Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Beginnings: The Mistletoe Murder

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, by P.D. James (2016). This is the first sentence of the book's first story:
One of the minor hazards of being a bestselling crime novelist is the ubiquitous question, "And have you ever been personally involved with a real-life murder investigation?"; a question occasionally asked with a look and tone which suggest that the Murder Squad of the Metropolitan Police might with advantage dig up my back garden.

About the Book:
Four previously uncollected stories from one of the great mystery writers of our time--swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young Adam Dalgliesh) that together, to borrow the author's own word, add up to a delightful "entertainment." 
Initial Thoughts:

P.D. James was one of my favorite writers — I loved all her books, but especially her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. When she died back in 2014, the thought of never having another Dalgliesh to read was a little depressing. So I was very excited to discover this book of stories, and I'm looking forward to getting started on it. Perfect for the season.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  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.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reading Report: The Roanoke Girls

Amy Engel
Crown, 2017; 288 pages

Publisher's Description:

Following her mother’s suicide, fifteen-year-old Lane Roanoke comes to live with her maternal grandparents and cousin, Allegra, at the Roanoke family estate in rural Osage Flats, Kansas, a labyrinthine farmhouse which Lane describes as, “equal parts horrifying and mesmerizing.” She knows little of her mother’s family, other than the fact that her mother ran away years before and cut off all contact with her parents. Allegra, abandoned by her own mother at birth and raised by her grandparents, introduces Lane to small-town life and the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But there is darkness at the heart of the Roanoke family and when Lane discovers its insidious pull she has no choice but to run, as far and as fast as she can.

Eleven years later, Lane is scraping by in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls with the news that Allegra has gone missing. “Come home,” he beckons. Unable to resist the pull, Lane returns, determined to find her cousin and assuage her own guilt at having left Allegra behind all those years ago. Her homecoming might mean a second chance with Cooper, the boyfriend whom she loved and destroyed that fateful summer. But it also means facing the terrible secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

My Thoughts:

This was a VERY dark tale. The publisher calls it "boundary-pushing and provocative" and claims it will keep readers "turning pages even when you want to look away."

Well, it's certainly provocative. I read an advance copy of the book, from NetGalley, and felt obligated to finish it. If it weren't for that, I'm not sure I could have plowed through the whole mess. There were things I liked about it, but they were overshadowed by the subject matter and the way it was presented. Don't want to say too much more — the book's impact really depends on its twists and turns and shocking revelations. But I will say that this one is definitely not an easy read.


(Note: I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through the NetGalley website. No other compensation was received, and no one tried to influence my opinion of the book.)


Qualifies for the following reading challenges: eBook Challenge; New Authors Challenge; New to Me Challenge.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reading Report: The Vanishment

Jonathan Aycliffe
Harper Collins, 1994; 227 pages

Publisher's Description:

It promises to be an idyllic vacation — a lovely old house on the Cornish coast where Peter Clare can finish writing a collection of short stories and where his wife Sarah can paint — a place where they can try to rebuild what is left of their troubled marriage. The spectacular cliff overlooking the sea, the wild gardens and woodlands — everything is perfect, or is it?

From the moment they enter Petherick House, Sarah feels the dark menace surround them and knows they should leave at once. But Peter thinks it's just nerves and dismisses Sarah's fears — until she disappears without a trace. Suddenly Peter can see the shadowy figures in the night and hear a child's desperate weeping, but the nightmare has only begun.

With its chilling undertones of mounting fear and raging vengeance, The Vanishment is a classic tale of terror that reaches into the dark recesses of the imagination.

My Thoughts:

Another book I read earlier this year but never reviewed. I actually started reading this one last year, but put it aside when I was having trouble keeping up with all the advance copies I needed to read. Didn't really remember all I'd read, so I started over and managed to finish in just a couple of days.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Have to admit, though — the main character seemed so totally self-involved and oblivious to the feelings of others, it was hard to develop any real sympathy for him. And some of the action was more than slightly disturbing — as other readers have pointed out, the theme of child endangerment is always unpleasant even though it is traditionally a staple of "supernatural" lit.

Still, with Aycliffe you know going in that the tale isn't going to be a pretty one. It was spooky and kept me up late, reading — and that's mainly what I look for in a ghost story.

Reading Report: The Fifth Petal

Brunonia Barry
Crown, 2017; 432 pages

Publisher's Description:

When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, wonders if there is a connection between his death and Salem’s most notorious cold case, a triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed on Halloween night in 1989. He finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims newly returned to town. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian, is guilty of murder or witchcraft. 

But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

My Thoughts:

Brunonia Barry is a very talented writer, and for the most part I enjoyed The Fifth Petal. I loved her earlier book, The Lace Reader, but felt the sequel (The Map of True Places) represented something of a falling off. I'm happy to say, Barry is back on track with the third book in the sequence.

