An elegant and literary whodunit, set against the backdrop of China’s brutal crushing of Tibetan society aOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
An elegant and literary whodunit, set against the backdrop of China’s brutal crushing of Tibetan society and beliefs.
Description: Shan used to be a police inspector in Beijing, but was imprisoned in a remote Tibetan jail after he ran afoul of a powerful figure in the Chinese Government. After being unofficially released, he has to remain in Tibet without status or official identity, unable to return home to Beijing. He now lives among outlawed Buddhist monks, who he comes to admire and love.
While doing menial work as an inspector of irrigation and sewer ditches, he comes across a horrific crime scene, two unidentified men and a Tibetan nun murdered and displayed in a strange tableau in the grounds on an old Buddhist temple. Unable to prevent himself from getting involved, he soon realizes that the Chinese police seem more intent on covering up facts rather than solving the crime.
When the evidence leads Shan to a new internment camp for Tibetan dissidents, he finds himself in grave danger. While trying to find justice for the victims, he now has to navigate between the people running the camp, a local criminal gang, various different Chinese police and army factions, and the Chinese governments’ rabid pacification teams who are trying to stamp out local Tibetan customs and belief systems.
John’s thoughts: This was a very good read, a combination of a complex and interesting whodunit and a damning indictment of China’s treatment of Tibet and its people. Set in the remote and beautiful Tibetan countryside, you also get to learn a lot about Tibet’s traditional and gentle Buddhist communities.
The book is filled with many complex and interesting characters, starting with Shan himself who is torn between his personal beliefs, seeking justice, protecting his new-found Tibetan friends and trying not to endanger his imprisoned son. Among others featured in the story are peaceful monks, one of whom mysteriously commits suicide, Chinese intellectuals who have been banished to Tibet, and a Chinese Lieutenant who starts to help Shan despite the dangers involved.
The plot twists and turns and you cannot see how things are going to develop; though if I do have one small grumble about the book, the ending is almost too neat. But I’m being a bit churlish – this is a good read and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes complex whodunits and/or anyone with an interest in Tibet and what is happening to the beleaguered country. I’d rate this book four stars. ...more
A literary mystery novel set around the death of a local teenager.
Description: Vivian and Nowell Gardiner are young and recently married when Nowell’s grandmother passes away and they inherit her home in the country. When a local girl is found dead in the woods near their new home, the mystery begins. Naturally the newlyweds Nowell and Vivian are shocked, but each has their own self-involved concerns about their own lives, which is what the story is mainly about.
The author carries us through their trials as the couple question the shocking death and try to sort out their home for future sale. And as a matter of course suspicions and self reflection abound within both the main characters and the community – was it murder or was the death an accident?
Thoughts: Now for the good and the not so good. The author has great story telling skills so that I was immediately drawn in and captured; and I love atmospheric thrillers which is what I was expecting when starting to read The Qualities of Wood. However, what caught me off guard was the “literary factor”. Yep the book is literary fiction. Not that I don’t like literary fiction, but this book takes it a bit beyond what I enjoy. It goes on and on with endless descriptions and more. I was not in the mood for long explanations of the feelings of the main characters, especially in the last third of the book. I wanted some escalation, tension, and then some well-deserved resolution. By the time the conclusion was finally divulged, I had skipped A LOT. Sadly, it had started out so promising. Now of course I did read the ARC version of the book so hopefully some of the more tedious parts were edited out.
I don’t usually post reviews for books that I find disappointing but I wanted to warn other potential readers who perhaps may be caught off-guard, like I was. And although I did not enjoy the entire book, I am sure there are readers that will. So I would recommend it for readers who like dark literary fiction with a reminder that this story only finishes successfully at the very VERY end of the book. It was a bit frustrating and disappointing for me so I’d rate the book 2.5 stars. It was okay. ...more
A complex literary crime novel, based in 19th century France and revolving around the life, death and relationships of controversial poet Charles Baudelaire.
Description: It is 1870 and the Franco-Prussian war is not going well for France – the Prussians are advancing on Paris while many of the French population are close to starving. The aristocracy behaves as if nothing is wrong and seems oblivious to the plight of the working classes; the French capital becomes a hotbed of discontent. Against this backdrop, a man is murdered in a brothel and Commissioner Lefèvre is called in to investigate. Lefèvre, who has a colorful past including a bloody stint in the French army, is himself no stranger to the Parisian brothels.
