30 July 2013

The Lavender Garden; Lucinda Riley

The Lavender GardenThe Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In some ways, this reminded me of Code Name, Verity (in that there's a spy-girl in France component), and in others Rebecca and others in the "who the heck did I marry?" genre. We have two stories, one Emilie's life after her mother's death and the other her father and grandmother-in-law's time during World War II in the Resistance. The stories are both relatively predictable, hence the lower star rating than I'd otherwise give this book. And again, in order to give the story the WWII focus, the "modern" era has to be in the 1990s.

Riley does a good job of evoking both eras, although at the beginning there's a little too much "tell" when "show" would do just as well. One thing that did interest me was the use of the internet in France; when I was in library school (mid 90s) one of the things I did research on involved French booksellers, and it was clear that the country was not as online as others. Also, perhaps I'm misremembering things, but were laptops that common in France then? It just felt a little off...

Copy provided by publisher.

My Favorite Mistake; Chelsea M. Cameron

My Favorite Mistake (My Favorite Mistake, #1)My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

My mistake was starting this - sorry, but Hunter is not sexy, he's creepy. The set-up is that he's supposed to be cute and Taylor will eventually come around to seeing that they're perfect together, but that bet/deal he tries to make? Seriously creepy. I guess we're expected to forgive him because he (like Taylor) is damaged and has nightmares. Doesn't matter - DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

29 July 2013

Chocolates for Breakfast; Pamela Moore

Chocolates for BreakfastChocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not really sure what to think about this re-release of a book from the 1960s because the writing was so uneven. Example? In the first few pages, we get Courtney's point-of-view as "'Oh God,' thought Courtney..." as well as a very distant "The girl was trying to..." Huh? That sort of flipping happens all to frequently here. Later in the book there's this gem, "Time proceeded with timelessness."

As for the plot, perhaps this would have been more shocking had I read it when it first came out. But today, following books like Prep? Or most YA/NA fiction dealing with the whole Upper East Side growing-up arc? It felt bland and less shocking than intended. Courtney's sex life and drinking at 15/16 are rather normal for many in that milieu. Perhaps with writing that wasn't quite so forced, the story might have shone.

ARC provided by publisher.

Chimera; David Wellington

Chimera: A Jim Chapel MissionChimera: A Jim Chapel Mission by David Wellington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure if I like the combination political thriller/medical thriller genre, but Chimera isn't a bad example. We have a former Army Ranger,Jim Chapel, sidelined to a desk job because he lost an arm in Afghanistan, seconded to a Top Secret Agency (or two) because - no surprise - he's the only one who can possibly do the job that needs being done. All information about the job are Need To Know, and, well, he doesn't. Oh, and no surprise: he goes rogue. Often.

In this case, there's some so-secret-noone-has-heard-of-it facility in the Catskills - no one goes in, no one goes out. Then a drone or something helps the inhabitants (if there are any) escape. Not only do they escape, they escape with a hit list. Our Hero's job is to find these escapees and neutralize them (preferably "with extreme prejudice"). And off we go, racing against time and several highly motivated killers... who just so happen to be virtually unstoppable.

Along the way Chapel picks up some help, including a Penelope Garcia-esque woman he nicknames Angel (my mind immediately went to "Charlie's Angels", because we never meet Angel, only hear her voice). The characters are pretty stereotypical and the action predictable, but that's one of the things you go into this type of book knowing. Still enjoyable.

ARC provided by publisher.

28 July 2013

A Dual Inheritance; Joanna Hershon

A Dual InheritanceA Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Having glanced at the other reviews, I know this is going against the crowd but... I just couldn't read this one.

You have two main characters, one Jewish and the other a WASP. Shouldn't they sound different? The Jew, Ed, sounds like a cross between the Godfather and a Raymond Chandler character - ok, not like any other Boston Jews of that age that I know (eg, my cousins) but fine. The WASP? Shouldn't he have a different voice? But here, the main difference is that Hugh doesn't swear as much as Ed. That's not enough for me. After 150 pages it just didn't matter: the plot was obvious, the characters boring, the writing lacking in... something.

The Whatnot; Stefan Bachmann

The Whatnot (The Peculiar, #2)The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Whatnot" is what a strange woman in the Old Country calls Hettie, as if she's not a Peculiar (half-human/half-fairy) and instead a collectable. Hettie is in Piscaltine's very odd house, filled with walls that move and a clock that chimes moods, following a very long walk through Deepest Winter with a fairy butler. All she wants is to be found by her brother - she doesn't want to be Piscaltine's friend and she's afraid of the other fairies.

