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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Land of Ghosts by E.V. Seymour

Seymour, E.V.  Land of Ghosts.

An ARC from Midas Publications, UK.  Land of Ghosts is a suspenseful thriller that examines the Russia/Chechnya conflicts and the brutality on both sides.

This is Seymour's third novel featuring Paul Tallis, an MI5 operative, and I'll be looking for the first two in the series.  If you enjoy action novels and/or spy novels in the tradition of Robert Ludlum, these novels should fill the bill.

An undercover agent in Chechnya has been out of touch for a year, and his handler suspects he has gone rogue.  Paul Tallis is approached about a mission to bring the missing operative out; although he questions the assignment, he agrees because the missing agent is an old school friend, Graham Darke.

Tallis must infiltrate the rebel Chechen movement, find his old friend, determine his loyalty, and attempt to bring him home (willing or unwilling) in order to prevent the disintegration of Anglo-Russian relations.

Tallis finds brutality and corruption on  sides of the conflict, and while he sympathizes  with the situation of both regular Russian soldiers and ordinary Chechens, he is appalled at the behavior of psychopaths and sadists on both sides.  To add to the suspense, Tallis continues to question the motives behind his own mission.

Interesting characters, action, suspense, and a frightening look at the background of a conflict that Americans know little about. 

I couldn't find an entry for the U.S. Amazon, so the link is to Amazon, UK.    * note to
Margot Weale at Midas:  Thanks for this one, and I'd be happy to review the previous books!  :)

Fiction.  Action/Spy/Suspense.  2010.  441 pages.
Vaughn, Dennis.  The Price of Revenge.

An ARC from Phenix & Phenix literary publicists. 

From Amazon's Product Description:  David Fox has a life anyone would envy-a flourishing career as a lawyer, a condo in Denver, and a beautiful girlfriend, Ellen-until he begins investigating a lawsuit against the Denver City Ballet. It seems like a commonplace allegation of misspent funds at first, but soon David finds himself caught in a web of blackmail, betrayal, and dark secrets. To escape, he'll have to answer some uncomfortable questions: Who was responsible for the embezzlement, and how far will they go to cover it up? What precisely is Ellen discussing in those sessions with her psychiatrist? And is telling the truth worth losing everything? The Price of Revenge follows David across boundaries both professional and personal as he tries to find his way out of the maze of intrigue into which he has stumbled.

 I didn't like David, who wants to see himself as a model of integrity, but seemed unable to recognize the lack of integrity in his personal behavior.  Even his "integrity" in his career choices often seems self-motivated and reactionary.

None of the characters are well-rounded; the plot doesn't seem to know where to go.


Fiction.  Legal thriller?  2010.  289 pages.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fever Dream by Preston & Child

Preston, Douglas, and Lincoln Child.  Fever Dream.

A new novel featuring Aloyius Pendergast, that strange, eccentric, and vastly wealthy FBI Agent.  I'm hooked on these novels that take the fantastic to a new level.

Realistic?  No.  The adventures are always wild and often supernatural, yet still seize the imagination and force you to take the ride.

 You don't look for reality in these novels;  they are more of a cult of personality, with Aloyius Pendergast--his remarkable abilities, curious habits, unorthodox methods, and ghostly appearance--putting a tiny barb into you and pulling you forward.

I've not enjoyed the last few books nearly as much as some of the earlier ones, but Fever Dream was thoroughly satisfying, and a relief after the books featuring Diogenes.  Crime Fantasy, perhaps, but a gratifying self-indulgence.

 Agent Aloyius Pendergast's wife Helen died when attacked by a lion on an African safari twelve years previously.  On a whim, Pendergast takes the rifle his wife used on the safari from the gun case to clean it and discovers that someone had substituted a blank and failed to cover the evidence.  Realizing that his wife's death was not the terrible accident, he had supposed, but a deliberate murder that involved elaborate pre-meditation, Pendergast dedicates himself to finding out who was ultimately responsible.

He enlists his friend Lt. Vincent D'Agosta, and the two begin their investigation to discover who arranged Helen's death.  Some of the information Pendergast uncovers makes him wonder about his wife and their relationship, but he is determined  root out the answers to his questions.


An enjoyable romp with Preston & Child!

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  405 pages.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

False Mermaid by Erin Hart

Hart, Erin. The False Mermaid.

