Update

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was going to try to blog more often and that I was no longer going to adhere to writing a mystery on Mondays and a cozy read on Wednesdays. Nor was I going to publish a list of books I was going to try to complete and review on a regular basis. (Picture is my budgie, Budge. He will be my mascot now.)

I have stuck to this but now find I am unable to load the customize tools in order to remove the widgets for Mystery Monday and Cozy Read Wednesdays, nor am I able to update my “books read” for Goodreads 2021 reading challenge. I have now read and reviewed 26 books although my site insists it is only 22. Still working through frustrations with the block editing system as well.

Currently reading The Wind in the Willows (a birthday gift — a book I’ve never read) and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and other lessons from the crematory (not quite what I expected).

Let me know what you’re reading and if you, too, are having difficulties with the latest WordPress changes.

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The Huntress by Kate Quinn

This is the 2nd book by Kate Quinn that I’ve read and while I loved The Alice Network, I found The Huntress rather difficult to get into at first. There are basically 5 main characters — Jordan McBride, a young woman who wants to become a photographer and has important decisions to make about her future, Ian Graham, a famous wartime journalist turned Nazi hunter, his junior partner, Tony Rodomovsky from Queens, Polish-Hungarian with some Jewish ancestry, a Russian aviatrix Nina Markova who has defected and is the only known witness to the identity of The Huntress, and the huntress herself, Anneliese Weber. This is not a spoiler as there is no mystery from the beginning who the Huntress is — there are no other characters in the story. The suspense is in Ian’s group of 3 tracking her down and Jordan trying to uncover the truth about her from a different angle.

Weber, obviously not her real name (Lorelei Vogt), is a cruel, unrepenting killer of children who thought nothing of giving them a hot meal, shooting them, and pushing them into the lake; she also killed Ian’s younger brother which explains why he is so driven to arrest her. He is relentless in hunting her across Europe and eventually to the United States. Jordan, at first delighted that her father has finally developed a love interest so long after her mother’s death, soon begins to suspect that Anneliese is not who she seems.

I found Jordan to be a somewhat cardboard cut-out character at first — rather simplistic and hard to be empathetic towards. It wasn’t until after her father died and her suspicions of her new stepmother began to pile up that she became more 3-dimensional and interesting. Her decisions to ditch her longtime boyfriend/fiance and to pursue a career in photo-journalism were interesting developments and she became a brave, daring, insightful person with more real emotions and goals.

For me, the highlight of the book was Nina, raised in the wilds of Soviet Siberia, abused physically by her father, a fiercely disloyal subject of Stalin who taught her to fish and hunt and be a survivor. After watching a plane come down near her home and meeting the pilot, she becomes determined that she will become a part of Stalin’s women’s night time bomber pilots known to the enemy as the Night Witches. When she faces prison due to her father’s outspoken anti-stalinist views, she defects and narrowly escapes death at the hands of the huntress. She is a force of nature — somewhat crass, fierce, and driven — a huntress herself as she joins forces with Ian and Tony.

Ian is an interesting character. After seeing first-hand Omaha Beach and the Nuremberg trials, Ian wants to do rather than observe. Determined at first to set high standards of non-violence towards perpetrators of Nazi war crimes, he finds anger gets the better of him at times and it’s all he can do to resist the use of force to extract information. He marries Nina and sends her to England to protect her without really knowing much about her. As the plot thickens, despite the language barrier they learn to care more for each other and have a greater understanding of their disparate backgrounds.

This book never really realized my expectations after The Alice Network. I didn’t feel the huntress herself was a consistent character as she spared Jordan which wasn’t really in her character. The suspense was never really there except during Nina’s stories of her determination to fly, the sisterhood amongst the aviators, and her experiences flying and fleeing her homeland. The Russian folklore was interesting and the insight into how the women aviators came to have a place in Stalin’s airforce. I only give it a three out of five.

This book never really realized my expectations after The Alice Network. I didn’t feel the huntress herself was a consistent character as she spared Jordan which wasn’t really in her character. The suspense was never really there except during Nina’s stories of her determination to fly, the sisterhood amongst the aviators, and her experiences flying and fleeing her homeland. The Russian folklore was interesting and the insight into how the women aviators came to have a place in Stalin’s airforce. I only give it a three out of five.

