|Publication year: 2008
Time and place: contemporary Stoneham, New Hampshire
Narrated in: third-person limited
First sentence: “I tell you, Trish, we’re all victims.”
Verdict: It was okay.
Five months ago Tricia Miles, newly divorced, finally had the money and the means to open her own business. She has moved to a small town and she opened a small mystery bookstore, and business goes well. Her next door neighbor, Doris, the owner of a cooking book store, cannot say the same: money is tight and the owner wants to increase the rent. Doris is trying to rally the town people against the rate change, and she arranges a meeting with the owner to discuss it. That very evening she is found dead, with a knife sticking out her back and one of her most expensive books stolen.
Tricia is the one that found her, and, as she is new in town, the sheriff considers her the main suspect. Since all the locals are considered above blame, and no one in the police force moves a finger to prove the opposite, it’s up to Tricia to discover the real culprit and clear out her name.
This would have been a nice little book, and I would have quite enjoyed it, if it weren’t for the main character. Tricia and I just didn’t click, as I found her annoying above all else, and as such I wasn’t able to get lost in the story as I might have done otherwise.
Stoneham used to be a dying town, until the owner of some of the buildings on the main street had a great idea: he rented out the stores to booksellers, catering to tourist buses passing from and to cities nearby. There is a mystery book store, a cooking book store, a history book store, and so on :)
As the book opens, Stoneham has been considered the safest town in New Hampshire for the last ten years — but of course that will change after Doris’ murder. The townspeople are a bit upset about losing the title, as its PR value was good for the business; there’s even a mention of a crew having to take down the Safest Town banners from the north and the south ends of the street, and I found that (their pride in their title, the fact that they even had banners about it) quite endearing1.
Ah, Tricia. I spent quite a few pages wondering what it is that I can’t stand about her. Among other things, she’s a snob. She is repeatedly described as a passionate bookworm, and books are supposed to be her life and all — but she cares more about the form than she does about the content. Sure, she is said to love the classics of the genre — her little store is fashioned after Sherlock Holmes’ address and her cat is named Miss Marple — but she is also the type that judges a book by its cover. She makes her living selling (mostly) rare books, and she despises cheap editions (in her defense, the editions she was referring to were also abridged). I may be wrong about her, but this is the feeling I’ve had.
She also thinks herself smarter than she is. Not that she’s not smart, she is a business woman perfectly capable to take care of herself, and I admired that about her. But there is at least one moment when something was obviously amiss and, although her sister pointed it out to her repeatedly, she just wouldn’t consider it. Eh.
I think that the idea was to have Tricia as the sympathetic sister, while Angelica was supposed to be the tiresome, unlikable one. Perhaps we were even supposed to commiserate with Tricia, shaking our heads at just how tough her lot in life is with such a sister. But in my case it was the other way around, as Angelica I have really liked. Sure, she’s not perfect, and her outlook on life is more fit to a big city than a small town, particularly at first, but on the whole she felt more real. Her passion for cooking is obvious and makes her endearing, unlike Trish’s passion for books, that felt anything but authentic.
There is another reason why I liked Angelica more. The author has apparently wanted to add depth to Trish by hinting at a less than happy childhood, having been wronged repeatedly by her parents and/or sister. The trouble is that we are not told exactly what her issues are — we just see Trish disliking Angelica with all her might, even when the latter makes amends. For me, the reader, they are both blank slates, and I cannot stand behind a resentment that I have no reason to support; which meant that I kept feeling that Angelica is being unjustly treated, so of course I sided with the wronged party, and disliked the other one. If only the author had been a bit more specific about the bad blood between the two I think what she had tried to do would have worked a lot better.
I liked the fact that there was no love story introduced for Trish. I like the fact that she can stand on her own as a character, solving her own problems and not needing a man to rescue her. There is a certain guy that she rather dislikes but I think sounds promising for the future, but I am glad it wasn’t all neatly packaged in a single 200-something pages book.
The actual plot is not that bad. Sure, the sheriff’s insistence to pin the murder on Trish requires some vast suspension of disbelief — especially when Angelica finds the stolen book in Trish’s store and the call the cops to declare that and the sheriff considers this a sign of Trish’s guilt2. Speaking of the sheriff, the one moment I really did not like Angelica was when she suggested that the reason why her sister is considered a suspect is because Trish is thin and the sheriff is fat and jealous of her good looks. A low blow, even if (perhaps) true.
Back to the plot, it was satisfactory enough (at least for me, others say it employed an overused trope), with other misdeeds uncovered along the way and more than one culprit. There weren’t any major surprises, but it would have been hard to since we only get to encounter a handful of people, and I thought the “whodunnit” bit was pretty nicely done (the reason behind it and all).
What I liked most
The idea of having a bookish-themed town :)
What I liked least
The book would have benefited from tighter editing. Starting with the mention of a “meatloaf-shaped loaf of bread” (which I read as “a loaf of bread shaped like a meat dish shaped like a loaf of bread”) from the fact that one sentence almost appears twice (Angelica and Trish find themselves twice “exploring” other people’s houses at night, and in both cases as they climb up the stairs we are told that Angelica is so close to Trish that the latter can feel her breath on her neck; I find the imagery a bit confusing — how can they climb up the stairs if they’re almost touching? — which is why I noticed that the same thing is mentioned twice, and in almost the same words).
