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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Snow Angels by James Thompson

Thompson, James.  Snow Angels.

This first in a new series made me uncomfortable.  Not in a positive way.  You know the feeling of being uncomfortable because you are learning something new and the knowledge is making you re-evaluate your own thinking?  It isn't that kind of uncomfortable.

No, this novel made me uncomfortable because of the sex and violence, the alcoholism, the feeling of hopelessness.  I felt like a voyeur, and I felt sad for an entire culture.  Which is wrong.  Evaluating the cultures of Finland based on this novel would not be  reasonable.  Yet reason and emotion will separate at times, and my thoughts will remain tainted by the view presented in this novel.

The setting is a small town just above the Arctic Circle, in the middle of the long Arctic night.  There is no doubt that long months without sun combined with temperatures that can fall to 40 degrees below zero are emotionally difficult; plenty of statistic back up the fact that populations that live in these conditions have higher incidences of alcoholism, depression, and suicide.

But Jeez...does every character have to have one or more of these symptoms.  Even the protagonist, Inspector Vaara, has so many problems and such a difficult background that it is a wonder he can keep going.

The book has a definite crime noir flavor, but the graphic violence, callous sexuality, and overwhelming sense of despair (admittedly, this is probably not the exactly the author's intent) does not encourage me to follow Inspector Vaara in the future.

And I figured out the culprit pretty early, although I did question myself as new red herrings presented themselves...

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery.  2009.  264 pages.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Burning Lamp by Amanda Quick

Quick, Amanda.  Burning Lamp.

I pulled this one from the "new book" shelf at the library, noted that it was an Arcane Society Novel, but not that it was the second book in a trilogy.

So...the novel is part romance and part paranormal.  Nothing deep, but a little light fun.  "The Widow" is a social reformer who has been raiding various brothels and freeing the women in them, enabling them to prepare themselves for a better life.

Enter Griffin Winter, a London crime lord, who thinks "The Widow" may possess a dream light talent, and who may be able to help save him from a family curse.  Instant attraction between the two, although they appear to be at cross-purposes.

You know where this is going, right?  The two team up and take on evil-doers.

Although the novel is the second one in the trilogy, enough background is given that you don't really need to have read the first novel to get a handle on this one.  One reason is that a couple of hundred years have passed and the characters in the first novel are ancestors (who created a lot of problems) to some of the characters in Burning Lamp.  The same situation will be true in the final novel that will take place in future generations.

Fiction.  Supernatural/Mystery.  2010.  328 pages.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge

Duncker, Patricia.  The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge.

I'm not really sure what I thought of this novel.  Different.

The novel begins at the scene of a mass suicide on New Year's Day, a "departure," and Andre Schweigen recognizes the details.  He has seen them before.  A few years previously a similar scene was discovered in Switzerland.  Although many of the individuals had been French, the Swiss investigation had excluded both Commissaire Schweigan and Judge Dominique Carpentiera, who investigates crimes concerning cults or sects. 

Schweigen is excited-- to have the opportunity to bring someone to justice for both "departures" and to be once more involved in Dominique's life.  This mass suicide in French territory.

The opening of the novel is beautifully done; the description of the scene and the hunters who discovered it is somehow both conversational and chilling.

The novel moves a bit incoherently, in an almost dream-like manner, leaving the reader without connections, skipping around a bit without giving the reader all of the details.  Not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but with similarities.

The relationship between Schweigen and Dominique is unusual, but involving.  Dominique's character is a kind of duality: elegance, sophistication, and intelligence, but with an earthier, more practical nature.

I had no desire to abandon the novel at any point, but somehow neither did it register as reasonable, and reason and faith appear to be the theme.  The discovery of a kind of Grimoire in code, The Faith, the composer and his role--seemed something of an enigma for the author to puzzle over, but that leaves the reader with more questions than answers.  

Fiction. Mystery.  2010. 260 pages.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton

Bolton, S.J.  Sacrifice.

