Thursday, July 30, 2009
TITLE: FINGER LICKIN' FIFTEEN
AUTHOR: JANET EVANOVICH
Details: no. 15 Stephanie Plum Mystery
Another dive into the madness and mayhem that is Stephanie Plum's world.
It starts when Lula witnesses how two men chop the head of a celebrity chef who had come to Trenton to take part in a barbecue cook-off.
Next thing, the killers are after Lula, who in turn wants to capture the killers because there is a one million dollar reward. Lula decides to enter the cook-off thinking the killers will turn up there, and grandma Mazur joins in as Lula's assistant. The only problem is that neither of them knows anything about barbecuing, cue several cooking related disasters and explosions.
Stephanie, who has recently split from Morelli, is double jobbing. As well as her regular bonds work, she is also working for Ranger who is facing a breach of his security firm. Of course this leads to a lot of sexual tension, and jealousy from Morelli.
Of course, she can't help but be also involved in Lula's adventures, which results in fire bombs and exploding cars.
Although there was a lot of action and madness in this book, it was not as funny as it's prequel. Which is a shame, because for me the laughs are what make the series. The only character who made me crack an occasional smile was Stephanie's dad with his mutterings.
Still, it was an easy and fun read, and just what I needed while killing time in Drogheda hospital with Dermot.
Monday, July 27, 2009
TITLE: THE WOMEN
AUTHOR: T.C. BOYLE
This book was well written and the story, a fictionalized version of Frank Lloyd Wright's life and the women in it, was fascinating.
But, and as the grade of 4- indicates there had to be a but, there were a few things that let the book down for me.
First of all, I don't know why the book had to be narrated by one of Lloyd Wright's apprentices, and one from Japan at that. This narrator was only present in the architect's life for a relatively short while, and had personal knowledge of only one of the women of the title (if he is a real person at all). So it is not as if personal observations by him shed more light on the goings on.
And, connected to this, the footnotes the book is littered with, made this a less than smooth read. Especially since a lot of the footnotes dealt with the narrator's life, feelings, observations, interpretations and experiences in America. For me these added nothing to the story. In fact, they distracted me from the main story.
Another thing that didn't work for me was that the story went backwards in time. So the book starts with Lloyd Wright's last relationship with Oglivanna, to be followed by the one with the mad woman who was Miriam. The last part of the book tells the story of Mamah and Kitty.
I'm sure T.C. Boyle had a good reason for wanting to tell this story backwards, but I can't imagine what that reason may have been. And although it may not be an issue for anyone already fully aware of the Lloyd Wright story, for me knowing the end of a part of a story before actually starting to read it, spoilt too much of it.
Still, this would be an interesting and well written book for anyone wanting to know more about Frank Lloyd Wright's personal life. Just don't expect to like the man very much by the time you finish reading.
Friday, July 24, 2009
TITLE: AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE
AUTHOR: JACQUELINE WINSPEAR
Details: no. 5 Maisie Dobbs Mystery
It is 1931 and Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate what is going on in a small Kent village. For years now the place has been plagued by arson and other petty crimes, which have all gone unreported. It is up to Maisie to find out who is responsible and why nobody does anything about it.
It all appears to be connected to one night during World War I when a German zeppelin attacked the village. A night that left one whole family dead.
The villagers turn out to be very reluctant to speak of either the war time raid or the arson attacks since then. And with hop-picking season in progress,the village is filled with Londoners and gypsies, all adding tension to the situation.
With Maisie also facing a personal loss, she needs to bring resolution not only to the villagers, but also to her own life.
I absolutely adore Maisie Dobbs and this series of books.
Maisie for all her intuition and compassion is always a very real character with her fair share of weak points and faults.
The writing in these books is very well paced and beautiful. Such thought has gone into the construction of the sentences and the words used that these are not books to be raced through. This reader always wants to take her time and savour both the story and the way in which it was written.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
TITLE: PRAYERS FOR SALE
AUTHOR: SANDRA DALLAS
This is a most charming book and a heartwarming read, despite it being set in a cold and inhospitable location.
When Hennie Comfort first sees Nit Spindle she is 86 years old and has been living high up in the Rocky Mountains since before it was Colorado.
