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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair

Bramton Wick
Elizabeth Fair
4/5 stars

This novel follows the inhabitants of Bramton Wick over the course of a few months, as they go about daily business interacting with each other in various ways.  It is witty and snarky, yet gentle at the same time.  Fair is able to make most of her characters three-dimensional, despite the number.  The vignettes tie together and give an interesting and amusing picture of village life in post-war England.

I would especially recommend Fair to fans of Angela Thirkell.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People
Farahad Zama
5/5 stars

In the town of Vizag, India, Mr Ali (tired of being retired) sets up a marriage bureau in his home.  Business does so well that he hires an assistant, Aruna, a modest and competent girl whose proud family needs extra income.  They can't afford to make a match for Aruna, but love appears in a very unexpected source.  Meanwhile, Mr. Ali must deal with an adult son that is prominent in a widely-reported protest, firmly against Mr. Ali's wishes.

This is a charming book.  It moves slowly, letting the reader get to know the characters in a way reminiscent of an Austen novel.  The marriages arranged through Mr. Ali's help are mentioned, but the main focus is the family relationships of the Ali family, and of Aruna's family.  A picture of culture and family life in India is painted, perhaps more idealistically than is true, but in fascinating detail.  Reading about the practices of both a Hindu wedding and a Muslim wedding was wonderful.  This gentle book was a delight to read, even the second time.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

September Wrap Up

Books Read
Night and Day by Virginia Woolf   3/5 stars (my discussion here)

The Black Goatee by the Little sisters 4/5 stars  (my review here)

Audio Books Completed
The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats by Mark Hodder   4/5 stars    (my review here)

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan 5/5 stars (my review here)

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd 4/5 stars
Bess becomes involved with a family being persecuted by gossip and slander, and helps to find who is responsible.  Not the most mysterious of plots, as it was easy to figure out, but still well written and engaging.  I enjoy Todd's style, and am fond of the characters.

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall 5/5 stars  (my review here)

Latter End by Patricia Wentworth  4/5 stars
The new mistress of Latter End has everyone turned against her.  When she is found poisoned, the suspects are numerous. Wentworth sets up the mystery excellently by giving the reader a solid introduction to the family.  Once the murder happens, Miss Silver enters and unravels the clues, giving a most satisfying solution.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall 4/5 stars (my review here)

Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block 4/5 stars  (my review here)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block

Time to Murder and Create
Lawrence Block
4/5 stars

A blackmailer, Spinner, asks Scudder to keep his files and find his killer if he gets bumped off.  When Spinner is murdered, Scudder investigates the three people being blackmailed to find which one was responsible.

Scudder is a hard-boiled character, an alcoholic ex-cop who does detective work "as a favor for friends" instead of as a licensed P.I.  This second in the series moves quickly, follows up red herrings, and is, in general, an interesting read. It's hard not to like Scudder, despite his near anti-hero characteristics.  While the novel isn't intellectual or deep, it's an engaging mystery up until the very end.



The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
Tarquin Hall
4/5 stars

A prominent rationalist, Dr. Jha, is murdered before his friends when a goddess rises from the ground and stabs him to death.  Vish Puri knows that it is an illusion, and must unveil both the mystery of the occurrence and the guilty party behind it.  

In the meantime, Mummy and Puri's wife Rumpy, are robbed during a kitty party.  Mummy enlists Rumpy's aid and they set out to find which of their friends could be responsible for such an act.

This novel takes the reader into the fascinating world of India's magicians and religious cults as Puri investigates the most obvious suspect, the Maharaj Swami.  The social aspect of Mummy's investigation is also interesting.  Both mysteries are engrossing, the characters engaging, and Hall's writing solid.  This second volume lacks some of the charm of the first (see here), but is still well worth a read both for the puzzle and the atmosphere.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Black Goatee by the Little Sisters

The Black Goatee
Constance and Gwenyth Little
4/5 stars

During the post-war (WWII) housing shortage, Aloysius Graham installs himself and a few others in the unused left wing of his cousins' house--unbeknownst to said cousins.  When he finds a corpse one night, it starts an investigation that includes missing bodies, insurance fraud, disappearing money, and one black goatee.

This is a typical Little sisters screwball comedy with a serious mystery at the heart.  The Little sisters had a great ability to seamlessly change character point-of-view that makes the story flow well.  The mystery was a surprisingly complex one which kept me guessing until the reveal.  The comedy, as always, was laugh-out-loud fun.  As is generally the case when I read one of their novels, I closed the book with a satisfied smile.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Night and Day by Virginia Woolf (Classic's Club)

(about the Classics Club)

Night and Day
Virginia Woolf
3/5 stars

Katherine Hilbury, well-to-do daughter of an intellectual and artistic family, becomes engaged to William Rodney, a budding poet/dramatist.  A young lawyer, Ralph Denham, is introduced to the family through Mr. Hilbury, falls in love with Katherine, and they begin an unusual courtship.

