This is one of the few books that I would truly say is awful, and one of the very few that I couldn’t stick with in hopes that it would get better. I...moreThis is one of the few books that I would truly say is awful, and one of the very few that I couldn’t stick with in hopes that it would get better. I couldn’t finish the thing.
The book sounds like it could be a good political page turner. Jaspar Moran, wife of the Secretary of the Treasury, lives an idyllic existence. Large estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. Two perfect children. Rich. Talented. What more could a person ask for? Her world is shattered when her husband’s flight crashes in the Artic and her children disappear the same night. A strange message hints that the president’s economic plan is at the center, and threatens the death of her children if Jaspar talks to anyone about her husband’s work. Sounds like a pretty good plot line, right? Well, the story goes downhill from there.
Jaspar’s character becomes completely unbelievable, as are most of the other characters. The plot scenes are lifted from Batman Begins and Dan Brown’s Inferno as it hops from Connecticut to Thailand to Florence, to Oklahoma. The further the book progresses, the more ridiculous it becomes. I kept picking it up again, thinking that it had to get better. I was wrong on that. If you have anything else to read, I wouldn’t bother with this one. (less)
I have loved the 1950s highland series featuring aspiring journalist Joann Ross since A.D. Scott premiered with A Small Death in the Great Glen. The a...moreI have loved the 1950s highland series featuring aspiring journalist Joann Ross since A.D. Scott premiered with A Small Death in the Great Glen. The authenticity of the characters, their developing stories, and the language have continued as the series has developed. When I had the opportunity to read a preview copy of The Low Road, the fifth in the series, I was excited to see where the story would pick up. Rather than continuing the focus on Joanna after her traumatic experiences of the previous book, Scott sifted the story to develop the backstory and character of editor, John McAllister. At the request of Jennie McPhee, the matriarch of a local clan of travelers, McAllister travels to Glasgow and the neighborhoods of his youth. Set with the task of finding Jimmy McFee, McAllister and an up and coming young reporter are thrown into the underground boxing world and gangs of the city, revealing the gritty world of northern Scotland a decade after the war. Feeling middle aged and left in the eddies of small town Highland life forces McAllister to think about who he is and what he might become. McAllister’s internal struggles add depth to the mysterious plotlines involving Jimmy, boxing and gambling.
A.D. Schotts Highland series continues to be outstanding. Begin with the first though to make sure the backstory of the characters makes sense. (less)
When I read the blurbs on Stalin’s Gold I had the impression of a World War II spy novel with page turning suspense. Those can be really good or reall...moreWhen I read the blurbs on Stalin’s Gold I had the impression of a World War II spy novel with page turning suspense. Those can be really good or really poor, so I wasn’t sure what the book would offer. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mark Ellis has a fairly strong London DCI character involved in the drama of the Battle of Britain.
Reading something like an episode between Foyle’s War or a Billy Boyle WWII novel, Stalin’s War delves into life in London during the war, and the best parts of the novel are those that show what the war was like for the ordinary people of London. Ellis has made Frank Merlin’s character multi-dimensional. His English-Spanish background presents an interesting perspective from the commonly seen thoroughly English detective. His brother, a wounded disabled veteran, give a view of those fighting in the early days of the war. The limbo and bravery of the displaced Polish Air Force is accessed though contacts with Merlin’s Polish refugee girlfriend. Firefighters risking their lives, displaced families stumbling from shelters, and petty crooks and looters taking advantage of the chaos from the bombing all help fill out the life of the book. All of these things would have made the book an outstanding addition to the war years of England genre begun in the Jacqueline Winspeare and Charles Tood. However, Ellis overreaches himself by trying to make the book more than it needed to be. Jumping from Spain, Russia, Berlin, and Poland, adds confusion rather than complexity. The multitude of Russian and Polish side characters had me frequently flipping back to see who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, and which bad guys were which.
