Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag: A Flavia De Luce Mystery" by Alan Bradley

A delightful mystery with a preternaturally precocious protagonist! This is the second in the Flavia De Luce series. I had started listening to the audiobook version of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" before this book arrived and decided not to finish the first but just jump into the second. I probably missed some details of the family background but it did not limit my enjoyment of the book.

The setting is a small village in post-WW2 England and it is written in first  person narrated by the young protagonist. Flavia De Luce is 12 and the youngest of 3 sisters; their mother died when she was quite young. Her older sisters torment her as only older sisters can do – but even more so because their father is generally preoccupied with other things. Although Flavia is young, this is not a Nancy Drew-type mystery; it is definitely written more for adults than children. Flavia is a chemist (quite accomplished for one so young) and fascinated by poison and poisoners. She uses this knowledge against her sisters in particularly devious ways. She is outwardly polite to the adults she encounters but the politeness is often her cover to pump them for information.  She is particularly determined that the adults (the police in particular) are not going to keep her from solving the murder mystery.

There is a mystery wrapped up in the murder mystery and it was enjoyable to read about village life and learn “who done it.” Normally I prefer contemporary thrillers to period mysteries but I have become a fan of this series and will go back and finish the first book and wait patiently for the next in the series.

If you enjoy mysteries, put this series on your "must read" list.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Blood Ties" by Kay Hooper; not my favorite Bishop/Special Crimes Unit book

I need to start this review with a caveat -- my feelings about this book may have been affected by something out of the control of the author. I got my book from the library and the person who had checked it out before must be a heavy smoker because the book reeked of cigarette smoke. That smell makes me sick so it might have contributed to a more negative reading experience than the book deserved.

The author did something new in this book that I have to applaud. After 12 books it can get a little difficult to remember all the various members of the SCU and Haven (not to mention their various special abilities) and what happened in the diffierent books. So Ms. Hooper did something to help us out: throughout the book there are footnote reminders of which book a referenced event or character was in and at the end of the book there are bios on the SCU agents and Haven operatives. I found this really helpful because it has been a long time since I read some of the books.

The footnotes and bios were especially helpful in this book because, unlike some of the other books in this series, most if not all of the SCU agents show up in one way or another in the course of this book. It is dictated primarily by the plot but it made the flow of the book less compelling than when there are just a few main characters. There aren't any new characters so that helps but it does spread out (and thin out) the emotional connection to the characters. I think the lack of focus on just a few characters (along with the smell) made this one of my less favorite books in the series.

This is the third book in the trilogy that starts with Blood Dreams (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novels) and Blood Sins: A Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novel (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit: Blood Trilogy) so you should read those books before reading this one. If you start with this one, you will miss a lot of the references to what happened in those books.

The action in this book takes place in the small town of Serenade where several SCU agents have been called to investigate a grisly murder. They have been following what they believe to be a serial killer through various states and things escalate in Serenade. Although nearly all of the SCU agents appear at one point or another in this book, Quentin and Diana and Hollis and Reese are the central figures from an emotional perspective.

I don't want to give away any of the plot but if you thought Blood Sins completely ended the storyline, you'd be wrong.

As noted above, I checked out this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Freedom(TM)" by Daniel Suarez is the exciting sequel to "Daemon"

If you have not read "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, you have to stop and read it first. It is possible to read some sequels without having read the first book, but this is not one of them. The author jumps right into the story shortly after the end of "Daemon" and provides very little background information.

The first book was about the genesis of the Daemon and the shock of the terrible things it could do, it taking over systems and seeming to act like an all-powerful entity. In this book the Daemon has been spread worldwide and there is an established darknet community. People generally fall into three different categories: Daemon followers on the darknet, those who are unaware the Daemon exists (or who believe the cover story that it was a hoax), and those who want to either destroy the Daemon or find a way to use or corrupt it for their own economic benefit. There are several returning characters from the first book.

The scary part of Daemon for me was in wondering if someone could write a program that could do everything the Daemon did and react to threats as it did. The scary part of "Freedom" is the idea that our personal freedom could be at risk even in the United States. Some of the events in the book are right at the edge where "couldn't happen" meets "what if" and that makes the book more thought provoking than most thrillers. By the end I was just as conflicted as the main character who had to answer the question of whether the Daemon should be destroyed or not. (At the end of Daemon, I was convinced it was a completely evil program.)

I loved both Daemon and this book and definitely recommend them to anyone who wants an action-filled thought-provoking techno thriller.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"The Breach" by Patrick Lewis is an exciting techno thriller

This book will keep you reading so intently you may miss your bus stop or stay up much later than you intend. It combines the usual action-filled chases and fight scenes you expect from a good thriller with a really interesting technology/science-type plot twist.