Another one from that list of "best crime novels,"  The False Mermaid is set in St. Paul, MN and in Ireland and features Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire.  I read Haunted Ground several years ago, but didn't realize this was part of that series until I read the jacket material.  The second in the series is Lake of Sorrows which I haven't read.

Nora, determined to get to the bottom of her sister's murder five years previously, leaves Ireland to return to St. Paul and resume her attempts to find the evidence to convict her brother-in-law.

The book switches back and forth between Americal (and Nora's efforts) and Ireland (where Cormac is trying to come to terms with father).  The best sections are those that deal with Nora, and for the most part I enjoyed the interplay, although the heavy-handed  mythic element in Ireland was annoying.

The mythic element concerning selkies is interesting and works well, but becomes a bit of an over-extended metaphor, and in one portion of the Irish section, reaches so far as to stretch already "suspended disbelief" to the breaking point. 

The American sections, however, were suspenseful, and I enjoyed the novel overall.  Although the conclusion puts the end to one mystery pretty emphatically, there may be a character (who was barely mentioned and didn't actually appear at all) who may turn up in the next novel in the series.

Entertaining escapism.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  316 pages.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

Johnson, Craig.  The Cold Dish.

Another author who likes allusion, Johnson scatters them throughout the novel, but the title says it all.

When the library didn't have Johnson's The Dark Horse, I picked up this one that Wendy reviewed a couple of years ago.  The wiser course, because The Cold Dish is the first in the series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire and assorted friends.

When a young man turns up dead, Longmire hopes it is the result of a hunting accident, but has an uneasy feeling that there is more to it.  The young man and 3 of his friends  were involved in the rape of a young Indian girl three years previously, and the fact that the young men received suspended sentences still bothers Longmire and many others.

Cody Prichard's death is a homicide, and Longmire needs to keep the other young men safe, if he can, and discover the murderer.

I particularly enjoyed some of the banter between Henry and Longmire, as well as some of the dialogue between Longmire and others.  The old friendships and peculiar knowledge of personality between the characters helped lighten the mood on several occasions.

Having lived in Wyoming when very young, I enjoyed the atmosphere: the references to the Powder River, the Little Big Horn Mountains, Custer, and more.  I remember the cold winters, the snow, and the fierce wind quite well.  Revenge is, indeed, served cold in several different ways.

It is reassuring to know that I can continue my own association with these characters in future novels.  "Um-hmm yes it is so..."

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime/Western.  2005.  354 pages.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J.  The Hypnotist.

From Publishers Weekly:  Starred Review. In this stunning page-turner, Rose's third Reincarnationist novel (after The Memorist), special agent Lucian Glass of the FBI's Art Crime Team continues to pursue Malachai Samuels of the Phoenix Foundation as well as the list of Memory Tools (deep meditation aids that help people access past-life memories) that Malachai covets. After a stolen Matisse painting arrives back at New York's Metropolitan Museum slashed to bits, the thief warns that four more stolen paintings by major artists will be destroyed unless the museum gives him Hypnos, an eight-foot-tall sculpture, which could help a person gain paranormal powers. The Matisse was taken 20 years earlier from the gallery of Andre Jacobs, father of Lucian's first love, Solange, who was killed during the heist. Lucian becomes attracted to Emeline, Andre's niece and adopted daughter, whose mannerisms and facial expressions eerily resemble Solange's. As Lucian recovers previous-life memories, his present life takes ever more shocking turns. This series inspired Fox TV's Past Life, which debuted in February.

I wasn't favorably impressed with this novel; mostly it seemed sensational and silly.  The characters were superficial, and the first love reincarnated was distasteful to me.  I didn't much care for the past life incarnations either. Don't get me wrong, I usually like a good reincarnation story, but not this one.  Or the twist involving Solange's father. Or much else.  There were quite a few bad guys...in different times and for different reasons and conveniently all tied together.

Fiction.  Supernatural/Mystery.  2010.  416 pages.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trials, Tribulations, and Happy Ending

I took my books back to the library on Sunday, but they were closing when I got there, so all I could do was give them my books and look longingly at the stacks.  Note to self:  Library Closes at 5:00 on Sunday.

I was back on Monday afternoon, but unfortunately, didn't realize that I'd left out a couple of books on Sunday.  When I got ready to check out, the new lady wouldn't let me check them out because one of the books (on making doll clothes) had been renewed twice.  Can't be renewed again. Can't check out any books until it is returned.

