Life or Death // by Michael Robotham


//published 2014//

This book has been on my TBR since FictionFan read it a couple of years ago.  At the time, she said that it was one of her thrillers of the year, so don’t let my 3/5 rating deter you from reading it!  :-D

Audie is the hero of our tale, and when the story opens it is the day before the last day of his ten-year prison sentence.  He was convicted in a robbery in which seven million dollars were stolen and four people were killed, including two of accomplices to the crime.  The seven million dollars has never been recovered, and Audie has never talked, despite years of abuse as people try to force the secret from him.

But the night before Audie is set to be released, he escapes from jail.  The story follows Audie’s escape, tells us snippets of Audie’s past life (which begin to explain the present), and also gives us insight into the actions of a few other characters, including FBI agent Desiree and fellow-inmate Moss.  (“What sort of name is Moss?”  “Well, suh, my momma couldn’t spell Moses on my birth certificate.”)

There were a lot of things about this book that I really liked.  It was an engaging story, well-plotted, and twisty without being ridiculous.  Audie is quite likable (almost too likable), Desiree is intelligent and logical, and Moss – well, he was my favorite – just a really solid, believable character.

So why did this book not rank higher for me?  The biggest reason is that Audie felt just too passive to me.  Virtually all the back story that we learn about him is based on coincidences and luck – and all of them bad.  Audie’s entire life to date basically reads like the diary of someone who regularly breaks mirrors and walks under ladders.  I started to feel a little frustrated because it seemed like so much of the story was happening to Audie instead of Audie making it happen.  Yes, he breaks out of jail – but even as he works towards his goal, those same bad luck coincidences seem to haunt his steps.  And I think I might have been okay with all of that except legit the biggest plot twist in the entire book – just plain old bad luck (again).

The other hiccup for me was that both Desiree and Moss are looking for Audie, but they are on completely separate tracks.  So there were times that I found myself feeling a little confused about which person knew which facts.  Although, in fairness, this could be because it took me a few days to read this one.  I just can’t explain why it didn’t grab me!

Overall, a solid read, and with close to a four-star average on Goodreads, this book obviously has a lot of fans.  While I only give it a 3/5 for me personally, it did make me want to look for more of Robotham’s work – any suggestions?

Also – Book #5 for the 20 Books of Summer!


Crooked House // by Agatha Christie

I first came to know Sophia Leonides in Egypt towards the end of the war.

Agatha Christie’s Crooked House was first published in 1949, but her own foreword to the book states that she had had the book in her mind for quite some time, and that it was “one of my own special favourites.”  I enjoy little snippets into the author’s mind, so I liked that she felt as though the Leonides were quite a real family – “I feel that I myself was only their scribe.”

9875107Our story is narrated by Charles, a young man who met and fell in love with Sophia Leonides, but, although he told her he loved her, sent her off  back home to England without an official engagement, as he knew he would still be gone “on assignment” for another few years.  In the second chapter, Charles returns home after two years.  He has been exchanging letters with Sophia during the interim and is more convinced than ever that he wants to marry her.  He wires her first thing and makes arrangements to meet up with her at a restaurant.  While he paces the hours away, he comes across a death announcement in the newspaper for Sophia’s grandfather – “suddenly, in his residence.”

And when Sophia shows up to dinner, she tells Charles that she can’t marry him until – unless – her grandfather’s death is resolved:  “I think, Charles, that he didn’t just – die.  I think he may have been killed…”

Sophia’s fears are justified.  Old Mr. Leonides has definitely been murdered.  Conveniently, however, Charles’s father is an important man at Scotland Yard.  Charles tells him that he intends to marry Sophia, and Charles’s father sends Charles off with the case’s Chief Inspector to sort of muddle about and see what people will tell him.

So Charles meets his possible future in-laws for the first time as they are being interviewed by the police (which makes anyone else’s story of awkward first impressions rather tame in comparison), and we get quite the picture of a tangled – and crooked – household.

This is Christie at her best, in my opinion.  The classic closed murder, conversations and interviews with all the potential murderers, quirky characters, complicated connections, plenty of motives and a plethora of red herrings.  While it takes a bit of a stretch to think that the family would just casually welcome Charles into the household, considering his connections with the police, the story still works quite well.

