Monday, August 29, 2016

Mystery Review: The Black Thumb, By Frankie Bow

Title: The Black Thumb
Author: Frankie Bow
Publisher: Hawaiian Heritage Press, 2016. 270 pages.
Source: Electronic review copy

Publisher's Summary:
When a violent death disrupts the monthly meeting of the Pua Kala Garden society, Professor Molly Barda has no intention of playing amateur detective. But Molly’s not just a witness-the victim is Molly’s house guest and grad-school frenemy. And Molly quickly finds to her dismay that her interest in the murder of the stylish and self-centered Melanie Polewski is more than just…academic.

My Review:
This was a mystery that caught my attention and kept it from the start to the end. Maybe I was a little extra taken with the main character because I've spent most of my adult life in or around academia, but really the book has little to do with Molly's campus life, since it takes place during the summer vacation. It was just a good read in an interesting setting (Hawaii is just a bit exotic to me, since I've only ever been once, to the Big Island).

I liked Molly as a character. She's not too perfect, but she's not too flawed, either. I'm not sure she's too smart about men, but you can't have everything (time will tell, but I don't like her boyfriend). The author keeps the tone of the book generally light, without making light of the situation Molly finds herself in (the dead woman gets pretty short shrift, as is often the case in cozies, and I've no objection to that).

The mystery itself is well constructed. I did wander around among the red herrings some, though I did begin to suspect the perp well short of the end, and well before Molly did. I didn't really believe my suspicions, so I think the author wins on that one! There were some of the sub-plots that I felt got tied up a little too fast and unconvincingly, but overall, I give the book a high rating and have no significant complaints (except maybe about that man Molly's in love with).
This is a good read for fans of the cozy (light) mystery who don't want cutesy but appreciate humor. I will be reading the rest of the series.

FTC Disclosure: I received an electronic review copy of The Black Thumb from the publisher in exchange for my honest review, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

About the Author:
Like Molly Barda, Frankie Bow teaches at a public university. Unlike her protagonist, she is blessed with delightful students, sane colleagues, a loving family, and a perfectly nice office chair. She believes if life isn’t fair, at least it can be entertaining.
In addition to writing murder mysteries, she publishes in scholarly journals under her real name. Her experience with academic publishing has taught her to take nothing personally.
Author Links

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Flashback Friday: What's for Dinner?


It's Flashback Friday--a fun blog-hop that's a break for bloggers and a chance to give something from long ago another airing. Click on the image above to check out the hop and find the list of participants. I hunted through the archives for a story to re-share. I couldn't remember this one from May 2014, but it made me smile when I re-read it, so here you go. It's short--only about 700 words.

What’s for Dinner?

Mom’s acting weird.  Well, that’s kind of normal, if you follow me, because she’s always weird, but usually she’s weird like wearing strange clothes and working all night on one of those bizarre sculptures she makes.  I won’t ever tell her this, but I don’t like them.  They have too many jagged edges.  They’ll tear holes in you if you get too close.  I sometimes wonder if she’s out to destroy someone, or if she just sees the world that way, all jagged.  Either way: weird.

But what’s really weird is that she’s started cooking.  No more Swanson’s pot pies, and no more trips through the fast food drive-through window.  So now, I have to eat what she calls “real food,” which is sometimes pretty unreal, if you follow me.

The thing is, her idea of real food can get pretty disturbing.  And that’s why I am sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework, instead of in my room with my music.  I’m keeping an eye on the cooking, between algebra problems.  I’m watching for that moment that says she’s gone over the edge, so I can try to save the rest of us.

She’s put on a big pot of water to boil.  That seems pretty safe, so I turn back to my math book.  6x + 7y=23.  If y=2, what is x?  Okay, algebra’s weird, too.  What do I care what X equals?  I can see at a glance that it’s not going to be a nice round number.  I don’t like decimals.  They’re messy.  And I need some kind of motivation for X, if I’m going to care why it’s multiplying six.

Pasta.  She’s gotten out the spaghetti, which is good, and matches the pot of water.  But a lot depends on what she wants to put atop it.  My palms start to sweat as she begins pulling things off of shelves and muttering.  She’s got an awful pile of weird stuff: ginger and allspice and beans, and for some reason a bottle of pickled pigs feet.  And is that an incantation she’s muttering?  We have never in our lives eaten pickled pigs feet, and I do not intend to begin now.  I forget all about algebra and concentrate on willing the bottle to disappear.

