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Monday, September 29, 2014

The Rosie Project

I've been meaning to read The Rosie Project (#430) by Graeme Simsion ever since it came out in the US.  Thanks to my book club, I've finally been given the push I needed to get around to it.  I don't know what took me so long!

Professor Don Tillman has decided he's reached a point in his life when he wants to settle down with a life partner.  He approaches things in the most logical way possible; by designing a questionnaire to weed out all candidates who don't meet his exacting criteria.  Of COURSE things don't work out in the logical sequence Professor Tillman had planned.  Since his best friend is a serial adulterer, the advice Gene gives Don is naturally suspect, but the process and its outcomes are hilarious, with the most unexpected results.

Okay, picture Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory in serious search for a mate.  That's the basic plot of this book.  What makes it stand out are the glimpses of Don's humanity that peek through the eccentric persona he has deliberately cultivated.  It's a different, hilarious and charming love story worth recommending to your male friends and loved ones.  Don't miss it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Ludwig Conspiracy

Oliver Potzsch is the author of the stand-alone thriller The Ludwig Conspiracy (#429).  He is also the author of the critically acclaimed Hangman's Daughter series which figures on my current "To Read" list.

To begin with, I certainly didn't know much about the last king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, other than the fact that he built Neuschwanstein Castle, model for Disney's fairytale castle centerpiece and subject of numerous photographs.  What I did not realize was that there is a controversy about exactly how Ludwig II died in 1887 - murder/suicide versus political assassination - and that there is a German cottage industry built around the varying conspiracy theories.  Mr. Potzsch's novel explores one such "what if?' theory when an antiquarian book seller in Munich suddenly finds himself in possession of volume written in code by Ludwig's assistant physician, a putative eye witness of those fateful events that June night.  If only he could stay safe long enough to decode the diary's contents...

I had the connections figured out in this one pretty early on, and spent most of my time reading this book waiting for the rest of the cast of characters to catch up.  Although the subject matter was interesting enough, I think the novel could have done with some judicious pruning.  At four hundred pages, I thought it was about a hundred pages too long.

I suppose that I'll still eventually read Mr. Potzsch's Hangman's Daughter series, but I won't be in any hurry to get to it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Harvest Killings

A.K. Goode's debut novel, The Harvest Killings (#428) isn't a bad spy caper.  The action is concentrated mainly in Uganda, and involves murder (of course!), pesticides, an unfinished water treatment plant and a mysterious mountain.  Multiple competing intelligence agencies also play a role in this twisted tale.  There are enough plot turns to keep the reader guessing, and wondering if this book might not make a decent action film.

Since this book is self-published, it does suffer from a lack of effective editing.  Some of it is merely annoying - apostrophes inserted where they don't belong, and missing from spots where they do; spelling mistakes of the kind that slip by a Spell Checker program, but not a human reader.  Others add to the plot confusion - a good guy named Hank and a villain named Frank whose names are sometimes mistakenly substituted for each other, too much description of minor characters and settings, and the overuse of the phrase "Got it?"  Believe me, I get it!

Those complaints aside, The Harvest Killings did do what it set out to do - it entertained me and at the same time introduced me to a new place, Kampala, Uganda.  Mission accomplished, A.K. Goode.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Still Life

Thanks to all the ladies in my library reading group for recommending Louise Penny's magical Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series.  I followed their advice and started with the first book in this series, Still Life (#427).  Now I know exactly what my friends meant when they told me that the residents of the Quebec village of Three Pines were people you'd want to invite over for dinner.

When elderly retired school teacher Jane Neal is found dead in the woods where she customarily walked her dog Lucy, no one at first can image that her death was not accidental.  But when Chief Inspector Gamache is called in to investigate with his team from the Montreal Surete Office (Three Pines isn't large enough to have its own police force.) it's determined that Jane's death was a deliberate act.  How to catch a killer who is probably one of the village's own?  That's the puzzle Gamache will struggle to solve, as long held secrets are finally brought to light.

If you're not already a fan of Louise Penny's, go buy this book immediately; you'll become a true believer in her talents, too.

A Spear of Summer Grass

I adore Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Victorian mystery series; they're well-written and slightly dark.  So I was hoping that her stand-alone novel A Spear of Summer Grass (#426) would measure up to that high standard.  The quality of her writing is still there, but A Spear of Summer Grass is published under Harlequin's MIRA imprint, so the primary focus is the romance, which I did not find to be nearly as interesting as her mysteries.

However, if romance is what you're looking for, this tale set in 1920s Kenya has a lot to offer.  Delilah Drummond, the bad girl heroine, is a well-developed character, with many layers.  The African setting is vivid and the native tribes are sympathetically portrayed.  I personally found Delilah's love interest Ryder White a bit outrĂ© with his gold-hooped pierced ears, but that's probably just me.  (Why do romance heroes always have to wear their hair "longer than the current fashion"?  I find the clean cut look so much more appealing...)  There's peril and a bit of mystery to keep the story moving along, and I must admit, I did find the reveal of the culprit at the end a surprise.