The Commissioner, who is a lover of poetry, finds on the body a handwritten verse from a poem by Charles Baudelaire which appears to have been written by the poet himself, though Baudelaire has been dead for some time now. Lefèvre and his right-hand man, Inspector Bouveroux, are soon embroiled in a series of grisly murders that all seem to point to the dead poet or to someone who must have been very close to him. As Paris is drawn ever closer to anarchy and chaos and the two policemen seek clues in the darkest corners of the capital, they find themselves in grave danger.
John’s thoughts: This is a clever story with an unusual plot and a cast of complex and well-developed characters. It keeps you guessing right up to the last page and in truth it still had me scratching my head long after I’d read the last page. A simple and easy read it is not.
In reading the book I learnt quite a bit about 19th century French history and also about French literature of that period – the former interested me a lot, the latter not so much. This is a reflection on me rather than the novel, as poetry and most of the associated literary circles leave me rather cold. Consequently I did find the first half of the novel slightly heavy going and had difficulty reading more than 20 pages at a time, but once I got beyond that things went much more smoothly and overall I did enjoy the read.
Putting the historical and literary connections to one side, this is actually a smart and extremely dark crime novel. You get to visit the underbelly of society and meet some gloriously twisted characters. This is not a simple whodunit.
If you like dark historical crime novels with a literary twist then you will love this book - I am sure that many reviewers will rave over it. It didn’t quite hit the mark for me personally but I’d still rate it 3.5 stars. And I do find that my mind keeps wandering back to the story which says a lot for it (the book that is, not my mind!) ...more
The second in an atmospheric murder mystery set on the coast of rural Scotland. It has a strong female leOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
The second in an atmospheric murder mystery set on the coast of rural Scotland. It has a strong female lead and can be read as a standalone. I would, however, recommend reading the first in the series- Cold in the Earth, - since it adds character depth.
Shellie’s description: Set in a farming and seaside community in Scotland, Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming and her family have almost overcome the devastating foot and mouth incident which occurred in the first and previous novel of this series, Cold in the Earth. When the community's local rescue boat with its three volunteers crashes on the rocks during a messy storm, it takes all the lives on board. The community is once again devastated. Things become more complicated when another detective determines that the boat was perhaps led into the wrong harbor (a rocky and dangerous bay that is off limits to boats) determining that it may have been planned. It turns what was thought to be a horrible accident into a murder investigation.
Then another life is taken and it becomes apparent that a serial murderer is on the loose. With a variety of suspects it takes the entire local police team to figure out who the unlikely killer is.
Shellie’s thoughts: After reading this second in the series, I’ve decided that I liked this novel enough that I will attempt to read the other 5 books in the series. It has a variety of great elements that I think are entertaining - a strong female lead, excellent setting, a variety of interesting supporting characters, psychological insight into a criminal mind, a twisty plot, and intelligent writing that flows - excepting the Scottish colloquialisms, which can be interesting, charming, or impossible to understand for an American (not necessarily a bad thing!)
And even though the first book in the series was somewhat predictable, The Darkness and the Deep is not, which is important in a mystery. It does have the psychological profiling which was used in the first book, as well as its in-depth character development. My favorite part is it’s such a great setting for a vicarious trip to rural Scotland.
Like the first novel in the series, I dug right in and kept on reading until I was finished, which says a lot. Since this second book is an enjoyable page turner too, I will now consider the series a go-to book when looking for a guaranteed pleasurable read. And what a great deal. Witness Impulse is re-publishing this mystery series in ebook format for an amazing price of $2.99 - otherwise this series would not be available in the US. If you enjoy international crime fiction this is an excellent option. I’m rating the book 4 stars....more
An atmospheric mystery with a moody setting that questions the connections behind a missing mother and aOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
An atmospheric mystery with a moody setting that questions the connections behind a missing mother and a murder.
Description: Set in the Ozark mountains, the story starts with a local photographer discovering the mutilated body of a mentally disabled young women at the base of a tree. Just eighteen years old, Cheri’s death disturbs the small close-knit community and particularly Lucy, who was a friend to Cheri and whose mother had gone missing when she was a small child. In the back of Lucy’s mind she cannot help but connect the two losses and becomes determined to find out more about both. What this determined young woman finds is disturbing and unexpected.
A convoluted, dark, coming-of-age story that is told in alternating chapters from the main character Lucy and her mother Lila, while also bringing in the perspective of the other key characters from the story as the book progresses. It unfolds piece by piece, slowly revealing what happened, with a shocking ending that questions the strength of the bonds between family members.
