Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett

Title: The Magician's Assistant
Author: Ann Patchett

Genre: Fiction (Magicians / Nebraska / Homosexuality / AIDS / Family Secrets / Marriage / Abuse)
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (10/1/1997)
Source: My public library.

Rating: Meh -- okay.
Did I finish?: I did, with considerable effort.
One-sentence summary: A new widow traces her husband's mysterious past and learns more about love, family, and belonging.

Do I like the cover?: I do, but rather meanly: the pretty, vapid, abbreviated head is obviously Sabine, who is pretty, vapid, and abbreviated; the cute rabbit was my favorite character.

I'm reminded of...: Ann Patchett (is that unfair to say?)

First line: Parsifal is dead.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, but then again, I'm biased.

Why did I get this book?: Favorite blogger Nomadreader mentioned she wanted to read more Patchett and kindly agreed to do a joint read with me. You can read her take here.

Review: This is my second Patchett novel, and I liked it even less than the previous one I read (State of Wonder).

First, I totally misunderstood the premise of this novel. I thought our heroine Sabine's lovely hottie magician husband dies, and then she discovers he was secretly gay, and then discovers he lied about his family being dead and seeks them out blah blah. Instead, the story is that Sabine's lovely hottie magician husband is openly gay and only marries her in the last year so she may inherit his things. He's had numerous loves despite her affection for him. When he dies, she discovers his family isn't dead and seeks them out blah blah. Slight difference, but a significant one: it put the idea of knowing more on Sabine. She knew who Parsifal was, to a point -- she'd been his assistant for 20 years -- so I found her behavior in this book to be a bit piteous and aggravating.

Disappointingly, rather than explore the source of her mental and emotional stasis, Patchett has Sabine pursue Parsifal's life -- yet another obsessive step into the life of a man who didn't love her like she loved him. Since I wasn't fixated on Parsifal the way Sabine was, this whole journey didn't capture me. That Sabine seemed to have little emotional growth and development along the way -- other than to glom onto one of Parsifal's relatives -- frustrated me, but I'm not sure that was the intent of Patchett's story. I think we were supposed to like and relate to Sabine but I found her in need of therapy and some time alone to think about who she is and what she wants from her life.

My next complaint is a little harder to articulate, but there was something dated, I guess, about the novel's feel regarding gays. In some ways, that makes sense -- this book came out in 1997, nearly twenty years ago -- but at the same time, I feel like there's an artificial sense of shock and surprise created by Patchett to evoke tension, maybe. I'll have to meditate on this more as I know I'm not expressing myself clearly -- while reading this, I found myself venting to my wife about how all the Midwestern gays I know (even the ones not speaking to their families) had a more layered relationship to their kin than Patchett's imagining.

And on to my final complaint about this book: I wasn't wild about Patchett's use of setting. In State of Wonder, I thought she evoked the Amazon beautifully, magically. In this book, I found her articulation of Nebraska and the Midwest to be little more than caricature. I suppose since I've lived in Nebraska and the Midwest for a good chunk of my life (and not the Amazon), I cared more, but I felt Patchett used stereotypical shorthand to paint the setting -- country kitsch decor, Walmart, brutish spouses -- rather than really evoke the beauty of a place that moves, lives, and breathes differently than L.A.

The writing is very Patchett-ian, I would say. I read a review about this book describing it's "...dreams, flashbacks, and long, elliptical conversations..." which is spot on, and made me insane. I'm not wild about dream sequences in books; I find them a bit self-indulgent and pointless. Perhaps if I liked Sabine more, that element would have resonated, but since I didn't, I felt tired -- I kept putting this one down rather than wallow in the linguistic snakiness.

So, in conclusion, I'm a big cranky wench. Millions of others have enjoyed this novel so I'm sure it's mostly just me.

Monday, July 30, 2012

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Title: House of Shadows
Author: Rachel Neumeier

Genre: Fiction (Fantasy / Orphans / Prostitution / Magic / Magicians / Political Turmoil)
Publisher/Publication Date: Orbit (7/10/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- it read quickly!
One-sentence summary: War, love, magic, loss, and loneliness shape the lives of four strong individuals in this fantasy novel.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z, E-book, NetGalley, Witches & Witchcraft

Do I like the cover?: I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other -- it's pretty enough but doesn't jump at me.

