Thursday, August 29, 2013

City of Mirrors (Melodie Johnson Howe)

Every once in awhile a book comes along that gets good buzz but that I just didn’t like.  Samantha Shannon is supposed to be the next J.K. Rowling and signed a 7-book deal, but I couldn’t get through a preview copy of the mega-hyped The Bone Season. Unfortunately, this is also the case with Melodie Johnson Howe’s City of Mirrors.  I was able to finish it but found it difficult to do so; it just wasn’t interesting to me at all.

The subtitle of the novel is A Diana Poole Thriller #1; Howe is on record saying that there will be more.  Poole is living in her deceased mother’s shadow, as her mom was a very famous actress, and Poole struggles to get roles.  However, she is starring in a movie with young starlet Jenny Parson, who Poole later finds murdered.  Not content to rest on her acting chops, she of course plays detective and winds up getting caught in a dangerous web of lies and deceit.  Along the way, there is a forgettable cast of characters such as Diana’s love interest, her best friend, and the movie’s director.

As a book reviewer, I am usually reading three or more novels at a time.  I found myself hurrying up with this one so I could get to the other ones I’m reading nowadays.  While Howe admirably fills in the big puzzle and doesn’t leave any holes, I just didn’t care about any of the characters; none were likable, including the murdered Jenny. And without any redeeming qualities, the characters didn’t make me that interested in this murder mystery.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Don't Ever Get Old (Daniel Friedman)

Daniel Friedman’s Don’t Ever Get Old is one of the most original novels I’ve read in a very long time.  It takes the reader on a whirlwind ride that is not only highly disturbing and downright sad but also managed to have me in hysterics much of the time.  You’ll feel every emotion while reading this and probably be a little sad when it ends too.

Eighty-seven year old Baruch “Buck” Schatz is our narrator, and boy, is he ever a cranky one.  Buck has long ago retired from his detective job, having gained “legendary” status at the station, and just wants to live quietly with his wife, Rose, and his ever-present Lucky Strikes.  After he is called to the deathbed of someone he knew a long time ago, he unwittingly goes, only to be told something that shocks him to the core.  What ensues is a mad-dash caper to get his hands on Nazi gold, and most importantly, the ex-guard hiding in plain sight in America.  This is anything but easy, with non-stop murders being committed along the way.

While Don’t Ever Get Old has an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, it is Buck who is the star.  His words are never minced, and many times, you’re not going to believe what comes out of his mouth.  But if you read between the lines, you clearly see that he truly has a heart of gold.  This has “movie” written all over it, so let’s hope it’s as well-written and entertaining as the book.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bellman & Black (Diane Setterfeld)

One of the best books I’ve ever reviewed on this site was Diane Setterfeld’s The Thirteenth Tale.  I referred to it then as “psychological terror that just drips with suspense.”  Since Ms. Setterfeld waited seven whole years before publishing her second novel, Bellman & Black, I thought for sure that it would be just as good.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  The cover advertises it as a ghost story, but I really don’t think that’s the case.  It’s more a character study than anything, and I think fans of The Thirteenth Tale are going to be a little disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong…Setterfeld writes just as beautifully and has an interesting concept going here.  When William Bellman was a young child, he killed a rook with his catapult in front of some other boys.  This incident seems to have been forgotten, and as a young man, it seems everything he touches turns to gold.  He becomes owner of a local mill, and through his hard work and planning skills, it is ultra successful.  He marries a local girl, has a few children, and really seems to be living a charmed life.  Then the deaths start happening, and at every funeral, William sees the same man.  After speaking to this man (whom he calls Black) late one night at the cemetery, William seems to remember making a deal with him to open a “mourning” warehouse.  The man disappears, but William carries on with developing the, of course, extremely successful business, calling it Bellman & Black.  As the suspense builds, the reader knows that Bellman will eventually see Black again but in what capacity?

I’m not going to put it mildly…the ending to Bellman & Black is atrocious.  It doesn't make sense to me at all, and I’m still confused as to how William killing the rook has much to do with the rest of the story.  But even though this book is nothing like The Thirteenth Tale, Setterfeld writes in such an atmospheric way that it’s still worth a read.  Let’s hope that it doesn’t take her another seven years to write her next book…and that the third book is more like her first.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Beautiful Day (Elin Hilderbrand)

Elin Hilderbrand is, in my eyes, the queen of the summer novel.  I would classify most of her books as chick lit with heart and substance.  They’re not by any means mindless fluff but always tell a good story where you’re rooting for the characters to have happy endings.  This is again the case with her latest, Beautiful Day.

