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Book 41

Frank IncensedFrank Incensed by Don Massenzio

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received the book in exchange for an honest review which did not influence this review in any way. This is book three but my first so it took me a moment to get my footing. It's a quick read, more suspense than mystery, centering on Frank Rozzini, former detective in NY and now a P.I. in Florida. Several years back some actors in organized crime killed his wife and effectively ended his career as he was separated from his children who went into the witness protection service.

Now, a monster from his past has raised its ugly head. One of the mobsters wants Frank to help him and Frank is put into a terrible position, assist the man who destroyed his family or let the man kill the new love of his life. Frank, with the assistance of his computer savvy friend, Jones, have to stay one step ahead of the villain or Frank will lose another woman he loves.

It was an entertaining suspense story. I'm glad I got to read it. The title is punny as many mystery/suspense books are.

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The school of Tom Clancy continues to turn out thick page-turners featuring the work of the standard cast of intelligence officers operating as a quasi-public, for-profit corporation.  (See also Locked On, Threat Vector, and Support and Defend.)  We'll look at Full Force and Effect, also by Mark Greaney, for Book Review No. 6.  Let's keep the story-line vague for those who are contemplating buying the book.  Doing clandestine work for profit is not just for Loyal Patriotic Americans, and pariah nations (yes, meet the old Axis of Evil) have commercial interests, and there's expertise to be hired from among drug-runners.  The rest follows from there.  How boring would a world where everyone buys into The Brotherhood of Man be?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 32

ZombieZombie by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe a 2.5. I've wanted to read something by Oates but I didn't pick out one that really did much for me. Honestly I picked it up because I'm doing an alphabet challenge and needed a Z and didn't want to read actual zombies. The dust jacket says 'powered by the subtle enthrallment of a master storyteller with the imaginative courage to think the unthinkable, accept the unendurable and say what has never been said so searingly and scarily...

Um, nope. Sorry but no. All she did was fictionalize Jeffrey Dahmer's hunting techniques and mix in a little John Wayne Gacy (burying in the earthen cellar). Sorry but that's all this is. It was published a year after Dahmer's murder so was probably written at the height of the interest in Dahmer.

The narrator is Quentin P_ (yes written like that. All names are written with just the first initial and an underscore. We only know his name is Quentin from other characters) and this reads like his journal but is meant to be his internal thoughts so there is chaos and time skips and the like. Quentin is a poorly disguised Dahmer and Gacy. Like them he hunts young men for sex and like them he wanted to keep them with him forever. Dahmer's method of this was to try and lobotomize the and both real killers were known to sleep with the corpses in their rooms as Quentin does.

So this is a relatively short book as we watch Quentin hunt. His family thinks he's getting help (he's on probation for raping a mentally challenged boy). We're treated to sessions with his family, his probation officer, his psychiatrist but most is about being caretaker at his grandmother's former house now turned into a boarding home for students. Quentin likes this (his father doesn't. He still expects Q to achieve something) because of the privacy and that earthen basement he can hide his mistakes.

The rest of the book is about all the men he's captured, raped and killed by accident trying to turn them into the titular zombie. This was, in fact, Dahmer's MO. That is his goal to create a sex slave incapable of leaving him, of telling him no and for some reason, will tell him 'fuck me in the ass until i bleed blue guts.' I'll be damned if I know what blue guts are but okay.

And the construction of the whole thing is weird because RANDOM words are CAPITALIZED in the sentences throughout. Some are emphasizing things but others really make no sense. Couple that with this weird affectation & I said. & he said & she said....all over the place.

The ending was also a big let down in many ways. Quentin spends half the book telling us why he should never do this to anyone who has a family who will miss him and naturally he falls for someone local who does and well you can find out for yourself what does or doesn't happen.

You'd be better off skipping this and going to read some true crime books. They're more frightening because it's true. This is just a very obvious take off on the real thing.

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Book 31

PursuitPursuit by Gene Hackman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Honestly that third star is pretty generous of me. It's more like 2.5 or lower. Mr. Hackman is a better actor than he is a writer. Not that the story was entirely bad but the characters were flat. The biggest emotional responses were from the villain of the piece. In fact, we get to know him best and that's not what I look for in a mystery/suspense book.

Sergeant Juilette Worth was involved in a shooting at a mall and is 'punished' by having to work the cold case files (that was problem number one for me. As I understand it, this goes to experienced detectives, not to someone in lieu of 'desk duty.' Worth finds a link between several cases of missing women but not much of one until someone tries to run her off the road and kill her.

It's driven home that she might be on to something when her best friend is murdered and her daughter kidnapped by this man. Of course we know who it is because we spend a ton of time with the killer/kidnapper/rapist. We do need to because this wouldnt' work otherwise but we spend more quality time with him than we do Worth.

Like I said, not a bad set up but it's really hit and miss. There's very little emotional context for Worth, especially when it comes to losing her friend. She does better with her daughter. But all the characters are flat as three day old pop.

There seems to be some sort of agenda when it comes to health care professionals too because they're all assholes. The psychiatrist who works for the police and Worth has to see her, accuses Worth of being a murderer. Um...okay. The doctor who tends to Cheryl, Worth's daughter, more or less accuses Worth of being the one to hurt her (somehow missing the police guard on this girl). I got the idea that Hackman had some issue with doctors.

And the ending was just plain bad. I hated it.

Would I read another one by Hackman? If the library had it, maybe. (The only other one I know of at this moment is a Western so...)

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Book #16: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Number of pages: 483

Once bitten, twice damned.

That tagline should be enough to tell you that you are reading a vampire novel. It seems oddly clichéd for Stephen King, but then this was one of his first novels, written back in the 1970s.

It felt a bit different from his other books, maybe because it had a large number of characters. The length of the book feels a bit daunting at first, as does the length of time it takes to introduce main characters, but mostly this is quite an accessible story, with a straightforward plotline, whereby residents of a small town start becoming vampires, and you can tell that things aren't going to end well.

Overall, I didn't think this was one of Stephen King's best books, but I loved the fact that I was able to care for all the characters and the way in which small-town America was portrayed.

Next book: Love to the Uttermost (John Piper)

Number of pages: 292

I was excited when I received this book as a present, not having known Gillian Anderson (formerly Agent Scully in The X-Files) had co-written a book.

This story feels worthy of the X-Files, and feels similar to some of their plots with its science fiction elements. It's also book one in a series called the Earthend Saga, which gives an idea of what the tone of the story is.

The principal character is a child psychologist called Caitlin, who is called in to deal with a girl who starts speaking in tongues and hallucinating. The main plot thread of the story involves what is happening with the girl, and Caitlin starts bonding with her. Caitlin evidently has some psychic powers of her own, and starts having apocalyptic visions/dreams.

There are other plot elements, including a boy who sets himself on fire, a girl who almost drowns on dry land and animals exhibiting strange behaviour, and you start getting a sense that something ominous and even apocalyptic is happening. It seemed quite topical, what with all the people nowadays who are trying to predict when the world as we know it will end.

I quite enjoyed the story; the characters were engaging, and I liked the way they were constantly joking with each other, stopping the story from being too heavy, while not detracting from the drama. I liked the fact that the book ended on a cliffhanger that presumably is to set up the second book in the series, and it's something that I want to stick with to see what happens next.

