Nancy S. (avidbookcollector) - , - Reviews

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Afterimage
Afterimage
Author: Helen Humphreys
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 1/2/2010


Afterimage is a wonderful book and easily readable in one sitting. It is so well written that you won't want to put it down.

Afterimage examines a year in the life of a household living near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The main characters are Isabelle Dashell, daughter of a local lord, and Eldon Dashell, her husband, who live without really living. Isabelle tries -- her photography is her passion, using the housemaids and the gardener for models; Eldon, who wanted to join the search for the missing Franklin Arctic expedition, works on atlases for a single publishing company and lives life vicariously through the narratives of famous explorers. Eldon is perpetually depressed, and both he and Isabelle are incredibly lonely, unable to connect with each other on a personal level. Enter the new maid, Annie Phelan, a woman who can read (her favorite book is Jane Eyre) and who has a great deal of intelligence, who brings something new into the Dashell's home for both Isabelle and Eldon, but whose entrance also sparks a horrible tragedy.

Afterimage captures a small slice of the Victorian era, complete with its status, gender and class divisions. The writing is excellent, the characters are well drawn. I noticed that some reviewers at other sites criticize the book for not having a plot, per se, but I think those readers missed the point. My only criticism is that the end is a bit overwrought and maybe a bit melodramatic, but otherwise, it is a novel I can most heartily recommend.


Black Dog (Cooper and Fry, Bk 1)
Black Dog (Cooper and Fry, Bk 1)
Author: Stephen Booth
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 39
Review Date: 11/10/2009


Considering that Black Dog is Stephen Booth's first novel, and that it's a mystery series opener, it's really quite good.

As the book opens, Ben Cooper of the Edendale police (in the Peak District of England) is involved in the case of a missing teenaged girl, Laura Vernon. According to her parents, she was a wonderful child, interested in school and horses, and would never just up and run away. The police force is giving its all on this case, but the body is actually discovered by an elderly man, Harry Dickinson, and his dog, Jess, while out on a walk. He's interviewed by the police, but Cooper realizes that Dickinson's not telling everything he knows. But he's not the only one keeping secrets. It seems that many people in the small town of Edendale are keeping mum, hindering the investigation at every turn.

For a first novel in series, it's well done. The author goes to great lengths to introduce Ben Cooper, who is the son of a local police legend, and who lives at the family home, helping his brother take care of his ailing mother. Ben is also gearing up for promotion to sergeant, but Cooper joins the ranks of other UK angst-ridden detectives who carry an immense amount of emotional damage. He's also met his match in a new DC, Diane Fry (a very unlikable character), who is ambitious and has no scruples when it comes to getting what she wants. She has it in for Ben almost immediately, and their complex relationship is examined as the story progresses.

The book is a bit longer than it needed to be and while the end will catch you by surprise, it's a bit contrived. However, considering that it is the author's first book, I was impressed.

I'd definitely recommend it to fans of British police procedurals; cozy readers may find it a bit more complex than what they're used to reading. Overall -- a good start to a series which I plan to explore further.


Black Rain (Danielle Laidlaw, Bk 1)
Black Rain (Danielle Laidlaw, Bk 1)
Author: Graham Brown
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 20
Review Date: 1/18/2010


I thought, from description of this book, that is was a CIA-thriller/suspense-type novel, which is why I chose to read and review it. Imagine my surprise when midway through the book the author went off into the realm of science fiction and silliness.

I will not divulge any plot elements here, because it would most likely wreck the story for anyone else wanting to read this. To be very honest, I was definitely caught up in the story up until the characters' adventures in the jungles of Brazil, when I realized that the nature (and genre) of the story had changed. Not that I couldn't live with that, but the story became so unreal and so over the top plotwise that it was disappointing and caused my interest to wane, but I did go on and finish it.

I think this author shows promise in his writing style and his ability to think up incredible plots, and I did like the first part of the book, but if you write a book that is clearly sci-fi, please market it as such rather than as a CIA-type thriller. That's so not fair. For the positives, the book is very fast paced, there is a lot of action, and the author starts with a bang which sets up the later mystery of exactly what is out there in the Rain Forest jungle. I really wanted to like it, but it just didn't do it for me.

However, as usual, I find myself swimming against the tide of other reviewers who gave it 4 and 5 stars (out of 5), so this is yet another one you have to check out for yourself.