Recommended by Danielle (along with Blood Harvest which I now have on my Kindle), Sacrifice is Bolton's debut novel.

Set in the Shetland Islands amidst the atmosphere of the land and its mythic legends, Sacrifice opens with Tora Hamilton, a recent transplant to the island, attempting to manage the hydraulics of a digging machine to excavate a hole deep enough to bury her horse.  In the course of her efforts to bury her beloved horse, she uncovers the body of a young woman buried (and preserved) in the peat.

Worse than this discovery is the realization that the woman had recently born a child and that her body was mutilated.  An obstetrician who desperately wants to have a baby herself, Tora is horrified.  She notifies the police, who initially want to classify the body as ancient remains, but Tora knows that it isn't the case.

Her husband was born and raised on the island, but until their move 6 months previously, has been away for 20 years.  When the investigation into the identity of the dead woman doesn't fully satisfy Tora, she disregards her husband's advice to let it go and teams up with the policewoman Dana Tulloch to find out more.

Tora and Dana's relationship is a bit touchy, but with every authority (Tora's husband, the head of Tora's hospital, and Dana's boss) wanting to move on, the two women rely on each other as they search for answers.  As events get even stranger and more threatening, Dana and Tora find themselves counting on each other more and more.

The first 2/3's of the book kept me enthralled and curious, and I was impressed by Bolton's ability to develop the suspense as Tora and Dana try to get around the conspiracy of silence.

The last third of the book was less satisfying and got a bit far-fetched with a few of the threads, but Bolton still manages to keep the reader off balance.

Even though the concluding section felt less well-plotted, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more from S. J. Bolton!

Fiction.  Mystery.  2008.  375 pages.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Musings

My reading picked up again this weekend, and I spent a great deal of Saturday and Sunday going through my recent acquisitions.

Saturday morning, my Kindle arrived!  I've got 4 books loaded and ready for our trip to St. John's for Little Kris' wedding.  We will leave on Friday and return on Wednesday, and there will be plenty of time for reading on the plane and on the beach.  No books to haul!  Just the Kindle.  I'm smiling at the prospect.

Because I don't want to read anything on my Kindle yet (saving that experience to savor on the trip), I've been going through my library haul at a good clip.  

I've finished The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge by Patricia Duncker, Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton, and Burning Lamp by Amanda Quick.  Have almost finished Citizens of London and am still reading Teaching Yoga (and probably will be for quite a while) by Stephens.

And a poem to share:

the gate
by Tadeusz Różewicz
Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

Lasciate ogni speranza
Voi ch'entrate

abandon all hope
ye who enter here

the inscription at the entrance to the inferno
of Dante's Divine Comedy


behind that gate
there is no hell

hell has been dismantled
by theologians
and deep psychologists

converted into allegory
for humanitarian and educational

behind that gate
the same thing begins again

two drunken grave-diggers
sit at the edge of a hole

they're drinking non-alcoholic beer
and munching on sausage
winking at us
under the cross
they play soccer
with Adam's skull

the hole awaits
tomorrow's corpse
the "stiff" is on its way


here we will await
the final judgment

water gathers in the hole
cigarette butts are floating in it


behind that gate
there will neither be history
nor goodness nor poetry

and what will there be
dear stranger?

there will be stones

upon stone
stone upon stone
and on that stone
one more

Echo Burning by Lee Child

Child, Lee.  Echo Burning.

This makes the 8th Jack Reacher novel I've read so far this year.  What I can I is a Jack Reacher novel--full of action, a tough guy super-hero, a far-fetched plot and lots of fun!

Reacher, who attracts trouble like sugar attracts flies, is trying to avoid a little dust-up with a local cop and is hitching a ride out of town.  The beautiful Carmen Greer picks him up.  Uh oh.

Carmen doesn't just pick Reacher up on a whim; she's been cruising West Texas roads looking for a tough kill her husband.  Amid some lies and half-truths, she tells of the beatings she's received at her husband's hands and informs Reacher that although her husband is currently in jail for tax-evasion, he is about to be released and she expects the abuse to continue at best, and at worst, that her husband will kill her because she tipped off the IRS.

