Monday, September 12, 2011

Mystery Monday: WICKED AUTUMN

WICKED AUTUMN by G. M. Malliet: Malliet's St. Just series is one of my favorite cozy mystery series, a tongue-in-cheek homage to the classic drawing-room mysteries, so I was very excited to pick up the first in her new series, WICKED AUTUMN. The Max Tudor series is not off to an auspicious start. While St. Just grabbed me from the beginning and had me laughing in delight, WICKED AUTUMN was a hard slog. I had to make myself keep reading so I could get to the end and write my review. Max Tudor is a former MI5 agent, now a village priest in charming Nether Monkslip. The horrid Wanda Batton-Smythe, head of the Women's Institute, is murdered. Since we are told early and often of Ms. Batton-Smythe's life-threatening peanut allergy, I hardly consider it a spoiler to disclose the method of murder. Yes, Death by Peanut. I could see that coming from miles away. Will Max need to dive into the murder investigation? Will Max have at least one potential love interest with which to flirt? Is there an obligatory New Ager with whom he gets on well despite their fundamental philosophical differences? Is there a stuffy former military man who thinks he's the center of the universe? Yes, all these and more cliches abound. Where DEATH OF A COZY WRITER subverted the genre with gentle mocking, WICKED AUTUMN seems to be trudging along in its well-worn footsteps. The major problem is character development, of which there is precious little. You might think that a former MI5 agent who decides to become a priest would be complex and nuanced, but this is sadly not the case. Max seems to be acting the part of the amateur detective with a dark past, rather than embodying it. The same is true of his supporting cast. The New Ager has no dimension beyond her New Ageyness. Likewise, wealthy antiques dealer Noah is just that -- a caricature of a wealthy antiques dealer. I found not a character with enough personality for me to relate to. This, coupled with a predicable, plodding mystery, made for a book I was glad to see the last page of.

Source disclosure: I received an ARC courtesy of the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Monday, September 05, 2011


THE STRANGER YOU SEEK by Amanda Kyle Williams:

Opening line: "The sun had not even burned dew off the grass under the live oaks, but the air was thick and soupy already, air you could swim around in, and it was dead-summer hot." Welcome to Atlanta, home of disgraced FBI profiler-turned-bail recovery agent/private detective Keye Street, recovering alcoholic, Chinese-born daughter of white Southern parents, and all-around smartass. Longtime friend Lieutenant Rauser, under pressure to apprehend the sadistic, taunting Wishbone Killer, asks for Keye's help as a profiler. Inevitably, she is forced back into contact with a hated former colleague, the "official" profiler on the case. Besides the obvious need to pull Keye into an investigation to provide plot, her foray back into profiling offers psychological insight. When Keye was a profiler, she also became an alcoholic and destroyed her marriage, so her involvement brings up a delicious stew of emotional and psychological reactions.

Atlanta and the South are fully formed and alive in THE STRANGER YOU SEEK. The atmosphere, the people, the contradictions, and the neighborhood descriptions make for a rich setting. I marked several passages (in addition to the opening line) that capture Atlanta perfectly. As is obligatory in serial killer novels, passages from the psychotic killer's point-of-view are included. These are usually my least favorite part of a thriller (yes, yes, your mommy never loved you and you're a total nutjob...we get it already), but Williams chooses a fresh approach that worked well for me. The pacing is excellent -- this is a stay-up-all-night thriller -- and the twists and developments kept me guessing. Williams has surrounded Keye with a group of quirky friends, colleagues, and family members that play off her personality in different ways.

Plot, pacing, and prose are all excellent, but what makes THE STRANGER YOU SEEK stand out from the average thriller is personality, which Keye has in abundance. She's brilliant, funny, and deeply flawed, but she knows those flaws well. An exchange between Keye and Rauser:

"He thinks he's a goddamned analyst now because he's in therapy. And he's so righteous. It's painful."
"And what was Dr. Dan's diagnosis?"
"That I can't be serious. That I have intimacy issues."
Rauser chuckled. "How'd you take it?"
I sighed. "I told him, 'I got your issues right here,' and I grabbed my crotch and walked out."

And, just like that, I have a new favorite series heroine. Lucky for all of us, this is the first novel in a series, with the second and third out in 2012 and 2013.

Source disclosure: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Random House through Shelf Awareness.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A Last Bit of Joy

SINISTER SCENES by P. J. Bracegirdle:
As the third and final installment of the JOY OF SPOOKING trilogy opens, Joy Wells is haunted by an inexplicable recurring nightmare. "Even if her fears about graduating were the cause, it still didn't explain the dream itself. What could plummeting into the sea possibly have to do with heading off to junior high?" Could junior high be any more terrifying than Joy's experiences in the delightfully creepy town of Spooking, which she is sure inspired famed classic horror author E. A. Peugeot? It seems likely that Joy's dream has a more disturbing source, and one closer to home.

SINISTER SCENES unfolds against the backdrop of an adaptation of an E. A. Peugeot story being filmed right in Spooking. It's a toss-up whether the disappearance of its young star or the upcoming school dance holds more horror:

"'What do you mean I have to go?' Joy demanded. 'Why?'
'Because if you don't, you'll regret it for the rest of your life,' Mrs. Wells warned gravely.
Joy looked at her mother, wearing a pensive expression. Since Joy was already hoping for an unnaturally long life, she had to weigh the possibility seriously, she decided. So she began picturing herself as a housebound old woman, bitterly wishing she had shaken her booty in a hot gymnasium with people she considered mostly bullies and bozos.
It just didn't seem likely."

Seriously, Bracegirdle cracks me up.

Joy is possibly the last child in literature I'd expect to become obsessed with being in a movie (and I mean that as a compliment), but her abiding love of Peugeot makes her excitement in accepting the lead role seem natural. She is not initially excited about the movie, since rumor has it that the movie includes vampires AND zombies "...the two monsters even Joy couldn't stand lately, mostly because every girl at Winsome had somehow come under the impression that they made good boyfriends. Pale and pensive with six-packs, they craved not blood and brains apparently, but chocolate and kisses. Joy was outraged. What was happening to the world?"

Precocious Joy is a horror fan who prefers to dress up in the clothes of her house's former occupant, adventurer Melody Huxley. As the series has progressed, she has moved from singular loathing of everything Darlington to finding its good points, even making a Darling friend, but she has remained wholly herself. She still sees ghosts and monsters everywhere (because in Spooking, they ARE everywhere), and her sometimes misguided Gothic sensibilities add to the series' dry humor, but she is undeniably becoming more complex and less of a self-imposed outcast. She relishes her movie role with enthusiasm she once reserved exclusively for the macabre. But there is plenty of the macabre to be had during filming. Rock star and mediocre actor Teddy Danger, haunted by the creepy mansion that is his home-away-from-home during filming, undergoes a radical transformation.

