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

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

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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern
4/5 stars

Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus that arrives unannounced and is only open at night.  It is a magnificent, enchanted place, and with good reason.  It is the venue for a competition between two young magicians, Celia and Marco.

I struggled with this book for the first half.  After Morgenstern used "sheer" as an adjective three times in six pages, I nearly gave up.  There was no real world building, and it wasn't easy to decide if she was placing her story in Victorian England or an alternate universe, due to her characters acting in distinctly non-Victorian ways, such as kissing in public.

About half way through, though, when Marco and Celia met, the novel began to gel.  The writing became less stilted, the jumps back and forward in time flowed better, and the story became more interesting.  As it progressed toward the conclusion, it became hard to put down.

The bottom line is, if the reader can slog through the first 200 pages or so, the Night Circus becomes an enjoyable and rewarding read.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Happy April Fool's Day

March Wrap Up

March Wrap-Up

A surfeit of Bollywood explains my low numbers this month.

Books Read:
The Celebrity at Home (1904) by Violet Hunt   4/5 stars  (my review here)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor    4/5 stars (my review here)

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylen    3/5 stars (my review here)

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller  3/5 stars (my review here)

Final Girls by Riley Sager    4/5 stars (my review here)

Audio Books Completed:
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield    3/5 stars
This is an enjoyable modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice that bogs down toward the end, giving it a weaker conclusion than expected.

The Jupiter Myth by Lindsey Davis    4/5 stars
Still in Britain with his family, Falco comes across a dead man he recognizes from his last case, and finds himself involved in the burgeoning British crime racket.  As with most of the Falco mysteries, it is engrossing, humorous, and good reading from beginning to end.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder    5/5 stars  (my review here)
This reread was the best book of the month.

Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler   3/5 stars
This is the fourth in the Bryant and May series, and it wasn't particularly impressive due to a mystery that wasn't convincing.  While I really like the characters of Bryant and May, I'm not sure if I'll continue with this series.

Did Not Finish:
A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities by J.C. McKeown (my review here)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls
Riley Sager
projected publication date: July 2017
4/5 stars

Quinn was the only victim to survive a brutal mass murder ten years ago, though she remembers none of it.  The press refers to her as a "Final Girl".  Two other women have survived such ordeals: Lisa and Sam.  Lisa has reached out to Quinn, and they have talked a few times about how to live after such a tragedy.  When Lisa is found dead, apparently a suicide, Sam seeks out Quinn.  Lisa forms a tentative friendship with Sam, but as Sam pushes her to remember and encourages unsafe behaviors, Lisa begins to wonder what Sam's motives are.

On the face of it, this thriller seemed easy to solve.  Twice I was certain I knew exactly what direction it was headed, and both times the plot took a twist and I was wrong.  While not an outstanding novel, Final Girls kept me interested throughout, and I was eager to reach the conclusion.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

Captain Sir
Richard Francis Burton
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
Mark Hodder
5/5 stars

Nineteenth century Great Britain is in the throes of a steampunk industrial revolution, and the past (as we know it) isn't shaping up the way it should have.  Into this, comes a mysterious creature, Spring Heeled Jack, who is accosting women and wreaking havoc.  Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (whose real life reads like fiction--look him up!) becomes an agent for the Crown, assigned to solve the case.

This incredibly detailed and richly imagined alternate universe is amazing.  Hodder has created realistic literature, political movements, and technology.  He has taken one of the great Victorian heroes, Burton, and given him a role that is believable based on his real-life personality.  The plot is dense, and requires thought to follow, and is not fully predictable.

This first-of-a-series is a strong piece of steampunk fantasy that is enjoyable, entertaining, and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it!

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Pirate King
Tricia Levenseller
3/5 stars

Alosa, a teen-aged pirate captain, is sent on a secret mission by her father, the Pirate King.  She is to get captured by another pirate captain and while there, find a hidden map.  The job turns out to be more difficult than she expected.

