Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Bone Seeker by M.J. McGrath

I used to shy away from reading a book in a series when I hadn't read the previous releases, but I've found that sometimes with a series an author is finding her footing in the first or second book and by the third or fourth things really take off.

That's how I felt about Louise Penny's excellent Chief Inspector Gamache series,  which keeps getting better and better, but was initially hard for me to get into. On the other hand, a series like Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta seems to have started out strong and then floundered (yet I still faithfully read it).

But as a general rule, I think if a series makes it beyond two or three entries it is usually a good bet to try, so when the publicist asked if I was interested in reading The Bone Seeker, the third entry in the Edie Kiglatuk series, I said yes because I was intrigued by the Arctic setting.
From the publisher:
Summer in the High Arctic. When young Inuit Martha Salliaq goes missing from her settlement, her teacher, ex Polar Bear Hunter Edie Kiglatuk enlists her police friend Derek Palliser to help search for the girl. But once a body is discovered floating in a polluted lake on the site of a decommissioned Radar Station, Edie’s worst fears are realized.
As the investigation into Martha’s murder begins, the Inuit community – and Martha’s devastated family – are convinced the culprits lie within the encampment of soldiers stationed nearby. Before long Sergeant Palliser finds evidence linking two of the men with the dead girl. But Edie and local lawyer Sonia Gutierrez remain unconvinced. Why are the military quite so willing to cooperate with the investigation? What has Edie’s boyfriend Chip Muloon, a simple academic researcher, got to hide? And why has the lake where Martha’s body was found been suddenly cordoned off?
A gripping, atmospheric thriller set in the Arctic’s long white nights, in The Bone Seeker the very personal murder of a young girl will explode a decades-long tale of the very darkest betrayal.
As a fan of Dana Stabenow, this seemed like it would be right up my alley and I was right. The Bone Seeker is an engaging and surprising story about a part of the world most people don't get to visit and even fewer understand.

The cover is a stunner, isn't it? The contrasting colors and design are just breath-taking in real life. (I know that sounds overly dramatic, but when I opened the package I actually said "wow" and stood there admiring the cover for a bit.) The dust jacket has that slightly grippy feel to it that Louise Penny's recent dust jackets also have. I know there's a name for it, but I forget. And, by they way, the title is not what you think, but it is brilliant.

The girl mentioned above is murdered in a horrific manner, but there's no detailed description of the murder or the postmortem. And there's also not a lot of gore or gratuitous violence throughout the story, which I appreciate. Don't get me wrong, I like it when the protagonist of a mystery goes through physical and emotional challenges and gets pushed around and worked over. That does happen in this story, but it was refreshing to read a mystery without excessive brutality or detailed descriptions of pain and psychological torture.

The setting was also unique (to me anyway). The isolated landscape with its harsh conditions shapes both the action of the story and the characters.
"She [Edie] knew it was the orderly types who often found the Arctic the hardest to adjust to because they were often the ones for whom the feelings of fear was the hardest to bear. It was impossible to be in the Arctic without the daily experiences of fear. Inuit like Edit took it for granted. Fear was the shade that could block out the sun but it was also the canopy under which you could shelter. You lived in its presence because you couldn't survive without it. Flight, fight. Fear."
This is a well written story and I wouldn't call the action fast-paced, but it never dragged for me. I actually had a few moments where I forgot I was reading and was just wrapped up in the story. There was only one moment when I was confused and thought there was a typo regarding a pronoun and that was because there's a boy named Willa. I've come across women named Edie before, but a boy named Willa? Perhaps it's just because I'm a Willa Cather fan that I got hung-up.

I did have a glimmer of knowing who the murderer was early on, but the book kept me guessing nonetheless. I highly recommend The Bone Seeker to amateur sleuth lovers and readers who like Dana Stabenow, Nevada Barr or Sue Henry for the big country setting, environmental themes, and confident outdoorsy woman sleuth.

Chronological order of the Edie Kiglatuk Mystery Series:
  1. White Heat 2011
  2. The Boy in the Snow 2013
  3. The Bone Seeker 2014
M.J. McGrath
The Bone Seeker
Viking: July 25, 2014
Source & FTC disclaimer: review copy provided by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. Since I usually only finish books I enjoy or am stimulated by and usually only blog about books I've finished, most of my reviews are about books I've enjoyed and therefore tend to be on the positive side. Life is too short to read books one doesn't enjoy or learn something from. And life is certainly too short to waste time blogging about such books.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Killer Angels Read-along Check-in #3: Day 2, July 2, 1863

The Killer Angels Read-along

In this section I continue to be intrigued by some of the reasons given for why the war is being waged and why some men chose to fight.

