29 June 2013

Survival Lessons; Alice Hoffman

Survival LessonsSurvival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the past year I've lost one uncle I cared about greatly, two I didn't care so much about, two high school friends, watched others struggle with life and health, and struggled with those things myself.  Usually those thin books of "helpful words" make me roll my eyes and cringe but this book?  I want to buy a copy for everyone I know.

We all know that we should carpe diem, but Hoffman's wonderful prose and suggestions (I so want to take her trip to Italy for her! or with her!) brings it home just that little bit more. Some of the ideas may even give you permission to do what you've wanted to but didn't know how, like "choosing your relatives".  If nothing else, you'll learn how to make the perfect boiled egg.

Copy provided by publisher.

Death is Just a Dream; Marlene Perez

Dead Is Just a DreamDead Is Just a Dream by Marlene Perez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Still cute, but a little bit less than last time.

Jessica's virago status is talked about, as is her boyfriend's mother not liking her, but that wasn't as central to the book as I'd have hoped. Instead, we get a jealous ex and a Mara (nightmares come to life) and paintings that might kill. We still hear about the band Side Effects May Vary, and refer to past events/people but in under 200 slight pages it's starting to feel as though there's something missing. It's almost as though this could have been one or two good books, but instead they've been chopped up into now eight smaller books (including padding and exposition). Still, the speed with which these can be read will appeal to readers wanting a quick read.

ARC provided by publisher.

26 June 2013

Dark Blood; Stuart MacBride

Dark Blood (Logan McRae, #6)Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whew! Less gruesome than the previous few MacBrides!

Logan is in a dark place here: drinking a lot, a seven month losing streak, bad attitude, etc. Who self-nominates to give him the "pick up your socks" speech? Yep, DI Steel. I'm really enjoying watching their relationship develop, and maybe it's me, but she's kind of growing on me, awful hair and all. Again there are several cases to juggle, including burglary, counterfeit money (and goods) and a body buried in the cement slab of a new housing development (one that just so happens to be part of Malk the Knife's empire). How McRae gets involved with all of them is interesting, as is the peek into the "Wee Hoose" he and the other DS' share. It would be even more interesting to see if DCI Finnie, DI Steel and the others dump on them as much as they do on McRae.

25 June 2013

Death Message; Mark Billingham

Death Message (Tom Thorne, #7)Death Message by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DI Thorne really knows how to win friends and influence people: he's got a 'friend' he put away years ago who has convinced a recently released con to send Thorne photos and videos of his kills. Just what anyone wants in their cell phone inbox, right? It's not quite a mystery as to who is doing it, it's more a question of trying to catch up and unmask the other bent policeman responsible for setting Marcus up in the first place.

Thorne is so well named, always a thorn in the side of the VIPs in the force. Even when given direct instructions he often goes his own way (giving a different cell number to Marcus, knowing that the "real" one is being tracked? huh????). Luckily it seems to work out better than one might imagine - although him being the hero of the series means that it's unlikely he'll be killed halfway through a book.

Blind Eye; Stuart MacBride

Blind Eye (Logan McRae, #5)Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five books in and we've finally got a clear idea as to why DS Logan McRae has so many problems with the higher-ups: his high "fuck-up to brilliance ratio" (quoth DI Steel). Sadly, so many of the problems happen between books and all too often there's stuff going on in between books we're not privy to (or get hints about, but no real exposition). In many ways that's one of the things that appeals to me, as there's a clear sense that life goes on in-between, that we're not tracking every minute of the character's lives.

Again, this is pretty gruesome, with people having their eyes gouged out and then lighter fluid poured in to the cavity. Why? Is it because they're Polish (there's a large influx of Polish immigrants/workers in Aberdeen)? Is there something else going on? McRae assumes the latter because one of Aberdeens 'finest', Simon McLeod, is blinded and he's sure that someone will be paying. Now that DI Insch is gone, DI Finnie is working with McRae and hoping for a Lazarus-like resurrection of his career (surely McRae can't be a much of a mess as rumored). Finnie has his own ideas as to how to do the investigation, and there are clashes between him, Steel, McRae and Professional Standards. No guesses as to how it all plays out. Despite the earlier books' portrayal, DI Steel really seems to be in McRae's corner, perhaps because her unit is "not at home to Mr. Fuck-Up".