I'm reminded of...: Tarrant Smith

First line: In a city of grey stone and mist, between the steep rain-swept mountains and the sea, there lived a merchant with his eight daughters.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like battle-y fiction that has an emphasis on characters, if you like unique settings, and strong women.

Why did I get this book?: Every now and then, I like a fantasy novel, and I do love stories of orphans having to survive -- what does that say about me?

Review: Despite the novel's sort of sing-song, fairy tale opening -- In a city of grey stone and mist, between the steep rain-swept mountains and the sea, there lived a merchant with his eight daughters. -- the book settles quickly into a focused fantasy novel, following two of the eight orphaned daughters.

Now poverty stricken, the mathematically-inclined sister discovers that despite the family's holdings, they are utterly destitute. Briefly -- again, in that same sort of dreamy, fairy-tale manner, it comes clear that sisters must be sold for the family to survive. Pretty, docile Karah becomes a 'keiso', a geisha-like courtesan, while Nemienne becomes a mage.  Their income is sent to support their remaining sisters, and their careers choices thrust them into the center of turmoil they would otherwise have missed.

I enjoyed this set up, and the rush to get Karah and Nemienne to their respective new homes. Once they were settled, the story's vibe changes from that fairy-tale style to detailed fantasy, which disappointed me but didn't turn me off from the novel.

The world-building in this novel was lovely enough, vaguely Asiatic despite the kind of faux-Celtic names.  However, it felt a bit uneven, right from the start.  Neumeier invents 'keiso' for her caste of prostitutes, but doesn't invent other jobs (for example, mages are mages, not some new word for magician). Perhaps Neumeier was worried that all the words for courtesans was too loaded but her articulation of keiso culture and keiso life felt familiar, from Cloisonn√© House in the candlelight district, to the social mores of a keiso's relationship with her lover, and I don't know if it added to the story so much as remind me that the world-building felt patchy.  (Now that I think of it, Karah as a character was rather flat, too -- super pretty, super innocent [of course!], super trusting -- so perhaps that whole arc could use some polishing.)

However, Neumeier includes those details I so adored in fiction as a kid -- rich descriptions of food and meals, wonderfully rendered passages on clothing, or landscape, or a room's set up -- and I greatly enjoyed being immersed in this world.  When a character clicked, he or she literally roared to life. I greatly enjoyed Nemienne and Leilis (serving girl of sorts at the keiso house), to the point I wished the book would stop shifting to feature someone else.  The various threads of this book differ in quality but I found the characters compelling -- especially these two strong, interesting women -- that I didn't want to stop reading.

Neumeier has many other books under her belt but as this is a standalone (I think many of her books are part of a series or two), I think this might be a good introduction to her. Those who like place as character (even if that place is very imaginary) will like this one, as well as those who enjoy battle as a backdrop and the tension of conflicting loyalties.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of House of Shadows to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers; ends 8/17.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mailbox Monday, July 30

This week's Mailbox Monday (hosted in July at Mrs. Q: Book Addict), is another book explosion of awesome. Seriously, I want to spread these on my bed and swim in them, a la Scrooge McDuck. As usual, click on a cover to learn more about the book (link will automatically open in a new tab/window).  What did you get?  Have any of these?

For Review


Saturday, July 28, 2012


This week's winners!

Two winners for Thieftaker ... Brooke and Diane!

The winner of The Thread is ... Marisa!

And last week's winner of The Virgin Cure never responded, so I redrew and the new winner is ... Elizabeth!

Congrats to the winners! If you didn't win, be sure to check out my open giveaways.

A note about contact -- a few of my winners reported never getting my email but as they were GoodReads friends or Twitter friends, I was able to message them. Please be sure to check my Saturday winners post if you do enter since it seems my emails aren't always going through! 

Should I include an alternate contact option in my giveaway form to use if I don't hear back from winners?  Or should I just go ahead and redraw after 48-hours?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Reads and a rainy weekend...

It's going to be a rainy weekend -- perfect for reading -- so I'm very excited to get my read on. As usual, I'm juggling a handful of books included Miss Me When I'm Gone (thriller) and House of Shadows (fantasy). I'm still (slowly) chugging along with Telegraph Avenue and finishing up Mistress of Mourning (which I'm really digging) and The Magician's Assistant (which I'm not).

