April 17, 2020

An update (of a sort)

Hello friends. I had thought that it would be the perfect time to catch up on all of the unwritten reviews from 2019 while being isolated at home. In reality, it has been incredibly difficult for me to think coherently much less write anything approaching comprehension. That being said, I have continued to read and write down my thoughts on the books that I've read during this time with the idea of posting them eventually. I've even started making notes like "Read during the second week of self-isolation on a Monday." and "Finished in two days during the 4th week of self-isolation." You get the idea. As of today, I've read 9 books not counting a reread (The Neverending Story helped get me over the slump at the start) during this time. Seven of these books were nonfiction because it seems my brain could more easily absorb facts than the building of characters and fictional worlds.

Increasingly, I've felt guilty for not updating and doing more 'work' on the blog. I didn't want to seem 'unproductive' or 'lazy' while at home. I guess a lot of us feel that way right now. I do intend on getting back into the swing of things as it were but I also felt it was right and proper to give this little update so you know where I've been both literally and figuratively. (Not sure if figurative is used correctly there but my brain isn't willing to linger too heavily. I just mean to say I've literally been at home and figuratively my mind has been all over the place. Hope this translates and the over-explanation isn't make it worse. Now you can kinda see into my crazy brain for a bit.)

So that's where I'm at. Are you interested in what I've read so far during this time?

  • The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge and illustrated by Chris Riddell (bought for the cover)
  • Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey
  • Stuffed Animals & Pickled Heads: The Culture of Natural History Museums by Stephen T. Asma
  • Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku
  • In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang
  • So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
  • How to be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman
  • The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert
And I'm currently reading The Complete Mapp & Lucia: Volume One by E.F. Benson.

If you're feeling so inclined, please drop a comment below with some of the books you've read and what you're currently reading. :-)

March 6, 2020

That's a no

The 7th Victim by Alan Jacobson started off feeling a bit like an episode of Criminal Minds as the main character is an FBI profiler who works for the BAU. However, as the story continued I started to realize that this woman was in no way capable of being a member of such a prestigious group. Her credibility is basically nil as she rants and raves at the office while dealing with a lot of drama in her personal life. To say the drama was overdone would be to put it mildly. (There isn't an area of her life where she isn't faltering in some way and the obvious course of action to fix said problem never seems to occur to her.) Our main character, Karen Vail, has been trying to find the Dead Eyes Killer for several weeks with virtually no leads. The killer's signature is gruesome and the bodies keep piling up but she's too wrapped up in her own life to really spend a lot of time working the case efficiently. (And then it's further complicated by her relationship with the members of her task force.) I don't want to spoil the ending but it was so ridiculous that it really sealed the lid on the coffin for me. I didn't like the main character, I didn't like the plot, and the killer reveal was dumb. 0/10 do not recommend

Adding insult to injury, this is the first in a series. That's a no for me.

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan
What I'm Currently Reading: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 4, 2020

Under the microscope

Continuing with the theme of 'murder murder murder' I picked up It Takes One by Kate Locke which is a psychological thriller taking place in a small rural town. (Looking at the descriptions of some of Locke's other books it seems like 'small town murder mystery' might be a specialty of hers.) Audrey Harte is a criminal psychologist who is frequently asked to lend her opinion on true crime shows where a professional analysis is required. Unbeknownst to her colleagues, she has a dark past that she's been trying to leave behind for years. You see Audrey murdered her best friend's father when they were kids and spent several years at a juvenile facility for violent girls. O_O So when she goes home for the first time in several years and a body turns up...you can imagine where the fingers start pointing. Now Audrey has to find the killer before either she's found guilty or dead. I will say that when you find out whodunit it is a SHOCK to say the least.

This is the first in a series featuring Audrey Harte as the main character but I think I've probably had my fill after reading this one. (She's not particularly likable if you want my opinion and the explicit sex scenes are not my cup of tea.) A surprising ending doesn't override the fact that I've read better psychological thrillers. 5/10

Source: Goodreads
What's Up Next: The 7th Victim by Alan Jacobson
What I'm Currently Reading: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 2, 2020

Lord Byron was not a nice man

Back in 2014 I read a book called The Seven Lives of John Murray which gave a somewhat one-sided description of Lord Byron (keeping in mind his relationship to the publishing house and its publisher). However, I still felt I had a pretty firm grasp on the man and his relationship to Percy Shelley. And then I read The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters by Andrew McConnell Stott. The author primarily uses historical material from two people who knew Byron and the Shelley's well (and kept detailed diaries and letters): Claire Clairmont (Mary's step sister) and John Polidori (Byron's physician). Because John Murray's relationship to Byron was mainly a professional one the veil wasn't quite lifted as to what sort of a man he really was and I'm sorry to tell you this but he was a mean-spirited bully. Much of Byron's suffering was of his own making and he made sure to share the wealth with others. He drew creative people to him like a moth to a flame but they were undoubtedly going to be burnt once they got too close. I especially felt sorry for Mary and her sister Claire. Claire was totally besotted with Byron and much like the other women in his life when she became a yoke around his neck he discarded her. (Don't even get me started on the child they had together.) Poor Mary suffered just as much if not more so than her sister. There was so much loss her in her life, ya'll. (Rather than spoil all the history I'll leave it at that to whet your appetite.) Now John Polidori was a name I don't recall ever seeing before but as an aspiring writer and devotee of Byron he of course did not make it away from him unscathed. [A/N: I should point out that there all being together happened during one summer and yet it makes for a lot of historical material especially considering the correspondence that flowed between them afterwards.]