She puts the first cupboard load back on the shelves, and I heave a sigh of relief when the pigs feet disappear.  Then the search starts all over, and I start to sweat again.  What is that green stuff?  And is it supposed to be green, or is that a very bad sign?

Mom does the search three times, and I can’t tell what she’s selected.  By the third shelf of the third cupboard, I’m a nervous wreck, and algebra is a distant memory.  Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is the night she poisons us all, and I can only wonder if it will be on purpose or just because she let her artist’s imagination get loose.  But if I’m poisoned, I won’t have to turn in my homework, so I don’t hurry.

I start to pray.  I’m not religious, but when we studied world religions last fall, my best friend Griffin and I memorized prayers from every one of them, mostly in languages we don’t understand.  We made up a couple of our own, too, in the elf language J. R. R. Tolkien invented for The Lord of the Rings.  I repeat them all now.  Maybe at least one of the gods will appreciate the attention and save me.  And Dad and my sister, though by this time I’m thinking mostly of myself.

Mom plops the big pasta bowl onto the table, interrupting my prayers and scattering my algebra.

 I stare into the bowl, horrified.  It’s green.  Radioactive waste is green, isn’t it?  Or ectoplasm, or space aliens.  And mold.  Mold is green.

“Eat up,” Mom says.  “Come and get it,” she calls to Dad and Lily.

My hands are shaking.  We who are about to die. .  .

“It’s just pesto, for heaven’s sake Joseph!”

I sag in relief.  Pesto’s bad, but it’s better than interplanetary ecto-slime. 

Rats.  I’ll have to finish my homework after all.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Middle Grade Audio Review: The Green Glass Sea


Title: The Green Glass Sea
Author: Ellen Klages. Read by Julie Dretzin
Publisher: Original hardback Viking Books for Young Readers, 2006 (324 pages). Audio by Recorded Books, 2007.
Source: Library (digital resources)

Publisher's Summary: 
It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know how much "the gadget" is about to change their lives.
[Note: I'm not sure where the summary on Goodreads came from, but probably not the publisher--it is poorly written and has spelling errors! Don't let this put you off.]

My Review:
This is an excellent piece of historical fiction. There is, of course, a certain fascination to the setting and situation--it hasn't been that long since we were able to know much about what went on in Los Alamos, and few historical pieces I've seen have much about the lives of the children there. The author appears to have done her research well, and the town comes to life for the reader. But this is also a good story, about family, friendship, and fitting in, and the characters are the most important thing.

In fact, the book really ends up being the story of two people: of Dewey first, but also of the almost equally mis-fitting (is that a word?) Suze Gordon. Through these two characters the author gives us food for thought about the different ways kids think and grow--and how hard kids are on each other when they don't conform. [As an aside, I sometimes almost feel sorry for "normal" kids, because most of the books give them a bad time! True to form, the girls who are just interested in fun and boys and looking good come off pretty poorly here.]

The writing is good, with vivid descriptions of Los Alamos and the surrounding country. The author also seems to be experimenting a bit. The opening chapter, and one other later chapter, are written in the present tense, while the rest of the book is in the past tense. The effect, though it was odd at first, largely works (at least in the audio version). The use of present tense brings extra immediacy to a couple of key moments in Dewey's life, and makes the reader feel more a part of her feelings.

Julie Dretzin does an excellent job with the narration, voicing the characters in ways that sounded right to me, in keeping not only with age and gender, but with their natures. Production qualities are high, though I heard a little noise here and there.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and those interested in a little different view of WWII. Ages 10+, though younger kids may also appreciate it and they won't suffer any harm.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Green Glass Sea out of my (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

For those who'd like to see more of what the area looks  like, I have visited Los Alamos (unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures there, but it's still very much a company town) and the nearby Bandelier National Monument. The monument isn't referred to by name in the book, for some reason (it was established in 1916, so it was a monument at the time of the book). But Dewey and her father do visit--they explore Frijoles Canyon and climb into one of the caves in the characteristic tuff.

The mesa area between Los Alamos and Frijoles Canyon.

Looking down into Frijoles Canyon. The road-like thing in the foreground is a trail; in the background you can see the road leading down into the canyon, which runs off down into the Rio Grande.

Ruins at the base of the tuff cliff.

This could have been Dewey, climbing into the cave :)
Bandelier Ruins


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