Boneshaker (Clockwork Century, Bk 1)
Boneshaker (Clockwork Century, Bk 1)
Author: Cherie Priest
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 114
Review Date: 1/5/2010
Helpful Score: 11


Guilty pleasures -- we all have them. Once in a blue moon I crave Kraft macaroni and cheese out of a box, or a huge heaping pile of homemade mashed potatoes with chicken gravy made from fried chicken. Or a Marie Callender's pot pie, even though they're like 600 calories and almost as many grams of fat. Well, I have them in books, too, and my favorite guilty pleasures are steampunk and pulp. I just finished Boneshaker and it is the equivalent of hot comfort food between two covers.

I knew when I saw this book I had to have it. So buy it I did, and as soon as I picked it up and started reading, I fell in love. It's so quirky that it instantly appealed. And when I was finished with it, I wanted more. So I'm particularly grateful that there are rumors of more books set in this alternate-history world, and hopefully they'll be this good.

The author has managed to create a world that the reader can actually believe in, the mark of a good steampunk, sci-fi, or alternate history writer. For example, to be really honest, I don't normally like books (or movies) featuring flesh-eating zombies, but here in this world it works, because they are an after effect of the blight. They are a constant danger, and the book wouldn't be the same without them. Gas masks are essential for life in this world, and she never eases up on this point. Priest set her novel during the time of the Civil War, complete with airships and hot-air balloons, and she has included some real people and real places so the reader feels a bit more grounded while reading the novel. The atmosphere is dark and gloomy, and people spend a lot of time underground, and I never lost track that this was Seattle (one of my favorite cities), albeit some time ago. And then there's the lemon sap, the drug of choice which a lot of people are making money on. Even the book's print is unique, giving you a feel that you're reading something from that era. And at its core, this book is really about a mom searching for her son, a storyline that is wholly believable.

The characters are also awesome; the villain of this book is one Dr. Minnericht, who tinkers with technology and holds the residents of downtown Seattle in his clutches. One of my favorite characters is Lucy, who has a robotic arm and runs an underground saloon called Maynard's. Then there's Swakhammer, who wears full body armor as protection against the Rotters (zombies). Even the characters you don't meet in person are great: Maynard Wilkes, for example, is a lawman who is revered both inside and outside of the gates, and there's Leviticus Blue, husband of Briar and father to Zeke (Briar and Zeke both tell the story from their alternating points of view) , who started the whole mess in the first place.

Cherie Priest has written an outstanding book here, and I can't wait for the new additions to the series to start rolling off the presses. Highly recommended for people who enjoy alternate history, or science fiction or steampunk. Or, if you're like me, and you just like quirky things very much away from the norm, you'll love this one.


Cat's Cradle (Mike Yeadings, Bk 7)
Cat's Cradle (Mike Yeadings, Bk 7)
Author: Clare Curzon
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 1/4/2010
Helpful Score: 2


In this, the seventh installment of Clare Curzon's Mike Yeadings series, the Thames Valley police are called in to investigate the death of Lorely Pelling. Miss Pelling lived a reclusive life on property that belonged to her family, all dead now, collected cats, grew her own vegetables, and had sold off some of the family's land in order to live that way. The police immediately wonder if a stray shot from an earlier teens party (where the kids were practicing shooting) at the nearby home of the Welch family may have been the cause of her death, but other clues come to light that suggest it was foul play. Mike Yeadings, a Detective Superintendent, and his team are in charge of the investigation, and must get to the bottom of Miss Pelling's murder, but unwilling witnesses, too many suspects and some red herrings aren't going to make it easy for them.

This is my first Mike Yeadings novel, because the first few are very rare and hard to come by. Normally I prefer to start at the beginning of a series, but this time due to unavailability, this is where I began. I don't know what I've missed as far as character development, but I like Yeadings as a character and will definitely be reading more of Curzon's work. The ending of this novel seems a bit strange, considering it was originally written in 1991 (I won't say why in case someone plans to read this) but otherwise, the book was good, the mystery was solid and I liked it.


Constable on the Hill
Constable on the Hill
Author: Nicholas Rhea
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 12/4/2009


To be really blunt, this is not my normal reading fare, but I loved it. It's the story of a British policeman who moves to the village of Aidensfield in North Yorkshire to take the job as constable there and the immediate environs. It's a small village where everyone knows everyone, and although you wouldn't find (or at least, at the time of the writing of this book, at least) a lot of big-city type crime there, the author notes that there was enough going on to keep him quite busy. For example, take the case of the roaming pony; you might also enjoy the case of the woman wandering the streets naked; then there's the time Constable Nick staked out a pack of Canadian timber wolves at the train station.