Barty, Hettie's brother, is, in fact, looking for her, searching among the few remaining fairy folk in London. He finds Pikey Thomas, also a Peculiar, who claims he's seen Hettie in his "odd" eye (it's not like your eye or mine, it's cold and grey and doesn't see things in this world. and a "gift" from some fairy.) The two travel around England, looking for a door into the Old Country, where they'll find and rescue Hettie.

This isn't bad fantasy. At times it's a little rushed or confusing, but what bothered me (and won't matter to younger readers) is how derivative it is. For example, eating Piscaltine's cake will forever trap Hettie in the Old Country, or the mischievous cobble fairies. On the other hand, much to its credit, this isn't a sequel that depends on the reader having read the first book.

ARC provided by publisher.

The White Princess; Philippa Gregory

The White Princess (The Cousins' War,  #5)The White Princess by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who isn't confused by who did what and was married to whom during the Cousin's War (better known as The War of the Roses)? There are several Queens named Elizabeth (before we even get to Elizabeth I), Kings, Dukes and other nobles named Richard or Edward, and more than a few Henrys. Gregory's series looking at the war from various side-participants point-of-view not only helps clarify things but brings to life how difficult it was to continually switch sides and loyalties, or to at least pretend you have.

The White Princess is the story of Princess Elizabeth of York, post-Bosworth, and her marriage to Henry VII (she's one of the Queens Elizabeth). This Elizabeth has seen her lover (Richard III) die and her brothers disappear (those princes in the tower? that's them), and knows the importance of never acknowledging the possibility that the York family might rise again. She's in a loveless marriage to a paranoid, graceless man and under her mother-in-law's thumb - not the life she'd imagined.

The writing is sometimes a little modern for my tastes, but I did agree with the author's choices regarding the two pretenders that Henry Tudor has to contend with as he desperately tries to shore up his reign and the House of Tudor. I was less impressed with Elizabeth's powers of prophecy - that felt far too much like 20/20 hindsight.

ARC provided by publisher.

27 July 2013

The Twins; Saskia Sarginson

The TwinsThe Twins by Saskia Sarginson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two identical twins, raised by a "hippy dippy" mother in England - what could possibly go wrong? Well, let me tell you! Back in those "hippy dippy" days, Viola and Isolte live in a commune in Wales and then in a relatively primitive hut in Sussex, are homeschooled for a while and then join the village kids in grammar school, and generally run wild. Food is scrounged from the forest and transportation is on foot or Mom's Vespa (with sidecar). They meet two identical twin boys, John and Michael, and the four of them play in a nearby Martello tower and explore the woods. Then Mom meets Frank, an inoffensively bland guy with a babied daughter, Polly. Viola and Isolte aren't happy at the changes to their lives... All this is told in a series of flashback/dreams by Viola and Issy from a remove of over a decade. In the 1980s, Issy works at a fashion magazine and Viola is in hospital with anorexia (she needs to gain 28lbs minimum for them to consider releasing her). The end to their forest idyll came with the suicide of their mother, Rose (you'll have to read to find out what drove her to that point).

At times it's difficult figuring out whose memories or story we're following: is it Issy remembering, or Viola dreaming? Perhaps that's because as identical twins, raised in the way they were, their memories are so intertwined up to the time they leave the forest for London. As we piece together their story the voices do become slightly more distinct and by the end each stands alone.

I did wonder why this was set in the 70s and 80s, and why AIDS was dragged into the story (it's a very small digression, but still - was it there just so it clearly sets the time?). It's a great way for authors to avoid modern technology, but I'm getting a little annoyed with that.

ARC provided by author.

23 July 2013

The Chaos of Stars; Kiersten White

The Chaos of StarsThe Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Such promise... but ultimately, a pedestrian romance mixed with Egyptian mythology. Isadora isn't a half-breed, she's full-blooded, daughter of Isis and Osiris, raised in Egypt with her uncle Toth, grandmother Nut and all the gang. When Isis gets pregnant (four years early) and starts having dreams/presentiments about danger, it's decided that Isadora will be safest in San Diego. Luckily, gods have gifts for language, so there's no nasty accent to deal with. While in San Diego Isadora actually starts to make friends, and develops a crush on Ry - short for Orion - who's impossibly good looking and, oh yeah, seems to have a thing about languages.