I do feel sorry for McRae! In the past few books he's lost his girlfriend (twice), been forced to eat human meat, had several career set-backs and here, gets blown up (literally). Oh, and there's the question of the turkey baster and DI Steel's wife... What's next?

23 June 2013

Buried; Mark Billingham

Buried (Tom Thorne, #6)Buried by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being a little generous here, as the ending really made this a 3.5 not a 4.

Once again, DI Thorne is out of his "home", this time working on a kidnapping case (last time he was sleeping rough while trying to find out who was killing homeless people). There are several problems with this case, the least of which is that the kidnappee's father is a former policeman. Who, of course, is hiding something. And of course Thorne starts digging where he perhaps shouldn't, but then he starts Finding Things Out and, well... result. I did have one sneaking suspicion while reading that turned out to be a nonstarter, but the whodunnit part was a bit annoying. I'm not saying I want every clue laid out, but this was even more hidden than usual. We also get a secondary mystery that seems unrelated, but when you're reading books like this you know that they somehow are - the fun/trick is to guess how.

Flesh House; Stuart MacBride

Flesh House (Logan McRae, Book 4)Flesh House by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a definite DO NOT READ if you didn't like Silence of the Lambs (or books of that ilk). Very, very dark and twisted mystery here.

DS McRae is still struggling with the higher ups, as well as being torn between DI Steel and DI Insch. Then someone discovers human flesh in a container of food being shipped to a North Sea oil rig... and more in the supplier's freezers... and later even more in an abattoir and, well, things get really difficult. "The Flesher" was a criminal from Insch's past, and decisions he made then come back to haunt him. There may be a way out for McRae, via Chief Constable Foulds of the West Midland Police (good not just for his career, but also for his personal life now that he and Jackie have broken up), but first they need to find "The Flesher" and stop him from killing.

One of the things that I liked about this book is that it's not quite the same as the others: there's one real mystery covered, and while it does have backstory for us to deal with, it's not the multiple cases that the previous books have had. The other thing I really liked was that, as with Reginald Hill, MacBride seems to be playing a bit with format here. One of the new characters is Alec, a reality tv cameraman from the BBC (doing a documentary on the Grampian police), and occasionally we get a bit of 'script'. Additionally, parts of the book are broken up by faux newspaper clippings from the time before and current day. It'd be nice if this format change sticks.

As for the mystery itself, some of it was a little obvious but there were a couple of nice twists. My biggest complaint was that there had been a long gap between "Flesher" killings that was never explained.

22 June 2013

Lifeless; Mark Billingham

Lifeless (Tom Thorne, #5)Lifeless by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has DI Thorne sunk as low as he possible can sink? Not sure... but here, his father's dead, there's no love interest, and he's sent to do really boring, unnecessary work for Scotland Yard. To cheer himself up, or give himself something to do, he's volunteered to "live rough" to help find whomever is killing homeless people. The sad thing is, he finds it easy to fall into the life, finding a few friends to pass the time with and guide him to the best spots for free meals. Of course, he's not completely alone out there, as a few people in the force know where he is and he has a cell phone with which to check in daily. As always happens, it takes a flash of insight/coincidence for him to crack the case - all on his lonesome, even though he does have help from his colleagues.

There are flashbacks here to the events that precipitated all the killings as well as the killer's POV interspersed with the investigation and I'm not sure why every Thorne book has to include that. It's a gimmick, and distracting.

Broken Skin; Stuart MacBride

Broken Skin (Logan McRae, Book 3)Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's always nice when the hero is human, isn't it? And DS Logan McRae is definitely human, as are the people around him. He's struggling with work - trying to get out from working with DI Steel, avoiding doing all the scut work for her and DI Insch - and struggling with his relationship with Jackie and how much he can trust her. He's also realizing that he sort of misses his sort of friendship with Colin Miller, soon-to-be-father to the child McRae's ex is carrying and the victim of a brutal defingering because of a mistake that McRae made.

And then there's the caseload! Usually mysteries revolve around one case, with other ones brought in that seem to be unrelated but somehow are. Here, not every case is related, which makes a nice change. The big case, the rapes of several girls, has nothing to do with the break-ins, the BDSM case or the murderous eight-year-old. Even those last are loosely tied together. It's a lot of balls to juggle, but McRae (and MacBride) do it well.

