I was really up for this book as this is one of my favorite plots -- a current day individual solves a mystery from the past, with ghosts thrown in. A...moreI was really up for this book as this is one of my favorite plots -- a current day individual solves a mystery from the past, with ghosts thrown in. Add to that a great setting -- London -- and what could hold more promise?
The good stuff first. Beverly Swerling is a decent writer, her characters are emotionally consistent, she clearly has a good grasp of history and the academia surrounding it. Even the plot, though of course unrealistic and over-the-top, kept my interest, because unrealistic and over-the-top is what I expect in this sort of fiction.
Here is where it fell short: the characters felt cliched, and therefore flat. Annie Kendall, the heroine, is a spunky former alcoholic, eager to redeem her reputation by scoring a historical coup; but somehow she never emerged as a quirky, three dimensional and unpredictable individual. Her boyfriend was an absolute cliche of the romantic hero: a celebrated political talk show star, incredibly handsome and of course sensitive, witty, considerate, AND a great lover. His immediate interest in Annie, soon evolving into love, just didn't feel realistic in a guy who would have had women falling at his feet. And of course there was his spunky mother, another too-perfect character, the wise rabbi who assists them -- none of them sprang to life for me.
Most readers seemed to have preferred the portion of the book that takes place in the medieval era, but I found Dom Justin, the monk who gets involved in the Avignon pope conspiracy, unpleasant and sanctimonious at best. He succumbs once to the attractions of Rebecca, daughter of "The Jew of Holborn" and then spends all his time lashing himself, and her, for his lapse -- basically not caring that she is carrying his child, and protecting himself, as the "superior male" while she takes the risks and does the thinking.
The villain, or villains, are not adequately fleshed out, nor was the denouement the least scary to me, as I had no doubt but what Annie would defeat the bad guys handily and get her man, in the time honored fashion of this genre.
The challenge of a writer in this situation is to create characters sufficiently real that you forget what the rules of the genre dictate and let yourself get swept away in the moment. That never happened to me.
So an adequate, B- experience when it could have been an A.(less)
I love Y.S.Lee. She does such a good job with her characters and her era. She does such a good job of creating this female detective who could never h...moreI love Y.S.Lee. She does such a good job with her characters and her era. She does such a good job of creating this female detective who could never have existed in the real Victorian era, and making it perfectly plausible nevertheless. The mystery wasn't as good in this one as in the first, but I love the interplay between Mary and James and I just bowled along, thoroughly entertained.(less)
**spoiler alert** Found this one the weakest of the series because a lot of the time was spent with Sally not being able to figure out what was what,...more**spoiler alert** Found this one the weakest of the series because a lot of the time was spent with Sally not being able to figure out what was what, when it was as plain as the nose on her face. There was also a lot of proselytizing about the ills of Victorian society, including their treatment of the poor, which is interesting, but doesn't feel germane to the story. Sometimes I felt as if I was reading a tract for socialism rather than an adventure story. And the famous bad man of the first mystery doesn't fully emerge as the scary character he seemed in mystery number one. So, interesting, but definitely not a home run.(less)
**spoiler alert** I give this book credit for keeping me interested as I did chores and walked (I listened to it on my iPod.) It read a bit like a lat...more**spoiler alert** I give this book credit for keeping me interested as I did chores and walked (I listened to it on my iPod.) It read a bit like a latter day Agatha Christie (to whom the writer pays homage by having the protagonist read "Murder on the Links"). The action mostly takes place at a country Manor, with an array of characters offering themselves up as potential suspects. But whereas Christie's prose was economical, Speller tends to overwrite and drag scenes out unnecessarily, which makes for a less compelling read. Most importantly, the satisfying, startling "Ah Ha" ending was completely missing. Kitty Easton turns out to be alive, but in perfectly ordinary circumstances, instead of cleverly hidden right under our noses as I had expected. Christie would never have settled for that!
However, I did enjoy the various characters, the historical setting, and even the architecture (the detective is an architect) and I see that Speller has set up her next mystery to take place in Rome during the era of Mussolini. Despite myself, I'm intrigued, and may give it a whirl if the reviews are halfway decent.(less)
This is my kind of book -- a story in the present day that goes back into the past -- and "The Bone Garden" did not disappoint. The present day story...moreThis is my kind of book -- a story in the present day that goes back into the past -- and "The Bone Garden" did not disappoint. The present day story could have been a bit stronger, but the past one was gripping, filled with good characters, and incredibly real. (Too real, sometimes -- those descriptions of early medical practices were pretty stomach turning.) I won't talk plot, but I will say it revolves around medical students in Boston, one of whom is accused of being "The Reaper" -- a grim character who kills and defaces the bodies of his victims. There is a good love story and Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the supreme court justice, is one of the characters.