This book wasn’t good enough for me to eagerly await the next release In the series, but I am going to go back and read the first book in the series, Princes Gate, to see if Ellis plans to have a focus on DCI Merlin or if he has a tendency to over write in general. (less)
Alan Furst continues his stories in pre-WWII Europe with his 13th installment in the series, Midnight in Europe. Midnight in Europe visits familiar Fu...moreAlan Furst continues his stories in pre-WWII Europe with his 13th installment in the series, Midnight in Europe. Midnight in Europe visits familiar Furst territory, revolutionary Spain, Paris, the Balkans, and of course, the Brasserie Heininger, the café with a famous bullet-holed mirror that makes an appearance in every Furst novel.
As in Mission to Paris, Furst shows what the pre-war years were like for ordinary people, in this case, Cristián Ferrar, Spanish émigré and Paris lawyer in an international firm. Ferrar was brought to France as a child. Needing to support a dependent family, Cristián has been hesitant to support the republican fight against Franco’s fascist forces. However, when approached by republican representative, his sympathy with the revolution leads him into a role of underground arms buyer.
Some reviewers thought Midnight in Europe was too routine indicative that Furst was in a rut, falling back on familiar devises, and to a certain extent, that is probably true. However, I felt the story was true to the average citizens of Europe at that time. Countless people had to make a choice of supporting or fighting Fascism, particularly as war crept closer in the late 1930s. Furst continues to capture that time and those people in Midnight in Europe. (less)
Gangsters, flappers, and speakeasies. Hoovervilles and soup kitchens. Michael Murphy’s new novel, The Yankee Club, does a great job capturing the spir...moreGangsters, flappers, and speakeasies. Hoovervilles and soup kitchens. Michael Murphy’s new novel, The Yankee Club, does a great job capturing the spirit and mood at the end of Prohibition. Franklin Roosevelt is the president elect, promising sweeping change, including the probable end to prohibition and an economic New Deal. Jake Donovan, author of the popular Blackie Doyle series, is heading to New York to meet with his editor of final revisions of his newest book, and discovers his old mentor has been killed. His oldest buddy runs a speakeasy, The Yankee Club, with a bouncer with a long-term grudge against Jake. A strange character is shadowing Laura, his ex-girlfriend. Laura’s fiancé is paying Jake to get him to get out of town. Needless to say, Jake is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery swirling around him!
Murphy's story has a good mix of 1930s private eye and political intrigue, livened up with a cast of characters including Babe Ruth, Cole Porter, Dashiell Hammett and Ethel Mermen—as well as some fascist bad guys. The parade of historical characters and cramming dialog with period slang makes the bood feel a bit stretched at times, but Murphy makes sure his plot fits historical fact. I look forward to seeing how the series progresses. It will be interesting to see if he can build some depth to his cast of character. (less)
I wasn’t too sure that I would like Maxwell Street Blues when it opened with Jules Landau walking into his apartment to find his dad—who has just been...moreI wasn’t too sure that I would like Maxwell Street Blues when it opened with Jules Landau walking into his apartment to find his dad—who has just been released from a twenty year prison term. The first few pages were filled with his family’s questionable past of bootlegging and organized crime. But I pushed through the first chapter or so and found a pretty good private eye mystery.
The publishers tout this new book by Marc Krulewitch as comparable to Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole mysteries. While the series has a way to go to match the pacing or the moral and emotional pull of Crais’s books, Chicago’s graft and insider politics are ripe for a new private eye. Landau is a relatively new investigator. The victim of his first murder case is a family friend, Snooky, who cooks the books for local mobsters. But Snooky was so good at his job, no one wanted him dead. As Landau begins investigating Snooky’s death, he encounters some interesting characters. An unpredictable girl who runs a tattoo parlor, mobsters, crack heads, and a university president bring Landau through the layers of Chicago society without falling into clichés.
One segment of the book did seem out of place, though. Landau needs to gather some information in Los Angles, but his trip there seems out of place with the rest of the book. I would have rather have had Krulewitch use a different route to get the info and kept the story in Chicago. He lost the rhythm of the narrative.