Lazybones; Mark Billingham

Lazybones (Tom Thorne, #3)Lazybones by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

God, Tom is a sad sack kind of guy, isn't he? Not just the lone wolf investigator, he's also a complete mess in his personal life! In Lazybones he's done worse for himself than usual, although we only find that out at the end. It's difficult to cheer on the police if they're chasing a vigilante, and DI Thorne's doing just that. Several recently released sex offenders are being raped and murdered: where's the bad in that? The question is who, and why these people. Of course he's not quite following the rules, but that's Thorne's style. And then there's Eve, proprietress of a flower shop, who is tangential to the investigation and becoming something in his life... if only he wouldn't let the job interfere.

Once again, this is a darker look at London. It was interesting to see a Cold Case squad being formed and playing a role, but that may have something to do with my appreciation for the "New Tricks" tv series. Pity that side fades out early; I'll have to hope it reappears in future books.

21 June 2013

Dying Light; Stuart MacBride

Dying Light (Logan McRae, #2)Dying Light by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two books in and the similarities to Ian Rankin are getting stronger: while Rebus has "Big Ger" to contend with, it appears that McRae will have "Malckie the Knife" (an Edinburgh crime boss looking to expand into Aberdeen) as his nemesis. I'm pretty sure that McRae won't be invited to Malckie's home any time soon. There's also a vague Dalziel-esque character in DI Insch, he of the ever-present small candies. Not that that's bad, just sayin'

We're exploring the really seedy side of Aberdeen this time, as prostitutes are going missing. Turning up dead, of course, and seriously beaten. There's also an arsonist running around, setting fires after sealing the doors of houses with people still inside - and getting off on it. Of course, McRae is assigned to the loser's squad under DI Steel and still has the Procedures people breathing down his neck, but he manages to also get involved with DI Insch's investigations and a couple of his own side projects. There's plenty of gore and finger snipping to go around, probably to make up for the summer rain lull.

Can't wait to see what happens next.

Sleepyhead; Mark Billingham

Sleepyhead (Tom Thorne, #1)Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if the one victim who survives isn't the mistake, but the intention? That's the question that DI Thorne has to answer in this first of the Billingham mysteries. Several women have apparently had strokes, but the autopsies show that there are tranquilizers in their blood, they've been washed with carbolic soap and there are strange tears in an artery. So, odd as it may seem, the goal isn't to kill but to create "locked in" women. Thorne is one of those loose cannons, oh-so-necessary to investigations but so hated by the higher-ups. He has hunches, some of which pan out spectacularly, and some which don't. He's got one now...

This procedural is a bit on the dark side, which I really like. There's no Elizabeth George-esque friends-and-family to create a cozier feel, which can lead to Book Bloat. And while this is set in London, the city doesn't play the starring role, so no scurrying to the map to try to trace the investigations progress (yes, I do that. sue me.).

Cold Granite; Stuart MacBride

Cold Granite (Logan McRae, #1)Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my friends moved and in the process downsized his book collection - I ended up with nearly complete collections of Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham. Of course I dived right in!

Dying Light is set in Aberdeen, grittier and rainier than Edinburgh. DC Logan McRae has just returned to duty after a serious in-the-line-of-duty injury and, well, already things are going wrong: young (age 4) children are going missing, then turning up dead. Yes, children. McRae has other problems, too, in that the higher-ups don't love him and for some reason are constantly trying to keep him down (or fire him). And a local journalist seems to be making him into a Local Hero, which doesn't help matters. The weather plays a real role here, and at one point a character mentions that it rains All.Year.Long. Yes, there's some of McRae's personal life, but unlike some writers, this is tangential to the mystery and we don't spend a lot of time dissecting his mental state.

There's something about Scottish mysteries that's just appealing. Ian Rankin... Kate Atkinson... and now Stuart MacBride. Ok, enough reviewing. Back to reading.

Candlemoth; R. J. Ellory

Candlemoth: A ThrillerCandlemoth: A Thriller by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sadly, this book suffered (greatly) from what I'll call "We Didn't Start the Fire" syndrome: the plot was unfortunately interrupted by long passages of lists about events from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Fellow readers, I skipped those parts and tried to find the next bit of plot.