I pleaded.  (I'd read all of my ARCs.)  I offered to pay for the book now and bring it back on Tuesday.  No.

I said, "Please don't send me away with nothing to read."  Rules are rules and the computer wouldn't make allowances.  You must leave bookless.

I continued to prostrate myself, to beg, to whine.  I complained that I'd have to watch television!  It had no effect.  You may think I've exaggerated, but I assure you, I made an absolute fool of myself.  The new lady was nice, sympathetic even, but FIRM.

Dejected, dispirited, dismayed, disappointed, dis- everything, I left empty handed again!  One of my library friends rushed out to the parking lot to commiserate and said if it had been his computer it would have made allowances.  I told him I would survive.

Back again early on Tuesday with both books in hand, although only one was the problem. They had held the stack of books that I'd tried to check out the day before, so it was quick and easy and all was well in my world.

I'm once again a happy camper and will make every effort to get the "new lady" on my page.  Shoot, I've donated close to 100 books the library, always pay any fines cheerfully, and have been a familiar face for years/decades.  Not that I plan on finding myself in the same predicament again, but if so, I want everyone to know that I'm good for the books.

I've got two going at the moment, one by Erin Hart and one by Craig Johnson.  Both are keeping me happy.  Both of these authors were on a list of "best" crime books that I saw somewhere and jotted down titles and authors.

Craig Johnson's is a Sheriff Longmire mystery set in Wyoming and recommended by Wendy, that Literary Feline at The Bookish Kitty a while back.  The novel on the list was The Dark Horse, which I couldn't find, so I checked out A Cold Dish--the novel Wendy read and liked.  The sheriff and I are closing in on the suspect.  Well, sort of, I still don't know the guilty party but, thank goodness, it isn't one of my favorite characters who was in the running for a while.

I have one book to review and two in progress.  Life is good.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Bradbury Report by Steven Polansky

Polansky, Steven.  The Bradbury Report.

An ARC from Tandem that explores some of the moral dilemmas involved when the government takes over cloning as a means of...well, having spare body parts that would not be rejected as the parts would be used by "the original."

I have always found cloning a dangerous development, but the future described here is not one that I believe will ever happen.  Nevertheless, many of the questions will arise if (as?) the process becomes safer-- even if the government never plans to create people for spare parts or designer children.

The novel begins slowly and the protagonist is not particularly likable.  He isn't evil or cruel; he is a man who is quite ordinary in most ways.  Contacted by Anna, a woman who knew him over 40 years ago, "Ray" finds himself involved in an anti-cloning Resistance movement and is soon on the run along with Anna and a clone, trying to stay ahead of the government that wants to silence them.

The Bradbury Report is begun in 2071 by the 66-year-old narrator to provide information about the experience.  He doesn't try to spare himself.

You may note some similarity to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro--a certain bleakness that is evident before you really know why, as well as the concept of creating clones for body parts. In Ishiguro's novel, the young clones attend an elite boarding school and are sheltered.  Polansky's clones survive in concentration camp atmosphere, with no benefit of education, love, or even communication with each other.

Both novels examine what it means to be human, but Ishiguro sucks you in with both his beautiful prose and misdirections.  In Polansky's novel,  "Ray" (the pseudonym assumed for writing the Bradbury Report) admits  has no real skill at writing and does his best to explain all the circumstances factually.

I didn't enjoy either novel.  The oppressive subject matter and moral dilemmas make my heart hurt.  Literally, a heart-ache.  Yet the subject matter--while carried to an extreme in both novels for effect--forces us to examine cultural values and the potential for corruption that comes with scientific advancement.

(As to the allusion to the real Ray Bradbury-- in 2071, he probably wouldn't be widely read, but Polansky also includes a reference to the song "Dandelion Wine" at the end of the novel.  Bradbury's novel of that name is one that also had a great deal of poignancy.)

Here is a list of speculative fiction about cloning, books reviewed by a member of the Human Cloning Foundation!  Now, that is just scary.  There are other lists as well, I'm sure and they may not include the same novels.  Maybe I should look for some nonfiction books about the ethics of cloning; I'd need popular science for the layman, nothing technical.

What books have you read on this topic?  Fiction or Nonfiction?

