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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.