23 September 2013

The Goldfinch; Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's impossible to compare this to The Secret History (still one of my favorite re-reads) or The Little Friend, but it does in some ways fall in between the two. Tartt's ability to give characters different voices is as strong as ever, and her use of language even stronger. So why only three stars? I've really been vacillating between three and four, to be honest - not because of the writing but because of the long (to me) digressions. There were times when the plot ground to a halt and we got tons of exposition that really didn't move anything forward but felt like perhaps she'd written them and wanted somehow to put these passages in, so why not send two characters to a bar or something and just talk? Not converse, talk.

I have to give her credit for surprising me at several moments. There were times when I thought "ok, this is what will happen" and then discovered that no, it didn't happen and wasn't going to happen. Other times it was a little more obvious which way things would go, but it was those surprises that made me wonder what I really thought about the book. What I mean is, at times I wondered why we were heading in this particular direction and then found myself amidst one of the exposition passages that dragged things down while sort-of setting up the next bit.

This isn't the re-read (and re-re-read, or re-re-re-re-read) that Secret History is, but it's a better read - and more thought provoking - than Little Friend.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 September 2013

Children of Paradise; Fred D'Aguiar

Children of Paradise: A NovelChildren of Paradise by Fred D'Aguiar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These days, "drinking the Kool-Aid" is one of those toss-off lines - sadly, I remember watching the news when it became a horrific reality. In Children of Paradise, the author does a good job of imagining what it was like to be part of a communal group living in an unnamed South American jungle. Readers are slightly removed from the action despite the use of first person points-of-view because he never uses the word "I" but always refers to the p.o.v. by their name ("The preacher says..."). And one of those we follow? Adam, the compound's gorilla. Now that's bold!

It's clear that this supposed paradise is riddled with cracks and problems (not to mention small acts of disobedience). What's not so clear is why the people adore their preacher, why they stay when it could be easy to go - much less why they put up with some of his ideas. In part this is because we never really follow a true believer, and in part it's because we join the story closer to the end than to the beginning or middle. And that ending? While it's a little muddled, it did bring back the memory of those days 35 years ago, watching the news, hearing about the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid that nearly 1,000 people drank and died.

ARC provided by the publisher.

14 September 2013

Two Sisters; Mary Hogan

Two SistersTwo Sisters by Mary Hogan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

25% of the way through and I honestly had no idea where this was going. We have what appears to be two timelines: Muriel and Pia, the two sisters in the present, and Owen, who will be their father but he's just meeting their mother. Nothing much was happening to hold my interest so, sadly, DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

13 September 2013

Under a Silent Moon; Elizabeth Haynes

Under a Silent MoonUnder a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It appears that Ms. Haynes has decided to go in more of the procedural direction than in the psychological thriller direction, which is too bad as Into the Darkest Corner was really great. As a procedural writer, there's something a little missing.

There are several points-of-view here, but the majority of the investigation is told from that of Louisa, newly promoted to Detective Chief Inspector and still a little raw from her brief affair with married DI Andy Hamilton. The deaths of Polly and Barbara, neighbors, are the major investigation - are they connected? if so, why and how? or is this an awful coincidence? Intertwined are the stories of Flora (Polly's ex and daughter of the Man Most Likely To Come On Police Radar) and Brian, Barbara's husband.

The blurb says this is a mix of P.D. James and E.L. James and, well, there's more of the latter than the former but really? That's publicity-speak and only because they couldn't toss Henry into the James mix. Beyond that, the mystery is somewhat interesting with a few twists, but the denouement seems jimmied (see what I did there?) into the book. When a killer confesses in one of those "here's what I did and why" speeches I'm less impressed than if it's pure police work that figures it all out. For me, the loss of stars came because while there are twists, they aren't quite as big a surprise as one might have hoped for. Sadly, the author's first book remains her best - perhaps Barbara Vine is the better role model than anyone from the James family.

ARC provided by publisher.

09 September 2013

The Whole Golden World; Kristina Riggle

The Whole Golden WorldThe Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was just whelmed by this book, the story of what happens when a wise-beyond-her-years 17-year-old has an affair with her 29-year-old calculus teacher. The plot wasn't surprising: every thing you expected to happen did happen, and even the psychological exploration of why (on either side). Sadly the characters were also unsurprising, all of them hitting the right notes at the right times, moving through shock, anger, denial, bargaining, love, hate, etc. with relative ease. Which is too bad, because had the author been more daring this could have been a really great book.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Dark Winter; David Mark

The Dark Winter (Aector McAvoy, #1)The Dark Winter by David Mark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hull, England is probably not a city most of us think about when we think of England. Setting a mystery there (and I'm guessing this will become a series) is somewhat bold, but also a good choice since most readers won't have some preconceived notion of what the city should be like. Our Hero, Aector McAvoy (you can call him Hector) is a paler version of Mark Billingham's Thorne and Stuart MacBride's MacRae - not quite as flawed, not quite as radical, not quite as... well, real. He does have hunches, though, and a strong sense of justice.