The Southerners "called themselves Americans, but they were transplanted Englishmen" (158).

I am fascinated by the idea that the war was fought not because of slavery, but over the resulting class structure that the system maintained. The South was thought by some (many?) to be replicating the aristocracy of Europe. As one foreign observer thinks to himself in this novel, "They haven't left Europe. They've merely transplanted it. And that's what the war is about" (165).

Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army 1838, by William Edward West (1788-1857).
In Robert E. Lee: An Album by Emory M. Thomas. New York: WW. Norton & Company, 1999]

As for why some of the individual men fought, I was most surprised by General Lee. He was a graduate of West Point (1829) and a career US Army soldier (32 years in service) who didn't want the war and didn't approve of slavery, yet chose to fight for the Confederacy because his people were from Virginia. Lee, at least according to this novel, didn't think the ideas or land was worth the war, but he couldn't fight against his own kin. However, he does end up fighting against old friends. As Longstreet says and Lee agrees, "They're never quite the enemy, those boys in blue" (191).

Robert E. Lee in 1863
[Unattributed - Heritage Auction Archives]

Some of the battle scene descriptions completely captiviated me, particularly the bayonet charge that Chamberlain's troops made to defend Little Round Top. After reading this section, I read more about that action, including this informative article by James R. Brann that explains how Chamberlain didn't win this skirmish by himself, of course, and how he contributed to his own legend in the post-war years. Once again the enlisted men, (like Sergeant Andrew Tozier) who create the circumstances for which officers take credit, are, for the most part, ignored.

Talk about class issues.

All snarkiness aside, as a writer myself it is interesting to see how Shaara uses historic figures and the historic record in a way that intensify and streamlines his story.

What stands out for you in this section of the novel?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My First Guest Post

Hi Everyone!  I recently had the pleasure of writing my very first guest post for another blogger. I hope you'll check it out over at Tif Talks Books.

Tif recently moved and while she was busy taking care of business she asked other book bloggers to write posts about books that moved them in one way or another. I wrote about books on the move--vacation reading and re-reading.

While you're there I hope you treat yourself and take some time to browse around Tif's blog. She's one of my favorite book bloggers and a huge inspiration to me.

Thanks for the opportunity, Tif!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Killer Angels Read-along check-in #2: July 1, 1863

What struck me in this section is the amount of music mentioned--the music playing during the marches and battle, the soldier's talk of music, and particularly the conversation about the bugle calls of Dan Butterfield. I didn't know that Taps originated during the Civil War.

Do kids still grow up learning the lyrics to When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again and Dixie? It was part of my education. I also recall learning about the importance of bugle calls and drum corps in earlier armies, but all of that was brought to life seeing it represented in a novel of the experience of a battle as it is being waged. You can listen to some of the songs and bugle calls on YouTube.


I felt compelled to learn a bit more about Dan Butterfield's experimentation with bugle calls and his writing of Taps. A quick search reveals that there have been disagreements over the origin and initial use of Taps. However, Jari Villanueva, a 23 year veteran of the US Air Force Band in Washington, DC and the foremost historian of military bugle calls, wrote a book about Taps. You can read an excerpt of his findings on his website.

When I finish reading The Killer Angles, in addition to watching the movie Gettysburg (1993, based on this book) I may have to finally watch Ken Burn's documentary on The Civil War (1990). I caught bits and pieces when it originally aired and remember music being a big part of that series.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Killer Angels Read-along check-in #1: June 29, 1863

Killer Angels Read-Along
The Killer Angels Read-Along
Are you reading The Killer Angels?

Yes--How's it going?
No--Why not?!

I read the first section as planned, up to the end of Monday, June 29, 1863. Where you able to stop at the end of the first section or did you keep reading? It was hard for me to stop after that first section.  At first I was going to keep reading, but then I thought it might be good to take a few days to ponder what I'd just read, to really think about what these characters are going through. I cannot comprehend what it was like to take up arms against citizens of one's own country, particularly when some on the other side are old friends.

Did you like that the characters were introduced at the front of the novel, before the action begins? Usually I groan upon seeing a list at the beginning of a novel and anticipate a confusing character laden mess to follow, but I found that reading those short bios created some tension and anticipation for what's to come.

I also like the way Shaara presents the main ideological reasons for the war for the North (through Chamberlain's thoughts) and the South (through conversations of various characters). I already have a soft spot for Chamberlain.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain [source]
What are your thoughts on this first section?
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