The romance part is, well, ordinary. It's the Egyptian mythology part that makes this interesting and sadly, there's not enough of that. Learning Isis' story as "dear old Mom" was a good way to go over the myth! Although how Isadora is supposed to "pass" as normal when she swears by using "floods" and "Amen-Re" all the time is beyond me.

One fun part that wasn't as teased out as I'd have liked: the idea that gods only exist when people remember/believe in them. Of course, Pratchett did talk about that in Hogfather (who doesn't believe in the Oh God! of Hangovers?) but more of that, please.

ARC provided by publisher.

22 July 2013

Collected Short Stories; M.R. James

Collected Ghost StoriesCollected Ghost Stories by M.R. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These really reminded me of Robertson Davies' ghost stories - very atmospheric, somewhat creepy, but not that scary. It helps to continually remind yourself that they were written in a very different time and style (think Victorian Era). And, obviously, your creep factor limits are going to differ from mine (my last book-induced nightmare was when I was 8, thanks to The Clue in the Dancing Puppet and Nancy Drew; I'm still trying to figure out how The Turn of the Screw is scary).

As I said, very atmospheric - set in odd corners of Jutland, France and England, often in manors or churches. There are a lot of weird objects (books, an ash-tree, a room that appears/disappears) and not a few letters from the past, with all those weird spellings and Capital letter in odd Places.

Perfect reading for a dark and stormy day (or night).

Rogue; Gina Damico

Rogue (Croak, #3)Rogue by Gina Damico
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In Scorch, the author did a good job of filling in the gaps for those who hadn't read the first book. Sadly, in this one, you really need to have read one (or both) of the previous books to understand what's going on. I hate that! I'm not saying I want tons of backstory, but at least explain what Crashing is (for example).

And then there's the trilogy problem: we spend way too much time in the Battle for Necropolis, too little time with the ending. It really feels like the author was told that this wouldn't get published unless this was a trilogy and she went looking for ways to pad pad pad. Another thing I hate! This explosion of trilogies and series isn't doing the books any favors - too much padding, too little real plot.

What plot there is involves sealing the portals in the Grimmsphere, Lex dealing with Driggs' new situation, and trying to figure out how to deal with Grotton and The Wrong Book. Some of that is actually really interesting (Tut and Poe, not so much). More on Grotton would have been better than the endless climb up to the top of Necropolis. Less of the blah blah blah from Norwood and more about the Juniors in Necropolis. Fewer applications of Amnesia. Etc.

Still, my guess is the target audience will be happy with this, particularly if they still haven't gotten enough of this type of book.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 July 2013

Chickens in the Road; Suzanne McMinn

Chickens in the Road: An Adventure in Ordinary SplendorChickens in the Road: An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor by Suzanne McMinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

McMinn's memoir is one of those "how I found myself" books, filled with interesting ways to declutter and simplify (if you're willing to buy a farm and grow your own, among other things). She brings her three children to West Virginia, to her ancestral lands, after her divorce and first in the Slanted Little House and then at Stillwater Rising Farm she connects with an earlier way of life. And by earlier, she means "nearly pioneer" - the farm is not on a paved road (you either ford a river or cross three creeks to get there), the electricity goes out for a week over Christmas, etc.. There's also a relationship with "52", a distant relative and for some time the man in her life, to deal with.

All too often things were reexplained, often with the same language. That always bothers me, as though no one went through the book as a book and suggested that perhaps things could be tightened up. Her relationship with 52 was also a little problematic, to say the least. And while I know this was her story, her dream, more of her children's reactions would have been nice: it's implied that they don't do any farm chores, and their activities are occasionally mentioned, but more would have been nice.

One of the things I hate about eARCs popped up: there are some great recipes and craft ideas at the end and keeping them is impossible! You can't print or copy them from a Kindle, and I hate trying to cook with the Kindle nearby. Sigh.

ARC provided by publisher.

20 July 2013

Judith; Lawrence Durrell

JudithJudith by Lawrence Durrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago (about 20, now that I think about it), a colleague recommended Justine, the first of the Alexandria Quartet by Durrell. I read it... and at that point I was a "clean plate" reader, so I slogged through the first 50 pages... the first 100 pages... but somewhere in the 150 range, I got it. Then I raced through to the end and grabbed the next three books. So when I saw Judith at BEA, I was thrilled.

