I picked up BITTERSWEET because it had gotten so much media attention that I couldn't avoid it. As someone who loves a good Gothic read of any kind, II picked up BITTERSWEET because it had gotten so much media attention that I couldn't avoid it. As someone who loves a good Gothic read of any kind, I was really looking forward to this book. It seemed to have everything: wealthy creepy family, gorgeous lakeside setting, a dumpy heroine looking for love in all the wrong places. I read it straight through in two days, so kudos to the author for keeping my interest—there are plenty of plot twists and enough sex to keep you turning pages. However, the writing is overwrought—a stylistic thing, perhaps—and, by the time I finished this book, I regretted the time spent on it. The plot twists are completely improbable (and yet predictable), there were a lot of sluggish paragraphs, and the characters—without exception—were completely annoying. ...more
This hair-raising book centers on Nora Hamilton, the wife of a cop whose world is turned upside down when her husband commits suicide. It soon becomesThis hair-raising book centers on Nora Hamilton, the wife of a cop whose world is turned upside down when her husband commits suicide. It soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems, and this book, with its fantastic descriptions of small-town life in the Adirondacks and tense emotions, grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Milchman's muscular prose delivers psychological terror, creepy side characters, and amazingly beautiful (if grim) descriptions of the landscape. ...more
This book made me laugh hard enough to wake my poor sleeping husband beside me in bed. You think your family is dysfunctional? Check out the Posts, whThis book made me laugh hard enough to wake my poor sleeping husband beside me in bed. You think your family is dysfunctional? Check out the Posts, who take a vacation with their adult children and friends to the island of Mallorca, Spain. There is lust and fighting aplenty, yet somehow Straub manages to make every one of her characters 3D and sympathetic. Plus, she has some extremely wise, tender observations about love, family, and friendships to share along the way....more
I've always liked Anna Quindlen for her heartfelt emotions, crisp writing, and the way she writes about topical issues (domestic violence, for instancI've always liked Anna Quindlen for her heartfelt emotions, crisp writing, and the way she writes about topical issues (domestic violence, for instance) without seeming to hit you over the head with the themes. I wanted to love this book, since the themes and bones of the story are good—they deal with a woman artist who is sixty years old and believes her best years are behind her, only to discover, as she spends time alone in a cabin in the woods, that it is, indeed, possible to reinvent yourself—as well as the nature of art and how that defines you when you succeed (or fail). However, much of the writing and story felt underdeveloped to me, and the May-December romance with the hunky roofer just feels tacked on to keep female readers happy. ...more
Since we have a summer house in Canada, I've been searching high and low for great reads set in Canada. This is one of my favorites. WHITE HEAT, set oSince we have a summer house in Canada, I've been searching high and low for great reads set in Canada. This is one of my favorites. WHITE HEAT, set on Canada's Ellesmere Island in the Arctic circle, is the first novel in a series featuring hunter, tourist guide, and sometimes-detective Edie Kiglatuk, a half-Inuit woman. In this novel, she's drawn into solving a mystery revolving around the death of her stepson and two tourists. The book is rich with geological and cultural details that are as gripping as the mystery itself, such as when our heroine downs a bowl of seal blood or stands still as lemmings race over her feet. ...more
I was fascinated by Linn Ullmann's novel and looked forward to being transported into her world every time I sat down to resume reading The Cold Song,I was fascinated by Linn Ullmann's novel and looked forward to being transported into her world every time I sat down to resume reading The Cold Song, but not for the usual reasons you might read a mystery. Yes, there is a murder here, but it's nearly a secondary subplot. The real thrumming tension in this book comes from the family dynamics. Ullmann presents a family's breakdown better than almost any other contemporary literary writer, with real shadows of grief and some supremely dark humor in this book that reminded me a lot of early John Updike. As an added plus for me as a writer, there were probably the best descriptions of a writer suffering extreme writer's block that I've stumbled across anywhere. She's also a master of point-of-view shifts, even granting the dog his say for some comic moments, and you know what? I bought right into that perspective and I usually detest talking animals in novels. I can't even hate Ullmann for being beautiful, because her writing is so brilliant....more
This is one of the most unique novels I've read in years. Within the first few pages, I was so quickly engaged in the lives of these characters that IThis is one of the most unique novels I've read in years. Within the first few pages, I was so quickly engaged in the lives of these characters that I laughed aloud while reading and woke my husband, then woke him again when I started sniffing and weeping later in the book. This deceptively simple novel is written with heart and generosity for even the most flawed characters (like the boyfriend who obsesses about starting a teacup museum, of all things). You'll be left wanting to dance, and maybe even feeling like you want to open your arms to forgive even the most churlish, petty people you've been mad at for years. THE OPPOSITE OF MAYBE is marketed as women's fiction, but it's the best kind of universal literature, with wit, depth, and a refreshingly humorous perspective on what it means to be human and pursue passion with joy and determination....more
Susan Hill is a fascinating writer because she pushes the traditional genre boundaries no matter what she's writing. Her famous ghost story, THE WOMANSusan Hill is a fascinating writer because she pushes the traditional genre boundaries no matter what she's writing. Her famous ghost story, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, for instance, seems like your typical Gothic horror tale, but she forgoes all of the usual tricks of the trade and somehow manages to creep you out with the sheer beauty of her language and the restrained yet powerful emotional writing. Likewise, THE BETRAYAL OF TRUST, the sixth novel in her detective series featuring Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler and the tiny (but murder-ridden) town of Lafferton, England, seems to be about solving the identities and possible murders of two bodies uncovered during flash floods that expose a shallow grave, but it's about much, much more than that: grief; forbidden love of all kinds; parenting; and the ethics of assisted suicide, just for starters. This is a series that you really need to read in order, if only to keep track of the main characters and what has brought them all to this point of emotional conflict in their lives, but it's well worth your time. In many ways, Hill's mysteries are even more haunting than her ghost stories....more
What is it that makes Lucie Whitehouse novels so addictive? Like many British writers penning literary Gothic romances or thrillers, Whitehouse is wilWhat is it that makes Lucie Whitehouse novels so addictive? Like many British writers penning literary Gothic romances or thrillers, Whitehouse is wildly successful at causing that tingle up your spine right from the first chapter and continuing to build that sense of impending danger, or even doom for the main character as the book progresses, until you're reading late into the night with wide eyes and a dry mouth. She really makes you feel the fear. Take a look at this description of Kate, the main character in The Bed I Made, when she realizes danger is near:
“There was a strange buzzing in my ears, as if I were wearing ear-plugs, muffling out the world and hearing the working of my own brain instead. Everything felt distant, slightly too bright, liable to start spinning at any moment.”