Will Joy finally prove that Spooking was the home of E. A. Peugeot? Will she find out the fate of Melody Huxley? Will she even survive the trilogy? Good heavens, you don't think I'd tell you any of THAT, did you? Get thee to a bookstore!

I highly recommend starting Joy's adventures at the beginning, with FIENDISH DEEDS followed by UNEARTHLY ASYLUM. Although a Spooking novice could follow SINISTER SCENES as a standalone, there is so much character development (especially with the series villains, who become satisfyingly nuanced) throughout the trilogy, that skipping the first two installments denies you an abundance of backstory.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - SINISTER SCENES

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is from SINISTER SCENES, the final installment of P. J. Bracegirdle's JOY OF SPOOKING trilogy:

"A fog poured inside the cemetery gates, rushing in like a ghostly tide. Over mounds and gullies the white vapor rolled, swallowing up markers and swirling around monuments, all the while pursuing a girl with straight blond hair." (p. 1)

Saturday, August 06, 2011


An original, delightful paranormal coming-of-age tale, MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN introduces Jacob, a boy who grew up listening to his grandfather's tales of monsters, accompanied by fake-looking photographs of extraordinary children. As Jacob grows older, he loses interest in the obviously false tales (presumed to be allegory for his grandfather's flight from the Nazis as a child) until he witnesses his grandfather's gruesome death by a tentacled creature. His grandfather's last words send Jacob to a remote Welsh island to uncover the mysteries of his grandfather's strange past as a refugee cared for by "The Bird," Miss Peregrine. Finding the bombed-out remains of the "orphanage" where his grandfather spent his childhood is only the beginning of his journey.

Riggs tells Jacob's peculiar story with the help of vintage photographs, which adds a whimsical yet grounding element to the tale.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

BOUND by Antonya Nelson

This is a beautiful little book, not, despite references to the BTK serial killer, a thriller or mystery. Instead, the killer hovers at the periphery of the novel, connecting past and present, rich and poor, emotion and reason. All the characters are bound to each other, and throughout the novel, their connections deepen and evolve. In the end, we are all connected, though some connections have more impact on us than others.

Catherine is at the novel's center. The third (her mother, Grace, would say "trophy") wife of the fickle Oliver, she is nearing the age at which Oliver has left his previous two wives for a younger sweetheart. She is fascinated by the coverage of the BTK killer, returned to Wichita after all these years. She and her improbable friend-from-the-other-side-of-the-tracks, Misty, had relished the coverage of the original killings during their high school years. When Misty dies, Catherine finds out that her old friend had not only named her now fifteen-year-old daughter after Catherine, but has left guardianship of Cattie to Catherine. Catherine, who had given up on having children (Oliver had had a child with each of his previous wives, then had a vasectomy), decides to meet the girl, who is currently missing, before making a decision. Cattie becomes a rescuer of dogs and fugitive along with the PTSD-stricken soldier, Randall, one of her housemates. Dogs play key roles in this novel: Cattie obsesses over the fate of Max, whose empty kennel was found in Misty's car, Catherine's beloved corgis stand in for her absent children, and Cattie and Randall rescue a dog they call Bitch and her puppies. The BTK killer is another thread that secures multiple connections, with even Catherine's intellectual mother, Grace, watching the coverage from her nursing home. Catherine reflects on her childhood in the wake of Misty's death and of the killer's return.

BOUND is a slender novel, more a long short story in feel, but Nelson's gift with language gives it a deep richness that excuses a few dangling threads that leave the reader speculating. Connections can be strengthened or made more tenuous, and it is refreshing not to find out how every connection ultimately ends.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Jasper Fforde

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is from SOMETHING ROTTEN, the fourth book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. If you've ever talked to me for more than five minutes, I've probably gone on and on about the brilliance of Fforde (postmodernism that isn't infatuated with its own cleverness!).

"I'd like Mel Gibson to play me," said Zhark thoughtfully.

"I don't think Gibson does bad guys. You'd probably be played by Geoffrey Rush or someone."



I give this one four stars for Gothic atmosphere and general creepiness, but only two stars as a novel. Leroy is an excellent writer, and the inexplicably creepy Irish seaside is a perfect setting for the bizarre. Grace's four-year-old daughter, Sylvie, is an odd child. She screams when water touches her face, suffers from hideous nightmares, and claims that her friend Lennie "is not MY Lennie." She draws the same house over and over and is obsessed with a photo of a place she's never been. With Grace's life falling apart, she tries a psychiatrist, and then, increasingly desperate, an expert in past lives. The novel takes some time to hit its stride, and Grace is an irritating woman. She throws on her tightest jeans and spindliest heels whenever an older man with rescuing potential is on the scene (Sylvie's uninvolved father was an older married man). She is reluctant to push Sylvie to find out the truth, which is natural, but not the way Grace waffles, which seems designed simply to add an extra hundred pages to the narrative. The paranormal psychologist, Adam, is not well fleshed-out, and his relationship with Grace lacks authenticity. Still, despite some eye-rollingly convenient coincidences, flimflamming to draw out the inevitable conclusions, and glaringly obvious clues, the creepy Gothic element is enjoyable. A good beach read.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Monday, July 25, 2011


IN SEARCH OF THE ROSE NOTES begins with eleven-year-old friends, Nora and Charlotte, and their teenaged babysitter, Rose, investigating the paranormal through the Time-Life book series. When Rose disappears, Charlotte and Nora again turn to the otherworldly to search for clues. Nora suffers through her status as "last to see Rose alive" and escapes the oppressive hometown, while Charlotte stays right where she is. When Rose's body is found sixteen years later, Nora reluctantly returns home to stay with her estranged friend. Charlotte wants them to pick up their investigation where it left off, and they deal with Rose's loss in very different ways. The novel unfolds with flashbacks to 1990 interspersed with the events after Rose's body is found. The integration of past and present is very well-done and reflects Nora's reluctance to remember (or acknowledge) some of the questions she had when Rose disappeared.