Incidentally, it takes a while for there to be any answers in this book, but without giving too much away...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

It does involve the discovery of a lost civilisation from millions of years ago, who apparently had flying ships.

Next book: The 100 most Pointless Arguments in the World Solved (Alexander Armstrong & Richard Osman)

Book #7: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Number of pages: 310

This is a book that I was keen to read for a while after I read about it.

To explain this one, I have to give some background, regarding the character of Professor James Moriarty, regarded as the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. For the benefit of any Sherlock Holmes newbies who might wish to read the books without being spoiled, I'll put this behind a spoiler cut, although what it reveals is quite well known. This is just a fail safe to make sure I don't get complaints.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes books, he decided to kill off his main character in a story called "The Final Problem". This story introduced Professor Moriarty, and ended with the apparent death of Holmes, plunging down the Reichenbach Falls in a struggle with Moriarty.

Following the public outcry, Doyle eventually resurrected Holmes, with the story "The Empty House". This book fills in some of the gap between the two adventures.

The story is certainly set within the canon of the Sherlock Holmes novels, only here the main characters are Frederick Chase and Athelnay Jones. Moriarty is apparently dead, which might make it seem strange that the book is named after him (you'll have to wait and see - it all becomes clear).

Following the discovery of a body believed to be that of Moriarty, Chase and Jones are required to track down a new criminal mastermind, who is now replacing Moriarty in his arch-villain role.

Right from the start, I found this book to be gripping, with sharp dialogue and well-rounded characters. I enjoyed the writing style, told in first person by Chase, and it gives a good sense of his personality right from the start. It also made the story feel very true to the original stories, which were mostly narrated in first person by Doctor Watson.

I enjoy reading any story of Sherlock Holmes, including versions by modern-day writers (Stephen King has also written a Sherlock short story, "The Doctor's Case"), and I loved the way that Anthony Horowitz made reference to other stories in the series (word of warning: there are a lot of spoilery references to "The Sign of Four"). I also loved the gritty way that London in the 1800s was portrayed.

I also loved the fact that, when it looked like things could go nowhere, the ending took me completely by surprise and also felt completely right and satisfying. It really is something you won't see coming.

The main story was followed up by a short story narrated by Doctor Watson, involving him and Holmes, which was loosely connected to the main story, and felt just as authentic.

Overall, I loved this book and now want to read Horowitz's Sherlock novel, "The House of Silk".

Next book: Why Christians Should Support Israel (Mike Evans)

Book 13

Crazy Love YouCrazy Love You by Lisa Unger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won an ARC for this from Goodreads which doesn't influence my review. This was a hard one to rate. It was more of a 3 to 3.5 for my own tastes but writing wise, the fourth star is warranted. I really wanted to like Ian and I did up to a point. I'm a sucker for a tragic back story and boy, does he ever have that. I'm also a huge comic book/graphic novel reader so the fact he is an indie graphic novelist was a big plus for me.

However, Ian is a bit hard to like. Let's face it, many books (especially YA and romances) have a rose-colored view of the angry boy with a tragic past. Ian is not that. He's far more real and that's one of things that makes him harder to like. He's deeply flawed. He's by his own admission an asshole and an addict. He takes pills to make him focus, weed to mellow him out, booze, whatever it takes. This is probably a more honest, if ugly, look at what that tragic past does to a kid. But it also leaves me wondering why Megan wants him (beside the 'she's a care taker' excuse).

Ian's story opens when he tells us of how he met Megan and wooed her. She's a would-be novelist from a highly successful family of authors (and an only child) working as a nanny when Ian sees her in the park with the child she takes care of. It's a rocky start but once they get going, things are still not easy.

The story flips back and forth between his past and his life with Megan. Without giving too much away, let's just say Ian's mother suffers from schizophrenia and post partum psychosis and has been institutionalized for years. Ian met Priss during this dark time. Priss is an angry girl from The Hollows, a bucolic New York town, that he met in the woods on his property near the abandoned house and graveyard. Priss appoints herself his protector and back then Ian needed her. He was fat, acne-ridden, not athletic and prey to your typical high school bullies. Priss protected him. As he got older, Ian got into shape but Priss was always there for him, beating up drug dealers and things like that.

Ian parlays his relationship with Priss into a well-paying indie graphic novel up to be made into a movie, Fatboy and Priss. In fact it's so successful he can afford an apartment that costs six grand a month. I have to admit that bugged me a bit. When I said I'm into graphic novels, I meant I know a lot of indie graphic novelists and none of them could come close to this (Ms. Unger researched it, naming her sources so I'm guessing this can happen but when something is counter to your own experiences it's tough to buy into them).

But now is the time to separate himself from Priss who doesn't like sweet, kind Megan. However, as we learn and I don't want to spoil too much, we're not sure if Priss is real, a ghost or a multiple personality. Schizophrenia does run in families and Ian has black out episodes of rage. So as his life begins to implode you're left wondering is it Priss or is it really Ian?

Now this will be a spoiler because I think it's important to mention because it's a trigger for a lot of people. So if you don't want to be spoiled you can stop reading now.

I had two rather big problems with the book in the middle chapters. One was it started going down overly familiar lines of stalkers such as mysterious draining of bank accounts, non-payment of rent, calling people to say Ian had lost his book contract etc (which is oddly not handled fully at the end. I guess we're to assume this was all drug related). I could handle that but it felt a bit slow.

What almost stopped me from reading was an on-screen rape by Ian. (Keep in mind this is an ARC so it might not be in the final product but I'm betting it is). I do not want to read stories where the protagonist is a rapist. Granted it starts as consensual sex but quickly progresses to rough non-consensual sex and Priss accuses him of being a rapist afterwards. Their relationship is dark and raw throughout the book but this nearly was a deal breaker for me. Keep in mind we don't know yet if Priss is real, ghost or imaginary. I kept reading because a) I did get this in exchange for a review and I always finish those b) other than that, it was well written and c) the power went out and frankly what else did I have to do but finish this.

I did enjoy the book over all. I thought the middle was a bit longish. I started feeling the length after a while and just wanted Priss to start doing whatever it is she was going to do. Once he got to the Hollows for the last time, the book really took off. The ending was very good if a bit too pat and happy for how damaged these characters are.

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Book #49: Inferno by Dan Brown

Number of pages: 461

In his fourth appearance in a Dan Brown novel, the protagonist Robert Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital, with a head wound and no recollection of how he got there.

This sets off the usual race against time and set of cryptic clues, as seen in previous books in the series, most notably "The Da Vinci Code". This time, the clues relate to the Inferno from Dante's Divine Comedy, which is eventually linked to a conspiracy aiming to reduce the world's population.

While Dan Brown is quite impressive at writing thrillers aimed at intellectuals, I didn't think this was a great book, perhaps not surprisingly as the formula for the Robert Langdon novels is starting to feel repetitive. I remember getting annoyed that at times Langdon's knowledge of the Inferno seemed a bit patchy, and there was at last one error (being pernickety, he said the heretics get sent to the seventh circle of Hell - it's actually the sixth).

The other main problem I had was that about half the book seems to be chase sequences, usually with Langdon racing away from yet another set of adversaries. Also, while Dan Brown gives detailed and vivid depictions of all the places his characters visit, I started to feel that these were just to pad the story out a bit, and it started feeling like it was stretched out a bit.