If you like this sort of book, I highly recommend it.(less)
While this wasn't my very favorite of Mark Mills's books, it was very enjoyable. As I surfed through other Goodreads comments, I came across many comp...moreWhile this wasn't my very favorite of Mark Mills's books, it was very enjoyable. As I surfed through other Goodreads comments, I came across many complaints of the story being too slow, which lowered its overall ratings. But the fact is that Mark Mills is not a pure action adventure writer, although there is both action and adventure in his stories; he is a creator of character, of personal growth, of mood, of texture and history, and that is why I will read one of his books anywhere, any time. Even the least of them appeals to me more than a "DaVinci Code" with its sensational goings-on but wooden characters. (Full disclosure: I couldn't get through DVC.)
I loved this story of Tom Nash, who thinks he has left his checkered past behind, and discovers it is still on his tail. I loved the depiction of an era between the two wars, and how Mills brings the old Riviera to life. I enjoyed the cast of characters, particularly Lucy, Tom's goddaughter. It kept me reading and engrossed from start to finish, and I felt I was among these characters in a very immediate way, which is the highest possible praise I can give a book.
I didn't mind the slower parts, because I was enjoying being there, and that's how life is – it's not all car chases and sex scenes. I can't wait for Mark Mills' next book.(less)
**spoiler alert** As is apparent from the number of stars, I had mixed feelings about this book. I started off ambivalent, then about a quarter of the...more**spoiler alert** As is apparent from the number of stars, I had mixed feelings about this book. I started off ambivalent, then about a quarter of the way through became extremely compelled, then was quite let down by the ending. I guess that having been raised on Agatha Christie, I'm used to the clever surprise ending, and this was resolved probably 20 pages before. And while I was mildly intrigued about the doings of the ghost, it certainly never frightened me, nor did the final confrontation between the heroine and the murderer have any suspense, since it is made plain from the beginning that she survives. There is no compelling romantic angle, and the heavy throughout most of the book is such a blatant red herring that she didn't add much intrigue to the story.
The writing was good, and the story for a while moved nicely, but endings in a mystery matter a lot, and this one was too much of a let-down.(less)
**spoiler alert** Sad to say, I was disappointed by this book. It seemed right up my alley – young people looking into a historical event with repercu...more**spoiler alert** Sad to say, I was disappointed by this book. It seemed right up my alley – young people looking into a historical event with repercussions in the present, a trip to Prague, old manuscripts, history, romance, derring-do. Yet like a lot of people, I enjoyed the first part and found the second part, when you would expect the action to rise to a crescendo of unbearable excitement, tedious.
Maybe it's because Wasserman has a tendency to stop the forward thrust of the action with a summation of the action ahead: "Prague, as it turned out, had only one "greatest Rabbi"." "When we got to the hostel, they were waiting. I was waiting too, for the accusations to start, but as soon as I saw them together, heads tilted toward each other, my urge to apologize evaporated…" "Dinner was Max's idea. Later, that seem to matter." Instead of letting us experience the thrill of discovery, she tells us in advance, surrounds it up with a lot of inner musing, and kills the immediacy and suspense. Why? So much plot that she HAS to summarize? Not sure, but it didn't work for me.
And there was also the fact that I way-too-early grasped several plot twists that weren't "revealed" until much later, and certainly not tumbled to by the protagonist, who seemed uncharacteristically dim in part two. *Spoiler alert*. It was clear from the moment Eli came into the picture that Wasserman was setting up a second romantic protagonist because boyfriend #1 was bad news. But unfortunately, I had already bonded to the first boyfriend and kind of resented having to re-adjust my partiality. If boyfriend #1 had been set up as imperfect, I would have eagerly welcomed an alternative, but as it was I was taken aback and annoyed. Plus, when he showed his true colors, it didn't come as any sort of surprise.
Finally, the fact that it seemed way too complicated and went on for way too long. The many times when the two couples got separated, thus allowing the main couple to have adventures separately, seemed clunky and labored.
Too bad. Wasserman is actually a good writer and even a good creator of characters. She just used some odd stylistic techniques, and I really didn't care about "what was at stake" only of finding out whether boyfriend #1 (who I had liked, with his shyness and his glasses) was actually the snake I suspected. I'll give her a try again, and may discover that this effort was an aberration and that her other novels are much better constructed.
