Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House. Unaware of the tragic secrets which lie there, wreathed in fog and mystery, it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

My take: 2 looks
This one was almost a stinker. The only reason for 2 looks is the writing was very descriptive and lovely at times. However, the ghost story was just like the cover of this book: blah.

Arthur was a milquetoast, annoyingly stubborn and pig-headed, the people of the town were aloof and vacant, the storyline was predictable and the ending was not at all fulfilling.

The beginning of the book, which sets up the story to be told in retrospect, had great momentum. The characters seemed real and the protagonist seemed to be a thoughtful patriarch to the family. However, when the storytelling began, it went downhill. Written in the vein of Victorian novels and intermittently rich character descriptions do not save this disappointing tale.

This is not recommended and I will probably not read another by this author.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Genius of Philip Smith

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
I love reading on my iPad and Nook. They are both light, convenient and I can take numerous books with me almost anywhere.

However, nothing will ever compare, in my mind, with holding the bound pages of an author. There is something about the feel of a hard cover, the concise size of a mass market paperback, the slick cover of the trade paperback...

The smell - is it new and smell of paper and ink? Is it used and from a smoker's home? Do you wonder if the previous owner ate spaghetti and caused that faint orange stain on page 98? Has it been perused so many times at the book store that the new looks and feels used?
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The look of the page, quality of the paper...Is the paper yellowed from age with thick black (and probably smudged) print? Are the margins narrow and words tiny? Do you try to keep from cracking the binding of a new paperback, or do you go right into bending the pages back behind as you read them?
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
...and I love book bindings. I am sorry to admit that I do choose a book by its cover. Font matters to me. Busy-ness on a cover is a turn-off. Color and word placement catch my eye. I am talking primarily about softcover, of course. Today's hardcover books are plain with paper jackets. There is really no embellishment on the binding itself save for the title and author.

King Lear by William Shakespeare
Philip Smith takes book binding to a new level. Have a look at the books here and see if you can identify them. Can you imagine owning one of these beauties? Wow.

I guessed the Alice in Wonderland and Moby-Dick right away, but had to look up the others. Here is the link to the Philip Smith Book Art Galleries site. I can't believe the reader is rewarded with the actual book inside these gorgeous walls.

And I say again: WOW.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Pawn by Steven James

Special Agent Patrick Bowers never met a killer he couldn't catch... Until now. Called to North Carolina to consult on the case of an area serial killer, Bowers finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Cunning and lethal, the killer is always one step ahead of the law, and he's about to strike again. It will take all of Bowers's instincts and training to stop the man who calls himself... the Illusionist. Thrilling, chilling, and impossible to put down, The Pawn will hold you in its iron grip until the very last page.

My take: 4 stars
WOW! This was a fantastic thriller/mystery. I had to text my friend (who is reading the same book) to tell her that the prologue made me queasy, but I could NOT put this one down. I have three weeks to read this for book club, but read the almost-700 pages (on the iPad, at least) in two days.

While it is gruesome in places, it doesn't cross that line into gratuitous gore. However, you have to expect a book about a pair of serial killers to have some serious moments. The action is compelling and the characters are excellently drawn. This being the first in a series, I expect the characters will be developed and explored in future books.

This is a Christian fiction book, winning the Christy award for suspense. God is mentioned, but the relationship between characters and God is not explored. Again, I expect this will be detailed later. The good thing is that there is no foul language, rampant in like novels.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal, necromancer of some little infamy, returns in this riotously clever and terrifically twisted tale of murder and international intrigue. In this genre-twisting novel, infamous necromancer Johannes Cabal, after beating the Devil and being reunited with his soul, leads us on another raucous journey in a little-known corner of the world. This time he’s on the run from the local government. Stealing the identity of a minor bureaucrat, Cabal takes passage on the Princess Hortense , a passenger aeroship that is leaving the country. The deception seems perfect, and Cabal looks forward to a quiet trip and a clean escape, until he comes face-to-face with Leonie Barrow, an enemy from the old days who could blow his cover. But when a fellow passenger throws himself to his death, or at least that is how it appears, Cabal begins to investigate out of curiosity. His minor efforts result in a vicious attempt on his own  life—and then the gloves come off. Cabal and Leonie—the only woman to ever match wits with him—reluctantly team up to discover the murderer. Before they are done, there will be more narrow escapes, involving sword fighting and newfangled flying machines. There will be massive destruction, not to mention resurrected dead . . . Steampunk meets the classic Sherlockian mystery in this rip-roaring adventure where anything could happen . . . and does.

My take: 3 looks
Not as good as the first in the series, but the sheer cleverness of the writing is a winner! I was bogged down a bit in the steampunk aspect of this one. I think the aspects of the murders were a little more complicated than they needed to be and hindered the story. I found myself skimming, but the action and resolution at the end was satisfying.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

What haunting legacy awaits deep beneath the barrios and wealthy enclaves of Southern California? An idyllic Spanish mission collapses in the eighteenth century atop the supernatural evidence of a shocking crime. Twelve generations later the ground is opened up, the forgotten ruins are disturbed, and rich and poor alike confront the onslaught of resurging hell on earth. Caught up in the catastrophe are... • A humble shopkeeper compelled to leave her tiny village deep in Mexico to preach in America • A minister wracked with guilt for loving the wrong woman • An unimaginably wealthy man, blinded to the consequences of his grand plans • A devoted father and husband driven to a horrible discovery that changes everything Will the evil that destroyed the MisiĆ³n de Santa Dolores rise to overwhelm them? Or will they beat back the terrible desires that led to the mission's good Franciscan founder's standing in the midst of flames ignited by his enemies and friends alike more than two centuries ago? From the high Sierra Madre mountains to the harsh Sonoran desert, from the privileged world of millionaire moguls to the impoverished immigrants who serve them, Athol Dickson once again weaves a gripping story of suspense that spans centuries and cultures to explore the abiding possibility of miracles.