Also, there was the occasional and sudden switching of points of view, that didn't seem to fit well - for example, describing an escape from the sewers from how it is perceived by a bystander. Most of the characters it switches to seem to be completely anonymous, and personally I think trying to get into a character's head without even telling us their name is a bad idea in terms of storytelling.

The book had some good points; it kept me on my toes about who was on whose side, and had one completely unexpected plot twist that showed a lot of events from a different angle, but there was plenty of stuff I didn't like. It was interesting that the plot veered into science fiction territory with its references to a man-made plague. However, the final few chapters just got way too talky for my liking.

Overall, not the best Dan Brown book I've read, but it inspired me to start reading The Divine Comedy again.

Next book: The More than Complete HitchHiker's Guide (Douglas Adams)

Book #48: City of Thieves by Cyrus Moore

Number of pages: 439

I was keen for a while to read a thriller set in the world of business, so took an interest in this title.

The book revolves around Niccolo Lamparelli, who joins a banking firm within London's Square Mile. As you might imagine, the book revolves heavily around characters being corrupt, and the bank's chief executive is shown to be a very shady and unpleasant character.

The book starts off with Niccolo impressing his bosses, but you can tell that behind the scenes some very dodgy characters are monitoring him, and after his climb up the firm's hierarchy, things start going wrong.

The pivotal moment comes around half way through the story, with a murder taking place, and this heavily influences the rest of the plot.

Overall, I thought this was a bit predictable but overall very well told, although a lot of the first half of the book seemed to be sleazy male characters making perverted comments about female colleagues and obsessing with casual sex.

Also, while I was a little annoyed the characters seemed to take far too long to prove the killer in a murder, where it was obvious to the reader who was guilty, there were much more good bits than bad bits. Niccolo is a character that you will mostly side with (although he proves to be slightly frustrating at times), and I loved the fact that he and his best friend Jack were given a backstory set around them meeting a Japanese sensei when they were children. The significance is explained later on, too.

There were some chillingly realistic moments too, particularly a scene where hundreds of bank employees get suddenly told their are redundant and escorted out of their workplace. Apparently that isn't too far from the truth at all.

The other good thing about the book was that the end, which was a little different to what I'd expected, did not disappoint.

Next book: Inferno by Dan Brown

Books 18-23

-fl -tlvs -ttheart


#18: The Tell-Tale Heart -- by Edgar Allen Poe [short story, horror, suspense, psychological]
Summary: (not author's) A man sets out to prove that he is not insane.

  • Comment: This is the first example of Poe’s writing I’ve read and honestly, I can see why the guy is so popular. I was so absorbed by the story that I couldn’t even recall breathing until it was over. Stories like this--ones that are morbid, and dark, and psychologically thrilling--are my absolute favorites.

#19: The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock -- by T.S. Elliot [poetry, modernist]
Summary: N/A

  • Comment: When it comes to poetry, I prefer mine to be as short and blunt as possible. This poem is the exact opposite of what I look for in a poem, but I fell in love with it anyway. I only sought the poem out in the first place because it was referenced to in a story I was reading, and I was wholly unimpressed with it after the initial read. Honestly, I didn’t understand a word of it. Still, parts of the poem really stuck with me so a few days later I went back to re-read it…and re-read it...and re-read it...

#20: First Love -- by Emilia Pardo-Bazan [short story, romance]
Summary: (not author's) A boy's first love.

  • Comment: I loved the way this was written, the pacing of it, the flow, and more importantly, the message(s) it conveys. This is the kind of story that’s utterly predictable and yet highly engaging because of the language.

#21: Running Like a Girl -- by Alexandra Heminsley [non-fiction, autobiography, health]
Summary: In her twenties, Alexandra Heminsley spent more time at the bar than she did in pursuit of athletic excellence. When she decided to take up running in her thirties, she had grand hopes for a blissful runner's high and immediate physical transformation. After eating three slices of toast with honey and spending ninety minutes on iTunes creating the perfect playlist, she hit the streets—and failed miserably. The stories of her first runs turn the common notion that we are all "born to run" on its head—and expose the truth about starting to run: it can be brutal.

  • Comment: Not only was this an immensely enjoyable story, but it was eye-opening and informative, as well. Not to mention hilarious. The author’s wit combined with the admittedly funny pitfalls of her journey made what could have been a very dry read very entertaining. I'd recommend it to anyone, even those with little interest in running.

#22: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1 -- by Laini Taylor [young adult, paranormal, romance]
Summary: Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

  • Comment: I cannot put into words what an experience this story was. It’s probably strange to say, but the story felt a bit like a strip tease. A slow unraveling where you were showed a hint of skin here, a flash of skin there, and had to patiently--or impatiently, as it was--wait for the clothes to come off, unable to do anything to speed up the course. That’s not usually the kind of story I’m into, being an instant-gratification kind of girl, but in this book I enjoyed every moment of the process.

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#23: Days of Blood and Starlight #2 -- by Laini Taylor [young adult, paranormal, romance]
Summary: Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war. This is not that world.

  • Comment: Sequel to “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”. While more painful than the first book, this was no less an enjoyable and riveting read. Probably moreso, to be honest. Once again the author swept me up in her gripping storytelling and refused to let go.

Book #41:The Dark Half by Stephen King

Number of pages: 461

George Stark
1975 - 1988
Not a very nice guy

I felt there was probably something semi-autobiographical about the premise of this book, in which the main character, Thad Beaumont, "kills" his alter ego George Stark, the pseudonym under which he wrote a number of ultra-violent pulp thrillers.

Stephen King himself used to write under the pen name Richard Bachman; I haven't read any of the books he wrote as Bachman, so I don't know how they compare to his other books (except that I doubt any are more shocking than Pet Sematery, which he didn't write as Richard Bachman). I do know that some writers like to use a different style when using a pseudonym - Ruth Rendell writing profanity-laden detective novels under the alias Barbara Vine, for example.

This book quickly turns into a brutal pulp horror novel, as several people are murdered in ways that ape killings from George Stark novels, and it quickly becomes clear, to Thad at least, that George Stark has somehow taken on a physical form and is attempting to prolong his own existence. It turns out that they are linked in more ways than one, in a manner that relates to the book's prologue, set during Thad's childhood.

The book gets very creepy quite fast, with sparrows becoming menacing in a way that consciously mimics Hitchcock's The Birds (and presumably the novel it is based on), although most of the unpleasant stuff comes from the fact that Stark starts to physically deteriorate, taking on a more and more gruesome visage.

Overall, it's quite a simple story, made more exciting by Stephen King's recognisable style, with the usual pop culture references (I have noticed that he likes to mention cartoons a lot), and I doubt any other writer would come up with the chapter title, "The Psychopomps are coming". I had read this before years ago, but couldn't exactly remember the plot very well. I found it to be gripping from start to finish.

Next book: Middlemarch (George Eliot)
Book 153: The Accidental Apprentice.
Author: Vikas Swarup, 2013.
Genre: Contemporary. Suspense.
Other Details: Paperback. 436 pages.

