, and he committed the same errors repetitively.  Around the time when I was considering that he was truly TSTL (Too Stupid To Live), I came to the realization that he had no sense of his own value as a human being.  Peter Game would only change when he became convinced that he was worthwhile.  His school shooting case did provide him with an opportunity to achieve self-respect.  He only needed to grab hold of the gold ring on the legal merry-go-round.

Characterization in The Shotgun Lawyer was nuanced and believable.   Victor Methos brought us into the experience of  Peter Game's client, Melissa, a mother who had lost her seven year old son in the school shooting.  Peter's former fiancee, Kelly, and Craig, the law school intern who became Peter's clerk, were also well-developed.  The author gave Peter even more dimension by showing us Peter's painful regrets about his conflicted relationship with his son.  I was blown away by the number of deeply honest and powerful scenes throughout this novel.

The Shotgun Lawyer is one of the best legal thrillers I have ever read.   I expect it to be in my top ten reads at the end of 2019.

                              

                          

                        

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Braided Dimensions: A 21st Century Wiccan in Medieval Wales

I agreed to review Braided Dimensions by Marie Judson because I like to read books containing spirituality, magic and history.   It deals with a Wiccan former academic who time travels magically. So I requested the book from the author and this is my honest review.

                              

There were things I really liked about this book, and they were at the heart and soul of the novel.  Braided Dimensions is steeped in magic and Pagan spirituality.  The protagonist meditates, chants spells and has a more than surface understanding of  Norse runes and Tarot.   She is also a visionary who is able to trance deeply.   I was pleased with Judson's depictions of these magical and spiritual phenomena.

The character development of protagonist Kay Halefin was also a strong aspect of the novel.  At the opening, Kay has lost her position at a university due to false rumors about her research into shamanism.  She drifted into a non-academic job that ended up being routine and uninspiring.  Her life was ripe for change, and major transformation was exactly what she got.  We never learn why she was drawn to Kyna in 10th century Wales.  She could have been a distant ancestor, but Kyna was definitely a catalyst for the change that Kay needed.

Almost all my problems with Braided Dimensions had to do with the choices that Marie Judson made for the historical aspect of her book.   We are told that the historical characters spoke Middle Welsh.  Actual Middle Welsh dialogue would have been incomprehensible to modern readers.  I would have preferred an occasional flavoring of Middle Welsh or Gaelic words here and there.  Instead Judson gave us characters speaking Scots.  I listened to tapes of Welsh author Dylan Thomas reciting from Under Milkwood when I was involved in a production of that play, and I studied Scots for a theatre class.  So I know that the Scots and the Welsh sound very different from one another.

In addition, these Welsh people seemed to be culturally influenced by the Vikings. Although I learned from the Viking Answer Lady  that the village of Llanbadarn Fawr ,where most of the historical characters lived, was raided by Vikings late in the 10th century, there was no Viking settlement there.  In fact, there was relatively little Viking colonization in Wales as compared to Scotland where Viking colonization was extensive.  Many current day Scots are partly descended from Vikings.  So you could expect that some 10th century Scots might know all about Norse runes and ancient Norse deities.  Welsh Druids  who speak Scots, and do a bind rune spell using Norse runes just didn't sit right with me.  This cultural presence of Scotland in a Welsh village made me feel that Kay wasn't the only character who'd been displaced.

Late in the novel, a 10th century Welsh healer read Tarot cards for Kay.   Since I am a student of Tarot history,  this didn't seem at all possible to me.  While the concepts symbolized through Tarot images are ancient ones, the idea of making them concrete through a deck of cards requires the existence of playing cards.    According to a Wikipedia article on the history of playing cards, they were probably invented in 10th century China, but the Welsh of that century had no contact with China.  Playing cards came to Europe in the 14th century via Egypt.  So I find it too improbable that even handmade Tarot decks could have existed in early medieval Wales.

Many readers may not notice the irregularities that I've been discussing in this review.  They  could be considered quibbles, yet I also found the historical portion of the novel somewhat repetitive and predictable.  Similar incidents occurred over and over.  The narrative  could have arrived at its climax sooner if some of this repetition had been eliminated.

I wanted to enjoy Braided Dimensions a great deal more than I did.  I did like Kay, and the magical/spiritual elements were wonderful.

                                  


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Algorithms of Oppression--Lack of Neutrality in Search Engines

I subscribe to the list for the Progressive Librarians Guild  which recently established a group on Goodreads.  They decided to select Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Omoja Noble as their first book for discussion.  I downloaded a copy for review from Net Galley last year.  So I prioritized it and started reading it as soon as I could.  I finished it toward the end of January, and this is my review.

