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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Scare The Light Away

Delany, Vicki.  Scare The Light Away.

When her mother dies, Rebecca McKenzie returns to the small town Canadian town where she grew up and must confront the demons of her past after a thirty year absence.  She and her mother have remained close, with her mother visiting Rebecca and her husband occasionally, but there has been little or no contact with her family during this time.  She has not been back since she left for college, thirty years previously.

Recently widowed and grieving the loss of both her beloved husband and mother, Rebecca must face her alienation from her family and her roots, particularly the influence of her brutal grandfather who, although dead, has left a legacy of family dysfunction. 

While home, Rebecca's father gives her the diaries kept by Rebecca's mother from the time she was seventeen until her death.  Rebecca follows the diaries as her mother describes meeting and falling in love with Rebecca's father, becoming a war bride, her eventual emigration to Canada, and having to face the fact of her husband's father's destructive influence.

One storyline deals with the continuing consequences of the vicious grandfather's disturbing influences through the next two generations; another deals with Rebecca's coming to terms with her alienation from her two older siblings and their families; and a third deals with the mysterious disappearance of a young girl from the town, whose body is eventually discovered with clues that lead to Rebecca's brother.

 An interesting psychological novel that examines family and small town life.  Her mother's diaries help Rebecca gain perspective on events past and present as she attempts to help the brother for whom she has previously felt only contempt.

The book jacket blurb compares Delaney with Jacqueline Winspear, but I feel the comparison to be inaccurate and see more similarity with Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.

Fiction.  Psychological/Mystery.  2005.  337 pages.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jan. Reading, Reading Nook, Reading Companions

I have caught up on all my reviews!  The next one is scheduled for tomorrow, and now I can go back to the library for another batch.  I've read 14 books this month, of varying quality.  My favorites were The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo, and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

So much difference in content, style, and length in those three, but I thoroughly enjoyed them all.  I discovered two new authors that were entertaining, Lee Childs and Asa Larsson.

We are all settled in our new house now, and my reading nook in the bedroom is a delight for me.  I can read or embroider and not litter the living room with my stacks of books and embroidery bits and pieces.

On top of the bookcase, one of the old clocks from Laddie's (my dad) collection, a piece of Mother's carnival glass, and the  doll Fee's mother won at the fair in the 1930's.  She looks a bit like Mae West doesn't she?

Only Stinker is present at the moment.  The rest of the Triad (Lucy and Edgar) are elsewhere causing havoc.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Swan Thieves


Kostova, Elizabeth.  The Swan Thieves.

The author of The Historian has created a completely different world but with much of the same style in this recent release.

When celebrated artist Robert Oliver is discovered in an attempt to vandalize a painting, he is held for psychiatric examination.  His care is eventually transferred to Andrew Marlow at Golden Grove psychiatric hospital ("Margaret, are you grieving /over Goldengrove unleaving?" one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Marlow finds himself becoming engrossed in Oliver's situation; he himself is a painter and his need to find out the reasons for the attempted assault by a painter on a painting becomes an engrossing puzzle.  He steps way outside of his normal treatment patterns when Oliver retreats into silence--how can Marlow treat him if he refuses to talk?  Marlow begins what becomes a kind of personal journey, as he interviews Oliver's former wife, a former faculty member, a former lover.  His journey becomes physical as well as he travels to Mexico and Paris in search of information.

Who is the model for the paintings that have caused Oliver's difficulties with first his wife and then his lover?  The mystery kept me enthralled, as did Kostova's language and ability to create atmosphere.  A novel of obsession, love, and art that moves from present to past and back again.  I loved it!

(Must read Conrad's Lord Jim -- narrated by Marlow.  I've read Heart of Darkness many times -- also narrated by Marlow -- and made some connections.  However, Kostova mentions that the book is a homage to Conrad and Lord Jim, specifically.)

Fiction.  Psychological/Mystery.  2010.  561 pages.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Without Fail

Child, Lee.  Without Fail.