All in all, this was a very interesting historical novel which gave a much less biased depiction of the major players than what I had already read. Honestly, my one complaint is that I felt there was no one central character in this book which made it feel somewhat unmoored. Is this a book about Byron or a book about Shelley? Either way, neither one comes out especially smelling like roses (although Shelley would be my choice any day of the week over that scoundrel Byron). 9/10

*By the way, this book was generously sent to me from my cooler than cool friend Katie who works as an editor over at Pegasus Books. Thanks for always looking out, Katie! (Obviously, this in no way influenced my review but I do appreciate the free lit.)*

Source: Pegasus Books

What's Up Next: It Takes One by Kate Locke
What I'm Currently Reading: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

February 26, 2020

Criminals make great detectives

What if Smith and Hickock weren't acting alone that night? What if they left the third man out  of their confessions because of some sick allegiance and Capote never uncovered it? (If you haven't read In Cold Blood this is where I tell you to do so immediately.) We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman re-imagines that there was a third man at the Clutter Farm the night that the family was brutally murdered and that this man alone committed the atrocities at the Walker home a few weeks later. Enter Jeremiah 'Jerry' Beaufort who has recently been released from his second stint in prison on a commuted sentence. Fearing that the truth about that night at the Clutters' farm and the Walker murder (which has remained unsolved but attributed to Smith & Hickock) will come out he starts his own investigation to find out exactly what the police know. And that's when Brigid Quinn, retired detective, stumbles onto the scene through the unlikely link of her new husband, an ex-priest and philosophy professor. (Yes, this does sound like a bad joke.) With just enough facts, this fictionalized  story has enough twists and turns to keep the pages flipping while the reader wonders if Quinn will get to the truth before Beaufort gets to her. True crime lovers will love this book especially if they've had the pleasure of reading Capote's book beforehand (it really is best read back-to-back I think). And it turns out Masterman has more novels starring Quinn so if you really dig this book you can check those out as well. :-) 9/10

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters by Andrew McConnell Stott
What I'm Currently Reading: Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

February 21, 2020

Gratuitous sex scenes

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley was an absolute blast. Last year I went through several weeks where all I wanted to read were murder mysteries and this was the first one from the recommended reading list. The Hunting Party is a psychological thriller taking place at an isolated hotel in the middle of the Scottish countryside during a snowstorm. There are a multitude of characters in this book but they're all such distinctly different personalities that you're unlikely to get character fatigue. [A/N: Did I just invent 'character fatigue'? If you ever tried to read Casual Vacancy then surely you understand what I'm talking about.] Stuck out in the Scottish highlands with no way to get help, a murder puts a real crimp on the New Year's festivities. Backtracking from two days prior to our main event, the reader is introduced to a group of friends who have known each other since college. There are cliques within this clique and not everyone is likable (in fact I don't recall particular loving any of them). You're trying to work out who the killer is along with the rest of them and the craziest thing is that I wasn't even totally sure who was dead until the last 20 pages! O_O

If you're looking for a real page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat this is the one for you. 9/10 because the unnecessarily explicit sex scenes really turned me off.

Let me know if you worked out who the killer was before it was revealed. (I did but it was made harder by my lack of confidence in who was actually dead. You'll get what I mean if you read it.)

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman
What I'm Currently Reading: Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

February 12, 2020

Not lacking in characters

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips had a great premise and sounded like it could be the Russian equivalent of Broadchurch which I found very exciting. The story opens with the disappearance of two little girls from a small community and the suspicion and unease which come about as a result. Unlike the TV series, the book introduces a cast of characters that did nothing to add or move along the narrative plot. [A/N: There's one character's story in particular that really made me question its addition. If you read the book you'll recognize her as the lady that visits the hospital. What was going on there?!] I can only guess that they served as a kind of backdrop for the area which the author took great pains to describe (and which I knew nothing about prior to reading this book). I can't fault Phillips' writing or ability to engage the reader because I was fully hooked by this story...that is until I realized (nearly at the end) that so many of these side stories (not to mention the main plot) had no real conclusion. I read quite a lot of mysteries and crime procedurals and my favorite part is generally the dramatic tying up of the loose ends of the case which you don't get with Disappearing Earth. Instead you get more questions than answers. (Why was Denis obsessed with aliens?!) So I'm afraid the overall rating suffered as a result and I can only give it a 6/10. (This hasn't stopped me from encouraging others to pick up this book though. I keep waiting for one of them to come back and rage at me because they're annoyed by the ending.)

The cover that I'm familiar with [Source: Amazon]

Absolutely stunning cover. [Source: Amazon]

What's Up Next: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
What I'm Currently Reading: Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **