Saturday, September 17, 2016

read: A Whole Latte Murder (4 of 5 stars)

A Whole Latte MurderA Whole Latte Murder by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm three books into this entertaining series and still not regretting it, even though I'm a guy. The writing is light and airy and smooth. The characters are likable, the situations are mostly believable and the mysteries are intriguing. This time around there is a higher body count and fewer clues and suspects than ever before. There is also more trouble for the first-person narrator, Juliet, and more complications to her love life.

It's not rewarding to overthink the motivations and actions of amateur sleuths in this sort of book. You have to suspend your disbelief and you want them to get involved and push the story along. In retrospect, though, Juliet might go a step too far in a couple of cases, including breaking and entering a crime scene and interrogating suspects. It wasn't enough to knock me out of the story, though. I did struggle a bit with the plethora of characters and names to keep track of. And the extended sequences of searching for a missing person could have had a better payoff in how it explored the City of Nashville.

On the whole, I can recommend this book to fans of cozy mysteries.


Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Alibi/Random House for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

read: The Family Plot (4 of 5 stars)

The Family PlotThe Family Plot by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wouldn't typically seek out a straight up haunted house story like this, except it was written by Cherie Priest. I'm a fan of her Clockwork Century series and I knew this would be good. She strikes just the right note of HGTV spiced up with a little Southern Gothic mystery and charm.

The story begins, as it should, with an innocent enough situation. An proposal is offered to salvage the fixtures of an old family home. Questions should be asked, but aren't. A decision is made in haste. The need is too great to be postponed. The offer has too much upside potential to worry too much about the downside. Besides, it's just an old house. What could go wrong?

At first, everything seems to go well. There are only minor obstacles to overcome. But the story is still interesting enough to keep the pages turning. Then the mysteries start piling up. Standard haunted house stuff. Is the house itself trying to communicate? Was there another presence in the attic, in the woods? Is that a graveyard where one was not expected? What's the deal with this family?

This could have been a stereotypical story of incompetents who are completely unaware that they might be dealing with the paranormal before it's too late and it completely consumes them. Or the reader could have been inflicted with characters so obsessed with the paranormal that it warps their perception of even normal events, turning them into screaming idiots jumping at every unexpected noise. Instead, the author creates a much more interesting world of competent, fairly intelligent human beings who talk to each other, consider the evidence, investigate the situation and react fairly reasonably. It makes sense that the team decides to stick with the job, despite the growing evidence of the weird. They need the money and things are manageable. Until they aren't.

This is a good book for anyone interested in old houses and old Southern families.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.


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Sunday, September 4, 2016

read: The 7th Canon (4 of 5 stars)

The 7th CanonThe 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Dugoni can flat out write. I have no idea how good this book was when he wrote the first draft in 1996. But he's had twenty years to polish his craft and it shows here. The plot is intricate. The setting, characters and mystery are all intriguing and troubling. The prose is crisp and clear and engaging. There is a lot going on. But nothing is extraneous.

The setting is a seedy neighborhood in San Francisco thirty years ago. A boy is murdered in a flophouse run by a priest with a shady past. The priest discovers the body and the police immediately charge him with the crime. The evidence seems overwhelming. Almost as quickly, Peter Donley, a young lawyer working for his uncle, finds himself drafted as the priest's defense attorney, dropped into the deep end of the pool on his first criminal case when his uncle is sidelined with a heart attack. It would not be a wise career move for Donley to keep the case. But he finds himself drawn in and we are off on a harrowing ride.

And I mean harrowing. Dugoni is not kind to his characters. They come with complicated backstories and are weighed down with emotional baggage. The good guys make bad decisions. And the bad guys are the heroes of their own stories. There is cost for everything and the piper is always paid in full. This book is not for the squeamish. But I recommend it for readers that can handle it.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

read: Mata Hari's Last Dance (4 of 5 stars)

Mata Hari's Last DanceMata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this to be a very enjoyable, light summer read. It is definitely more of a fictionalized account of a historical life than a revealing study of a historical figure. Situations are invented. Complications are glossed over. But the author does an admirable job of finding a winsome voice for Mata Hari and setting the scene in pre-World War I Paris.

Readers seeking a complete biography of Mata Hari and an deep introspection into her life will not find that here. This novelized memoir catches up with the exotic dancer just as she bursts onto the Paris social scene around 1904. It follows her life, as if she were telling it to a trusted friend, through her execution for espionage in 1917. In between, her dance career waxes and wanes, her assignations with various sponsors and lovers are vaguely documented and dispatched dispassionately, and her desire to rejoin her daughter and take her to America becomes her mantra.

Despite the light tone and lack of historical rigor, I found Margaretha's story to be fascinating. The tiny insights into the European social scene and pre-war history were intriguing. Before reading this book, I only knew the stereotypical popular myths about Mata Hari and her exotic reputation as a spy. I now feel like I have a greater empathy for this well-known, yet little understood, historical figure. Her life remains as veiled in mystery as the characters she portrayed in her dance.

This would be an easy book for a reading group to consume and discuss over a short period of time. There are even discussion questions provided. Four stars for being a good, entertaining read.

[Disclaimer: Thanks to Courtney Brach and Touchstone / Simon & Schuster for providing me a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.]

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

read: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (3 stars)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's not much I can add to a discussion of this book other than my own reaction. I enjoyed it. The storytelling and world-building is still very strong. The characters and their adventures are still engaging. If the book was 20%-25% shorter, it might get 5 stars. But I have to knock off a star for just plain being too long--twice as long as the first book in the series.

I'm also taking off another star for the writing. It's not bad. It's just indefinably and adverbially not up to the quality I was expecting. But onward to books 5 to 7.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

read: Delusion in Death (4 stars)

Delusion in Death (In Death, #35)Delusion in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very thrilling and interesting first half, with mass carnage in a bar and a cafe and no good leads. Then the story sagged for a bit, with a lot of police work and explaining and very little mystery. I thought for sure I was going to be disappointed in the ending. Everything seemed to have been too pat. Then came the twist I had hoped would rescue the story and it did.

This is my first Eve Dallas story and I won't say no to another one. It's also another Audible book that I had to listen to at 1.25 speed in order to keep from dying of impatience.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

read: Never Go Back (3 stars)

Never Go Back (Jack Reacher, #18)Never Go Back by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a perfectly adequate Jack Reacher story. It has a mystery. Or two. Jack kicks ass. Several times. He escapes from jail and goes on the run and is apparently in danger. The situations are tense and the writing keeps us turning pages. As a bonus, Reacher has a female companion who is basically his equal. She has his old job. His old office. And she's just as competent.

On the downside, the pace is a bit leisurely and the threat is never extreme. They have cell phones. They have lawyers doing research for them. They make a deal with the MP sent to get them. Once they've broken the fingers and arms of the goons sent to get them, the story is basically over. The end is just cleaning up. It's a bit of a letdown.

At least I've read the book before the movie comes out.

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