Saturday, January 17, 2015
Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series is one I hope you have been reading. Not only is Rutledge an excellent character, through his investigations we get a good look at England post World War I. A Fine Summer's Day however is a prequel showing us the country on the verge of that terrible war and Rutledge's background.
He is an inspector with Scotland Yard before the war and newly engaged to the beautiful Jean Gordon. His sister and an older family friend try to warn him that Jean is not the woman for him and on occasion he has doubts himself but he loves her and she is thrilled to be planning their wedding. She is also determined, as the daughter of a military officer, that he should enlist and go off to war like seemingly every other young man in England. In her mind he would look handsome in a uniform and after a short time as a hero in glorious battle (of which she has no real concept), he would return to her and her social schedule. Rutledge is a realist, doesn't believe there is a good reason for them to go to war, and has no intention of enlisting.
Meanwhile he is thoroughly caught up in a case his superiors order him to leave alone. Several men have died, murdered, Ian thinks, even though one death at first sight seems like suicide. There are similarities in that most have consumed a glass of milk shortly before dying. All are reputable men with no apparent reason to commit suicide and don't seem to have any connection. However, the connection must be there and Rutledge is determined to find it before any more men are killed.
I enjoyed this story but even more I liked seeing the patriotic fever overcoming England as war becomes more definite. Even Rutledge's investigation is affected as young Scotland Yard and police department men rush to enlist and no matter what needs to be done there is a shortage of personnel to do it. And of course the reader knows how many of those young men will never see England again and how many will return maimed.
This is a wonderful addition to a superior series.
Friday, January 9, 2015
I've been having a hard time deciding how to review this book. The author (writing under a pen name here) has been a foreign correspondent for a British newspaper and has written eight nonfiction books, but I believe this must be his first effort at fiction. In my opinion, he would do much better concentrating on nonfiction.
The sad thing is that there is a good story in here. Unfortunately, I was too distracted by all the mistakes in my print edition to concentrate. For instance, the hero is sometimes called Wilkins and at others he's Wilkinson. When the protagonist's name isn't consistent, you can imagine what other errors have made it into the final print version. Some can be explained by the translation from one computer program to another, but most are grammar, spelling, leaving out words or alternately leaving in words that were obviously supposed to be deleted. If you have an inner frustrated English teacher like I do, this isn't a book for you.
The hero is a flawed character but basically a good man and I liked him. He has gone to Pakistan to escape almost certain imprisonment in England but the former girlfriend he goes to see is a courageous aid worker determined to open schools for girls and keep them open despite Taliban attacks. Sally is his opposite, so selfless and generous that she influences Wilkins.
Since we know this story is "ripped from the headlines" as they say on "Law and Order," there is real fear for all of the characters in the book and frankly I was disappointed that it wasn't written by someone who could make the story come alive. MacLean is knowledgeable, obviously knows Pakistan and the perilous situation there, but couldn't do justice to his story.
Source: Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
I, Anna is a difficult book to read and to review. Every character in it is sad or downright depressed, they all have problems in their lives that have them wondering about suicide, and not one of them seems to have any fight left to face those problems. Many times as I read the book I just wanted to slap them and say, "You're not the only one with bad times in your life." Or the Joan Rivers in me would shout, "Oh just grow up already!"
The Anna of the title is a 50 year old blonde divorcee whose ex-husband has married a 32 year old woman. Anna Welles lives with her daughter Emily in a small apartment where she alternately drives her daughter crazy feeling sorry for herself or goes to singles parties where she meets the same group of losers over and over again.
At one of those parties she meets a particularly creepy man named George and goes home with him. He is divorced and living with his son, who knows the routine and promptly goes out to find a place to sleep. Anna smokes pot for the first time in her life and they dance to loud music before having sex. By the time she leaves, George is dead but she thinks he has just passed out. She has no memory of the evening at all.
A cop whose wife has just thrown him out for daring to suggest their 12 year old son is mentally ill and vicious is drawn into the murder case. Bernie Bernstein is just about as depressing to read about as Anna and George. The only difference is that he's still able to function - barely.
All of these people plus the other characters were so unlikable that reading the book was like pounding my head against the wall. I just wanted it to stop. But I persevered and finished it so I can say with authority my opinion of this one is to skip it unless you are just unbearably cheerful and need something to bring you down off the high.
Source: Open Road Media via Netgalley
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Leigh Russell's Geraldine Steel series is one I can always count on for reading pleasure. Her life has changed now since she has moved to London. Working with a new team, a new office mate, and getting used to a new lonely apartment is unsettling enough, but then she gets a case that defies logic. Meanwhile her former partner, Ian, meets her a couple times and she can tell something is wrong but he isn't ready to talk yet. On the other hand, her office mate keeps inviting her out for a drink and they extend the drink into dinner. And to top it all, her sister is hounding her to have her niece down to London for a weekend. When she has to cancel, they simply don't understand. Life is awfully complicated.
The case is a real puzzler. First a young actress is killed and the killer disappears. Another murder and again the killer disappears. Despite video coverage they cannot spot anyone. Many of the characters are students at a drama school and the top suspect is a casting director who is about 60 but his lovers are normally very young actresses using him to get parts. The current ones are the age of his son who is also a drama student. These characters are, uh, dramatic and young so everything is earth-shakingly important to them.