This book will certainly transport you to a different time and place, so if you need to get away from it all, A Spear of Summer Grass will do the job nicely.  I'll just stick to Lady Julia in the future myself.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Darkest Hour

A friend of mine passed along debut author Tony Schumacher's new thriller The Darkest Hour (#425) and told me I had to read it.  I gladly took her advice. 

This is alternative history, set in London after the Nazis have conquered the British.  There is a government in exile in Canada and an active British Resistance, but for most of the population, it's a return to as normal a life as they can manage under the Occupation.  For John Rossett it means returning to his job as a Detective Inspector after serving his time in an internment camp for captured soldiers.  His record as a DI is so good that the Germans choose him to work just as efficiently on the Jewish Question.  For Rossett, it's just a job until the day during a routine roundup he finds Jacob, a little boy hidden in the house by his grandfather.  The train has already left London that Jacob should have been on, so Rossett is stuck with him until he and his superiors can work out a solution.  But nothing is routine, and Rossett and Jacob are soon on the run for their lives from the Nazis, the Resistance and the communists, each with their own agendas.

Besides being a cracking good story, the characters in the book are interesting and multi-layered.  You want it to turn out well for all of them in the end, even Rossett's Nazi superior Ernst Koehler, even though you know it can't.  My friend thought that the author left a hint at the end that we might hear more of these people in the future.  I hope so, too, but I'm not sure that's too likely, all things considered.  Kudos to Mr. Schumacher.  If you're a WWII buff, definitely add The Darkest Hour to your reading pile.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Flat Spin

I first became aware of the Cordell Logan series, written by David Freed, from a review of the third and latest book in our local newspaper.  It sounded as though the book would be right up my alley, but the reviewer did mention that it would be best to read the series in order if possible.  So as advised, I've started with Flat Spin (#424), a thoroughly entertaining introduction to this mystery series featuring Cordell Logan, certified flight instructor, washed-out Air Force pilot and retired member of Alpha, a government black ops group so secret no one's ever heard of them.

I was afraid from the first few pages that it might be too sexist in its language for me to bother reading, but thankfully, that over-emphasis on the female figure vanished almost right away, and got right down to the slightly tongue-in-cheek business of solving the murder of Logan's ex-wife's current spouse, his former boss at Alpha who just happened to arrange things to steal away Savannah, the love of Logan's life.  What red-blooded male wouldn't want jump at the chance to solve that murder?!  Of course the bribe his ex-father-in-law offered him didn't hurt since his checking account is empty and there are no flight students on his horizon.  The problems escalate when Cordell begins turning over unwanted rocks.  It's not an Alpha-related revenge murder; in fact, the clues seem to point to a much more personal involvement.

The good news is that since Mr. Freed has added a couple of new books to this promising series, you know that Cordell Logan will live to fly another day, and he might have another chance to get back with his ex-wife Savannah; but the real question is: will Mrs. Shmulowitz still be his landlady?  I sure hope so; she's a hoot and a half.  I'm looking forward to reading more of Logan's continuing adventures.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Signature of All Things

I've never had the slightest bit of interest in reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, so I was not looking forward to reading my book club's September selection The Signature of All Things (#423).  To my surprise, I was quite taken by this literary tale of a nineteenth century woman and her extraordinary family.  And by a novel centered around the theme of botany, no less, a subject of which I have no knowledge, nor any interest in rectifying that omission.

Gilbert's tale is mainly that of Alma Whittaker, born to a life of luxury to a most unlikely Philadelphia couple in 1800.  Her father, from poor English stock, makes the most of an encounter as a youth with eminent British botanist and adventurer Joseph Banks.  He uses it to parlay his  knowledge of botany gained from expeditions as an agent for Banks into the foundation of his own fortune.  Banks has rejected his ideas of making money from his discoveries in the most humiliating way; therefore Henry will best him in every possible way.  Having grown wealthy in the Dutch East Indies, Henry Whittaker determines to take a practical Dutch wife as helpmeet, and chooses Beatrix van Dervender for her connections to pre-eminent Dutch botanists.  When her family disowns her, the couple sail off to America, never looking back.  Thus, Alma is born into a family that encourages her independence and pursuit of scientific knowledge through her own research and the lively discourse of the era's scientists, explorers and inventors around the dining table of their home, White Acre.  Alma is not beautiful, but that does not concern her until in mid-life she meets Ambrose Pike and falls deeply in love.  And therein hangs a most extraordinary tale...

There are so many surprises in this book, I wouldn't even know where to begin to describe them; you just find yourself reading madly along to find out what will happen next to the Whittakers.  I think my only reservation about this book is that as far as I was concerned, the ending seemed to just peter out.  It wasn't a bad or unexpected ending to the story, but the rest of Alma's life is so unusual, I guess I just expected ... more, not less.  Even if you detested Eat, Pray, Love in both its print and film incarnations, give The Signature of All Things a browse; you may find yourself hooked as I was.