I like the Chicago setting and Landau shows promise. I’ll look forward to reading the next installment in Krulewitch’s series. (less)
Paw and Order is another great Chet and Bernie mystery by Spencer Quinn. I'm glad that Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read a preview version. Af...morePaw and Order is another great Chet and Bernie mystery by Spencer Quinn. I'm glad that Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read a preview version. After wrapping up loose end in Louisiana, Bernie and Chet head to Washington, DC to patch things up with Suzie after she misunderstood an encounter involving Chet, Bernie, and a girl on a houseboat. I had liked the road trip diversion in The Sound and the Furry. The series had gotten a little slow, and getting out of town added a freshness to the Chet and Bernie series. It continues to work in Paw and Order.
Paw and Order starts a bit slow as Chet and Bernie head east and Bernie tries to work things out with Suzie. Bernie’s jealousy of Suzie’s new business connection is terminated quickly when he is found dead later in the day. Presidential candidates, mysterious government insiders, and spying drones keep the story interesting. I would like to see Quinn begin to develop his human characters and plot lines more. Too many aspects of the story are superficial or predictable. However, he continues to do a great job with Chet’s stream of consciousness narration. It’s amazing how Chet’s random, attention-deficit narration sounds just like I imagine a dog might follow human ineptitude!
Paw and Order ties up too neatly with a lot of plot lines left unexplained. However, Quinn leaves us with enough future possibilities to make me want to pick up the next Chet and Bernie to see if they are sticking around with Suzie or heading home into the sunset. (less)
Like a number of other reviewers I was intrigued by the idea of time traveling society escaping from a future pandemic. I was excited to have the oppo...moreLike a number of other reviewers I was intrigued by the idea of time traveling society escaping from a future pandemic. I was excited to have the opportunity to preview the book through Netgalley. However, I, like many other reviewers, I also found it difficult to become engaged with the characters and the plot line.
I have read some smart teen lit recently, but The Here and Now creates a simplistic view of a difficult premise. Prenna has the natural teenage desire to rebel, questioning the strict guidelines of her futuristic cult-like society. When she meets Ethan, there is an opportunity for depth to developed, but it never did. There was no consistency in the how the two reacted and respond to either each other or to the dilemmas they face.
The Here and Now was okay, but the telling of the story failed to live up to the possibilities. (less)
Netgalley gave me the opportunity to preview By Any Means by Chris Culver. When I found that he had written two other books, The Abbey and The Outside...moreNetgalley gave me the opportunity to preview By Any Means by Chris Culver. When I found that he had written two other books, The Abbey and The Outside, I decided to read those first. I was intrigued by Culver’s character, Ash Rashid, a Muslim police officer in the Indianapolis police department. Rashid’s flawed character has depth. He is a spiritual man who also battles alcoholism, an escape for the inhumanity he has faced on the job. In the first two books, Culver does a nice job developing Ash’s character, but it is a bit disconcerting that he switches from first to third person narration. I would recommend that these books be read prior to reading By Any Means. The characters, a feel for the city, and past story lines that are developed in the first two books continue in By Any Means.
By the beginning of By Any Means, Ash has been on the wagon for several weeks, and has bee switched to community relations. While driving home to meet his family for prayers and to break the Ramadan fast, he is the first to arrive on the scene of a car wreck. Complications ensue when he finds that the passengers are not only dead, but appear to have been shot as well.
