Has the read ahead curse been broken?

I like to read the last page of a book. Sometimes, I do this before I start a book, but most times, I read the last page before the end of the first chapter. Sometimes I read even more than the last page. You see, I like to know how things are going to turn out. I’m not good with spoilers. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll all agree. Some people tell me this habit ruins the story, but for me, that isn’t the case. I like to see how an author is going to get me there. It not how it ends, it’s the journey to the ending that I want.

So, I’m reading Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell, the third book in the Saxon Tales series, and Uhtred, my favorite character, is in trouble. I get nervous. But I don’t read ahead. In fact, when I come to the end of the dreadful chapter, I put the book down and don’t read for the rest of the night. I could have read ahead, and in most cases, I would have but something stopped me. I wanted to let this one play out and see what would happen. Instead of quelling the anticipation, I let it build. This might be a first for me people. That’s why I’m telling you all this.

I think it’s because I like this particular character so much. Uhtred is a Saxon, raised by Danes, in 880s Britain. He’s brutal, but loyal, shrewd but bullheaded, brilliant in battle, and an excellent battle strategist, but somedays he doesn’t stop to think. And that gets him in trouble, and in this particular case, it lands him in a boatload of trouble. I like that about him though. He’s an unpredictable character but a great narrator. He knows he’s flawed but he’s got one hell of a story to tell and all you want to do is listen.

Maybe that’s it then. Maybe my habit has not been broken. It’s not that I can’t read a book without looking ahead, I have, but I like the knowing. The knowing is a good thing for me. But I’m playing this one fast and free. Any bets on how long I can hold out before reading the end?

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 – One Shot

I rely solely on a co-worker for my Reacher fix. He has many of Child’s books and is kind enough to loan them to me on occasion, usually without me asking which is wonderful. This one is a few years old, and since I’ve read pretty much every single one out of order, that didn’t bother me at all. In fact, what I like about these books is that you can pick one up without knowing a single thing about the main character, Jack Reacher, and still enjoy the story. They’re straight forward: something bad happens, Jack Reacher will show up unexpectedly, Jack Reacher will get involved, Jack Reacher will solve whatever the problem happens to be. Also, not knowing anything about Reacher works for the reader which might sound strange but it’s true. You’ll be curious but back off when the story gets going because too many other things will distract you from the fact that you know very little about the main character.

In One Shot, Reacher is in Florida when he sees a story on the news that has him on a bus heading to Indiana within the hour. One man fired six shots, killed five people, and was taken into custody by the cops in what seems a slam-dunk case. Reacher has a feeling it’s not at all what it seems. He barges in on the case working with the defense attorney hoping to bring down the real killer and release an innocent man.

The first thing I do when I pick up one of these books is forget all reality; pretend it doesn’t exist, and go for a ride. Reacher gets in and out of trouble so many times, manages to figure out a case that has stumped an entire city and several highly educated people, and then leaves on a bus for his next stop. Parts will infuriate you, parts will make you laugh, and parts will just have you shaking your head. It’s OK though because it’s fun. You don’t have to believe everything, you don’t even have to fully buy-in but these books are good distractions and are excellent companions for plane rides which is how I read this one — squished in the middle seat thank you for asking. These books are entertaining and move so fast that if what you want is to read something that will pull you in until the end; these books will do the trick.

One Shot

By Lee Child

A Dell Book

ISBN: 978-0440-24102-7

3.5 stars

 

Review – The Master of Heathcrest Hall

The Master of Heathcrest Hall is the third book in the Magicians and Mrs. Quent series following The Magicians & Mrs. Quent and The House on Durrow Street. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but you’ve been warned. It’s a series afterall.

Ivy Quent is living a calm and happy life with her husband, Mr. Quent, and her sisters. Her husband’s star is rising and things are going very well for them personally. Suddenly, their calm life takes a turn, and Ivy, who has been successful with the help of her husband in hiding her magical abilities, begins to find the task difficult especially when questions are being raised by prominent members of society. Things in the city begin changing fast. War is imminent, spies crawl all over the city looking for people to turn in, and soldiers begin occupying the city waiting for it to come under siege. Lord Rafferty, a close friend of Ivy’s, is doing what he can behind the scenes as a member of Parliament but his efforts seem trivial compared to what he is up against. Eldyn Garritt, the illuminist, has turned spy and using his skills to help the realm. It’s only when Ivy, Lord Rafferty, and Eldyn come together does the realm stand a chance.

It took me a very long time to read this book. I think I may have waited too long in between book and found myself wondering about a few details here and there but it wasn’t anything major. My big problem was that I felt it just took long for things to happen. Flipping between Ivy, Lord Rafferty, and Eldyn, and seeing all of their stories and what they were going through was interesting but it took a long time for the three to come together. This wasn’t something specific to the third book but something with all three in the series for me.

