Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Scent Trail by Celia Lyttleton


Celia has decided to get her own bespoke scent created for her (seemingly for the purpose of writing a book about it, rather than actually wanting this just for herself?). She visits someone that helps her pick out the top, middle, and base notes of her scent, including a colour consultation as colour and scent play roles together. After this, Celia sets out to find the origins of each of ingredient.

While staring this book, I wonder how Celia can keep me interested in her travels to learn about 11 different ingredients. It was interesting to learn about how these items are turned in to scents, and in some instances the massive volume of ingredient that is required to make a small volume of oil for scent. It makes you wonder how the finances work. While perfumes are not cheap, they aren't super expensive either compared to how much volume some of the ingredients require.

It's also hard to read a book on scent when you can't smell everything she's talking about. I don't recognize some of those ingredients and it would have been great to know what they smell like and what her final scent smells like. Celia tried describing what those smells were like, but many of them were unique to her like the smell of her childhood in some specific place. How can I associate with that? In general, that was my problem with this book. I couldn't connect with anything because I didn't know what the smells were and couldn't connect with her or her descriptions.

First Line: "There are only a handful of bespoke perfumers in London, and Anastasia Brozler, the founder of Creative Perfumers, is one of them."


Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard


Kevin Hazzard re-started his career as an EMS, wanting to help strangers at possibly the worst time in their life. He starts with training and, once he passes, tries to find a job. Unable to find work for a hospital, he works at private company and the tales begin. Given that EMTs are stuck in a truck with another EMT/medic for an entire shift, this book is as much about the people Hazzard works with as the calls he goes on. The two taking all the calls need some level of trust and connection to make it bearable to get through the day.

Of course, having been an EMT, Hazzard has seen some crazy shit. He takes the reader through some of those more crazy calls. Given that EMTs run calls along with firefighters and police, you would think that EMTs see the least amount of danger but it's still a pretty dangerous career.

While the individual stories were interesting, there was nothing that really tied it all together or made me care about Hazzard. He seemed like an adrenaline junkie that this career could suit. But it also made him feel a bit less compassionate than someone who you would want doing this job.

First Line: "I did nothing to save the first person who died in front of me."


Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

Historical Fiction

Young Miranda lives on a farm with her large family and one day her parents get a letter from a cousin that asks them to send their eldest daughter to Dragonwyck. The letter comes from Nicholas Van Ryn, socialite from the Hudson Valley. Miranda is super excited to leave behind her simple life and become more sophisticated.

Upon arriving, Miranda meets Nicholas' wife and daughter. The wife doesn't seem to want Miranda around and doesn't hesitate to make that known. Meanwhile Nicholas suffers from violent mood swings and Miranda never really knows what to expect from him. When the family suffers an emergency, Miranda's life changes once again.

I picked this book up because I enjoyed Seton's Katherine so much. Dragonwyck doesn't have the same magic that Katherine does. I didn't really enjoy any of the characters. Miranda was weak and annoying and even by the end of the book I didn't understand what was going on with Nicholas.

Everything just went on too long and all the characters were too annoying to enjoy this a lot.

First Line: "It was on an afternoon in May of 1844 that the letter came from Dragonwyck."


Friday, April 19, 2019

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Science Fiction

Professor Aronnax is invited on an expedition to find a giant sea creature responsible for eating a hole in a steel ship and almost sinking it. Having a passion for studying the sea, he gratefully accepts and brings his assistant along with him. On the ship, they meet Canadian harpooner Ned Land who will be responsible for taking the beast down. It takes a while, but they eventually find the monster and pursue it. When they get close enough they try a shot at the beast, it looks like it does no damage. The beast takes aim at the ship and Prof. Aronnax and his mate go overboard.

In the water, far away from the ship, they also find Ned Land clinging to what looks like a piece of the beast. But it's made out of steel, surely it's not an animal. Suddenly a door opens and they are brought within this ship and kept captive. The beast they everyone has been trying to pursue is an advanced submarine.

Being kept captive on the ship, the trio is allowed to partake in the adventures they go on. They see things no one but those on the ship have seen and venture to places no one has been. It's obviously Verne had an incredible imagination to pull this book together and, despite it being 100+ years old, still reads like something that could happen today. This is where the book excels, as the characters are a bit weak. There was no purpose to Aronnax's assistant in the book at all. He provided absolutely not value to drive the plot forward. And even the main characters like Aronnax, Land, and Captain Nemo we don't find out too much about.