The ending is brilliant – the kind that made me want to sit and read the book again, now that I knew who the murderer was, just so I could admire all the clever clues Christie gave throughout the story – clues that I (and Charles!) completely missed.

All in all, an excellent stand-alone mystery of Christie’s and definitely recommended.


Rearview Mirror // June 2016 (+ 20 Books of Summer update!)

Well, I’ve spent a month being unemployed, and it’s awesome!  (As long as you have someone else paying the bills, of course… which I do!)  I’ve been getting lots of projects done around the house, although, of course, my family tends to hijack a lot of my time… sometimes I wonder if I should pretend that I’m still working…

Anyway, ironically, being home more actually means I’m reading less.  I had an enforced hour lunchbreak at my job, which meant lots of reading through the spring.  Now that I’m home, I’m spending way more time working in the garden and painting things than I am reading.  But I can never cut it off completely, so I’ve definitely made some progress.

Favorite June Read:

  • 133664Academ’s Fury by Jim Butcher – the second book in the Codex Alera series was an emotional rollercoaster of awesomeness that I had troubled putting down – except I had to put it down every chapter or two just to try and get my heart rate back under control!  I was amazed at how Butcher kept all his many plot lines flowing with perfect pacing, and was able to tie everything up in the end without feeling rushed.

Most Disappointing June Read:

  • 9781408854280The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – I really, really wanted to like this book – except I couldn’t because it made no sense.  There was some beautiful writing, but it just wasn’t enough to pull things together.

Other June Reads:

  • Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher – 4/5 – a fabulous start to the new fantasy series I’m reading – excellent world-building, engaging characters, and plenty of adventure!
  • Remembered Death by Agatha Christie – 4/5 – engaging and twisty with perfect pacing.
  • House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure – 4/5 – excellent writing, really interesting premise, but somehow an emotional disconnect from the main characters.  (PS Belfoure actually tweeted me after this review and I felt awkward because my review wasn’t completely complimentary haha)
  • Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter

    Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter – 4/5 – classic early 1900’s novel with very good good people and very bad bad people, and the bonus of a fabulous setting.

  • The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson – 3/5 – an interesting nonfiction read on the history of English.  I will give one caveat since I wrote the original review – I got to reading some reviews on Amazon, and a lot of people seem to think that many of Bryson’s “facts” are actually erroneous, especially as regards his comments on other languages.  So maybe do some research before you decide to pick this one up!

Other June Posts:

20 Books of Summer Update:

20booksfinalSpeaking of the 20 Books of Summer, here is where things stand as of today!  At the last update, I had a slightly modified list from the original (links to GoodReads if I haven’t reviewed the book yet, or my review if I have) –

So far, I have completed six books.  I just started Cursor’s Fury today, so another brick of a book ahead!  Unfortunately, I read about 100 pages of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and decided that it just wasn’t for me.  So it is being replaced by The White Flower by Grace Livingston Hill.

Life or Death and Girl of the Limberlost both ended up being kind of meh reads for me (more to come in their eventual reviews), so that kind of bogged down the whole process… I found myself reading bad Pride and Prejudice variations instead, as well as trying to finish The Mother Tongue.  I’m also reading another nonfiction book that isn’t on my list so.  There’s always plenty of good excuses.  ;-)  But I really have been enjoying Butcher’s series, so hopefully this next book is just as engaging, even if it is 675 pages long…

Still a little behind on reviews – three books in the pile – but nothing too crazy.  I’m a smidge behind schedule, but I think I may still be able to pull it off!!!

TBR Update:

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into four different tabs:

  • Stand-Alones:  821 (up THIRTY-FOUR from 787!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own, but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  584 (up SEVENTEEN from 533! – I really need to stop buying $0.99 books on Kindle)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  126 (up three from 123)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  51 (holding steady)

Good times, good times.  I do not have an addiction.

Awaiting Review:

Only three books right now –

  • Crooked House by Agatha Christie
  • Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  • Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street // by Natasha Pulley


//published 2015// I do love this cover art!

?!?!??!!? = my feelings towards this book…  still!  And it’s been almost two weeks since I finished it.  It’s a book I just can’t decide whether or not I liked!  There were definitely aspects that I loved, and other aspects that I did not.  At the end of the day, the love story felt extremely strange and somewhat contrived… I think I’m going 3/5, but this was one of those books that was very close to swinging either up or down a step.  Actually, after finishing the review, I realize that I actually am going 2/5…  see how easily it swung a step down??

