What I read: September 2013

What I read: September 2013

I got through a ton of books this month, though to be fair half of them were short mysteries, so it’s not like they were tough to breeze through! Some of this month’s picks were awesome and some were terrible, with a few in-between. As you can see, I went on a bit of an Agatha Christie bender this month, but I worked in a few other titles and genres as well.

Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 240 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. Hercule Poirot arrives at an archeological site just in time to solve a classic “locked room” murder of a woman who claimed that her ex-husband was stalking her…from beyond the grave? This one had some good twists in it and I thought the end had a pretty clever explanation.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 212 pages). 3 out of 5 stars. Tommy and Tuppence try to solve a series of mysterious goings-on involving an elderly woman raving about dead children and a painting of a house that Tuppence finds eerily familiar. This one wasn’t quite as smooth as Christie’s usual mysteries but it had an okay reveal at the end.

Indemnity Only, by Sara Paretsky (hardcover, 184 pages). 2 out of 5 stars. I really loved Paretsky’s drama Bleeding Kansas (which I read last month) so I was hoping I’d love her V.I. Warshawski detective novels, too. In this book V.I. is a tough-as-nails private eye trying to track down a mystery client, a banker’s dead son, and a missing girl with ties to the Chicago unions and mobs. Overall, I think this series is just okay, but maybe not really my cup of tea.

Deadlock, by Sara Paretsky (paperback, 320 pages). 2 out of 5 stars. V.I. Warshawski tries to untangle the details surrounding her cousin’s mysterious death at a shipyard. Again, this was just okay.


The Moving Finger, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 299 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. Oh, Miss Marple. There’s nothing better! I bolted down a total of eight Miss Marple mysteries this month. Here, Miss Marple is called in to assist in the case of some “poison pen” letters that lead to a suicide and a rash of terror in a small village.

At Bertram’s Hotel, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 223 pages). 2 out of 5 stars. This one didn’t really have the clever plotting of the typical Christie mystery and it seemed like it was pretty easy to figure out the mystery. I looked up some “best/worst” lists and it seems like this is a universal pick for one of the less impressive Christie mysteries.

The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie (hardcover, 191 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. When the body of a lounge dancer appears in a distinguished colonel’s library, Miss Marple is called in to clear his name in her death. This one had a more intricate plot and an interesting twist at the end, and since it’s so short, it’s a great read-in-one-sitting title.

4:50 From Paddington, by Agatha Christie (hardcover, 286 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. Also known as What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, this is probably one of the best Miss Marple mysteries. When her friend Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a murder on a passing train, but no body surfaces, Miss Marple enlists the help of a smart maid to scope out a mysterious old estate and get to the bottom of the case. This one has a pretty smart set-up and has one of those “aha” moments at the end where you realize it should have been obvious all along who was behind the murder, even though it didn’t seem apparent at the time!

A Pocket Full of Rye, by Agatha Christie (paperback 220 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. Another great advance set-up. Miss Marple investigates the sudden death of a businessman found with a pocket full of rye, and tries to discern the intent and identity of the murderer using the nursery rhyme. Another “aha! Why didn’t I guess that person?” reveal at the end.

Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie (hardcover, 288 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. This is the first Miss Marple mystery and establishes her ability to solve a crime based on the smallest of details. And it’s a good thing, too, because after a man is murdered she has two separate confessions and a very long list of suspects to sort through!

Sleeping Murder, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 303 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. A young woman purchases a house and begins having flashbacks of a murder that occurred there–but she seems to be the only one who knows of any such event. Miss Marple warns her of the dangers of delving into the past, but in the end, of course, we know that everyone starts digging around in a bid to solve the crime! I felt like it was a little easier to guess the villain than it should have been, but it was still a very good mystery.

A Murder is Announced, by Agatha Christie (hardcover, 288 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. A newspaper announcement lists a time and place for a murder, throwing a village into excitement; when a murder actually occurs, however, Miss Marple is called in to piece together the unlikely events of the night and find out what really happened when the lights went out at Letitia Blacklock’s house.

Spirit of Lost Angels, by Liza Perrat (paperback, 378 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. I reviewed this title in full here. This was a great piece of historical fiction and I really enjoyed it overall.

Breaking the Devil’s Heart, by H.A. Goodman (Kindle edition, 352 pages). 3 out of 5 stars. I reviewed this title in full here. This was a weird blend of fantasy, horror and philosophy but overall I think I liked it. It was definitely thought-provoking and really makes you rethink your concept of what defines good and evil.

Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick (hardcover, 391 pages). 1 out of 5 stars. This was my “burn it with fire” moment of the month; I ranted at length about this title here. I’m not a fan of the Twilight series but this book made that whole franchise look like a gem.

Don’t forget to hook up with me on Goodreads here and send me your book recommendations! And remember to come back tomorrow to sign up for the Booktober swap–I’m cohosting with a bunch of my blogging besties and it’s going to be awesome.

The A to Z of books (tag)

Over the weekend Erin Celeste posted The A to Z of Books, and since I’ve been in such a bookish mood of course I had to join in! You can see her answers here. If you want to do the tag too, I’d love it if you left me a comment so I can be nosy and see your answers. :D

Author You’ve Read The Most Books From…
R.A. Salvatore–I got really sucked into the world of The Forgotten Realms and the adventures of the dark elf Drizzt a few years back. And by the time I got done, I think I’d plowed through about two dozen books set in that world!
Best Sequel Ever…
Um…I can’t really think of any sequels that jumped out at me as being really awesome. If anything, I’m usually disappointed! I guess Pandemonium (Delirium #2, by Lauren Oliver) was surprisingly good.
Currently Reading…
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Everyone made a huge deal about this book, so we’ll see if it lives up to
the hype!
Drink of Choice While Reading…
I agree with Celeste–tea! You have to have tea!
E-reader or physical book?
I get most of my books from the library, so physical. If I had to buy them all, I’d be torn–I love physical books, but they do take up a ton of room. When I do splurge, I try to only buy paperbacks to save space.
Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School…
Probably Four from Divergent (Veronica Roth). Tattoos, blue eyes, rough around the edges with a heart of gold. Mmhmm.
Glad You Gave This Book a Chance…
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. I don’t usually go for love stories or YA fiction but this one was really good.
Hidden Gem Book…
Uh…not sure?
Important Moment in Your Reading Life…
Isn’t every moment important?
Just Finished…
A ton of Miss Marple mysteries by Agatha Christie. A must-read for any mystery lover!
Kinds of Books You Won’t Read…
Again I’m seconding Celeste and saying, romance novels. I don’t mind romance alongside adventure (as in Outlander) but if it’s purely romance–no. Or chick lit–I avoid most chick lit.
Longest Book You’ve Read…
Probably one of the novels from A Song of Ice and Fire. George R.R. Martin really knows how to ramble on. How will they keep filming Game of Thrones if even he doesn’t know where the story is headed next?!
Major Book Hangover Because of…
The Night Angel trilogy (Brent Weeks). I loved these books and loathed the ending. I refuse to read his new trilogy until the husband finishes it and can tell me whether the ending sucks! Still one of my favorite trilogies, though, and it’s possible I’ll read it again in the future.
Number of Bookcases You Own…
Only two (sniffle).
One Book You Have Read Multiple Times…
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.
Preferred Place to Read…
On the sofa, with my electric blanket!
Quote That Inspires You…
If I look back, I am lost. —Game of Thrones
Reading Regret…
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzgerald. If you looked up “Stockholm Syndrome” in a dictionary, you’d see a picture of this book’s “hero” and “heroine”. This book should be banned. Also, I was bummed by In the Woods (Tara French)–great book, but the ending drove me mad.
(Complete) Series You Started and Need to Finish…
Oh wow–so many! The Divergent trilogy, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Outlander series…I end up waiting and waiting for the next book to come out, and I get impatient and start another series in the meantime. I need to start over and re-read the Eragon series (Christopher Paolini) from the beginning. There’s another Drizzt trilogy that I need to wrap up. The Map of Time trilogy by Felix J. Palma. The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin.
Three of Your All Time Favorite Books…
You can’t make me pick just three!!! But three that are definitely at the top would be Outlander, Pride and Prejudice, and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).
Unapologetic Fangirl Of…
The Hunger Games. And also A Song of Ice and Fire.
Very Excited for This Release More Than All the Others…
The next installment in the Outlander series and the rest of A Song of Ice and Fire. Seriously, George, you’ve only got another book or two to complete. Get ’em done already! Also, I just found out that the next book in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences (steampunk series co-authored by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris) is going to feature none other than my hero Nicola Tesla, so if this is true I’m really excited to read it. I’ll snap up anything with Tesla in it.
Worst Bookish Habit
I’ll ignore everything around me, including ringing phones and the fact that I am hours past my bedtime, to finish a good book.
X Marks the Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book
That lands us smack in the middle of my husband’s extensive Drizzt collection. If you count out his books and only count the ones I bought, you land on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I think Seth Grahame-Smith did a good job of adapting one of my fave books of all time. And I’m a harsh critic when it comes to adaptations of my favorites.
Your Latest Book Purchase
The first book in the Temeraire series, otherwise known as His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik. It’s an alternative history series featuring Napoleon and dragons. I don’t want to start reading until I clear out the rest of my list, since I’ve already got multiple series up in the air. As far as what I’ve picked up from the library (since I purchase so few books)–I finally got my hands on The Twelve, by Justin Cronin. I’m really hoping it will be as good as The Passage; sequels can be tricky business.
ZZZ-Snatcher Book (last one that kept you up way too late)
Probably one of the later installments in A Song of Ice and Fire. I got pretty attached to some of the characters and couldn’t put the books down! Also, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy was really intense. I was sad when it ended. :(

