20 September 2014

Tinsletown; William J. Mann

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of HollywoodTinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up because I'd read A Cast of Killers years ago, little realizing that this is about the exact same murder! Silly me.

Of course the author thinks that his solution is the only possibly solution, but at this remove it's never easy to definitively say. The earlier book used King Vidor's "missing year" spent investigating as the narrative device, this one careens from this person to that, telling some of their backstory and how they fit into the world of Hollywood in the early 1920s. It does feel a little less focused than it could be, particularly given the sheer number of people we are introduced to (and some seem like red herrings, not really relevant to the story).

Two complaints: we got that Zuckor was short early on. We really didn't need to have it hammered home every time Zuckor appeared in the book. And while everyone else got the backstory treatment, William Desmond Taylor (or William Dean-Tanner) didn't really, which bothered me. There are hints and clews [sic] aplenty, but why not spare a paragraph to fill in what we actually know about him? And one niggle: WDT's brother is mentioned in the very beginning of the book but never again. Why?

Now I need to dig Cast out and re-read to see what other pieces can be filled in.

ARC provided by publisher.

Suspicion; Alexandra Monir

SuspicionSuspicion by Alexandra Monir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The cover here is, I think, misleading. I see it and think "Oh, this is Labyrinth-esque" and it's not quite that. There is some element of paranormal (here called Elemental) but the majority of the story's focus is divided between fish-out-of-water semi-commonor-turned-near-royal Imogen, suddenly not just heir to the entire Dukedom of Rockford but actually the Duchess Herself, and a Rebecca-like sense of menace and mystery around the deaths at Rockford Manor. Those two alone would have made this a much stronger read, while the addition of this third strand made it feel a little unfocused (too much to cover?).

At least this paranormal story relies on nature power than on vampire, werewolves or other creatures.

ARC provided by publisher.

Entry Island; Peter May

Entry IslandEntry Island by Peter May
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The setting made me long for my own remote island on which to hide. Yes, life there isn't easy but still - what a great hideaway!

The mystery part is very well done, one of those "the suspect is so obvious that they can't possibly really have done it" mysteries. Of course, our intrepid team must determine if, in fact, the obvious suspect did dunnit and of course they uncover omissions and lies from a number of people. Wrapping around that is the drama within the team, particularly formerly married Sime and Marie-Ange. So far, so good.

What bothered me was the whole Scottish adventure. Usually I'm a sucker for time-travel (even via dreams) but this just felt like padding mixed with didactic "The English Are Bad" and convenient plot devices to help Sime reach the conclusion necessary to solve the murder. Can the author resurrect these characters in another book? This made me wonder if he wants to, which is too bad.

I've enjoyed his Isle of Lewis series and was hoping for more of Sime and Montreal/Quebec. Perhaps now Sime will move to Lewis?

The Firelight Girls; Kayla McLaren

The Firelight GirlsThe Firelight Girls by Kaya McLaren
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This gets three stars because it's a definite "comfort read"; not an AGA-saga, but one of those women getting together, salving their wounds and healing each other, with no surprises at the end. And that's the reason for only three stars, that there's nothing here that's surprising.

An old summer camp is about to be closed down, so the former camp director reaches out to several former campers and invites them back for one last week while they put the camp "to bed." That idea has serious appeal, the going back to a place that meant a lot, where you shared a special, safe time with people you cared about and who cared for you. Only a few show up, and even though they're different generations they all bond, etc.. And then there's the runaway hiding in the camp... As I said, none of the outcomes is unpredictable, although the deus ex machina that saves the camp was a little on-the-nose for me.

Still, there's a huge market out there for this sort of book and many people who don't want ends left slightly unraveled and lives left a little messy. This is the book for them.

ARC provided by publisher.

14 September 2014

Jesus Jackson; James Ryan Daley

Jesus JacksonJesus Jackson by James Ryan Daley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting concept, but I think it doesn't quite accomplish what the author intended. Jonathan's grief (albeit a stunned, angry grief) at his brother's death is understandable, as is his desire to find out who is responsible for that death - Ryan couldn't possibly have merely fallen, right? The "investigation" is a mix of funny, inept and confused, all totally believable. I enjoyed meeting Cassie and Tristan, but Harry and Alistair were a bit stereotyped.

It's the insertion of the pact he makes with Jesus Jackson that doesn't quite work. Jesus, much like minor devils, agrees to a pact of sorts with various people, in this case helping Jonathan find 100% faith in nothing. The discussions they have are fine, but the ending discussion seemed rushed and a bit confusing. I'm not sure I bought it, and doubt the intended readers will either.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Year of Reading Dangerously; Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My LifeThe Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Often when I read an eARC I think, "That was interesting... next!" but in this case I'm eager to actually see the finished copy (and purchase one for myself). It's not just that the author promises us snippets of e-mails and texts, etc., as part of the work, but the subject matter is so fascinating.

Like Manguel in A History of Reading, Miller highlights the fact that reading is such a personal matter, that one interpretation or reading of a book can change upon rereading, and that the books that influence us at one time may not later (or vice-versa). And lets not get into the whole prescriptive list idea! "Necessary reading" according to one person may not be necessary to another.

The tone here is engaging and while I've never actually lied about having read a book, there are many on the list that I have not, in fact, read and am now tempted to read. There's one that I resent having read (and am not tempted to reread). But that's sort of the point, isn't it?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Search for WondLa; Tony DiTerlizzi

The Search for WondLa (WondLa, #1)The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this I started to remember a short story I read years ago, something about a strange city with weird buildings and an elevator and it all turned out to be New York... and Planet of the Apes... and C.S. Lewis' thoughts on science-fiction (not to mention his Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet).

The world DiTerlizzi imagines here is fresh and unusual, and even the story, while being familiar, has elements that will surprise readers. Even the reveal of what WondLa is was surprising (I had guessed another interpretation, one that probably isn't far off... but the real thing could have been guessed if I'd paid a little more attention... perhaps).

So why only three stars? Possibly because I read The Glass Sentence recently? Or that this is clearly part of a series, when making it a stand-alone within a series would be so much more unusual? Or that some bits dragged, with set pieces that could have been tighter?

Copy provided by publisher.

Bird Box; Josh Malerman

Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do like a good creepy book, one that doesn't dictate moment by moment how we should be scared but allows we readers to do it on our own.

Unlike many of these books, Bird Box doesn't exactly tell us what's going on, we're told that it's something, something that can be seen and once it is, you want to (and succeed!) kill yourself. Since there's no defined thing, it could be anything: the sun, a bird, the grass, or an alien. That's the big success of the book, that sense that literally anything could be the cause of this.

The juxtaposition of Life Before, Life During and The Big Escape also works; however at times the plotting dragged. Less time Escaping would have worked for me, to be honest. Did I say the plot dragged? Well, except for the last part which went a little too fast (especially the attic scene). My guess is that the idea was to make those parts scarier by not allowing us to dwell on them?

Still, with cooler weather upon us and Hallowe'en decorations going up, this is a perfect "get in the mood" read.

06 September 2014

The King's Curse; Philippa Gregory

The King's Curse (The Cousins' War, #6)The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Long. And for some reason this felt longer than the others in this series.

Margaret of York is not a sympathetic person, in part because she's always so sure that as a Plantagenet she's better than anyone else. If I had to read one more time about her extensive, fertile family... or how many of them died thanks to the Tudor upstarts... UGH. It also didn't help that she had far too many instances of gritted teeth and clenched stomach. Her attitude towards her son Reginald was difficult to take, too. Of course, all of this is speculation on Gregory's part, as we don't have a whole lot of evidence about exactly what the Pole family did or didn't do (all those burned letters can't be reformed, can they?). I did like that she falls into the "Richard III didn't kill the boys in the tower" camp, placing the blame on the Tudors. And, of course, the whole era is just filled with intermarriage, backstabbing and betrayal, which makes for interesting reading. Luckily there were family trees interspersed to help sort out who and what happened to them.

ARC provided by publisher.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future; A.S. King

Glory O'Brien's History of the FutureGlory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For some reason this didn't resonate with me as much as the other books King wrote did. Maybe it was the future that Glory envisions? Or that her BFF is just unlikeable? It would have been a stronger book for me had the photography been more of a focus with less about the visions (or if the visions had been different in some way, with more benign stuff intermixed with them). The ending, with the graduation party and all the "friends" that Glory never knew she had also rang a little false - perhaps showing that those people were there if only Glory had noticed would have worked?

ARC provided by publisher.