Another Jack Reacher novel, and I enjoyed this one even more than the previous one.   Reacher is recruited by M. E. Froelich (who knew his brother) to test the security around the Vice President elect, when the Secret Service discovers a threat.  Reacher contacts his former colleague, Frances Neagley, and together they find several holes in the security. 

When they present their analysis, Reacher and Neagley also assure Froelich that because of political considerations and the required public exposure of political figures, there are always going to be opportunities for assassination.  There are plenty  of plot twists that keep this novel a page-turner, and I liked the fact that the characters got a little better development than in Gone Tomorrow

Fiction.  Suspense/Action Thriller.  2002.  374 pages.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sun Storm


Larsson, Asa.  Sun Storm.

This is the first in a Swedish series featuring Rebecka Martinsson.  I'll be looking for the others in the series as I found Rebecka an intriguing character.

When the brutally murdered body of charismatic Viktor Strandgard is discovered by his sister in a fundamentalist church in northern Sweden, Sanna Strandgard calls her old friend, Rebecka Martinsson, a tax attorney in Stockholm.  Although the friendship has, for good reasons, languished, Rebecka responds by returning to their provincial village to support Sanna and her children.

The novel has some interesting characters and becomes as much a psychological thriller as a police procedural.  While not everything held together for me, I found myself quite in engrossed in the characters and the atmosphere.  Northern Sweden is really, really cold!  I needed my comforter even in my nice warm house because the descriptions were so much colder than any idea of cold experienced here in the South.

The suspense builds as the narrative gives more information about the church itself and Rebecka's initial involvement.  As Rebecka grudgingly revisits and reviews the past in order to understand the present, the threat to her own life increases.

The conclusion leaves an ambivalent feeling in one narrative line which, while realistic, leaves the reader uneasy.

I hope the library has more by this author, otherwise I'll have to order them.

Fiction.  Mystery/ Police Procedural.  2003/translation 2006.  307 pages.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Armada Boy


Ellis, Kate.  The Armada Boy.

An American veteran of the D day landings, returns with fellow survivors to the village where the landings were rehearsed prior to the operation.  When the elderly man is murdered,  Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson receives a call from his friend Neil, an archaeologist who is about to begin a dig at the old chapel where the body is discovered. 

The novel ties together the current murder mystery with the archaeological  dig that is delving into events that occurred when a Spanish ship was separated from the Spanish Armada and foundered on the coast of the village in 1588.

The novel is billed as a Wesley Peterson mystery, but I found his boss Detective Inspector Hefferson much more interesting and well-rounded.  The story develops several plot lines and is a short and easy read.

The most interesting part for me was the D day rehearsal that resulted in the loss of more men than were killed in the actual landing on Utah Beach, and the evacuation of the village for the purpose of the rehearsal.

Fiction.  Police Procedural/Historical Mystery.  1999.  217 pages.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Innocent Spy

Wilson, Laura.  The Innocent Spy.

I found this novel interesting  for several reasons:  part of the storyline is based on true events, and one of the characters is based on Charles Maxwell Knight (head of the counter-subversion department of MI5 during WWII and thought to be the model for James Bond's boss, M); other characters are also based on real people.  The novel also presents  a slightly different view of the blitz than I've encountered before, as well as the emotional stress suffered by  parents who sent their children away from London during the nightly bombings.

Detective Ted Stratton becomes involved with the murder of a silent film star that has officially been designated suicide or accident.  His investigation eventually brings him into contact with Diana Colthorp who is participating in a covert operation for MI5.

While parts of the novel are a bit slow, the storyline concerning MI5 and espionage is informative.  Detective  Stratton is likable and believable, concerned about things being swept under the rug for "security" reasons, aware of how the game is played, but not necessarily happy about it.  Diana Colthorpe, realizing that she has made a mistake in her marriage, takes the job in MI5 to escape an oppressive mother-in-law after her husband's enlistment.  She finds her new independence and job exciting, but eventually realizes that the complex layers involved are darker than she imagined.

Originally published as Stratton's War.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2008.  447 pages.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Reliable Wife


Goolrick, Robert.  A Reliable Wife.