The plot was actually interesting, tracing the friendship - dare I say Best Friends Forevership - of Nathan and Danny. They meet at age six, when Nathan cons Danny into sharing his baked ham sandwich and solidifies in their teens when Danny chooses friendship with Nathan over the bullying white kids (Nathan is black, by the way, and Danny white). The color difference is important because in South Carolina during that time those things mattered... except to Danny and Nathan. They run away from the draft, only to return when they learn that Danny was never called up and that he's inherited his family home. Then Nathan is killed, and Danny is put on death row for the killing of his BFF. What we hear about his friendship is told in flashback, with Danny on D-Block talking - sometimes to his priest, sometimes to himself - about how he ended up where he was.

As I said, that's pretty interesting. Losing pages to lists of events that in many ways have nothing to do with this story? Very similar to what happens in The Good Father and like that book lost my interest.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 June 2013

Rustication; Charles Palliser

RusticationRustication by Charles Palliser
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent historical fiction based on a "diary" and "letters" found by the author.

When I say decent, what I mean is that the place and time are set quite well: we're in the Dickensian/Victorian era, but instead of London we're in a marsh-side village. Richard, 17-years-old (and it pays to continually remember his age) has been "rusticated" from Cambridge, for reasons that slowly are revealed. Not that long before, he read in the paper of his father's death - his mother, when asked, didn't want him to come for the funeral! Obviously, Richard has some questions about this. When he arrives at their new home, he sees that circumstances have radically changed, that his mother and sister have an incredible antipathy to him and want him gone - and fast. What caused all of this? And then incredibly crude anonymous letters start to appear, accusing townspeople of vile acts, while at the same time animals are being mutilated. How - are - they related?

It's never clear to me why his mother just doesn't say "here's what happened with your father, here's why I want you gone", choosing instead to be incredibly mean and elliptical in her actions and speech. Richard is, as most young men are, clueless about how women and how to behave, and he constantly falls in and out of love with the girls in the town. As for the townspeople, both in their village and the nearest city, they're mostly stereotypes. Well drawn stereotypes, but stereotypes nonetheless.

ARC provided by publisher.

19 June 2013

Everybody Matters; Mary Robinson

Everybody Matters: My Life Giving VoiceEverybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice by Mary Robinson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was a DNF not because it was poorly written, or that the life of Mary Robinson doesn't matter, but because I just wasn't engaged by this memoir. That's not to say that every memoir or life's story has to be filled with humorous anecdotes or weird relatives! It's just that, while the role Ms. Robinson played in Ireland, and the one she continues to play in the human rights movement are important, it's not the most engaging of reads. The parts about Ireland in the 60s and her childhood were the most interesting parts; the rest were informative but not - as possibly could/should have been the case - inspiring.

Copy provided by publisher.

18 June 2013

Alex; Pierre Lemaitre

AlexAlex by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly thought I knew the big twist... guess I'm not so smart after all!

Alex is told from two points-of-view, the first from Alex, a very beautiful 30-year-old who enjoys wigs and the other from Camille Verhoeven, a 50-year-old widower who also happens to be a Police Commandant in Paris. Their paths cross when Alex, following an evening meal, decides to walk home and is kidnapped, beaten and then put into a fillette (a cage in which the prisoner can neither sit, stand or lie down) so that her kidnapper can watch her die. As it happens, M. Verhoeven's wife was kidnapped and killed shortly before giving birth, and this is his first case like this in the four years.

The problem is that nothing is quite what it seems where Alex is concerned, and the police investigation is complicated by the layers of her life. I won't go any further because it's impossible to do so without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say that when we got to a certain point, I thought "oh, I know where this is going" but it didn't go there. I love it when that happens!!

ARC provided by publisher.

17 June 2013

The Longings of Wayward Girls; Karen Brown

The Longings of Wayward GirlsThe Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Inspired by a real disappearance, the author imagines what that might be like for the friends left behind. At least, that's what she's trying to do. The thing is, there are two disappearances here: Laura's and Francie's. Laura is the first to disappear, and headlines set off parts of the books ("Girl Missing"... "Search Expanded"... etc. type headlines). However, it's Francie's disappearance that is the more important one, which is a little odd - given the headlines and Laura's disappearance, I'd hoped for more about her.

Sadie and Betty are good friends, in and out of each others houses in the way kids often are. Sadie's mother is an actress with the local acting group, possibly an alcoholic, definitely troubled. We also meet Beth, the daughter of the local patron, who lives in a huge house with an in-ground pool, and who has a Very Cute older brother, Ray. Back in the 1970s, children disappearing was rare and Laura's disappearance shakes their cozy world. Beth was friends with Laura, the others less so, but still, they're all a little nervous (the parents more nervous than the kids). Francie is the odd kid in the neighborhood, the one that doesn't quite fit in, and one day Sadie and Betty see her hiding a letter to someone - they decide to respond, in what today is called "catfishing" (think Manti Te'o) and ultimately convince Francie to run away with "Hezekiah". Only Francie really does go missing, which seems to be the deciding straw in Sadie and Betty growing apart.