What I liked most about this book was that it focused on people rather than events, and that Nick used his knowledge of the individuals involved in the pursuit of justice rather than just coming down hard with the full force of the letter of the law, with which he doesn't always agree. He even notes that

"Keen socialists are attempting to remove that valuable exercise of discretion from the policeman's armoury -- it will be a sad day when it has gone. When it does go, the feared police state will have arrived when all rules will be obeyed, down to the last cruel letter of the law. Human policemen will no longer exist." (29)

Nick (and his sergeant) really epitomize the meaning of "human policemen," and that's what makes this book special, along with the multiple personalities that populate this novel.

I would highly recommend this book, and I do believe I'll read more of the "Constable" series -- maybe even pick up the first episode of "Heartbeat," the British tv series based on Rhea's books. Constable on the Hill is a joy for everyone who likes small-town life or likes to read more upbeat kind of stories that often come from the heart.


The Cruel Stars of the Night (Ann Lindell, Bk 2)
The Cruel Stars of the Night (Ann Lindell, Bk 2)
Author: Kjell Eriksson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 21
Review Date: 12/4/2009


In this, Eriksson's second book to be translated into English, we once again meet up with Ann Lindell and her team from the Uppsala police department's Violent Crimes division. This time, the team is called in to investigate the seemingly motiveless deaths of three elderly men, all very quiet, all living alone. The police, in the search for anything which might lead them to a killer, try to fathom why these men were killed and what tied their lives together. Lindell gets the idea that perhaps she should make the examination broader, and begins comes up with a man who turned up missing around the same area some time back. It seems that a Laura Hindersten had turned in a missing person report when her father, a professor with a love of Petrarch, went missing. Laura's story interweaves with that of the police investigation, and the combination of the two lead to an incredible read.

I love the way Eriksson writes and I love the slow and methodical pacing of this novel, even though many readers complained that it was too slow for their liking. I liked the characters and I liked the dual plotline. What I didn't like was that the author allowed his main character, Lindell, to make a really stupid mistake that I don't think was in keeping with the police side of her character, in order to build to a bit of a hair-raising climax. This error, especially for a writer of Eriksson's caliber, would normally be (for me) an unforgiveable lapse, but the rest of it was so good that I could overlook it, once I got past my initial annoyance. I can definitely recommend Cruel Stars of the Night to those who enjoy a really good police procedural, and to those who also enjoy psychological suspense. It's also a bit more gritty than the lighthearted books cozy readers tend to enjoy, so I probably wouldn't recommend it for that crowd. This author is also definitely a must for those who are exploring the realm of Scandinavian crime fiction.


A Dark Matter
A Dark Matter
Author: Peter Straub
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 19
Review Date: 3/3/2010
Helpful Score: 2


It's like this. You will like or dislike this book depending on your expectations. If you're expecting the kind of hackle-raising horror that is often associated with this author, you may be disappointed. If you are expecting a slam-bang, linear narrative in which all is revealed, you probably won't want to read it. It is really not so much a novel of horror but more of a look at the whole concept of the connectivity of good and evil, so if you come at it from that angle, you will definitely get much more out of it than if you think you're getting say, a book along the lines of Straub's Julia or If You Could See Me Now.

If you're willing to put in the time and you can deal with a different approach to writing than you're used to seeing with this author, then it just might work out to be a good read. The key here is that this is not a passive book -- meaning that the reader has work to do here as well.

The crux of this novel hinges on events that happened in the late 60s in Madison, Wisconsin. A group of high-school friends meet a strange and charismatic guru-ish figure named Spencer Mallon, and find themselves held in thrall by his teachings. With the exception of the narrator of this story, Lee Harwell, all of the kids go off with Mallon to be part of a ritual he's conducting at that time, accompanied by three other people, also followers of Mallon. What happened at that ritual is what Harwell, later in life, wants to determine. His wife, also Lee (but called "the Eel") was there, but over all of this time, has refused to let him in on the details. Little by little he gathers the story in pieces from all of the various participants with two exceptions: one person who was suspected, even in the 60s, of being a serial killer, and a friend of his who went missing afterwards. The book blurbs (and most reviews of this book) note that this is done in a "Rashomon" style, which is an apt description of how Harwell is able to glean an insight into not only what happened, but why things turned out as they did for each and every one of Mallon's groupies later in life.