On the surface, this 1927 novel is a simple and straight-forward story of Katherine and her two very different suitors.  Underneath, however, it is a discussion of love, marriage, independence, and even the rights of women.  It's, unfortunately, not a gripping drama, and at times it is hard to remain interested in the plot.

This is Woolf's second novel, and she hasn't yet developed her stream-of-consciousness style that I like so much.  She does, however, have her characters do nearly as much thinking as acting.  Despite not being enthralling, the story generally flows well, and there were many passages worth noting.

The downside was it's length.  Woolf, herself, called it "interminable" and said "I can't believe any human being can get through Night and Day."  At nearly 450 pages of dense content, I agree that it is quite the task, and frankly, had it been another author, I would have quit well before the half-way point.

Bottom line is that it's a good novel, but not a great one, and I'd only recommend it to Woolf fans trying to read all that she wrote.


Inspector Queen's Own Case by Ellery Queen

Inspector Queen's Own Case
Ellery Queen
4/5 stars

Inspector Queen (Ellery's father) has retired and is not happy about it.  While visiting friends, he becomes involved in the possible murder of an infant.  The baby's nurse, Jessie, appeals to him for help and they form a partnership to investigate the case.

This is my favorite Ellery Queen mystery, despite Ellery not appearing in it at all.  Richard Queen has a wonderful personality, and Jessie was a delight as well.  The mystery was engaging and the writing good.  Overall, it's an excellent book and just barely falls short of 5 stars.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Missing Servant
Tarquin Hall 
5/5 stars

Prominent lawyer Ajay Kasliwal is being accused of murdering his missing servant, Mary, and hires Vish Puri to prove his innocence.   Punjabi Puri, affectionately known as "Chubby", is the owner of  Most Private Investigators Ltd. in Delhi, a highly successful private detective firm where "discretion is my watchword".  With his operatives, Puri sets out to solve Kasliwal's case, while also investigating both a prospective bridegroom, and the latest attempt on his life.

Puri is well-drawn: personable and clever, with an amusing streak of pomposity.  The supporting characters, especially Mummy, are as fun and nearly as fleshed-out.  The solution of the case rests on some information that the reader doesn't have available, but it doesn't lessen the enjoyment of the experience.  However, it's the details about India in general, and Delhi in particular that make this novel rise about the average mystery.   I highly recommend this book, especially to those with interest in modern India.

(On a personal note: this was my second time reading it and I think I liked it even better this second time.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir
Jennifer Ryan
5/5 stars

It's the spring of 1940, and as most all of the men in the village of Chilbury are off fighting the war. As a result, the women are learning to shoulder tasks they wouldn't normally do, including singing in a choir exclusively for women.  The story, through journals and letters, follows several ladies from this choir over the course of a few months, observing how they are affected by the war, the choir, and each other.

This novel is simply splendid.  Ryan's writing is lovely, the characters are fully-fleshed and believable, and the story is, by turns, moving and funny.  I truly hated to see this delightful book come to an end.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats by Mark Hodder

The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats
Mark Hodder
4/5 stars

Burton
In this sixth and final volume of the Burton and Swinburne series, Burton is retrieved from his death bed in our line of history, and taken to the alternate steampunk universe to help his friends find the missing inventor, Babbage.  The very history that Burton risked his life to change is now becoming a reality as he must fight against technologically-enhanced aristocrats,  sadistic enemies, and an artificial intelligence gone rogue.

Hodder has an amazing talent for creating a realistic alternate universe with believable crises.  This novel, while at times too philosophical, wraps up the series nicely with an exciting, complex plot and wonderful, multidimensional characters.  Overall, this steampunk fantasy series is a winner and comes highly recommended.



(previous reviews are hereherehere, here and here.)

    
      

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August Wrap-Up

Due to being sick for three weeks this month, I didn't do much reading!

Books Read:
The Lost by Jonathan Aycliffe 2/5 stars (my review here)
12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Greip  3/5 stars  (my review here)

Audio Books Completed:
Little Men by Louisa Mae Alcott 4/5 stars
While not as good as Little Women, this was an enjoyable read with memorable characters and cute vignettes.

Opening Night (a/k/a Night at the Vulcan) by Ngaio Marsh 5/5 stars
Marsh's excellent mystery focuses on a murder during the opening night of a play.  It is complex and entertaining, as is the norm with her novels.

Devices and Desires by P.D. James  5/5 stars
James is a master storyteller, giving in depth character studies of all those involved.  This was a complex, sophisticated, and engrossing mystery.