This story is intermixed with a more modern story, one where Sadie is married with two children. She's recently had a very late term miscarriage and is - understandable - depressed. Over the course of the summer, she starts to make changes and choices that probably stem from that; some of them have their root in that long-ago summer and the questions/culpabilities that raises.

As I said, the use of Laura for the headlines but having very little about her in the plot was a little odd. The other problem for me was that there were so many stereotypical things added, and none of the characters surprised me. Almost as soon as I met someone I could begin to predict the outcome and their arc, which works better in mysteries than it does here.

ARC provided by publisher.

13 June 2013

Burial Rites; Hannah Kent

Burial Rites: A NovelBurial Rites: A Novel by Hannah Kent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historic fiction about the last case of capital punishment in Iceland? Hmmmm... Ok, I'll try it. And it exceeded my expectations, so yay!

"Everyone" knows what happened: one night, Agnus, Fridrik and Sigga brutally killed Natan and P├ętur, then set Natan's farmhouse on fire to cover up their crime. Sentenced to death, Agnus is first held in a city, then moved to a small farmhouse in the valley she grew up in, under the watch of District Officer Jon Jonsson (and his wife and two daughters) and the spritual care of Assistant Reverend Toti. What everyone doesn't know is why, and which of the three was the leader (if there was one). Even more important, is it safe to allow Agnus to live with a local family, in or out of chains?

Over the course of the book we hear from Reverend Toti, the family Agnus is housed with, and in a first-person narrative, from Agnus herself. The life she's led, a bastard daughter of a woman who has three children with three different men, abandoned and left to the care of the parish, working long, hard hours helping in houses and fields as a servant, is explored, as is her desire for love and some form of escape. We also hear her tale of exactly what happened the night of the murder/fire. Of course, the question of Agnus' story being reliable is raised, and it's up to us to figure it out. Life in 1820s rural Iceland is pretty grim, with houses made of peat (which sometimes crumbles onto beds and at other times oozes out mold), extreme poverty and cold, not to mention a near-complete lack of what we consider amenities.

The ending is not a surprise, because the author couldn't change history. It's our reaction to it, depending on how we feel about Angus' story, that is important. Unfortunately, in her author's note, Ms. Kent doesn't include information on why this was the last execution in Iceland (was it this case that changed things? were there other factors?). The writing is filled with detail, really bringing the world Agnus lived in to life.

ARC provided by publisher.

Breathless; Anne Sward

BreathlessBreathless by Anne Sward
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I tried. I really, really tried. But halfway through, I realized this was just not doing it for me: the pacing was odd (mostly glacial, but passages that moved quickly), the characters weren't interesting (who cared about mom and her axe? or all the adults that Lo lived with?), and the tie-in to the movie Breathless wasn't as clear as it could have/should have been. Perhaps this is a translation problem, or perhaps it's just the way the book was written, but it just isn't for me.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 June 2013

Human Remains; Elizabeth Haynes

Human RemainsHuman Remains by Elizabeth Haynes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After suffering sophomore slump, Ms. Haynes bounces back - not as high as Into the Darkest Corner, but still a far better book than Dark Tide. She's also abandoned the present day/backstory format in favor of multiple points-of-view, mostly two characters but with some thoughts from the recently dead. And instead of stalking, we have a serial... killer? death facilitator? euthanasia enthusiast?

There's no real spoiler here, as Colin's oddness and affinity for helping desperate people find their way to the right solution is state pretty much up front. How he does it is a little odd: there's some hypnosis involved, with phone follow-ups. We never get a definite "plan", but this is definitely in the creepy arena. His motivation isn't altruistic, however, it's far grosser than that.

Annabelle, like Colin, is a loner and not particularly social. Her life seems split between work (she's a civilian analyst for the police), taking care of her virtually housebound mother, and her cat, Lucy. Those three, coupled with her finding her next-door neighbor's body well past it's sellby date, seem to be the impetus for her doing some research and finding a pattern of bodies, decomposed, seemingly dead of natural causes. In previous years there were a few (11 max), but this year? 24 and rising.