This is a work of metafiction, in which the author (Lee Harwell) is gathering information and retelling the story for a book he is writing. This sent up a flag for me -- can we really trust this guy in relating this information to the readers -- meaning, is Harwell a reliable narrator here? Also, this is mostly a character, rather than plot-driven novel, since each of the people involved have different aspects of the story to relate. While this is a cool approach, I was left with a sense of something lacking in most of the people involved that would provide more depth to this novel, with one exception, the kid who turned out to be the serial killer. Hmm. I was also happy to find Tim Underhill mentioned in this novel, since he's been one of my favorite characters since the Koko years.

Overall, it's a good novel, although often a bit repetitious and thus frustrating sometimes early on, but stick with it. What Straub is trying to say here may not be new, but it is worth the time you put in to read the book. His approach is different but a good one. I don't know that I would specifically label it horror, but more of a psychological suspense with elements of the supernatural involved.


Dover One (Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover, Bk 1)
Dover One (Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover, Bk 1)
Author: Joyce Porter
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 7
Review Date: 11/11/2009


A young girl goes missing, and the local constabulary soon realizes they should probably call in the Yard. It's just their luck that the Yard sends Wilfred Dover, along with Sgt. MacGregor, to their aid. When he arrives at the scene of the crime, he's faced with an assortment of rather eccentric people (and some who are just plainly weird) who, as it turns out, all had a reason to do away with the girl. He deduces that she didn't leave of her own accord, and is either being held as a kidnap victim or worse, she is dead. Normally the wheels of Scotland Yard detection would begin turning in this case, but Dover would much rather have a nap.

This is a rather comic sort of mystery -- Dover is an obnoxious man who relies on luck and the work of others to solve cases rather than his own efforts. He's a slob -- one of the characters watched in horror as dandruff flaked off of his head. He loves to eat, has been known to put away the pint or two, and his detection skills leave a lot to be desired.

While some of the characters come off as being a bit over the top, this novel works and it works well. Dover is a person with absolutely zero redeeming qualities, but you can't help but like him. The book was written before political correctness entered the picture, so the author allows her characters to speak their minds. It's entirely different than anything I've ever read, and it's a treasure. I hope the rest of the series is as good as this series opener.

Die-hard fans of serious British mysteries might find this book a little out there and silly, but there is actually a good mystery at the core of this novel. There are a wealth of suspects, some red herrings, and the solution is satisfying. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who reads British mysteries -- but beware: it stands police procedurals on their heads. If you're looking for something entirely different, you have to give this one a try.


The Draining Lake (Inspector Erlendur, Bk 4)
Review Date: 10/20/2009
Helpful Score: 1


The story behind Erlendur's Draining Lake investigation begins not with the discovery of bones in a lake bed, but in the 1950s in Leipzig. At that time it was part of the GDR, and students were being recruited to come to the university there to study. Some Icelandic socialist students were part of the recruitment effort -- but many discovered that there was a catch to their free education once they had been there for a while. Flashforward to the present, where a hydrologist examining a lake bed finds bones half buried there and calls police. As it turns out, the body was tied down with an old Soviet listening device, starting Erlendur and his team on an investigation that will take them back to the Cold War years. With very few clues to go on, including the identity of the dead man, Erlendur and his team have their work cut out for them. In the meantime, there's a few hitches in Erlendur's life: seriously drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind has runaway again, and while he's busy worrying about her, his long-estranged son Sindri shows up.

Indridason's writing is excellent, as always, and the fleshed-out back story of the students' years in Leipzig is a nice glimpse into the pitfalls of overzealous idealism. Erlendur is a character who has since the outset of this series been portrayed as very human, with real-life problems that don't seem to ever be resolved. The author is able to inject a bit of wry humor into his writing which is often dark and depressing -- there are no warm fuzzies or nice touchy-feely happy endings where everyone goes home happy and satisfied in this series. If that's what you're looking for, then pass on these novels.

