Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Death Comes to London by Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to London is the second book in the Kurland St. Mary mystery series by Catherine Lloyd. The series is set during the Regency.  The second book isn’t quite as good as the first, Death Comes to the Village, but it was still an enjoyable book for me.

The growing romance between the independent Lucy Harrington, attempting to find her beautiful sister a husband during London’s season, and Major Robert Kurland, still recovering from a war wound and now being offered a baronetcy by the Prince Regent for his heroism, is slow but steady.  Some of the science seemed a little modern for the time, but on the whole the historical details seemed true. The mystery is a bit over the top, with too many plot details and too many deaths, but the book was still an entertaining and diverting read.

I recommend the series to cozy mystery and fans and lovers of Regency novels. The Galesburg Public Library owns both books in the series.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

Genres: Adventure, Dark Comedy, Adult
Release Date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: ARC from publisher

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A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.

Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.

Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.

Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.

Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.

We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives.

Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.
This was, my first book by Daniel Handler. I’ve read all the books he has written as Lemony Snicket but none that he has written as Daniel Handler. I must say, I am shocked. I guess this is how JK Rowling fans felt when they read The Casual Vacancy expecting it to remind them of their(our) beloved Harry Potter series but instead got something else. I can see his signature humor in this book but it’s darker in ways the humor in The Series of Unfortunate Event books weren’t. At first I was so thrown off that I had to take a break. Then I picked it up again ready to give it another shot and I was soon sucked it. I read the first half a lot quickly than I had expected but when I came to the second half, I was shocked again because it is then the darkness in these characters emerged. I guess I was so thrown off because you don’t imagine these kids could do something so bad but then they do and you’re shocked and a little outraged that the author would make them do something like that but in the end, I understood.

In the light of recent events involving the author, I was more than a little hesitant going into the book, not even accounting for the fact that I was completely unprepared for the journey Handler would take me on. I have to say, I still haven’t quite made up my mind about the book. Is it absolutely brilliant or is it just a horrid book?

I think it may be a mix of both. I believe the brilliance lies in the way the author exaggerates the experiences of these characters yet he mixes it with a heavy dose of reality. This book can be divided into the real and relateable and the exaggerated and perhaps a tad gruesome. Which is why I think this book isn’t for every reader. Some people will love the book and others will hate it.

It’s hard for there to be any middle ground in terms of how one will feel about the book not just because of the comedic gruesomeness  but also because of the way the author writes the book. His writing style is such that it is bound to confuse the reader, but purposefully. To the point where you might even question what is real, like I did.  The author flips between POVs and sometimes, there isn’t a transition. Sometimes you just need to figure out whose voice it is you’re reading. It’s definitely a pain but it also adds a certain character to the story.

One of the POVs this book it told in is Phil’s. Some might think Phil to be pathetic and that he is. But to me, he is realistically flawed. He made certain choices (or did he?? Handler never really makes it clear) and maybe they weren’t right but he has reached a certain part in his life where things become dull. He is missing a certain spark from his life and he doesn’t know why. It may be why he does what he does (if he does it). I personally didn’t like him until we got to see him after his daughter disappears. In the beginning I wasn’t really ready to like him but when you see the shock he is in when his daughter disappears. He seems real. He seems like someone who isn’t sure what they want but at the same time he cares about the people in his life, he cares about his daughter. He may not be fast on his feet, he may not have even helped the investigation, he may have just stayed in shock the entire time but the affect the event has on him makes him someone you cannot help but empathize with.

Gwen, his daughter, is the second POV the story is written from. She on the other hand is harder to like but in her own way is relateable. She is so brash but at the same time, underneath all that  teenage angst, she is someone who believes she is unwanted. She feels like she doesn't matter and what she wants is purpose. She wants something bigger, she wants to feel uncharge. She wants to not care about the things people may say about her and she doesn’t want to care that she may or may not be an unwanted child. Her actions however, make her seem a little psychotic! I don’t want to spoil exactly what happens when she and her rag tag group decide to be pirates and sail off, but believe me when I say it’s a little scary! I had to put the book down for a while before I felt ready to pick up where I had left off.

The rag tag group is made of a bunch of interesting characters (who I will let you meet on your own). Their journey is comedic but at the same time it’s terrifying! In some round about way, I can see people’s desperation to get away leading them to do things they might not do otherwise without even considering the consequences.

This book though, isn’t really about their adventure as pirates, no matter how much we wish it could be. Instead, this is more of a character driven book, focusing on the characters and their development and seeing how circumstances make them the people they are.