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

Title: Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A Novel
Author: Michael Boccacino

Genre: Fiction (Victoriana / Supernatural / Undead / Governess / Cross-Class Romance / Widow / Good Versus Evil / Motherhood / Mothers & Sons)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (7/24/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked - ambiance; disliked - characters; okay - plot. I suppose I'll give that a solid 'okay' for good and for bad.
Did I finish?: I did -- only it took me a while because I kept nitpicking every other page.
One-sentence summary: A governess fights for her charges, her employer, her burgeoning romance, her sanity, and her reality when the world of the Not Dead threaten.
Reading Challenges: Historical, NetGalley, Victorian

Do I like the cover?: I love the cover: it's deceptively simply, evocative of the decaying estate where the story takes place, and I'm thrilled that it doesn't feature an anachronistically-dressed model with blowing hair and dress!

I'm reminded of...: Karen Essex, Theodora Goss, Holly Phillips

First line: Every night I dreamt of the dead...

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I'm not really sure. If you go into this knowing it's not historically accurate, has shades of Gaiman (weirdness, not plot or characterization), and is predictable (for good and for bad), then maybe it'll work for you!

Why did I get this book?: The cover, the premise, the gothic.

Review: Here's the thing: if this is a Victorian-ish inspired alterna-reality, then this book rocks. However, if it is meant to be a Victorian historical, with supernatural elements à la Henry James, then this book is kind of a big fail. From the start, the setting of the story is fuzzy: I just assumed it was Victorian, from the cover design and the ghostly mystery, but there's nothing specific in the text to place it there, and so my reading -- and review -- might be totally off.

Reminiscent of DuMaurier's Rebecca at the start -- from the similar-sounding first lines, to the heroine's dreams of houses burning, and the heavy emphasis on the estate of Everton -- this novel lacks the chilly tension and creepy mystery that makes Rebecca so fun. Boccacino seems fairly enamored of Charlotte Markham, his governess-narrator, and Mr. Darrow, master of Everton, but Boccacino doesn't offer the reader enough time to grow enamored of them as well, and so the inappropriate romance feels foisted and odd.

The heroine is a widow; her employer a widower. Both lost their spouses about a year ago or so, both attest to the deep and abiding love they have for their deceased spouses, and yet, Boccacino inserts a romance novel-ish frisson of desire. "At times our sessions together would only end when the sun threatened to appear over the horizon; at others they would continue on until...an accidental touch of one hand against the other charged the space between us with something unspoken and unacknowledged." (p16) For the rest of the novel, Charlotte has a breathless eagerness to be cleaved to Mr. Darrow with a few weak protestations that she doesn't want to appear to be a seductress.

Rather than have a Jane Eyre-ish desire for the governess and master to end up together, I found myself telling a friend that Charlotte's interest in Darrow and her musings on life at Everton reminded me a bit of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle -- early on in the story, she's quick to imagine herself the mistress of the house simply because she cares for the master's children. Were Charlotte our anti-heroine, this build up would be deliciously wrong, but it's clear Charlotte is meant to be sympathetic, beautiful, and good.

I could harp on my problems with Charlotte, but I won't (and I did so in my Goodreads status updates), so I'll offer a few comments on the rest of the book. Boccacino creates a Victoriana playground for his characters to inhabit: the village of Blackfield is quaint, quirky, picturesque, and without class strata; the dream world of Darkling is a phantasmagoria-ish place of evil knickknacks, shifting landscapes, and tentacled overlords. When I could let go of my aggravation at the historically inaccurate behavior of our heroine, I really enjoyed the world-building, and the creepy atmosphere of the story.

So, needless to say, I've got complicated feelings about this book. Despite my complaints, however, I am eagerly anticipating Boccacino's next novel (not sure if one is in the works, but if there is...). If his character development matches his world-building, then we'll be in for a treat.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form (opens in a new tab/window). Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/10.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

Title: The Colorado Kid
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Jeffrey DeMunn

Genre: Fiction (Maine / Murder Mystery / Journalists / Unsolved Mystery / Small Town)
Publisher/Publication Date: Hard Case Crime (10/4/2005) / Simon & Schuster Audio (9/26/2005)
Source: Personal copy (my wife's technically)

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did, because my wife is relentless and wouldn't turn off the audiobook.
One-sentence summary: Two reporters regale their intern with their favorite unsolved mystery, a case involving a corpse from Colorado on the coast of rural Maine.