Inspector Queen's Own Case by Ellery Queen 4/5 stars (my review here)

Did Not Finish
The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Despite an intriguing synopsis, I could't connect with the characters and as a result was unable to be interested in the plot.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor
Michelle Griep
expected publication date: 1 September 2017
3/5 stars

In 1851, Clara, newly impoverished, receives a mysterious invitation to stay at Bleakly Manor for the Twelve Days of Christmas, with a promise of 500 pounds if she stays through to the end. Arriving there, she finds other guests who have been given similar invitations with differing promises if they stay all twelve days. One of the guests is Ben, from her past and an unwelcome addition. These twelve days become a time of second chances for the two of them.

This short book is very light reading, at times insipid, with a plot not fully believable and stereotypical characters. The Victorian atmosphere was not well pulled off, and details such as mores, language, and customers were often not quite right. Advertised as a Christian novel, it has only brief mentions of the faith. However, Griep did a great job of gradually revealing the past stories of Clara and Ben, which raises this book to three stars for me. Overall, though, while I didn't hate it, I wouldn't recommend it either.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Lost by Jonathan Aycliffe

The Lost
Jonathan Aycliffe
2/5 stars

After his Romanian father's death, Englishman Michael discovers that he is the heir to a castle in Romania.  A series of frightening events follow him, as well as his friends back in England, as he makes his way to the castle.  Once there, he discovers the terrible secret of his family.

Excellently written in the epistolary style, The Lost mirrors Dracula in some ways.  Like the original, it builds in suspense slowly, given the reader an increasing sense of unease.  Unlike the original, though, it falls flat with it's climax.  In addition, there were several unexplained circumstances and loose ends.  Overall, I found it to be quite disappointing.

Monday, July 31, 2017

July Wrap-Up

Books Read:
The Necklace by Claire McMillian 3/5 stars (my review here)

Hide Your Fear by Kevin O'Brien 5/5 stars (my review here)

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin 2/5 stars  (my review here)

The Black House by Constance and Gwenyth Little 3/5 stars
Henry reluctantly agrees to be bodyguard to his boss's daughter because an escaped criminal is on the loose.  They all end up at house with a moving dead body, a sherry-drinking ghost, and an isolating snow storm.  This wasn't as laugh-out-loud funny as is usual with the Little Sisters, nor was the plot as engrossing.  It's still a fun read, in their particular loony style, but it's just not their best.

Missing Joseph by Elizabeth George 3/5 stars (my review here)

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald 4/5 stars (my review here)


Audio Books Completed:
White Corridor by Christopher Fowler  4/5 stars
Snowed in on the interstate in Dartmoor, Bryant and May must solve a case over the phone for the P.C.U., as well as protect a woman being stalked in the storm.  As with all the series, this is an often witty and generally interesting mystery.  Unlike the others, there are no bizarre supernatural elements to confuse the issue.  This is definitely the best I've read of the series so far.

The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder 4/5 stars  (my review here)

The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland  4/5 stars  (my review here)

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg 4/5 stars (my review here)

The Sins of the Father by Lawrence Block 4/5 stars (my review here)

The Bloodhounds by Peter Lovesey 4/5 stars
Peter Diamond is a likable character and Lovesey's mysteries are intriguing.  This one included a classic locked room, riddles, and murder.  I had one problem with the solution, but other than that, it was a satisfying novel.


Did Not Finish:
Death of a Travelling Man by M.C. Beaton
The Hamish MacBeth novels are simple fluff, and basically all the same. So far I have enjoyed them to a certain extinct.  I mainly have only been reading them because there are plenty available on audio.  About half way through this one, though, I decided I just didn't care.  So many crimes in one small village just isn't believable anymore, Hamish has become stale, and the mysteries just aren't that interesting.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
4/5 stars

Sara, living in Sweden, becomes pen friends with a fellow bibliophile, Amy, who lives in a small town called Broken Wheel, Iowa.  She comes to Broken Wheel to stay with Amy for a few months to rest and read, and instead finds herself at the heart of the Broken Wheel community.

This is a heart-warming story about books, friendship, and taking chances.  Sara is likable, as are the people of Broken Wheel.  The minor plots are as interesting as the main story.  The only thing I didn't find fully believable was Amy's correspondence.  I don't doubt that she would share such personal things about herself and her friends, but I do doubt that she would do it so abruptly and incompletely.   Other than that, this was a light and enjoyable, feel-good novel.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Missing Joseph by Elizabeth George

Missing Joseph
Elizabeth George
3/5 stars

A vicar dies of poisoning and it's dismissed as an accident.  Months later, Inspector Lyndley's attention is drawn to the case and he finds reasons to suspect murder.

George is a good writer, and for the most part this book is no exception.  However, she described so much sex--consensual and non, and both teenage and adult--that bore no relevance to the plot, that it became ridiculous.  She also tended to ramble on with colloquies, soul searching, and elaborate descriptions.  Furthermore, the plot hinged on one huge coincidence.  The story itself was still interesting, the development of personal relationships between recurring characters was good, and the ending was poignant.  The real problem is that the tale could have been told succinctly in about half the pages, and been a much better book.