Nit is only 17 and has recently moved to Middle Swan with her husband after losing a baby girl. Now she is standing outside Hennie's house looking at a sign that says "Prayers for Sale."
Hennie never takes money for her prayers, but does invite the sad and scared looking girl in.
Soon, a deep friendship develops between the two women as Hettie introduces Nit to life in the town and shares stories with her.
Together the two women find healing, new opportunities and hope.
This was an inspiring and easy to read book. Maybe it all ended on a bit too much of a high, but I felt the two women deserved it, and found it very satisfying.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
TITLE: PLAY DEAD
AUTHOR: RICHARD MONTANARI
Details: no. 4 Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Mystery
I do love this series of books. Montanari writes wonderfully dark thrillers without getting too graphic when it comes to the actual violence while at the same time perfectly bringing across the horror of what's happening. His two main characters have from the start felt very real to me, and do so even more with every subsequent book. They both have their good and darker sides, and display very human and recognizable emotions and reactions.
The book starts with Byrne and Balzano starting work on a cold case involving the murder of a young runaway girl whose body was subsequently left to be found in a glass case. It isn't long though until the cold case turns very hot when more murdered young girls are found, all left in posed positions somewhere. And the murderer appears to be playing a game with the investigators, leaving them obscure clues to follow.
Soon, they are facing a race against time in an effort to prevent even more girls from losing their lives in the horrible game the murderer appears to be playing.
To the reader it's clear fairly early on in the book who the murderer is, something I usually dislike. However, in this book it didn't bother me. The investigation and the ultimate race, as well as a mysterious young woman where more then enough intrigue to keep me turning the pages.
I hope there will be more books in this series.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
TITLE: THE UNICORN ROAD
AUTHOR: MARTIN DAVIES
It's funny how there may be months of years during which you don't come accross a certain subject in your novels, only for it to come up in two books in quick succession. In this cast it is the Cathars who, after having featured in THE BOOK OF LOVE, also make an appearance here. But, although the Cathars and their treasure do feature in this book, this is not their story.
Instead this is the story of a father, trying to piece together what has happened to his young son.
It has been years since Benedict, still only a boy, left with a famous scholar on an expedition to the East in search of mythical creatures. Since then, none of those who left on the expedition has been seen or heard from.
Now, the father waits on the coast of southern Spain, waiting for his son's return or news of his faith.
Through the stories the father hears as well as descriptions of the expedition itself, the reader learns more of the boy's journey, the people he travelled with and their histories as well as the mysterious peoples and customs of the East.
Set in the middle ages,this was a fascinating story with many layers and characters not being quite what they seemed. It was also a book that I only got to fully appreciate once I had finished the story.
Friday, July 17, 2009
TITLE: LETHAL LEGACY
AUTHOR: LINDA FAIRSTEIN
Details: no. 11 Alexandra Cooper Mystery
This mystery starts when Alexandra Cooper and Mike Chapman are called to the apartment of Tina Barr, who has been assaulted. Tina, however, flatly refuses to cooperate with them and runs away when she's transported to a hospital.
Within days Cooper and Chapman are back at the apartment, this time to deal with a murdered woman. The woman, however, isn't Tina Barr, who is still missing. The victim is clutching an old book, inlaid with jewels and obviously valuable. This clue leads the investigators to the New York Public Library where it turns out, Tina used to work. Here they are thrown into the world of valuable, rare old books and maps and dealing with people who would do anything to get their hands on these items.
Although this book did contain murders which were investigated, it didn't really read like a mystery. In many ways this book was an ode to books, history and libraries. Something I, who is a librarian and a lover of books with a keen interest in history, greatly appreciated. In fact, the further I got into the book, the less I cared about the actual murders and the more I wanted to know about the books.
As Linda Fairstein says in the acknowledgements: "Wherever you are, use your libraries and support them."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
TITLE: THE BOOK OF LOVE
AUTHOR: KATHLEEN MCGOWAN
Details: no. 2 The Magdalene Trilogy
I really love these books, almost despite the fact that they do deal with religion, the history of Catholicism and the Roman Catholic Church. The reason these books talk to me is that they very accurately reflect my personal beliefs. I won't go into that any deeper here though, since this is supposed to be a book review, and not a discourse about my personal beliefs. So, as for the story.