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Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Tracey Lindberg is described on her book flap as a “citizen of As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation Rocky Mountain Cree”, a woman who “sings the blues loudly, talks quietly and is next in a long line of argumentative Cree women.”  She teaches Indigenous studies and Indigenous laws at a Canadian law school.  Birdie is her first novel.  It was a 2016 Selection for CBC Canada Reads.

Birdie (short for Bernice) is an indigenous young woman possibly in her mid to late 20s who has had a wide range of experiences in a variety of places and homes.  She has 3 really good friends/relatives who care very much about her and are trying to help her to gain some balance in her life — a life that has been so full of turmoil that it seems like she wants to die.  She has out of body experiences and a strong belief in the religious rites of her people.  It is a story that is fascinating for those of us who look on from outside this culture, as I do, and it is a story about healing.

It is also a story about discrimination and abuse within this culture.  Birdie’s family lives in a small house just outside a reservation.  As a result her family is ostracized by many who live on the reserve or at least looked down on.  Her uncles and their male friends sexually abuse her.  She tries to escape them but it is difficult when other family members either don’t see or don’t want to see and she has few allies.  When she is put into foster care, she resents her new family’s attitude that she should be grateful and feels as if she is a “project” for them rather than an addition to their family.  In despair, she leaves and turns to prostitution.

But it is also a story about healing.  Her out of body experiences, the spirit voices she hears, and the attentions of her friends — Auntie Val, cousin Skinny Freda, and Lola — are all about healing Birdie’s spirit and returning a balance to her life.  

I’m not sure that I understood all the elements of this process and have struggled with what to write about it.  I will probably reread it at some point after I’ve had time to absorb it more fully. Each chapter begins with a native word and its translation which was interesting but I had trouble keeping them straight when I encountered them again.  I think it is an important book, fascinating (as I’ve mentioned already), and will eventually, for me, give new insight into a culture with which I am mostly unfamiliar.  I highly recommend this book and suggest anyone who reads it should delve into more information about the author and tribal customs and religious rites among the aboriginals.  I give it 5 stars.

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The Dublin Girls by Cathy Mansell

The Dublin Girls is basically a romance novel set in the backdrop of Dublin in the 1950s and features three sisters experiencing struggles quite likely common to the poorer population of the capital of Ireland. A family of three sisters whose parents have died finds the eldest, Nell, has left nursing school to work in a biscuit factory in order to pay the rent and put food on the table. Her boyfriend Liam is being pushed into the background along with their plans and the landlord’s son is trying to get to first base with her. The youngest, Roisin, has always been a frail child and as the story progresses we see the cold, uncaring attitude of the nuns at her school and learn that she has tuberculosis and has to go away for a long time in order to heal and become strong again. Kate, the middle girl, is in rebellion and denial, resenting Nell’s new authoritative role, not willing to pull her weight, and selfishly pursuing an independent life she can’t possibly sustain.

Living in a building where most of the tenants have already been moved into a new housing development provided by the council, Nell and her family won’t be able to go now that her mother has died. The last family in the building except for hers is Amy Kinch with her husband and 10 children on the floor below and once they leave, the building will not really be a safe place for three young girls to live. Amy is a good friend to Nell unlike the parish priest who is hard and critical and cheap. He offers Kate a cleaning job in his residence with very poor pay. Actually, he doesn’t so much offer as insist and expects her every weekday after school.

This is a sad story with a happy ending. I read it in one day — very easy read — but it didn’t really leap out at me as being great. It was rather predictable and while Nell was a character with fine qualities trying to do her best, she had her own problems dealing with the way their lives had changed and her trying to work them out became a bit repetitive. Kate wasn’t really likeable at all and Roisin was sickly and away for most of the story. While it gives a valid view of life in that time and place it wasn’t really a page turner and didn’t leave me wanting more. I’d rate it three out of five.