What would you do if, out of the blue, a billionaire industrialist decided to make you the CEO of his company? No prior business experience necessary. There is only one catch: you need to pass seven tests from the 'textbook of life'. This is the offer made to Sapna Sinha, an ordinary salesgirl in an electronics boutique in downtown Delhi, by Vinay Mohan Acharya, one of India's richest men. Thus begins the most challenging journey of Sapna's life, one that will test her character, her courage and her capabilities. Along the way she encounters a host of memorable personalities, from a vain Bollywood superstar to a kleptomaniac Gandhian. At stake is a business empire worth ten billion dollars, and the future she has always dreamt of. But are the seven tests for real or is Acharya playing a deeper game, one driven by a perverse fantasy? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when this was chosen as a reading group selection. Obviously I had heard of Swarup's Q & A, filmed as Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle but had not read it or seen the film. The Accidental Apprentice seemed to be another rags-to-riches fable as this young woman is approached with this extraordinary offer that could transform her and her family's lives. I was hooked from the opening page mainly because the author places a compelling teaser about later events. That teaser paid off and the story and characters proved very engaging. I found it a very enjoyable read.

The novel proved a hit with all but one member of the reading group. It also generated discussion about its themes and setting. We all agreed that the author provided a very vivid portrait of contemporary India.

Vikas Swarup's web page for 'The Accidental Apprentice' - includes link to excerpt (see if you can resist the teaser in those opening lines).

Book #35: Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

The book's narrator, John Ridd, falls in love with the eponymous Lorna Doone. However, things are complicated by the fact that one of Lorna's family killed John's father, stirring up bad blood between the two families, resulting in a romance story that almost feels like Romeo and Juliet.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect of this book, imagining it to be a gothing, Jane Eyre-type story, but for a while (except for the killing of John's father), this felt like a more gentle story regarding John and Lornas' feelings for each other, that made me wonder if they would manage to have a future together.

As I got further into the book, it felt a bit more like an adventure story at times, as it portrayed John and Lorna fleeing from the Doones, and later on there were also some exciting depictions of battles, some between John and the Doones and also an account of John's involvement in a historical rebellion. Although at times I felt that it got a bit long-winded, with John going on about his feelings for what seemed like several pages at some points, I liked the fact that the book had several plot twists that I did not see coming, some shocking. I wasn't surprised to find that the drama was not over until the story's main villain (in this case the obnoxious Carver Doone) was finally dispatched with, and I found the book's final confrontation to be very satisfying.

Overall, I was glad that I read this book; it was very enjoyable and compelling enough to keep reading to the end.

Next book: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Book #34: The X-Files Season 10, Issue #7

by Joe Harris, Elena Casagrande, Silvia Califano, Arianna Florean & Azzurra M. Florean

Number of pages: 22

Twenty years ago, an episode of The X-Files featured one of their most memorable (and bizarre) monsters ever, the "Flukeman", effectively a cross between a human and a fluke, created in the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

The comic book series has created a sequel that replaces a single Flukeman with a whole army of them (kind of like Alien and Aliens, really), in a story entitled "Hosts". I missed Issue 6, and this issue contains only the second and final part of the story, but thankfully it wasn't hard to pick up.

The story opens with a flashback to Russia in 1986, which has some parallels with the opening of the original Flukeman story, before launching into a particularly gruesome attack sequence involving the mutant horde.

The second half of the story is particularly gritty, but also largely an expository section that partially explains the backstory, plus there is more gruesome and bizarre stuff to come. The plotline is particularly dark, more so even than most of what I ever saw on the TV show, and the story seems a bit cryptic since nothing is spelled out for the reader, so you might have to go back and re-read a few times as there are lots of things you can miss easily.

Suffice to say that, while this inevitably isn't up to the quality of the 1994 Flukeman story, this is a decent horror-based X-Files plot that manages not to just feel like a standard episode, and the last moment with Mulder and Scully is unsettling. As for the grand guignol ending, just remember that in the world of The X-Files, most people who are shown using a toilet meet with some very gruesome demises.

The other thing I liked about this issue was the artwork; I remember having mixed feelings about the previous artwork I had seen, which seemed a bit too dark and grainy; the pictures here are very detailed and capture the likenesses of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson very well; I am hoping that future issues I read will use the same artists.

Next book: Lorna Doone (R.D. Blackmore)

Book #27: Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier

Number of pages: 302

Mary Yellan arrives at the eponymous Jamaica Inn following the death of her mother. This is the home of her Aunt Patience, who is living in fear of her aggressive husband, Joss Merlyn. The story largely revolves around Mary's struggles with her family, while Joss is revealed to be a smuggler; it sets up a gothic story that also involves hints of romance between Mary and Joss' brother Jem.

I read this book again because I recently watched the BBC's adaptation of the book, which was largely criticised for having actors who mumbled a lot (I didn't notice this at all); I found it good to read it just after watching the TV version as it helped me to visualise what was happening, and I found the book to be just as enjoyable as when I read it before, with the sense of atmosphere and the build up of excitement, with some shock revelations before the book's climax.

The copy that I read has a blurb that compares it to gothic novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and I could definitely see this, both in the settings of the book and the brutal nature of many of the scenes. It also has some nicely unexpected twists that you probably won't see coming, and it is very easy to care about Mary right from the start.

This book was written in the early 20th century, although it does have the feel of something written in the mid-19th. I feel that I should probably read some more of Daphne DuMaurier's novels.

Next book: Doctor Who: The Vault (Marcus Hearn)

Books #10-11

10. Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, 474 pages, Suspense, 1995 (Pendergast, Book 1).

Murder in the Museum! The New York Museum of Natural History is about to open its new exhibit, Superstition, when two young boys are found murdered in one of the museum basements. A tragic incident, but also the start of a series of murders. Museum researcher Margo Green, her advisor Dr. Frock, NYPD Lieutenant D’Agosta, and FBI Agent Pendergast from Louisiana, all work to prevent more murders as they try to figure out the strange being who is doing them. It starts okay, kind of typical, but ends strong.

11. Reliquary by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, 464 pages, Suspense, 1997 (Pendergast, Book 2).

It’s been 18 months since the Museum Beast and the murders of Book 1. The characters have moved on, to varying success and trauma, from the incident. When two skeletal remains are pulled from the water, Dr. Margo Green and Dr. Frock are put on the team to try to determine the identity of the 2nd skeleton, which is very deformed and all too reminiscent of the Museum Beast. Since the groundwork for this novel has already been laid, it doesn’t have the slow start the 1st one did. And the details about the social structures of those who live below-ground in New York City makes for a vivid and memorable book.


Book 89: The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly

Book 89: The Sick Rose.
Author: Erin Kelly, 2011.
Genre: Psychological Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 352 pages.

"You kept my secret. I know yours now. That makes us even"

Paul has been led into a life of crime by his schoolyard protector, Daniel - but one night what started as petty theft escalates fatally. Now, at nineteen, Paul must bear witness against his friend to avoid imprisonment. Louisa has her own dark secrets. Having fled from them many years ago she now spends her days steeped in history, renovating the grounds of a crumbling Elizabethan mansion. But her fragile peace is shattered when she meets Paul; he's the image of the one person she never thought she'd see again. A relationship develops between them, and Louisa starts to believe she can experience the happiness she had given up on; but it soon becomes apparent that neither of them can outrun their violent past . . .
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This proved to be another highly effective psychological thriller from Erin Kelly in which a woman is haunted by a difficult relationship from her late teenage years that still impacts upon the present some twenty years later. Then she meets Paul, who comes to work on the garden restoration project that she is overseeing while he is waiting to testify in a murder trial. Their relationship develops quite organically as both are outsiders and troubled by the secrets they hold.