Hilderbrand sets her novels on the island of Nantucket, and if her writing doesn’t get you itching to visit there, I don’t know what will.  In this case, the book is told from the points of view of a family gathering there for a wedding.  Jenna and Stuart are the bride and groom, but surprisingly, they are not given much of a voice.  Beautiful Day is mainly narrated by Margot (sister of the bride), Doug (father of the bride), and Ann (mother of the groom), who all have many problems and issues in their lives.  But the real presence in Beautiful Day is Beth, Jenna’s mother, who passed away a few years before of cancer.  Beth knew she wasn’t going to see Jenna’s wedding day, and so put together The Notebook, a diary of advice for her daughter.  Even though at times it feels like Beth is pushing her flower, dress color, and photographer choices on Jenna, you realize that a mother is often there to offer her opinions as her daughter approaches the big day.  Beth would not be, however.

This novel could very well have been taken over-the-top with schmaltz, but it wasn’t by any means.  Let’s face it…Hilderbrand’s books are not about espionage or spies.  They are books with lots of heart with characters that effortlessly weave into each other’s lives.  You’ll be just as happy reading Beautiful Day on the beach in June as you would be on a winter’s day by the fire.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Lindsay Ashford)

What could Jane Austen have accomplished if she lived past her way-too-young death at 41? In her short life, she became one of the most widely read authors in all of English literature and wrote some of the most beloved books of all time.  In British crime writer Lindsay Ashford's novel of historical fiction, she has come up with a new theory on why Austen died so young and backs it up with some compelling evidence in her author's note.  Was Austen murdered by way of arsenic poisoning?

Anne Sharp is the teacher of Edward Austen's (brother of Jane) daughter, Fanny.  Edward's wife, Elizabeth, treats her as the hired help and is not too happy when Jane and Anne become friends.  Anne begins to suspect that Henry, another Austen brother, is having an affair with Elizabeth and it does not take long for her to discover that Henry is leading a double life. Many of the Austen siblings, in-laws, and children make an appearance in this novel, and it can be difficult to keep them, their familial relationships, and secrets straight. When these secrets are threatened to be revealed, things become dangerous, and it is through this
that the theory of Jane Austen's death becomes magnified through Ashford's lens.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  Ashford obviously did her research thoroughly, and at times, I truly couldn't stop reading.  However, I felt like Ashford was spoon feeding her readers and didn't allow us to make enough interpretations on our own.  The ending can be seen coming from a mile away.  But Austen fans will revel in the history and seeing their heroine in such a bright light.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Silent Wife (A.S.A. Harrison)

For the first time in over four years of book reviewing, I am about to give an in-between rating.  I’m not going to make a habit of doing this, but this particular novel did not deserve to be rounded up or down to either whole number.  So A.S.A. Harrison…your newest book forced me to do something against my blog rules!

First, do not for one minute listen to those people who are comparing this to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  That does not continue to be a bestselling phenomenon just for the heck of it; it’s an extremely well-written tale of a marriage gone horribly wrong and gave me a cloying sense of claustrophobia while reading it.  As I stated in my December 2012 review, I strongly suggest to Ms. Flynn that she lock herself in a room with puppies, rainbows, apple pie, and other happy things.” I am not in any way comparing the writing of Flynn and Harrison, as they are both very strong.  However, Flynn knew when her trainwreck (in the best possible way) of a story was done; Harrison fills her tale with needless psychobabble, a pointless delve into the main character’s past, and an ending that just won’t quit (in a not-so-good way).

The Silent Wife is told in two viewpoints, HIM (being Todd) and HER (being Jodi).  Todd and Jodi have been together for decades, never marrying or having kids, until Todd begins to have an affair with his friend’s daughter.  When he learns that he is going to be a father, he “leaves” Jodi, coming back once or twice for the night only when he misses her.  The final straw is when he sends her an eviction notice, forcing Jodi to think about her future.  Even though Jodi is “The Silent Wife”, not standing up for herself until Todd leaves, the reader learns that she is actually astonishingly calculating.  Her emotionless, horrifying actions made my blood run cold.

I couldn’t put The Silent Wife down…until I could.  Harrison would have earned a solid 4 if not for filling her pages with things that didn’t need to be there.  This book would have been excellent if Harrison whittled things down about 25 pages.