Durrell was not Jewish, so that he was able to really convey the energy and conflict of life in was then Palestine under the British Mandate is pretty amazing. The people here are human: filled with failings, a sense of purpose, broken, driven, etc.. The only one we meet who isn't well rounded is Doud, but perhaps that might have changed. This isn't a truly complete book, in that Durrell didn't finish it. The impetus was his screenplay(s) for Hollywood, one of which turned into a movie starring Sophia Loren; this is a blend of that one and his original idea. There are some awkward word choices (the refrectory is always referred to as "gaunt") and phrasings, but I'm sure that had he edited this, it would have been up to his usual standard.

Copy provided by publisher.

17 July 2013

In Falling Snow; Mary-Rose MacColl

In Falling SnowIn Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I got this as an eARC, and the more I think about it, the less I like them. Here's the problem: 25% of the way through, I didn't really care about the characters. There was too much digression into the lives of Iris (both in WWI France and 1970s Australia) and Grace. I don't mind time-shifting, but my guess is that this was in many ways supposed to mimic Iris' memories flitting from one thing to the other, but the overall effect was just jumbled. If I'd had this as a print ARC, I could easily have flipped through and seen if things came together, if it was worth sticking with. I can't do that with the eARC because it's just not set up for that kind of skimming. So, instead, this was a DNF.

I'm also wondering why WWI France is suddenly in vogue? This is the second book I've read, and fifth or sixth that I've heard about, set then. And because of that time setting, the "modern day" stuff needed to be in the 70s (the 60th anniversary of Iris' time there). Again, why? Because authors don't need to take modern technology into account? What am I missing?

ARC provided by publisher.

16 July 2013

If I Ever Get Out of Here; Eric Gansworth

If I Ever Get Out of HereIf I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric L Gansworth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely the for readers who love Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, particularly those who aren't quite ready for that one. The author grew up on the Tuscarora reservation in western New York and know whereof he speaks; like Alexie he's not afraid to talk about the stereotypes and myths.

Lewis is supposedly very smart, so he's tested into the school's gifted program. In seventh grade he had no friends and expects nothing different in eighth, except this year George has moved to the local army base and doesn't seem to understand that Lewis is persona non grata in the class. Over the course of the year they bond over music, but there's a huge gap between them: Lewis feels uncomfortable going into George's house, and he knows that George can never come inside Lewis'. Despite this, they really do develop a sincere friendship - one that most boys wish for. Their road isn't smooth, but their relationship is very real.

I liked meeting Lewis, but why was this set in the 1970s? He's about a year younger than I am, so all the stuff he experienced musically I was experiencing at virtually the same age (and since I was living about 2 hours east of the rez, I knew people who were going to Toronto for the Wings tour and remember the blizzard). But that's me, and there really doesn't seem to be any reason for the time setting except perhaps the author writing what he knows? It's not far enough away to be historical fiction, but not close enough for middle grade readers to really care. It also rang false that the adults really did adhere to stereotypes, with little nuance in them.

If readers can get over the time in which it's set, they'll really like this book. And lucky for them, Wings Over America has been released on CD!

ARC provided by publisher.

15 July 2013

The Quarry; Iain Banks

The QuarryThe Quarry by Iain Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's difficult to believe that Banks didn't write this without some inkling about what was going on with his health - the parallels are eerie. Perhaps there was something "out there" that he tapped into.

Told from the viewpoint of Kit (short for Kitchener, which is apparently the name of the room in which his father, Guy, realized that he had a baby not takeaway food; just imagine what he'd have been called if that had happened in the living room or salon!), this is the story of a last long weekend for Guy and his university friends. In part they've gathered because Guy is months, if that, from dying of cancer and in part it's to try to find a videotaped home movie, one of the horrible homages they did when at university together, this one a version of "Debbie Does Dallas" and thus potentially embarrassing to all of them.

Doesn't this sound like a book version of "The Big Chill" or "Peter's Friends", or another version of The Red Book? It is. Secrets are revealed, people act as they did "back then" or react to who they were then, etc.. Nothing really new or different with the exception of this all being seen through the eyes of the next generation. Kit himself is on the ASD continuum, which felt a little forced. Sometimes the symptoms worked and other times they felt like a way to keep us interested (the coffee stirring soliloquy, for example), I really didn't buy his snorting cocaine if he was ASD. And some of the other bits felt equally forced, like the location of the tape.

Sadly, I only have two Banks' non-SF works left to read. Sigh.

14 July 2013

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic; Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real MagicThe Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Many of the reviews are comparing this to the All Soul's Trilogy or Lev Grossman's works - add Jonathan Strange and a few others and you come close to understanding that this isn't really breaking new ground. That's not to say this is bad, just that the world Nora finds herself in isn't quite as new and fresh as others seem to think.