The home office telegraphy department always smelled of tea.

So begins our tale, set in 1883 London, possibly in some kind of alternate universe…??  Our story centers around Thaniel (short of Nathaniel), who works as a clerk in the above-mentioned home office telegraphy department (and who is also to blame for that smell of tea).  Thaniel is quiet, hardworking, and reliable.  In the second chapter we are told

He [Thaniel] almost said that he wasn’t so much older than all the rest of them, then saw that it wouldn’t have been fair.  It didn’t matter how much older.  He was older; even if they had all been the same age, he would still have been older.

I had a lot of empathy for Thaniel, as I’ve always been the oldest everywhere I go, too.  He has a strong sense of responsibility, sending home money to his widowed sister and her family – setting aside his own dreams and ambitions to do so.

This story unwound slowly.  Nothing was rushed – in many ways, the narration felt like a watch ticking, steady and rhythmical.  The language is lovely, and some of the descriptive passages are wonderfully immersive.  Despite the (relatively) slow pace, I was drawn into narrative.  (It was an especially nice change of pace after the heart-pounding race through Academ’s Fury!)  However, I started to get a bit confused about that very narrative, as Pulley herself didn’t really seem to know which story she wanted to write.  There’s kind of this thing with a bombing, and kind of this thing with the watch, and kind of this thing with a girl, but it was all quite meandery, and I really had no idea where Pulley was going half the time, and I wasn’t sure she did, either.  The ending was this sudden rush of chaos and action that was somewhat, but not satisfactorily, explained.

I’m really struggling to write this review without spoilers, as a great deal of this story’s charm lies in that gentle unwinding.  The thing is, my biggest issue with this book centers around a pretty big spoiler.  So I’ll put it below the cut, because I simply cannot write this review without a mini-rant explaining why this book frequently annoyed the bejeebers out of me.

Then there were other random moments that I found myself confused.  Tell me, my British friends, in your alphabet, does ‘M’ come directly before ‘N’, or someplace after?

He stood slowly and opened the drawer for N-R, which was dominated by Nakanos and Nakamuras.  There were only two people whose name was Mori.

That paragraph had me singing the alphabet song repeatedly.  It caused me to completely doubt everything I’ve ever known about the placement of the letter M in the alphabet.  L-M-N-O-P, right??  AM I right?!  M wouldn’t be in the N-R drawer, would it??  These are not rhetorical questions, people.  I have stared at this paragraph so many times since I first read it!

20booksfinalThe main female character (more about her in the spoiler section) made basically no sense, and I really didn’t appreciate the way that she thought she was incredibly intelligent and brilliant, that everyone else was stupid, and that all other women were just weak and dumb.  She doesn’t have a single positive thing to say about a single other female, is sarcastic and cutting towards the suffragist movement, and overall the introduction of her character should have been a huge red flag to me that, at the time, I glossed over.  Whoops.

While I liked a lot of the writing, the characterization seemed somewhat weak, as there were multiple times that I was quite surprised or confused by someone’s actions.  This made it really hard to get into the story, as I never really felt like I was getting to know real people.

All in all, what I saw as pitfalls in the plot were not overcome by the lovely language or intriguing setting.  An all-right tale for a one-time read, but not something I would want to read again, or that inspires me to see if Pulley has written any other books.

Spoilers below!

Continue reading

Academ’s Fury // by Jim Butcher

Greetings, friends!  It is time for 20 Books of Summer – review #2!


//published 2005//

Academ’s Fury is the second book in the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Furies of Calderonand was excited about this sequel – and it did not disappoint!

“If the beginning of wisdom is in realizing that one knows nothing, then the beginning of understanding is in realizing that all things exist in accord with a single truth: Large things are made of smaller things.”


Absolutely GORGEOUS fanart of Doroga the Marat on his gargant, Walker. LOVE IT. By Sandara on DeviantArt

Like I mentioned in my review of the first book, I really appreciate Butcher’s emphasis on the idea that huge things hinge on small, seemingly insignificant decisions.  He goes on to say, “Significance is cumulative – but not always obvious.”  It’s the perfect way to introduce his story, which is actually several stories that interconnect and weave together, each one made up of individuals who do not appear to be important in the grand scale of things, yet each of them makes a decision that will impact their entire world.