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Starting Again: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

After a year of renovating and mobility issues complicated by Covid-19, I started blogging about books again at the end of January with great guns as the expression goes. However, before long, I was struggling to find Cozy Reads I wanted to read, mysteries by authors I wasn’t reading all the time, and sometimes finding the right way to describe a book that left me with deep thoughts and uncertainty about my feelings. In short, I stalled yet again.

Now, I’m at the trailer for the summer. In the last two months, I’ve been working outside a lot and getting organized (I only had the trailer for the last two months of the 2020 season), and now my “to-do” list is dwindling as my reading list has been growing. So, I’m going to start again. This time, no more Mystery Mondays or Cozy Wednesdays, or predictions of what I’m going to be reading in the next two weeks then feeling guilty when I don’t get something written up even though I’ve read the book. I’ve got my laptop set up at my breakfast counter (I may actually put in a cord grommet over by the outlets under the counter) and it is very comfortable to type here — good height, good wrist angle, great lighting by the patio door — so the plan is that when I’ve got something to say about a book I will just start writing after I’ve finished breakfast and check it off my list.

I’ve just recently finished The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Troy, Helen, Achilles, and Paris have long been an interest of mine especially in light of my fascination with archaeology and the discovery by Heinrich Schliemann in the early 1870s of what experts now believe to be the ruins of the actual city of Troy. I’ve read several books about Troy, Helen, the War, and Achilles over the years and found them all interesting in different ways. I’ve watched several movies and even a series about the famous city and enjoyed paintings and sculptures depicting the beautiful and deceptive Trojan horse. But this book is the first plot line I’ve encountered told by Achilles’ friend (sometimes referred to as cousin), Patroclus, even after his death and the death of Achilles.

Despite my long list of material, I never really thought about Achilles as possibly having what we would now refer to as a gay relationship but when you think about it, it rather makes sense. The Greek soldiers were encouraged to have lovers amongst their ranks in the belief that they would fight harder to defend them and they were considered the fiercest warriors of their time. In the movie with Brad Pitt, Achilles is portrayed as being a ladies man yet there is that intense relationship he has with Patroclus, his cousin, that hints that there may be more to it. This story has him completely uninterested in woman and totally manipulated by his goddess mother, not the nice lady from the movie.

This story is not full of over-the-top explicit sexual scenes. On the contrary, it is tenderly written without being offensive to anyone who prefers not to read what might be called vulgarity. It is also one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. So while the story may be familiar, there are twists and variations in this particular one — a centaur educating Achilles and Patroclus and a complete glossing over of the Trojan horse, to name a few — that someone who enjoys reading about this ancient time, legend, and its characters will find enough to stay thoroughly engaged. It took me a couple of days to read but was difficult to put down; if only the weather hadn’t been quite so beautiful and there hadn’t been quite so much work to do in the lawn and garden.

Here are some excerpts from the novel.

When the priest strikes the ground, he slips past the thickened bodies of the older boys. He moves easily, his heels flashing pink as licking tongues. He wins.

I stare as my father lifts the garland from my lap and crowns him; the leaves seem almost black against the brightness of his hair. His father, Peleus, comes to claim him, smiling and proud. Peleus’ kingdom is smaller than ours, but his wife is rumoured to be a goddess, and his people love him. My own father watches with envy. His wife is stupid and his son too slow to race in even the youngest group. He turns to me. “That is what a son should be.” p. 3

Tiny, gemstone-sized Phthia was the smallest of our countries, set in a northern crook of land between the ridges of Mt Othrys and the sea. It’s king, Peleus, was one of those men whom the gods love: not divine himself, but clever, brave, handsome, and excelling all his peers in piety. As a reward, our divinities offered him a sea-nymph for a wife. It was considered their highest honour. . . But, like all the gods’ gifts, there was an edge to it; the goddess herself was unwilling. p.18-19

[Chiron’s] words mingled with the sound of the river over its rocks, soothing any strangeness there might have been between Achilles and me. There was something in Chiron’s face, firm and calm and imbued with authority, that made us children again, with no world beyond this moment’s play and this night’s dinner. With him near us, it was hard to remember what might have happened on the day by the beach. Even our bodies felt smaller beside the centaur’s bulk. How had we thought we were grown? p. 77

I’m slowly learning to cope with this new way of producing a post — finding where to text wrap, where to add links, how to put the tags in — but I still don’t see how it is easier or any advantage to it and it’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve been absent so long. I will see how long I can persevere. No promises.