Do I like the cover?: Adore it -- although I don't think it looks anything like Stephanie, the reporter.

First line: After deciding he would get nothing of interest from the two old men who comprised the entire staff of The Weekly Islander, the feature writer from the Boston Globe took a look at his watch, remarked that he could just make the one-thirty ferry back to the mainland if he hurried, thanked them for their time, dropped some money on the tablecloth, weighted it down with the salt shaker so the stiffish onshore breeze wouldn't blow it away, and hurried down the stone steps from The Grey Gull's patio dining area toward Bay Street and the little town below.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, I think, if you want an unsolved mystery set very squarely in King's Maine.

Why did I get this book?: My wife owns everything King has written, and she's been desperate to get me to read this one.

Review: My wife, an avid King fan, has been desperate for me to read this book, and one weekend, when faced with about twenty hours of painting, we listened to this.

It's been a month since listening to this, and I'm struggling to remember details or anything more specific than 'it was okay'. I'm not sure if that's because I was painting while we were listening to this -- thus, I wasn't wholly engaged -- or if I really need to hold a book in my hands to be totally absorbed. I remember the sketchiest details, and the feeling of being moderately interested.

The focus of this story really is on the unsolved mystery and the allure of a truly baffling case. As someone who struggles with ambiguity, I found the story maddening at times -- just freakin' tell me what happened! -- but I also appreciated the tension that was created by not being sure. Stephanie's two mentors, the crusty seasoned reporters at The Weekly Islander, were endearingly -- and realistically -- portrayed by Jeffrey DeMunn, who manages a Maine accent well. I'd listen to them tell stories all day. Stephanie was a flat foil who admired the two men, aspired a bit, and did some problem solving.

I think this was the first original work for the Hard Case Crime publishers (I believe up until this one, they were reprinting older books). While this doesn't have the delicious violence and sexiness I've gotten from their other offerings, this short piece certainly reminds me of other crime short fiction from pulp-y greats.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Title: The Age of Miracles
Author: Karen Thompson Walker

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / California / Ecological Disaster / Coming-of-Age / Teenage Protagonist but not YA )
Publisher/Publication Date: Random House (2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: Raced through it in about two hours.
One-sentence summary: A fourteen-year old girl reflects on the year the Earth's rotation slowed down.

Do I like the cover?: I actually don't -- I don't think it captures the novel's feel nor plot, but I do like the textured cover. I suppose it offers a kind of youthfulness that represents the heroine but doesn't look straight out YA.

First line: We didn't notice right away.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- even if you don't consider yourself a YA reader, this is really a coming-of-age novel in a unique setting.

Why did I get this book?: I love disaster novels.

Review: This quick read is a quiet coming-of-age story with an unusual setting. Sometime now, or vaguely in the future, the Earth has started slowing. Eleven-year old Julia -- in rather mature prose, but I didn't mind -- reflects on the impacts of the slow-growing disaster on a planetary and personal level.

Living in sunny California, the slight increase in the day's lengths aren't immediately noticed, but as the days stretch from 27 hours to 40 hours, her family -- and society at large -- struggle to maintain some semblance of normalcy. The government declares life will operate in 'clock time', maintaining a rigid adherence to the 24 hour clock (school starts at 7am, even if it is a solar midnight, etc.). Radicals operate on 'real time', following the day's rhythms, even if it means staying awake for twenty hours or more.

There's a sweetly myopic focus on Julia's social life that resonated even if I, at times, wanted more ecological disaster than emotional minefield. Julia's chronicle of this time is mixed with national news and scientific discovery as well as the tumultuous unraveling of her own life -- the disintegrating school days, her confusing friendships, her first crush.

The characters aren't totally vibrant, but I don't know if that comes from the author's skill -- Julia is only a pre-teen, how nuanced of an understanding can she have of her parent's marriage and emotional landscape? -- or the need for more page space for Walker to flesh everyone out.

