Sunday, August 31, 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril / IX

Artwork for RIP/9 provided by Abigail Larson

Last day of August! How did that happen? My favorite season is drawing to a close, and I seem to dread the end of summer more and more every year. But there is this to cheer me up: At least the approach of autumn also means the start of one of my favorite annual reading events -- R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP, for short), hosted by Carl V. Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings, and now in its ninth year. To read all about it and sign up, just visit the challenge announcement page HERE.

This year, I'm going for Peril the First -- read four books of any length that fit any of the RIP categories (Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural) -- and Peril on the Screen as well.  Haven't really made any decisions about what I'll read or watch yet, but I have a few possibilities in mind for the reading peril:
  • The Blackhouse, by Peter May (first book in May's "Lewis" trilogy)
  • The Mist in the Mirror, by Susan Hill (classic ghost story by the author of The Woman in Black)
  • Mrs. Malory and a Necessary End, by Hazel Holt (the latest book in the Sheila Malory series of cozy mysteries)
  • Peter Pan Must Die, by John Verdon (the fourth book in his Dave Gurney mystery series)
  • This House is Haunted, by John Boyne (gothic goings-on revolving around a governess and her charges in a spooky Victorian mansion)
I'm also thinking about giving Peril of the Short Story a try. I've got several collections of short fiction in the ghost story/horror/suspense genre to sample from. This would be a first for me -- I've never tried this Peril before, and I'm looking forward to it.

During the run of the challenge, I'll be tracking my progress and keeping my reading/viewing lists over on my challenge blog (HERE).  Now, just need to get reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Litter of the Law, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Random House/Bantam Books, 2013; 235 pages

Publisher's Description:
Autumn has descended and crops are being harvested all over Crozet, Virginia, ideal conditions for a scenic drive for Harry and husband Fair. Bucolic views are all well and good, but Harry’s nose for trouble leads her straight to a cornfield’s macabre scarecrow — an all too real murder victim that frightens all but the noisy crows.

This accountant’s gruesome death is only the first of many disturbing events in this normally pastoral corner of the world. While Harry tends her beloved grapes and sunflowers, a killer edges closer — as does Harry’s protective menagerie of animals.

My Thoughts:
I always look forward to a new Mrs. Murphy mystery (this is number 21 in the series) — I've read several of them over the years, and always enjoy them. I love that they're set in Virginia, where I used to live. And I love all of the interaction among the various critters: Mrs. Murphy, for those who aren't familiar with the books, is a cat (the companion of the series' main human character, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen) and she has many animal friends who show up to help solve the mysteries.

Of course, Rita Mae Brown (or maybe it's Sneaky Pie?) does have a tendency to be a bit preachy when she gets onto any subject she obviously cares about. I can usually overlook that quirk because the stories are good enough to make up for it, but this time that just didn't work. I had trouble sticking with this one, and found myself rushing through large chunks to get to the end — which is never a good sign. The plot and most of the characters seemed sketchy and not very memorable. (Maybe I'd remember them a little better if I hadn't done so much skimming.) Very unusual for this series which generally abounds in intriguing characters and interesting plot twists. But in this one, I thought even the non-human characters seemed pretty tedious. It wasn't a terrible reading experience, but it didn't come up to the level of other books I've read in the series. On the other hand, the illustrations by Michael Gellatly were some of the best yet. (I really wish more books for adults had pictures!)

So, I guess I have to say I was disappointed with the book, although I still love Mrs. Murphy and I'm hoping for better things in the next installment. But if you're thinking of giving the series a try (and you should), definitely start with one of the earlier novels.

I received my copy of this book free of charge from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and the opinions expressed here are all my own.

Ten Lords A-Leaping by C.C. Benison

Delacorte Press, 2013; 495 pages

Publisher's Description:
Although Father Tom Christmas serves his little church in enchanting Thornford Regis with a glad and faithful heart, he never expects to find himself skydiving to raise money for it. Nor, safely back on the ground, to see two of the other divers leap from the plane, then tangle in a midair punch-up and begin falling to the earth.

To say that there is tension between the men in question — Oliver, the 7th Marquess of Morborne, and his brother-in-law Hector, the 10th Earl of Fairhaven — would be an understatement. But the trouble among this ancient landed family really began a generation ago, when a marquess divorced his first spouse to marry his brother’s wife, fathering in his two marriages a viper’s nest of arrogant young aristocrats. Now they have all turned up for the show to witness this shocking event in the sky.

Thankfully the men land safely, but death will not be slighted. Much to Father Tom’s dismay, he later discovers Lord Morborne lying deceased on castle grounds. Rumors of bigamy, art forgeries, and upstairs/downstairs intrigue fly. So do whispers of unvicarly behavior between Tom and Oliver’s beautiful half-sister, Lady Lucinda. In fact, the vicar may be headed for a very hard landing of his own.