I enjoyed Erin's slow reveal of the events of the past moving between Louisa in 1989 and Paul earlier in 2009 as well as how the chemistry between Louisa and Paul sparked changes for them. I don't want to say too much about how it ended except that Erin Kelly delivered a double whammy. In addition to a strong plot and complex characters, Erin Kelly infuses her novels with a strong sense of place; whether it be Warwickshire, Essex or the streets of London in the late 1980s. I know from attending her talks that she does walk the streets of her locations and then brings them to life via her rich descriptions. Kensington Market, now sadly demolished, was a highlight for me as it evoked memories of my time in London during the 1970-80s when this was a major centre of alternative culture

This was a library reading group selection and there was a mixed reaction, as indeed there often is. Still this difference in opinions resulted in a lively discussion about the motivations of the characters and various plot points. One key issue was whether the age and class difference between the characters was a barrier to accepting them as a couple. Was it a case of arrested development for her? For myself, the fact that Louisa was somewhat frozen in time since the events of 1989, did explain aspects of the attraction.

Quite a few members chose to borrow her next novel which suggests that they wanted more and there was also interest shown in her first novel The Poison Tree, which I have read a couple of times and rate very highly.

In the USA this was published as The Dark Rose, which struck me as an odd choice as it abandons the William Blake reference as well as an aspect of rose gardening that Louisa makes in the course of the novel that proves an important metaphor for her relationships.

I'm counting comic books amongst my 50 book total.

The reason I started with this one was just because this was the earliest in the comic book store I looked in; I'm now borrowing the book with issues #1-5 in it so hopefully that will cause things to make more sense. This is set after the ninth season of the show (and presumably the second movie too). Anyhow, spoilers...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

The comic book opens with Scully attempting to save Mulder's life after he has been shot; there is a lot of spooky stuff going on, including some apparent illuminate-like cult following them, and since this is the last story in a five-part serial, it quickly leads to a climactic confrontation with an alien bounty hunter.

The second half or so of the story is all about wrapping stuff up, which includes Scully enlisting in the F.B.I. again and an appearance from the show's chief antagonist, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, evidently having somehow survived being nuked at the end of the show's run on the television - he is speaking to someone whose face isn't seen properly, but who is evidently meant to look like Walter Skinner (now promoted to Deputy Director); I suspect this is probably a red herring.

Overall, this seems quite good; most of what happens seems quite open-ended, and raises lots of questions, much like many of the alien-based stories that were on the show itself. The front cover is excellent, though I had mixed feelings about the artwork inside; some of it is really good, while some seems too dark and grainy, and you can barely see anyones' faces properly. Some of the pictures of Mulder looked nothing like David Duchovny.

However, based on this, it feels like the comic book series could have a long lifespan.

Next book: Unseen Academicals (Terry Pratchett)

Book #6: The Shining by Stephen King

Number of pages: 512

Although I've seen Stanley Kubrick's The Shining several times, I've only just read the book it is based on, a decision I made mainly because of the recent release of its sequel, Doctor Sleep.

As I understand it, Stephen King does not like the 1980 movie of his book, and I saw him interviewed on TV recently, saying that the wife was "a misogynistic character", a point that it was easy to understand. I'm aware that this was the reason why Stephen King wrote a TV miniseries based on his own book in the late 1990s, which I saw before watching Kubrick's version.

I actually love both versions I've seen, but thankfully the book was even better than both.

It opens with the central character, Jack Torrance, accepting a job as caretaker at the Overlook hotel, where he and his family will stay alone through from September to May while it is closed to visitors. Meanwhile, his son Danny is having frightening dreams and visions, bought on by his apparently imaginary friend, "Tony"; the visions include someone or something chasing him through the Overlook hotel and a dead body in a bathtub. The book sets up the characters with painstaking detail, including the fact that Jack is a recovering alcoholic and that he recently broke Danny's arm (apparently by accident).

As anyone familiar with either the movie or miniseries will know, something isn't quite right at the hotel, and Jack soon discovers that several murders have taken place there. Soon lots of spooky stuff starts to happen, including visions of a dead woman in room 217 and hedge animals with lives of their own (one of the creepiest aspects of the book). However, Danny has discovered that he has a psychic connection (the "Shining" of the title) with the hotel's cook, Dick Halloran, who he can summon to the hotel if anything bad happens. Eventually the spooky stuff starts affecting the family badly, mostly in that Jack slowly undergoes a personality change.

That's about all I can say without being too spoilery, but needless to say I loved this book. Stephen King has written it in his own unique way that really feels like it is getting into the heads of his own characters. I remember that while I loved Stanley Kubrick's version, Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrence was as a dislikable character almost from the start; an obnoxious, bullying chauvinist. In this version, you really get the sense that he cares about his family, which makes his transformation all the more shocking. I noticed too that Stephen King's TV version was more faithful to the book, even that changed a few aspects; in particular, the climactic moments were much more shocking and gruesome than anything I've seen either in film or TV, particularly the fact that:

[Spoiler (click to open)]In the Stanley Kubrick movie, Jack chases Danny into the hotel's maze; he has completely changed personality and stalks him until Danny escapes and the final shot before the credits shows that he has frozen to death, and has not been able to redeem himself in any way. Stephen King's screenplay for the TV version involved Jack dying, but he did so heroically and saved the hotel.

In the book, Jack is said to be completely dead on the inside, and the hotel is just controlling his body (although he does briefly regain his senses and tries to save Danny), but he doesn't appear to do anything heroic; he just dies tragically.

I also enjoyed the fact that, in his typical style, Stephen King does not rush to get to all the gruesome stuff but instead takes things slowly and builds up the atmosphere throughout. Overall, a superb book and I would recommend it to anyone.

Next book: The Last Hero (Terry Pratchett)
Both of these novels are partially set in Tuscany and Florence.

Book 23: The Sonnet Lover.
Author: Carol Goodman, 2007.
Genre: Romantic Suspense. Mystery.
Other Details: Large Print Hardback. 437 pages.

Rose Asher is a literature professor at Hudson College in New York City. Her star pupil, Robin, writes her a letter in which he raises the tantalising question as to whether there exists a series of passionate sonnets written by Ginevra de Laura, a 16th Century Italian poet who might be Shakespeare's Dark Lady. However, before Rose can discover more tragedy strikes. In order to uncover the truth Rose accepts the position of historical consultant for a movie about Ginevra de Laura based on a screenplay by Robin that will be filmed at La Civetta, the magnificent Tuscan villa that had been her home. Twenty years ago Rose had studied there as an undergraduate and had fallen in love with her married tutor, who broke her heart when he returned to his pregnant wife. Bruno Brunelli is still in residence at the villa long with his wife. Rose is torn between her mission and the feelings she still has for her former lover though her current flame is also along on the trip.

The plot is packed thickly with intrigue, scandal and secrets and Rose becomes unsure who she can trust. Meanwhile, in the background summer school students waft about rehearsing Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummers' Nights Dream, which adds a rather surreal quality to the narrative. The descriptions of Tuscany and Florence are exquisite though it doesn't make up for a rather muddled and overly melodramatic plot. This muddle isn't helped by the publisher's official synopsis, which states that the lost sonnets everyone is so keen to get their hands on are by Shakespeare rather than by Ginevra de Laura, which is odd and makes me think they haven't actually read the novel.