I've really wondered about how to review this ARC from Algonquin Books.  The beginning is slow as we are made privy to the thoughts of Ralph Truitt, a wealthy and lonely man, waiting at a Wisconsin train station in 1907 for the woman who has answered his add for a "reliable wife," a "simple honest woman."

The fifty-four year old Truitt's thoughts wander from his concern about what the townspeople think of him, to stories of madness and disaster that he reads in the newspapers, to thoughts of his younger, highly-sexualized self, and to shame combined with hope as he waits for the arrival of his prospective bride.

When Catherine Land arrives, however, the first deception is uncovered.  The photograph she sent him was of a plain young woman, and Catherine Land is beautiful.  As the Wisconsin snows cover the landscape hiding most of the features of the land, the characters in this novel reside under many layers of protective coloration.  In the West we associate white with weddings; in the East white symbolizes death. 

The novel is as cold as the snow...and yet full of lustful passion that provides little heat.  Not that there are graphic sex scenes, but that sex and thoughts of sex hold many of the relationships together.  The characters are not people you warm to, but you can sympathize with them at times.  They are complex, deceptive, despairing, and obsessive.  No one is exactly as they seem in this dark novel.

This is also the story of fathers and sons, guilt, remorse, and hope.  It is not a novel that I enjoyed, but after the first chapter, I was determined to make my way through all of the twists and turns the novel takes.

Fiction.  Drama.  2009.  291 pages.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Great Video

This is a fascinating video from the New Zealand Book Council:

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


Bradley, Alan.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

What fun!  A charming, funny, eccentric mystery featuring the precocious Flavia  DeLuce, an eleven-year-old chemist with a passion for poisons.

The book has a sweetness of its own, a murder mystery without graphic violence or sex, set in a rural English village in 1950.  Flavia is a captivating character, a combination of superior intelligence and childlike innocence--full of curiosity, concern for those she cares about, and mischief-making.

Flavia is the narrator and presents her father as a gentle soul, but a reclusive one. There are two older sisters, and sibling pranks mark their days...although for Daphne and Ophelia, the pranks are probably often revenge for Flavia's high jinks.  Dogger, a veteran suffering from shell-shock, is both friend and gardener.  The villagers are also charmingly depicted from Flavia's point of view.

Detective Flavia is successful in the end.

I found The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to be an engaging read that made me smile often.  It is the first in a series of five books planned by the author.  Bring them on!

Fiction.  YA/Mystery.  2009.  370 pages.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I Can See You


Rose, Karen.  I Can See You.

Eve Wilson survived a brutal attack six years before the novel begins that left her scarred mentally and physically.  Plastic surgery and the internet helped her gain enough confidence to come out of her self-imposed isolation.

She is now a graduate student whose  thesis is based on researching the effect of an online community, Shadowland, in building self-esteem.  Then someone begins killing her test subjects in bizarre and very personal ways, capitalizing on the victim's worst fears.

Although fast-paced, the scenarios often seemed contrived and a bit over the top.  I quickly identified the murderer, but Ms. Rose put in plenty of twists that kept me wondering.  That's a good thing.  However, the love story between Eve and Noah Webster, a detective investigating the murders, didn't quite ring true for me, either.  Nevertheless, I wasn't willing to abandon the book.  Hmmm, maybe 3 out of 5 stars.

Fiction. Mystery/Suspense.  2009.  480 pages.

On Reviewing and New Authors

I'm almost caught up on my reviews!  A visit to the library yesterday, however, will make sure that by the time I've finished reviewing the last batch of books, I'll have more to review.

One of the features of Amazon.com that I enjoy is "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" -- great place to discover new authors similar to the one you've read.  I've just finished jotting down a couple of new-to-me authors. 

Novels by Edmund Crispin (from the lovely, lovely Felony and Mayhem Press) were listed under the "Customers Who Bought" feature.  Crispin (pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery) wrote The Gilded Fly in 1944, and his Professor Gervase Fen, "scholar, wit, and fop extraordinaire," is influenced by Lord Peter Wimsey. Sounds great to me!
 
The Broken Tea Glass by Emily Arsenault also sounds good.  I do love good mysteries!