As the mystery of Rose's fate unfolds, Charlotte and Nora's reunion proceeds with awkwardness realistic for two people who were once close. The differences between the two friends as children and as adults make this a particularly nuanced novel, and Arsenault's investigation into the adults children become is fascinating and not intrusive. This is a well-plotted mystery and a unique coming-of-age story. My only complaint is the title, which implies that there are some notes that are the subject of a search. I will spare you the annoyance of wondering when these notes might be mentioned by telling you that they aren't the focus of the novel's unfolding plot.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


The problem with a fantasy novel that does not, as mandated by genre, kill off the parents, is that the tedious issue of parents dealing with their young children's adventures (or the children's disbelief-suspending avoidance of discovery) must be addressed. While Meloy's resolution to this quandary is not the most satisfying, the magic she brings to a 1952 London in which alchemy is alive and well offsets that small annoyance. Janie and her family move from Los Angeles (where the McCarthy hearings are in full force) to London under a certain amount of duress. Janie meets Benjamin, the son of the apothecary, who confesses an infatuation with the mean girl at school and an ambition to become a spy. When Benjamin's father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin team up with Pip, a local pickpocket, and Sergei, a fellow student, to protect the book with which the apothecary has entrusted his son. Without giving up too many plot points, I will say that I wasn't entirely satisfied with the level of involvement of either Pip or Sergei. While they play key roles, they seemed a bit neglected and shoved out of the way during the main plot (which involves using alchemy to avert a nuclear disaster).

The setting of this novel was fantastic. In post-war London, shortages are still in effect, nuclear power is a major issue, and across the Atlantic, anti-Communist paranoia and unbelievable abridgments of First Amendment rights are affecting families. Alchemy is more science than magic, and the distillation of herbs into wonderful potions is great fun. The ending left me uncertain as to whether this book begins a series or not. If it does, the ending is pointlessly expositional, but if it does not, there are unanswered questions that make it deeply unsatisfying. I found the combination of alchemy with the historical setting highly readable, so I hope the first is the case. Although it has its flaws, THE APOTHECARY was an enjoyable read.

Source disclosure: I received this book compliments of the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mystery Monday: Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

I read Chevy Stevens first book STILL MISSING the early part of last year. I'm amazed she has another new book out already! But I was thrilled to know that, because her first book was so well written. And her second entry in the book world is even better!

In NEVER KNOWING, a woman (Sara) finally decides to look into who her birth parents are after always knowing she was adopted. She never quite fit into her adoptive family, especially when her mom was able to have two more biological daughters after adopting Sara. Sara's dad never really seemed to like her and treated her differently than her sisters. When the day arrives that Sara receives a copy of her birth certificate in the mail, opening it is like opening Pandora's box. She realizes her birth mother is a professor at a university nearby. When she tries to meet with her, the woman doesn't want to get to know her. In fact, she can't stand the sight of Sara! Heartbroken, Sara hires a private investigator to try and figure out who her birth father may be. Through information the investigator collects, Sara soon learns she is the product of a violent attack and her father is a serial killer still at large known as the Campsite Killer. As Sara digs deeper, information is leaked to the public and the Campsite Killer soon contacts her. This triggers a feeling of obligation on Sara's part to get this psychopath off the streets. Her obsession with trying to catch her biological father threatens her life and her relationships with her fiancee, daughter, and family.

This book was really good. I always hated when I had to set it down to do something else. Every chance I got to pick it up I would read a few pages here and there. This is one that I wish I had an entire day to just cuddle up and read straight through. Perfect for a vacation read! Stevens uses "Sessions" with a psychiatrist to break up the book instead of chapters, just as she did in STILL MISSING. Perhaps this will become Stevens trademark style of writing? I like it. It helps with character development. You get to delve into the main character and really know what she is thinking. I liked this book even better than STILL MISSING just because the creepy guy wasn't as creepy as The Freak. And I loved the "hunt" of this book. It was so suspenseful! I wanted to keep reading to find out if Sara caught the Campsite Killer or if he got to her first! I will for sure pick up the next book that Chevy Stevens writes and probably the one after that too.

NEVER KNOWING hit the bookshelves this past Tuesday on July 5th! So no need to wait in adding this one to your library!

Source Disclosure: I requested a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Mystery Monday: The Kate Burkholder Series

Hard to believe it's already been two years since I reviewed Linda Castillo's first book in her Kate Burkholder series, Sworn to Silence. I really liked that book! I read it in a little over a day.

I've been wanting to read Pray for Silence since I first saw it was released. It wasn't until I was going on vacation and looking for a new book that I quickly purchased it and downloaded to my NookColor. And I was not sorry I did. In this second installment of the series, seven members of an Amish family are found dead in their home leaving law enforcement officials baffled. Not until Kate finds a hidden diary written by one of the teenage daughters (Mary) in the family does she realize that Mary's boyfriend may be the #1 suspect. But Mary never mentions him by name. Throughout the case, Kate identifies with Mary as a victim. Her past catches up with her; Kate was victimized as a young Amish girl who eventually left that way of life. She finds it hard not to take it personally as she learns about Mary being taken advantage of. The only downside to this book is that there are quite a few characters on the periphery. I had to remind myself who one of the suspects was at the end.

Once I finished Pray for Silence, I was soooo excited to find a review copy of the latest book in my mailbox! I jumped right into Breaking Silence. Kate is called out to an Amish family's home where four children are left orphaned when it appears that their mamm, datt, and uncle are found dead in the manure pit in the barn. The coroner realizes at least one of them was murdered and the case turns around. Someone has been going around committing hate crimes against the Amish and they think the murders may be a part of that. However, Kate soon learns that things are not what they seem and maybe things aren't so simple in the Amish world. The family's secrets are revealed and things really twist around!

Throughout both of these books, Kate calls on John Tomasetti both to help her with the cases and to lean on in her personal life. They have both endured great personal hardship and are fighting their way back from being broken. They both have their demons but work well together. The thing I truly like about these books is the way Castillo writes the characters of Kate and Tomasetti. They are so real. And deep. Really, really great character development in this series. The only thing that bugs me a bit is that it seems that Castillo is stuck on the young innocent Amish girl being victimized. It would be nice if her next book had a fresh take on the Amish community and the case involved a storyline other than a young naive Amish girl.

Source Disclosure: I purchased Pray for Silence and received a review copy of Breaking Silence from the publisher.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: Hopper and Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

This cute little book showed up on my doorstep earlier this week. My five year old asked to read it right away.

Hopper (the elephant) and Wilson (the mouse) are the best of friends. One day they wonder what they will find at the end of the world. So they set sail in a boat made out of newspaper and all they packed is their red balloon. When they reach the end of the world, they wish to find an endless supply of lemonade and to be able to touch the moon. It is smooth sailing until they run into a storm and end up separated from each other. After searching high and low for each other, they do find one another again and end up "at the end of the world" which is actually right where they began: home.