Travis Chase is an ex-cop and ex-con; he was in prison for 15 years and now trying to decide what to do next with his life. Out hiking in the Alaskan wilderness, he comes upon a downed 747 full of murder victims including the president's wife who has left a message for whoever finds them. He finds and rescues Paige, who draws him into a race to save the world.

I don't want to say more about the plot because that would spoil the thrills, but what they are dealing with doesn't seem all that farfetched given the concerns raised about what could happen from the large hadron collider. The twists and turns in the plot will keep you wondering until the very end. And when you get to the end, you will put the author's next Travis Chase novel "Ghost Country" on your wish list.

I checked this book out from the library.  Support your local library!

"Blonde With a Wand: A Babes on Brooms Novel" by Vicki Lewis Thompson

This is the first of the Babes on Brooms series from Vicki Lewis Thompson and it is charming and funny with lots of romance (and some hot sex scenes for those who want that) and not too much "woo woo" for a paranormal romance.

This book starts out with the two main characters heavy into lust with each other. Anica is a witch dating a nonmagic man, Jasper. She has not yet told him what she is and this date is looking like it might be "the" night so she has to make sure to tell him before they end up in bed. But before that happens, Anica and Jasper get into an argument. Jasper pushes Anica too far and in her anger she uses a spell that turns him into a cat. The problem is that this breaks one of the laws of her magic and she loses her powers and can't change him back. Not to mention that Jasper is furious and plans his revenge on Anica once he gets back to his real body. Although she feels terrible for what she did, Anica is still angry at Jasper over the reason for their argument and wants nothing to do with him after he returns to his human form.

Anica enlists her younger sister Lily to help her return Jasper to his normal self. They try various things that work temporarily and Jasper gets his human body back for short periods every evening. (It would be too creepy to have a romance where the hero is a cat the whole time, not to mention sex scenes with a cat would put this into a zoophilia or bestiality speciality category!) When Lily is unable to undo the spell, they call Ambrose and Dorcas from the author's earlier books Over Hexed (The Hex Series, Book 1), Wild & Hexy (The Hex Series, Book 2) and Casual Hex.

The romance in this book is really nice as Anica and Jasper develop feelings for each other stronger than the lust they had when the book started. The ending is particularly romantic.

If you are concerned about too much witchy spell casting stuff, this book is fairly light on that. There are a few spells cast (mostly goofy rhymes by Lily) and a potion made, but this is a romance primarily with not that much emphasis on the witchcraft. It is light and fluffy and not one of the paranormal romances that is heavy on the woo woo.

The next book in the series will be Chick with a Charm: A Babes On Brooms Novel (Babes-on-Brooms), which is about Anica's sister Lily. I'm definitely going to read that book.

I checked this book out from the library.  Support your local library!

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh. 4 stars

This is a sweet and unexpected romance but too short for 5 stars.  If this romance were a little longer, I'd have given it 5 stars. But I think the length may have been dictated by the plot and it was lovely and sweet so I still recommend it.

This romance starts out like many others -- with an arranged marriage between two people who do not want an arranged marriage. Annabelle, daughter of an earl in need of a cash infusion, has been caught in the process of eloping with her father's groom. Now she is ruined and no one of her rank, much less one with the money her father needs, will offer for her. Reginald is the son of a man who made his fortune in the coal business but who cannot break into polite society no matter how he tries. Reginald has been educated as a gentleman and has picked up bad spending and gambling habits from his classmates. When Reginald's father learns that Annabelle, daughter of his snobbish neighbor, is ruined he goes to see the earl to arrange a marriage between their children. If Reginald does not marry Annabelle, he will be cut off from funds.

After this beginning one might expect the plot to go in a predictable fashion, but Mary Balogh is a master at changing up the expected romance plot and she does it again in this book. I won't give anything away to spoil the plot but what the author did with it was lovely. Those of you who want a steamy romance (i.e. lots of sex scenes) will be disappointed, but you should still give this book a chance. Readers who want romance first and foremost and don't really want steamy should definitely read this book.

I checked this book out from my local library.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Think Twice" by Lisa Scottoline: 4 stars; enjoyable but not my favorite

This latest entry in Lisa Scottoline's series of books about the lawyers in Bennie Rosato's firm is a straight thriller, not a legal thriller. Very little of the action involves the law. It is not my favorite book in the series but it was still an enjoyable read.

If you are not familiar with this series, Bennie (Benedetto) Rosato is the partner in an all-women law firm in Philadelphia. Her associates are Mary DiNunzio and Judy Carrier. Mary's family plays a big role in this book and that is a big part of why I enjoyed the book. They are quite the characters. (I love that the dialogue for Mary's father -- who won't wear his hearing aid -- is in all caps so you know he's yelling.) Although it is not necessary to have read them to understand this book, Bennie first meets her twin sister Alice Connelly in "Mistaken Identity" and has another encounter with her in "Dead Ringer." If you haven't read the previous books, I highly recommend that you do.