Even with this, the book's weakest point is the ending. It's like Verne couldn't figure out how to end the book so just gave up and said oh well we're done now. It's unfortunate as otherwise the book was pretty fun.

First Line: "In the year 1866 the whole maritime population of Europe and America was excited by a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon."


Sunday, April 07, 2019

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd


Jessie gets a call from her aunt summoning her home to deal with a family emergency. Jessie grew up on an island off the coast of South Carolina with her mom, dad, and brother until a tragic boat explosion took her father when she was only 10. Since then, the family was never the same. Jessie escaped the island the first chance she got, got married to Hugh and had a daughter. But when she finds out that her mother has purposely cut off a finger, Jessie needs to return to the island and face the past.

When Jessie gets to her mother's house, there's a lot of emotions in that house. Jessie knows something is wrong with her marriage and is trying to re-find herself. Her mother is obviously struggling with a very deep grief. The two aren't good at confronting each other so they just dance around each other for the majority of the book.

Also on the island is a monastery where monks live and the island famous mermaid chair sits. As a child, Jessie was in awe of the mermaid chair and things haven't changed. Finding her mother there one night, she also first sees Brother Thomas and instantly falls in love with him, causing further turmoil in her marriage.

The love story of this book bothered me from the start. Jessie and Brother Thomas see each other, exchange no more than a sentence or two, and decide they are in love with each other? None of the rest of the book read like a fairy tale so not sure why the author went down this path. The internal struggle they both had on whether to accept the relationship was interesting, coming from two completely different points of view.

I know others have not enjoyed this book because it doesn't compare to Sue Monk Kidd's other book, The Secret Life of Bees. Having not read that book before, I had nothing to compare this one to. It was very easy to get in to and though I didn't love the story, it was a good enough read to keep me engaged the entire book.

First Line: "In the middle of my marriage, when I was above all Hugh's wife and Dee's mother, one of those unambiguous women with no desire to disturb the universe, I fell in love with a Benedictine monk."


Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo


Miss Fuji is the youngest pearl diver in her group. She feels at peace in the water and comes back daily with bounty from the sea. On one dive, she cuts her arm but doesn't notice the pain. She sees a spot on her skin in the same area where she got cut. She doesn't think too much of it until she finds another spot and goes to the doctor. Miss Fuji has leprosy.

In the mid 1900s Japan, those with the disease are shunned and sent to an island to live out the rest of their life. Even though Miss Fuji tries to hide, they find her and send her to this island.

The first part of the book focuses on the profession of pearl diving, which is incredibly interesting. Having recently visited the Korean island of Jeju where this practice is still in place, I really wanted to learn more. Unfortunately this part of the book ends pretty quickly and it moves right in to life on a segregated island. I was disappointed by this, but I blame myself for having incorrect expectations.

The majority of this book is about being in exile with others like Miss Fuji. She finds herself a job that is important to her and the other patients and seems to find some purpose in life. The book becomes disjointed in this part because it is separated by artifacts from the island and what they mean. It would have flowed better if told traditionally; there wasn't really much value in having these artifacts help tell the story.

Though this book wasn't bad, it really suffered because I expected a completely different story from it.

First Line: "Her words are the only remaining artifact of those days before she arrived."


Friday, March 29, 2019

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown


Susan Fletcher is the head cryptographer at the NSA and has a romantic weekend planned with her fiance. He gets called away on an emergency and it's not long before Susan also receives a call from her boss. She needs to come in to work and not say anything.

Once she's in to work she's debriefed by her boss. The super computer that the NSA has built and has never spent more than 3 hours cracking a code has been chugging away for more than 12 hours now. It has finally found the unbreakable code. This will be a complete reset for the NSA and their super expensive machine will become useless. The NSA can't let this happen.

Even though it's the weekend, there are others hanging around the NSA and they cannot find out. But the NSA is full of suspicious people and it's only a matter of time.

The setting for this book is interesting, taking place completely at the NSA headquarters. Despite this book being pretty old by now, it still reads as if it could happen in current day. The story starts off interesting. This code is unbreakable, what is the NSA missing and how do they find the code. It devolves into something completely unbelievable and overblown. The ending was pretty weak and at that point I was just happy the story was coming to a close. This probably my least favourite Dan Brown book.

First Line: "It said that in death, all things become clear; Ensei Tankado now knew it was true."