Although Reacher, as a former Army MP  has killed many men (in some spectacular adventures), he is not an assassin and turns Carmen down.  However, he senses the genuine fear amid the lies and agrees to return with her to the ranch where Carmen lives with her daughter and her hateful mother- and brother-in-law.

All Reacher novels are action-packed and full of adventure.  Lee Child excels at action, suspense, and atmosphere of place.  Although this is not my favorite Reacher adventure, it was fast-paced and hard to put down.  It was not as satisfying as some of the previous Reacher novels, but still an entertaining read. 

Fiction.  Crime/Mystery/Adventure/Suspense.  2007.  576 pages.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Library Haul

From the library:

Still working on Citizens of London, but abandoned Walking to Gatlinburg which became predictable in its oddness.  At first, I really liked it and began equating it with Mark Twain's Huck Finn  (Walking is also a picaresque novel with lots of strange characters), but the short little episodes and weird characters became less interesting and less suspenseful.  Seemed more formula than content, more caricature than character.

Last night, I turned to a used Diana Wynne Jones book, Witch Week.  Written for older elementary or middle school children, Witch Week was a quick and enjoyable way to spend the evening. Jenny at Jenny's Books has had several posts recommending DJW, and I've noticed that other bloggers have also enjoyed her works, but I'd never read anything by her.

While browsing through a used book store a week or so ago, I found a copy of Witch Week and decided to try it.  I liked it!  It was funny and charming!

Jenny is hosting a Diana Wynne Jones Week, August 1-7.  Check out this post.  I think I'll save my review for that week, and I might even fit in another DWJ book since they are such fun and such quick reads!

How many of you are fans of DWJ's books?

TBR List

I've been adding books to my TBR list like crazy, even though my reading has slowed down.  Here are some of the titles I've jotted down in the last two days:

Blood Harvest by S. J. Bolton and author Dorothy Whipple- recommended by DanielleBlood Harvest sounds super spooky (sssss) and love the cover.  And I'm determined to try Ms. Whipple at some point.

Border Songs by Jim Lynch - recommended by Sam.  Sam says the characters remind him of The Confederacy of Dunces--'nough said.

Cherries in Winter, Dead End Gene Pool (I turned down an ARC, my bad), and The Passage - recommended by Nancy.

The Affinity Bridge - recommended by Iliana.  "Steampunk is making a comeback, and with this novel Mann is leading the charge….An engaging melodrama that rattles along at a breakneck pace.” —The Guardian"  Another cover to love.

Even though my reading has slowed down, I'm still experiencing book lust.  Is that a deadly sin?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Progress, Kindle

My reading has slowed down a bit.  I need to review my latest Lee Child read, Echo Burning, and I'm busy reading Citizens of London (excellent) , Walking to Gatlinburg(eccentric), and Mark Stephens' Teaching Yoga (impressive).
This morning, I gave in and ordered a Kindle DX.  I'm looking forward to taking this when we attend little Kris' wedding in St. John's...I won't have to pack books to take with me!

So a few questions...

What are your experiences with ebook readers?

Can you get Advanced Reader Copies on a reader?  That would be such a savings for publishers and would prevent the pile up of books on the shelves, tables, and floor!

Does your library provide access to ebooks?

I'm sure I'll have more questions, but those are my most obvious concerns at the moment.  I did a little research and chose the DX because of the larger size and its ability to get more text on the screen, but the actual decision was almost impulsive.  Kind of "let's get it over with"...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Books and Boxes

I ordered some more yoga books from Amazon.

Stinker had the best time playing in the box.
She would drop her ball in the box, then try to get it out from under a flap, lose it, chase it, and drop it in again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hush by Karen White

White, Kate.  Hush.

Definitely not my kind of mystery. 