Will the police catch Colin? Is what he's done illegal, or simply creepy/immoral? The question is also raised about how well we know and take care of our neighbors: if you don't see someone for a period of days, do you assume they're dead, or that they're busy, or on vacation, or have moved? How does our society help, or further isolate, the depressed? Interesting questions.

ARC provided by publisher.

09 June 2013

Visitation Street; Ivy Pochoda

Visitation StreetVisitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is supposed to be a mystery, but there really isn't one: it's clear from early on what happened to June. What this is, instead, is an exploration of grief and loss, set in a slightly-pre-gentrified Red Hook, Brooklyn. It's a neighborhood I'm slightly familiar with, as my post office was located in Red Hook, across from the "PJs" and in the early-mid 90s, you did not go anywhere near there if possible. Things are much better now, with cruise ships and a Fairway supermarket and celebrities. Visitation Street is set in-between the two, with the arrival of the Queen Mary imminent.

So that's the scene. The plot is simple: it's late into a hot, muggy summer evening and two friends, Val and June, decide to take an inflatable raft out onto the water. Early the next morning, Val is found, nearly dead, under a pier. June? Vanished. We don't have a lot of the search for June, which would probably be pretty boring. Instead we get Val's reaction, as well as that of Cree (one of the last people to see the two, following them on land as they drifted out into the bay), their families, some of the neighborhood people. There's also Jonathan Sprouse, teacher at Val and June's school, who lives in Red Hook and is the one to find/rescue Val - his mother drowned a few years earlier, and he still hasn't fully dealt with that.

Told from many points of view, this is a great character study. I can see why this was chosen for Lehane's imprint, because the grittiness of Red Hook feels like some of the areas of Boston he writes about, but as a mystery? It's just not one.

ARC provided by publisher.

08 June 2013

Heads in Beds; Jacob Tomsky

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called HospitalityHeads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting, humorous memoir of "Tommy Jacobs" life in the hospitality industry, moving from valet to front desk to housekeeping manager and back to front desk. Reading this makes me wonder whether it's safe to ever stay in a hotel - even though I keep things tidy for the cleaners, don't demand things, etc. it seems as though we're all at risk! We also learn the right things to say and do to get upgrades and special treatment (invaluable if you're a frequent traveler), and that it's rarely a good idea to use the valet parking.

07 June 2013

Hild; Nicola Griffith

Hild: A NovelHild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was definitely not the book to read as an eARC - getting to the glossary using my Kindle was a pain. I also spent a lot of time looking up names and places, and I really hope that readers get a map and more information that the ARC provides.

Anyway, the blurbage here says that St. Hilda was the most important woman of the Middle Ages. Uh, wrong. She may have been the most important woman in Great Britian during the Early Middle Ages (aka the Dark Ages) but the entire Middle Ages in the entire world? Perhaps, perhaps not. Hild (as she's known here) is the daughter of a king-in-exile, and her life is turned upside down when he is poisoned and she, her mother and their household (which includes a bastard half-brother, Cian) move to the household of her uncle Edwin, King of the Anglisc. There's lots about the life during that time: the wars between the various kingdoms and holdings, the life of slaves and women, the struggle between wealdh priests (worshipping old gods like Woden) and Roman priests (worshipping Christ) for prominence, how the common and royal people live. All very interesting, but at times I just wanted the plot to advance - enough of the birds and food already! I couldn't say that there was a lot of padding, but at times I did want to snip here and there.

We learn about Hild's role as the "light of the world" to Edwin, how her being a seer is really just based on watching, very carefully, the patterns around her, and her conversion to Christianity. However, all this is supposal, as we really know nothing about her life or conversion prior to her founding of the abbey at Whitby. The author here has done a good job with that supposal and readers will come away with a greater understanding of that era (hopefully they'll also have maps and the glossary to help - or do as I did, reading next to their computer so they can learn more).

ARC provided by publisher.

06 June 2013

The Righteous Mind; Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I forgot where I heard about this, but the subject has interested me for a while: my family is either Very Liberal or Very Conservative, with few moderates (I count myself among those few). Neither side understands, or wants to understand, the other. As Haidt points out, those of us in WEIRD (White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) countries are often, to the rest of the world, weird. Understanding why and how is important.