Oh, I'm afraid I have one last complaint. Even on the edge of death, the characters are quipping at each other. That really cuts into the fear factor, as far as I'm concerned.(less)
The first half was a bit slow, mostly concerned with Lysander Rief's dalliances in pre- World War I Vienna, but the second half really picked up the p...moreThe first half was a bit slow, mostly concerned with Lysander Rief's dalliances in pre- World War I Vienna, but the second half really picked up the pace and was entertaining to the end. Furthermore, in part two you realize that all the previous events, which seemed a bit frivolous at the time, are in fact part of a carefully assembled spiderweb which will diabolically close in on the main character once the action really starts.
As for characters: sometimes I found Lysander a bit puzzling, a bit cold, and yet, -- such is the talent of William Boyd -- I always felt WITH him. He was a character whose company I enjoyed. Often, I think of reading books as going on a journey with an assemblage of strangers -- if, once you get to know them, you can relate to them and grow to care about them, the journey is enjoyable. If the characters are wooden or inconsistent (the mark of a bad psychologist author) you simply stop believing in their reality and the whole journey/story, even if clever or action packed, becomes a bore.
I really enjoyed "Restless", the William Boyd novel that is about spying in World War II, so when I saw he had written another historical spy novel I bought it in hardback immediately. And I'm glad I did. Liked it even more than "Restless".
Part of the theme is the mystical, magical, diaphanous, confusing nature of life -- see "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" -- where what is reality and what is falsity sometimes collide in an imbroglio of mistakes, deceptions and random coincidences. So I wish I could finish this review with some pithy excerpt from said play -- but alas, that will have to wait til I reread it.(less)
I enjoyed this a lot. The period atmosphere and details felt right, I liked the main character and related to him and his situation. The mystery kept...moreI enjoyed this a lot. The period atmosphere and details felt right, I liked the main character and related to him and his situation. The mystery kept me reading and the ending was satisfactory. There were a few details about the ending that didn't fully “gell” in my estimation, but on the whole the book worked, was well written, and I would read this author again.(less)
I listened to this on Audible and it kept me reasonably entertained as I was making dinner or exercising, but it definitely did not meet the highest s...moreI listened to this on Audible and it kept me reasonably entertained as I was making dinner or exercising, but it definitely did not meet the highest standard of being a book I would pick up to read while doing nothing else.
It had a curiously slow-paced, soporific quality. The protagonist, a sixty-year old widower still grieving for his dead wife, returns to England after a successful career as a scorer of films in Hollywood, where he buys the inevitably old haunted house and becomes enmeshed in the mystery of its previous occupant, a woman who was hanged for the murder of her husband. But even though Chris (the protagonist) constantly tells us how obsessed he is with the alleged murderess, Grace Fox, he doesn't make us FEEL that obsession. Nor did he convince me of his passion for his dead wife. He constantly repeats how much he misses her, but he spends way too much time lovingly describing every bottle of beer or wine he consumes, every meal he eats, and every CD he listens to, to convince me that his heart is inconsolably captive of the past. (Not to mention that he quickly becomes involved with a local realtor, though this affair adds virtually nothing to the story.)
I love ghost stories (this one flirted with the supernatural, but only in a glancing way) and novels that deal with historical connections to the past. So this book should have been right up my alley. But the complete lack of anything really at stake, either practically or emotionally, made for an unrewarding experience. At best, I was intrigued by the mystery, and fairly satisfied by the resolution. But it was more the satisfaction at successfully completing a crossword puzzle than the deep emotional experience that a first class novel evokes. (less)
As I'm not a fan of horror, this is my first Stephen King (wait a minute, take that back, I did read his book on writing). I enjoyed it very much. It...moreAs I'm not a fan of horror, this is my first Stephen King (wait a minute, take that back, I did read his book on writing). I enjoyed it very much. It was a little long, but since I listen to almost all my books on CDs or iPod, I was able to “read” it while doing other things like cooking dinner or exercising, and I just settled in for a long entertaining ride. I love time travel and anything to do with history, so I enjoyed it on that level as well. And, of course, Stephen King is a wonderful writer and psychologizer, so while his characters were sometimes a little too perfect I always felt they were real. By the end, I felt I had gone on a long journey with good friends, and enjoyed their company (and the trip) thoroughly.
One small thing did stick in my craw: King's protagonist is a high school English teacher who corrects his students' grammar, so I was startled that he said (or wrote): “Where is it at?” and “Where I am going to” on a couple of occasions. Many people use this construction instead of the correct one, which is “Where is it?” and “Where I am going” without any need for the superfluous preposition at the end, but I would've thought that an expert writer like King would have avoided this pitfall. Sorry to be such a Henry Higgins about it, but I can't help thinking about all the people who will read this book and be confirmed in their incorrect usage.(less)