After searching for and finding the scrolls as written by Mary Magdalene and publishing a book about it (see The Expected One), Maureen Pascal is send on a second quest after she receives a mysterious package.
Soon, Maureen is travelling through Europe again in search of something called the Book of Love and learning about Matilda, and Italian Duchess during the 11th century who defied convention and is closely connected to Maureen's quest.
Of course there are those who would stop Maureen from discovering the truth, but try as they might, Maureen's quest appears destined to succeed.
If I'm perfectly honest I've got to admit that this is not one of the best written books I've ever read. In fact, at times the writing felt a bit forced. However, the historical research is so in depth and the details described are so fascinating that I was compulsively reading at all times. This is definitely one of the most fascinating and interesting books I have read in a long time. And I can only hope that the wait for the next one, THE POET PRINCE, won't be as long as the wait for this one was.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
TITLE: FEARLESS FOURTEEN
AUTHOR: JANET EVANOVICH
Details: no. 14 Stephanie Plum Mystery
Well, what can I say. This is a Stephanie Plum story so we're looking at madness and mayhem on almost every page. And, as usual, there is such an awful lot happening that I don't think I could possibly write a comprehensible summary of the story. Just a few pointers then:
Some people are looking for the proceeds of a bank robbery 10 years ago and somehow the search centers on Morelli's house, leading to break ins, a corpse in his basement and people digging up his garden.
A distant cousin of Morelli is kidnapped, leaving him and Stephanie to mind her teenage son.
Stephanie is roped in by Ranger to bodyguard an aging pop star who has her own, harmless stalker.
Lula has wedding plans. And all of this is just for starters.
With lots of laugh until I cried moments, this was a fast and furious read.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
TITLE: LOVING FRANK
AUTHOR: NANCY HORAN
What a story; thought provoking, fascinating, beautiful and heartbreaking. All the more so because it's a true story, or a fictionalized version of true events. But it could ave been a fictional moralizing tale, written around the time in which events take place, the first quarter of the 20th century. A novelist might have invented the ending to this story, as a moral warning; that no good can result from living in sin.
This is the story of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney. When the met both of them were married with children, and the architect was hire to design and build the Cheney family home.
As Frank and Mamah find they are soul-mates, the both take the heartbreaking decision to leave their families and build a life together. A decision that causes pain all around and created a huge scandal that was to last until and beyond the tragic death of Mamah.
But there is a lot more to this story. There's Frank's talent, his enthusiasm but also his one track mind and selfishness.
But most of all there's Mamah, a loving and generous woman, torn between convention, her duties and the love for her children on the one hand and her need to be true to herself, her heart and her feminist beliefs on the other.
This is a book that has left me with lots to think about, a book I will almost certainly read again some day.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
TITLE: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE
AUTHOR: ALAN BRADLEY
Details: no. 1 Flavia De Luce Mystery
Flavia De Luce is an eleven year old girl growing up in an old country house in England in the 1950's, where she lives with her reclusive, philatelist, father and distant, rather horrible, sisters, keeping herself busy with chemistry experiments.
When a dead Snipe is found on their doorstep, with an old stamp speared on to it's beak, it thoroughly upsets Flavia's father. And later on the same day, Flavia overhears her father arguing with some unseen stranger, an argument during which a murder is mentioned.
The next day Flavia discovers a dead man in the cucumber patch behind the house and soon after Flavia's father is arrested and taken away.
Unwilling and unable to accept her father's guilt, Flavia decides to investigate. A decision that takes her into her father's past and the secrets that lie there and soon puts her in terrible danger.
I think that if you were to meet Flavia for real she might prove to be an infuriating sort of child. However, on the pages of this book she was great fun to be with, if a bit too wise for her years.
I enjoyed this mystery and well written story and will be looking forward to reading the next one (THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN'S BAG) when it comes out next March.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
TITLE: THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE
AUTHOR: JOHN BOYNE
This will be a difficult review for me to write. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to summarize the plot or explain what was for me the one big downfall of this book without spoiling it for other readers.