My Thoughts:
Gosh, I wanted to like this book. When I read the descriptions of the plot and characters it sounded so much like something that would be right down my street. But I really struggled to finish it; I found myself skimming through large chunks of it here and there, and that's always a bad sign.

First of all, it's much too long — shortening by about half might have helped the author tell a tighter and more interesting tale. Also, there is seemingly a cast of thousands — OK, dozens. And none of them — including the main character, "Father" Tom Christmas — is particularly memorable (or in some cases, even distinguishable from all the others). I kept having to refer back to the list of characters and the family tree provided by the author, trying to figure out who was who and how they were related to all the others. And by the time I got that all straightened out, I'd completely lost interest again. A few of the main characters do an awful lot of talking about all the other characters and how they figure into the action, but we don't really get to experience much of the action. So by the end, I just felt confused and a little sorry I'd wasted so much time on a book that delivered such a small amount of entertainment.

I haven't read any of the other books in the series, and I'm told that "Ten Lords" is something of a departure from the other novels; so it might be worthwhile backtracking and taking a look at the earlier works before condemning the whole series. But after nearly 500 pages of disappointment, I'm really reluctant to take a chance.

I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was provided, and the opinions expressed here are all my own.

Andrew′s Brain by E.L. Doctorow

Random House, January 2014; 200 pages

Publisher's Description:
This brilliant new novel . . . takes us on a radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once in his life, has been the inadvertent agent of disaster.

Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is . . . telling the story of his life, his loves, and the tragedies that have led him to this place and point in time. And as he confesses, peeling back the layers of his strange story, we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves.

My thoughts:
What a surprise this was! It took me a while to get hooked into Doctorow's new novel; but after beginning and stopping a couple of times (not sure what the problem was), I started fresh and finished it in one sitting. And really enjoyed it! It doesn't quite come up to the level of Ragtime or Doctorow's brilliant Homer and Langley which I loved a few years ago, but it's still a fine read.

I know the publisher's description (above) doesn't reveal much of the actual plot of the book. And it's a very hard book to describe. Basically, it's the story of Andrew, a scientist and academic whose life has begun to unravel. The story is narrated by Andrew (or by Andrew's brain), and we learn early on that he's one of the most unreliable narrators in literature. Andrew isn't an easy character to love or figure out, but he tells a fascinating tale. Does he tell the truth? Can we know that? Should we care? I have many questions, and I like it when a book leaves me wanting to know more. Definitely a book I'd recommend.

I was provided an advance reader edition of this book, free of charge, from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program. This review refers to that edition. No other compensation was received, and the opinions expressed here are all my own.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: The Weight of Blood

This week my teaser lines come from The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh. Once again, I'm not sure about page numbers since I read this one on the Kindle, but it's from Location 1413 in Chapter 10. (Also, it's from an ARC of the novel, and I haven't been able to check it against the published edition, so please remember the final version could be slightly different.)
"They been saying you put some kinda spell on him to get him wrapped around your finger. You know, like a witch."
I'll be posting a review soon, so I don't want to say much more about the book now.  I'll just say it's not a book about witches or the supernatural. But it does involve some really evil "normal" folks.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: The Quilters Apprentice

This week my teaser lines come from the first novel in Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series.  The Quilter's Apprentice is a book I've intended to read for a long, long time -- well, ever since 1999 when it first appeared. I've been reading a lot of thrillers and noir detective fiction lately, and wanted something completely different to clear my head a bit. And The Quilter's Apprentice certainly was the right choice. I loved the book, although I'm not sure I'll be reading the rest of the series any time soon -- well, not until I need a little more head clearing. This snippet comes from p.108 (of the Kindle edition):
Sarah, my dear, don't wish for excitement. Interesting doesn't always mean good. Sometimes the most ordinary things are the ones we learn to miss the most.
Hmmm. Well, now that I'm a very senior citizen and therefore obviously very wise and worth listening to, I can say with authority that the last sentence there is sadly true. Not sure I agree with the first part of the advice, though -- I think we all need a bit of excitement now and then. Don't you?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Good Suicides

This week I'm reading The Good Suicides, a thriller by Spanish author Antonio Hill.  I was hoping to get this one finished in July, but it looks like it's going to be my first August read. These lines are from the book's Prologue (titled "A Normal Family"):
"They were a lovely couple," say the neighbors. "You didn't see him much, but he always seemed very well-mannered; he'd be friendly and say hello. She kept her distance a little more, perhaps . . . But she was certainly devoted to her daughter." "They had a beautiful baby," . . . Minutiae, of course. Insignificant details and banal commentaries that now, in light of the facts, are disturbing.

Initial Thoughts:  Nice suspenseful start. With the neighbors talking in the past tense, and since I know this is a thriller, I'm expecting the worst. Which is good.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.