Nora is a nondescript grad student, not doing too well with her dissertation ("stuck" sums it up) and recently dumped by her long-term boyfriend. There's an odd encounter with a man she bumps into while walking on campus, but forgets about that. She goes to a wedding in North Carolina and manages to take a morning walk that ends up with her passing through one of those doorways to another world, except she doesn't know that's what's happened. At first, she just thinks she's gotten lost and been taken in by an incredibly chic, rich woman and her jetset friends... slowly she figures out that there's something wrong, or different here. Or both. 500 pages later, it seems as though we're being set up for a sequel. I really don't want to give away too many spoilers, but this new world is one in which magic is almost an everyday fact, while what we think of as "normal" is no where to be seen (no electricity, no industry, no women's rights, minimal education and literacy, etc.). Going from modern day New Jersey to a feudal society is a little shocking - luckily for Nora, she has her time at Ilissa's house/estate and her relationship with Raclin to help her acclimate a little.

So, why three stars? First of all - say it with me - padding. So many backstories could have been cut and made this a little tighter. Second, the author was trying to be a little too clever with all the literary references: Nora (think Ibsen) is working on Donne (a little heavy handed, no?), all the poetry, the translation of Pride and Prejudice, Narnia, Snape and more get name checked. And finally, that title. Ugh. But if you can get past all that, it's a good read and perfect summer reading for fantasy lovers.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 July 2013

The Tudor Conspiracy; C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Conspiracy (The Spymaster Chronicles, #2)The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few days ago Courtney Lewis blogged about New Adult and ended with "I'd be interested to hear what other people feel fall into New Adult but are not contemporary romance. What is out there that would appeal to this transitioning age group?"

Well, here's one that's not just historical fiction but the lead is not some plucky girl, it's a young man (probably late teens - if we're told, I forgot the exact age)! Perfect for history loving guys. I'm going to call this YA, because it really doesn't feel like a fully adult read.

Set in the Tudor Era, during Queen Mary's reign, we get a serious dose of the intrigues and plot surrounding Mary, her half-sister Elizabeth, the proposed marriage of Mary to Philip of Spain, and the Dudley family (already in the Tower for the whole Queen Jane Grey thing, soon to be in bigger trouble over the Wyatt Rebellion). Our hero is Desmond Prescott, who alludes to his royal blood (he's from the wrong side of the blanket) often and is loyal mainly to Elizabeth but mostly to the Tudors, so willing to do Mary's bidding as well. Not an easy balancing act!

What's interesting is that this is one of the few books that paints Mary in a sympathetic light - not so much of the Bloody here. As with all historical fiction, the language and some of the details feel a bit too modern but overall this is a great read for people a little intimidated by Hilary Mantel's tomes.

ARC provided by publisher.

Bloodline; Mark Billingham

Bloodline (Tom Thorne, #8)Bloodline by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Talk about nature, not nurture: a serial killer's son is killing the children of the people Dear Old Dad killed. I loved that Carol Chamberlain was back (Waking the Dead is even namechecked) and plays a real role here. The twist about who Tony Garvey is was a little telegraphed, but his reasons weren't... of course, I could have been reading into the author's intentions, but I think I was right about the ultimate why.

Again, this is less gruesome than earlier Thornes. The soap opera parts, with colleagues and Louise, are kept largely off screen (yay). One old face, Spike, makes a cameo and it'd be nice if other do the same. London's not that big, is it?

11 July 2013

A Conspiracy of Faith; Jussi Adler-Olsen

A Conspiracy of FaithA Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another series I'm just hearing about... and I thought I was on top of things! This is the third in the "Department Q" series and while, as with most mystery series, you don't have to read the previous ones to get what happens, there is a lot of backstory.

There are two mysteries here: the first centers on some arsons that are seemingly unrelated except for the derelict's body found in each fire's remains, the second is a much decayed letter that was apparently written in blood, stuffed in a bottle and dropped into the ocean in Denmark, eventually making its way to Scotland and then back to Denmark. Is the letter a joke? or is it really a plea for help? That's what Carl Morck and his "staff", Assad and Rose, have to figure out.