Fiction.  Speculative Fiction/Science Fiction.  2009.  326 pages. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Reviews and Challenges

I am all caught up on reviews!  I scheduled them to post over a 2 day period, and now they are all up, over, and out of my way.

2010 Once Upon a Time Challenge - completed (although I never posted links on the site)

Troll Fell - Katherine Langrish
Warriors - Erin Hunter
 Troll Blood - Katherine Langrish
Spellwright - Blake Charlton
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenneggar
Hounding the Moon - P.R. Frost
Catalyst:  A Tale of the Baroque Cats - Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Pysick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe
The Magicians - Lev Grosman
The Owl Killers - Karen Maitland

I only participate in 2 challenges, now:  Carl's RIP Challenge and his Once Upon a Time Challenge.  I don't even do a very good job at those because I don't report in, but I look forward to both of them each year.

Last year, I challenged myself to read more nonfiction and did so pretty successfully--especially as I was reading in areas that really interested me.  This year has been mostly escape literature. 

At the end of this month, I'll evaluate my reading, and maybe resolve to change some things, but I think I'm still in the escape reading mode for the moment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Bad Day for Pretty

Littlefield, Sophie.  A Bad Day for Pretty.

An ARC from Minotaur Books, the novel features middle-aged avenger Stella Hardesty, owner of a sewing shop and dispenser of justice to abusive men.  This is the second novel in the series, but I haven't read the first. When offered a review copy of a protagonist in her 50's, I couldn't resist.

Background:  Stella endured an abusive husband, and in self-defense, killed him.  Her current role involves helping abused women.  The background was, no doubt, explained in greater detail in the first novel, but is easily picked up in this installment.

From victim to guardian and very private pursuer of justice, Stella has gained quite a reputation as the go-to-gal among a clandestine network that attempt to aid women who need to escape from their own private hells.

This time, Stella finds herself trying to help dear friends when the husband is accused of murder.   She is also trying to advance a romance with the local sheriff, but there is a little conflict of interest in the case that gives a bit of problem.  And then, there is the sudden appearance of the sheriff's ex-wife.

A fun mystery with some great characters and a feisty older heroine who is all too human.  This might fall in the category of comic crime fiction.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  292 pages.

The Bone Thief

Bass, Jefferson.  The Bone Thief.

I didn't realize when I pulled this one from the library shelf that it was another one by the team of Dr. Bill Bass and John Jefferson.  I reviewed The Devil's Bones a couple of years ago and included links with more information about the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research facility, The Body Farm, and about both authors.

The team included some fascinating information about transplants and the black market for body parts in this novel, but I have to admit that although they do give some good information, I'm not really enthusiastic about the series.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  356 pages. 

The Owl Killers

Maitland, Karen.  The Owl Killers.

I read this long, dense novel quickly. The events take place in 1321 in a small English village, and the author's historic detail reminded me strongly of information in The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly.  Kelly describes some of the brutishness of life and some of the events that preceded the arrival of the plague.  I took the following passage from my review of The Great Mortality last year:


An especially interesting portion of the book, however, was the evidence of the strange and unusual environmental and ecological changes and events that frequently preceded outbreaks of the plague. Earthquakes, unprecedented rains, drought, tropical cyclones, and other climactic changes can influence rodent populations and locations. These events can also cause famine among human populations, weakening their resistance to disease.

I wish I'd included more of the information that Kelly relayed about life during this period before the plague arrived in England, but this is an area that Maitland has researched in great detail.  Her depiction of medieval life is one of the strengths of her novelShe has included many of the events in the first half of the 13th century that reduced the standard of living and general health of the population--from actions of monarchs, to Church policies, to outbreaks of anthrax-- as well as climactic changes that resulted in failed crops.

 Maitland's attention to historic detail is so interwoven in the resulting personalities of the characters that setting becomes a character in itself.

A historic detail that plays a crucial role in the story is the Beguine, "a member of a lay sisterhood (one of several founded in the Netherlands in the 12th and 13th centuries); though not taking religious vows the sisters followed an austere life."

Beguinage Communities were made up of women who chose a semi-cloistered life rather than marriage or religious vows and were free to leave at any time.  The Beguines were highly religious, supported themselves, founded schools and hospitals, and appear to have been remarkably successful where they were protected. This independence upset the status quo, however, and the women often encountered hysterical (smile) responses from both locals and the Church that resulted in violence and charges of heresy.