On a personal note: I began this as an audio book and was so frustrated by all the unnecessary sex and rambling that I gave up on it 3/4 of the way through.  When I found myself thinking of it a few days later, I decided to try reading it, instead.  I was able to skim all the annoying bits and get straight into the solution, so was able to finish it.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

The Sins of the Fathers
Lawrence Block
4/5 stars

A young prostitute is murdered in her apartment and her roommate is arrested; before any investigation can take place, he hangs himself in his cell.  The girl's father asks Matthew Scudder, former NYPD, to find out about her life for him.  This leads Scudder to more questions and answers than expected.

This 1976 novel is the first in the long-running Scudder series.  It doesn't seem like a mystery at first, as Scudder is not searching for a perpetrator, but for details of a life.  It is an engaging novel, that draws in the reader as Scudder finds pieces of the crime in various places.  Scudder is a likable protagonist, and the noir style works well with his character.  I found myself pondering on it when I wasn't reading it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland

The Girl from the Sea 
Shalini Boland
4/5 stars

A woman is washed up on the beach, with no memories of anything that happened before she was rescued.  She discovers her name, Mia, and begins to learn about her life.  The people closest to her, though, seem to be lying and Mia struggles to find out about her life prior to her accident--if it was indeed an accident.

Mia's journey to know herself seems straight-forward enough at the beginning of the novel, but as the lies mount up, it becomes increasingly interesting.  Just when it all seems to make sense, Boland gives the story not one, but two twists that left me breathless.  Despite two plot holes, this is a great light suspense that, while a quick read, will leave the reader wanting to talk about it.


The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

The Adventure of English: the Biography of a Language
Melvyn Bragg
4/5 stars

Bragg gives a history of the development of the English language, from it's humble beginnings through to it's near dominance globally.  This is an engaging work, written for the layperson, that tells of events, locations, and people that helped shape the language.  It's somewhat odd, even disconcerting, that Bragg refers to the language of English as though it were a sentient being, thinking, scheming, working to become the primary language.  Despite this, the Adventure of English is a lively book that surely interest history buffs and language enthusiasts.



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hide Your Fear by Kevin O'Brien

Hide Your Fear
Kevin O'Brien
projected publication date 25 July 2017
5/5 stars


Divorcée Caitlin Stoller and her two children move into a beautiful home to start a new life.  Unfortunately, the house comes with a threatening stalker.

Meanwhile, in another part of the county, high school swimmers are being abducted.  One has been found dead, while the others are still missing.  Aaron has just joined the missing.

Hide Your Fear is a creepy, unsettling domestic thriller.  It weighs in at 544 pages, and I read it in three gulps.  O'Brien's writing is average, but as his storytelling ability is excellent, sparkling prose isn't missed.  He expertly weaves the two plots together and keeps the reader in suspense even after revealing nearly everything.  I highly recommend this as an un-put-down-able read.


The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder

Burton
The Return of the Discontinued Man
Mark Hodder
4/5 stars

In this fifth installment of the Burton and Swinburne series,  strange creatures resembling Spring Heeled Jack are manifesting all over London searching for Sir Richard.  Meanwhile, Burton finds himself slipping sideways in time, experiencing his life in other timelines.  All this leads to Burton and his friends going on a new expedition--through time.

Once again, Hodder takes multiple plot lines, unrelated events, and some amazing fantasy and works them all together into a fantastic tale.  His imagination seems to know no bounds as he creates world after world for this volume.  As always, his prose is good, his storytelling great, and his inventions excellent.  This penultimate volume leaves the reader guessing till the very end, and anxious to start the final book of the series.


(previous reviews are hereherehere and here.)

  
     

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Fever Dream
Samanta Schweblin
2/5 stars

Amanda is dying in a small rural clinic, carrying on a conversation with an unrelated child named David.  Together they tell the story of the events leading up to Amanda's situation.

This short book has a good premise, and I liked the style of Schweblin's storytelling.  However, there are no surprises in the book; the reader knows what is happening because the title gives it away, and there is never any suspense or build up.  The lack of details and character building make it impossible to connect with the characters or the action.  The unusual plot point*of the book was great, and if it had been expounded upon and used as the focus of the book, this could have been a gem.  As it was, it's a simple, mostly uninteresting story with a rushed ending.  It had promise, but didn't deliver.

*I don't want to post a spoiler so I'll merely say the "swapping" part of the book.



Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Necklace by Claire McMillian

The Necklace
Claire McMillian
3/5 stars

Nell, a Quincy family outsider, has been left a fabulously valuable necklace by her great-aunt.  This creates a stir with greedy relatives and eager art experts vying to persuade Nell what best to do with the necklace.

This necklace was a gift from Ambrose Quincy to May, the woman he intended to marry, bought on a trip to India during the 1920's.  When he returns home, however, Ambrose discovers that May has married his brother instead.

