Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Historical Fiction

In 18th century England, Thomas Kellaway and his family decide to move to London to put behind some painful memories of losing their son and try to take advantage of an opportunity with the circus. Kellaway and his son Jem are carpenters, specializing in making chairs. They end up living next door to William Blake, a poet and engraver that sympathizes with the French. Jem makes friends with another girl his age, Maggie, who has lived in London her entire life and is the daugther of a wheeler and dealer who tries to sell anything to anyone.

This book doesn't give an in-depth look at Blake's life, as he plays a secondary character, but we do learn a little of his poetry and perhaps of its origins. As far as character studies go from usual Chevalier books, I feel like we only skimmed the surface with Blake. I didn't really learn much about him aside from the fact that he engraved, he wrote poems, he was on the French's side, and he seemed to like children. More details would have been appreciated.

The lack of a strong theme was a big problem for this story. It didn't seem to be about much, which made it a slow and rather unsatisfying read. This is my least favourite book that I've read by Chevalier so far.

First Line: "There was something humiliating about waiting in a cart on a busy London street with all your possessions stacked around you, on show to the curious public."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead

Non-Fiction

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village in the mountains of France, known as place for summer vacations. During World War II, it served as much more than that. The locals helped hide Jews, resisters, and communists. Many were children that were integrated in to every day life so that non-locals wouldn't know who was supposed to be there and who wasn't. The villagers thought their actions were completely normal and wanted no recognition for what happened, which is why we are only hearing about this story now.

My expectation from this book was to be horrified by the Nazi's actions and uplifted by the actions of the French villagers. This book paints Vichy France, the government, as the problem by blindly following the Nazis and doing whatever they request without pushing back. Having read Sarah's Key a while back, this wasn't surprising but for some reason it still surprises me when I read it.

The problem with this book is that I didn't feel overly uplifted by the story of what the French villagers were doing. Reflecting on this, I think it's because I felt that Moorehead skimmed over everything, trying to cover off each person, story, event and never took anything in to details. Just when I was starting to get in to the rhythm of the story that was being told, it was on to the next person, the next story. For example, author Camus was mentioned because he was in France during the war but it didn't really tie in to anything in the village and it was never in more than a few paragraphs at a time.

The other item in this book that seemed to have me reading it slower was the use of proper nouns. Every single sentence in this book had multiple proper nouns being used. I had to slow down for each to try and remember whether it was a city, person, group, etc. Opening up the book to a random sentence (I added the bolding): "His headquarters were at Le Puy, on the Boulevard Marechal Fayolle, named after the much-decorated hero of the Somme and the Marne." None of the proper nouns mean anything to me. It's a weird complaint and one I've never had about a book before, but an issue to me nonetheless.

I feel that this book would have been much more effective if Moorehead had focused on a few characters and committed to telling us their stories from beginning to end.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour.

First Line: "When Aaron Liwerant brought Sara, his fiancee, to Paris from his parents' house in Warsaw in the summer of 1926, France was a good place for refugees."

Rating:
(3/5)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Black & Blue by Ian Rankin

Mystery

Inspector John Rebus is managing a few cases, harassment from television stations about a possible wrong conviction, and a personal interest in two serial killers. The cases start with a man that is impaled on a fence, tied to a chair, with a bag over his head. Did he jump or was he pushed? What circumstances caused the man to end here? The evidence takes him up north, looking at a crime boss Uncle Joe. He is known to run drug rings but no one can touch him.

While investigating this crime, Rebus' old partner commits suicide. This is after media has been hounding him on a case he closed many years ago where some suspected that his partner planted evidence. The media hounds Rebus too and an internal investigation is opened with someone who is not too fond of Rebus heading it up. Rebus is assigned DI Jack Morton, an old friend, to watch Rebus' every move and follow him everywhere.

This makes it harder to Rebus to continue his unofficial investigation in to the serial killer Bible John, and his more recent copy cat killer, Johnny Bible. There was lots going on in this book but everything managed to work and fit together quite nicely.

Morton and Rebus being paired up was the best part of this book. The two have a mutual respect for each other but Rebus is angry enough at having Morton watching his every move to get a few good one liners off at Morton. Morton also, somehow, manages to get Rebus off alcohol. Let's hope it lasts. He may just be able to make something with Gill work out if things stay this way.

First Line: "Tell me again why you killed them."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne

Mystery

FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood is called in to consult on an interesting case because of her background as a magician. The Warlock has hacked in to the FBI's website and left an encrypted message. It takes their computer scientists a week to uncover that the message contains GPS coordinates and, when they visit those coordinates, they find a dead girl, dead only a few hours. The problem is that this girl died 2 years ago. The FBI knows they are dealing with an illusionist and hope that Blackwood's experience can help them.

Not surprisingly, things escalate and the illusions get more complex and on a larger scale. They need to find The Warlock before he kills more people, and before the public starts to believe what he is doing is real.