Have you read this book? Does it interest you? Share your comments and have a great day!

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Cozy Read Wednesday: the Beach Trees by Karen White

cozyreadwedThis week’s cozy read is another by Karen White but is a standalone rather than part of a series.  The Beach Trees takes place in the New Orleans/Biloxi area and features a young woman named Julie Holt who has inherited a 5-year-old boy from her best friend sending her life in a whole new and unfamiliar direction.

From the back cover:

beachTreesWorking at an auction house in New York, Julie Holt meets a struggling artist and single mother who reminds her very much of her missing younger sister.  Monica Guidry paints a vivid picture of her Southern family throughs stories, but never says why or how she lost contact with them. And she has another secret: a heart condition that will soon taker her life.

Feeling as if she’s lost her sister a second time, Julie inherits from Moncia an antique portrait — as well as custody of her young son.  Taking him to Biloxi, Mississippi, to meet the family he’s never known, Julie discovers a connection of her own. The portrait , of an old Giudry relative, was done by her great grandfather — and unlocks a surprising family history . . .

This is a story told from two different 1st person perspectives:  the current day story of Julie as she struggles to find a way to honour her friend Monica’s wishes that she be guardian of her son Beau in her home town of New Orleans, and the backstory of the Guidry family as told by Aimee, the great aunt who raised Monica and her brother Trey.

I found this to be a very slow-paced book that was difficult to keep reading.  Disappointing after I enjoyed the previous book I had read by White.  I stuck with it but found it quite predictable.  The title comes from the trees along the beach in Biloxi, trees that were killed by hurricane Katrina and subsequently sculpted by artists into wildlife — herons, dolphins, marlins, penguins — as a sign of hope, life going on despite devastation.  It represents all of KarenWhitethe characters in the book as they try to make sense of some secrets, murders, and disappearances.  That sounds like it should be pretty exciting but I felt no urgency to read late into the night or even to read instead of watching TV.  While at times I felt the writing was beautiful when describing settings or even Julie’s thoughts as she tries to come to terms with her situation, at times I felt Aimee’s story — which she relates to Julie — was more like an author writing for a reader rather than someone sharing her past experiences with a friend.  I really never understood Trey’s hostility toward Julie at the beginning and found his change in attitude rather abrupt. This is a good story, a slow read, rather long and predictable but with some interesting, redeeming qualities and worth reading. It would have been nice if there had a been a picture of one of the Biloxi tree sculptures on the cover.  They can be found on the web however and I’m including a few here. * * 1/2

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Mystery Monday Meme: Along Came A Spider by James Patterson

This week’s Monday Mystery is the first in James Patterson‘s Alex Cross series, Along Came A Spider.  Alex Cross is not only a deputy chief of detectives in the Washington Police Department but is a qualified psychologist who is able to read suspects and witnesses and put together a picture of a killer’s motives and mindset.  There are more than 25 books in this acclaimed series, the first eleven taking their names from nursery rhymes.

From the back of the book:

It begins with the double kidnapping of the daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and the young son of the Secretary of the Treasury.  Gary Soneji is a murderous serial kidnapper who wants to commit the crime of the century.  Alex Cross is the brilliant homicide detective pitted against him.  And Jezzie Flanagan is the female supervisor of the Secret Service who completes one of the unusual suspense triangles in any thriller you have ever read.

It was the Prologue that captured my attention right away — it features a 1st person alternative theory to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby from his home in Hopewell, N.J. in 1932.  With the beginning of the current story there is an abrupt switch to 1992 Washington, D.C. and the life of Alex Cross.

