Review – The Likeness

The LikenessI read this book many weeks ago (months really). Why the long wait for the review? I didn’t know how to talk about this book. I started this post a few times and wanted this review to be more than just me blabbing on about how good it is. And still here I am one more time, and sadly, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. So, I’ll get it out of the way now — if you’re not reading Tana French you should be. Go, now. Buy her books.

Detective Cassie Maddox is working domestic abuse, a department she’d rather not be assigned to, but after her last case went bad, it was her best, and some would say, only option if she wanted to remain on the force. When a body turns up in an abandoned cottage in the countryside, it leaves her, and her fellow detectives, stunned. The dead woman in a ringer for Cassie — every detail is exactly the same even down to an alias Cassie once used as part of an undercover case. She is, as far as anyone can tell, a dead Cassie Maddox. Cassie’s old boss from undercover wants to send her back under as the dead woman, and when Cassie agrees, that’s when the fun starts.

If you want a book that will lull you off into a pleasant sleep, this isn’t that book. If you want a story that will feel like it’s got an iron grip on your throat for over 400 pages, this is that book. Holy crap is French good at the tension. There isn’t one chapter of this book where you don’t feel it. One thing that helps, her characters are so real you never even stop to wonder if there’s anything wrong with them because, on the surface, there isn’t anything off. She hides the flaws so well you don’t even see anything coming, and when it does, it hits hard.

As usual, I read ahead. I couldn’t take the stress. It’s good stress though; stress that keeps you reading, unable to stop even when you know sleep would be the right move. French doesn’t skimp on words or details. Her books are heavy — the details of the characters’ lives are so wonderfully splayed out across the pages you feel you know these people so intimately that by the end of the book you end up worried about them. And Cassie is an incredibly likable character which made the ending so much more difficult. Relax, that’s not a spoiler.

While French’s books aren’t a true series, they do follow some of the same characters and I like that I get to see old characters in new situations. I liked getting reacquainted with Cassie Maddox and while I know she doesn’t appear again, I’m all right with that because I know that no matter what happens, the next French book will keep me up late. I’m looking forward to that.

The Likeness

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143115625

PS – I borrowed and devoured French’s third book, Faithful Place. Again, wow. A review soon, I promise.

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Thoughts on H.G. Wells

You know when you’re reading a book and it references another book you’ve read and you want to go back and re-read the referenced book? That happened to me while reading Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time and The Map of the Sky; based on H. G. Wells’ books, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds respectively. Having enjoyed both of Palma’s books, I wanted to catch up with the classics. The last time I remember reading Wells’s books was high school, so naturally I was curious to see what I would think of the stories now. As it turns out, as an adult, I’m not a fan of Wells. I have fond memories of these stories, of being fascinated by the books, but no longer. What didn’t I like? Nothing specific about the stories themselves — the premises are wonderful — but it was the inconsiderate, uncaring, and obnoxious actions of the male characters. And, whenever (infrequently too) a woman shows up in the story, she’s relegated to being a slight character with no real value to the plot or the male characters. I know, that’s not a new revelation, but I was surprised by my immediate and intense reaction to it.

Before I turn what is supposed to be two short reviews into a rant, let’s get to the reviews themselves. I give you, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.

The Time MachineThe Time Machine

After settling in with The Time Machine, I soon realized I didn’t really remember much about this book. Or, at least my memories were fuzzy. I decided about half way through that I had a very big dislike of the Time Traveller. He was arrogant, uncaring, and prejudice. I get the arrogance, he wouldn’t have invented time travel without it, but the rest I could have done without.

We begin with a lecture of sorts where the Time Traveller shows his guests a small device that he claims can travel in time. He also claims to have built a larger functioning device that he plans to use to travel in time. Which he apparently does, meeting with two vastly different groups of humans — the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are a group of people so simple that he can’t believe this is what has become of the human race. In this same time, he also comes in contact with the Morlocks; a species that lives underground in dark tunnels. He does his best to categorize the humans he’s met but is disgusted when he figures out the relationship between the Eloi and Morlocks. When he’s able to escape and travels to his own place in time, he regales his contemporaries with stories of his travels.

There are so many fascinating aspects to this story. Time travel! But, Wells drove me crazy with his ideas of the human race. The pervasive idea that the Time Traveller was so much smarter, better shall we say, than the people he encountered was repulsive. It ruined this book for me. I can dislike a character and still enjoy a book but not in this case. I tried to become fascinated by the time travel but I was too far gone to get any enjoyment out of it.

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds

When an unidentified object lands just south of London, residents are left dumbfounded. Could it really be aliens from Mars? When actual aliens emerge from the pods, all of London is left  running for its collective life as the aliens begin a methodical destruction of the planet. We follow the narrator as he makes his way back to his wife, suffering under the trampling of the Martians and witnessing horrors he never imagined possible.