I spotted the clue that told me who the murderer was way before the end but I loved reading on to see when Steel would catch on. Meanwhile it was interesting to see how her relationships with her colleagues developed, particularly her partner, Sam, who isn't afraid to let her know she isn't delegating enough work. It makes the others think she doesn't trust them to do the job and they're offended. I like series where the main character grows and changes. That's certainly the case in this one.
Source: Witness Impulse/HarperCollins
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Some Randy Wayne White fans haven't been impressed by his Hannah Smith series but personally I love it. Hannah comes from a historic Florida family. She's a fishing guide and a private investigator too, having inherited her uncle's boat and business after he taught her everything he knew. Hannah is at ease out of doors but she's also feminine and even a sometime lover of White's Doc Ford character.
As usual in a Randy Wayne White novel there are funny and strange characters but also some very real danger. Think venomous snakes and murderous chimps, alligators and vicious humans. You may just cancel that planned trip to Florida.
Hannah's friend Birdie, a deputy sheriff, introduces her to Birdie's wealthy aunt who hires Hannah to investigate a supposedly haunted house that sits on land the aunt has invested in. When Hannah and Birdie try to spend the night there, they discover the place is full of scorpions and that someone is watching them. They meet a strange archeologist who is conducting a dig on the property. He introduces them to people in a campground nearby and they turn out to be carnival people. There is also a rumor of attacks by chimp-like animals from a snake venom business at the edge of the campground.
I liked this different location and plot for the series. Also, Hannah is researching her family's history and one great-great-great-uncle seems to be involved in Civil War crimes in this area. This is my favorite book of the series so far; I look forward to the further adventures of Hannah Smith.
Source: Amazon Vine
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
We all seem to be fascinated with the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia, Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian Stephen and an assortment of Thoby's friends from Cambridge. Their story is told here by Priya Parmar in a series of vignettes, a bit like diary entries, from Vanessa's point of view.
Thus we see Virginia Woolf always in sympathy but frequently in exasperation by her sister "Nessa" who loved her dearly but always had to keep in mind the state of Virginia's mental health. Virginia was unstable all her life and her siblings grew all too familiar with the signs that a mad spell was about to come upon her.
Virginia not only loved Nessa but was almost totally dependent on her. Jealousy reared its ugly head whenever Vanessa was the object of someone's else attention or admiration, particularly when Clive Bell began to court her. After Vanessa married him, Virginia seduced him into a platonic relationship simply because she couldn't stand his being in love with Vanessa. She most likely would have made it a physical relationship as well except that she had no interest whatsoever in sex.
Vanessa was an artist and yet in the Bloomsbury crowd her artistic achievements and talent were pretty much overlooked because she didn't demand attention like Virginia did. Bell was a rare exception, realizing that she had a real gift.
Thoby died young of typhoid fever and since he had been the leader of the group and much of what they did together, they were all devastated. The house where the siblings lived together for so long became a place for them all to mourn together. Their butler, Sloper, didn't approve of their life because the young women would gather in the evenings with the men without a chaperone. Their half brother, George Duckworth, handled their money and highly disapproved of their bohemian lifestyle. He was particularly upset that the girls weren't looking for husbands.
The discussions in that house must have been wonderful. Parmar writes in a style I would imagine is how they spoke, i.e. Parmar writes of words sprinting through the room. She also shows a ferry ticket showing arrival in England from France rather than just writing that Vanessa had come home.
I came to have great admiration for Vanessa Bell. She was the soul of patience with Virginia, tried her best to control her sister's most destructive mad spells and to see that she ate. After her son Julian (Thoby's first name) was born, Clive was unfaithful and made no real effort to hide it. Vanessa in our time would probably have divorced him but in that age she remained faithful to him for many years, trying only subtly to stop his affairs. Her art was her life's consolation.
This is an easy reading, delightful book that gave me a better understanding of the Stephen siblings than an earlier biography of Virginia did.
Source: Ballantine/Random House via Netgalley
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Reading this book from my "book bucket list" was a Christmas treat for myself. I've had it on my EReader for a long time just waiting for a little spare time. It's one of those classics people like to claim they've read when they really haven't. I was interested because it begins at the time when Napoleon escaped from the Island of Elba and marched into France to regain control of the country, temporarily as it turned out.
You must accustom yourself to the flowery, yet formal prose and stilted dialogue which fits the time of the story and of fiction when it was written. Personally I didn't find those things any detriment because this is quite a good story with excellent characters. Of course there are coincidences that are a bit of a stretch, and plot devices that wouldn't fly in modern times, but I found them easy to overlook in my delight in the story.
The count himself is of course the best depicted character of all. He is initially a 19 year old sailor who has applied himself well to learning his trade and who is deeply in love with the girl he is about to marry. Edmond Dantes is on the brink of wonderful things, not least of which is his pending wedding to Mercedes. Such a promising young man generates jealousy though and he has innocently made two enemies. These two men forge a letter implicating him in the conspiracy to help Napoleon and he is sent to prison. Soon he is in a dungeon and all but forgotten except for Mercedes, his elderly father, and his former employer, Mr. Morrel.
His years of imprisonment and the intricate plot he follows to get revenge on the people who were responsible make up the bulk of the book, but the point of it all is the emotions that sustain him until he escapes and then how the years of obtaining revenge that he believes he is due affect him. His plans are fascinating, even cringe-worthy at times but always understandable because we know exactly what he endured in that dungeon.
I'm so happy that I finally can cross this book off that bucket list and have the memory of it for my life. I find myself thinking about it again and again as the days pass. It's one of those books that stay with you; there's just so much to think about.
Source: Free download