The Draining Lake is not my favorite of Indridason's novels, but it was still a great read. He continues to follow his pattern of the past's connection to the present, which is one of my favorite motifs in a mystery novel. The book is well written, and my only criticism is that at times things seemed to move very slow. But I still very highly recommend not only this book, but the entire series. You'll want to start with the first book in translation, Jar City, and make your way through all of the books before coming to this one if you want the best reading experience. People who enjoy Scandinavian crime novels will want to read this one, as will people looking for a good mystery novel in general.


Dupe (Anna Lee Mysteries)
Dupe (Anna Lee Mysteries)
Author: Liza Cody
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 1/19/2010


Dupe is the first book of a series featuring private investigator Anna Lee. Anna was a cop, then realized that she was going nowhere (this was in the 80s, mind you) with her career, and she got a job with the Brierly security company as an investigator. Her boss reluctantly assigns her to the case of Deirdre Jackson, who was found dead in a car accident. There seemed to be no hint of foul play, but the parents a) don't believe it for a minute and b) want to know what their close-mouthed little darling had been up to in the months previous to her death. So off Anna goes, and her investigations take her inside the cinematic world, where at least one person wants her off the case, and others have many secrets they're not giving up.

Anna is a kind of gutsy girl, and considering this was written in 1980, was a strong character for the time. Of course now we are reading about the guts and glory of Lisbeth Salander (from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame) so to us, Anna is a bit tame, but still, within the context of the time, a pretty rare kind of heroine. The supporting characters all have their own idiosyncracies (especially her boss and his assistant), and for a first effort, not bad. What I didn't really like was that probably about the first three-fourths of the book were all about Anna asking questions...very little action to speak of. That only happens toward the very end, when things finally heat up and we get a clue that maybe Anna's put her nose somewhere where it don't belongs and someone's trying to stop her from asking more questions. But I'll chalk this up to the book being the first in the series -- normally they're never as good as what follows.

Kind of dated, but I'd recommend it to people who read UK Crime fiction and who have maybe missed this one. Not a cozy, by any stretch, but it's also not a police procedural. Overall -- not bad, not great, just average.


Firewall (Kurt Wallander, Bk 8)
Firewall (Kurt Wallander, Bk 8)
Author: Henning Mankell, Ebba Segerberg (Translator)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 52
Review Date: 1/2/2010


If you haven't yet met Kurt Wallander, I highly suggest that you run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and pick up his first book, Faceless Killers. After that, you will want to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and pick up book #2. And so on and so on, until you've read all of the Wallander series. They are, in a nutshell, outstanding. Okay...maybe Dogs of Riga wasn't so hot (every author is allowed one bad series novel), but you literally can't put down any of these books while you're reading them.

This continues to hold true for Firewall, number eight in the Wallander series (which, personally, I hope Mankell never stops writing),

It's a year after the events of the previous book (One Step Behind), and the story opens with the death of a computer consultant just after making a withdrawal from his ATM. As the team begins its investigation into his death, two young girls in a taxi beat and stab the driver to death. The girls are arrested, and claim they killed the driver for the money, which as it turns out, wasn't very much for their trouble. As Wallander tries to sort everything out, events occur which lead him and his crack Ystad police team come to realize that these two events were not random occurrences at all, and that they are part of a much bigger and more threatening picture. And time is running out.

The action in Firewall never lets up. Mankell has delivered yet another excellent Wallander adventure here, although I must admit that while the storyline is plausible, it's a bit over the top. Barring that minor drawback, Firewall is excellent, and I'm amazed how well Mankell manages to continue to portray Wallander as a real person with real-world problems and personal issues. He doesn't skimp on the supporting characters, either, and the core plotline is absolutely diabolical.

Mankell is one of my favorite authors, and as long as he keeps writing, I'll keep buying. Highly recommended for Scandinavian mystery fans, and to readers of more hard-edge mysteries as well. Do not start with this book as your first Wallander experience, however, because Wallander is someone that you really want to take time to get to know as a character.

Overall -- it's a great read. It's a bit over the top, but still a fast-paced and very edgy mystery novel that will keep you glued to the pages.


Gallows View  (Inspector Banks, Bk 1)
Gallows View (Inspector Banks, Bk 1)
Author: Peter Robinson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 84
Review Date: 11/5/2009


Gallows View is an okay introduction to the British mystery series featuring Inspector Alan Banks, who lives and works in Eastvale, Yorkshire. As the novel begins, the local police are trying to find a peeper who is frightening some of the town's women. As if that's not enough, an elderly woman living alone has been killed, and there are a series of unsolved break-ins. Banks, who has moved to Yorkshire to get away from the high-stress levels of police work and of life in general in London, takes the lead on all of these cases -- which may or may not be linked together.