Cross has 2 young children and his grandmother lives in and cares for them since his wife Marie was killed in a drive-by shooting 2 years earlier.  They live in the Southeast of D.C. — a poor black area where folks are suspicious of the police, even of Alex who is one of them.  He volunteers weekends at the area soup kitchen and has great compassion for victims like the ones he gets called to see early this particular morning.  His partner is John Sampson, also black, and 6’9″ tall.  They’ve been a team for a long time and can read and anticipate each other’s moods and reactions.

When Cross & Sampson get called off the Southeast murder investigation, Alex is really angry that the abduction of 2 white kids from a fancy private school is going to take precedence over the murder of a black family.  The mayor wants him on the case for political reasons and he’s to collaborate with the FBI and the Secret Service on whose watch the kids were taken.  The Secret Service agent in charge of assigning the details, Jezzie Flanagan, is a rising star in the service — divorced, tough, and a bit wild on her black BMW K-1 motorcycle.  While the kidnapper/killer leads law enforcement on a merry chase, Cross and Flanagan develop a romantic interest, the first he’s had since his wife’s death.

This is a fast-paced story that takes many twists and interesting changes of perspective.  We get to see into the twisted mind of the killer and his double life and possible multiple personalities.  We experience the mind of the kidnapped little girl first buried alive, then a slave with some foreign family in an unnamed, isolated location.  The interviews in prison between Cross and the killer, dissension between areas of law enforcement and politicians about his sanity and the best way to prosecute Soneji, and his manipulative methods all combine to keep the reader on the edge of the seat.

The character development was really well done and the frequent harking back to the Lindbergh kidnapping added some context to the mind of the killer.  The change of scenes from the poor area of D.C. to the wealthy suburbs, to the Caribbean, to Disney Orlando and the broken down, isolated farm in New Jersey near the 1932 home of the Lindberghs, the settings were almost as interesting as the characters.  It was all very realistic and more than a little scary at times, for me anyway.  I’ll probably read more as I’m interested in seeing Alex Cross solve more crimes and I liked the pace.  Very easy to read and hard to put down.  * * * * 1/2

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)


 

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On My Bookshelf — March 26th, 2021

Lots of books still On My Bookshelf.  I don’t seem to be getting through as many books as I would like yet so I’m only sharing 8 for the coming month and am hoping to get caught up.  A Top Ten TBR is a nice idea but I’m not ready for it yet.  Here are some I’m hoping to review in April.

As always, if you’ve read one of these and would like to share some thoughts about them, please do so in the comments below.  I’d love to read your opinion.  Happy Reading!

 

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Cozy Read Wednesday: Heartwishes by Jude Deveraux

This week’s Cozy Read is by an author I haven’t read before — Jude Deveraux.  She has about 50 books to her credit and more than 6M copies of her work published world wide.  I picked it for my cozy read from the blurb on the back cover.  When I later looked at the front cover, I had 2nd thoughts — I don’t normally choose books that have bare-chested guys on the cover — but I’m glad I read it.  It’s called Heartwishes, #5 in the Edilean series.

From the back of the book:

Graduate student Gemma Ranford wants the job cataloging the documents of one of Edilean’s oldest families so much that she is ready to do battle to get it.  Desperate to finish her dissertation, she’s sure that investigating the Frazier family history will yield new information to invigorate her research.  But she is surprised to find among the papers references to the legend of the Heartwishes stone, a magical talisman said to grant wishes to anyone named Frazier.  And as she spends more time with the family in their small Virginia town, she realizes that the most secret wishes of each of the Fraziers are coming true _ and that she’s falling hopelessly in love with Colin, the Fraziers’ eldest son.

But now the the Stone’s powers have been awakened, so have the designs of an international thief.  Gemma and Colin must find the Stone before it can be used against the family but not before each of their deepest desires is fulfilled. . . .

I found myself drawn to Gemma right from the start.  She sees herself as the underdog in the competition for the post which seemed so right up her alley.  The guest house on the Frasier estate is scrumptiously decorated and the library all set up with shelved boxes of documents from the 17th century onwards which Gemma can hardly wait to get into.  It’s at least a two year post as there are hundreds of boxes and Gemma, whose most secret wish is to find a place to belong, soon finds herself not only with the position but meeting and being accepted by not only the family in the big house but their relatives in the area and the residents of the small town of Edilean.  Colin is especially attracted to her from the beginning.  He can’t stand the other two applicants and begins showing Gemma around the town and introducing her to people.

