June Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes – 3*

//published 2014//

In this P&P variation, the characters from that classic also meet up with the characters from Sense and Sensibility.  This was a book that I really wanted to like, but just didn’t.  It was boring, there wasn’t really any kind of villain, Darcy spent way too much time wandering around being morose, and the whole book was just kind of choppy.  It wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t great.

For those who are interested, there is a more detailed review over on my P&P blog here.

Planting With Perennials by Richard Bird – 3*

//published 2002//

This is a really basic introduction to perennials.  If you literally aren’t even sure what a perennial is, this would be a great place to start.  However, if you’ve worked with them at all, you probably already know most of the information in this book.  There are a lot of photographs and some nice charts.  And since this book doesn’t claim to *be* anything other than an introduction to the topic, I can’t really fault it for being just that.

Ring of Truth by Jaclyn Weist – 3*

//published 2015//

I love a good fake-relationship trope, but I have to admit that this one wasn’t really very good!  While it would have made decent sense for these two people who just met to pretend they were dating, pretending that they were engaged made legit no sense and just created all sorts of unnecessary drama.  I was also confused about why they both acted like they couldn’t make their relationship real…  like… nothing to lose??  You were total strangers a week ago, so even if the other person thinks dating for real is stupid, oh well??  Finally, in the end, they go straight into being really engaged, even though they’ve only known each about three weeks!  What?!

The thing is, despite the fact that this book was thoroughly implausible, I completely enjoyed it!  It was just so innocent and happy.  No sex, no swearing, just purely relaxing and adorable.  I actually really liked the characters a lot, and would have been willing to forgive a lot of the story if they had just started dating in the end (and then an epilogue where they are happily married a year later or something), but leaping straight into being engaged felt ridiculous given the short time frame.

For now, I’m giving the rest of this series a miss, but if I find myself yearning for some quietly innocent romance, I may pick the next one up!

This is Book #2 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Child by Fiona Barton – 3.5*

//published 2017//

I recently read and enjoyed The Widow by the same author, so when I saw she had another book with some overlapping characters, I checked it out from the library.  I picked up this book coming off a bit of a slump wherein I basically was reading nothing but terrible P&P variations, so it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I found it engaging but not electrifying.  While I wanted to find out how things were going to come together, there was never really any sense of urgency.  There were also some reveals that felt just painfully obvious but took forever to get to.  In many ways, it felt like it didn’t really matter if the mystery was ever solved or not.

The reporter from The Widow, Kate, is the main recurring character, and I liked her even better in this book.  And while it was fun to read this story with the background of The Widow in my mind, this could definitely be read as its own book with no trouble.  All in all, a 3.5* read.  It looks like Barton is going to publish a third book early next year, so I’ll probably pick that one up as well.  Hopefully it will have a little more zip.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando – 3*

//published 2017//

This was a book that came in a book box, so it was a totally random read for me.  I kind of like picking up the book box books, because they get me a little out of my comfort zone.  This one was engaging, but the story was a bit scattered at times, and there was some inconsistency with the characters.  (For instance, the lady doing the interviews is presented in the end as though she is a “good guy,” but at one point earlier in the story she had obviously manipulated what people had said to make things more dramatic/imply things that weren’t true… and that’s never addressed, she just goes back to being a good guy…)  The conclusion was decent, and I definitely was kept unsure throughout the story as to whether or not the ability to control things with the mind was a real possibility.  All in all, I didn’t mind reading this book, but it didn’t inspire to find out what else Atlebrando has written.

 

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Missing, Presumed // Persons Unknown // by Susie Steiner

Manon Bradshaw is the central figure of these two books.  A middle-aged, single, slightly-abrasive police officer, she made for a (mostly) likable and somewhat unusual heroine.  It’s been a while since I read these two books – for some reason these reviews got skipped somewhere along the line – so bear with me if this is a bit more vague than usual.  :-D

//published 2016//

Both these books ranked as 3.5* reads for me.  I really liked the multiple 3rd-person POV format.  I liked Manon most of the time, and was in love with her younger colleague, Davy.  The mysteries were decent and engaging and kept me turning the pages.