Book review: Breaking the Devil’s Heart

Book review: Breaking the Devil’s Heart
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review; however as always all opinions are my own.


Breaking the Devil’s Heart, by H.A. Goodman (Kindle edition, 352 pages). 3 out of 5 stars. When two Observers from heaven try to recruit a demon to spy on Satan, their decision has ramifications that affect not only their own fates in the afterlife but possibly the fates of everyone else in heaven and on earth. Stewart and Layla could have been Angels, but they prefer to work with less uptight rules–hence their roles as Observers, fighting in the war of good vs. evil. They work to infiltrate Hell in order to take down The Company and end evil on earth, but the tactics they use could instead ignite a civil war in Heaven.
I don’t really know where to start with this book, except to say that it’s really different from anything else I’ve ever read. It’s kind of a blend of fantasy, horror and philosophy, which makes it sounds much more intimidating than it really is; it’s not overly long and the pacing is decent, so it’s not like you’re picking up War and Peace or anything.
That said, I do recommend reading this in chunks. At its core, the novel is about the nature of evil, and how the actions or traits we might justify as “good” can be surprisingly bad when viewed from another angle. I really didn’t know what to expect from the philosophical side of the story, but it really makes you rethink your conceptions of good and evil. I think this book is best for someone who’s open to mulling over an idea, rather than starting out with a set belief, because it really does take some thinking and digesting. I picked it up and put it down again a few times just because I didn’t want to blitz through it without digesting the thoughts and arguments made by the different characters.
If that sounds ponderous, it’s really not: it’s packaged up with a whirlwind of a story involving two Observers (like Angels, but with more of a morally grey tone) who attempt to infiltrate Hell in order to shut it down once and for all. Goodman presents Hell as a giant corporation, complete with a Stock Exchange that trades in human souls. If you’ve ever joked about having a soulless job or working in Hell, then you’ll appreciate this grim idea of Hell as a never-ending series of sales quotas and deadlines. Our Observers, Stewart and Layla, want to figure out how the demons are selling The Formula, which prompts people to evil, so that they can concoct a counter-potion and put evil out of business.
However, the actions they take have far-reaching ramifications that impact not only their own destinies, but the fates of both the souls on earth and in heaven. There were some good plot twists toward the end of the book that I didn’t anticipate, and I felt like the ending was satisfying without being smarmy. I appreciated that the book wasn’t pitched directly from the viewpoint of Christianity, atheism, or any other single viewpoint; it’s kind of an all-encompassing approach to the moral issue of good vs. evil that asks you to think for yourself instead of pinning everything on a cut-and-paste doctrine.

The only thing that really bugged me about this book, and I suspect might bug other people as well, is the assertion that people gain access to Heaven or Hell based on the number of good or bad deeds they commit during their lifetime. It’s an integral part of the plot as it relates to the Stock Exchange in Hell, but it’s such an old trope and I think we’ve all heard it trotted out way too many times in real life to embrace it in a book. Also, just my personal opinion, it seems kind of at odds with the liquid state of good vs. evil. If you do a “good” action for a selfish reason, is it good or bad? If you do a “bad” thing to achieve a better end, is it good or bad? How does this affect the “point balance” (or what have you) that determines where you end up in the afterlife? This is probably a minor sticking point but just one that’s been rolling around in my mind since I finished the book.
Overall, if you’re looking for something really different to read and want to get a little mental challenge out of your book while you’re at it, I recommend giving this title a try. It’s creative, original, and thought-provoking, and it’s certainly never boring!


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review; however as always all opinions are my own.

