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Book Review: The Phoenix Apostles (A Seneca Hunt Mystery) by Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore

27 Jan

The Phoenix ApostlesMy Rating:  1.5 out of 5 stars

EDIT:  thank you to Candice who read my review and pointed out a mistake in my historical facts.  I’ve edited my post with the correct information.

This book is extremely formulaic.  It follows a similar plot outline as many of the popular crime series with a recurring character:  Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich), Cotton Malone (Steve Barry), Alex Cross (James Patterson), you get the picture. 

Believe it or not, the use of a well-worn plot is not a criticism.  I enjoy these types of books and I chose this book specifically because I was in the mood for this formula. 

This story has the typical elements:  young, intelligent woman with a non-detective job who gets innocently wrapped up in solving a mystery to save her own life, narrowly escaping death and meeting interesting friends along the way.   

It’s the details that killed me here.  Spoiler Alert (highlight with your cursor over the next section – it’s in white text): There is a guy living in present times who is Montezuma who never died because he had the shroud of Turin the Veil of Veronica and is now digging up the graves of world history’s ‘mass murders’ (think Hitler and the like) and using their ground up bones and some smart doctors to  bring them back to life.  Which worked. Why is he doing this you ask?  So these killers can all do their bidding at the same time again now and ‘cleanse’ the earth which will make the sun-god happy and Montezuma will become a god. 

In-SANE.  When I said I liked formulaic, I should have also said that BEING REMOTELY FEASIBLE must be part of the formula I’ll read.  This is just nonsense.

Book Review: The Other by Thomas Tryon

17 Dec

The OtherMy Rating 4 out of 5 stars

I heard about this book from my sister-in-law who was describing this as being one of the scariest books she’d ever read.  She said she read it in like the 6th grade.  After some searching (no eBook, no library copy and it is out of print) I was able to find a paperback copy on Amazon, which the seller claimed to be in Good-Used condition.  I’d argue that rating since the spine split the second I opened it to the first page.  But whatever.  So here’s the deal with this book.  It was written in 1971 by an actor named Tom Tryon.  He was in a bunch of stuff in the 1950s and 60s.  This book was made into a movie by the same name (not to be confused with The Others with Nicole Kidman in it – it’s not the same).  It scared the bejesus out of everyone who read it or saw the movie. 

So knowing that, would you expect it to be 1) good writing (the author was an actor for goodness sakes) or 2) scary (by today’s standards)?  Perhaps not, but you would be sorely mistaken on both fronts.  The writing is very unique, but Tyron most certainly had talent.  He described the environment and moved the story along so well, it was so believeable.  And it was creepy (the grown-up kind, not the tween kind)…so creepy that it was still creepy to read in 2011, exactly 40 years after the book was written.  How many things that were scary then are just as scary now?  Right, The Omen, maybe.  And everyone’s heard of that.  I think this book is grossly underrated and the author’s style is superb.  If you are interested in borrowing it from me, you’ll have to stand in line (and bring some masking tape).  Thanks to a great SIL for helping me discover this gem!


Book Review: I, Alex Cross by James Patterson

16 Dec

I, Alex Cross (Alex Cross Series #16)My Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

I live outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  I few months ago I heard that they were filming the adaptation of this book in my area.  Tyler Perry is starring as Alex Cross and you can see some details on the filming here.  That peeked my interest so I thought I would read the book and see what Alex Cross was all about.  I knew that it was a series – James Patterson has a ton  ‘Cross’ books and the fact that it was called I, Alex Cross made me assume that it must be the ‘introduction’ book, the first of the series.  Well it’s not…it’s the 15th.  Now why would they adapt the 15th book of a series into a movie?  I’m sure they have their reasons.  You’ve probably heard of or possibly read the first 2 Alex Cross books – Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.  Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd…ring any bells?  Now it’s starting to make sense – those are ALREADY movies.  Duh.  I like things to go in order though so I’m not sure where the movies for books 3-14 are, but fine.  We’ll just skip ahead I guess.