The novel moves excellently between the present and the past, in alternating chapters, with the reader following Nell as she uncovers a family secret, and Ambrose as he becomes a third in a tragic love triangle.

The story, despite it's predictability, is interesting through to the end.  The writing is not exceptionable, but is solid. The weakness lies in the lightness of what could have been a serious and compelling read, the shortness of the novel, the lack of details given, and the quick ending.  While it was an enjoyable read, I can't help but think that with more depth, it could have been tremendous.


Friday, June 30, 2017

June Wrap-Up

Books Read:
Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu 3/5 stars (my review here)

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas 4/5 stars
This is a reread (my original review is here), but I found I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the first time.

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser 5/5 stars (my review here)

Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell
This 1941 novel focuses on the Rector's wife, Mrs. Villars, and the village relationships that surround her.  In her usual charming way, Thirkell dishes out humor, sometimes biting, as she writes about the local consequences of war, an atypical relationship triangle, and a lieutenant's chivalric infatuation with Mrs. Villars.  Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, at others, poignant, Northbridge Rectory is filled with characters that the reader will be concerned about and root for till the end.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 3/5 stars (my review here)

Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison 3/5 stars (my review here)

Audio Books Completed:
Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas 3/5 stars  (my review here)

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale 4/5 stars (my review here)

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder 4/5 stars (my review here)

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie 5/5 stars
In this excellent novel, Christie creates a complicated and tangled mystery with a satisfying and surprising ending.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester 4/5 stars (my review here)

Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn 4/5 stars
The Daisy Dalrymple series features appealing characters with an engaging on-going story.  In this volume, a death occurs during Daisy's trip, and she has reason to suspect murder. Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher's young daughter Belinda becomes involved, and Alec himself is called in to solve the crime.  While easy to solve, this was an enjoyable mystery, and the continuation of the slow-building romance was a pleasure as well.

The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi by Mark Hodder  5/5 stars (my review here)

The Accusers by Lindsey Davis  3/5 stars
In this not-particularly-memorable mystery, Falco is hired to prove that a suicide was actually a murder.  As usual, the historical details are fascinating, and the wit makes the book; for some reason, though, this one wasn't as charming or engaging as previous volumes of the series.


Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

Lie to Me
J.T. Ellison
projected publication date: September 2017
3/5 stars

Sutton and Ethan have what appears to be a perfect marriage, but when Sutton disappears and Ethan is suspected of murder, the secrets and lies of their lives come to the surface.

The book goes smoothly between past and present, and between characters.  However, the (not-so-) secret identity that talks to the reader in the first person is both annoying and distracting.  Knowing who is behind the tragedies from nearly the beginning is a weak point, as well, loosing any suspense that might have built if the reader were left guessing.  Ellison writes well, but could not make me sympathetic to her two main characters; they were simply unlikable.  The plot was often unbelievable, and never fully thrilling.  Bottom line is that this is a sometimes interesting, but generally forgettable, domestic drama.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi by Mark Hodder

The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi
Mark Hodder
5/5 stars

Burton
In this fourth installment of the Burton and Swinburne series, we find Burton in a different timeline from the first three books.  In this universe, spiritualism is real, and a supernatural being is set on preventing a British/German alliance.  It is up to Burton to hunt down this nosferatu and put a stop to it's plan.

Tipping his hat to classic literature, Hodder uses some familiar plot strains, but instead of weakening the overall book, it adds to it's soundness.  As with the previous books, he has created an amazingly detailed alternate universe which is fully believable.  Keeping the reader guessing as to how it will all tie together, the Secret of Adu el Yezdi is a fantastic addition to this series.

(previous reviews are herehere, and here.)

  
   

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
3/5 stars

Told from the first person as a conversation with the reader, Never Let Me Go is about Kathy, remembering her childhood at Hailsham school.  Looking back, she seeks to understand the mysteries surrounding her preparation for entering the world.  Ishiguro slowly and carefully reveals bits of the story, and the reader stays curious up until the end.

As with the other novels I've read by Ishiguro, it was exceptionally well written.  However, I was disappointed with this one; I expected more from this Man Booker Prize finalist. I was unable to find an emotional connection to the characters, and I found the plot and conclusion, to be disappointing.  I kept waiting for a big reveal, and, to my mind, it just fizzled out.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell
Northbridge Rectory
Angela Thirkell
4/5 stars

This 1941 novel focuses on the Rector's wife, Mrs. Villars, and the village relationships that surround her.  In her usual charming way, Thirkell dishes out humor, sometimes biting, as she writes about the local consequences of war, an atypical relationship triangle, and a lieutenant's chivalric infatuation with Mrs. Villars.  Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, at others, poignant, Northbridge Rectory is filled with characters that the reader will be concerned about and root for till the end.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

The Making of Jane Austen
Devoney Looser
5/5 stars

In this nonfiction book, Looser shows what influenced Austen's popularity down through the years. Her main point is that Austen's reputation has "shifted with the times and with the needs and desires" of the various audiences, from Suffragettes to modern cosplayers, from gentlemen's club members to National Lampoon readers.