The world building is interesting though and that was the reason I continued with the series. The magical parts are solid and the way it’s integrated it in the story makes it feel normal in the course of these characters’ lives. They just don’t discover they have these abilities all of a sudden, it grows and changes. I also enjoyed the Austen-esque feel of the series — the etiquette, the dress, the manners. Austen feel mixed with fantasy, well, yes please. It’s a yes with a but though. I’m glad I finished the series because I was interested to see where the story would go after book two, and I was satisfied with the ending. I didn’t lack for answers and didn’t think the story needed more. It was a story finished. And here’s the but part, it was a slow read for me. I’m qualifying this but statement with a for me because that’s the case. I’ve read reviews of this book that loved the pacing and the way the story drew out the lives of the characters. It didn’t work so much for me on that end.

This was an average read for me but it’s an interesting world, the magic is a likable element and feels very much a part of the world and not something apart from it. The characters are likable but I wish they had more opportunity to interact. Their lives don’t permit that to happen often, understandable part of the story actually but it would have been more interesting if they had. If you like fantasy with a hint of Austen-esque manners, give it a try and don’t let time lapse between reads. I think these books are meant to be read successively for full affect.

The Master of Heathcrest Hall

By Galen Beckett

Random House Publishing Group

ISBN: 9780345532480

3 stars

Review – The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower 1

A co-worker was cleaning his bookshelves and graciously gave me the first five books in The Dark Tower series. 🙂 A good day for me it was. I decided that since I was participating in The Stephen King Project that this would be a perfect way to get started on that challenge.

I’m familiar with this series and was surprised to find myself a little slow in getting into the story. In fact, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Nothing much happens in this first book is what I’m getting at.

The Gunslinger is coming out of the desert when he meets a man with a raven. The man takes him in for the night and the Gunslinger tells him about the town he just came from and the destruction left behind. He spends one night with the man and moves on, keeping on the heels of the man in black, the man he’s after. Along the way, he meets a young boy who seems out of time and place. He feels sorry for the boy and takes him with him on his search for the man in black. There is nothing that will keep him from the man in black.

I was compelled to keep reading even though this was turning out to be nothing more than watching two people walk in the same direction, and yes, it’s obviously all setup for the next book. It’s a series after all but I did feel slightly disappointed that more wasn’t explained.

The Gunslinger is an interesting character but not so fast on the uptake. There are hints he should be picking up on but it sometimes take a minute for him to see things clearly. The young boy, Jake, is an oddity not only in the story but in character. He seems to be some sort of time traveler, remembering things that were and blurting out answers to things he shouldn’t know. I became attached to Jake and I should never have done that. This is a King book after all and I should have known better. No, that’s not some sort of spoiler.

I’ve been told by the co-workers that shared these books that the story does pick up so, on I go with the series. Besides, I’m pretty much incapable of stopping after the first book in a series anyway.

Have you read this book or the series? What should I expect?

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower 1

By Stephen King

A Signet Book

ISBN: 0451210840

3 stars

Review – Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5)

Timeless is the fifth and final book in The Parasol Protectorate series following Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless. Be warned, there might be spoilers.

Two years since Alexia and Connal have has the child — the infant inconvenience if you will — and two years into living in Lord Akeldama’s closet as he is the child’s adoptive father. The adoption was an agreement made with the vampire hives to keep them happy and keep them from killing Alexia and her daughter. Life is ticking along normally as can be imagined for the family. Married to the leader of the London werewolf pack, the mother of a child who can render the supernatural mortal again, and soulless herself, well, as normal as anyone with any knowledge of the family can envision as normal. When a summons arrives from the oldest known vampire in the world, Alexia packs up her small and sometimes troublesome family, her best friend Ivy, Ivy’s husband and their twins, an acting troupe, trucks full of Ivy’s numerous hats, and sets out on a trip to Egypt to answer the social call. In fact, it’s an invitation that can’t be ignored.

I adored Ivy and her ridiculous hats and outfits once again. She’s so much fun and really you have to give her credit, she’s much more observant and smart than she gets credit for. I love how she works into the ending as well. It’s unexpected but with a good twist. Alexia and Connal’s daughter, Prudence, is also a treat. A child with supernatural powers who can speak in complete sentences one moment and garbled baby talk the next, she not only tries her parent’s patience but teaches them much about patience as well.

And now my favorite character — Biffy. I couldn’t end my review of the series without talking about him. He’s found a place in the pack, has learned to control his wolf form, and he’s found love. Yes, love! Love for Biffy and…nope not telling. I was so happy to see where this one was going and to see how life was progressing for Biffy.

It is the end of the series, so while I’m not going to offer up any spoilers, I will say that most questions are answered and characters’ lives sorted. I would gladly welcome more books in this series but I can say that I’m not left with any questions about what’s going to happen. I can easily imagine the lives of the characters going on, which is how I like to end a series. I’ll miss reading these but I can see myself going back to this series to enjoy the fun.

Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5)

By Gail Carriger

Orbit

ISBN: 9780316194006

4 stars