The answer to those questions is pretty interesting - not as gruesome as some mysteries I've read recently, but definitely not on the "cozy" side of the continuum. What is it with Swedish authors and this multiple POV theme? It's not that difficult to figure out who's speaking, but still, it did get a little tiring at times. The other problem I had was with Assad and Rose. Assad's issues are not only not resolved, but seem to be almost beside the point (unless the whole "who is he Skyping" question is going to be answered in the next installment, ditto his feud with Samir, his actual home, etc.) which made me wonder if they were there as padding to give the character some depth. And the Ysra/Rose thing was just weird and required a suspension of disbelief above and beyond that required for a mystery. There are other tertiary characters as well, all quirky and all much less fleshed out that they should be. Still, the two mysteries outweighed those issues to keep this a solid 4.

ARC provided by publisher.

10 July 2013

Shatter the Bones; Stuart MacBride

Shatter The Bones (Logan McRae, #7)Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally! DS McRae becomes DI McRae... wonder how long this lasts.

There's a version of Idol/Voice/NextBigThing singing competition on, and the top contenders - a mother/daughter team singing in honor of their husband/father who was killed in Iraq - have been kidnapped. Since they're from Aberdeen, of course Grampian's finest get to deal with it. This time, there's national pressure as the nation rallies to raise the ransom money, as well as holding endless rallies and releasing cover versions of the cover version of "Wind Beneath My Wings". Toes are cut off... wrong trees barked up... you know the drill. And then there's a drug bust that goes wrong, very wrong.

The critical moments come twice, once when Logan and Samantha's apartment is set on fire, and Samantha critically injured in escaping and then later when Logan terrifies a man (who turns out not to have set the fire). By the end, he's hallucinating/dreaming about Samantha's recovery and wondering if he really wants to remain on the force.

And curtain.

Can't wait to see what happens. next.

08 July 2013

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec; Fred Vargas

The Ghost Riders of OrdebecThe Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the author's name I never would have guessed "French female writer" but she is. This is seven books in to the Commissiare Adamsberg series so I was a little surprised I'd never heard of her.

The Ghost Riders are an old Norman folk myth which essentially says that if you're seen with them (by someone sensitive to such things) you will die. Adamsberg is drawn to Ordebec because Lina has seen the Ghost Riders and now one of the men she saw has vanished, presumed dead. That he's also in trouble because an arsonist/murderer escaped from his office, having killed a prominent French industrialist, helps him decide to leave Paris for a while; he's helped in this decision by his fondness for Leo, an elderly-but-very-sharp woman he meets and who is later injured. Her former husband is le Comte de Ordebec and it's the Comte who pulls the strings that get Adamsberg to Ordebec to oversee the investigation.

As with many mysteries, there are several things going on: death by bread (don't ask), the arson/murder, the Ghost Riders and their prey, a pigeon, and Adamsberg's recently found 28-year-old son's getting to know you period. They're intertwined here, with the solution to one leading to a hint in another, or simply providing that needed mental break that leads to a solution. Adamsberg is a very hunch-oriented detective, less concerned with procedure and clues than with his sense that something is wrong or right. Overall, not a bad read but not a series I'm going to actively hunt out - perhaps it's the lethargy in Adamsberg or the too-quirky-for-belief team he leads, but something just didn't click for me.

One funny thing that may be fixed by publication: the translator (or perhaps the editor) ran a change/replace for "count". It works really well when we're talking about le Comte de Ordebec, but not so well when someone needs to "comte" on someone.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Bone Season; Samantha Shannon

The Bone SeasonThe Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For such a young author, this is a remarkably realized world. However, like other young authors (I'm thinking Christopher Paolini) it does rely a little too much on previously reads, like The Night Circus or Daughter of Smoke and Bone. That said, it didn't rely so much that it dragged my overall enjoyment down.

Nearly 200 years ago something happened that created a rift between our world and that of the Rephaim. Using the "Bloody Prince" (aka Edward VII, possibly Jack the Ripper) and a seance he held as an excuse to persecute clairvoyants - who aren't all what we currently consider clairvoyants but anyone with some sort of sixth sense, from palm readers to "dreamwalkers" - control over the country was given to Scion. It's unclear right now if Scion is a corporation or something more like the Third Reich. We're now in the year 2059 and Paige is one of those clairvoyants, working for a mime-lord in the criminal syndicate that shadows London's legitimate world. One night, on her way to her Scion-employed father's apartment, she is stopped by the Scion troops looking for voyants and manages to murder one and seriously injures another. Captured, she's taken to Sheol I (the former city of Oxford) and claimed by the Warden as his human tenant. Of course Paige isn't going to take well to this change of status and location... but can she escape? And what about the others "harvested" from London during the 20th Bone Season?