This is a very cute book with simple text. One you'll be happy to read at bedtime! ;-) My five-year old liked it quite a lot. She was a little concerned in the middle when Hopper and Wilson couldn't find each other, but I assured her that it would be okay by the end. The illustrations are lovely. Hee hee...the only thing I can say that bothered me at all is the choice of Wilson for the mouse's name. All I could think of when Hopper was yelling, "Wilson!" into the middle of the ocean...Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away yelling for his pet volleyball. But, of course, small children would never think of that. :-)

Source Disclosure: This book was sent to me by The Penguin Group unsolicited in the hope that I would review it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Reads

Okay, yes, I will fully admit, this post will seem like filler because once again, I am waiting to finish my current book before I write up a "real" book review. But I was reading Shelf Awareness ("Pro"--because apparently they have a "Reader" edition now too) this morning and they listed two articles about Summer Reading. There were some books that really jumped out at me and I want to remember them so I'm posting their book covers. :-)

From Nancy Pearl:
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

From The Huffington Post:
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
South of Superior by Ellen Airgood
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

Flashback Friday - Tess Gerritsen

I admit it, I did not read Tess Gerritsen before I became hooked on RIzzoli & Isles on television. I apparently have some sort of weakness for female medical examiners, because even when the R & I dialogue makes me cringe (several times an episode!), I can't stop watching. I watched the Jill Hennessy one, too, and now the Dana Delaney. I've knocked out the eight books currently in the series in the last week or so, and really enjoyed them. The next book, THE SILENT GIRL, is due out July 5. If you watch the show and you're one of those people driven mad by differences between page and screen (a la BONES and Kathy Reichs), well, you're going to want to skip this series, but I enjoyed it. Complex plots, interesting investigations, and medical detail are excellent, but what really makes this series shine is the friendship between Rizzoli and Isles. Fun, if sometimes dark, summer reading.

Here's the series in order:

THE SURGEON: Jane Rizzoli (no Maura Isles until THE APPRENTICE) and her partner, Thomas Moore, are on the trail of a serial killer. Jane is not always likable - she's gone to great lengths to prove herself as a female cop, and she can be unreasonable, oversensitive, and belligerent. This is what makes her a standout character, actually, because there's more to her than a competent cop, and Gerritsen deals with the issue of sexism head-on, but not in a preachy way. The descriptions of violence were sometimes unnecessarily brutal, but the mystery is interesting, the plot twisty, and the investigation absorbing.

THE APPRENTICE: The second book introduces Maura Isles and continues where THE SURGEON left off. A new serial killer is in town, with some eerily familiar habits. This one dragged a bit for me at first, but quickly veered into unputdownable plotting. This one explores Rizzoli's character more, which is really enjoyable, as Rizzoli, Isles, and FBI agent Gabriel Dean hunt down a new killer.

THE SINNER: The series is really hitting its stride in the third installment, which focuses on a brutal attack on two nuns in a convent. Rizzoli and Isles are both lapsed Catholics, which gives their investigation complexity and allows Gerritsen to explore the theme of blind faith. The case becomes more and more complicated, as do the personal lives of the main characters.

BODY DOUBLE: This entry opens with Maura Isles arriving home from Europe to find her street filled with police cars, responding to her death in a car outside her own house. The woman looks eerily similar to the adopted Maura, so much so that she confronts the possibility that she had a twin. Meanwhile, a very pregnant Rizzoli is on the trail of a killer who targets pregnant women, giving her an uncharacteristic vulnerability. Maura's private life becomes even more complicated, between an unlikely attraction and revelations about her birth mother.

VANISH: A woman in Isles's morgue wakes up and takes a group of hostages that includes pregnant Jane Rizzoli. This one was fantastic, with Gerritsen exploring sex slavery and post-9/11 security measures that give the government frightening power. An excellent entry. My only complaint is that I could see a key plot twist coming from a mile away, but it was still worthwhile to watch it unfold.

THE MEPHISTO CLUB: A grisly murder/dismemberment with Satanic overtones sends Rizzoli and Isles to the Mephisto Club, an odd group of scholars dedicated to fighting demons. Yes, demons. They contend that some people can commit hideously evil deeds precisely because they are not human. The skeptical Rizzoli would like to write the group off as a bunch of weirdos, but they prove too helpful to dismiss entirely. The main action takes place in the United States, with some jaunts to Europe thrown in. Burial practices and mythology round out a complex plot.

THE KEEPSAKE: Isles is involved in the x-ray examination of Madame X, a mummy unearthed in the basement of the Crispin Museum. When a bullet and modern dental work are found on the mummy, Rizzoli investigates. More "keepsakes" turn up, leading to a search for a stalker with ties to a museum employee. This one stretched credibility maybe a bit more than other Gerritsen books, but I still found it enjoyable, and the museum/archaeology angle is an interesting one.

ICE COLD: This entry was an excellent thriller, though it takes a while to hit its stride. Maura Isles, reeling from personal issues, heads to a medical conference, where she encounters an old friend. The rarely spontaneous Isles joins him, his teenaged daughter, and his friend Arlo and wife, on an ill-fated ski trip. Lost in a snowstorm, they seek shelter in an empty house whose residents seem to have vanished entirely. This one gave me the creeps, and I started to wonder if Gerritsen was wandering into paranormal territory.

THE SILENT GIRL comes out next month, and I've preordered it on the Kindle.

Source disclosure: I purchased these books.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: Art Project Book Reviews

And now for something slightly different from my normal Picture Book Thursday post (and some shameless promotion besides).....I have started an art project blog to keep track of the projects I do with my girls during the summer months. I may not be able to read a ton of fiction these days or update the book blog often, but I felt like I could commit to updating an art blog weekly for the summer months. :-)

I plan out lesson plans each week by picking an artist, an artistic style, or a theme. I show my kids images of famous paintings that go along with the subject and then they work on an art project related to that.

We also have been making weekly (sometimes even twice a week) trips to the library this summer. And my oldest daughter has been into borrowing "How to draw...." books. So I've visited the 700-750 range in the nonfiction section of the library often. And I've found some GREAT books relating to art and kids. I decided I was going to put up a few reviews of these books on the art blog. Since they were BOOK REVIEWS, I figured why not cross post on the book blog as well. I'm sure there are some mom book bloggers out there who might be interested too! :-)

I found this book, Art in Action(1) by Maja Pitamic this week at the library as well as its counterpart Art in Action(2). Oh my, these are FANTASTIC books relating art and kids' art projects! I will be purchasing them. They break down into chapters by a certain theme like "Color", "Shape", or "Portraits". And then an artwork is profiled that fits within the theme. The artwork page shares interesting yet simple information about the artist or style and then the following pages depict project ideas.

Below shows the artist page for Henri Rousseau's jungle image: Surprised. We actually did a project related to this painting last year. You can see our project here. This page in Art in Action shows a fun collage you could do with the kids' handprints.