The main thing you need to know about this book is that it is HIGH ENERGY.  There were multiple times that I would literally have to set it down and go do something else because it was making my blood pressure rise.  This was an incredibly intense story, told with perfect timing.  It’s a hefty book – the paperback weighs in at 702 pages – but it did not feel like it was too long or too slow.  When we were kids, and the family was watching a movie, if the movie got too intense, my littlest brother would have to get up and stand behind the couch so that he could literally jump up and down with nervous excitement.  There were times during this book that I almost reached that point, despite my 33 years!


More fabulous fanart by Sandara – we meet the Canim in this book as well – wolf-people warriors, another intriguing race of creatures.

We continue to follow the stories of our main characters from the first book – Tavi, the young shepherd boy who is now attending school in the capital city; his uncle Bernard; Bernard’s sister, Isana; a young cursor named Amara; and several of the bad (???) guys.  This book picks up two years after the last one ended, which I also liked.  Everyone has settled into their new roles, the bad guys that were defeated in the last book have taken some time to regroup and try a different angle this time around, and it all felt really reasonable and natural.


Just because I can, a third picture by Sandara – this one is of Bernard and his earth Fury, Brutus. I love how in these books, many of the Furies are in the shape of an animal and are named. And this is a FABULOUS picture of Brutus!

However, I can’t even begin to describe the plot, and I’m not sure that I want to.  Suffice to say that it was brilliantly done and that the Vord are some of the most terrifying creatures I have ever come across in fiction.  I LOVED the way that Butcher is greying the lines between good guys and bad guys, really bringing up some excellent questions about loyalty, duty, and honor.  It’s also great to have a hero who is at an actual disadvantage in his culture – everyone else can call up a Fury except for Tavi.  The way that he works to compensate for this lack is great.

Again, these are definitely YA/adult.  They are intense, there is non-graphic sex, and there is violence.  But they are brilliantly written and incredibly exciting.  Hopefully my heart is strong enough for book three…20booksfinal

Freckles // by Gene Stratton Porter

Well, my friends, the time has arrived!  My first review for 20 Books of Summer!  First, a brief update on the List!

20booksfinalMy original post about 20 Books of Summer, being hosted by Cathy746, is here.

Here is the list of 20.  Links are to GoodReads, and titles that have been crossed off have already been read and are awaiting review…

As you can see, I am now on Book #5 (Life or Death), so things are tooling right along!

And now for Freckles. 

Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter

This book was originally published in 1904.  Its setting, the great Limberlost Swamp, is in eastern Indian, between Fort Wayne and I-70, and parts of it are still a park today.  I’ve always wanted to visit but never have gotten around to it, despite the fact that it is only a few hours away.  Porter, a passionate naturalist, was unafraid to brave the terrors of this virgin forest.  With a revolver and a sack of photography equipment, she spent a great deal of time exploring the swamp, photographing and making notes on its natural residents.  Porter wrote numerous articles on nature, several nature studies, and a dozen novels.  Even in her novels, Porter did her best to create a love not just for her characters, but for the nature that surrounded them.

Porter does an excellent job with this in Freckles.  Her story of a lonely, orphaned young man, who is striving to make his way in the world, is balanced by the beautiful and terrifying vastness of the Limberlost.  Without getting too carried away, she still manages to convey the beauty of the birds, flowers, and other animals that live there.  Her sense of place is fantastic, and the setting is really a large part of what makes this story.  In a way, the Limberlost is it own individual – and very important – character in the story.

Our tale begins with an unlikely hero –

Freckles came down the corduroy that crosses the lower end of the Limberlost.  At a glance, he might have been mistaken for a tramp, but he was truly seeking work.  He was intensely eager to belong somewhere and to be attached to almost any sort of enterprise that would furnish him food and clothing.

In this first chapter, Freckles (in his early 20’s or possibly late teens) comes across a lumber camp.  He asks if they are seeking workers, and even though the cook, whom he approaches, says the boss couldn’t use Freckles, Freckles insists on speaking to the boss for himself.

“Mr. McLean, here’s another man wanting to be taken on in the gang, I suppose,” [the cook] said.

“All right,” came the cherry answer.  “I never needed a good man more than I do just now.” …

“No use of your bothering with this fellow,” volunteered the cook. “He hasn’t but one hand.”