Even more spectacularly, Whitehouse does this with an attention to language that is rare among ordinary thriller writers—well, rare among us lowbrow Americans, anyway—spinning up mists on navy blue rivers, alleyways paved with mossy stones, sea foaming on beaches “like airy egg whites,” and shrubbery rustling with strange noises. Even the swans seem dangerous:
“A pair of swans swam up, their legs powerful beneath the surface. I watched as they arched their long smooth necks to dip their beaks into the water, their feathers white as angels' wings, their black eyes assessing.”
I love that juxtaposition of language between angel wings and assessing black eyes—wow! I would read any novel Whitehouse wrote just for the language alone.
So why did I give this novel four stars instead of five? Because it has one near-fatal flaw: the heroine never once thinks to actually protect herself from the person who has put her in danger. I don't want to offer any spoilers here, but let's just say there are several instances in the novel where I thought, “Oh, come on. You're just going to stay in that place by yourself at night?” or, “Really? You're STILL not going to call the cops or tell your best friend what the hell is going on?” It's kind of like watching those horror movies where the ditzy blond babysitter goes down those basement stairs even though she knows damn well the guy with the saw or the vampire or whatever is down there.
But, having said that, I would also say this: Whitehouse's new novel, which has some similarities in character and plot, has a heroine who does not do that, and I don't care anyway. I'll read any novel she writes just for the thrill of being on her foggy headlands or in her boggy swamps, feeling someone breathing down my neck....more
I've been hooked on the Ruth Galloway series from the start. Elly Griffiths does a terrific job of following the conventions of cozy mystery novels, tI've been hooked on the Ruth Galloway series from the start. Elly Griffiths does a terrific job of following the conventions of cozy mystery novels, then breaking them one by one. There is the heroine who has a skills set in her own right (an archeologist, in this case), a wonderfully moody English setting, a DCI love interest well respected in the force who does things his own way, and a cast of secondary characters that could easily populate a BBC mystery series. I have especially enjoyed the combination of history/archeology lessons and mystical/spiritual beliefs peppered throughout each novel, with a certain Druid character really stealing my heart. I think it's great that Ruth evolves through the series, too, moving from a spinsterish academic to a single mom willing to go to great lengths to give her daughter the perfect childhood, at the risk of sleepless nights and having to withstand hours of repetitive Dora the Explorer books, and I admire the way Galloway has the characters in the main triangle (Ruth, DCI Nelson, and Nelson's stoic wife) conduct themselves with the code of civility you would hope (but possibly not expect) most people would follow in that situation.
Having said all that, however, there is a flaw in these novels, and it's this: they often take 100 pages or so to ramp up, because Griffiths is so busy trying to convey the plots of all of the past novels to new readers who have possibly picked up books out of sequence. She should take a look at Louise Penny's Canadian series--Penny trusts the reader to intuit necessary information in context or to go back and read the darn books she missed to catch up. This particular book was great after that first 100 pages, though the ending was a bit of a TV twist I could have done without....more
Since I'm a writer, I hate posting negative reviews almost as much as I hate receiving them. But I'm just hoping to join in the conversation here andSince I'm a writer, I hate posting negative reviews almost as much as I hate receiving them. But I'm just hoping to join in the conversation here and say, "What the hell happened?" As I was reading Elizabeth George's newest tome, Just One Evil Act, I found myself wanting to not only converse with her, but possibly shout at her, too.
I've been a loyal George fan through the years, buying every one of her novels in hardcover (and, occasionally, as digital books, too, when a book is too heavy to take on a trip and I want to finish it on vacation). Sadly, this book did not deliver. In fact, it made me furious. The Italian setting should have been a point in its favor, but instead George ladles out so many unnecessary details about the Italian setting and sprinkles so many (untranslated) Italian phrases throughout the novel, that frankly it reads like a research paper, and not a very interesting one at that. Lynley passes through the novel like a sleepwalker, Havers can't stop herself from staining her clothes, and I frankly couldn't buy into the weak plot line. I ended up skimming about a hundred pages.
"How can you do this to me?" I hissed in frustration as my husband came upstairs to bed.
"What?" he asked, baffled. "I told you I'd do the dishes, and I did."
I scowled at him. "Not you. Her." I jabbed a finger at the author photo of Elizabeth George. The book was so heavy I had to hold it on my lap on a pillow. "I don't even care what happens to any of these people anymore. I'm just bored!"
If you're a hard core George fan and feel you must read this, do yourself a favor and get it from the library. Save your money for something better....more