As this is the start of a many-volume series, possibly as many as seven, there's padding in the form of exposition. Luckily this is dribbled out throughout the book, not doled out in huge chunks. And as often happens in long series, the pacing is sometimes off, especially at the end. The last 10% (I read this in an eARC, not a print version) felt very rushed.

ARC provided by publisher.

07 July 2013

Seven for a Secret; Lyndsay Faye

Seven for a SecretSeven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical mystery set in 1840's New York. We open with straight-as-a-dye Timothy Wilde, newly minted "copper star" (detective) - newly minted because the police force is newly minted - doing what he does best, investigating. There are a few flashbacks to the previous book (Gods of Gotham) as well as to the events of a few days earlier, but essentially we're dealing with the kidnapping of free blacks by slave traders. At this point in our history, if you were a runaway slave it was illegal not to return you to your owner; many free blacks feared (and rightly so) being kidnapped and brought to the South even though they were, in fact, free. Det. Wilde helps rescue two such free black from "blackbirders", but the next day discovers that they're again gone and the woman who alerted him to their disappearance has been murdered.

This should have been a slam dunk for me! I think that the language was a problem - not that there was a lot of "flash" (slang) language, but that it felt forced, almost as though the author had to put it in to prove that she'd done the research, that this was an authentic recreation of the times. It didn't help that all too often the slang was translated (the digression on "o.k.", for example). The mystery itself was pretty good, with one twist that I pretty much guessed earlier on.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 July 2013

A History of Merton College; G. H. Martin

A History Of Merton College, OxfordA History Of Merton College, Oxford by G.H. Martin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not really reviewable: standard history of a (very old) college, complete with "here's how many books we had in the library". If you don't understand ecclesiastic history, you'll be confused by the early years (the first 500 or so). Why did I have this? It was accidentally left in a box of books I was given; the owner is a graduate of Merton. Knowing the college, I thought I'd read... ended up skimming.

For all the boring bits, it was interesting to see how the school and university developed.

05 July 2013

The Aleppo Codex; Matti Friedman

The Aleppo Codex: The True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the International Pursuit of an Ancient BibleThe Aleppo Codex: The True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the International Pursuit of an Ancient Bible by Matti Friedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read, I hear the words in my head. All too frequently during this book I heard that portentous voice you hear on "documentaries" like "Mysteries of the Ancient Incas" - I suspect that was part of the author's intent.

What we have here is a story told in several time frames: today, when our author is tracing the mystery of the Codex, the 1940s/50s, when the Codex is moved from Aleppo to Jerusalem, and the history of the Codex that brought it to Aleppo. The most understandable of this story is how the Codex was created and moved through the Middle East to Aleppo. What happens after the UN vote to establish the State of Israel is a little (ok, a lot!) murkier and the modern day story is downright confusing. There are stories and hints and suggestions but nothing concrete. It's an incredible story, particularly given the importance of the book to the Jews (as the author says, this is a group held together by a "mere" book, unlike other peoples united by a homeland, language, ruler, etc.).

Given the historical importance of the Codex, it's a shonda that the Government of Israel hasn't really investigated what happened. The culpability seems to be all theirs, and obviously they won't admit anything. After all, they've just allowed the Dead Sea Scrolls to be studied by a wider range of people - maybe we'll get lucky in the next century, when everyone connected with this story is dead.

Copy provided by the publisher.

Merlin's Blade; Robert Treskillard

Merlin's Blade (The Merlin Spiral, #1)Merlin's Blade by Robert Treskillard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a huge fan of the Arthur/Merlin story, I was excited to read a new series. So what went wrong?

First of all, it took too long to actually figure out what was going on. It's obvious that we're in Dark Ages England, but the blurbage refers to a meteorite that makes a brief appearance and then I'm guessing that it reappears as the Druid Stone but that's never made clear. It's obvious that Merlin is different, but we don't get to see him as a seer/prophet, he's more of a bard who has visions (which may or may not be related to later parts of the series). The whole Druid/Christian culture clash didn't bother me (nor should it bother any fans of, for example, Marion Zimmer Bradley's take on the story), but the way in which it was done, with rather inept monks and bloodthirsty druids? No thanks.

And then... there... were... the ellipses... I haven't seen... this... many since reading... Barbara... Cartland. Unnecessary and distracting.

Copy provided by publisher.

04 July 2013

The Boy on the Porch; Sharon Creech

The Boy On The PorchThe Boy On The Porch by Sharon Creech
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first I thought this was your standard abandoned child story, but it's not - Creech has written something quite different and lovely.