A minor niggleCollapse )

I still enjoyed the novel but to a lesser degree than other of her novels that I have read to date. I also wished that there had been some form of author's note at the conclusion.

About 'The Sonnet Lover' - I would have appreciated this information as Author Notes in the novel itself.

Book 24: A Room with a View.
Author: E. M. Forster, 1908. Appendix, 1958.
Genre: Modern Classic. Period Fiction. Romance. Comedy of Manners.
Other Details: Paperback. 256 pages.

This Edwardian social comedy opens in Florence as Miss Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett, arrive at The Pension Bertolini and find that their rooms do not have the view that they were promised. Fellow English travellers, Mr. Emerson and his son George, offer to swap as their rooms do have a view. This kind offer rather flusters Miss Bartlett as to whether it is proper. Finally, at the urging of clergyman Mr. Beebe, Miss Bartlett accepts their offer. Over the course of the visit George finds himself attracted to Lucy and vice versa though Lucy strongly suppresses her feelings. George is working class while she is from a well-to-do middle class family. When Lucy returns to England she accepts a marriage proposal from the snobbish Cecil Vyse, much to the astonishment of her mother and brother. However, a chance meeting between Cecil and the Emersons leads to Mr. Emerson taking a cottage close to the Honeychurch home and bringing George and Lucy back into contact.

This was a delight from start to finish with rich descriptions of Tuscany and Surrey as well as a moments of wit and musings on the nature of art and love as well as some examination on issues of class that were breaking down in the Edwardian period. The style, while not as dense of Proust's, does reflect the time it was written and as such demanded a quite close reading.

I am unsure after finishing this novel whether I had read it years ago or if repeated viewings of the Merchant-Ivory film adaptation made me think that I had read it. I certainly didn't recall Forster's 1958 Appendix - 'A View without a Room' in which he gave details on how his characters had fared in the 50 years since the novel was published. It was a charming few pages that I appreciated and suggested that for Forster these characters had a life of their own.

Again this was a library reading group selection, chosen as a second book for January. Some members loved it while others found its style and narrative voice somewhat stilled. I was firmly in the love category.

Number of pages: 108

This is Jubilee Line information. We would like to apologise for the inconvenience while we are being held in the tunnel. This is due to a crisis in capitalism.

The first line of John O'Farrell's novella demonstrates the absurdity that runs throughout it, as it portrays a dream sequence in which people find themselves stuck on an underground train in a tunnel, in a dystopic version of London where their transport system has gone bankrupt. The book's cover alone was enough to make me keen to read this, with its picture of Karl Marx and Margaret Thatcher, who people with vastly different political ideologies, sitting side-by-side on a train.

The book's events are narrated by the dreamer, who I presume is O'Farrell himself. There is an immediate social commentary on what public transport is like in Britain, with the surprise that people are talking to eachother, which (as the narrator observes) only happens if something is going wrong. It soon becomes apparent that there are a lot of differences in political opinion, with a right-wing passenger getting into a lengthy debate with a left-wing passenger while the others look on. Most of the debating ends up as a discussion of how the tube was constructed; in this case, it is all about London's Jubilee Line, "so called because its opening had missed the Queen's Silver Jubilee by two whole years", with a lot of commentary and critique about how its construction, including a few wry observations (Neasden has the only level crossing on the tube system - "And still it struggles to attract the tourists").

Through a series of increasingly bizarre announcements, it becomes apparent that the tunnel is starting to flood due to bad construction work, and the passengers are told to get off the train and walk to safety; the two characters from the left and right wings both suggest going in opposite directions, both believing they will be walking towards the safer part of the underground line that is not flooding.

The whole story has a wry, satirical tone as it looks at the different political views that are expressed by its characters, and at times becomes incredibly absurd; for example, at one point in the narrative, Noam Chomsky and Roger Scruton appear seemingly from nowhere and end up in a fist fight. The whole thing does start getting a bit overly political, and John O'Farrell describes himself as quite left wing, and it shows from some moments near the end that almost feel like he is getting up on his soapbox.

Overall, this was an unusual story; partially it forms a bizarre story set on the underground, but it is also a political commentary and also an excuse for O'Farrell to demonstrate his very detailed knowledge of London's underground network. I mostly found this book enjoyable though, despite it feeling like a surreal and politically-charged version of another book I recently read, William Leith's A Northern Line Minute. At its best I found this book to be hilarious and very entertaining, despite how scathing and cynical it became at times.

Next book: Know and Tell the Gospel (John Chapman)

UK Cover
Book 2: The Thirteenth Tale.
Author: Diane Setterfield, 2006.
Genre: Gothic Mystery. Period Fiction.
Other Details: Paperback and Unabridged Audio (14 hrs,15 mins) Read by Jenny Agutter.

Margaret Lea is surprised to receive a letter from one of Britain's most prolific and well loved writers, Vida Winter, requesting that Margaret travel to her Yorkshire home with the view to writing her authorised biography. Margaret is not a well-known biographer and is perplexed as to why Miss Winter has chosen her. She prefers classics to modern literature and has not even read any of Miss Winter's books. While pondering whether to accept she opens her father's rare copy of Miss Winter's Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation and is enchanted by what she reads. She discovers that there is no thirteenth tale and intrigued by this mystery decides to meet with Miss Winter.

She finds out quickly that Miss Winter is dying and is eager for her life story to be recorded. Miss Winter promises her a ghost story and a story about twins and it is this that finally convinces Margaret to stay as she had discovered at the age of ten that she had a twin, who had died shortly after their birth. It turns out to be a story full of dark family secrets centred on Miss Winter's childhood home Angelfield, a now burnt-out estate near Banbury, Oxfordshire. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in this strange and troubling story.

Audio Cover
The novel's narrative voice switches between Margaret's as she records Miss Winter's story and investigates the events at Angelfield House and the stories recounted by Miss Winter. It is a novel that consciously references the Gothic tradition yet does so with a modern awareness. It is the kind of novel with an appeal for bibliophiles as novels such as Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, and Henry James' haunting 'The Turn of the Screw' are mentioned as literature as well as their elements being incorporated as part of the narrative.

It was certainly was an accomplished début. Its time setting seems to be deliberately obscured as it seems to be set in the near past though the author quite clearly avoids mentions that would evoke any specific date and no references to the 21st century are present. Margaret writes letters and uses the telephone so no mobiles or computers. It is an intelligent, multi-layered story exploring themes of loss, death and the sense of identity gained from family and place.

I am so glad that I finally got around to reading this atmospheric mystery. I have had it for ages but this winter was spurred into action by the BBC showing its adaptation over Christmas. I knew from the novel's reputation that it was important to stay spoiler-free, which I did and I am glad that I read the full work before watching the drama, especially as there were some changes in the screenplay.

Diane Setterfield's web page on 'The Thirteenth Tale' - includes link to opening chapter.

Book 1


Books #41-52 of 2013

41. Thunderhead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, 483 pages, Mystery, 1999. Norah Kelly finds a letter from her father telling about his archeological adventure that has him on the road to the fabled city of gold – Quivara. She heads an expedition to follow her father’s trail, not realizing how dangerous the road is, much less the evil as they approach the find of the century. A rollicking adventure of natural calamities, skinwalkers, and human greed – it may start a little slow, but it really delivers if you stick with it a little while.