                          

 Safiya Umoja Noble is described in About The Author as an instructor in the University of California at Los Angeles School of Education and Information Studies.  So UCLA combined their library school with the education department.   Since librarians are educators, this does make a certain amount of sense.  I should note that UCLA still does have a Masters of Library Information Science degree program.

The foundation of Noble's argument is her discussion of how search works.  This was an eye opener for me.  It shouldn't have been, but I hadn't examined the topic critically. She states that citation analysis is the basis for page ranking in search.

Citation analysis is used by scholars to determine the significance of  a book or article in a particular field.  Noble then  tells us that the problem with citation analysis is that there is no consideration of whether the material in question is being cited approvingly or negatively.  So the number of citations doesn't indicate whether other scholars thought it was well written or valid.  Similarly, search is supposed to give us the most popular results first.  The most obvious problem is that the most popular websites aren't necessarily the most relevant for any particular user.  I was taught in library school  that librarians need to be search professionals who know how to elicit relevant results with the most specific search terms.

 Is this perception of search as a neutral process really an accurate description?  Users of search tend to assume that the top results are indeed the most popular.  Noble interrogates our assumptions about search.  What is search engine optimization?  It means that some have found ways to game the system. Advertising is also a factor.  After all, users don't pay for their searches.  Search engines need to be profitable in order to survive.  So the top results in many cases are advertisers.  As users, most of us would say that we are willing to tolerate advertising in return for free services.  Are there limits to this tolerance?  What if the advertisers are offensive to users?  What if they promote racist or sexist attitudes?

Noble shows us numerous examples of  racist and sexist top search results.  She does admit that Google is eventually responsive to complaints, and makes changes to ameliorate the situation.  This means that activist users must be vigilant, and refuse to allow advertisers or gamers of the system to demean entire groups of people.

Algorithms of Oppression is a significant book.  Information professionals and students in the field should definitely read it, but I  think it's also illuminating to anyone who uses search engines.

                          

                           

                           

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

One If By Land, Two If By Submarine: A Middle Grade Time Travel Novel

I read books because their central concepts interest me.  One If By Land, Two If By Submarine by Eileen Schnabel isn't the first children's book that I've reviewed.  The most recent was Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes which I reviewed here.
I requested a free copy of Schnabel's historical science fiction novel from the publisher.

In the case of One If By Land, Two If By Submarine, I was interested in finding out why children would have been sent back in time to oppose an effort to prevent the American Revolution.  Schnabel does have a credible explanation based on her ideas about how time travel works.  So I thought my readers would want to know about this book.

                           


Initially, this novel reminded me of the TV time travel series, Timeless.  Yet the effort to change history in Timeless was much more extensive and didn't involve children.

When I started reading, I thought that  thirteen year old Kep Wearguard had been selected as the protagonist because he's an athlete who knows very little about history and needed to have everything explained to him.    Over the course of the narrative, I came to respect Kep.  He's courageous, loyal and resourceful.

The characters that immediately captured my interest were Kep's fellow time travelers, T.J. and Tela.   T. J. is a young African American who wonders if support for the American Revolution is extending slavery.  Tela is a vegan and an animal activist. I would love to see future books in the series that focus more centrally on T.J. or Tela.

                       

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cloud Warriors: A Lost Tribe in Peru

Cloud Warriors is a thriller dealing with the results of an anthropological expedition to the jungles of Peru. It's also the debut novel of author Rob Jung.  I was interested in the anthropology aspect which included shamanism and plant lore.  So I requested a free review copy in advance of publication from the publisher via Net Galley.

                             


The  anthropology expedition to the Peruvian jungle that interested me was facilitated by funding from a pharmaceutical company helmed by a  CEO who was rather improbably portrayed as a saintly idealist in an industry that is widely considered the most shameful example of corporate greed.   Naturally, he had a stereotypically villainous employee who was conspiring against him.   This employee is the one who provides the conflict that makes The Cloud Warriors a thriller. 

I thought this improbable CEO was a great character even though I didn't believe that he could exist in the real world.  He cared more about people than profits.  That's a lovely idea.