Almost all the characters in the book (and there are a lot of them) are interesting and well drawn, and there was enough suspense to keep me intrigued right up to the final pages. Can't really ask for more than that, right? The story did tend to ramble a bit in the middle section, and could have used some tightening up. Otherwise, this was a fine read.


(Note: I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one tried to influence my opinion of the book.)


Qualifies for the following reading challenge: eBook Reading Challenge.

Reading Report: An Echo of Murder

Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, 2017; 320 pages

Publisher's Description:

In the course of his tenure with the Thames River Police, Commander William Monk has yet to see a more gruesome crime scene: a Hungarian warehouse owner lies in the middle of his blood-sodden office, pierced through the chest with a bayonet and eerily surrounded by seventeen candles, their wicks dipped in blood. Suspecting the murder may be rooted in ethnic prejudice, Monk turns to London’s Hungarian community in search of clues but finds his inquiries stymied by its wary citizens and a language he doesn’t speak. Only with the help of a local pharmacist acting as translator can Monk hope to penetrate this tightly knit enclave, even as more of its members fall victim to identical brutal murders. But whoever the killer, or killers, may be—a secret society practicing ritual sacrifice, a madman on a spree, a British native targeting foreigners—they are well hidden among the city’s ever-growing populace.

With the able assistance of his wife—former battlefield nurse Hester, who herself is dealing with a traumatized war veteran who may be tangled up in the murders—Monk must combat distrust, hostility, and threats from the very people he seeks to protect. 

My Thoughts:

Number 23 in this popular series. I've read other books by Anne Perry, but this was my introduction to the William Monk novels. It definitely won't be my last. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a good blend of historical detail and suspense. A little dark, but not overwhelmingly so. And I really enjoyed getting to know Commander Monk, Hester and young Scruff, the orphan taken in by the Monks.

My only (slight) complaint is that the killer was a little too easy to spot, almost from the beginning — I would have been happier with just a bit more mystery. Still, this is one I'd recommend to anyone looking for a good historical detective tale, and I'm looking forward to reading some of the earlier books in the series.


(Note: I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one tried to influence my opinion of the book.)


Qualifies for the following reading challenge: Historical Fiction Challenge.

Reading Report: Tell Me How This Ends Well

David Samuel Levinson 
Hogarth Press, 2017; 416 pages

Publisher's Description:
In 2022, American Jews face an increasingly unsafe and anti-Semitic landscape at home. Against this backdrop, the Jacobson family gathers for Passover in Los Angeles. But their immediate problems are more personal than political, with the three adult children, Mo, Edith, and Jacob, in various states of crisis, the result, each claims, of a lifetime of mistreatment by their father, Julian. The siblings have begun to suspect that Julian is hastening their mother Roz’s demise, and years of resentment boil over as they debate whether to go through with the real reason for their reunion: an ill-considered plot to end their father’s iron rule for good. That is, if they can put their bickering, grudges, festering relationships, and distrust of one another aside long enough to act. 

My Thoughts:

I received my copy of Tell Me How This Ends Well free of charge from the publisher through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. And when I requested the book, I honestly thought it sounded like something I'd enjoy. Turns out, I was not completely right about that.

I had trouble sticking with this one, and after reading it earlier this year I didn't really know what to say about it — which is why it's taken me so long to get any sort of review written. I still don't know exactly what to say about it, because I think there's a glimmer of a really good novel here; but it needs a lot more work. I think a couple of rewrites and a lot of trimming would certainly help. And while I'm a fan of dark humor, I didn't care for the way this book sort of hits you over the head with it — Levinson keeps pointing it out for you, just in case you've missed what he's trying to do.

I did enjoy some things about the book — loved the character of Diet and the relationship between him and Jacob, youngest son in the Jacobson Family; and the dying mother Roz was well-written and nicely developed (the section of the story seen from her point of view is some of the book's best writing). So it's not a terrible work, but it's very scattered, takes too much time to develop into anything interesting, and is much, much too long. I just think what it really needs is another draft.

Qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Authors Challenge; New to Me Challenge.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Family Tree Reading Challenge

I did such a dismal job on all my reading challenges during 2017 that I really have no business thinking about challenges for 2018. But you know how it is — with all those shiny new challenges being rolled out right now, there's no way I can just ignore them.

And the Family Tree Reading Challenge, hosted by Becky @ Becky's Book Reviews, is (I think) new this year (at least new to me) and pleasingly different. The goal of the challenge is to read books from the birth years of your family members — at least three books, and at least three family members (you can include yourself in the mix). You can read more about the challenge over on the announcement page.

So what will I read? Well, on my mother's side of the family, I have four cousins, born in 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1960. On my father's side, I have thirteen cousins, so I'm going with Mom's branch of the tree. That means I'll be reading at least one book from each of those four years. I haven't settled on specific books yet, but I've got a list of some possibilities over on my challenge blog, and that's where I'll be tracking my progress.