As with most first novels in a mystery series, Banks' character isn't as well developed right away as it will hopefully be in the next ones. I expect this, though; it's very rare that a character comes fully fleshed out in a series opener. However, the crime plotting is solid, and the way Robinson writes his story leaves readers guessing until the end.

I can recommend Gallows View. If you like British mystery, or if you're looking for a solid police procedural (with some personal touches) and you haven't tried this series yet, it would be worth your while to do so. It's not on the cozy end of mystery novels, but it's not really hardcore either. Overall -- a good read, and I'll definitely be coming back to this author.


A Good Weekend for Murder (Dee and Barry Vaughan, Bk 1)
A Good Weekend for Murder (Dee and Barry Vaughan, Bk 1)
Author: Jennifer Jordan
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 12/31/2009
Helpful Score: 1


A Good Weekend for Murder is the first installment in a series featuring Barry Vaughan, a history teacher and British crime fiction writer, and his wife, Dee. The story centers around another crime novelist, Charles Wild, who has managed to make enough enemies, all with reasons to kill him. He is murdered at his lavish country house, but with so many suspects, the police are going to have a very difficult time making sense of it all. Enter the Vaughans, who have also been invited to the party and who take up amateur sleuthing in an effort to get to the bottom of the murder.

Up until the murder, the story is quite good, largely because Charles Wild is such a great bad guy and the author spends a lot of time setting the scene for him to be a person most likely to die because of his nasty personality. But once the murder occurs and the police step in, it's like the author kind of ran out steam and couldn't figure out where the story was going. The Vaughans, as a detective duo who reconjure themselves as Nick and Nora Charles, aren't so great as characters, but the real problem is the plotting and the pacing. The end comes as a rush, and it seemed that the announcement of the killer was more of an afterthought than the purpose of the mystery. I'm willing to let this slide and go on to the next in the series because it's a series opener, but hard-core mystery readers may be a bit disappointed overall.

I'd recommend it with caution, because it's a bit unsatisfying. The unraveling of the murder plot is a bit ho-hum and I'd probably guess that it's more oriented to cozy readers rather than more serious mystery readers like myself.


The Governess
The Governess
Author: Evelyn Hervey, H.R.F. Keating
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 12/31/2009


Miss Harriet Unwin is the featured sleuth in this novel, which is the first in a series of three mysteries written by HRF Keating in his guise as Evelyn Hervey. Had I written this novel, I would have disguised my identity as well.

In a nutshell, the story is as follows: Miss Harriet Unwin is a governess in a Victorian home, where three generations of the same family live together. The family name is Thackerton, made wealthy by their invention of a steam process for making hats. Mr. Thackerton senior is soon found stabbed to death in his library, and suspicion falls on the governess. Of course, she's innocent, but threatened with arrest or worse (being turned out of the household to face a life of poverty), she feels that she must clear her name. The police sergeant is a major bumbler, but soon Harriet finds herself out of the loop of suspects. But wait...after a second murder, her fortunes change yet again...but with an entire house filled with suspects, the road to clearing herself is an uphill one.

Sounds good, right? And it really could have been, had it been written well. I have a fondness for Victorian settings as well as governesses, so I was looking forward to this one, but as things progressed, I had to force myself to finish this one. The characters are all flat, the solution is anything but satisfactory, and comes out of nowhere at the end of the novel. I couldn't feel even the slightest amount of pity for the heroine, which is really sad.

Perhaps this one is more for people who enjoy cozy mysteries set in historical time periods, but serious mystery readers might want to skip this one.


Impact
Impact
Author: Douglas Preston
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 86
Review Date: 1/16/2010
Helpful Score: 4


My review of this book should be subtitled "I feel like the Lone Ranger here."

I have bought and read every single book this author has published, and those that he wrote with Lincoln Child. I have to say that this one was not the best in the bunch ... I was so disappointed. I know, I know, I'm once again swimming against the tide of people who really loved this book, but, well, that's just how it is. And before you accuse me of book snobbery, I will say in my defense that I read this kind of stuff all of the time and normally can have a fun time with it, so it's not the subject matter -- I just thought this was definitely not one of the author's best moments.