So no, this book isn’t so much fun as it is, but I’d still recommend it for those of you who think they are up for a story about people and how deep down, we are all pirates.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

Under a Silent Moon is the first in a new series. I love a good British police procedural, and this is a good one. The main character is Louisa Smith, a new Detective Chief Inspector. She had a brief relationship with one of her now subordinates, before she knew he was married. She’s attracted to the geeky Canadian analyst but leery after the disastrous affair.
The author is a police intelligence analyst, and it shows. The investigation and language feels authentic. Lou is an interesting character, and a number of supporting characters were well drawn with room to grow.
The mystery was okay, I find the whole BDSM angle a little overdone these days but it was fine. I enjoyed reading this book and look forward to a sequel. If you like books by Jane Casey, Jill McGown, Susan Hill, and other police procedurals, you will probably enjoy Under a Silent Moon. It can be found in the adult Fiction area under the author's last name.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

I read What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton for a couple of reasons. First, I love Jo Walton. Her book Among Others inspired me to start a science fiction/fantasy book discussion group at my library. That brings me to my second reason – I was hoping to get some good titles from this book for my group to read.

Jo Walton has read a lot more science fiction books than I have. Wow, has she ever. Reading What Makes This Book So Great was so similar to Among Others in some ways that I started to wonder if Among Others is not a novel but a memoir, and there really ARE fairies in Wales. In both books Walton throws out a lot of titles and authors for the science fiction reader’s consideration.

I enjoyed the book overall because it was like chatting with someone I don’t know well but like. The book is made up of a series of blog essays that were no doubt meant to prompt online discussion. The online discussions are not included. Some of the essays were fairly meaningless to me because I have not read the books or authors being discussed. However, I was definitely able to glean enough information about many works to decide whether or not to add them to my potential book club titles list. (Whether I can get my hands on enough copies of out of print books is another question.) By the time I finished What Makes This Book So Great, it was filled with little pieces of paper on pages I wanted to go back to.

Some of my favorite musings from this book:

“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who re-read and those who don’t. No, don’t be silly, there are far more than two kinds of people in the world. There are even people who don’t read at all. (What do they think about on buses?” (p. 17)

“Fantasy, post-Tolkien, has been largely involved with retelling Tolkien, or revolting against Tolkien.” (p. 342 – too true, but I like the way she said it)

“The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, that’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading – well, it sucks. … Suck Fairies travel in battalions. Her biggest siblings are the Racism Fairy, the Sexism Fairy, and the Homophobia Fairy. … Then there’s the Message Fairy. The lovely story you remember as being a bit like The Phantom Tollbooth has been replaced by a heavy-handed Christian allegory!” (pp. 420-422)

If you are a hard core science fiction reader, or want to be, I definitely recommend What Makes This Book So Great. Even if I can’t choose some of these titles for book club, I will add them to my own to-read list!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unlike some of my friends and coworkers, I was not a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan growing up. I read the Little House books, but I don’t remember them having a big impact on my childhood reading. Laura Ingalls Wilder is woven into the literary mystery that is the plot of Bich Minh Nguyen’s novel Pioneer Girl.

Narrator Lee Lien is the daughter of two Vietnamese immigrants. Her father is dead; her mother and grandfather run a restaurant in the Chicago suburbs. Lee has disappointed her mother by getting a PhD in literature instead of something more practical. She continues to disappoint her mother by searching for work in her field, instead of resigning herself to the family business.

Lee is jealous of her older brother, who she sees as her mother’s favorite, and complains about her mother constantly. The family has an heirloom and a story. In 1965 a woman named Rose visited her grandfather’s cafĂ© in Saigon and left behind a small gold pin. The pin sounds like a gift given to Laura Ingalls Wilder by her fiancĂ© and described in one Wilder’s books. Lee becomes obsessed with trying to discover whether the Rose from the family story was Wilder’s daughter Rose.

There are some great passages in Pioneer Girl. There is a spot-on description of American “Chinese” buffets at the start of Chapter Three and this musing on small towns in the Midwest:

Mansfield, Missouri reminded me of how the past will not be banished. So many small, dying, basically dead towns in the Midwest looked like this. Where once-graceful, ornate courthouses and libraries – back when libraries meant something important, something civic – had been, if not torn down or boarded up, converted dozens of times over into shops and offices and apartments and barely surviving historical societies. There might even be the remains of an ambitious opera house. The nicest building in town was likely to be a funeral home.

Main Street had been built broad, to accommodate horses, buggies, and hitching posts. And surely local efforts tried to preserve the “historic downtown” area. Surely there were sad little parades on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. In Mansfield a few local “shoppes” offered “olde-fashioned ice cream” and “sewing notions,” but it looked like most of the money was flowing in and out of the paycheck advance and pawn shops. (p. 140)
Still, I had some issues with the novel. The narrator is not very likeable. In addition to being a whiner, she is a thief. While doing research, she steals a photograph, a letter and a book. She talks about racism, ignorance about Asian culture, and stereotyping, but she herself stereotypes, and not in a self-aware manner.