42. Throttle: A Tale Inspired by “Duel” by Joe Hill and Stephen King, 42 pages, Suspense, 2009. An e-book short story inspired by Richard Matheson’s “Duel”, finds father and son authors writing about a father and son in a motorcycle gang. They are at odds after a particularly gruesome deal gone wrong. On the road later, a semi truck starts running down members of the gang. I liked the way the strained relationship between father and son comes across, and the storytelling is good. But I didn’t like the subject matter.

43. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen, Illustrated by Jonathan Case, 234 pages, Graphic Novel, 2011. The son of Tom Jensen, one of the detectives who worked the Green River serial murders, wrote this graphic novel about his dad’s work. While it does jump around a bit in time, it clearly marks when in the story we are. Excellent book about a serious topic, it was done well and was quite compelling.

44. Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, Volume 1 by David Lapham, Illustrated by Mike Huddleston, 150 pages, Graphic Novel, 2011 (The Strain Graphic Novel, Book 1). The introduction says it is not just a direct retelling of the book in graphic form. What it is, is a very strong beginning to a vampire plague that I want to read more of. They end this book shortly after the virus starts to spread. I also need to pick up the novel and give that a try.

45. Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 356 pages, Mystery, 2008 (In Death, Book 26). Lt. Eve Dallas is assigned a salacious case of a wealthy man murdered during what appears to be a sex act while his wife is out of town. But there are problems with the scene that leads Dallas to believe that there is something going on here, anything but what the scene appears to be. It’s beautiful, the way she took down the perpetrator in the end.

46. Death Walker by Aimee & David Thurlo, 380 pages, Mystery, 1996 (Ella Clah, Book 2). Ella Clah has left the FBI to become a special investigator with the Navajo tribal police force. So she is first on the case when a serial killer targets those who are teaching others about Navajo traditional beliefs and ways. Excellent book, not afraid to stand by traditional interpretations of events, but also modern systems of order.

47. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh, 369 pages, Humor, 2013. I have been a fan of the popular blog, Hyperbole and a Half, for many years now. And I’m thrilled to see her work turned into a book.

48. Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 353 pages, Mystery, 2008 (In Death, Book 27). A priest is poisoned by the sacramental wine while performing funerary rites. Lt. Eve Dallas thinks it is an intensely personal kill. But then a televangelist performing in NYC is killed by poison in his water bottle, and the priest turns out to be a former local gang banger masquerading as a priest. Serial killer or copycat becomes the question of the day. This book was incredibly easy to read; I enjoyed it very much.

49. Promises in Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 342 pages, Mystery, 2009 (In Death, Book 28). Once you read a series for a long time, a series you like, the characters become as real as friends and family. I look forward to reading what adventures Lt. Eve Dallas is up to, along with the rest. This book was hard to read, because of that. Chief Medical Examiner Morris has been an important character. And this time, Eve has to tell him his lover is dead. Not only was she his lover, she was a cop and it looked like she was killed while doing the job. It may have been a rough read emotionally, but it was a nicely twisted plot with just the right amount of revenge.

50. Kindred in Death by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts), 374 pages, Mystery, 2009 (In Death, Book 29). A good cop’s daughter is brutalized, raped, and killed in their home, and Lt. Eve Dallas must catch the perpetrator quickly. Unfortunately, she’s not quick enough, as the crime is repeated on a realtor about to be married. It isn’t until she makes a startling connection between the victims, which her millionaire husband, Roarke, helps with some holographic tech to save time in interviews, that Dallas is able to close the net. I would like to take a moment to gloat – while my goal for YEARS has been 50 books, this is the first year I have reached it.

51. Bad Medicine by Aimee & David Thurlo, 369 pages, Mystery, 1997 (Ella Clah, Book 3). The Reservation is on edge, and racial tensions at the mine lead to murder and reprisals. Add to that a tribal leader whose daughter dies after ingesting peyote laced with poison, mysterious illnesses, a vendetta against the Medical Examiner, and more, anything can happen. Ella Clah works the cases as much as she can with a mixture of solid police work and her preternatural premonitions.

52. Inferno by Dan Brown, 462 pages, Suspense, 2013 (Robert Langdon, Book 4). Art historian and symbologist Robert Langdon wakes up in Florence, Italy, with his last memory being walking across campus at Harvard days earlier. Trying to recreate the memories, he follows the clues he still has, aided by a young doctor, Sienna Brooks. Robert and Sienna traipse across Italy, increasingly concerned that what they are trying to find has dire consequences if not figured out in time. And then what little Langdon has put together takes a different turn when he finds out how long he’s been lied to. Dan Brown actually surprised me, completely turned the story around, and even channeled a bit of Michael Crichton toward the end. Very nicely done, even though I still wish his stories would come with maps and building diagrams.

Book #67: Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Number of pages: 472

The plot synopsis of Rosamund Lupton's second novel is as follows:

Black smoke stains a summer blue sky. A school is on fire. And one >mother, Grace, sees the smoke and runs. She knows her teenage daughter Jenny is inside. She runs into the burning building to rescue her.

Afterwards, Grace must find the identity of the arsonist and protect her children from the person who's still intent on destroying them. Afterwards, she must fight the limits of her physical strength and discover the limitlessness of love.

Personally I think this doesn't do the story justice. The prologue talks about Grace being "trapped under the hull of a vast ship wrecked on the ocean floor", and then tells of her swimming in a vast ocean. However, all of this turns out to be in her mind and we then learn that Grace is in a coma, but she is also having an out-of-body experience. At this point, the story flashes back to the fire at the school, in which Grace's daughter was trapped, before resuming the narrative in the present.

The story revolves around Grace's family and friends attempting to find out who started the fire, and the main suspects include a hate mailer and a recently-sacked teacher; also, it is apparent that someone wants to kill Jenny, who is also in a coma.

On the surface, this could have been a mystery thriller no different from any other, but the fact that the events are seen through the eyes of Grace while she and Jenny (both in the form of invisible spirits) watch the proceedings. The whole story is narrated by Grace, and Rosamund Lupton uses the same narrative style used in her first book, Sister, of having the narrative addressed at another character; in this case, she is talking to her husband, while she follows his every move. Throughout the story, Grace's home life is occasionally described through a series of flashbacks.

The whole storyline builds up to a shocking revelation, but what really made this story enjoyable for me was the portrayal of the relationship between Grace and her family, particularly her daughter and the way her love is expressed in her thoughts and actions. The book goes into a lot of depth about Grace's emotions and thoughts throughout. I loved the way that the out of body experience that was central to the book gave the story a supernatural twist, which gave it a sense of being something of an urban fantasy, as well as a suspenseful thriller.

Overall, I thought this was a good book and would definitely recommend it to others.

Next book: Good News of Great Joy by John Piper

Book #65: Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 316

This book once again gives significant parts to Death and his Granddaughter, Susan. In this story, however, Susan is called upon by Death to team up with the Monks of Time to stop the creation of a clock that can stop time altogether, ending the world. Death, meanwhile, is busy rounding up the other horsemen of the apocalypse to ride out together at the point where inevitably time stops completely. The story also focusses on the monks, in particular Lu Tze and his apprentice, Lobsang Ludd; the story also features Nanny Ogg, who reveals a dark secret about a baby she once helped deliver. Incidentally, it is also the fourth consecutive book to feature one of the "Igors", who first appeared in a cameo during "Jingo".