Book review: Spirit of Lost Angels

Book review: Spirit of Lost Angels

I received one or more of the products mentioned below for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Spirit of Lost Angels, by Liza Perrat (paperback, 378 pages). 4 out of 5 stars. Victoire Charpentier is a poor village girl in 18th century France, struggling to survive with her family in a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is wider than ever and the marriage of King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette fans the flames of a violent revolution. As tragedy strikes her family again and again, Victoire vows to find a way to rise above her impoverished roots and make a new life for herself. Along the way she clings to the angel talisman given to her by her mother, a symbol of hope and protection amidst the chaos of her life.

I love historical fiction, and this book held me tight from the first chapter. We first meet Victoire as a child in her tiny village of Lucie-sur-Vionne, where the rumors of revolution are just beginning to be heard. They mean little to Victoire until she sees her father murdered and her mother executed for witchcraft. Left with only her brother and forced to depend on the charity of the village, Victoire goes to Paris as a maid, determined to make her way up in the world and somehow avenge her family.

Her life in Paris becomes even more tumultuous, however, as her personal troubles and the rising waves of revolution coincide. Spirit of Lost Angels traces Victoire’s journey over the years, to Paris and back to Lucie-sur-Vionne and back again, as she fights to maintain her courage and her sanity in the face of hardship and horror.

This is an awesome debut novel, and apparently the first in a series, which makes me super-happy. The book moves at a very quick pace, so you never have a chance to get bored. At the same time, it’s very rich in detail. I felt like the time period was very well-researched and all of the characters felt very authentic. Victoire is an excellent heroine, spirited and colorful but not without her share of flaws, which I found really refreshing; I’ve read way too many books with heroines that are either unbelievably angelic or thoroughly, stupidly unlikeable.

Overall this was a great read and I’m definitely looking forward to more novels from Ms. Perrat! If you love books about France or historical fiction in general, I would recommend checking this out.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Book review: Hush, Hush (warning: here be rants and bad language)

So, I just finished this book: Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick (hardcover, 391 pages). And I was going to add it to my queue of monthly reviews, with a little paragraph or two of a review. And then…the longer I thought about it, the madder I got. And the more I felt the need to unleash my full thoughts on this book. So, if you don’t like rants, or don’t really care, I’ll totally understand if you skip this post.

Also: some bad language ahead, so consider yourself warned. I’ll put a page break here in case you want to keep scrolling.




Hush Hush



Not really any spoilers here, especially if you’ve read the book jacket or any other reviews…however if you know nothing about the story you might consider some points here spoiler-ish, so consider yourself warned. This one is getting a rather lengthy, wordy review also, because it just left such a bad taste in my mouth that I couldn’t let it go without putting it on paper. So here goes:

I picked up Hush, Hush for the cover–a beautiful one, I might add, and one that probably sold a lot ot copies on sight alone. The premise is intriguing: a girl falls in love with a boy who turns out to be a fallen angel. She’s both attracted to him and wary of his dark side, and unsure if he means her harm or will protect her. I saw some really negative reviews of this book but also saw some really, really raving reviews, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d love it or hate it. However, I had an inkling going in that I might dislike it, since someone compared it to Twilight. So let me tell you flat out: if, like me, you felt queasy about Edward and Bella’s skewed relationship in Twilight, and all of the ways Edward came off as controlling, stalker-ish or otherwise abusive–this book will leave you downright nauseous.

Patch, the fallen angel, is such a jerk that he makes Edward Cullen look like a romantic gentleman. I get the “bad boy” character. I get that Patch is supposed to be a bad guy at the start of the book, so he isn’t going to be an angel (har, har) to the heroine. I am actually a huge fan of characters that are a mix of bad and good, or present themselves as an antihero–some of my favorite characters of all time are “bad guys”, like Tyrion Lannister or Artemis Entreri. However, the key to pulling this off is balance. Your character needs some good qualities to compensate for the bad and keep the reader cheering for him.

Patch lacks this balance. Scratch that: the author tried as hard as she could to make him as creepy and malicious as possible, and the only redeeming quality he has to balance his badness is that he’s hot and sexy. Sexy eyes and sexy abs do not make up for the number of inappropriate, threatening, and otherwise malicious things this characters says and does throughout the book.

As if this isn’t bad enough, our “heroine” Nora constantly and repeatedly THROUGHOUT THE BOOK tells herself that Patch is creepy, that she’s frightened of him, and even at one point that she thinks he might want to friggin’ rape and murder her. Keep in mind, she’s also being stalked, and she knows for a fact (because he said so!) that Patch has been stalking her. And yet…even as she tells herself she’s scared of this person, she decides she’s falling in love with him because AYYYYYYYYYY HE’S SO SEXY.