Shellie’s thoughts: The story has the perfect setting for a thrilling read. It’s a place with forested land and a large cave with a dangerous passageway that plays a significant part in the story. The small close-knit community that does not take well to strangers also contributes to the isolation and dark feeling that pervades the novel.
An excellent and accessible read with writing that flows, this is for the reader who likes thrilling stories that keep you guessing and engaged. It’s for readers who enjoy realistic settings since it does not contain any paranormal elements. And it’s definitely for fans of horror, as it has violent scenes as well as a variety of other mature themes. So it’s not for sensitive readers. And if you enjoy themes that highlights human darkness then this will be a great book for you.
Conversely, there is a small amount of romance which lightens the story a tad. And with it’s spunky 17 year old main character it will appeal to readers who like feisty female leads. The story will speak to women in particular since most of the main characters are female and it also addresses women’s issues. But I think many men will enjoy it too. This is a recommended read and a great debut from a promising new author who is one to watch out for. Highly recommended at 4 stars....more
An exciting young adult novel that has elements of horror, myth, and the paranormal.
Description: When fifteen year old Daniel finds a seemingly lifeless body on the shore of his island home, he feels that something is not right with the man John Dee (as the locals name him since he does not remember who he is). When the entire town appears to side with this newcomer and Daniel is treated as an acting-out teenager, things get a little sticky. Daniel decides it’s up to him save the town’s folk from this stranger - a man who is not as he appears to be.
With elements of horror and a mythological ending that’s a great surprise, this story will have readers sitting on the edge of their chair until the conclusion.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a terrific slowly escalating thriller that readers who love scary books will devour. I know I did. And it’s a perfect read to take in on one sitting. At 162 pages, for some readers it will only take a few hours. It’s a small and thin soft bound book with a cover that I think is exceptional and represents the story very well; which will also increase its appeal to younger readers. I would say that the author knows his craft, creating this “clean” literary thriller that will be just as great for teens as for adults.
It has a great setting that the reader will love – an island somewhere in the UK. It’s a small coastal town that helps create a feeling of being stranded, which is a key element in the story for Daniel as he is the only person to believe that the rainbow man is not who he leads everyone to believe.
Recommended for lovers of horror and books with paranormal or mythological twists. Also recommended to audio book listeners since it’s just as great of a book in its audio version, with its UK accented reader. Highly recommended at 4 stars. ...more
Quick take: A complex and fantastical historical mystery and romance set in a make-beliOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
Quick take: A complex and fantastical historical mystery and romance set in a make-believe gas-lit Portugal. It contains dark magic, mermaids and Selkies.
Description: Oriana Paredes is a spy. She is also a maid for a local female Aristocrat in The Golden City, which is located in Portugal during the very early 1900’s. She is a “Sereia”, a siren or mermaid of sorts, which she hides from almost everyone since her species has been banned from the city by the current King.
When Oriana finds herself sinking, upside down, in the city’s river inside a room-sized-box with her human employer, she is understandably the only one who manages to survive. She realizes that there is fowl play and perhaps something a bit more sinister and magical, so she becomes determined to find the killer of her employer and friend.
She also begins to realize that the murderer may have killed others too, since the room-sized-box is not the only one anchored in the city’s river waters; there is in fact an installation of them. They are a miniature replica of the Aristocratic houses of The Golden City, placed there as an underwater art show in a representation called The City Under the Sea.
Shellie’s thoughts: I enjoyed this novel – quite a lot actually. It’s a great first effort for the author since it has a complex plot, an intriguing mystery, and good romantic tension, so it keeps the reader interested and moving along. The author has an intelligent and detailed writing style which makes the novel thought provoking. All these are elements always welcome in a good story.
I liked that the story is also set in a familiar world, so it’s easier to read than some fantasies where the location and character names can be vastly different than what we are accustomed to. It’s also easier to sink into this almost realistic world because of its well-known paranormal creatures – water-related beings such as Sereia, Selkies and water Nymphs. All the above are nice aspects for a first novel.
However, I had issues with some of the editing. The story left me with a number of dangling questions about some of the author’s mythology around the fantastical creatures - especially the Selkies. I also had an issue around the uses of the names “The Golden City” and “The City Under the Sea”; both are so similar and became confusing. Lastly, I found myself rereading a number of sentences that did not make complete sense. I generally take responsibility for confusions such as this, however, it happened often enough that I was forced to take note. Regardless, I ended up ignoring and skipping over these parts so that the flow and enjoyment of the story would continue.