Colin is the small town’s sheriff — one of his life-long secret wishes come true.  Everyone in town loves him, especially the kids, and because it’s a small town everyone knows everything about everyone so he’s never dated anyone local.  His mother’s wish, not so secret, is to have grandkids and to have Colin marry.  The youngest brother, Shamus, is a very talented artist who immediately is attracted to Gemma and begins spending his afternoons sketching her.  The whole family is interesting and so is its history.

This is a book about secrets and wishes.  I loved the way the characters built and interacted and layers of secrets were laid bare from the distant past and from the not-so-distant past.  Jean, Colin’s ex-girlfriend, held many secrets.  I also enjoyed the old houses and the secrets they held.  The story is definitely “cozy” and a romance but the mystery that unravels as the story progresses was also good.  I’ll certainly be looking for more in this series in particular and possibly others by Jude Deveraux.  An adult book.  * * * 1/2

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Be a part of Cozy Read Wednesdays — leave a comment with a link to your own review of a cozy read!  Love to know what you’ve been reading!

 

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Mystery Monday: One Good Deed by David Baldacci

Today’s Mystery Monday novel is the first in a new series by author David Baldacci, the Aloysius Archer series: One Good Deed.  The story is set in the late 40s, post WWII, and Aloysius has just been paroled from Carderock Prison early and has to spend the next three years in Poca City (a 7 hr bus ride west of the prison) reporting to his parole officer, Earnestine Crabtree.  All he has to his name is the suit, tie, shoes, and hat he wore into prison and his parole papers with a long list of dos and don’ts and the few bills he’d been given on his way out the door.  On arrival, he checked in to the Derby Hotel in Poca and before he went to bed, he’d already broken rule #14: no bars or drinks.

Archer has been given a raw deal.  He left college to go to war, came home to wander, picking up odd jobs and seeing his country.  He got fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison.  Early parole for good behaviour has enabled him to come out with a really positive attitude and a determination to do well and never see prison again.  Although he breaks rules when he thinks he can get away with it and if it’s important to him, before he meets with Crabtree the next morning, he’s been hired to collect a debt for the largest business owner in the town, Hank Pittleman, and been given a $40. advance.  He’s met Hank’s mistress (she likes to call herself his chattel rather than mistress), Jackie Tuttle, and it’s her father he’s to collect a 1947 Cadillac from.  He’s also met another parolee, a dangerous, psychotic man named Dill who is working at the slaughterhouse owned by Pittleman and Archer wants to avoid him at all costs.

Archer is at first unsuccessful at collecting the debt or Cadillac from Tuttle, is hit on by Jackie, and when Hank then turns up dead in a room down the hall from Archer’s, he becomes the prime suspect.  After the state detective, Lieutenant Shaw starts asking questions, he eventually decides that Archer isn’t really a suspect, and the two form a loose alliance to try to solve Hank’s murder.  Then, when Pittleman’s warehouse manager turns up dead, an attack is made on Jackie, her father is found dead, and Shaw ends up in hospital, Archer is put on trial for his life.

This is a kind of slow moving story that reveals Archer’s character and philosophy of life carefully as he interacts with his various contacts in the small town of Poca.  Those honest citizens who really get to know him learn to respect and like him, as did I.  The plot meanders around to the degree that you’re unsure, along with Archer, as to just who can be trusted.  Shaw encourages Archer in the ways of detecting and tells him he should become a ‘shamus’, that he has good instincts.  Ernestine, who has gone out of her way to help him, disappears in the middle of the night along with her clothes and her typewriter.  There are lots of twists and surprises as Archer decides to investigate on his own and defend himself in the trial.  This was a differently paced book than I’m used to with Baldacci but quite enjoyable and well executed.  I’m assuming that in the next novel in the series, Archer will be embarking on this new career path.  * * * * *

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If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mention my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review.  You can also copy my MMM badge to your post or your sidebar.  (Links to books are Amazon affiliate links!)

 

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