Ash is pulled into the investigation, invigorated to be part of the excitement and challenges active detective work. The plot develops numerous twists that kept me turning pages, and Culver keeps the action going. However, I did feel that Culver had trouble keeping Ash true to the character he built in previous books. Ash’s moral compass appears to waver a great deal more in this third book. Ash never shied away from danger, but in By Any Means, he more quickly justifies questionable actions, or even worse, doesn’t seem bothered by breaking the law. I will be interested to see if future books develop his internal struggles, or if Culver is simply still trying to find out what type of book he wants to write. (less)
The Dark Lady, by Irene Adler, of course, is a great introduction to Sherlock Holmes for younger readers. Irene Adler is a pre-teen on vacation at a s...moreThe Dark Lady, by Irene Adler, of course, is a great introduction to Sherlock Holmes for younger readers. Irene Adler is a pre-teen on vacation at a sea side town. Like a typical early adolescent, she fights with her mom, sneaks out of the house and wishes her busily working dad was home more often.
Wandering through town, the young Irene encounters the young teenage Sherlock and the adventure begins. Sherlock’s buddy, Lupin—the later master-thief—have fun spending unsupervised days running through town, boating around the coast, and exploring a ruined, abandoned manor. However, when a body washes up on the beach, the three are pulled into an entirely new level of adventure.
Even though the story is much simpler and less sophisticated than the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, The Dark Lady provides a credible back story for the well-loved characters. I look forward to the sequel, and hope that these stories will help kids transition to more sophisticated Sherlock. (less)
This is not the type of novel that I normally pick up—the tag line referencing a book sellers wife pulled me in. However, I couldn’t put the book down...moreThis is not the type of novel that I normally pick up—the tag line referencing a book sellers wife pulled me in. However, I couldn’t put the book down. Reading through the night I was pulled into the life of A.J. Fikry. The novel will enchant any book lover.
A.J. Fikry was a surly, grief stricken widower when book rep Amelia entered his store. He scoffed at her recommendations, certain that limiting his stock to quality literary work was the only way to raise the reading quality of the residents of and visitors to his small New England island. But when someone leaves an infant in his bookstore, Fikry begins to re-enter life. Zevin weaves Fikry’s humanization with literary references and allegory , but her work is so subtle it is like reading beside an old friend.
The local police chief, his sister-in-law and her husband, and Amelia the book rep, who initially appear simple and superficial, develop character and depth and by the end of the book it was very hard to leave A.J. Fikry’s world behind. It was a wonderful read! (less)
The Paper Sword could be divided into three parts. Unfortunately, the book goes from good, to okay, to “what the heck is going on?”
Young Xemion of the...moreThe Paper Sword could be divided into three parts. Unfortunately, the book goes from good, to okay, to “what the heck is going on?”
Young Xemion of the Isle of Phaer has the makings of a great young hero creating a paper sword with the shimmering promise of power. A mysterious stranger offers the promise joining a rebellion against the Pathan overlords. His friend, Saheli, who has her own mysterious past cautions against attempting the dangerous journey, but a devastating fire pushes them from their home. This was the good part.
Joined by another pair of friends, the two began to flee toward Ulde, the rebel stronghold. This is where the book drops to okay. There is a lack of cohesion in the narrative. I was never really sure where the group was going or why. Saheli’s past is gradually being teased from her memory, but never to the extent that we understand who she is or why it matters to the rebellion. There are several magical encounters, but they seem to randomly appear, almost as if the author is trying to take the reader to see all the strange fantasy places he has imagined. There was a brief appearance by a dragon that I thought might play a part later in the book, but, nope, he never reappeared.
Unfortunately, about the time Xemion and Saheli reached the city of Ulde, The Paper Sword lost me. I had a difficult time following the story line, understanding which character was which, and having to re-read passages just to figure out what was going on. I have no idea what the resolution of the book was supposed to mean and how it related to anything that happened earlier. Xemion’s sword wasn’t magical, Saheli’s past was still a mystery, and we never found out if the mysterious stranger was a good guy or bad guy. I made myself slog through the last 30 pages just to see if there was any clarification, but, nope—there wasn’t.
It reminded me of the papers I wrote in college that I began the night before they were due. I started with a focused purpose, but by the end, I was just writing words on paper so I could reach the required number of pages. I think that Mr. Priest and his editor need to sit down and do some major reworking of the end of The Paper Sword if they want to make this book work. (less)