According to him, there are six legs to our belief-stool: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Authority, Sanctity and Loyalty. Liberals value the first three and don't value the last, while conservatives value all three pretty much equally. Doubt me? Check out your assumptions on YourMorals.org. It's enlightening. As is the middle third of this book, which to me explained why the people in my family on the right and left think and act as they do. The first third is relatively dry (although some of his examples are interesting) as is the third third, with the exception of Chapter 12 (if you're like me, you'll skim the first 100-ish pages, delve into the next 100, then skim until the last bit). All that skimming led to the loss of stars; had he not underpinned that center part with so much social science and examples from the animal world (did you know that chimpanzees don't work together? yeah, well...) and used a few more examples from the religious and political sides, and any from educational theories, more stars would have been forthcoming.

05 June 2013

I Could Pee on This; Francesco Marciuliano

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by CatsI Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So cute - sadly, it wasn't difficult for me to imagine my cats thinking/declaiming any of these. "Affirmations"? Priceless! I also loved the proverbs. And who among us hasn't had a cat act out "I Lick Your Nose"?

02 June 2013

A Guide for the Perplexed; Dara Horn

A Guide for the PerplexedA Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another book with a lot of promise, but ultimately it didn't quite make it.

There are two main timelines here, and one smaller sub-timeline. The first is modern day, the story of Josie, a computer genius who has created a program that essentially records every thing about your life and then sorts it (ultimately it will develop the ability to predict things about your life); Josie, while married and a mother, has little empathy or ability to appreciate that which isn't numbers/computer-related. While in Egypt, she's kidnapped and forced to code - when not coding, she's reading "A Guide for the Perplexed". The second is set in the 1890s, partly in England and partly in Egypt, a fictionalized account of Solomon Schecter's "discovery" of a major cache of documents that includes the aforementioned Guide (the sub-timeline concerns Maimonides and his writing of the Guide).

Sounds interesting, right? And at times, it really was but... I wanted more about the Guide itself. What did it contain? How did reading it change (or not change) Josie? Or any other readers? The Guide doesn't really appear in the book except in snippets, sadly. More of that would have been nice - particularly compared with Josie's almost ASD approach.

ARC provided by publisher.

01 June 2013

The Shining Girls; Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

According to Early Word, there's a question as to whether this book will be THE beach read for 2013. Now that I've read it, I can say "perhaps".

I can see the appeal: there's a serial killer (always good for summer beach reading), a victim who didn't actually die (another plus), and there's a paranormal element (here, time travel). I can also see the problem: the time travel and "shining" require that readers suspend disbelief even more than usual, as they're never quite explained.

We travel back and forth in Chicago from the Depression through early 90s (all the better to use newspapers and not use cell phones or computers), following both Harper (the killer) and Kirby (the victim). Harper somehow gets access to the House, from which he can carry out his murders; Kirby starts an internship at the Sun-Times, specifically with Dan, a former homicide reporter who covered her case but now covers sports. I'll stop her so as not to spoil how things play out. Suffice it to say, for those that like grisly Ripper-esque murders, this won't disappoint.

ARC provided by publisher.

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When They Were Boys; Larry Kane

When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles' Rise to the TopWhen They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles' Rise to the Top by Larry Kane
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was hoping that an editor seriously attacks this before it's published, but since that's in two months it probably won't happen.

Here's the problem: repetition. Every time Joe Ankrah is mentioned, there's also a mention of his group the Chants and how Paul (and the Beatles) broke through racial lines for them. Once would have enough. And then Kane falls into Dan Brownian writing when he says "Life model June Furlong" (or some variation on that theme). This is always a problem when reporters write a book, because they're used to short attention spans and people who may not have read previous articles. But in a book? We can remember or flip to the first mention should we need the reminder. I'm also not a huge fan of reporters inserting themselves into the story; in this case, it was understandable, but it happened too often.

So the writing was a problem. And then there's the inequity of the coverage. John and Paul get quite a bit on their upbringing, while Stu, George, Ringo and Pete get virtually none. Even though we're told what a huge role Pete played in their early years, he's barely there (the time in Hamburg is talked about as though it was the three Beatles and Stuart. That's what happens in most books, so it was particularly disappointing here. And the mention of John's affair/Lost Weekend with May Pang? Still not sure why we had to hear about that so often.

Tighter storytelling, more background on the key players and perhaps less Larry would have made this book truly special.

ARC provided by publisher.