OK -- what was the novel about?  I could go on and on about the historical accuracy and interesting historic information,  yet I stall in discussion of plot.

A Beguine community is founded near the village of Ulewic, and despite the charity and medical care offered by the Beguines, they are viewed with suspicion and animosity.  The village is dominated by a sinister group of individuals called the Owl Masters, who keep their identities secret and make most of the important decisions involving the villagers.  When the ancient myth of the Owlman, a terrible and violent pagan creature, resurfaces, the conflict between the Beguines and the locals intensifies as the Owl Masters determine to force the women out. 

The men in the novel, with the exceptions of Ralph and a Friar, are at best easily influenced, greedy, and/or hypocritical, and at worst hypocritical, violent, and/or evil.  Hypocrisy rules.  Violence, a close second.

I really liked the Beguines, whose personalities were well-developed and varied. Their attempts to carry out their missions of serving God and humanity in their different roles were the founding strength of the novel.  All had flaws, but Maitland did an excellent job of bringing them to life, and they are just about the only positive force in this dark novel. 

At some point, I felt the novel had sort of changed course, and I didn't find the conclusion nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped.  How to explain?  Perhaps, for me, the supernatural aspect was less pleasing than if it had been definitively psychological, and I can't say more without giving too much away.

It was a compelling read.

Fiction.  Historical/Supernatural.  2009.  495 pages + historical notes and glossary.

Whiter Than Snow

Dallas, Sandra.  Whiter Than Snow.

I hesitated before accepting this ARC because of the subject matter.  An avalanche in a small 1920's Colorado mining town kills 5 of 9  children on their way home from school.

Nevertheless, something in the description made me decide to accept the novel.  I'm glad I did.

The novel explores the backgrounds of all of the families that will be effected by the tragedy and is written in a sensitive, but never maudlin style.  The reader sees the events that shaped the survivors of the children:  the small and large betrayals, the secrets, the strengths and weaknesses, the hopes and fears and courage. 

When the tragedy occurs, the individuals who love the children respond in ways that are consistent with the people they have become.  The novel is about transformation, redemption, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and loss.  The characters are well developed and feel real. 

You don't know until the conclusion which families will lose their children, and I found myself in that awful predicament of trying to choose which would live.

Dallas does not try to manipulate the reader's feelings in a mawkish or sentimental way.   She manages to keep the reader involved with the lives of the surviving parents and grandparents and to keep a studied, respectful, and discreet distance in the few pages that deal with the avalanche itself.

Fiction.  Historical Fiction.  2010.  292 pages.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Magicians

Grossman, Lev.  The Magicians.

Pour J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis into a bowl, spice it up with a few other authors, stir, but don't expect the cake to rise.

A mighty dreary fantasy, this.  Neither plot nor characters enchanted, inspired, or even motivated concern.  Poor Quentin.  Over and over.  Somebody kick him.  Didn't care for any of the other characters, either.

If I'd had any initiative, I would have put this aside before getting to that ridiculous world of Fillory, and its equally unbelievable inhabitants. When Quentin first mentioned his fascination with the novels of his childhood and its inhabitants, I was uncomfortable.  I'm sure he meant to honor C.S. Lewis' role in his own life, but it didn't come across that way for me--more like parody. The Brakesbill/Hogwarts was less derivative, but still no improvement.

A depressing book that has little to do with fantasy, or in my opinion, coming-of-age.
What a mean-spirited review.  If you loved it, please forgive me.  Maybe I was just in a bad mood....  Nahhh.

Fiction.  Fantasy?  2009.  402 pages.

The Last Illusion

Bowen, Rhys.  The Last Illusion.

A Molly Murphy mystery (a new author and series for me) about an Irish immigrant who becomes a private investigator.  Set in 1903 in New York, Molly and her fiance, police captain Daniel Sullivan, attend a magic show in which one of the illusions goes terribly wrong. 

Daniel rushes to the stage, followed by Molly, and begins an investigation to determine whether the gruesome scene is accident or murder.

The celebrity in the novel and in the magic show is Harry Houdini.  As a result of the incident, which Daniel suspects may not be an accident, Houdini's performance is canceled.  His wife, Bess, is escorted back stage by Molly.