Enough of my rambling.  This book, along with most of the Alex Cross books (and almost all of James Patterson’s novels period) was a NYTimes bestseller.  It was about as mainstream of a mystery novel as it gets.  A nice enough character and some suspense, but nothing original or anything that blew me away.  The writing is very average in my opinion.  But as I said in an earlier post, expectations are everything.  I expected the novel to be this way and it was, so I was strangely satisfied by the end.  It is solid and average.  And now I can see the movie (one of my favorite things after reading the book).

Book Review: Faithful Place by Tana French

25 Jan

Faithful PlaceRating:  4 out of 5 stars

About the Book

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin’s inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives.

But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again.

Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he’s a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly and he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.


My Review

Faithful Place is actually the third book in a ‘series’ by Tana French.  The first book is called In The Woods and the second book is called The Likeness.  I write ‘series’ because while they are related, you don’t have to read them in order.  Minor characters in one book becomes the focus of the next book.  I read In the Woods sometime last year and liked it okay, but I have not read The Likeness.  After reading Faithful Place, however, you can bet that The Likeness is on my list!

I read this book during a record cold weekend here in my hometown.  It was the perfect choice.  This book describes what I (and many others) call a ‘cozy read’.  It’s pretty self-explanatory – it’s a book that makes you feel cozy, that is best read when being cozy!

I loved this book for a couple major reasons.  First and foremost, I thought the writing was brilliant – the characters are very intricately developed. The main character especially, was so multi-dimensional, ‘layered’, and very realistic.  Also, no words were wasted – each sentence carried meaning and weight, and furthered the development of the characters and story.  And there were many subtleties in the writing…here’s a passage that illustrates this well:

The bass player broke a string to prove he was serious, and while he was changing it Rosie and I went up to the bar for more wine.
“That stuff’s poxy,” Rosie told the barman, fanning herself with her top.
“I know, yeah.  I think they make it out of Benylin.  Leave it in the airing cupboard for a few weeks and away you go.”  The barman liked us.
“Poxier than usual, even.  You got a bad batch.  Have you nothing decent, have you not?”
“This does the job, doesn’t it?  Otherwise, ditch the boyfriend, wait till we close up and I’ll take you somewhere better.”
I said, “Will I give you a smack myself, or will I just leave it to your mot?” The barman’s girlfriend had a Mohawk and sleeve tattoos.  We got on with her, too.
“You do it.  She’s harder than you are.”  He winked at us and headed off to get my change.
Rosie said, “I’ve a bit of news.”
She sounded serious.  I forgot all about the barman and started frantically trying to add up dates in my head.  “Yeah?  What?”
“There’s someone retiring off the line at Guinness’s, next month.  My da says he’s been talking me up every change he gets and if I want the job, it’s mine.”

Did you catch all that?  Two parts stick out…the reference to the bass player breaking a string “to prove he was serious” and the main character “…frantically trying to add dates up in my head.”   I had to read this novel slowly to ensure I didn’t miss any of these – they really add to the overall story and the main character.  Because of the Irish dialect, this was a bit tedious, but I adore it so much it was a treat for me.

Secondly, the setting and time period has a special place in my heart and made it much more personal to read.  This story takes place in modern-day Dublin, Ireland which I have visited.  Reading this book made me remember that trip, which was nice.  Much of the book is Frank reflecting on his life growing up in the 1980s in an area called Faithful Place outside of Dublin.  My father-in-law grew up in Dublin and is close in age to Frank’s parents.   While I don’t think that my father-in-law is anything like Frank’s dad specifically, I can certainly see how they could be in the same generation.  Reading about the Mackey history gave me a glimpse into my own family’s history too.  And he talks just like that!  Additionally, my own grandparents came from Italy to America when they were in their teens.  And while their ‘old country’ is different,  I can see similarities between Frank’s dad and my Italian grandfather as well.  There is this very to the point, black and white, like gruff exterior that I saw in James Mackey that reminded me of my grandfather.  That mentality manifests itself into things like criticizing as a way of controlling situations, not being overly indulgent with the compliments, and not liking doctors (?).  Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandfather, but I didn’t always know what he was thinking or why he thought a certain way.  So some of the struggles I saw Frank have relating to his parents seemed familiar to me and reading about it was a source of comfort.

The only negative I see with this book is the plot – plausible but predictable.  I figured it out on page 169, which made reading the rest of the 400 page book obviously less suspenseful.  If the plot had been a bit fresher I would have rated this higher for sure.