One day, a boy appears on Marta and John's porch. He doesn't speak, but a scribbled note names him Jacob, and so the three start a life of sorts together. Jacob may be mute, but he definitely speaks, mostly to animals (he befriends a cow and a beagle) and Marta and John merely go through the motions of finding who he is and where he's from. I don't want to spoil the book, so let's just say that there's a real magic here that affects Marta and John and completely alters their lives. I wished the book had been longer, staying with Jacob on the farm as he befriends the animals. The changes in John could also have been fleshed out, but then it would have been a book for an older audience.

ARC provided by publisher.

One Last Thing Before I Go; Jonathan Tropper

One Last Thing Before I GoOne Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having heard the author speak about the book, I'd hoped for something a little more on the lines of Hoffman's Survival Lessons but longer, with more plot and humor. That's not quite the case here. Silver (who seems to be an American cousin of sorts to Wierd from Espedair Street) has spent the past seven years with his life on pause, living in a convenience apartment in a building filled with men who, like Silver, have lost their families through divorce. Then one day he suffers a TIA, ends up in the hospital and has the opportunity to change it all. The obvious choice is to have an operation to repair the tear in his aorta... but Silver's not the guy to make the obvious choice. Instead he decides to spend what's left of his life being a better man and a better father. Uh huh.

There were moments of real humor here along with moments of pathos. Those so-called teachable moments always have something just a little bit wrong with them, usually because Silver seems to now have a complete lack of censor on his tongue and those internal monologues? Not so internal. His family and friends at times veer into stereotype, but Tropper stops just before they become too predictable.

Copy provided by publisher.

02 July 2013

Mister Max; Cynthia Voigt

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things: Mister Max 1Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Max is one of those people able to blend in, taking on whatever appearance he wants. I don't mean this in a magical sense, I mean in that "you look vaguely familiar but I'm pretty sure I've never see you before" sense. His only distinguishing feature is his eyes, a browny-grey (or is that grey-brown?). His parents are actors, invited on some sort of Shakespeare Wallah-esque trip to India... except the ship they were supposed to leave on never existed, and they refuse to actually show the invitation to anyone. Left behind, sort of under his grandmother's care, Max starts to search for them and some form of employment to keep things together until they return. His ultimate job? Solutioneer. Not quite in the same realm as Lemony Snickett, but definitely in the neighborhood. Middle grade readers will enjoy meeting Max... and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Door Within; Wayne Thomas Batson

The Door Within (The Door Within, #1)The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Interesting premise, but the execution was a little flawed and obvious. Bored/lonely/misunderstood boy ends up in a land very unlike our own, one with rules and quests and Experiences.  Read it before, right?  Aiden's entry to the Realm comes via mysterious scrolls, which was an interesting device.  More on that would have been nice.  I also loved the idea that within the Realm each human has a doppelganger Glimpse and their lives in some way are tied together (although they never meet). But beyond that, I wasn't impressed.

Perhaps one of the reasons I was less impressed was that this seems to have been formulaicly written to meet some Accelerated Reader criteria (literally - the AR logo and that of Renaissance Learning appear on the book).  Sigh.  Another reason was that there were weird uses of italics: in some cases, they denoted internal thoughts, in others vocabulary words like quarterstaff.  Sigh again.

Copy provided by publisher.

The Dying Hours; Mark Billingham

The Dying HoursThe Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read the first seven DI Thorne's in only a few days (intermixed with the DS McRae books by MacBride), I was thrilled to actually meet Mark Billingham and get a personalized ARC of the 11th book. Squee! /fangirl moment

Newly demoted Inspector Thorne is now walking - well, driving - the beat, managing other "regular" police as they patrol. He's also in charge of a lot of paperwork. Yay. And then there's his domestic situation, living (mostly) with Helen and her son. One night there's a dual suicide that for some reason just doesn't feel right. You know, that hunch thing. That thing that all too frequently gets Thorne into trouble... Despite being relegated to South London, he gets his friends Holland, Kitson and Hendricks to help investigate what is clearly not a real murder. Need I go further? There's less whodunnit here than there is a whydunnit and a "will they get him".

The later books are less bleak than the earlier ones, which I have mixed feelings about. It is nice to have the characters show some growth, but not so much that this veers into soap territory - nor has the cast become unweildly large. For some reason this was a faster read than the previous ones. Luckily for me, I still have books 8-10 to read while he writes Book 12.

ARC provided by publisher.