This book starts with Bennie having dinner with Alice. Next thing she knows, she's been left for dead in a box. Meanwhile Alice impersonates Bennie so she can steal her money and leave the country. There is a plenty of action and a lot of plot "tricks" that allow Alice's deception to go unchallenged for longer than seems realistic. But half the fun of a thriller is allowing oneself to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. I do hope Ms. Scottoline puts more of the "legal" back in her legal thrillers because I enjoy that genre and prefer the earlier books to this one.

I received this book free from Amazon as part of the Vine review program.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Patched Together" by Brennan Manning Disappointed Me

Although "The Ragamuffin Gospel" had been on my "to be read" book for a long time, this was my first Brennan Manning book. My expectations were very high based on all I've heard about The Ragamuffin Gospel and, as a result, I was somewhat disappointed. (My disappointment increased after I started reading Ragamuffin Gospel.)  I would not recommend this unless you just want to read all of his books.

This "new" book is not entirely new. The first and sections previously were published as separate books about the story of Willie Juan. "Morning" is from his earlier out-of-print book "The Boy Who Cried Abba: A Parable of Trust and Acceptance" and is the story of a scarred and nearly friendless young boy who meets the Medicine Man aka the Man of Sorrows (Jesus) and learns about Abba's love. In "Noon," previously published as "The Journey of the Prodigal: A Parable of Sin and Redemption", Willie Juan is an adult who experiences fame, fortune, love, loss, and grief and forgets the Medicine Man but at the end re-experiences the love. The last section, "Twilight," is new for this book and completes the story of Willie Juan. The new part was the most difficult part for me to appreciate, partly because a miraculous event in the story was too distracting for me to find the parable meaning application.

I think there are a couple reasons why this book was disappointing. The first is that it is very much autobiographical to the author and that made it feel less applicable to me. Also, I often didn't understand the parable meaning of specific parts of the story. I don't know if the failure was in me or in the writing, but I didn't have an emotional or spiritual connection to the book except in a few places.  That being said, there are some lovely parts in the book, about God's love and forgiveness. I don't think this book will become as important as Ragamuffin Gospel but there are many people who will read it and remember how much God loves them and that will be a good thing.

After I read this book, I went back and started "The Ragamuffin Gospel."  Now I understand why people make such a big deal about Brennan Manning.  I'm not quite done with it, but now that I've read a good bit of it, I find "Patched Together" even more lacking.  I'll write about Ragamuffin Gospel when I'm done with it, but for now if you only read one Brennan Manning book, it should definitely be Ragamuffin Gospel.

I received Patched Together free from Amazon under the Vine review program.

"Bite Me: A Love Story" by Christopher Moore is twistedly hilarious!

If you loved "You Suck: A Love Story" and/or "Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story" (both by Christopher Moore, you definitely want to read this book. It continues the stories started in those books and is laugh out loud hilarious. If you haven't read either of those book, there are two things you need to know. First, if you look at the plot summary and think you'd rather avoid the whole teen girl angst and vampires scene, don't worry. This book is like the anti-Twilight. Second, you don't have to worry about missing important information; the first chapter of this book is a recap of the first two from the perspective of the main character Abby Normal. I was glad for the recap because it had been awhile since I read You Suck and was worried I had forgotten plot details. The story picks up right at the end of You Suck and goes off on crazy funny tangents.

My favorite character in "You Suck" was the skinny little Goth girl, Abigail von Normal, so I was excited she would be the main narrator of this book . Her "voice" is a combination of smart aleck Valley girl with a heavy dose of foul-mouthed snark plus pseudo-sophisticated Gothic romantic sensibilities blended into the usual teen girl body and self-esteem issues and rebellion against authority. I listened to the audio book of "You Suck," in which the narrator perfectly captured the essence of Abby, so her voice flowed along in my head as I read this one. It helps to be at least marginally familiar with internet and/or teen slang to know what she is saying. It also helps if you are not easily offended. Abby's snarkiness comes with a bit of a non-PC foul mouth and F-bombs are dropped by many of the characters.

Other returning characters are the young vampire lovers Tommy and Jody, officers Cavuto and Riviera, Abby's friend Jared, her boyfriend Foo, the Emperor of San Francisco, the Animals, and Chet the huge vampire cat. If you read [[ASIN:006056668X Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings (Today Show Book Club #25)]], you will recognize the Rastafarian fake Hawaiian Kona who makes an appearance later in this book as the captain of a vampire ship.

I laughed all through this book and was sorry when I got to the end. Even though the plot is completely over the top, the author makes you just want to jump in the river of craziness and go with the flow. You'd have to wonder what a dark and twisty place the author's brain must be to come up with this stuff, but you'll be too busy enjoying the result to care!