I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fantasy, and those who enjoy steampunk (it’s set during the gaslamp era), readers who like mermaids or Selkies, dark magic, or paranormal romance. I will definitely read the next book in the series since I would like to know what happens to the characters and still have questions about the Selkie and Sereia mythology. All in all I rate this debut novel a 3.5 star. A good first effort and start to a series. ...more
An apocalyptic horror/thriller that has a parasitic insect at the core of the story.
Description: Trey Gilliard is a loner, a researcher who prefers his forays into the wilderness more than relationships. When the story opens he’s working for ITC – International Conservation Trust – in Senegal, West Africa. The horror begins when Trey hears screams and follows a trail of blood leading him to a local clinic.
He finds an examination room, where a local doctor and his headstrong daughter are guarding a dead soldier. The soldier’s midsection is a mass of shredded fabric and flesh. Although desperate to know what is happening, Trey is refused any information by the doctor and escorted out of the building. Later when informed by ITC that he’s no longer welcome in the area and told he must immediately report to Dakar, a city many miles away, Trey begins to believe that his encounter with the body must be the cause.
A man never to follow orders, Trey does the opposite and drives directly to an area in the local forest that caught his attention on his latest plane trip over the forest canopy, where he noticed unusual deforestation. He suspects that this may be the key to the apparent cover-up. There he has his first encounter with the bug.
With a heart-raising pace Trey and his team try to find other clues to this intelligent insect and what appears to be a grand global cover-up to a dangerous and world-altering threat.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a well thought out and easy to follow read. It has great pacing and an interesting parasitic insect that will frighten most readers. It’s entertaining and is one of those nice small paperbacks with decent sized print that’s easy to read and carry, especially if you’re traveling. It fit easily into my carry-on bag and was easy to pick up and start reading where I left off.
I particularly liked that the story has some interesting science and has an in-depth take on what constitutes the concept of the insect hive-mind. So if you like biological thrillers with environmental themes and science fiction, this will probably interest you. Since it’s mostly action based with light gore and ends hopefully, the book will also intrigue readers looking for thrillers or mild horror.
My only quibble is that I did not get enough of the invasion. There just wasn’t enough information detailing the spread of the insect. It felt like the bug propagated all over the world in a matter of months, which felt unrealistic to me. But since I love science-based fiction and horror I enjoyed Invasive Species. A lot actually, so it comes recommended at 3.5 stars. ...more
Shellie’s quick take:The first in a contemporary murder mystery series set in the Scottish countryside.Original review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take:The first in a contemporary murder mystery series set in the Scottish countryside. It’s a dark atmospheric thriller that has a family-oriented and strong female lead, a psychopath, and a psychologist as the main characters.
Shellie’s description: Detective Marjory Fleming lives with her husband and two children on a farm in the Scottish countryside - where the green hills are dotted with sheep, the weather is harsh, everyone knows each other, and the local population’s loyalties to each other run deep. She also works with a volatile yet handsome detective whose family has raised prize-winning bulls for generations and who has connections with bull running in Spain, which is a key theme for the book.
When a case of foot and mouth disease is diagnosed in a nearby farm, the connected villages are in an uproar since entire herds of animals may be destroyed, potentially devastating the locals – both economically and emotionally. Things get even more complex when a body is found in the field of a prize-winning and killer bull, and Marjory is faced with her first murder investigation.
Shellie’s thoughts: Originally published in the UK in 2005 and just released in the US this year, I read the book in its unedited North American version. I found that there was a large number of colloquialisms peculiar to Scotland and the UK which may be edited out for American readers. Not knowing how much has been changed, it’s probably safe to say that this may cause a slight bit of a reading flow issue for those of us who are not familiar with the language of the Scottish. However, it’s interesting and entertaining and I think this adds to its appeal – giving the reader a mini-trip (albeit in wintertime) to the UK countryside.
The characters are well developed and I particularly appreciated the story including two interesting characters other than Marjory Fleming - one a psychologist and the other a psychopath. With these two characters the story leads the reader into some in-depth psychological examinations creating a more complex and entertaining plot. In the end the only negative thing I can say about the book is that the story line was ever-so-slightly predictable.
A great read if you enjoy mysteries set within another country (especially Scotland) and also for those who enjoy strong female main characters, antagonists who have no conscience, and in-depth psychological insight. I would rate it 3.5 stars and will definitely be looking forward to reading the other books in this series....more