The next day Bess Houdini shows up at Molly's house and relates her fears for her husband's safety.  Molly decides to take the offered job of protecting Houdini.

A fast and enjoyable read, I will be looking for Bowen's previous novels in the series.  Definitely a cozy mystery and a historical novel with interesting, although fictionalized, revelations about Houdini.
---------
Whew, I've done 4 reviews this morning and have them scheduled over the course of the day.  This will be the last one for today, I think, even though they've all been fairly brief.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2010.  278 pages.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Howe, Katherine.  The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

I tend to enjoy books that have interwoven story lines of past and present, books with lost or hidden manuscripts, and books with a little modern day supernatural and witchcraft...and I also tend to be especially critical of any elements in them that release me from the fantasy and make me voice objections.

Although I enjoyed the book in some ways (and loved the cover), I kept thinking it read like one of those beach reads that require little from you and simply provide a way to pass the time.  Or a YA novel that didn't quite deliver....

The novel was plot-driven, but even that was pretty predictable.  The villain was quickly identified, his reasoning unbelievable, and he descended from predictable to caricature.

Once again, I'm just stating my own perception of the book.  I'm aware that many readers loved it, but while it provided a little entertainment for an afternoon,  I found The Physick Book disappointing and not  particularly memorable.

If you'd like details of the plot, check the link to Amazon.com.

Fiction.  Historical Novel/Supernatural/Mystery.  2009.  362 pages.

The Ice Princess

Lackberg, Camilla. Trans. Steven T. Murray.  The Ice Princess.

An ARC sent by Gretchen and Meghan of Tandem Literary Publicity and Marketing.  The novel  is the 2008 winner of  the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière Best International Crime Novel of the Year.  I intended to mention the translator because the translation read so fluidly, and then discovered that Steven T. Murray should have been recognized immediately by anyone who has read Stieg Larrson or Henning Mankell.

Camilla Lackberg's U.S. debut is only the first of her seven novels.  It is excellent.  Sometimes we struggle with what to say about ARCs; they are free and looking for positive reviews that aren't always forth-coming.

There was no struggle with this novel that pulled me in from the beginning and kept me from wanting to put it down.

Erika Falck, a biographer, has returned to her hometown after her parents' deaths to sort through their belongings and do all the final paperwork.  When Eilert Berg discovers the body of Erika's childhood friend Alex and rushes from the house, the first person he encounters is Erika.  Thus she is drawn immediately into the situation which is first assumed to be a suicide, but later determined to be a murder.

While I have a few quibbles, I found the novel powerful and involving.  There are a couple of side stories that are also interesting and woven smoothly into the story.  For a first novel, The Ice Princess is impressive (and better than novels by many much more experienced authors).  I love a novel full of promise and this one certainly qualifies.

The Ice Princess offers the opportunity to follow a talented author as she progresses, and I'm quite eager for the  translations of her other novels.

My thanks to Tandem Literary Publicity & Marketing for this novel!

Fiction.  Mystery.  U.S. translation 2010.  393 pages.

Saving Max

Van Heugten, Antoinette.  Saving Max.

An ARC (will be released this fall) about a mother and her son with Asperger's.  I'm always interested in stories about autism and Asperger's.  Our neighbor's son (before we moved in Dec.) is autistic, and my closest friend teaches students with Asperger's.

However, nothing in this book really worked for me.   Danielle, Max's mother, was the focus and seemed to be much weirder than Max.  I liked the little that was actually revealed about Max, but he was reduced to the inciting force, while Danielle became the protagonist.

The one-night-stand that immediately morphed into a deep relationship bothered me.  The callousness and high-handedness of the institution felt false.  The villain was suspected early, but the development of the "reason" (trying not to reveal any spoilers) would certainly be one of the most extreme cases I've heard of.  The villain was certainly a psychopath even if the other explanation fits.  I had problems with the writing, the plot, and the characters.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  375 pages.

And so it goes

Our father, Laddie McDowell, died last week after a long struggle with Alzheimer's and other attendant health problems.  It was a release, and we can't regret his final easing from this world.  I wrote about it on Bayou Quilts and hope to have communicated a celebration of his life, rather than just a sense of grief.  Strange, though, the contradictory feeling of weight and absence the loss of a loved one creates.   Even when the loved one has been lost in a dreadful disease for several years....
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I'm going to try to write reviews of all the books that have been piling up.  Yesterday, I managed one--so only about 9 more to get done.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Season of Water and Ice

Lystra, Donald. Season of Water and Ice.