This is not a quick read; it is an intellectual study that requires thought to both consume and digest the material.  (I would compare it to a college textbook.)  Janeites expecting a brief pop culture look at Austen fans will not find it here.  What the reader will find, though, is an exhaustively researched, well noted and documented, look at the history of Austen's popularity.  I recommend this work highly, but only to the serious, scholarly reader.


Friday, June 9, 2017

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Dr. Minor
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Simon Winchester
4/5 stars

This book follows the lives of two men influential in the preparation of the Oxford English Dictionary: Dr. W. C. Minor and Professor James Murray.  Dr. Minor, convicted of murder and sentenced to a life long stay in an institution for the criminally insane, became a volunteer for Professor Murray as Murray oversaw the creation of the OED.   Winchester tells the life stories of both men, a brief history of lexicography, and an also brief account of the making of the OED.  This is a fascinating tale, highly readable and generally entertaining.


The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
Detective Inspector Jack Whicher
Kate Summerscale
4/5 stars

Summerscale tells the true story of the murder of 4 year old Saville Kent, and of the effect it had on his family and the Scotland Yard detective (Jack Whicher) sent to unravel the mystery.  Whicher's accusation didn't hold up in court, and as a result his renown and career took a slow but steady decline.

Summerscale uses mainly primary sources to give information from the broad spectrum of public opinion, down to the minutiae of the Kent family daily life.  The amount of information is fantastic, and the details give the reader a full picture of the times.  Her prose does not sparkle, nor is it lively; at times it is down right dull.  Regardless, this is a fascinating look into Victorian detection in general, Whicher and the Kent case in particular.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder

a young Burton
Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon 
Mark Hodder
4/5 stars

In this third installment of the Burton and Swinburne steampunk/alternate history adventures, we follow two timelines of Burton.  One, in his present as he sets forth to find the African Diamond, and two, when he finds himself transported in time to the Great War.

This is an ambitious plot, but Hodder pulls it off well, bringing both timelines together nicely, then adding one of his breath-taking twists to leave the reader gasping at the end.  As in the first two novels, this world is amazingly detailed, and the technology, science, and literature imagined by Hodder is perfectly believable.  The characters are well-fleshed, the plot gripping, and the overall story a fascinating read.

(my reviews are here and here)



    

Friday, June 2, 2017

Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

Four Weeks, Five People
Jennifer Yu
3/5 stars

Five teens with various emotional disorders are grouped together in a four week summer camp.  As they come to know each other, they reveal more about their difficulties and learn more about each other and themselves.

Told from all five perspectives, this is an ambitious novel, but the fact is that none of their problems could be solved in a four week summer camp.   For that reason, the plot, while engaging, isn't fully believable and is possibly more dangerous than beneficial. This book contains a wide range of potential emotional triggers, and unintentionally glamorizes eating disorders, underage drinking, and emotional disorders in general.

I've no doubt that Yu intends this novel to give hope to teens with emotional disorders, and for some I'm certain it will.  Emotional disorders are very individual, though; I would advise that parents or teachers read this one before recommending it to their teen.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas

Some Danger Involved
Will Thomas
3/5 stars

Thomas Llewelyn is hired as assistant to Victorian detective Cyrus Barker.  The first case he is involved in is the crucifixion of a Jewish man that seems to be leading up to a pogrom.

Barker is an atypical Victorian in many ways, and so close to perfect that the novel nearly becomes Mary Sue-ish.  The atmosphere seems more modern than it should at times, due to the use of words that don't seem to fit with a Victorian novel.  In addition, more information on Judaism and the London Jewish ghetto is provided than needed, nearly bogging down the narrative.  Despite these problems, the mystery is intriguing, the characters engaging, and the writing mostly good.  I'm interested enough in Barker and Llewelyn to want to continue the series.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Wrap-Up

Books Read:
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas  4/5 stars
This was a re-read in preparation for the third of the series that came out this month.  My original review is here.

The Wildling Girls by Eva Chase 3/5 stars (my review here)

The Temple of Death: Ghost Stories by A.C. and R.H. Benson  4/5 stars (my review here)

Audio Books Completed:
An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd   3/5 stars
This sixth in the Bess Crawford series was not as satisfying as the previous novels, because it's a missing person case, instead of genuine mystery.  The writing was still good, and the atmosphere excellent, but the plot was just okay.

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder  4/5 stars
At times confusing, this steampunk adventure manages to tie all kinds of ends together in a satisfying conclusion.  While not as breath-taking as Spring Heeled Jack, Hodder continues to create a living alternate world that is stunning and believable.  I look forward to continuing this series.