Other readers might consider the medium Carrie Waters just as improbable because she isn't a fake practitioner.   Since most mediums in novels turn out to be fake, I often avoid books that contain mediums. Those fake mediums are a predictable plot element.  Carrie had some predictable traits, but she was also honest, loyal and caring.  I enjoyed Carrie's gift. It allowed her to be in contact with both the spirits of the dead, and living characters who were in a shamanic trance.

These characters were shamans of a fictional indigenous people who were lighter skinned than other indigenous groups in Peru.   They were referred to as a "lost white tribe".  Adam Starling, the head of the anthropology department at the university involved in the Peru expedition, was apparently obsessed with light skinned indigenous peoples in parts of the world where the majority of the population are non-Caucasian.  I found this disturbing because his focus on finding these "lost white tribes" seemed likely to be based on an unconscious belief in white supremacy.  I do need to point out that Adam Starling is not portrayed as a sympathetic character.  He is described as being motivated by fame rather than expanding our knowledge of human cultures.   He is considered unsavory, but I think he may also have been a racist.

Cloud Warriors is a novel intended for adults.  There are some explicit sex scenes included.   There was one that bothered me because it was a breach of professional ethics, but that scene illustrated the immaturity of  the male character involved.  He goes through a process of growth during the course of the narrative.

This fusion of anthropology and the paranormal with a somewhat standard thriller plot kept Cloud Warriors engaging and suspenseful.   This is a very credible debut novel for Rob Jung.  I will enjoy finding out what he does next.

                                  

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Dumpstermancer 2: Duplicity--The Homeless Mage As A Detective

Duplicity is the second in the Dumpstermancer series.  Discarded,which begins this set of urban fantasy adventures, was my first encounter with the work of  Dumpstermancer's creator Michael J. Allen.  I reviewed it here.   I had initially requested  a free copy of Duplicity for review, but I needed the background from Discarded in order to review it properly.  If you were considering reading Duplicity first because of the cool cover, I definitely don't advise it. These books aren't standalones.  That's why Allen generously gifted me with both novels.

                            


  So I was introduced to homeless mage Eli Graham in Discarded.  In Duplicity readers learn about the events in Eli's past that made him so accustomed to false accusations, but the main plot focus of this book is a common trope in urban fantasy.  Eli becomes an investigator of a series of supernatural crimes.  There appears to be a killer using magic to eliminate the homeless, but the situation is more complex than that.  I don't want to be more specific to avoid spoilers.

Since I read mysteries regularly, I am accustomed to following clues.  I figured out the solution to this murder case quite early in the novel.  Eli did have to deal with constant new developments, and other distractions due to the difficulties of surviving on the street.  So I understood why he didn't figure out what was happening as soon as I did, but I did wonder if he might be slow on the uptake because he never did solve the case.  There was a big reveal at the end, but it didn't astonish me at all.

I appreciated Eli's creativity with spells even though he wasn't much of a detective.  After all, designing spells had been his profession.  He never claimed that sleuthing was his forte, and  he was essentially drafted into the investigation.  I also respected Eli's honesty about his own flaws.

Razcolm, the spirit who inhabited Eli's magical origami creations, was as snarky as he'd been in Discarded.  I was glad to see from the preview appended after the end of this book, that Razcolm would be practicing the art of snarkiness  in Dumpstermancer 3: Disrupted.

I liked Duplicity, but didn't love it.  I admit that I preferred Discarded.  Since my priority is always on original concepts, the second book in a series often feels less fresh than the first.   I am hoping that Michael J. Allen will throw in some really surprising magical innovations in Disrupted.

                               
 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Kizuna Coast--Japanese Come Together in Post-Earthquake Mystery

After reading The Widows of Malabar Hill, the first in a 1920's India mystery series by Sujata Massey, which I reviewed here , I discovered that there was a novel from her Rei Shimura mystery series that I hadn't known about called The Kizuna Coast. It also deals with significant events in recent Japanese history, the Great Eastern Kanto Earthquake of 2011 and the tsunami in its aftermath.  I decided that this novel would be my last read of 2018.

                       

There was so much to like about this book.  Most notably, the concept of kizuna. From what is said about it in this book, I would call it a combination of compassion and generosity particularly in an emergency situation.  So New Yorkers could be said to have shown kizuna toward each other post 9-11.  Kizuna was definitely on display in the context of the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan just before the events of this novel.  Rei Shimura, who was living in Hawaii at that point, returned to Japan to join a party of volunteers who were going to aid tsunami survivors in the Tohoku region.  One of them was Ishida, Rei's elderly mentor who had phoned asking for her help.

