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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.