The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake  4/5 stars (review here)

Death of a Prankster by M.C. Beaton 3/5 stars
Hamish MacBeth investigates the murder of a hated practical joker where all the family is suspect.  This was a fun mystery, but yet another one where the key information isn't available to the reader all along.  I continue with this series, even though I'm never really impressed with them, because I do enjoy MacBeth's character and Beaton's lighthearted style.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie  5/5 stars
Disaster strikes when a young couple ignores a gypsy's warning and builds a grand house on a site called Gypsy's Acre.  Told from the first-person point-of-view of the husband, this is more a character study than a mystery and is excellent.


Did Not Finish:
Wedding Stories edited by Diana Secker Tesdell (my review and reason here)

The Temple of Death: The Ghost Stories of A. C. & R. H. Benson

The Temple of Death: The Ghost Stories of A. C. & R. H. Benson
Arthur C. Benson
Robert H. Benson
4/5 stars

A.C., R.H., and E.F. Benson
A. C. Benson and R. H. Benson have been overshadowed by their more popular novelist brother, E. F Benson, but between the three, the produced over 100 volumes of fiction and nonfiction.  This is a collection of stories written by the two less well-remembered Bensons during the early Edwardian era.

While the collection is referred to as "ghost stories", and described as "chilling", they are not ghost stories, and rarely chilling.  They are stories of the supernatural, simply told, and, as mentioned further down, mainly stories of Christian virtue versus demonic powers.

A. C. Benson's creates an excellent atmosphere, giving most stories a creepy feeling of dread.  His stories focus on Christianity triumphing over a supernatural evil, and follow the same formula.  His writing is good, but certainly not great.

Stories by A.C. Benson:
"The Temple of Death"  3/5 stars
"The Closed Window"  4/5 stars
"The Slype House"    4/5 stars
"The Red Camp" 4/5 stars
"Out of the Sea" 4/5 stars
"The Grey Cat" 3/5 stars
"The Hill of Trouble" 4/5 stars
"Basil Netherby" 3/5 stars
"The Uttermost Farthing" 4/5 stars

R. C. Benson's stories are mostly straight-forward Catholicism overcoming Satanic evil.  The lack the atmosphere of A.C. Benson's stories, but make up for it with well-thought out plots.  His writing is better than his brother's, and the narratives flow well.

Stories by R.H. Benson:
"The Watcher" 4/5 stars
"The Blood Eagle" 3/5 stars
"Consolatrix Afflictorium" 5/5 stars
"Over the Gateway" 4/5 stars
"Father Meuron's Tale"  4/5 stars
"Father Macclesfield's Tale" 3/5 stars
"The Traveler" 4/5 stars




Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Wildling Girls by Eva Chase

The Wildling Girls
Eva Chase
projected release date: July 2017
3/5 stars

Teenaged Margot and her three sisters spend the summer of 1959 with their grieving aunt and uncle at Applecote Manor.  What begins as a slow, nearly boring, vacation turns into a time of trial for the close sisters, as they wrestle with their cousin's disappearance, and with the jealousy aroused by the arrival of two young men.

Fifty years later, Jesse is sure that moving to Applecote Manor will be the best thing for her rebellious teenaged stepdaughter, Bella, and toddler daughter, Romy, despite the long commute for her husband's work.  Things are not as bucolic as she had expected, and Jesse must face many facets of the past: her's, Bella's, and that of the house.

These two storylines are told in alternating chapters that eventually connect.  Chase does a nice job of switching between first person for Margot and third person for Jesse's story.  Sadly, some of the characters are static, even stereotypical.  The historical ambiance doesn't always gel, and several of the "facts" about the family aren't fully believable.  The slightly gothic atmosphere is well done, though, drawing the reader into the plot and keeping it interesting.  I found it an enjoyable, if not tremendously memorable, read.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake

The Beast Must Die
Nicholas Blake
4/5 stars

 After extension detective work, Frank Cairns discovers the man (George Rattery) behind the hit-and-run death of his son.  He plots to murder Rattery, keeping copious notes in his journal.  When Cairns fails in his plan, yet Rattery is found murdered by someone else, his journal surfaces placing all the suspicion on him.  He hires Nigel Strangeways to prove his innocence in the face of certain guilt.

This is a well-plotted, well-crafted mystery that kept me changing my mind throughout the entire book.  My only quibble with the Strangeways series is that the author (Poet Laureate Cecil Day Lewis) condescends to his readers, as though detective fiction and it's readers are slightly less intelligent than Day Lewis himself.  Overlooking that, the Strangeways novels are solid Golden Age mysteries well worth reading.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Wedding Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell

Wedding Stories
editor: Diana Secker Tesdell
4 Stars


This is an attractively bound collection of stories that center around weddings.  It has a lovely dust jacket and an attached ribbon bookmark.  It would make a perfect gift.

