October 14th, 2009


Books 103-105 Three Thrillers

All of these books form part of series that I've been reading.

Book 103: The Secret Speech
Author: Tom Rob Smith, 2009
Genre: Thriller. Historical. 1950s Russia.
Other Details: Hardback. 453 pages

Three years have passed since the events of Child 44 (my 2009 Book 55) and continues to detail the life of former MGB officer, Leo Demidov. I won't say too much about the plot to avoid spoilers for the first book.

Smith again has based his story around real events, this time the lead-up to the 1956 uprising in Hungary. The title refers to a secret speech made by Nikita Khrushchev in a bid to distance the new regime from the violence of Stalin's era. In the fall-out from Khrushchev's speech (supposedly secret but swiftly leaked throughout the country), many of Stalin's former henchmen suddenly feel dangerously exposed. Smith inserts Leo Demidov into these historical events as he also needs to come to terms with his activities while working for the MGB and deal with someone from his past determined to extract revenge for one betrayal.

Smith again delivers a gripping thriller that evokes a strong sense of the period. There is quite a lot of action in the plot and it really was impossible to put down.

Book 104: This Night's Foul Work
Author: Fred Vargas, 2006. Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds, 2008
Genre: Police Procedural. French.
Other Details: Hardback. 416 pages.

This is the fifth in the series of Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries and was the winner of the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger for best translated crime novel of the year .

This volume take place a few weeks after the events chronicled in Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands (my 2009 Book 60) and though some background is given, the character development works best if the books are read in sequence. Adamsberg has just bought a new house, which has the added bonus of "seven corpses in the garden and a ghost with a face like a walnut". Two people from Adamsberg's past appear on the scene. Acting pathologist, Ariane Lagarde is someone with whom Adamsberg clashed early in his career when he had questioned her findings linked to a possible suicide. The other is a new member of his team, who hails from a neighbouring village to the one where Adamsberg lived as a boy.

Two suspicious deaths lead to a strange and convoluted case involving the disturbed graves of virgins and the death of stags. There is also a brilliant cat in this book, Snowball, who emerges as a major asset to the Serious Crime Squad. As I've said before Vargas' books are not going to be to everyone's taste because of their Gallic sensibilities and eccentric characters. For me though all of her books have been winners.

Book 105: Doctor No (James Bond No 6)
Author: Ian Fleming, 1958.
Genre: Spy Fiction.
Other Details: Penguin Edition with Introduction by Simon Winder. 320 pages.

After the events in From Russia with Love, Bond is sent on a rest cure to Jamaica coupled with a simple assignment to investigate the disappearance the local Secret Service Station Head. The Governor of Jamaica believes that he has run off with his Secretary but the reader knows that both met a more sinister fate. Once on the island, Bond soon tangles with the minions of the sinister Doctor No, who owns a small island off the coast named Crab Key. On an investigative trip to the island with his friend, Quarrel, Bond meets the beautiful shell hunter Honeychilde Rider and they soon become the guests of Doctor No..

Again this is a sharply written spy novel and very much of its period. It was the first of the Bond books to be filmed in the early 1960s.
blue shoes

43: The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Book Forty-Three

Title: The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper
Author: Kathleen Y'Barbo
Page Count: 352
Genre: Christian, Historical Romance

Synopsis/Thoughts: Eugenia Cooper is the daughter of a wealthy New York City socialite, and as such she is expected to do her part and marry the man of her family's choosing. This means banker Chandler Dodd, who by all accounts isn't bad, just a bit boring. She secretly dreams of a Wild West adventure, like the ones she reads about in her favorite series of dime novels, titled Mae Winslow, Woman of the West. When she gets the chance to secretly take over the post of governess for a wealthy silver baron's daughter in Denver, Colorado, she jumps at it. She expects to simply have her adventure and come home in time to be married, but when she begins to have feelings for her employer, Daniel Beck, it looks like things won't be so simple after all.

This is another book I won through Goodreads' First Reads program. Parts of it were pretty entertaining, but the main problem I had with it is that it requires MAJOR suspension of disbelief. I am by no means someone who feels like everything in books has to be believable and strictly historically accurate and so on and so forth, and I am more than willing to forgo some realism for a rip-roaring good story. But the idea that Gennie, being of marriageable age and a member of a very wealthy and powerful family, would just be allowed to hare off to the Wild West in the 1880s is completely absurd to me. And then when her parents find out about everything, they are totally fine with it. Other events in the book strike me as being similarly preposterous. All it basically boils down to is that this is a romance novel. True, it is a Christian romance novel, so there is no bodice-ripping and the racy bits are limited to a couple of steamy kisses, but at heart it is driven by the same idea as all other books of the genre: Beautiful Girl falls in love with Handsome Guy, Handsome Guy has a tortured past, Beautiful Girl has reservations about Handsome Guy, it looks for awhile like events might conspire to keep them apart...but in the end they live happily ever after. Basic plot and character development and coherent writing take a backseat to making sure the reader is completely aware of how well Handsome Guy's hand fits into the small of Beautiful Girl's back, how Handsome Guy is intoxicated by the way Beautiful Girl smells like roses, and how Handsome Guy makes Beautiful Girl's insides turn to jelly every time she sees him.

Which is totally fine, because that's what some people want in a book and there's nothing wrong with that. I guess I was just hoping for something with a bit more substance based on the summary. I think it would please readers who are more interested in the romance genre, with the added benefit of it being clean (which, some would argue, defeats the purpose of a romance novel altogether). I felt totally comfortable lending it to my grandmother to read. It even had a touch of suspense. So all in all, I wouldn't call it a bad book, just a "not-my-type" book. If you want a cute romance with a touch of Wild West flavor thrown in, you might want to check it out!


To the west of Cold Spring Shops headquarters is this row of houses. From the rear, they give the aspect of a large Executive Box house (that's a term I learned in the late 1970s, which at that time referred to a standard two-story, four bedroom house that could be put up just about anywhere). From streetside, these have the gables and columns that have become more popular of late, and a perusal of the real estate listings (a number of these being on the market at distress prices) reveals that many have the atrium configuration that has also become more popular today. There are two or three floor plans among these houses. Decks are an extra-cost option and the ones you see went up at different times over the last two or three years (some of these houses being older than headquarters, where the deck was part of the plan from the beginning).

I was under the impression that contemporary builders of tract houses offered a limited variety of floorplans in order to amortize architectural costs and take advantage of learning curves (until a recession approaches: that's the time to talk about optimizing your basement for a train room) and that a subdivision would contain houses of comparable designs in a narrow price range as a consequence of those supply-side incentives.

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