The images above show what the artwork page in the book looks like and the finished project.
In the "Nature" chapter of the book (below), you can see an image of Jacopo Zucci's Pergola with Birds and then create the following projects:

You can see from the images I took that the projects come with very visual instructions, also a supply list and most of them are very easy to do. The bird rug project could be applied to other imaginative play as well. Your kids could make rugs for their dolls. My daughter has a kitchen setup for her American Girl doll, this would be a perfect thing for her to make for that too.

What really impresses me about these books are the ease of the projects, the relatively "normal" supplies that can be found around most households easily, and the creativity behind the project ideas. These are things I have not really seen before (at least not all in one book). And I love that I'm interested in more than one project in a book. Sometimes, I find books where only one or two things appeal to me.

This last one is a Cezanne painting and a 3-dimensional box sculpture.

I would love for any of you to head over to Holly's Arts and Crafts Corner and become a follower! I have a few more books I may review of this sort. Please leave a comment and let me know if you might like to see more reviews of this sort here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Stephanie Plum

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Okay, for fluffy summer reading, it's hard to beat Janet Evanovich. Even if the Stephanie Plum series has had its ups and downs, it's moments like these that make me keep reading:

"'Vinnie had court business, and then he couldn't fit the dancing bear in his car, so Lula and I picked him up in Mooner's bus.' The expression didn't change on Ranger's face."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

YA Weekend

I like Gilda Joyce, thirteen-year-old self-styled Psychic Investigator. She's plucky, both a throwback to Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew and a thoroughly modern girl. Frankly, mysteries were more interesting before the Internet and cell phones, so Gilda's quirky preferences for a typewriter and outrageous costumes over constant texting and Googling are very welcome. And very well-explained, as she uses her father's old typewriter to share her thoughts and feelings with his spirit, and to type up her investigation reports. Her father's death was also her impetus for becoming a psychic investigator, as she years to talk with him again. In this, the fifth book, Gilda is headed to St. Augustine (the nation's oldest city!) for her mother's wedding. Yes, Mrs. Joyce has met a man on the internet and decided to marry him. Gilda is highly skeptical of Mr. Pook, as her letters home to her friend Wendy Choy demonstrate. Gilda knows there's something wrong with Mr. Pook...or is she just resistant to any man not her father? She must uncover the truth about Mr. Pook, help teen neighbor Darla embrace her talent for seeing ghosts, and plan her mother's ideal Southern Belle Wedding. In addition, she must do an extra assignment - a travelogue for Mrs. Rabido's class.

This is a fun entry in the series. The setting of St. Augustine is unique, and Gilda's hilarious reports to Mrs. Rabido provide historical background for the area. Gilda's over-the-top costumes take on a new dimension in the South, and her frustration with Darla's reluctance to see ghosts rings true. The mystery provides some genuine chills, and Gilda, as always, is up to the task of solving it.

Start with the first book, GILDA JOYCE, PSYCHIC INVESTIGATOR.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


What to say about Alfred Buber, charming miscreant, buttoned-up attorney, purveyor of ethically questionable sexual services, a man reminiscent of both Henry Higgins and Humbert Humbert? The unreliable narrator is a tricky thing to pull off, but Schmahmann does it brilliantly, right from the opening words: "These are the chronicles of the starship Buber, noted bibliophile, late night television addict, keeper of sordid little secrets so appalling he dares not breathe a word of them to a soul." Buber gives the reader fair warning that he's a complex character, likable despite his proclivities, much like the charming Humbert. He either has or has not brought a young prostitute home from the east and he alludes to the his inevitable downfall early in the story, though the reader does not yet know its exact nature. After becoming strangely attached to young Nok, whom he "met" in the Star of Love Bar, after visiting her village, and sending her monthly wire transfers, does he send for her? Bring her to his ostentatious yet barren home as his wife? Teach her the joys of channel-surfing, shopping, air conditioning? Or does he not?

Alfred Buber is an odd duck. Brought up in Rhodesia by communist parents who send him to England to live with a relative, it is perhaps not surprising that he holds convoluted opinions on social class. He first approaches Nok as a "client," but relates to her as a tutor as well. He becomes a lawyer and spends all of his money buying a plot of land on which to build his dream house, a cold, imposing mansion that signals that Buber has arrived. Image is very important to him, which makes it unsurprising that he would fabricate trips to Europe for the benefit of his law partners, who must never know that his vacations are sex tourism jaunts to Asia, not rambles through Paris museums. There are so many ways to tell this complex story, and Buber attempts several openings before hitting his stride. After all, how he presents himself will dictate how the reader views his actions. This dipping into first one part of the story, then another, sets up perfectly the multifaceted character of Buber, a portrait that makes unfolding events seem plausible, even rational. But then, we see events and characters only through Buber's eyes. We have no idea what Nok thinks about all this. Is Buber a likable, flawed man through her eyes? Or is that only the cast Buber's own point of view has overlaid on the plot?

Schmahmann has created an unforgettable lens through which to examine questions of love, obsession, exploitation and obligation. Buber, like Henry Higgins, like Humbert Humbert, is a character for the ages.

Source disclosure: I received a galley courtesy of The Permanent Press.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Graphic Novel: Charlaine Harris' Grave Sight, Part 1

I've decided that I wish every book on the planet came in graphic novel format. Then, I would actually be able to finish a book in a reasonable amount of time! :-) I read an e-galley of Charlaine Harris' Grave Sight graphic novel in a day! The experience was fantastic. It's taken me three weeks to try and get through the current book I'm reading and it frustrates me that I can't find the time to read it more, and it's a good book.

I have read Harris' second Harper Connelly book, Grave Surprise and I liked it. I've had the paperback edition of Grave Sight sitting on my shelf for a couple years and haven't been able to get to it. I was very excited to receive an e-galley of the graphic novel. The only downside, it was was just Part 1! Harris' book seems well adapted for graphic novel. And for me, someone who only has a few minutes a day to read, it's kind of nice getting to the nitty gritty of the story and bypassing all the extraneous description.

In this series, Harper Connelly was struck by lightning as a child. This event caused her to be able to have conversations dead bodies. She is able to find them by "listening" to them. They are also able to tell her how they died. This proves very helpful in missing persons and cold cases. Her brother Tolliver comes along for the ride as her manager of sorts and bodyguard. She has created a business out of finding dead bodies. She is hired either by the police or random people who are looking for loved ones.

Definitely recommend this for a speedy read for adults. Just wish I had Part 2 in e-galley as well!

Source disclosure: I received e-galley from the publisher through

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is from the most recent installment in a middle-grade series about Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, a fun, plucky heroine with interesting fashion sense.

"Besides, you know how I love the theater, and let's face it -- a wedding is like a big show followed by a cast party. Of course, the bride and groom have to stay together the rest of their lives after everyone else goes home to recover from the big day."