The War of the Worlds is written as if it were a factual account of the narrator’s experiences. I liked that. It takes what could be a basic story and makes it feel very visceral. It did annoy me that I knew absolutely nothing about the narrator beside the fact that he was a scientist and was married. He does recount one part of the story as a second hand account from his brother but that’s all you get to know about him. I found that frustrating.

I did find this story much more interesting than The Time Machine and I think that had to do with the fact that there was a lot more action. In parts of The Time Machine, it felt as if little was happening but in The War of the Worlds, it was all action all the time. I do wish, and this goes for both books, that Wells had taken a few minutes to name his narrators; a pet peeve of mine. The intense dislike I had for The Time Machine didn’t appear when reading The War of the Worlds, in fact, I liked it better but if I had put this book down at any point, the possibly that I wouldn’t have picked it back up was there.

So, this brings me back to the start again. I’m not a Wells fan. Should I be? Anything I should consider?

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells
Atria Books
eISBN: 978145165886

The War of the Worlds
By H.G. Wells
Atria Books
eISBN: 9781451687989

Review – The Venice Conspiracy

I read Christer’s first novel, The Stonehenge Legacy and liked it. When the opportunity to review his second book fell in my lap, I took it. I was in the mood for a thriller and already being familiar with this author, I knew this would be a good match.

Tom Shaman is an ex-priest from Los Angeles trying to escape his former life and anyone who knew him. A few months before, while still a priest, he happened upon an assault and intervened to stop a woman from being raped. While fighting off the attackers, he accidentally killed one of the men. Cleared of the crime, but unable to let his conscience rest, he decides to trade California for Italy and his life of a priest for that of a layman. Upon arriving in watery Venice, he finds himself drawn into the case of a murdered girl and what seems to be a devil worshiping cult that is planning an attack with world-wide ramifications. Throw in a pseudo-romance and a kidnapping, and Tom isn’t getting the escape from life he was hoping for in Italy.

There are several stories and timelines taking place in The Venice Conspiracy — the present following the ex-priest Tom, a 666 BC timeline featuring a netvis (an ancient priest of sorts) who may have inadvertently created the demon now known as Satan, and a 1778 timeframe concerning the theft of a little known but very valuable sculpture. This might sound confusing, but each specific time plays out without hindering the others. I was interested in seeing how each story would work out but I found the 666 BC timeframe the most interesting. It was set in what would be considered Etruia, a part of ancient Italy that is considered the home of Etruscan civilization. I’m always fascinated by this time period, and for me, this timeline held the most interest which of course means I would have liked more about these characters.

I should also say this — as I often do with thrillers — forget reality and roll with it. Tom’s an ex-priest who ends up investigating what look like ritual murders with the Italian police force shortly after arriving in the city and being found at the scene of the first murder. I don’t mean this to sound critical but this police force really moves fast. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know nothing moves fast. I just felt wrong considering the police wanted to lock him up shortly before employing him. It’s hard to buy, but, ignore that. Go with it and you won’t be disappointed. You see, this is one of those stories that builds; each new character and timeframe adding something new, each story within a story advancing things along. Honestly, that’s what I want a thriller to do. I want it to move, and move fast. The Venice Conspiracy does just that.

If you’re looking for a book that will keep you up reading, give this one a try.

The publisher sent me a copy of The Venice Conspiracy for review.

The Venice Conspiracy
By Sam Christer
Overlook Press
ISBN: 978-1468300499
3.5 stars

Review – Island of Bones

There are some books you finish and want more of, immediately. For me, this is one of those books. I loved the setting, the characters, the mystery — everything. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately, and oddly, they’ve all been series and I’ve started all of them somewhere in the middle rather than from the beginning. The same is true for this book; it’s Robertson’s third book featuring the characters of Mrs. Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Surprisingly, this hasn’t dulled my enjoyment one bit.

Mrs. Harriet Westerman is a woman still mourning her husband, even after her mourning period is officially over. Now, rather than be a spectacle to pity, she is trying to move forward with her life. When a request arrives to investigate the discovery of an extra body found in a crypt that had been supposedly untouched for many years, the idea of an adventure appeals. Mrs. Westerman, and Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist, set out for the Lake District to investigate the circumstances surrounding the skeleton. Crowther, also known as Lord Keswick, a title he has shunned and has done all he could to distance himself from not only the title but also his family, meets his past head on when they arrive in the Lake District. Not only is there a dead body and a mystery surrounding it, but Crowther’s sister and nephew are also in residence at Silverside Hall, a place once owned by Crowther and his family until he sold it. A happy family reunion it is not.