As the story begins, two things are going on. First, A young woman, Abbey Straw, is out with her friend watching the heavens at night and the sky lights up over Maine's coast. Abbey believes that what just landed was a meteoroid (not meteorite)and after checking e-bay, she realizes that there are people who collect these things and will pay her a hefty chunk of cash. She does some research, realizes the thing did not land in the ocean as previously thought, and off she and Jackie go in search of their fortune. Second, a young scientist at NPF (the National Propulsion Facility) in Pasadena receives a hard drive in the mail from a now-dead associate. As the action gets going, CIA operative Wyman Ford (a continuing character in Preston's novels) is asked by the President's science advisor to go to Cambodia and locate the source of some radioactive gems that have been coming into the country lately, worried about the possibility that the radioactivity might possibly fall into the hands of terrorists. Preston proceeds to interweave all three stories into one big one, and the action doesn't let up until the end.

Normally, I can sit back and enjoy a bit of far-fetched escape reading, one of my guilty pleasures in reading life, but this one was way too over the top plotwise and the ending was just silly. Although the premise was interesting (I bought this book, so obviously the premise caught my eye) many of the action scenes were just highly implausible, and overall I felt like this story was flat. Normally with this kind of thing, I can at least get into it a little, but not this time.

But then again, everyone else who's written a review seems to really like it, using superlative adjectives to describe it, so maybe it's just me. Try it for yourself.


Little Face (Culver Valley Crime, Bk 1)
Little Face (Culver Valley Crime, Bk 1)
Author: Sophie Hannah
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 68
Review Date: 12/31/2009


I was expecting a lot more out of this one considering the teasing and tantalizing blurbs on the back of the book.

The story is told via the use of different narratives, one of them being from the point of view of Alice Fancourt, who has just come home with her new baby Florence. Alice and her husband David, Florence and David's young son from a previous marriage all live at the home of David's mother, Vivienne Fancourt, where Vivienne rules the roost in her lavish house called The Elms. As the story opens, Alice has left the house for a while for the first time since she delivered Florence via C-section. When she returns, she checks in on the baby and lo and behold, it's not Florence. Her husband, David, thinks that Alice is a bit disturbed and probably suffering from a case of postpartum depression, and swears that the baby is definitely Florence. But Alice thinks that a mother definitely knows her own baby -- and calls in the police. Enter Simon Waterhouse and his DS Charlie Zailer. There's absolutely no proof that Florence isn't Florence, so there's really no case, but things change when just a week later the baby and Alice go missing...and Waterhouse begins to take a second and more serious look at what's really going on here.

I was definitely quite hooked on the story up until the end when I thought it all fell apart. However, I can't explain without giving away the show so I'll let it go. Let's just say that I wasn't disappointed in the ending, as were many people for reasons I won't get into here, but the way it was just sort of thrust at me made it feel rushed and contrived. I think more of that particular plotline needed to be developed up to that point to have it all make more sense. It's also definitely a book demanding reader participation.

Overall, it's a decent read, and I would recommend it for people who like suspense novels.


Little Hands Clapping
Little Hands Clapping
Author: Dan Rhodes
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/15/2010


If you read this book based solely on my recommendation (which you should not do), I don't want you coming back to me if you hate it and saying something like "you are one sick puppy." To be really blunt, I tend to march to a different drummer in life as it is, and I gravitate toward the quirky and the offbeat when it's put out there.

On the surface, this book is gruesome and at times a bit sick, but if you want a book that's highly original, one that offers something you'll probably never read the likes of again, then this one's for you. It will probably appeal to minds like mine...a little off-kilter and prone towards the quirkiness of life. And actually, what's really funny is that in the author's world, all of this stuff could have actually happened. Sick, but at the same time often funny, with a story to tell, Little Hands Clapping is one of the best books I've read in a while.I've never read any other books by this author, but I see more on my library shelves from him in the future.

On the surface, this book reads somewhat like a bizarre set of interconnected fairy tales, and once you start reading you are hooked. Somewhere in Germany, a woman known only as Mrs. Pavarotti (not her real name, but so-called because her husband has an uncanny resemblance to the real opera star), has created a museum whose intended visitors are those who are in deep pain, possibly contemplating suicide. The exhibits, which are funny but not really (actually, they're kind of sad, but you can't help laughing even when you know you shouldn't) have a purpose: to try to get these lost souls to change their minds and embrace life. Mrs. Pavarotti herself went through some anguish in life, and she can't stand the thought of unhappiness and pain. She hired a caretaker only known as Herr Schmidt, who embraces nothingness. He hates human companionship and just wants to be left alone, his one pleasure in life the cake brought by Mrs. P. every time she comes to visit. Herr Schmidt often finds the need to call on one of the local GPs, a Dr. Frohliche with whom he shares a secret that the rest of the town is probably not ready to hear about. The doctor, who is loved by his regular patients, does what he considers his penance by doling out money to charity. Interwoven with this story is the sad story of two beautiful young people whom the stars destined for each other early in life.