After a one-night-stand, Lake awakes and goes out on the terrace where she falls asleep.  When she wanders into the apartment at daylight, she finds her partner dead, his throat cut.  So does she call the police?  Nope.  She hightails it outta there because she's going through a divorce and custody battle, and it might not look good for her.

Her behavior never gets much smarter throughout the novel.  If you are worried about custody and your lawyer has warned you not to engage in any romantic activity that might cost you your kids, if you know the guy isn't serious and you sleep with him anyway, if you find your bed partner dead and then take off...well, your decision-making abilities are faulty to begin with. 

 Weak characters, plot, and dialogue.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  341 pages.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Heresy by S.J. Parris

Parris, S. J.  Heresy.

In 1583, Elizabeth I is on the throne of England and trying to keep the political and religious turmoil in check.

Her Secretary of State (and spymaster), Sir Francis Walsingham handled both espionage and domestic security.  He had close ties with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, and his son-in-law was Sir Philip Sidney. Among his reported "intelligencers" were Christopher Marlowe and Giordano Bruno.  All but Marlowe play a role in this historical mystery.

The fictional version of Giordano Bruno finds himself recruited by Walsingham and is to accompany his friend Sir Philip Sidney to Oxford, ostensibly to take part in a debate, but also on a mission to uncover secret Catholics suspected of plotting treason.

Bruno finds himself trying to solve a gruesome murder that may or may not have to do with those involved in treason.  When another murder is discovered, Bruno is under even greater pressure to solve the mystery, stop the murderer, and prevent the treasonous plot.

If you are familiar with the characters and events of the time period, the sense of paranoia and fear of betrayal are even more palpable.  Those who have enjoyed the Matthew Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom will enjoy this novel that has made use of extensive research into the period, folding real events and real characters into a fictional mystery.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2010.  448 pages.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King

King, Laurie R.  The God of the Hive.

King's novels about Mary Russell have long been favorites, although I admit that The Language of Bees was less satisfactory than most.  All is now forgiven, because while King left us hanging in Bees, she made up for it in The God of the Hive.

After the events in the previous novel, Russell and Holmes are forced to separate: Holmes takes the wounded Damian Adler and ends up in Holland and Russell takes Estelle and begins working her way toward London.

King spends more time developing her characters in this novel and the two men who give their best efforts for Mary and Estelle are my favorites.  I really enjoyed Javits, the pilot from the previous novel, and new character, Robert Goodman, a charming, if slightly mad young man drawn in largely by the presence of the child, Estelle. Estelle's positive influence on both men and on Mary keeps things lively.

Mycroft has disappeared, adding another layer of mystery to the novel since Mycroft like Holmes is so remarkable in intellect that for events to overcome him...well, to say more would be to give too much away.

 Other Reviews:  Eva's at The Striped Armchair, Buried Under Books, ...

Fiction. Mystery.  2010.  368 pages.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

Parkhurst, Carolyn.  The Nobodies Album.

An unusual approach to a novel, but for me, ultimately successful.  Parkhurst's protagonist Octavia Frost is a novelist who has decided to re-write the endings to some of her previous novels.  Just as she is to deliver her manuscript to her publisher, she learns that her son has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.

Parkhurst's prose flows, pulling the reader into an almost poetic narration concerning Octavia's still very present grief over the deaths of her husband and daughter in the past, her concerns about the four year estrangement from her son, and her opportunity to possibly heal the breach by flying to San Francisco to be near him.

Octavia loves her son and has followed him through the press as his career as a rock star has risen, but doesn't know how to go about re-establishing their relationship.  Even her trip to stand by Milo amid the lurid publicity leaves her uncertain as to whether he will allow her presence in his life.

At first the interspersed chapters of original and revised endings to her novels were frustrating and uncomfortable, but  I found them less intrusive after a while and began to appreciate Octavia's need to revise her relationship with her son and to work through the grief over the loss of her husband and daughter in multiple ways, by first writing the novels and then by applying alternate endings.  Eventually, the frustration I experienced was that there just was too little in the snippets she included...I wanted more of those stories.