Bottom Line: This is a great cozy read!  It is intelligently written with many subtleties, and realistic characters in an interesting setting.  While the plot is somewhat predictable, how it unfolds and your investment in the characters will keep you interested.

PS – If you are wondering when I will finish The Passage (which has been listed as the book I’m currently reading, even though I keep publishing reviews about other books), I actually AM reading it.  It’s slow going, but I’m reading about 20 pages a day.  I’m on page 253 and things are starting to pick up.  It’s 900 some pages!

Book Review: The Great Stink by Clare Clark

16 Aug

Abandoned on page 13….

I was standing at my library’s book sale the other day and a woman pointed to a book and said, “This book is really good.  The title is bad, but the book is good if you like mysteries.”  The title of this book was The Great Stink by Clare Clark.  I’m a sucker for a book recommendation, especially from someone who looked legit.  I mean if she’s read this obscure book, she must have pretty well-read tastes, right?   WRONG!

 As a side-bar, I take issue with the fact that the only 2 words that seem to ever be used to describe books are “good” and “bad”.  I am certainly guilty of this myself, especially when discussing books outside my inner book obsession circle, but I am really trying not to do this because saying a book is “good” doesn’t say anything about it!  Why was it good?  Was it a compelling story, were the characters unique?  Did you identify with them?  Was the story just what you needed at that particular time, was it hard to put down, did it surprise you?  Did it make you angry or sad or scared?  Did you laugh?  I think it’s so important if you did like a book to give it the credit it deserves – “good” just doesn’t cut it, ya know?  But I digress… 

I started this book on Saturday and got through the first chapter. While this might not seem like a huge accomplishment, it truly was.  Eleven pages describing a man in 19th century London walking through an underground sewer with “the stink of excrement pressed into his nostrils” wondering to himself if he cut the sinking fungi from the walls “…would it bleed or would it simply yield the yellowed ooze of a corpse too long in the sun.”  Once he reached some secret hiding place he’d found for himself within the depths of the sewer network (where the “mortar…was as soft as gangrene”), he proceeded to slash his arm, smear the blood over his body and then lick blood from the wound. I’m not squeamish and I’m not prude, but c’mon now. Could we not have cut down just a little on the bodily function descriptions?   But I thought, “Who am I to judge, let’s see what Chapter 2 has in store for me…”

Well I’ll tell you, I got but one page into Chapter 2 when I encountered this little nugget (excuse the pun) describing the condition of the Thames river:  “It grinned its great brown grin, brazen as you like, a great open stream of shit through the very centre of the capital, the knobbles and lumps of rich and poor jostling and rubbing along together, faces turned up to the sky.”

<me slamming book down> I’m done.  I am not faint of heart, but enough is enough.  I am not going to pick through this insanity to find something resembling a plot.  A wise woman once said, “Life is too short to spend it reading books that you don’t like” (or something like that).  This one is being purged from my house immediately.  Can I flush it?

And let’s not forget how I heard about this – Ms. Library Book Sale.  She read the whole book.  And liked it! Enough to recommend it!  If I look at the reviews on Amazon, the general consensus is that if you don’t eat while reading it and can get used to the raw descriptions of the disgustingness that is London in the 1800s it’s actually a pretty good read.  Wouldn’t THAT have been a better description of the book rather than “the title is bad but the book is good” If I had known what to expect, I might have had a higher tolerance and read further.  Or at least I wouldn’t have nearly thrown up my cereal.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

25 Jul

Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Who will like it best: Women 20+

Words to describe it: Realistic, Touching, Mysterious

Will I add it to my personal library? No

Will I read it again someday? No

This is a good, solidly written book!  It is a relatively easy read (I finished it in 4 nights) and would make a good airplane selection.  It would also work well after reading something with a very serious or heavy subject matter.

This novel takes place in a small farming town in Kansas where a shocking double-murder rocks the town and leaves a little 3 year old girl, Jodi, parentless.  All during the years as Jodi grows up the questions surrounding her parents death continue to plague her. When the man accused of their murder is released from prison, she undersands why everyone tells her to stay away but is still somehow drawn to seeing him.