It's simplistic, but not simple. The author is gifted -- he can turn your stomach while at the same time making you laugh by going off on some rather bizarre tangents. He has no shame sometimes, and the humor tends to lighten some of the darkness of the novel, but at the same time feeds into it. You will laugh in spite of yourself. He takes small-town, inglorious and mundane lives and makes them interesting to the point that he leaves you wanting more. The writing is not a clear linear narrative, going backward and forward through time, but still very easy to follow. It's like a modern Brothers Grimm on steroids.

If you have a quirky outlook on life, or if you like really dark humor which has a purpose, or even if you just want something new and well, refreshingly different, then you are going to love this book. You have to just let yourself go while you read this, because of the gruesome and often gross subject matter, but in the end, it's absolutely exquisite. To those readers, I can highly recommend this book. But this novel is not for the faint of heart, or for those who can't or won't see humor in even the bleakest of situations.


Lolita
Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 409
Review Date: 1/12/2010
Helpful Score: 1


I fell in love with Nabokov after reading Pale Fire, but I'd never read Lolita. Truthfully, this book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, because I was hesitant to read it due to the subject matter. Yes, the main character is a pedophile, yes, the subject in question is 12 years old. No, I do not condone sex with children or even adult fascination with "nymphets." However, Lolita, as it turns out, is a masterpiece, an outstanding read, and my faith in Nabokov remains justified.

I won't go through the plot details, but I think this book has been much misunderstood and my suspicion is that most readers who hated this book probably either did not finish it all the way through or missed the point entirely.

Nabokov's writing is simply superb, exquisite, and all of the other superlatives you can possibly think of. The man was a genius with his use of the English language and his depiction of post-WWII American culture. I found myself reading this book very slowly so as not to miss a single word or a single nuance. His writing is filled with word play, he uses comedy to balance out the tragedy of it all, and reading the book was an experience.

In considering your feelings about Lolita, you have to remember that Humbert Humbert is an unreliable narrator at best -- very sly, self-serving and downright devious. I never at any point in time felt sorry for him, but without giving away the show, the ending of this novel (not the very end, but close to, when he meets up with Lolita after some time) was simply beautiful. Nabokov wasn't at all sanctioning pedophilia ... if you read carefully, and finish the entire book, you'll find it's just the opposite.

An amazing book, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a reading masterpiece...here, literature definitely shines as art to be savored and enjoyed.


Monstrocity
Monstrocity
Author: Jeffrey Thomas
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 11/2/2009


I have to admit that this is really my first Punktown-based novel, but that situation will be rectified here shortly. Punktown is really Paxton, a city on the world called Oasis. Several peoples call Punktown home: for example, there are the Tikkihottos, the Kalians and the indigenous Chooms. There are human beings who live there as well. The action begins as Chris Ruby and his girlfriend Gaby are at his home, and for fun they decide to light candles in eight corners while Gaby plays a recording of a summoning spell from the Necronomicon, the evil book of secrets that should not be played with lightly. Soon afterwards, Gaby disengages from life and Chris and Chris wants to know why. His quest takes him down dangerous paths, where he discovers that there are things best left alone in the world, and that sadly, not everyone feels that way, opting rather to delight in the forces of evil.

I loved this book! Thomas gives Punktown its own life and breath so much so that you can actually visualize it. The characters are colorful, interesting and real in the context of this world; the dialog is natural. The writing is excellent and I absolutely cannot wait to read the rest of the Punktown books. I don't think you need to have read the previous ones because the author does a great job of setting the scene. You may wish to have some familiarity with the works of HP Lovecraft for this to make some sense, but again, the author incorporates Lovecraft so well that you don't absolutely need to be a Lovecraft fan to enjoy it.

Overall -- an awesome and fun read; recommended definitely for Lovecraft aficionados and for people who enjoy a good blend of fantasy and horror together in one space.


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