A brief read -- just 220ish pages -- I was mostly charmed although I found the ending a bit abrupt. There's a jump when storyteller Julia reveals her current age, the status of the world, and it felt sudden after the sort of slow, lingering storytelling before it. Still, I read this in two hours, racing to see just what the end result of this fascinating catastrophe would be, and while there wasn't the raining doom I thought I was getting, I enjoyed the novel take on a young girl's uncomfortable journey toward adulthood.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Age of Miracles to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/10.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mailbox Monday, July 23

On-going summer of awesome: yet another week of fantastic arrivals! In our house, birthdays are to be celebrated for thirty days, so I'm just telling myself it's the pub world helping me to celebrate! ;) This week's Mailbox Monday (hosted in July at Mrs. Q: Book Addict). As usual, click on a cover to learn more about the book (link will automatically open in a new tab/window).  What did you get?  Have any of these?

For Review

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Michael Chabon Telegraph Avenue Readalong, July 19

My second of four updates of the Michael Chabon Telegraph Avenue Readalong, sponsored by Emily at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads!). Every Tuesday (roughly) for the next three weeks I'll be sharing my thoughts on the book so be sure to pop by.

This week I'm going to be discussing my general thoughts of Part Two as well as further thoughts on Part One.  I'll be sure to label spoilers.  Sorry again for the novel-length post!

Obviously, I'm a bit behind -- the update was to be posted on Tuesday but I just wasn't finished enough to get my thoughts in order, so I'm doing it today.  I'm glad for the extra time -- after feeling so very prickly toward Telegraph Avenue last week, I did a virtually Google-free read of Parts One and Two, and I'm a lot happier this week than last week.

Reading; or Giving Up Google

It made for a nicer read! I started treating this the way I do a fantasy novel with weird names for mythologies I'm unfamiliar with, and just skimmed over musical references, and as with fantasy novels, I eventually stopped feeling so 'stuck' in the story, and moved along with it.  Not stopping every few pages did, however, make me realize I'm actually kind of exhausted by Chabon's writing style. 

On Prose Stylings

While last week I was pretty smitten with Chabon's bouncing, rhythmic, decadent, excessive, jazzy prose, this week I'm less enamored of it. I'll be honest: I'm even a little tired of it. I will even go so far to say it feels forced, as if Chabon is throwing in odd comparisons and weird alliterative obstacles because he feels like he ought to and not because the story needs it.  (And sometimes, the story doesn't need it.  Sometimes, the story cries out for a little less riffing!)

On Parenting

One of the things that struck me as I reread Part One and worked through Part Two is the juxtaposition of the aspirations of the characters versus their reality. For all their radicalism -- in their youth and even currently -- many of them embody very traditional realities, although with varying degrees of success. I find I feel bad for most of the characters -- in one way or another, they're being failed -- and what has most struck me with this read is the idea of parenthood/fatherhood.  Obviously, we see it most vibrantly with Archy Stallings and his absentee father, Luther Stallings, as well as his non-relationship with his unborn child and Titus, and his mock relationship with the borrowed baby.  Even Nat struggles to connect with his son. 

On Being a 'Bad' Mother

I definitely rolled my eyes when Gwen started berating herself for being a 'bad mommy' (this is from Part One); while it might have been a genuinely in character response, given that Chabon's wife has penned the (in)famous original Bad Mommy handbook, it seemed a bit to much like a kiss-up-y nod, proving how sensitive he is.  I scoffed.

On Being Imperfect

I personally am really challenged by flawed characters in novels that aren't meant to be dark or super morally ambiguous. In a book like this -- not, say, a gritty noir or grim black comedy -- complicated characters frustrate me. Archy isn't bad -- he might be a bit amoral, perhaps -- but he really only owes his wife an answer and an explanation. Yet I take his behavior super personal -- 'how can I like this man when he treats his wife this way?!' -- and it's hard for me to shake off the judging and allow the story to unfold.  That I like Gwen makes me more sanctimonious, I'm sad to admit.

On Cameos

As a rule, in my historical fiction, I don't mind cameos, although I can't say why. I suppose they usually occur during an era I'm unfamiliar with, or don't have emotional connections with, or feel far enough away that I've got distance from the figure. Obama's appearance in this book? I cringed. It was just a little too Forrest Gump-y for my tastes. There's something so twee and self-conscious about the insertion of a currently living celebrity, and to insert Obama? Feels like cheap shorthand. Is this a post-racial Oakland? Let's thrown in the post-racial presidency.