Thursday, March 14, 2019

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Science Fiction

I struggle to find the words to describe this book for me. It centres around two characters: Patricia and Laurence. Patricia is a witch who can cast spells, heal people, fly, and talk with animals. Laurence is a tech geek who can build incredibly complex machines and AI. The two should have absolutely nothing in common but they find each other as outcasts in school. When Laurence learns of Patricia's skills, they drift apart but reconnect as adults. Meanwhile, the world around them is turning to shit and it could be on them to fix it.

In a book of science fiction and fantasy, I expect some realism to ground the story but there were things that just didn't make sense. For example, in school, Patricia is made to look like she is cursing and throwing a dead animal at the guidance councilor. She runs away from the school and the entire town groups up to find her. Excuse me? Why does a town care enough about a school kid an a supposed curse to hunt her down?

There's also the trained assassin sent to kill the kids. He has a heavy presence at the start of the book, completely disappears for a while, then pops up again with an incredibly quick and unsatisfactory resolution to the point where I dont even understand the purpose of introducing this character at all.

The book was riddled with weird problems like the two described. I liked Patricia and Laurence as characters and the premise of science vs nature was a good one, but the execution just wasn't satisfactory for me.

First Line: "When Patricia was six years old, she found a wounded bird."


Saturday, March 09, 2019

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison


When the disease hit, the midwife was right in the thick of it working at the hospital as it took out almost all females and children. No babies survived childbirth and hardly any of the mothers. Men were contracting the disease as well, but the mortality rate wasn't as high as the females. When she falls sick she thinks this is the end for her as well.

Waking up in the hospital after society has fallen, the first thing she must do is find supplies. She soon runs in to two men, one of which is cooking food and invites her to eat. After eating, they enter a mall for supplies and when others in the mall learn there is a female, they attack. The men manage to keep them away but cut ties with her after that. They can't be responsible for keeping a female safe in these conditions. Many females are being kept as slaves and raped daily since there are so few.

Back on her own, she changes her appearance to be as male as possible and runs in to more people. Both those that want to help her and those that want to hurt her. She also finds a few small groups of people that are working together to survive.

I could not put this book down. I was completely invested in the midwife surviving her journey, wherever it was going to lead to. There were some interesting characters introduced along the way but all of them in passing. This tale, for the most part, is pretty lonely, but there are some relationships and companionship that give a bit of light to this overall dark tale.

First Line: "Mother Ina tapped her fingers on her hollow wooden belly."


Sunday, March 03, 2019

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


Libby Day was the victim of a horrific crime when she was a child. Her brother killed her mom and two sisters but Libby managed to escape and run away, only to finger him to the police later. Now in her 30s, she has run out of the money the community pooled together for her and needs to find a new way to sustain herself. She is offered money to appear at a nearby club that is interested in true crime and despite no interest in doing this, the money wins out. Attending this event, she finds that everyone thinks her brother innocent and Libby's testimony spoon fed to her by the police. Libby starts to question that night.

Going back and forth between the events leading up to the crime and current day for Libby, we slowly learn how that night unfolded while Libby starts piecing things together by speaking to those close to her family during that time. Libby herself is a bit of a mess, but it surprisingly doesn't really impact how she conducts her investigation in to that night, which is surprising.

Having read a few Flynn books in the past, I found this one a bit slower than her others and the ending not as surprising as Gone Girl or Sharp Objects. Because the middle part of the book was a bit slow, I'd say this was an average mystery and the worst of the Flynn books I've read.

First Line: "I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ."


Friday, February 22, 2019

Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid


Dr. Tony Hill is bedridden after an attack at a mental ward and an axe to the knee. It's really not a good time to be immobile when a top footballer is admitted to the hospital and the staff finds out that he has been poisoned with ricin. He passes away and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan is called in to investigate. Researching from a hospital bed, Tony is frustrated at the lack of progress he makes, but eventually finds a possible connection to another mysterious poisoning case.

During the memorial for this football player, an alleged terrorist attack occurs, bombing the stadium and killing many. Could these be connected? Why was the stadium targeted?

I haven't read a Hill/Jordan mystery for a while but this one felt pretty lazy. The bombing builds up for a very long time and then only takes place in the last third of the book and really has nothing to do with anything else in the book. It just didn't connect for me. Then when they finally catch the murderer, though we sort of know the motive, the murderer refuses to give the full story on why he did it. It's like McDermid didn't want to bother sorting out that part of the story.

Definitely not my favourite Hill/Jordan mystery. I hope Jordan sorts out her drinking problem soon but I doubt that'll be the case.

First Line: "The phases of the moon have an inexplicable but incontrovertible effect on the mentally ill."