While the mysteries mount, a strange thing begins to happen — long held beliefs of the townspeople start taking center stage in the investigation. A lost relic called The Luck, a gold cross embedded with jewels, becomes part of the discussion and makes its way into the investigation of Mrs. Westerman and Crowther. More than one person’s hidden family history comes to light before the mystery is solved.

There’s something so very likable about Robertson’s writing. She writes great characters. They’re frank, smart, and surprising. I loved how she took a very relaxing setting and overlaid it with death, local folklore, and a mystery of family proportions that only seemed to grow larger by the day. It all fit so well together. When the story started coming to a close, I wanted more even after the satisfying conclusion. And, yes, there is a satisfying conclusion. I like that in a mystery.

Going back to the main characters, Mrs. Westerman and Gabriel Crowther — I said they were likable but it’s more than that. The two are a strange combination but a combination that works brilliantly. Crowther is a grump of a man, a recluse who takes no pleasure in people except for the few he can tolerate, and yet, his scientific analysis is a fascinating attribute. In fact, it’s an interesting aspect of the story itself and slightly morbid as he does care to spend more time with the dead than the living. Mrs. Westerman is a great counterpoint to his standoffish qualities. I also like unconventional women in historical fiction and she’s certainly unusual for her time. I should point out that the story is set in 1783 and a woman investigating murders is far from the norm.

Now that I have used one too many laudatory words in describing what I liked so much about this book, I leave you with this — read Island of Bones. They’ll be no regrets. I had high hopes for this book and those expectations were met.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Island of Bones

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books

ISBN: 9780670026272

4.5 stars

 

Review – Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

Lady Emily Hargreaves, accompanied by her husband Colin, is on her way to Venice to help a childhood friend named Emma Callum. A better description would be a childhood nemesis — Emily and Emma were not exactly the best of friends as children and Emily did her best to distance herself from Emma whenever possible. However, Emma has asked for her help and Emily can’t turn down a plea for help, even when that plea comes from Emma Callum. Years ago, Emma ran off with an Italian Count and caused a bit of a scandal at home, but is now in desperate need of Emily’s detective skills. Her father-in-law has been murdered in the home she shares with her husband, and her husband, who is a suspect in his father’s murder, has disappeared making the case against him look even more telling. She needs Emily to find the murderer and clear her husband.

Weary of her Emma’s motives but still willing to help, Emily and Colin begin their investigation and Emily soon finds herself fascinated by Venice, a city she’s never visited before. With few clues besides an old ring to go on, Emily enlists the help of a Venetian historian and his daughter, Donata, to help her navigate the city and open a few palazzo doors for her to ask questions. With the help of Donata, Emily stumbles upon a centuries old love story that tore two individuals, and their families, apart. The same feud is still going strong which doesn’t help Emily when she needs questions answered. She begins searching frantically through libraries and family trees for any clue that will help solve the case while Colin begins a search for Emma’s missing husband.

This is my second Lady Emily mystery and I’m becoming addicted. I need to plan some reading time to go back and start this series from the beginning. Even though this is a series, these books do stand on their own but the characters and settings are so good I want to go back and spend more time in this world. Emily and Colin are incredibly likable characters and the settings, especially this particular book’s setting of Venice, are so lovely you want to step into the pages. Alexander does a fantastic job with the crumbling palazzos, dusty old books, and gondolas gliding along the canals.

Let’s talk about the mystery for a moment because there is one here. What I liked most about the mystery was the way it was wrapped up in a love story a la Romeo and Juliet style. Told through letters interspersed throughout the story, the centuries-old love story starts to show up in Emily’s mystery in unexpected ways. In the end, Alexander wraps this one up nicely with a little sneak peek of what’s ahead for Emily and Colin.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way I was able to fall into the story and get lost in the mystery, the romance, and the city of Venice. I was pulled into the story very early and I didn’t want to leave. There’s just enough of everything in this book to make me a happy reader. Obviously, I’m waiting for Emily’s next adventure.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

By Tasha Alexander

Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9780312661762

4 stars

 

Review – The Map of the Sky

H.G. Wells is an unhappy man. His latest work, The War of the Worlds, has a sequel that he didn’t write. Having agreed to meet with the American author who he believes has unjustly made money off his idea, Wells grumbles his way through the streets of London to the pub for the meeting. This author, who impresses Wells more than he cares to admit, tells him incredible tales of monsters and aliens and when Wells fails to believe, he offers to show him. In a locked room at the natural history museum, Wells gazes upon what he believes to be a true Martian — just like the creatures he created in his latest book.