In Conclusion

I'm having a much happier reading experience this week and I'm pretty excited to do my roundup for Part Three. I don't know if this will be a 'love' but despite my earlier grouchiness, I'm liking the book.


Winners galore this week! About ten million, I'm pretty sure. Here they are!

The winner of The Virgin Cure is ... Mirella!

The winner of Brand New Human Being is ... Sarah!

The winner of My Dear I Wanted To Tell You is ... Rayna!

The winner of The Bay of Foxes is ... Nomadreader!

Congrats to everyone! Winners have been emailed and have 48 hours or so to respond; I'll redraw if I don't hear back. If you didn't win, be sure to check out my current giveaways!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Flight From Berlin by David John

Title: Flight From Berlin
Author: David John

Genre: Fiction (1930s / Nazis / Germany / 1936 Olympics / Espionage / Zeppelins / Divorce )
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (7/10/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did -- I breezed through this one.
One-sentence summary: An American party girl turned journalist and a British journalist turned possible spy meet in 1936 Berlin.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- I'm rather fond of these split picture style covers and it feels like they're becoming increasingly common for a certain type of hist fic. If I had my way, some images from the 1936 photos would be featured on the cover...

I'm reminded of...: In the Garden of Beasts, Lauren Belfer

First line: He landed hands first on the wet, sandy soil and rolled over on his side.

Did... I love John's author note about this novel being inspired by what can be found in footnotes?: YES. I adore footnotes -- such a treasure trove of maddening tidbits!

Did... I deeply appreciate the inclusion of 'Notes on the Characters'?: YES. John explains who is fictional, who is historical, and what they really did or didn't do -- fascinating stuff.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you want a light hist fic that offers a slightly new angle to WWII novels.

Why did I get this book?: I'm an Olympics fangirl.

Review: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride for free, says my wife when I'm sighing about something, and she lobbed this one at me recently when I started sighing about this book. I went something like, 'I wish this book would...' -- which unfortunately is a feeling that stayed with me the entire time I was reading.

In this Olympic season, John's novel is particularly timely and I was pretty eager to start it. I'm fascinated by the 1936 Olympics and the pageantry, lies, and horrors involved, and so I was disappointed to discover that the novel's focus shifts fairly quickly away from the Olympics once our heroine is booted from the US Team due to wild behavior on the trip to Germany.

In brief, this novel follows Eleanor Emerson, socialite, wife of a jazz musician, and Olympic athlete, who takes up journalism after her aforementioned antics cause her to be kicked off the US Olympic Team. At the same time, British journalist Richard Denham struggles with his conscience and work contract when it comes to covering the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The two meet, fall for each other, get snarled in a conspiracy involving a top secret dossier about Hitler, and end up on the Hindenberg.

This isn't a bad novel, don't get me wrong, it just wasn't what I wanted it to be, and since I had some knowledge of what John featured in this novel, the story and plot and historical shading just felt too topical. For someone who is unfamiliar with this facet of Nazi Germany, I think this novel will be very gasp-inducing ('That didn't really happen, did it?!', etc.). The writing is nice, straight-forward, not overly detailed (at times, a little too tell-not-show for my tastes, actually), and the cast is manageable. A fast read with enough historical weight to keep it from being too fluffy. John's inclusion of resources he used provided me with a longer TBR as I wanted to get into the meaty details that inspired him.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Flight From Berlin to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/3.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Darkness All Around by Doug Magee

Title: Darkness All Around
Author: Doug Magee

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Small Town / Murder Mystery / Amnesia / Flashback / Alcoholism / Football / Mother-Son Relationships / Second Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (6/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did -- this was a perfect beach read -- easy to dip in and out of, depending on whether I was dipping in and out of the ocean!
One-sentence summary: A woman's small hometown is rocked by the return of her declared dead husband, the resurfacing of a brutal murder, and her own family's violent past.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's nothing special but doesn't bother me.

I'm reminded of...: Jennifer McMahon

First line: It's a body.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for a fluffy, creepy summertime read (or save for October!)

Why did I get this book?: Now and then, I like to get my creepy on!

Review: For a moment, I despaired ever really getting into this novel: the book opens with two brief chapters that were sort of vague, kind of flash back-y, and I felt my interest drifting before I could even figure out the story's hook. Then, thankfully, Magee zeroed in on his heroine and for me, the book got interesting.