In this book he's on the case of a young girl (15) brutally stabbed and murdered in Church during Eventide when he's called to speak with the sister of an older man who apparently committed suicide by riding off to sea in a lifeboat in the seas near Iceland. Then there's a drunk who dies in a house fire. Connected? And if so, how?

There's promise here in terms of setting and darkness (which I love), but there's still a way to go before we hit Billigham/MacBride territory.

A Beautiful Blue Death; Charles Finch

A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Mysteries, #1)A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author has clearly tried to craft a detective in the Lord Peter Wimsey/Albert Campion mold but, well, it's no longer the Golden Age of Mysteries and this just misses. It's not bad, but it's not what the author was trying for either.

The "blue death" refers to a rare poison used on a maid for reasons unknown. Yes, she was a flirt. Yes, she seemed to have more than one boyfriend. But murder? Especially murder disguised as suicide? Enter Charles Lenox, second son (like Lord Peter, but not gifted with a title), gentleman and detective. His relationship with the Yard is similar to that of Holmes, in that he doesn't trust them and Inspector Exeter doesn't like him. Why is Lenox involved? Because his neighbor/childhood friend, Lady Jane asks him to get involved as the now-dead maid was formerly in her employ.

There are trips to Parliament, balls, traipsing through some of the seedier areas of London, the type of Holmesian attention to detail (candles) one hopes for and a discussion of gentlemen's clubs. Plus a vague romance between Lady Jane and Charles. Maybe. The mystery is a little mild with far more effort on setting and atmosphere.

06 September 2013

If You Give A Duke a Duchy; Nine Naughty Novelists

If You Give a Duke a Duchy, Or, Love's Savage WhiplashIf You Give a Duke a Duchy, Or, Love's Savage Whiplash by Nine Naughty Novelists
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unlike The Zillionaire Vampire Cowboy's Secret Werewolf Babies the jokes here aren't subtle (example? Twins named Colin and Firth). And that's part of the problem - rather than trusting readers to laugh, it's like Robin Williams when he tosses in every possible reference he can in hope of getting some laughs instead of really developing a joke.

This is still a pretty good send-up of the genre, with multiple bizarre euphemisms for a man's, well, man parts and lovemaking that defies imagination. The Shakespearean twin exchange plot appears, as does the evil guardian, the too-wise-but-ignored Ward, and multiple misunderstandings about intentions. For $.99 you can't go wrong!

05 September 2013

The Cartographer of No Man's Land; P.S. Duffy

The Cartographer of No Man's LandThe Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What is it with WWI? Are we gearing up for the centennial of the war starting? Did I miss something? Whatever it is, this is one of the many books I seem to have read that in some way deal with WWI (some also deal with WWII, like Letters from Skye).

The thing is, the story has to be engaging and after 100 pages, this one wasn't. Father-son problems, the horrors of war, a son without a father because he's at war? Nothing new and nothing that grabbed me. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

Book of Ages; Jill Lepore

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane FranklinBook of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sigh. Sadly, the author got in the way of this book about an interesting woman, Ben Franklin's younger sister.

Jane Franklin was the youngest of 17 (yes, seventeen!) children, and the one closest to her brother Ben. I'm sure at some time I knew that Ben was from Boston, but he's so identified with Philadelphia that I'd forgotten. She could read but her writing was - to put it mildly - poor. Fancy lettering at times, but fanciful spelling, grammar and what they used to call pointing and we now call punctuation. That's one of the problems with this book: the author felt compelled to translate the letters Jane wrote to her brother and others, usually with an awkward lead-in. There were other ways to have handled this that would have been smoother.

The author is upfront with us, admitting that we know very little about Jane's life (she's omitted from Ben's autobiography) except from what we read in her letters and the letters she received. And here comes the other device I found annoying: the author illustrates the poverty of Jane Franklin's life by comparing it to others (including Jane Austen). Of course there's a lot about Ben and his life, and because Jane was very family oriented, we get a lot about his children. We also have quite a lot about her family, which stretched to four generations. Sadly, we got reminded frequently about people and problems (and the House That Douse Lived In, and yes, you're meant to think about the House That Jack Built). Perhaps I'm different from most readers, but I can keep events and people straight over a few chapters.

Still, the opportunity to read about someone virtually forgotten by history and yet who played such an important role in the life of one of our Founding Fathers was wonderful. And despite the writing ticks and odd digressions, we get a great view of what life was like back in 1700s America.

ARC provided by publisher.

Death in the Vines; M.L. Longworth

Death in the Vines: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal MysteryDeath in the Vines by M.L. Longworth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather slight mystery with a little too much explication for my tastes.

Set in Aix and suburbs (perhaps banlieu is more accurate? this is France, after all...) there are a couple of mysteries, one concerning the theft of some very valuable wine from a vineyard's cave and the other concerning the murder of an older woman who is exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's. The tie-in? The woman dies in among the vines (didn't you read the title??).

I'm not sure how much Marine Bonnet contributed to the solving of this mystery, but Judge Verlaque definitely pushes things forward. My guess is that a partnership sounded better and I hope they'll become more even in investigation participation in the next book.