At the same time, in America, young socialite Emma Harlow is once more declining the attentions of almost every eligible man in her social circle. When one of the men, Montgomery Gilmore, manages to annoy her to the point of a challenge, she tells him what it will take to win her hand in marriage. A fan of H.G. Wells’s latest book, she wants him to re-create the Martian invasion from The War of the Worlds. Gilmore, a man with money to burn, accepts the challenge and sets out to construct the invasion in the hope of winning Emma’s heart.

When the day arrives for Gilmore’s event, people gather around a supposed space ship in a field outside of London. Among the onlookers are Emma and Wells who was drug there by an inspector from Scotland Yard believing Wells would know what is going to happen. What happens is beyond them all and has them running for their lives.

Palma takes several different stories and weaves a tale that starts in London, travels to the Antarctic, heads to America, and then lands back in London. I have to admit that starting this review was daunting simply because I didn’t know where to start. There is so much going on in this book but Palma manages the story well, tying up loose ends and making each part of the book feel complete.

The Map of the Sky is the sequel to his first novel, The Map of Time. While I want to say this book can stand alone, there are some characters that return, in new incarnations, and having the entire back story does help in reading this one. Palma obviously has a special regard for Wells’s work and even though his works are prominent aspects of this book, I don’t think one has to have read the books — in this particular case it is Wells’s The War of the Worlds — to enjoy the story.

Time travel, aliens, historical figures — it’s a nice mix. I enjoyed the odd historical figure thrown in, Edgar Allan Poe for example, and Palma does a good job of not making you feel as if he’s tossing out names but creating enough back story for that character to make sense in the full context of the book. I appreciate that. However, I will caution that this isn’t a book that lets you come and go; there’s a lot going on for it to be a leisurely read. It’s more the type of book that sucks you in with the small hints buried in the story and twists and turns that don’t seem to have an ending until the entire scheme is played out.

Palma is an appealing writer and I have to say I enjoyed both of his books. He’s into the details which make his stories come alive.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of the Sky

By Felix J. Palma

Atria Books

ISBN: 9781451660319

4 stars

Review – The Map of Lost Memories

Irene Blum has spent her life studying the Khmer Empire and acquiring knowledge of ancient civilizations and artifacts. She’s an expert in her field and fully expects to be running the Brooke Museum of Oriental Arts in Seattle, which houses a collection she helped to build, in due time. When the curatorship is given to another, it devastates her. Still reeling from the death of her father a few months earlier, she turns to Henry Simms, a close family friend and the man who helped raise her after the death of her mother. He is also the person who instilled in her the intense interest she has in the Khmer Empire. Mr. Simms is dying of cancer, and knowing it will be the last great adventure of his life and the start of one for Irene, he shares an unknown diary with her that talks about lost copper scrolls containing the history of the Khmer. The scrolls are supposedly hidden in an ancient Khmer temple in the Cambodian jungle. With nothing left for her in Seattle, Irene leaves for Shanghai to convince a woman named Simone Merlin to join her on the trip to Cambodia. Both women have much to prove — to each other and themselves — and the trip to discover the lost scrolls becomes a test of wills.

While the big draw for me was the setting, Shanghai and the Cambodian jungle in 1925, it was the characters that surprised me. Everyone has secrets so deeply ingrained it drug them all down and each and every character fought out of desperation; each not wanting to admit being wrong or to give in. The setting amplified every single flaw these characters carried.

Irene and Simone are bound together in horrific ways that neither woman wants to think about — murder, drugs, and a personal history neither knew existed until Irene found Simone in Shanghai. Their interactions are sometimes painful to witness but that’s what I enjoyed so much about this particular relationship. In 1925, two women struggling to be more than what society has deemed appropriate was great to see. Their efforts to regain some sense of themselves, understand their dreams, and deal with how those dreams have changed made for notable characters.

The Map of Lost Memories is full of mystery and suspense — some of it brought on in the course of the discovery of an archeological gem in the jungle and at other times it’s complete human folly. I adored the mixture. I feel like I’ve skipped the brilliant setting in favor of discussing some flawed but captivating characters. The setting and the discovery of an ancient Khmer temple deep in the Cambodian jungle was what made me want to read this book and it turned out to be a book full of characters looking for and waiting for redemption in different forms.

Historical fiction is a favorite of mine and the thing that keeps me reading this genre are books that make me want to know more about an event, a person, or discovery after I finish the book. This book did just that. I found myself wanting to know more about the Khmer Empire and the forgotten temples covered by moss and vines.

A setting that’s fascinating, thrilling, and dangerous, and characters that are in turn annoying and absorbing with strong personalities but are flawed and human. Together these elements made it difficult for me to put this book down. Fay obviously has a love for Asian culture and history. If she decides to write more books with this setting, I’ll be reading.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of Lost Memories

Kim Fay

Ballantine Books

ISBN: 9780345531346

4 stars