My take: 4 looks
I must say that, for the Christian fiction genre, this book is at the top of my list. More like historical fiction, it grabbed me from the beginning. The story is a very good one, but the way Dickson moves between the 1700s and present-day in such a clever, fluid way that I found it a very compelling way to write. The transition sentences are beautifully done, making the back-and-forth seem natural and not confusing.

With respect to the religious genre, this one is brilliant. As the telling of an ancient Catholic mission, the foundational story of evangelism for Jesus Christ is a given, so there are no surprises with the storyline. It is presented as an innate part of being a believer and I didn't find it preachy at all.

This is the second Dickson book I have read, "The Cure" was the first. I had issues with that first novel, but the strength of this one is enough to have me revisit "The Cure".

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Messenger by Lois Lowry

For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.

My take: 3 looks
This is a wonderful series by Lowry. The commentary on life is worth the read alone, and the fact that she is such a good writer is the perfect bonus.

In this installment, we see characters from the second book in the series, Gathering Blue, but this is still a stand-alone story not requiring you to read them in order. The topics in this one range from family, handicaps, coming of age, greed and selfishness, and individual gifts or specialties. It is a very good YA book, and highly recommended.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Kira, an orphan with a twisted leg, lives in a world where the weak are cast aside. When she is given a task that no other community member can carry out, Kira soon realizes that she is surrounded by many mysteries and secrets. No one must know of her plans to uncover the truth about her world—and to find out what exists beyond it.

My take: 3 looks
The second in the 4-book series of "The Giver", I had read this one before. Because of a discussion on my Bibliophile reading group site, I picked it up again and gave it a re-read. It must have been a long time since I read it because, while there was a bit of deja vu, it read like a fresh novel for me.

It is a standalone story, so don't worry if you haven't read "The Giver". While it deals with the same type of dystopian society, "Gathering Blue" tells of a different set of characters with different issues, struggles and lives.

I liked this one so much that I have already started the next book, "The Messenger" and look forward to the combining of all of the main characters in the series finale, "The Son".


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Worldly Adventures of a Teen-aged Tycoon (The) by Roger Eddy

A collection of short stories written from the perspective of a teenage boy during the Great Depression.

My take: 5 looks
While lunching with my mother recently, the friend who happens to be a retired middle-school librarian stopped me to tell me that I had to read this book. I, of course, had never heard of it. She was so sure I would love it that she dropped it off at my house that very afternoon. She was right!

Hilarious look at everyday life through the eyes of a teenage boy. The series of short stories was originally part of the book The Bulls and the Bees, and covers the minutiae of life with Seinfeld-esque humor.

The story The Symphony centers around a trip by mother, father and son to the symphony. After the father tries to get out of going, then falls asleep during the performance, the mother decides to teach him a lesson by leaving him at the venue when it's over. Lamenting that she doesn't have any interesting friends (like musicians), she and her son leave the city and she then sleeps on the couch, racked with guilt at her mean trick. She awakens stiff and contrite to her husband enjoying breakfast and reading the paper. As she glances at the paper after he departs for work, she sees that, in her leaving him at the opera house, he has made friends with the conductor and beautiful harpist, and has had their picture published in the society pages.

This is only one of the many situations that caused me to smile at the least, and chuckle out loud at most. If you can get your hands on this one, and it will be difficult, buy it so you can read and re-read it.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Changeless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her into the backwater of ugly waistcoats, Scotland, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband - if she feels like it.

My take: 2 looks
This second book in the Parasol Protectorate series did not grab me like the first one did. Perhaps it was the introduction of the characters and very different premise of the vampire/werewolf story. Perhaps it was the introduction of steampunk as an integral part of the Victorian world. This book included those items, but they were established this time. Characters were brought back, but I was very frustrated by the lack of development of newly introduced Channing and no building at all in the recurring characters. All of these things lessened my enjoyment.

On the other hand, I tend to think the first one was just more cleverly written. Alexia was strongly drawn in the first novel, wielding her parasol and her independence like the weapons they were. In this case, she was more of a tool to move the story than the story itself. There was no true antagonist, even to the end. When the "whodunit" was finally revealed, you had already guessed it.

The sexual tension between Alexia and Conall in the first was reduced to mere wanton lust and sex in this installment. I wanted more of the playfulness and shared respect in their coupling, and not simply a pile of discarded clothing on the floor. It reminded me of an animal being in rut, and I don't think that's what Carriger intended.

Lastly, the ending was shockingly inappropriate. I literally stared wide-eyed and mouth agape as I read the last few pages. It was so out of character and unnecessary to add this extremely negative ending. It was not the interesting and heart-stopping twist that I suspect it was meant to be. I found it so distasteful that I may not read the third book for a while, if ever.

With that said, I can't recommend this one.