GILDA JOYCE AND THE BONES OF THE HOLY by Jennifer Allison, pp. 58-9

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mystery Monday: THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo

And it's another candidate for "The Next Stieg Larsson!" A thriller set in Norway (all those cold countries are the same setting, really), THE SNOWMAN enthralls when it isn't bogged down in cliche. It opens with possibly the worst sex scene in the history of thrillers, but once that's over, it captivates with the creepy statement from a child: "We're going to die." Unusually for me, especially in a book filled with red herrings, plot twists, and misdirection, I figured out who The Snowman was almost immediately and was unswayed by the multiple times the killer was "caught." I'm not sure if this was a lucky guess that took hold, or if it really is that obvious. At any rate, I enjoyed, for the most part, the unfolding to the reveal. There are excellent moments of creepiness that made me keep turning pages (or, rather, hitting the "next page" button on the Kindle), and Harry Hole skirts the edge of the "alcoholic brilliant detective" cliche carefully enough that I grew to quite like him. What I enjoy about serial killer novels (is that a genre on its own?) is the process of the detectives putting together clues to unravel the mystery, not the point-of-view of the serial killer (yes, yes, you're psychotic and your mother wasn't nice to you...we get it already), so a chapter near the end detailing the killer's rationale and process was so unbearably tedious I mostly skimmed it. I'd rather have the detectives uncover the details than have the killer's actions from childhood summarized for me.

The plot: Harry Hole is about to come up against a serial killer who kills with the first snow, leaving a creepy snowman behind. (I suspect Nesbo is trying to do for Frosty what Stephen King did for clowns.) An examination of missing-women statistics reveals that not all the bodies may have been found. Some of the murders are absurdly complicated, but that's not unusual in serial killer novels. It was an amount of suspension of disbelief I could live with. The wide pool of suspects and the revelation that it is someone with a connection to Harry makes the pages fly by. Even being certain of the killer, I enjoyed the process of Harry and his team chasing down leads to get closer to the truth. Besides a Scandinavian setting, THE SNOWMAN has nothing in common with Stieg Larsson's trilogy. It reminded me more of Michael Connolly or Jonathan Kellerman, but the setting is a compelling part of the novel, almost another character. If you're looking for a summer thriller, this is a decent one overall, with some flickers of brilliance. If you read it, come back and tell me if you guessed the killer. From the Amazon reviews, I'm not sure it's as obvious as I think it is.

Source disclosure: I purchased the Kindle edition of this book.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Flashback Friday - Kay Scarpetta

I often get it into my head to reread old favorites, especially long-running series. The profusion of medical examiner dramas on television made me want to revisit Scarpetta. I hadn't read the last couple of books, having been disappointed in more recent installments, but Port Mortuary was suggested as a good Scarpetta novel, and I enjoyed it. I decided to start the series from the beginning. How fun! First, DNA testing is still relatively new at the start of the series, and the first few books provide a brief history of forensic science, with DNA results taking weeks in the first book, and pre-DNA database, only serving a purpose when there's a suspect for comparison. Soon, PCR testing has made DNA testing much faster (and therefore more useful in solving crimes), and DNA information begins to be stored. I was able to pinpoint the book at which my interest began to wane: BLOW FLY, in which Patricia Cornwell switches to the third person and seems to hate her main character. I was happy to see that by THE SCARPETTA FACTOR, Cornwell seems somewhat less hostile toward Scarpetta (though I still miss the first-person narrative) and PORT MORTUARY is almost even enjoyable. There are some major character inconsistencies throughout the more recent books, but PORT MORTUARY sort of made up for those. At any rate, even if you don't hang in until the end of the series, the first few books are well worth reading.

The books in order:

Postmortem (1990)
Body of Evidence (1991)
All That Remains (1992)
Cruel and Unusual (1993)
The Body Farm (1994)
From Potter's Field (1995)
Cause of Death (1996)
Unnatural Exposure (1997)
Point of Origin (1998)
Black Notice (1999)
The Last Precinct (2000)
Blow Fly (2003)
Trace (2004)
Predator (2005)
Book of the Dead (2007)
Scarpetta (2008)
The Scarpetta Factor (2009)
Port Mortuary (2010)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

More Thursday!

ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING by Jasper Fforde: This is the sixth book in Jasper Fforde's brilliant metafictional, science-fictional, litmystery, and otherwise uncategorizable series about Thursday Next. I hesitate to post a real review of this one, actually, as Fforde's world builds upon itself and the plot doesn't make much sense without prior knowledge of the series: Real Thursday has gone missing and Fictional Thursday must pursue her by unraveling the most sinister plot yet in the BookWorld. Wait, I'll just post the blurb, swiped from Jasper Fforde's website:

"It is a time of unrest in the Bookworld. Only the diplomatic skills of ace literary detective Thursday Next can avert a devastating genre war. But a week before the Peace Talks, Thursday vanishes. Has she simply returned home to the Realworld or is this something more sinister?

But all is not yet lost. Living at the quiet end of Speculative fiction is the written Thursday Next, who is attempting to keep her own small four-book series both respectful to her illustrious namesake and far from the grim spectre of being remaindered.

Despite her desire to stay away from the spotlight, written Thursday is asked by Jurisfiction to investigate a novel that has suffered an in-read breakup and deposited a narrative debris-field halfway across the Bookworld. It's not quite so straightforward: Someone has ground the ISBN numbers from the wreckage, and all of a sudden the mysterious Men in Plaid want her dead.

As the hunt for answers takes her from the Council of Genres to Fan-Fiction and from Comedy to Vanity publishing, written Thursday realises that Real Thursday had been investigating a plot fiendish enough to be killed for. But who is responsible? Only a trip up the Mighty Metaphoric river and a visit to the hideously frightening Realworld can provide the answers.

With her clockwork butler Sprockett and her Designated Love Interest Whitby Jett, Thursday has to get to grips with her inability to match up to her Namesake's talent, and prove herself to the one person she respects more than anyone else: The real her..."

Got all that? Good. If that sounds intriguing, go read THE EYRE AFFAIR, the first in the series. Don't even think of starting with this one. Your head might well explode. It's best to ease into the worlds of Thursday. THE EYRE AFFAIR will introduce you to the alternate-1985 Swindon, in which the Crimean War is well into its second century, zeppelins are the preferred method of air travel, cheese is subject to ridiculous duties and is traded in a brisk black market, Will-Speak machines offer a Shakespeare quote for a coin, the ChronoGuard regulate time travel, and LitCrime is on the rise. Spec Ops Literary Detective Thursday Next is on the case of the fiendish Acheron Hades, who is stealing original manuscripts with evil in mind. Next must read herself into JANE EYRE in order to save the novel, and possibly the world. From here, the adventures only get more chaotic, improbable, and surreal. The next five books in the series spend variable amounts of time in the Real World and the Book World, and we learn much more about the surprisingly banal yet bizarre bureaucracy rampant in the Book World in subsequent books. If all this sounds weird in an off-putting way, you should probably skip it. It's not for everyone, but it's one of my absolute favorite series.