As soon as I finish reviewing I Can See You by Karen Rose,  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, and A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, I'll be caught up on my reviews. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

That Old Cape Magic


Russo, Richard.  That Old Cape Magic.

Oh, I loved this book!   Russo's Bridge of Sighs was one of my favorite books read in 2007, and although this one is shorter, less dense, and much funnier, That Old Cape Magic will probably be on my list of favorites for 2010.

The author explores marriages and family relationships, mid-life crisis, the emotional inheritance we carry all our lives, and the biases of memory.

Jack Griffin has an attachment to Cape Cod because the happiest moments of his childhood occurred during family vacations to the Cape.  The current visit to Cape is to attend the wedding of his daughter's childhood friend, and memories resurface as he looks for a place to scatter the ashes of his father.

Russo's comedic touch is pitch perfect, but the humor is balanced with regrets, sadness, and loneliness as Jack struggles to escape the voices of his parents and their influence on his behavior.
 

Fiction.  Family drama.  2009.  261 pages.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Brutal Telling


Penny, Louise.  The Brutal Telling.

This is my second novel about Inspector Gamache novel, and I enjoyed it even more than the first one.

When a man is found murdered in the bistro of the small Canadian village Three Pines, the inhabitants are stunned, unnerved, and distressed by the thought that the murderer may be one of their own. 

My favorite part was the development of some the villagers.  Although Inspector Gamache and his able assistants are busy following clues and certainly at the center of the story, the villagers and their personalities begin to emerge more fully than in the previous novel that was set elsewhere.  Although they were mentioned in A Rule Against Murder, only two had direct involvement in that novel.  Here we see more of Gabri, Olivier, Peter, Clara, and Ruth Zardo.  Ruth Zardo--the elderly, somewhat demented, but celebrated poet--and her duck Rosa are my very favorite characters.

One of her poems was about greed:

Nothing I ever gave was good for you,
It was like white bread to a goldfish.  
They cram and cram and it kills them,
and they drift in the pool, belly up,
making stunned faces
and playing on our guilt
as if their own toxic gluttony
was not their fault.

Her eccentric dinner party is bizarre and entertaining, but as strange, cryptic, and possibly demented as Ruth is, she has a greater understanding of events than anyone else.

There are also new characters introduced that weren't mention in A Rule Against Murder, although some of them may have been in previous novels.

Penny's flawed characters--sometimes funny and touching, at other times selfish and jealous--provide an entertaining mystery and a little insight into human nature.  For me, the success of this book is more in the characters than in the plot.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  372 pages.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gone Tomorrow


Child, Lee.  Gone Tomorrow.

This is Child's 13th Jack Reacher novel, but the first I've read.  Reacher, a retired army MP, is sitting in a subway car when the novel opens.  A relic of his past life is vigilance and observation of his surroundings, and he scans the other passengers in the car.  The fifth passenger sends warning bells that he attempts to resist, but he continues to run through the mental list of how to identify a suicide bomber.  Although logic tells him "no," Reacher eventually decides to act.

The list is interesting in its own right, and Reacher's handling of the situation is also informative.  Although there are an awful lot of details about the subway car itself, the suspense is palpable as we follow Reacher's thought processes.
 
After the subway incident reaches its conclusion, the suspense continues as all manner of government agencies and one private agency question Reacher.  Unable to get any answers to his own questions, Reacher begins a personal investigation that leads to several events in the past, the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and to the possible future of an American politician.

I'll be looking for other Jack Reacher novels, although I do think the character is a bit over the top (he single-handedly outsmarts everyone).  The twisty plot kept me interested from beginning to end...and I learned a few things.


Fiction.  Suspense/thriller.  2009.  421 pages.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Borderline

Barr, Nevada. Borderline.

An Anna Pidgeon mystery, Borderline follows Anna and her new husband Paul on a delayed honeymoon intended to help Anna recover from some of the terrible events that occurred in the previous novel Winter Study.  The novel opens as the couple, along with their guide and several college students, are rafting the Rio Grande in Texas's Big Bend National Park.