I have found this to be one of the better Discworld novels of recent times, although it gets incredibly bizarre at times, particularly the unexpected twist regarding two of the story's characters. Not surprisingly, a lot of the humour is taken from Biblical prophecies from the book of Revelation, but there are some other moments of typical Pratchett genius too.

The main villains of the story are the sinister auditors, who are attempting to end the world; this leads to a Reservoir Dogs-based running joke whereby they start naming themselves after different colours; however, there are so many of them that they start running out of colours. The book also features a brilliant James Bond-inspired sequence with Lu Tze and Lobsang meeting a character named "Qu". My other favourite moments included War being under the thumb of his wife, a sequence involving the Auditors having to follow all signs literally and the concept of a forgotten fifth horseman of the apocalypse.

Overall, this is a decent story and more importantly, an original one.

Next book: Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
Book 198: The Night Villa.
Author: Carol Goodman, 2009.
Genre: Romantic Suspense. Historical Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 420 pages.

After a devastating event, classics scholar Sophie Chase takes a research position in a project excavating the Villa della Notte - the Night Villa; once home to a slave girl whose lawsuit to gain her freedom had been the subject of Sophie's doctoral thesis. The villa had been covered by layers of volcanic ash following the eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Concealed in the villa's subterranean labyrinth rests a cache of ancient documents believed lost that is of great interest to Sophie and her fellow researchers but also has attracted the attention of a sinister cult that draws its inspiration from ancient traditions. Sophie's long-term boyfriend had joined the cult some years before and broken with her. Now they have resurfaced in a number of unsettling ways.

As with the other Goodman novels I have read the theme of pagan rites is central to the plot. She does an excellent job of setting the scene in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Sophie finds herself in the typical position of the heroine of a romantic suspense novel of not knowing who she can trust. I had assumed from the back cover blurb that the novel would be set in two time periods but rather than this there are sections of ancient texts that the researchers translate and read out to one another. I enjoyed it very much, finding it an engaging read.

Book 199: The Book of Fires.
Author: Jane Borodale, 2009.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 18th Century England.
Other Details: Paperback. 406 pages.

It is 1752 and pregnant with an unwanted child 17-year old Agnes Trussel runs away from her home in rural Sussex. Before leaving she finds her elderly neighbour dead and steals her savings. Once in London Agnes finds herself overwhelmed by the city though soon comes across the household of John Blacklock, a firework maker. He hires her as his first female assistant and she learns to make fireworks eventually joining Blacklock in his quest to create more spectacular fireworks. As the months pass she struggles to keep her pregnancy a secret from Blacklock and the household. There is also the matter of the stolen coins, which weigh heavily on her conscience.

I found with a nagging feeling that I had read something very similar a few years ago. Checking my shelves at Goodreads I found this was The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark, which also was set in 18th century London and featured a pregnant runaway. However, I felt more empathy here with Agnes and her circumstances than I ever did with Monsters' Eliza and this was a more uplifting story.

The novel managed to surprise me as things happened that I didn't expect and vice versa. Some teasing on part of the novelist perhaps? I felt it was a sound historical novel in terms of its story, characterisation and setting. Something that would make an excellent BBC mini series. This was a reading group selection that won't be discussed with others until later this month as a special library event bumped our October meeting.

Book #57: Sphere by Michael Crichton

Number of pages: 385

An apparently alien spacecraft has been found at the bottom of the ocean, and when a team of scientists arrive to investigate, they find that it houses a bizarre spherical object. This is just the start of Michael Crichton's tense sci-fi/horror novel, which entirely revolves around the attempts to unravel this mystery. Things start to get very scary, particularly with the appearance of a giant squid that attacks the scientists' submarine.

I remember reading previous Michael Crichton novels and finding them to be a bit long-winded and full of overly technical speak, and this seemed true for this novel at first, which seemed very slow to get going. However, the book became increasingly gripping as I read further into it, and I found it hard to put down. I found myself loving the characters, who all felt very well-rounded, and there was a good sense of camaraderie between them.

The story becomes more intense quite early in when the characters find that they are stranded under the ocean for an indefinite period of time, and the book starts to feel very claustrophic, with tensions gradually mounting between the characters. I found the writing style to be reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series, and with the underwater setting there were inevitable echoes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Michael Crichton, aware of this, put in a few references to Captain Nemo). The best part of this story is the subtlety of how it is written, so when the apparent alien inhabitant of the sphere shows up, it's not a case of some bizarre monster appearing, but it is manifested through the mysterious "Jerry" sending increasingly sinister messages to the crew, and forming a presence not untlike 2001's HAL. I found the appearances of the giant squid that attacks the main characters to be particularly alarming.

The best thing about it was that it built up to a very tense and gripping climax, which I enjoyed immensely. A recommended book.

Next book: The Fifth Elephant (Terry Pratchett)

Number of pages: 835

I made the decision to read the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series after hearing lots of good things about the Game of Thrones TV series, and enjoying watching the first season.

My impression of the storyline was that it was sort of like a fantasy soap opera for adults, with the large number of characters and intertwined plotlines, but I found that it grew on me easily.

This first book introduces the reader to the various characters, as George R.R. Martin's world is home to a large number of families, with the kingdom ruled by Robert Baratheon, with Ned Stark as his right-hand man. The book talks about the fierce rivalry between the Stark and Lannister families, which escalates into a battle later on in the book.

Quite early on in the story, Ned's son Bran Stark is pushed out of a window while eavesdropping and there is lots of talk about a conspiracy revolving around the death of Arryn Stark. There's another storyline about Danaerys Targaeryn living with a tribe known as the Dothraki, which also involves dragons' eggs. This is also mostly at the behest of Danaerys' obnoxious brother Viserys, who has been promised a "golden crown".

The next bit contains spoilers, so I'll put it behind a cut:

[Spoiler (click to open)]

When Viserys finally receives the crown, needless to say it isn't what he'd expected, as he succumbs to a very original death, which involves molten gold being poured over his head. The later parts of the book also deal with the King's desire for Ned Stark to take over the throne as his spoiled son and heir, Prince Joffrey, is too young to be King yet. However, Joffrey is having none of this and has Ned arrested as traitor.

Now, comes the shocking part that I did not expect; after Ned Stark - told he will go free - acknowledges Joffrey as King, he is beheaded anyway. I think I was particularly shocked when I watched the TV version, having not read the book yet, as I was expecting him to somehow be rescued. However, this is a book where every character can be killed off without much warning, and that's what makes it all the more exciting to read.

I found it useful to read the book after watching the first season on TV because it made it easier to follow what was going on at times. What makes this fantasy series original is that it focusses significantly on all of the behind-the-scenes political dealings, mostly related to the various feuds taking place. This does mean that the story is very character-driven and there is a lot of talking, but the dialogue for all characters is written very well.

Overall, I enjoyed the way this book was written, as it was very descriptive about what the world was like, and went into a lot of detail about backstories. There was a good impression of atmosphere, particularly in the sequences revolving around characters in the Night Watch. While at times it felt a bit long-winded, I found myself compelled to keep reading so despite the book's length I got through it in just over a week.

A recommended book.

Next book: The World According to Bob (James Bowen)



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