The characters in this story are very realistic – I say that because they are all written to show strengths and weaknesses.  My favorite character in this book is the matriarch, Annabelle, because while she is well loved and respected in her family and in the community, she has weaknesses as a mother and wife too.  For example, she has trouble communicating with her daughter, Belle, and when they talk she tries desperately to come up with ways to appease her and bridge the gap so her daughter will let her in.  This is common aspect to many mother/daughter relationships so I appreciated that this aspect was added in the story too.

I also like how the details of the story were revealed to the reader – it leaves the reader guessing about the whole story.  The only aspect of this novel I question is the ending – it seemed a little rushed.  I cannot think of a better way to have written it, but I would have preferred something a little more complex that was unwoven a little more slowly. I should note that although this is filed by B & N as dramatic fiction I am also classifying it as a mystery.

I plan to add another of this author’s books to my reading list.  She is very descriptive but not overly so – I would describe her writing as ‘clean’, which is what makes this novel so perfect for light reading.

First Family (Sean King & Michelle Maxwell Series #4) by David Baldacci

22 Jul

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

I pulled this audio book off the libary shelves one afternoon when my favorite satellite radio show went on a 2 week vacation.  I chose this book because the author is very consistent.  Once you’ve read one of David Baldacci’s books, you know exactly what you are going to get with any of his others.  Here’s the breakdown of a Baldacci novel…they are all legal thrillers involving political figures and are usually unpredictable, which is what I like best!   There is little character development, which is okay with me because I don’t need that much to enjoy the thrill! 

The Sean King and Michelle Maxwell series is about the adventures Sean and Michelle get themselves into as retired Secret Service agents.  Basically they can’t stay away from the job even though they officially left that world.  Michelle definitely has some daddy issues and Sean seems to be a commitment phobe.  They definitely have sexual tension between each other too.  I’ve only read one other book in this series, Simple Genius, which I enjoyed.  And overall, this book did not disappoint either.  I did not feel like I was missing anything by not having read the other 2 previous books in this series. 

The first lady’s niece is kidnapped.  While the official channels work on finding out who took her, First Lady Jane contacts Sean Maxwell and asks him to conduct his own investigation.  Sean is ex-Secret Service and he brings along his partner, Michelle, and together they look to solve the crime on their own.  In the middle of this story there is a sub-plot involving Michelle and her family which seemed unnecessary because it doesn’t support the major storyline but was actually very intriguing as well.    The last chapter is dedicated to wrapping up some of the loose ends of this series, which was uninteresting to me because I hadn’t really been following it. 

As I mentioned, one of the most predictable things about Baldacci is his unpredictability!  While I was able to get an idea of what was going on and how things were going to end, I really was unable to predict the outcome until it was staring me in the face.  I loved that!  I also really enjoyed the Washington D.C. and the national government backdrop of the story.  Here’s what I didn’t like – the outcome was unfeasible.  I mean really unfeasible.  And unethical in the worst way.  It seems a little extreme for Baldacci’s taste and it surprised me.

I would recommend this book if you looking for a thriller/mystery that will keep you interested to the end without expecting to have it profoundly impact you.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Millennium Trilogy #3) by Steig Larsson

20 Jul

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

I thought this entire trilogy was well worth reading.  It was a very unique plot that unfolded nicely across the 3 books – I loved that our view of the characters, particularly Lisbeth, changed so much from the first book to the last.  The middle book was just okay in my opinion, serving it’s purpose by providing a bridge between the first and last but not being as strong as either plot-wise.   I find this is really common with ‘middles’ of a series.  I liked the setting (Sweden) and the raw translation from Swedish to English.   The writing style was also unique, focusing on details that subtly framed the characters but seemed to have no place in the description (lots of making sandwiches, making coffee, taking showers, etc.).  Actually, The New Yorker wrote an article commenting on this exact thing earlier this month!  It was sort of annoying but those mundane details somehow worked for me in these books.

I had a lot of trouble with the names they are all very similar and difficult to keep track of.  Fortunately, the characters are so dissimilar that the context usually allowed you to keep up.  I also have to say that I completely forgot about Neidermann at the end and didn’t see that coming a mile away!

Lastly, the author died before any of these books were published.  What a shame – I’d like to think he would be so proud to have his work become so popular and respected.