An ARC from Kelly & Hall and published by Northern Illinois University Press, Season of Water and Ice is a coming of age story set in the late 1950's.

Danny, 14, lives with his father in a cabin in the north woods of Michigan.  Danny's father abandoned his old job and wants to try living closer to nature and away from the rapid societal changes. His mother, unable to adapt to the new lifestyle has gone to Chicago, and Danny doesn't know if his family will reunite or not.

Eighteen-year-old Amber lives near by, and the two form a friendship--the pregnant teenage girl and the boy whose family appears to be disintegrating.  Both have a sense of abandonment, although Danny's parents, especially his father, are much more caring than Amber's. 

The reviews are quite positive, but I have to say that my initial enjoyment lessened pretty quickly.   The story is certainly character driven, but for some reason, in spite of a surprising ending, the novel felt clinical.

Fiction.  Psychological/Coming-of-Age.  2009.  251 pages.

Monday, June 07, 2010

I'd Rather Be Reading

I have several books left to review, but I started The Owl Killers last night and read over half of it before going to bed.  Intense!  Excellent historical information woven seamlessly into the plot.  The novel is set in a village near Norwich in 1321, a mixture myth and historical fact involving interesting characters and tremendous psychological suspense.  I have a dozen more things to accomplish today, but all I want to do is get back to that novel.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Perfect Reader

Pouncey, Maggie.  Perfect Reader.

A debut novel and an ARC.

Flora Dempsey's father has died and left her as his literary executor.  Lewis Dempsey was a retired college president and literary critic "in the league of Harold Bloom" and his best-know work, Reader as Understander is one that Flora has never even read.

Nor has Flora bothered to read the poems that Lewis gave her, the real reason he wants her as his literary executor.  A child of divorced parents, Flora has unresolved feelings concerning their relationships and her childhood.

On discovering that the poems are rather erotic ones addressed to the new woman in his life, Flora's uncertainty increases.  She doesn't want to be in charge of her father's legacy and resents the woman who had become her father's muse.

In many ways the novel is interesting, although Flora is not a particularly sympathetic character.  She carries guilt from a childhood accident, but somehow it doesn't seem quite pertinent although it is obviously meant to be.

Another sticking point is the fact that the poems are not included or even much discussed.  Given the huge role they have in the plot, the failure to develop the concept bothers me; probably because I'm more interested in the literary aspect than the psychological one.

The writing and the pacing were uneven, but the novel held my attention. The "acknowledgements" that Flora added to the final publication of her father's poems was a high point, but I could have wished a more gradual transition to her reaching that plateau.

Fiction.  Psychological.  2010.  269 pages.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Blindman's Bluff

Kellerman, Faye.  Blindman's Bluff.

Kellerman's series about LAPD's homicide detective Lt. Peter Decker and his wife, Rina.  Decker is called to the murder scene of wealthy (very) magnate Guy Kaffe, his wife, a maid, and two guards.  Two other guards are missing.

Kaffe's son Gil survived and is hospitalized, but is unable to provide much help.  As Decker and his crew try to determine motive and suspects, his wife Rina, in the course of her jury duty, meets an interesting character. Brett Harriman is a blind translator for the court, but carries himself so well that it is not immediately obvious that the man is blind.  He overhears two men discussing the crime in Spanish, but is unable to see them.  He asks Rina, to give him a description of the two men.

I think Harriman gets short shrift in this novel and is by far the most interesting character.  In fact, he'd make a great main character.

The novel kept me involved until nearly the end when the resolution seemed a bit hurried and sloppy.  There is a nice scene after it is all over, however.

finished in May

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2009.  400 pages.

The Persuader

Child, Lee.  Persuader.

Jack Reacher again.  Another fast-paced novel with lots of suspense.  The beginning had me confused and checking to see if this was really Reacher.  He rescues a college kid, but kills a cop in the process.  Whoa!  Not Reacher's style at all.

Ah, the whole thing was a set-up to get him inside the operations of a crime operation involving an evil character that Reacher thought he had killed years ago.  He goes undercover to bring down his nemesis, and of course, he succeeds, but there are plenty of close calls along the way.

finished in May

Fiction.  Action/Thriller.  2009.  496 pages.