This is a YA novel, and it is filled with the fantasy elements so often found in YA books.  Alosa--captain of an all teen-aged female crew--is not only above average in everything, able to defeat multiple male pirates at one time, and strikingly beautiful, she also has hidden powers.  (I honestly groaned out loud when the mystical abilities were revealed.)  The plot was interesting, though, and so much could have been made of this book if Levenseller hadn't made Alosa into a Mary Jane instead of a believable character.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Long Black Veil  
Jennifer Finney Boylan
expected publication date: 11 April 2017
3/5 stars

In 1980, six friends enter the ruins of a state prison, but only five leave.  The mystery of what happened to the sixth is finally solved 35 years later when bones are found in the ruins.  When one of her friends is accused of murder, Judith knows she can prove his innocence, but to do so would be to reveal secrets of her own.

This book is not a mystery--the answer of "who dunnit" is given half way through the book--but is supposed to be a character study of how events shape us.  The focus is on Judith, who made the biggest change, but her changes were not made because of the events of that night.  The other friends really don't seem to have been propelled on trajectories as a result of the incident, either.  In fact, they seemed much the same as when they were college students.  On the whole, I didn't feel this novel fulfilled it's role as a character study.

The plot was interesting, but not compelling.  The writing was good, but not outstanding.  Judith's character was well fleshed and I enjoyed the parts of the story told from her first-person perspective.  The rest of the story, told from third-person about the other characters, just didn't feel as alive or even connected.  In addition, the switches between point-of-view, time, and/or place were not always smooth.

Long Black Veil is easy and quick to read, and brings up some interesting discussion points, but overall does not meet it's full potential and, as a result, is an average novel instead of a great one.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities by J.C. McKeown

A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprsigning Facts from the Healing Arts of Greece and Rome
J.C. McKeown
3/5 Stars
did not finish reading

A Cabinet of Ancient Medical Curiosities is a collection of quotes about Greek and Roman medicine and doctors from Greek and Roman sources.  I was disappointed in this book, as there is little annotation, explanation, or context given for any of the quotes.  I had expected more detailed information; instead, it is 247 pages of interesting, but not particularly useful, quotations.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer
Laini Taylor
expected publication date: 28 March 2017
4/5 stars

The plot of Strange the Dreamer is complicated, and to summarize much of it would be to spoil it.  In brief, it revolves around the lost city of Weep, which has become un-lost (for lack of a better term).  The story shifts between Lazlo Strange (our dreamer) who is on his way to see Weep, and Sarai, child of a goddess, who lives in a citadel above Weep.

Taylor has developed a richly imagined world, a complex plot, and believable characters to create an epic story. The alternating points-of-view move seamlessly.  The story is well-written, nearly lyrical, and descriptions of this world are vivid.

Despite the excellent of this novel, I did not find myself engrossed or compelled to read.  For me, it lacked soul.  However, I expect it will be a major hit in the YA fantasy genre this year, and that most readers will find it exceptional.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Celebrity at Home by Violet Hunt

The Celebrity at Home
Violet Hunt
4/5 stars

Violet Hunt
This 1904 semi-autobiographical novel is narrated by a 14 year old girl, the daughter of a famous author.  In it, she exposes her father, George, in a naive way, not fully understanding all she reports. George, charming but unprincipled, is terrible to his family, and yet Hunt writes it in a manner that one can't help but laugh, even while eagerly anticipating his comeuppance. Tempe, the narrator, is a delight, and the whole absurdity of the family drama amusing.

Hunt writes well, depicting a young teenage girl excellently.  I enjoyed the plot, the story-telling, and experiencing Edwardian life.  I look forward to reading more of her works.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February Wrap Up

I'm not quick to give a book a 5 star rating, so this has been exceptional month!