What I didn’t really like were the long sections devoted to Manon’s personal life.  I wouldn’t have minded a bit of this, but in some sections is just kind of felt awkward, especially since there is a lot about sex, and how Manon wants it, and how she randomly sleeps with guys on first dates so she can “smell” if they’re going to be a potential match for her.  (I feel like her smeller may be off since she’s single and 40, but then again maybe every single one of those guys really was a loser??)  I just wasn’t interested in the nitty-gritty details of Manon’s love life, and felt like it didn’t really add anything to story.  In my mind, that was definitely where things dragged.

At the end of the first book, Manon adopts a kid.  And I’m wondering if originally Steiner wasn’t going to write a second book?  Because Missing, Presumed kind of has a feeling of finality in its little epilogue.  In many ways, I wish that is where the story stopped, because at the end of book one it sounds like everyone is going to finally be on their way to happiness… and then in book two we find out that no, not really.

//published 2017//

Why?  The main reason is because Manon is pregnant.  However, she isn’t in any kind of relationship, so it’s all very vague and confusing.  Steiner doesn’t bother to tell us how Manon ended up pregnant until about a third of the way into the book!  So I had no idea how I was supposed to feel about this major event.  Like Manon is happy to be pregnant, but was she happy to get pregnant?  No idea.  It felt completely unnecessary to keep me in the dark about this.  Later, when I found out more details, it just left me feeling aggravated with Manon who really came through in this situation has being very self-centered.

Both of these books were kind of like that, just these really random scenarios where it might have been alright to have one weird thing going on, but having a bunch of them just made the whole book feel kind of weird.  I’m not describing this very well because it’s been a month since I actually read these books, and all I’m left with are vague feelings haha

I felt like the second book was just weaker overall anyway.  There were several things that were left kind of unanswered – red herrings that ended up not really making sense because there was no point/explanation.

Anyway, I really did enjoy them, and cautiously recommend them.  There was a lot of humor and some interesting twists, and I liked the characters enough that I can definitely see myself reading a third book if it comes along.

I originally read about Missing, Presumed over at Reading, Writing and Riesling (Carol has a much more coherent review!).  Fictionophile also has a great review of both Missing, Presumed and Persons Unknownso be sure to check them out!

Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries // by P.D. James

This was my first foray into the writing of P.D. James.  I’ve seen the Dalgliesh mysteries mentioned here and there around the interwebs, and decided to give them a try.  I ended up reading the first 4 1/2 books in the series, but it just wasn’t for me, so I decided not to finish.  I read:

  • Cover Her Face (1962)
  • A Mind to Murder (1963)
  • Unnatural Causes (1967)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  • The Black Tower (partially) (1975)

Cover Her Face was a 3.5/5 read for me, and a decent, although not riveting, start to the series.  Dalgliesh himself is honestly a very minor player in this book – he doesn’t even appear until page 59, and most of the story is more about the murder victim’s family than it is about the detective.  Virtually everyone in the book was unlikable, even Dalgliesh’s potential love interest.  One of the characters in particular (Stephen) was just flat obnoxious, and I basically dreaded every time he appeared on the page.  Still, the story and mysteries were decent, and I was quite willing to give the next book a go.

I liked the second book a great deal more, and gave it a 4* rating.  While the initial cast of characters was a bit confusing, once I got everyone sorted, the mystery was quite engaging.  The pacing was very good and the red herrings excellent.

Unnatural Causes went a bit off the rails in my mind.  It was an incredibly depressing read, with yet another set of characters out of whom not a single one was pleasant.  Dalgliesh’s role in the entire thing was quite murky (since he was technically on holiday), and it made the whole book feel off-kilter.  James also used what is virtually one of my least-favorite writing techniques of all time: where the main character has a sudden revelation and magically knows everything that happened… but doesn’t let us know until multiple other characters have been told.  And in this case, there was (a) not really any way that I could have arrived (or jumped rather) to the conclusion Dalgliesh did, and (b) the information was obviously just being withheld so there would be this grand revelation in the end.  I don’t mind this  method as much if I’m following a character who’s a bit slow (say, Dr. Hastings in a Poirot tale), or when the author has at least given me ALL the clues so that I could have figured it out if I was clever enough – but neither of those things was true here, so it just felt awkward, with things like, “he explained everything to the detective, who shook his head in disbelief.”  That makes for aggravating, rather than interesting, reading.  And, like I said, the ending honestly felt like a cheat.  I just could NOT grasp how Dalgliesh could have POSSIBLY figured out how the murder was committed.  I had trouble understanding how the murderer thought of it to begin with!  It was absurdly complicated (and honestly rather disturbing, ugh).  All in all, this was a 2* read for me.