I think, I'll end up with two versions of this review. The one here, in my blog, will have to be vague in order to keep the book's secrets. On paper though, where I write just for me, I will go into more detail.
It is 1980 and Georgy Jachmenev is spending his days in London visiting his dying wife Zoya in hospital. As he does so, his memories take him back to his youth in Russia and the turbulent times, early in the 20th century.
Born to a poor farm labourer and barely aware there is a world outside his village, Georgy's life changes dramatically when he steps in front of a bullet and saves the life of a senior member of the Russian Royal Family.
A week later, Georgy finds himself in the Royal Court in St. Petersburg, employed as a bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the ill heir to the throne.
And so start an exciting couple of years during which Georgy learns the ways of royalty, falls in love, meets Rasputin and is there when it all ends in a nightmare.
I loved the descriptions of life at the Russian Court, but was less impressed with the, much shorter, sections about Paris and London.
And then there was the fact that I spend about half the book wishing for something not to turn out a certain way, only for my fears to be confirmed.
Still, John Boyne is a good writer and reading this book was no hardship even if it did turn out slightly disappointing.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
TITLE: LONG LOST
AUTHOR: HARLAN COBEN
Details: no. 9 Myron Bolitar Thriller
This was another whirlwind of a thriller by Harlan Coben, and a very welcome reunion with Myron Bolitar, Win & co.
It has been ten years since Myron has seen or heard from Terese Collins when she calls him and asks him to come to Paris. Having a good reason to leave the US for a while, Myron joins her in Paris.
Terese is in Paris because her ex-husband had urgently asked her to join him there. Now her ex has been murdered and Terese is the prime suspect. it also appears that Terese's daughter who died years ago in a car accident,might actually still be alive and involved in the murder.
And so starts a roller coaster ride of violence, murder, and mystery where almost no one is who they appear to be, where facts don't fit and friend and foe are impossible to distinguish.
Myron finds himself thrown into an international nightmare and facing situations unlike anything he could have imagined.
This book reminded me a bit of a book by Ira Levin, which I won't name because I don't want to give anything away. That didn't make the story less good, just a little bit less original.
What Coben does really well is keeping up the pace of the story. Even when you're not in the middle of an action scene, the story is swiftly moving forward. With other thriller writers I sometimes feel that the descriptive, explanatory scenes stall the pace of the story and I find myself very tempted to just skim read to get back to the action. That was never the case in this book; I barely had time to come up for breath.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
TITLE: THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG
AUTHOR: MURIEL BARBARY
Details: Translated from French
To me this read as a very French book, or what I imagine a real French book to be. It focuses more on the character's emotions and thought processes than on their interactions with others. It was very introspective and philosophical, and gave me lots to think about.
It's the sort of book that should be read very slowly, while taking the time to think about what you are reading and to process it. Slow reading, however, is something I am incapable of, especially once a story captures me. So for me this is a book that definitely deserves at least one re-read.
The only thing I found hard at times were the very long sentences that occasionally popped up. Sentences that at times were hard to decipher. Not that this put me off the story or the characters. For me it only added to the intrigue and reinforced the impression of dealing with a translation from French.
Renee Michel is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building and has spend her 29 years there hiding her true self from the residents. To them she is a stereotypical concierge; honest, reliable, uncultured, always there but hardly ever noticed. In reality she is very clever, intelligent, knowledgeable in the arts, philosophy and literature.
Paloma Josse is a very intelligent 12 year old girl who despairs of her life, her family and what she perceives as her pre-ordained bourgeois future. To avoid this dreaded future she decides that she will kill herself on her 13th birthday, unless she can find a redeeming quality somewhere in the life around her.
Both their lives change dramatically though, when the death of one of the residents brings a new figure into their lives, opening them up to new insights and possibilities.
"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant." (p. 139)
"Television distracts us from the onerous necessity of finding projects to construct in the vacuity of our frivolous lives: by beguiling our eyes, television releases our mind from the great work of making meaning." (p. 173)
"What to do
Faced with never
In a few stolen strains?" (p. 317)
Faced with never
In a few stolen strains?" (p. 317)
"...maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never."
"Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never.
Beauty, in this world" (p320)
"Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never.
Beauty, in this world" (p320)