Books Read:
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo 5/5 stars (my review here)

The Gilded Cage by Vic James 5/5 stars (my review here)

Mad Richard by Lesley Krueger 5/5 stars (my review here)

The Brandons by Angela Thrikell 4/5 stars (my review here)

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey 5/5 stars (my review here)

Death of a Hussy by M.C. Beaton 3/5 stars
A quick, light read, not particularly satisfying or memorable, but fun.  In a way, I wonder why I continue this series, but on the other hand, Hamish is so likable.

Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn by Hugo Pratt 3/5 stars (my review here)

Audio Books Completed:
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson 5/5 stars
My review is here, but I'll take a minute to say that the author reads the audio book and does an awesome job!

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux 2/5 stars  (my review here.)

A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George 3/5 stars
Despite this being an enjoyable and mostly satisfying novel, a chance encounter led to the solution, lessening the quality of the mystery.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 5/5 stars  (my review here)

Death of the Perfect Wife by M.C. Beaton 3/5 stars
Another light, easy to solve MacBeth mystery.  Enjoyable, but not memorable.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James 4/5 stars  (my discussion here)

The Summons by Peter Lovesey 4/5 stars
Sometimes improbable, but thoroughly enjoyable.  Diamond is an engaging character and I'm loving the series.

Did Not Finish
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, or, Leaves from the Diary of an Officer's Wife by D.E. Stevenson
I generally love light British novels from the 1930s, so I was excited when I discovered Stevenson, a best selling Scottish author.  This one just didn't interest me, though; Mrs. Tim writing in her diary about regimental life just wasn't as fun as I thought it would be.  That doesn't mean I won't try another of Stevenson's novels in the future, just not the Mrs. Tim series.

RoseBlood by A.G. Howard
This came in my January OwlCrate, and is a retelling of the Phantom of the Opera story.  It is simply dreadful, full of tropes and cliches.  I made it roughly half way through and couldn't stand the thought of opening it again.  Avoid this one at all costs.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
I made it 27% through, but since I felt I never fully understood what was going on, I gave up.  It's not that it was bad, by any means, I just didn't seem to be able to follow what Chesterton was trying to say.  I might try it again sometime, though, since it's a classic.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February OwlCrate

The February #OwlCrate was wonderful!  One of my favorites!  It included:

A tote with a  quote from The Night Circus tote by @eviebookish This book is still on hold at my library, and hope to read it soon.

"Le Cirque des Rêves ("Circus of Dreams") candle by @frostbeardmpls which smells of caramel corn, chestnuts and bonfire.  It's delicious!

Yummy cinnamon doughnut lip balm from @geekfirelabs

A recycled playing card notepad from @atticjournals

Circus/fair themed sticky page flags from @girlofallwork

'Caraval' by which also came with a signed bookplate, quote card, and letter from the author. I read the ARC of Caravel and it was nearly phenomenal.  (my review here)

Monday, February 27, 2017

February Book Haul

The back rows are freebies from McKay books, and I forgot to show three ARCs that also came this month.  For buying, though, I did really well and didn't spend a whole lot.  The Bible is illustrated by Doré.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn by Hugo Pratt

Corto Maltese
Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn 
Hugo Pratt
3/5 stars

Corto Maltese is an independent Italian sea captain during the earlier years of the 20th century.  This volume takes place during 1916-17.  Corto is a rogue who says he's out only for himself, but still somehow manages to help out the underdog.  He is an extremely appealing character, and his adventures are fun to read, though not particularly in depth.

There is little character development, unfortunately, even though some of the stories were continuations of the previous ones.  Also, while Pratt is excellent at drawing action and personalities, I felt that the emotions weren't always as clear as I have seen in other graphic novels (The Explorer's Guild springs to mind).  The conversations also seemed stilted at times--perhaps as a result of the translation?

Under the Sign of Capricorn is an enjoyable, short read, but not exceptional. Nevertheless, I am certainly intrigued enough to want to learn more about Corto, and plan to read the next volume.