Book #4 was somewhat better (3.5/5), but still just weirdly depressing.  There were weird things that I guess were supposed to be red herrings, but ended up just feeling random and never really had a good explanation, like the way that one of the suspects was once engaged to a man who died, and then it turns out that another suspect is that man’s brother… and Suspect #1 had an affair with Suspect #2.  But…  why??  Why was there a connection between them??  I guess this is just supposed to throw me off??  But it seemed very out of character for Suspect #1 so I just felt confused.  In another chapter, one of Dalgliesh’s underlings has sex with one of the witnesses, and then spends the evening dancing with someone else he’s supposed to be questioning, and the entire chapter felt like a bad dream.  And of course, once again, I had to suffer through not getting to know what Dalgliesh knows, for not really any good reason:

“But I think I know how it was done.”  [said Dalgliesh.]

He described his theory.  Sergeant Masterson, cross with himself for having missed the obvious, said:  “Of course.  It must have been done that way.”

“Not must, Sergeant.  It was probably done that way.”

But Sergeant Masterson had seen an objection and voiced it.

Dalgliesh replied:  “But that wouldn’t apply to a woman.  A woman could do it easily.”

Do you see why this annoys me??  It’s not necessarily because I don’t get to know what Dalgliesh is thinking – it’s because there is an entire conversation going on about something that I don’t get to know.  And, for instance, I never find out what Masterson’s objection was, even after I find out what the heck they were talking about!  (Which, by the way, doesn’t happen for at least another hundred pages.)

Still, despite feeling a bit meh about everything so far, I picked up The Black Tower.  And I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t finish it.  I think because James had set up an entirely new cast of characters, all unlikable, all depressing, in a depressing setting, and I just found that I couldn’t face another 300 pages of Dalgliesh moping about his job (because he is a great one for being morose and withdrawn, constantly agonizing over some life decision, always on the verge of a crisis, etc.).  So I stopped.  And I sent the whole batch of books back to the library and moved on with my life.

While these weren’t bad books, they just weren’t for me.  I’m not fond of a dark and dreary brooding hero who is full of introspection.  I don’t like it when I feel like I wouldn’t care if someone came by and poisoned the entire cast of characters.  I hate it when authors withhold information just so their hero can appear even more clever later (even if it makes the writing awkward in the short term).  I don’t like finishing a book and feeling vaguely sad about life.  So while I can see why people enjoy these stories – because the writing is good and the mysteries are decent – I just couldn’t get into them myself.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.

A Beautiful Blue Death // The September Society // by Charles Finch

//published 2007//

I remember reading a couple of the books from this series a very long time ago, back when there were only three or four in the series.  It’s one that I have meant to revisit for quite some time, especially since several books have been added to it since then.  However, in the end I reread these two books and found them rather bland, and so have decided not to fuss with the rest of the books after all.

The books center on Charles Lenox, a gentleman in 1860’s London, who works as a private detective.  He’s a rather odd character because he apparently has enough money of private means to just ‘be a gentleman’ but chooses to work as a detective as well.  We don’t meet up with him on his first big case, but are dropped into the middle of his career, seemingly at random.  He lives next door to a widow, Lady Jane, with whom he also grew up.  His older brother, Edward, serves in parliament, which is actually Lenox’s dream job (which makes sense, because he loves rambling on about random stuff all the time).