Source disclosure: I have happily purchased this series in multiple formats.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

First line: "These are the chronicles of the starship Buber, noted bibliophile, late night television addict, keeper of sordid little secrets so appalling he dares not breathe a word of them to a soul."


Monday, June 06, 2011


THE INFORMATIONIST by Taylor Stevens: Something about summer inspires me to read thrillers. Perhaps it's a fast-moving plot to counter the slow-moving summer. At any rate, my thriller kick continues with this novel by Taylor Stevens, whose own life, growing up all over the world after being born into a cult, reads like a novel. Is Vanessa Michael Munroe really "the next Lisbeth Salander"? What does that even mean? She's a damaged, resourceful woman who often finds posing as a man useful in her line of work, which is collecting information. She's a chameleon, picking up language without effort, understanding the nuances of culture at a glance, so she is extremely successful at obtaining information no one else can get. What she doesn't do is find people like a private detective, but she can't resist the mystery behind Emily Burbank, who was last seen in Namibia, nor the millions offered by Emily's oil tycoon father. Hostility to her search is immediate and strong, and she ends up enlisting the help of the gunrunner with a heart of gold whom she abandoned years before. We learn more about Monroe's dark past and her reluctance to form attachments (she is horrified to find herself with a partner). As a tortured character, Monroe can't be favorably compared to the more nuanced Lisbeth Salander, but this is a solid thriller that keeps the action going and the reader guessing. I had difficulty putting it down. Highly recommended as a vacation read!

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

YA Weekend - WSJ article

The Wall Street Journal is taking shots at YA as a genre, dismissing it as too dark and violent. On Twitter, the response has been the #YAsaves hashtag, in which members post their stories of YA literature's positive influence in their lives. YA author Laurie Halse Anderson wrote an excellent rebuttal, but there are irate, yet well-written, responses all over the Internet.
Edited to add Jackie Morse Kessler's excellent response.

I grew up before the YA explosion. Once I'd read all the kids' books in the library, I started in on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as assorted classics. That was in sixth grade. Not to knock adult horror, but it would have been nice to have had books reflecting my experiences, fears, and struggles. Because not talking about problems does not make them go away. I have a four-year-old daughter, and I'm not looking forward to the tough conversations we'll have to have, but I am glad there is literature available for her to gain perspective. No one wants to talk about rape, abuse, suicide, cutting, teen sex, etc. But they exist. Being a teenager is horrible and confusing and dark, and for many teens, complicated by very real trauma beyond the usual growing pains. Bringing these issues into the light, showing troubled teens they are not alone: how are these bad things?

I find it difficult to take seriously a journalist who separates her reading recommendations for teens into "Books For Young Women" and "Books For Young Men," but I especially find statements such as this utterly absurd: "Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures." Really? Has this "journalist" talked to readers of YA? Or documented incidents of a teen reading, say, a book about cutting and deciding to give it a try? I'm trying to get through this commentary without using the word "idiot," but it's becoming a challenge.

What are your thoughts? I do believe that parents should read what their children read for perspective into the teen experience as well as to find points of discussion that need to happen. I do not believe in censorship. Teens, like all other readers will read books they find of interest and find relevant to their lives. Would we prefer they not read? Or see reading as an activity devoid of personal meaning? Or not know that others have experienced the trauma they have? I find it absolutely hilarious that the "journalist" lists FAHRENHEIT 451 for young people. Or, at least for young men. I'm not sure what about it is unsuitable for the delicate minds of the young women.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Flashback Friday - Barbara Kingsolver

THE LACUNA by Barbara Kingsolver: My book club chose this novel. It had been years since I'd read Kingsolver (THE POISONWOOD BIBLE), and I remembered that it always takes me at least a hundred pages before I connect to her characters, but once I do, the bond is absolute. Her plots are so complex and sprawling that being dropped into the middle of a world she's written is disorienting, even off-putting. But that world is so rich that it seizes the reader's imagination and won't let go. I emerge from a reading session forgetting for a moment that I am not in the kitchen of Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo's home, where a meal for an exiled Trotsky is being prepared. This sprawling novel takes place between 1929 and 1951 and addresses Mexican history and art, the rise of Communism, the Red Scare and HUAC, American internment camps during World War II, and Jim Crow laws.

The novel is made up of the notebooks kept by quiet, unassuming Harrison Shepherd, product of a discontented Mexican mother and rather boring American father. His mother leaves Washington, D.C. to follow her oilman lover to Mexico, where Harrison primarily grows up, shadowing the kitchen. The skills he acquires in making pan dulce translate eerily well to mixing plaster for muralist Diego Riviera, and he soon becomes a part of the Riviera household, befriending Frida Kahlo and typing for Trotsky, who is in exile. At night, he works on his own novel, set in the Aztec kingdom. After Trotsky is assassinated, Harrison is sent back to the United States, where he becomes a well-known novelist just in time for McCarthyism to mark him as a Communist.

In less capable hands, this could have been an utter mess that no amount of suspension of disbelief could clean up, but Kingsolver is a master. She deftly blends fact and fiction and her insertion of the quiet Harrison into major world events brings them to life. Frida Kahlo and Trotsky, in particular, are rich, complex characters. Harrison is a perfect counterpoint to his larger-than-life companions, and his life, in its own quiet way, is just as compelling. A lacuna can refer to the underwater cave that challenges Harrison as a boy on Isla Pixol, or to a section of missing text, like the notebook from Harrison's childhood that has disappeared. Harrison himself is something of a lacuna, lifted from his rightful place in American literature by HUAC. As the underwater cave opens up into a sinkhole in the jungle, a place of ancient sacrifices. Harrison begins as a cook in Mexico, but emerges a literary force in America, only to be pushed back into obscurity.