This book is unlike anything I've read in the past. I've read books on magicians and illusionists and books about mysteries but I can't recall reading one that combines the two. I really enjoyed the magical element brought to the crimes. It's rare that I wish for more crimes to be committed in books, usually I want the good guys to find the bad guys, but I couldn't help but wishing there were a few more tricks up The Warlock's sleeves to see what else Mayne could come up with.

I also enjoyed Blackwood as a character and everything her background brought to the story. I've never seen Mayne's tv show but it's obvious he knows his stuff. However I do have a few small issues with this book. Blackwood's ex-boyfriend, Damian, made a few appearances throughout the book and it seemed that whenever Mayne couldn't figure out how to get the FBI to figure out the next clue, Damian did it for them. It felt a bit like cheating. I also have an issue when books turn the killers on the main character. This happens far too often in books that I read and it always feels cheap to me. Why can't characters figure out who the murderer is and then capture them? Why does it always have to involve being taken? My last issue would be with the ending. I felt like everything wrapped up too quickly and I wondered if I missed something. The book was left open for another Blackwood novel though, and I would pick it up if another were to come out.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour.

First Line: "You're going to die."

Rating:
(4/5)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tara Road by Maeve Binchy

Romance

Ria is a doting, loving mother of two to Annie and Brian. Her husband, Danny, is charming and a powerful real estate agent. They live in their dream home on Tara Road in Dublin and have friends and family coming and going, constantly filling the home with love and noise. Ria loves her live until one day, everything comes crashing down around her. Her husband has been unfaithful and has gotten a younger girl pregnant and wants to make a life with her. Trying to escape her problems but still desperate for a reunion with her husband, Ria accepts a house exchange in the USA.

This is the first Maeve Binchy book that I've read and I'm surprised it made it to Oprah's Book List. The characters were interesting and the novel flows very well. I did have a few problems with this book though. I felt like the purpose of this book was to have Ria and Marilyn exchange homes to learn more about themselves. Marilyn isn't even introduced to the book until 1/2 way through. Less background on Ria and more on Marilyn would have made more sense.

The other major issue with this book is how the female characters let their male counterparts walk all over them. There's very little justice for most of them. I wanted to slap Ria a few times for how she felt and acted around Danny. This is part of what made me so surprised that this was an Oprah book club pick because she usually likes her women strong and to stand up when being treated like crap.

First Line: "Ria's mother had always been very fond of film stars."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Mystery/Chick Lit

Stephanie Plum is a horrible bounty hunter. When sexy and mysterious Ranger asks her to help him out with a problem he's having with break ins of customers for his security firm, Stephanie knows it's too good to pass up. Especially since her and Morelli have had a huge argument and are no longer seeing each other. Stephanie starts to spy on Ranger's employees, thinking that one of them may have something to do with this since the robber knows the codes. Stephanie can't give up her day job though, and still has to find her skips, including the ancient old man who likes to flash to elderly ladies.

The end of this book, at the BBQ competition, almost had me laughing on the train. I would have been nice to know what happened with Lula and Tank. In the last book they were together and in this book it was no more. What a shame!

A frequent complaint I have about these books is that the mysteries are solved and then the books instantly end. It would be nice if there was a bit more closure on the books before they wrapped up.

First Line: "When I was a kid, I was afraid of spiders and vegetables."

Rating:
(4/5)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Non-Fiction

Four ladies of the Civil War show their cunning nature and intelligence by spying and deceiving those against their cause. This book focuses on four ladies:

- Belle Boyd, a 17-year old charmer who shoots a Union soldier in her home then becomes a spy for the Confederate army. She gets her information by using her charm.
- Elizabeth Van Lew living in Richmond, Virginia, leading a spy ring. She had ciphers and codes for sending all of her messages, under the noses of prominent Confederates.
- Emma Edmonds, a Canadian, enlisting as "Frank Thompson" as a Union private, fighting, nursing, and spying for her cause.
- Rose Greenhow, using her daughter little Rose to provide important information to the Confederates.

Watch author Karen Abbott describe the four ladies in her book:


These women were incredibly brave and it's quite amazing that many years before women were even allowed to vote, these women were controlling so much information and changing the efforts of the war. I think it's natural to pull for some of these women more than others. Personally, I enjoyed Emma's story the best, and not only because she was Canadian but because she did so many things that one would never think at that time a woman could do! She was a soldier, she fought in the war, she nursed others back to health, she spied, she posed as a man who posed as a women, and she posed as a black man to gain information for her side.

I found that I had troubles keeping track of the four women in this book because of the way it was written. Abbott switched between the stories of the women multiple times within a chapter and I feel like it would have been easier and smoother had each chapter been dedicated to a single woman.

I also found that there were some pacing issues with this book. It was like a roller coaster ride where some parts were very interesting and others did nothing to move the story along.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of of this tour!

Rating:
(3.5/5)