//published 2008//

The main problem I had with these books was Finch’s tendency to really pontificate about random things.  I don’t mind a bit of background on a character or a few lines of description to help with the setting, but in these books it feels like every time Lenox passes a historical building or London neighborhood, Finch finds it necessary to go on for at least a paragraph, explaining the history and significance of the location, as well as all of Lenox’s personal associations with the spot.  After a while, it really began to feel like it was interfering with the pace of the story.

For instance, in The September Society, Lenox passes through a park:

Green Park, a shamrock-colored rectangle that lay behind the Houses of Parliament, was warm and beautiful that afternoon.  The willow trees bent toward the lake, their lowest branches just brushing the water, and the park’s lone wanderers and couples alike walked more slowly than they had along the fast city blocks, stopping to watch for a while.  Lenox always liked to watch the swans gliding serenely, birds with just the mix of beauty and danger that humans like in wildlife – for a swan, of course, could break a man’s arm.

Okay, a bit prosy but alright.  Except the next paragraph, rather than getting on with the story, continues with the swans!

Another curious fact about them was that every swan in England belonged to Queen Victoria.  Not many people knew it, but poaching swans was an offense the crown could punish.  The official swan keeper to Her Majesty wrangled the birds in the third week of July every year, when they were served at the Queen’s table and a few others across the isles, in Cambridge, Oxford, York, Edinburgh.  The swans were mute, but at their deaths they found voice and sang, and the long line of wranglers always claimed to be haunted by the sound.  It was the origin of the term swan song.

???  Just… this has nothing to do with the story.  And if this was the only instance of this meandering fact-giving it would be find, but it happens multiple times per chapter, and it became very off-putting to me, as it started to feel that Finch felt that it was important to insert all of his research into the story whether it fit or not.  It really, really interfered with the pace of the story.

In A Beautiful Blue Death, I was put off almost immediately when Lenox and his friend, a doctor, determine almost immediately that the murder victim’s death was caused by a very rare poison.  However, we aren’t really told how the doctor arrives at this conclusion.  He just…  knows?  After that, the detective in charge of the investigation decides he doesn’t want Lenox around.  So the whole story feels rather strange, with Lenox sort of meandering around the edges of it.

It just felt like both books lacked any urgency.  Lenox is very dry as a main character, and always felt rather pompous to me, although part of that is definitely Finch’s narration.  However, I will say that my younger brother loved these books, and his favorite part were all the asides and odd facts, so maybe it’s just a reader-preference thing.

All in all, these were solid 3/5 reads for me.  They were fine stories that didn’t feel like a waste of time, but also didn’t really leave me with any desire to complete the series.  With 105 other mystery series on the TBR, I don’t necessarily feel like I need to read ones that don’t really do something for me.

Blind Spot // by Dani Pettrey

Chesapeake Valor #3

I received this book from Bethany House, which does not impact my review.

//published 2017//

Back in the spring, I received Still Life from BH and reviewed it; before I read that one I went ahead and read the first book, Cold Shot.  I would definitely recommend reading these books as a series, as I think they would be a bit confusing as standalones.  They focus on the same group of friends, and their relationships build and evolve throughout the series.  I actually went back and reread Still Life before jumping into Blind Spot, just to get myself back up to speed.

Overall, I like these books and am comfortable with the 3.5/5 rating I have given them all, including this one.  They are decent mysteries with an engaging group of characters, but really lack a solid focus within the story.

Throughout the second book, I found myself irritated as the main mystery was actually quite intriguing – but Pettrey kept veering off into this entirely unrelated mystery with these people who were smuggling terrorists.  In Blind Spot, the terrorist plot becomes the main one, but this time she kept flipping to yet another completely unrelated mystery about this guy who gets murdered.  The secondary mystery in both cases comes across as filler/padding/a way to keep other characters busy and involved, and the primary mystery suffers because of it.  Switching to the secondary plot throws off the pacing of the primary, and consistently feels like we are just killing time.  I really, really wish that Pettrey would just focus on the primary mystery, because in both books this could have been filled out and made a lot more intense.