*crickets* *stomping and flailing of arms*

It gets worse! (Oh yes!) Not only is Nora telling herself that she’s in love with her stalker/potential killer, she is actually willing to spend tons and tons of time alone with this guy, even though (repeat) she’s scared of him and what he’ll do to her. And she should be: I lost count of the number of times Patch physically pins her to walls, corners her, kisses/and or gropes her against her will, etc. He also threatens her with knives and pushes her into other physically dangerous situations. And ALL THE DAMN TIME, even as Nora frets, asks him to stop, and reiterates to herself that she’s scared of this guy–she KEEPS COMING BACK TO HIM and getting sucked into the current of falling in “love” with him, because AYYYYYYYYYY HE’S SO SEXY.

 

http://www.reactiongifs.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/wtf_is_that_martin_freeman.gif

 

YA authors, and authors in general: get your shit together. Stalking is not sexy. Verbal and physical threats, harassment and intimidation are not sexy. Making someone fear for their life is not sexy. PATCH IS NOT SEXY. He’s a big ball of psycho, violence and creepiness in a conveniently sexy human body. Patch is that guy you cross the street to avoid, not casually cook tacos with in your kitchen. If someone makes comments that make you physically threatened, corners you in dark alleys, drags you around and/or otherwise intimidates you, you TELL SOMEONE. You tell your mother, the police, the decent guy in the story who pops up and gallantly offers to help you…you don’t follow Creepazoid like a lamb to the slaughter and tell yourself it’s love. If you ever catch yourself thinking that possibly someone means to rape and kill you, you don’t fucking follow them wherever they lead. Psychotic behavior is not excusable just because AYYYYYYYYY the person is hot.

I am sick to death of YA authors perpetuating this idea that if a guy treats you like crap and/or threatens you with harm, he must just be a “bad boy” in need of taming. That’s not love. That’s not respect. That’s not sexy. There are rebellious guys who ride motorcycles and play pool at bars and wear all black and will respect you as the human being that you are. Patch is not one of these guys. And yeah, I know, this is hardly the first (or the last) book to trot out this type of Stockholm Syndrome for the hero and heroine, and I’m not the first (or the last) person to complain at length about it. This was just one of the more blatant examples I’ve seen–actually, it was so so so bad, I was really shocked someone approved this for publication. Edward, where are you? I’ve changed my mind, you’re not nearly so bad after all.

If you simply must crush on a character who’s mysterious and sexy and has a dark side, but also proves themselves worthwhile in the end, why not one of these?

 

Bad boys with good hearts

 

There are lots of other things that make this book crappy, aside from the borderline sexual violence. Nora is a whiny, bratty, helpless excuse for a heroine. Her so-called best friend Vee is a jerk. The girls make fun of another character in the book by calling her a slut and making fun of her apparent anorexia. There’s almost a hint of Taylor Swift in there: Nora has untamed hair and doesn’t wear makeup and dresses in jeans and plain sweaters, while this other girl wears “too short” skirts and a ton of makeup; try to guess which one is the “good girl”. I would be the number one person to stand up and encourage a teenager to be comfortable as she is, but not at the expense of someone else, and not by slut-shaming and mocking an eating disorder.

Last on the list, the writing is just really “meh”. Too many minute descriptions, choppy writing, unrealistic dialogue and/or situations at school…and seriously, Patch’s clothes are forever burned into my memory. Black tee, black boots, black jeans. I think I was reminded of his clothes at least a half dozen times throughout the book. Overkill, Ms. Fitzgerald! There’s a lot of cheesiness and melodrama throughout, and when the character arcs abruptly shift at the end of the book, it’s too much too fast but also too little too late. I can’t accept Patch as a good guy…even though Nora apparently can.

I can honestly see the faint trail of what might have been a really really interesting book: an antihero with a dark secret. A girl in love. A mystery that could get one or more characters killed. A supernatural angle that hopelessly entangles the fates of the two lead characters. But it’s like Fitzgerald just didn’t know what kind of story she wanted to write, so she took the Stockholm Twilight model and amplified it times 1,000, added in some freshman-level prose and unlikable, dumb as dirt characters, and wrapped it up with a big ol’ batshit crazy bow. I feel like I need to Lysol my whole brain now.

So seriously, enough with this nonsense. I limped on through to the end of the book because I really hate to write a harsh review without reading the whole thing cover to cover (I think that’s fair) and because I had the feeble hope there would be something redeeming toward the end (but there wasn’t–big surprise). I’d like to say I care enough about the series to find out how it ends via Googling but I don’t. I just don’t. Hopefully my brain will produce some sort of protective post-traumatic fog to block out the awfulness that is this book.