While there's not a lot that's new in this book, what is offered is solid: the mystery is dark and twisted, the characters compellingly messed up, the tension creepy, and the setting claustrophobic. In a small, football-obsessed Pennsylvania town, Risa is married to a local politician, Alan, who is running for state office. Eleven years earlier, her alcoholic husband Sean disappeared and was eventually declared dead. Their son, Kevin, is the town's football star. One night, Sean returns to town, sobered up and recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and as his amnesia fades, he claims he remembers brutally murdering their friend. Understandably, Risa is kind of flipped.

I don't read a ton of these thrillers as I'm a big stress bucket and the anxiety of getting to the book's twist can render me a twitching idiot. However, Magee's book had a slow tension that I liked mixed with a kind of emotional exploration that really worked for me. Risa struggles not only with emotional impact of her declared-dead husband's return, but the potential of violence in the people she loves: her husband's addictive tendencies, her son's passion -- and skill -- at football, the implications of her current husband's involvement in the investigation of the murder and her ex-husband's past.

I'm totally over traumatic brain injuries as a plot device, and yet when it surfaced in this novel, it worked for -- and made for a rather compelling character. I'm not a football fan, either, but found the sports/violence angle interesting. (However, a character mentions in passing that Kevin might get some attention from Paterno at Penn State and the only reason I understood this reference was due to the abuse scandal.)

This was a perfect weekend read, easy for me to dip in and out of throughout the day. Creepy enough that I waved off friends to keep reading but effortless enough that I could get back into the story were my friends persistent and successful in pulling me away.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Darkness All Around to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/3.

Monday, July 16, 2012

All He Saw Was The Girl by Peter Leonard

Title: All He Saw Was The Girl
Author: Peter Leonard

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Kidnapping / College Students/ Italy / Mafia / Hostages)
Publisher/Publication Date: The Story Plant (5/15/2012)
Source: Partners In Crime Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Five Americans, one Roman crime syndicate, and a barrage of crimes.
Reading Challenges: A to Z, E-books

Do I like the cover?: Love it! It represents THE scene where the line 'All he saw was the girl...' is used and it has that sharp, sparse, sexy look of a fabulous crime thriller.

I'm reminded of...: Amanda Prantera, Jonathan Santlofer

First line: McCabe watched Chip offer the long-haired guy a cigarette, the guy surprising him, taking the pack of Marlboros out of Chip's hand.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is a fluffy beach crime caper, brisk and entertaining, effortless and engaging.

Why did I get this book?: I was super curious to see how Elmore Leonard's son wrote!

Review: This was an unexpected hit for me. After a slow start -- in which I kept picking up and putting this one down -- around page 80 I suddenly got sucked in, and I found Leonard wasn't doing a standard double cross crime tale.

Initially confusing -- there's about three story lines that eventually come together -- I got hooked by Leonard's breezy writing style and slightly sarcastic style. Quip-y action flick, all popcorn and soda, this was a perfect beach read.

Charles 'Chip' Tallenger III, spoiled son of a US senator, and his roommate William McCabe, scholarship student from Detroit, are doing a semester abroad in Rome. When Chip steals a taxi and crashes it, he and McCabe are arrested and bailed out by Chip's father. Local newspapers misidentify them in a photograph, and low-level Mafia thugs decide to kidnap who they believe to be the senator's son for some quick cash. Back in Detroit, Sharon Vanelli, married to a Secret Service agent, starts an affair with 'Swingin' Joey Palermo, a Mafia thug who, needless to say, is stunned when he discovers Sharon's federal connections. These twists occur early on in the book and I thought I knew where the story was headed, but Leonard pleasantly surprised me. There's some double crossing, and poor life choice decision making, some thrilling chases and shudder-inducing fight scenes. Throughout it all is a kind of sardonic humor, no one quite black-and-white, but amusingly gray, and once the story clicked for me, I found myself racing through this one.

And oh, the ending. It's so ludicrous and odd, but darkly hilarious, and I ate it up. A super satisfying, sugar-buzz of a read.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mailbox Monday, July 16

Another week of arrivals -- this might be my all-time favorite dream achieved summer! It's getting a little obscene. My Mailbox Monday (hosted in July at Mrs. Q: Book Addict). As usual, click on a cover to learn more about the book (link will automatically open in a new tab/window).  What did you get?  Have any of these?

For Review