In this book, there was also this weird situation where a guy gets murdered while a bunch of the characters on a retreat.  There is a possibility that instead of murder, it’s actually suicide and the dead guy killed other people before killing himself.  Yet despite the fact that all the main characters of the book knew this dead guy really well, and despite the fact that he may be a murderer, they are all allowed to process the crime scene??  This felt completely unrealistic (since they would have a strong motive for contaminating the crime scene to make sure the dead guy doesn’t get blamed for murder), and it’s weird details like that that throw off the overall groove of the story.

Even though I’ve been griping about it, I really did enjoy reading this book.  I like all of the characters and have enjoyed watching them come together.  Throughout the first two books, we find out bits and pieces about another good friend of theirs who disappeared several years earlier.  This whole plot comes back into play in Blind Spot, and left me really intrigued to find out how things are going to wrap up in the end.

I’m looking forward to reading the fourth book when it appears, and still intend to eventually check out some of Pettrey’s other books as well.

September Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Recently, life has felt crazy, so I’m attempting to catch up on some reviews…!!!

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

//published 1953//

This book definitely felt like Chandler had his footing back.  While it wasn’t quite as hilarious as the first couple of books, it was way better than The Little Sisterwhich was downright depressing.  In this book, a lot of Marlowe’s snarky narration is back, and there was a nice trick to the mystery.  It did at times feel like everyone was a bit too casual with the body count, but you’ll have that.

Kiss the Bride by Melissa McClone, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Kathryn Springer

//published 2016//

These three novellas were basically all very average.  Each one had some niggling thing that really aggravated me, but overall worked alright.  On the whole they were just pretty forgettable.

Playback by Raymond Chandler

//published 1958//

This is the final Phillip Marlowe book that Chandler wrote (although he left another incomplete at the time of his death – more on that to come), and fell more along the lines of the earlier couple of books, with a lot of snark and dry humor.  The mystery had a good tempo to start and I was completely engaged as Marlowe is hired to follow a mysterious woman.  However, this story had 100% more sex than the other books – in other books it’s either been bypassed (woman always seem to want Marlowe more than he wants them) or glossed over, but in this one it felt like Marlowe was having sex every couple of chapters, and it happened with at least three different women.  So that felt really weird, and through it all he keeps quietly pining for this woman he met in The Long Goodbye.  In the end, the mystery sort of fizzled out, and Marlowe suddenly gets back together with The Long Goodbye woman.  All in all, another 3/5 for an interesting read, but not one I’d visit again.

An Unlikely Duet by Lelia M. Silver

This one is a DNF at around halfway, just because it’s become so boring.  I really liked the idea of just a straightforward sequel to Pride & Prejudice that focuses on Georgiana.  The story starts well, with her meeting a charming young man while visiting Charles and Jane Bingley.  However, despite the fact that they talk all the time, the two never really seem to talk.  At one point, it seemed to me that he had stated his intentions to court Georgiana pretty clearly to her brother, but then there are misunderstandings and everyone is spirited away and they never get to talk……. the book just never really engaged me and since I haven’t picked it up in a least three weeks, I don’t think it is ever going to.

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker

//published 1989//

When Chandler died, he left four chapters written of his next Marlowe book.  In 1989, thirty years after Chandler’s death, Poodle Springs was finished by Robert Parker.  Overall, I thought that Parker did a decent job with this book, capturing the essence of Marlowe’s narrative voice and keeping the mystery nice and twisty.  The biggest difference to me was that in Chandler’s books, Marlowe is always one step ahead.  He may get caught and beaten up, but he still knows what’s what – he may appear to be wandering aimlessly, but in the end we find out exactly what he was up to.  But in Poodle Springs, it kind of felt Marlowe really was wandering aimlessly, always a few steps behind what’s going on.  In multiple places he says things like, ‘I wish I knew what was going on; none of this makes any sense.’  So Marlowe felt a lot more like a stooge than an intelligent investigator.

I enjoyed the book, even if I felt like the conclusion to Marlowe’s romance was quite weird and, frankly, illogical (‘We love each other too much to get married’???), and it ranked a solid 3/5 for me.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed my foray into the gritty detective world, but if I ever come back to these books, it will only be to the first four.  They were funnier and more engaging than the second half of the series.