And so we are introduced to Freckles’s other great handicap.  Not only is he orphaned and penniless, he struggles to find work because, as an infant, someone cut off his hand.  In a passionate interview with the boss, however, Freckles convinces McLean to give him a shot.  McLean is still logging a tract, but has purchased his next.  Within the new tract are several very valuable trees, and he needs a man to walk the fence twice a day – seven miles per lap – to make sure that the trees are not stolen.  McLean is extra concerned because another man from his crew recently quit, threatening to steal trees.  Black Jack is quite the villain, a man who knows the swamp and its secrets, hates McLean, and intends to have his vengeance by stealing the valuable lumber…!!!

Freckles is hired, and despite his initial terror of the swamp – which is full of rattlesnakes, cesspools, insects, and other dangerous things – and a hard adjustment to hiking fourteen miles a day (!), he makes good.  The rest of the story is Freckles, working hard to protect the lumber no matter what.  Freckles is the ideal hero of the early 1900’s novel – loyal, upright, responsible, brave, truthful, hardworking.  I’m not really sure why such heroes have gone out of style.  Freckles is no sissy, and would make an excellent role model.

It’s a funny thing, but despite Porter’s enthusiasm and love for the Limberlost, no character in her story ever suggests that the swamp shouldn’t be logged.  The attitude is definitely a reflection of its time.  McLean is never presented as a villain or a terrible man – he is simply doing his job and trying to do it well – a job which involves logging acres of virgin woods.

In the course of the story, we also meet the Bird Woman, Porter’s way of writing herself into the story.  The Bird Woman, whose name we never learn, is an avid naturalist who loves to photograph her subjects.  For the summer, she’s taken on an apprentice of sorts, a young woman whose name we also never learn.  When Freckles first sees her, he dubs her the Swamp Angel, and Angel she remains for the rest of the tale.

That Freckles falls madly in love with Angel should come as no surprise.  That Freckles believes himself – a penniless, one-handed orphan, in case you’ve forgotten – unworthy of the love of a beautiful creature like the Angel, should also be no surprise.  Still, despite using most of the normal cliches, Porter still spins an enjoyable little love story.  The Black Jack angle is quite exciting, and if Porter falls into the trap of her good guys being very, very good, while her bad guys are very, very bad – well, sometimes it’s good to read a story without much ambiguity.

Although Porter is wont to go off into paragraph-long raptures regarding the beauty and goodness of the Angel, she has still written a character who is no simpering maid sitting about waiting to be rescued.  Angel dashes about the swamp, shoots a gun, charms the bad guy so that she can escape for help, and then rides a bicycle miles across the rough corduroy to bring assistance to Freckles.  She is brave, intelligent, kind, and basically all the same qualities as Freckles.  Angel is always feminine but never weak.

The other characters are good as well, even when Porter doesn’t flesh them out a great deal.  Freckles stays with the Duncans, and this first glimpse he has into a loving family home is touching without being pathetic.

There is plenty of action, with Freckles adjusting to the Limberlost, the love story between Freckles and Angel, a rare type of bird nesting in the swamp, and (of course) the evil Black Jack lurking about, waiting to steal trees!

For me, the weakest part of the story takes place after the action leaves the Limberlost.  The part where Angel discovers Freckles’s heritage – through a series of perfectly-timed coincidences – feels very contrived and unnecessarily melodramatic.  Consequently, the last few chapters saw me rolling my eyes a great deal.

Still, this story is an easy 4/5.  It is classic literature for its time, an excellent story, and the setting is impeccably described.

20 Books of Summer – Update #1


Well, I am tooling right along with this challenge!  My original post about 20 Books of Summer, being hosted by Cathy746, is here.

Here is my original list of 20 (links to GoodReads):

As of today, I have completed Freckles and am halfway (ish) through Academ’s Fury.  However, I already have an elimination from the list – The Ransom was just tooooo hokey (GLH gives me mixed results), so it is officially OFF the list.  The replacement will be the fifth Codex Alera book, Princeps’ Fury.  

I still have two books to review before I start getting into my 20 Books of Summer reviews, but they’re coming!!!  I’m enjoying everyone else’s updates as well, even if I’m terrible at Twitter.  ;-)  Hope everyone is having a great time with this fun challenge.