First, they encounter a cow stranded on a ledge and attempt a rescue.  This incident reveals the dynamics of the group of rafters.  Shortly thereafter, an accident causes the loss of the raft and most of their provisions.  When they then discover a woman tangled in debris, things become much more desperate (I'm avoiding some spoilers here).

The mystery has several intertwining threads concerning  Anna's recovery, the environment, politics, and issues involved in closing the border between Mexico and the U.S. after 9/11.

I have enjoyed most of the Nevada Barr mysteries I've read and this one kept me eagerly turning the pages.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  399 pages.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Proper Education for Girls


Di Rollo, Elaine.  A Proper Education for Girls.  

The Talbot twins, Alice and Lillian, are raised by their domineering, but easily distracted father.  The girls are educated by reading and writing (at their father's insistence) about items in his bizarre and varied Collection which includes suits of armor, modern farming equipment, synchronized grandfather clocks, fossilized sea creatures, a stuffed grizzly bear, Napoleonic swords, mechanical inventions, butterfly collections, bronze statues, a machine that peels 60 apples simultaneously, Greek pottery, and much, more more. 

The huge estate is overcrowded with items of archaeological, natural history, geologic, botanic, artistic, or cultural interest.  Not a simple Cabinet of Curiosities (which was really a room), but an entire huge house has turned into an uncategorized museum, and this museum provides the basic education of Alice and Lillian.

When the books opens, however, a disgraced Lillian has been forced to marry a missionary and accompany him to India.  Alice misses her sister terribly, but her father refuses to let Alice's letters leave the house and allows little mail from Lillian to enter (and only after he has read it).  He also begins to question the girls' education, and prodded by the advice of the loathsome Dr. Cattermole, ponders an unthinkable solution that would change Alice's independent personality into a more submissive one.

Lillian, who is grateful to have escaped in spite of the circumstances, loves India and begins to thrive.  When Alice finally manages to interpret a coded message from Lillian, she, too, begins to hope for escape.

Set in 1857, the chapters alternate between Alice's adventures in England and Lillian's adventures in India.  The book provides some interesting takes on the life of women in Victorian England, scientific advances, Colonial life in India, and the Indian rebellion.

I enjoyed the book, eagerly returning to it, but found the conclusion hurried and not fully satisfying.

(I particularly enjoyed the Aunts!)

Fiction.  Adventure/Women's Rights/Historical.  2009.  354 pages.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

December Reading

 I've been away from the computer for quite a while for various reasons.  We decided to move at the beginning of December, found a house very quickly, packed up, moved on December 15th, managed to get Christmas stuff up, had children and grandchildren for the Christmas weekend, baby sat Bryce Eleanor for an additional 5 or 6 days while her parents took their first trip alone in two years, did without any computer for a couple of weeks, and since then, have both gotten out of the computer habit and been overwhelmed by the number of emails to be read, blogs to read, etc.

Here is a list of the December books that never got reviewed, and I'm not going to give them separate reviews. Stars indicate level of enjoyment--3 stars are the ones that I enjoyed most. 

Slightly Abridged by Ellen Pall *
A False Mirror by Charles Todd ***
Dust by Martha Grimes **
Act of Will by A.J. Hartley **
The Joys of My Life by Alys Clare **
Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele ***
Taos Chill by Linda Lea Castle *
Bitter Tide by Ann Stamos ***

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale ***
Enna Burning by Shannon Hale **
River Secrets by Shannon Hale ***
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale ***

I won a copy of The Goose Girl from Kate at Kate's Book Club, and as expected, loved it.  Thanks so much, Kate! I've been meaning to read it for a long time based on Booklogged's original enthusiasm and subsequent comments over the last couple of years.  As you can see, I wanted more about the kingdom of Bayern, and read the next two in the series as well as Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.  These are all YA novels, but great fun!

When I finished reading all that the library had, I went to the book store and bought several books for my niece for Christmas, first and foremost was The Goose Girl!  I wasn't about to give away my copy.  :)


I now have 6 more books to review and one in progress that will probably be finished tonight; I hope I get around to writing actual reviews...


Hope everyone had wonderful Christmas and New Year Celebrations!