This is a glorious novel of history, revolution, and culture, an incisive commentary on modern society, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Very highly recommended.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Flashback Friday

I have done this sporadically in the past, but I am going to try to use Flashback Friday as a weekly look at a book from the back list. I read a lot of current fiction, but I often dip into old favorites or discover an older work that I'd like to review. For the most part, my reviews on the blog look at newish releases or soon-to-come reads, so I will be reserving my reviews of older books for Flashback Friday. Holly, you are welcome to join me!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion's Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –

- Emily Dickinson

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson: Kate Atkinson's fourth novel about semi-retired private investigator Jackson Brodie. Brodie has discovered Emily Dickenson, an appropriately melancholy muse, and echoes of longing, of nostalgia, of isolation, reverberate throughout. Although the Jackson Brodie novels appear to a mystery series, Atkinson has never really left her literary novel origins. Yes, Jackson ultimately solves murders, but at their heart, these novels are about finding the lost (especially lost girls), the connections between human beings, and the way the past is never really gone. This novel opens with the story of a murdered prostitute in 1975. Rookie cop Tracy Waterhouse (who has eradicated all traces of femininity in an attempt to break the glass ceiling) is deeply moved by the small child who spent three weeks with his mother's corpse before discovery. When she tries to find out what became of the child, she is told to forget about it. Fast forward to present day. Tracy is now retired from the police, and in her capacity as a mall security guard, she finds herself purchasing a mistreated little girl from a prostitute because she can't bear to leave the child to be abused. Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie is a vagabond searching for a con woman and hints of the origin of his adopted client. At the same time, he is ticking ruined abbeys of Yorkshire off his "must visit" list, and improbably adopts a small dog. His search will cause his sphere of events to intersect with Tracy's. Also in the mix are Tilly, an aging actress slowly succumbing to dementia, Tracy's former colleagues, a social worker, and another private investigator named Jackson whom our Jackson is starting to view as his doppelganger. All these barely connected stories are about to collide, pushing the events of 1975 into the light of the present day.

Kate Atkinson is a master of creating a cohesive story from distinct and apparently unconnected events, of bringing together characters who appear to have nothing in common, of drawing together past and present. STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG has the feel of a Dickinson poem; it moves more slowly and embraces elegiac pauses. For all the searching for lost girls, all the nostalgia as Jackson and other characters wonder how the world reached this state, Atkinson's wry, piercing humor prevents excessive melancholy.

While this novel could be read on its own, I highly recommend beginning with CASE HISTORIES.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"The pebble-eyes were gleaming. And they were not staring into the house. They were looking up. Up here. Jonas drew the curtains and crept back into bed." - locations 448-56, Kindle edition

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mystery Monday - More Scandinavian Thrillers? Yes, please.

THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler: America has clearly not had enough of the Scandinavian thriller, and THE HYPNOTIST (to be published here in July) is at the top of the genre. It took me barely a day and a half to breeze through this 500+-page novel, because I simply couldn't put it down. Despite sometimes heavy-handed foreshadowing that brought the tone a bit too far into melodramatic territory, the twists and turns of the plot, the deepening understanding of the characters, are gripping enough to keep the pages flying. The novel begins as Detective Joona Linna, in desperation, calls in ex-hypnotist Erik Maria Bark to delve into the mind of the sole survivor of a brutal mass murder in order to save the last potential victim. Bark has given up hypnosis for reasons that are dribbled out throughout the novel for maximum dramatic effect. I felt this was a bit overdone, but had no trouble letting it go. The novel has very short chapters and multiple points of view, making for a choppy ride at the outset, but it's not many pages before it becomes cohesive in the reader's mind. What Bark finds out in the damaged mind of young Josef changes the course of the investigation. Meanwhile, Bark's past comes back to haunt him in a very real way, through the disappearance of his son, Benjamin. The minutes are ticking by to the next dose of the medication Benjamin must have to stay alive (if this sounds overdramatic, well, it is, but it's easily forgiven). Comparisons to Stieg Larsson are inevitable, but this is not THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Instead it's a well-researched chiller with echoes of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It's dark. I think that's the appeal of Scandinavian thrillers; they resist the cozification or politicization that has infused American thriller/mystery. Insular cultures, remote locations, snow, ice, and long, dark winter days make a strong backdrop for twisting psychological suspense.

I did think the novel was a bit long, but it still moves quickly. I can think of a couple of subplots that could have been chucked out to streamline the book, but this is a minor quibble. If it weren't so heavy, I'd speculate that it would be the beach read of 2011 in the U.S. - although I suppose that's what e-readers are for.

Source disclosure: I received an Advance Reader's Copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through Shelf Awareness.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Laughing Out Loud

HEADS YOU LOSE by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward: I've been trying to review this book in a more sophisticated way than my initial response ("OMG, so funny!!!" does not really constitute a proper review). Few books make me laugh out loud in a "the guy next to me on the plane keeps looking at me like I'm nuts" way, but there wasn't much breathing room between bouts of cracking up as I read HEADS YOU LOSE. The premise is brilliantly metafictional and the execution flawless. Lisa and David are supposedly former romantic partners who have decided to collaborate on a mystery novel. Since they don't get along, their method of collaboration consists of alternating chapters. In between chapters, their email exchanges are included. It's hard to decide which is funnier; the increasingly messy murder mystery as the writing turns from collaboration to competition/revenge, or the hostile e-mail jabs between the co-authors (Lisa reminds David that he wouldn't be publishing a novel without her name THAT BIG on the cover; David mocks Lisa's grammar and word choice).

The mystery begins with siblings Lacey and Paul finding a headless body on their property. Since they grow marijuana, calling the cops is not an option, so they move the body...and it comes back. The metastory begins with a polite, civilized e-mail exchange, swiftly switching to pointed criticism (ostensibly of the written work, but clearly about their relationship issues) and outright hostility. The characters and plot of the novel suffer (to hilarious effect) from the co-author bickering. During one chapter, I laughed so hard I cried. Trust me, while the whole novel is funny, you'll know when you get to this particular chapter, a response from David to Lisa's exasperation with the unnecessary big words he throws around. Recurring disagreements are brilliantly teased out as Lisa kills off David's favorite character and David refuses to provide any explanation for a plane crash early in the novel. The characters snipe at each other in eerie echoes of Lisa and David's issues, and serious disagreements on the plot make for an increasingly bizarre novel-within-a-novel.

This book is funny. Go read it. And if you just can't get enough, the metafiction continues at the book website.

Source disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof courtesy of Penguin Group through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Friday, May 27, 2011

In the mail

This arrived in my mailbox today! Yes, the publisher sent out the ARE of The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (pseudonym for a married couple) in a customized box. It certainly got my attention, but in a "How much did THAT cost?" sort of way. Since this Swedish thriller is already a bestseller in multiple countries, the US publisher must feel confident spending the extra cash. I guess I'm giving them an extra post as a result, but I'm having trouble seeing how it translates to sales figures. I'm not moving it up in the review queue because of the box...will more influential reviewers really be swayed by a fancy box? It does get one's attention, and maybe I'm naive in thinking that book reviewers are more focused on story than on marketing gimmicks.