A small band of researchers squinted over Hoover’s notes and newspapers, setting up cameras on tabletop tripods to record their findings. They were a standard lot – frumpy and frowning, pallid and disheveled. (p. 76)

At times I felt that the author was judging the Midwest and finding it wanting (and once the narrator refers to the University of Illinois as “UI,” something no true U of I graduate would ever do). There is a random, out-the-blue sex scene between Lee and someone she just met that seemed pointless.

However, especially in light of recent high profile cases in the U.S. of unarmed black men being killed by white police officers, the themes of this book are quite timely, and I loved the book’s cover. If you are a fan of literary mysteries or novels dealing with stereotyping and race in America, you may find Pioneer Girl an interesting read.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fart Squad by Seamus Pilger, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin

Genres: Humor, Super Powers, Middle Grade
Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Add on Goodreads

It was an average day at Harry Buttz Elementary until . . . KABLAM! The five-bean burritos churning in Darren Stonkadopolis's stomach exploded in a fart so volcanic it melted his desk seat, knocked out his whole class, and got him sent to the nurse--and he's not alone.
Something fishy is going on in Buttzville. And it's up to Darren and his three farting friends to combine their potty powers to get to the bottom of this evil plot--before it's too late. With their scent-sei, Janitor Stan, at their side, the Fart Squad has to learn to harness the powers between their butt cheeks. And then let it RIIIP.
Admittedly, I only gave this book a go because the title amused me but don’t be fooled by the title, this book is amazingly deep.

Oh who am I kidding, this book was laugh out loud hiliarious and I had a hard time getting myself to stop laughing. You kind of just fly right through it (if you’ve read the book you might understand why this sentence makes me laugh so much).

When a bunch of kids are forced to eat the horrendous burritos from the school cafeteria, their lives are changed forever as a result of… uncontrollable gas! Their farts are now magical. But something dark is brewing and it is up to the fart squad to save the day. 

As you can already imagine, there isn’t going to be much depth to a book like this but I most certainly admire these characters' bravery. They may just be little munchkins but they take it upon themselves to save the day. They train for it and they make themselves eat those horrendous burritos to help strengthen their magical powers. I wouldn’t put up with horrible cafeteria food for a bunch of silly children. Or maybe I would, but that's beside the point.

I thought, given the context, the plot line was actually pretty interesting. I had fun seeing them unravel the malicious plot and I was amused by the tricks they decided to use to help save the day. What really made me laugh was the way the magical farts were weaved into this. Hey, who knew having magical farts could help save the day?

This book, is unsurprisingly childish but I have to say, it definitely made my day. It’s hilarious and seriously, who doesn’t want to read about farts? … well that was a rhetorical question but either way I think that in spite of the book's childish nature, it was a good read so don’t be afraid to read it even if you think you’re too old for such childish endeavours. It’s worth it.

The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill

I love a good British police procedural. That's why I've been reading Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler mysteries when they've arrived at the library as advance reader copies. I've only read three - 6, 7, and 8 in the series. After reading 7, I thought I'd stop because I had a hard time finishing 7. I felt I was missing a lot of background information since I hadn't been with the series since the start. Still, I think Susan Hill is a great writer, so I picked up 8, The Soul of Discretion, all the same.

Maybe I've now read enough of the series to be able to keep the continuing characters straight. Or maybe in this book, the focus is much more on Serrailler and so whatever I didn't know about the other characters didn't bother me as much. In any event, I thought this was a terrific read.

Serrailler goes undercover to try to crack a pedophile ring. A really bad pedophile ring. Things take an unexpected turn and he ends up on the run with the man he's trying to get secrets out of. Hill excels at building tension, and she did it very well here. I'm not even that fond of Simon Serrailler and I was so worried about him I had a hard time getting through some of the narration. In fact, I legitimately (click for spoiler)

wondered if Hill was going to kill Serrailler and end the series.

Although the narrative isn't graphic, the subject matter and level of violence involved is. Some of the plot points were far-fetched, and a secondary plot thread was not of that much interest to me. But this was a very entertaining book for me. I definitely recommend it for fans of the series, and it might even be possible to step into the series at this point for someone new.

I really need to read the first book in the series. The Soul of Discretion will be published in January 2015. The Galesburg Public Library owns a number of books in the Simon Serrailler series. They can be found in adult Fiction, in the audiobook section, and online as ebooks.