It contains a nice mix of authors, old and new, giving the reader a variety of styles to sample.  As a result, each reader should be able to find at least one story that appeals.

What I dislike about this collection is that it includes excerpts from novels as well as the short stories.  Excerpts can be hard to read, as much is missed that came before the incident being presented.  I found on three occasions that I simply could not enjoy the excerpt because I did not know what the characters already knew.  Had this book been solely short stories, it would be a 5 star collection.

(Note: I did not finish reading this collection because I did not finish reading the excerpts.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

April Wrap-Up

Another month of Bollywood bingeing means another low reading month.

Books Read:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (my review here)

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (my review here)

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus (my review here)

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck (my review here)

Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell 4/5 stars
Another charming Thirkell novel filled with humor and love.  This one contained a bittersweet story, an angle I'd not seen in her books before.

Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell 4/5 stars
This Barsetshire novel takes place during the first year of WWII, dealing humorously with topics such as evacuees and blackouts, but seriously with romance during the stress of war.  It was sometimes sharply witty, but always charming, with quite an ending.


Audio Books Completed:
For the Sake of Elena by Elizabeth George 4/5 stars
This is a well-plotted and interesting mystery with good character development and a (mostly) believable plot.

The Mistletoe Murder and other stories by PD James 5/5 stars
My only quibble with this collection of short stories is that there were only four of them.  They are great examples of James' ability to tell a strong story with a good mystery.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith 5/5 stars  (my review here)

Did Not Finish:
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I really enjoyed another book by him (Britt-Marie Was Here; my review) and was excited to read this one after months on the library waiting list.  It was just too depressing for me at the beginning and I stopped 55 pages in.  I'm sure it will get better, and is probably fantastic, but right now it's just not what I wanted or needed to read.


 

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm
Robert Galbraith
5/5 stars

An author is missing, and Strike is hired by his wife to locate him.  Later, he is found gruesomely murdered, exactly as described in his latest manuscript, and the wife is arrested.  Strike, convinced that she is innocent, ignores the police and does his own investigation.

Galbraith is an excellent writer (as anyone that has read the Harry Potter series can attest), and (despite my knowing the murderer early on), this was a near perfect mystery.  The character development was great, the plot was tight and interesting, and the entire story was believable.  I look forward to reading the next in this series.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

Here and Gone
Haylen Beck
expected publication date: June 2017
2/5 stars

Driving cross-country to escape an abusive husband, Audra is pulled over in Arizona and arrested for possession of marijuana.  Her children are with her when she is pulled over, but the officer says there were no children.  Audra's life descends into a nightmare as she is accused of killing her children, and can't find anyone who will listen to her side of the story.

Here and Gone starts out strong, with a great premise and a few good early chapters that seemed to lead into a suspenseful tale.  Then, the story starts to be told from several points-of-view, including that of Audra's son, Sean, and that of the arresting Sheriff.  Because of this, the reader knows what is happening with the kids--and why, and how, and where--so that the sense of suspense is lost.  It simply becomes a matter of filling the time with backstories until the conclusion. As a result, I did not find this novel gripping, thrilling, or even satisfying.  What began with great promise became a chore to finish.

Monday, April 10, 2017

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying
Karen M. McManus
anticipated publication date: May 2017
3/5 stars

In this YA mystery, five high school students attend afternoon detention, but only four leave alive. The police become convinced that it is murder and that one--or all--of the four are guilty.

One of Us Is Lying switches between the point of view of all four major characters, which was nicely done to keep the plot moving.  Sadly their voices are not well defined, due in part to the four being stereotyped YA characters, and without the heading it would often be hard to tell them apart.    As for the mystery, it was relatively easy to solve, but McManus contrived to keep the story flowing and interesting enough to make for an enjoyable read all the way to the end.  It's certainly not an outstanding novel, but it is entertaining and should be well received by the intended audience.


Friday, April 7, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi
Sandhya Menon
projected publication date: May 2017
3/5 stars

Dimple Shah, high school graduate, has no desire to fill her future with marriage and kids, but instead is looking forward to Stanford and a life of coding--her passion--afterward.  She resists her parents traditional Indian values and just wants to live life her way.  Rishi Patel is just the opposite.  He loves the traditions of his family, and he does every thing he can to please his parents: including going to MIT for engineering when what he truly wants is to be an artist.  They are set up by their parents to meet at a six week coding conference with hopes that it could become serious in the future.  What will happen when the traditional and nontraditional meet?

When Dimple Met Rishi is a standard YA romance with Indian overtones, and that pretty much sums it up.  It deals with typical YA subjects: parents, bullying, trying to achieve, making decisions for the future, romantic ups and downs.  It switches back and forth nicely between Dimple's perspective and Rishi's, but without a noticeable change in voice, which was a disappointment.  Overall, it lacks charm and is not a compelling read.