There is also an interesting discussion concerning whether or not an author should even consider changing a published novel.

 Beautifully written, imaginative and innovative, The Nobodies Album is complex and multi-layered:  a novel about grief, about self-reflection, about the way individuals search for meaning even where there is none, about the accidents of timing, and about redemption. 

another review:  raidergirl3

Fiction. 2010. 312 pages.

Village of the Ghost Bears

Jones, Stan J.  Village of the Ghost Bears.

 This novel caught my attention because of the cover, the title, and the fact that we have a nephew who works as a guide in Alaska.

Village is the 4th novel in Jones' series featuring State Trooper Nathan Active, but the first that I've read.

The descriptions of the landscape and village characters are excellent.  Jones has plenty of personal experience to draw on as an award-winning journalist and former bush pilot himself, and his love of the wilderness and its people and cultures is evident.

Nathan Active is an interesting character--a native of the small village where he is stationed, he was adopted and raised by a white family in Anchorage and still has some difficulties with the cultural differences.

There is a body discovered in an isolated, difficult to reach area that is initially assumed to be an accident; a fire at the rec center that kills 8 people including the police chief; illegal sales of bear gall bladders; a missing Korean who has recently been released from prison; a surviving twin whose sister comes to him in dreams; the possibility of Nathan's hoped for transfer back to Anchorage; a love affair...

I enjoyed the novel, more for the view of Alaskan life than for the mystery, but it is a series that is worth the time.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2009.  333 pages.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin

Theorin, Johan.  The Darkest Room.  (trans. by Marlaine Delargy)

Mystery and ghost story weave seamlessly with family tragedy and old secrets in this novel by Swedish author Johan Theorin. 

Joakim and Katrine Westin move their family to an old manor house on a small island off the coast of Sweden.  They begin a painstaking and loving restoration of the house; Katrine and the children remaining on the island while Joakim visits on weekends until completing his teaching assignment in Stockholm.  Finally able to join his family full time, his joy is short-lived when Katrin is discovered drowned.  Joakim, thrown into a spiral of despair, feels Katrine's presence and is a bit unnerved by his daughter's dreams in which she talks in her sleep about seeing Katrin.

There are many stories, past and present, tangling their way through the narrative, but each thread is gradually pulled into whole cloth with a deliberate and gradual revealing of the overall pattern.  And the frame?  The island itself, the ocean, the weather...wonderful atmosphere.

 Theorin's slow revelation of information is part of the quiet suspense and his skillful unveiling of connections among events in the past and present keep the reader curious and alert.

I especially liked the policewoman Tilda Davidsson and her grandfather's brother, Gerlof.  A novel with complex characters, the psychology of grief, suspense, criminals who consult a Ouija board, family secrets,  and subtle misdirection--The Darkest Room should keep you turning the pages into the night.

Other reviews:  Danielle's at  A Work in Progress, and here at It's a Crime! (Or a Mystery...)

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2009.  438 pages.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Second Half of the Year Has Begun

Finished the review of my last June book!

To be reviewed:

The Nobodies Album - Carolyn Parkhurst  (I liked both of these)
The Darkest Room - Johan Theorin

In progress:
The God of the Hive - Laurie R. King
Heresy - S.J. Parris

On deck: 
Walking to Gatlinburg - Howard Frank Mosher
Citizens of London: Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour - Lynne Olson (NF)
Echo Burning - Lee Child
Village of the Ghost Bears - Stan Jones
Hush - Kate White

How To Talks So Kids Will Listen... (by Faber & Mazlish)

Faber, Adele, and Elaine Mazlish.  How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

If you have kids, teach kids, or deal with them on a regular basis, this book has practical application for you.

I wish I'd had this when my kids were young and even when teaching seniors.  Down to earth advice, skills, and techniques for opening communication and improving behavior (on the part of both adult and child).

Highly recommended.

Nonfiction.  Parenting/Communication.  1999.  304 pages.