 I was intrigued to learn from the acknowledgements that mystery author Naomi Hirahara, a friend of Sujata Massey, had been a volunteer in Tohoku and provided Massey with background information for The Kizuna Coast.   

Like Rei, I  initially disliked Ishida's new apprentice, Mayumi, who died in suspicious circumstances.  Mayumi lacked an ethical compass, but she did become more sympathetic as we discovered more about her.  She turned out to be a very interesting character.

Dog lovers will be delighted by Hachiko, Ishida's dog.  Rei took Hachiko along to Tohoku because she couldn't be left alone in Ishida's Tokyo apartment.  I learned that there was an actual Japanese dog named Hachiko who was famous for being loyal.  There is a Wikipedia article about the real Hachiko here.  

Despite all the positive aspects that I've pointed out in this review, I couldn't give The Kizuna Coast five stars because the perpetrator became obvious before the big reveal.  Nevertheless, I was glad to have read it.  I think it's one of the better Rei Shimura novels.

                           
                 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My 2018 Retrospective

                              
 With my views at around 22,300, I've had approximately 7,500 views in 2018.  When I first started to blog, I didn't think thousands of people would be interested.  This total certainly exceeds my expectations.

As usual, my most viewed post was on my blog for strong female protagonists, High Flying Reviews.  It was my review of Insurrectio , a novel in the alternate history Roma Nova series by Alison Morton.  I'm sure that the reason why it was most viewed is because Alison Morton has quite a following. You can find that review here.

My most viewed post on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer was a review of The Spying Moon, the first novel in a projected crime series about a Canadian female constable by Sandra Ruttan.  It could be that there is currently a great deal of interest in Canadian law enforcement, but  I consider it more likely that publicist Wiley Saichek who gave me the opportunity to review this book, and the publisher Down and Out Books are very assiduous promoters.  You can find that review here.

I am now closing the statistics portion of this post and will proceed to my 2018 favorites who are recipients of:

                             The Golden Mask Awards

Best Book I Read in 2018

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann which is a historical study about Africans in England during the Tudor period.  This is a scholarly book.  Many readers may find it dull. I was amazed by the content which caused me to think about the reasons behind slavery and prejudice.

Best Fiction I Read in 2018

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo which is also the best YA book and the best fantasy.  While it's true that I'm a huge fan of Wonder Woman, I am not enthralled by every book dealing with her.  I felt that this one was inspiring, excellently written and focused on significant themes.

Best Book Published in 2018

The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark which is also the best science fiction that I read in 2018.  This is a steampunk novella that takes place in New Orleans and has a protagonist who is deeply identified with an African Goddess.  I reviewed it on this blog here.

Best Indie Book Published in 2018

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey which is also the best mystery that I read in 2018.  The publisher is Soho Press which describes themselves as an independent publisher.  I hesitated before giving this book the best indie award because I have in the past defined an indie publisher as one that is disadvantaged in distribution.  Soho Press books are everywhere.  This is because they are being given a boost by Penguin/Random House's distribution network.  I predict that some time in the foreseeable future, Soho's sales figures and prominence will be major publisher level, and no one will describe them as an independent publisher.

The Widows of Malabar Hill takes place in India in the 1920's.  The protagonist is a pioneering female lawyer who is also a Parsi which is an ethnic and religious minority in India. This book is highly original and a powerful piece of fiction.  I reviewed it on Flying High Reviews here.

Best Historical Fiction

A Different Kind of Angel by Paulette Mahurin is the non-genre historical novel which I read in 2018 that I found most relevant to contemporary concerns.  The central character was a 19th century refugee who fled to the U.S. and was consigned to a mental institution because she couldn't speak English.  I reviewed it on this blog here.

Best Thriller

The Astronaut's Son by Tom Seigel whose protagonist was trying to discover how his astronaut father died.  There are secret conspiracies and intense characterization.  I reviewed it on this blog here.

Best Graphic Book

Photographic which is a graphic biography of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero.  The prose is gorgeous, there are some unusual photographs and I learned some very interesting things about Mexico.

Best Net Galley

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben which was also the first book I read in 2018.  There have been some years where my last read was extraordinary.  This was a year when my first read turned out to be a favorite.  It isn't just that I agree with Bill McKibben politically, I thought the concept was well-developed and I learned a great deal about the history of Vermont.  See my review on this blog here.

Except for Sujata Massey, all the authors whose books received awards from me in 2018 were completely new to me.  So I am continuing my record of success with discovering new authors.