Thoughts on the title
I have yet to discover the connection between the title and the content of the book. It is obvious that it wanted to hint to something bookish, since our main character is a bookstore-owner booklover, but I would have liked it better if it had had an actual connection with the events, other than the “murder” bit.
Thoughts on the ending
Okay, I guess. Everyone’s happy, the perpetrators punished, all’s well when it ends well, that sort of thing.
Recommend it to?
People who like cozy mysteries. It’s rating on goodreads.com is above average (3.70) so I guess people usually like it more than I did (I gave it two stars).
- On the other hand I also find sort of amusing just how much down the drain their title is heading to: since there is a whole series of murder mysteries taking place in Stoneham I imagine that eventually the town will be a good candidate for “the small town with the most murders” in New Hampshire [↩]
- “I contend that you stole that valuable book and killed Doris Gleason for financial gain.”, she insists. Leaving aside the fact that there was actually no financial gain in it for Trish, since she and Doris were just neighbors. [↩]
Main characters: Miriam Black
Time and place: present day, US (some of it is North Carolina, but there’s more)
First sentence: “Car lights strobe through busted motel blinds.”
Verdict: Okay but forgettable.
Miriam Black has a strange ability: the first time her skin touches another person’s skin she sees how that person will die. At first, she tried to act on it, prevent unnecessary deaths. It didn’t work. So now she’s sort of going with it, sometimes trying to be there when people die so she could steal their money.
And then one day she met Louis. A truck driver, “sweet, sad, damaged“. She likes him, and the feeling is mutual — and then she accidentally touches him and sees that he will be brutally murdered very soon. And apparently she will be there when it happens. She cannot warn him, of course, and she knows that the future she sees cannot be changed… but she has to do something, right? If only she knew what that something was.
I picked this up from NetGalley (thank you NetGalley!) on a whim, as I thought the premise quite interesting. A quick read, I finished it in less than a day. I have no idea why I thought it YA, but it is definitely not so — it has lots of foul language and some gore. Thing is, it was quite interesting, and yet I kept feeling like it was missing something I cannot put my finger on, hence the “okay but forgettable” verdict mentioned above.
You know how sometimes I read some books and notice that all characters were kind and nice, and I like that about them? This book is the very opposite: everyone in it is “damaged goods”, having faced traumas that more often that not turns them psychotic. The language, the actions, everything is brutal, and people are getting maimed or murdered without a second thought. Everything feels… gritty, for lack of a better word. Not precisely my cup of tea, yet the book was well written enough, and the world building was good enough for me to read on.
Miriam is quite an interesting character. In her own words, she’s “a bad girl, not a bad person“, which I think it’s the perfect way of putting it. She grew up with a very religious mother, and her upbringing reminds one of Stephen King’s Carrie. One wouldn’t know this by seeing her today, as Miriam has every ‘small’ vice there is: she smokes, she drinks a lot, she curses like a sailor, she enjoys casual sex and has a violent streak (admittedly, this comes in very handy when she needs to defend herself, but there is at least one instance when she physically hurt someone for the sake of it). She steals dead people’s money for a living, taking advantage of her peculiar gift that allows her to be present at various death scenes. She doesn’t sound like a very sympathetic character so far, does she? There are some parts of her I really did not like.
And yet, despite her flaws and despite the fact that I could have done with less foul language, I ended up rooting for her. She’s been through a lot, and was damaged in the process, but underneath the outer layer she is neither mean nor evil. She could make a fortune exploiting her gift, and yet she is not fully without scruples, and I liked that about her. She has witnessed countless deaths, and yet she has not become indifferent to it, even as the people involved are total strangers. And, of course, what I liked most about her was her inner struggle regarding Louis — should she save him? Can she save him? Should she even care? After all, people die all the time, don’t they, and the future cannot be changed. But she cannot sit around and not even try to do something either, can she? And so on. It would have been so easy for her to just let go of the idea, but she doesn’t (or at least not for long), and herein lies the source of my appreciation for her, such as it is.
Which is funny in a way because I am not sure I actually liked Louis. As far as these characters go, he is definitely the sanest and the nicest of them all — and yet, it felt to me that the crazy, dark, gritty setting dirtied everything in it (ah, and the language, of course, never helped), which is why my interest in Louis never got past the idea that he has to live because Miriam wants him to. I didn’t much care for him otherwise, although he probably was nice enough to be likable if I had given him a chance.
As for the rest of the cast, they’re interesting, as the author has provided some of them with backgrounds that partly justify their current inclinations, but… let’s just say we didn’t click, take from that what you will. Perhaps “I hated all of them, and Ashley most of all” would be a better way to put it :)
A quote, showcasing both Miriam’s wry sense of humor (which I liked) and her somewhat violent approach to life (which I wasn’t a fan of) :
[Ashley comes and sits at her table and she is not pleased to see him]
“I’m just going to pretend you’re a pink elephant. You’ll kindly take this opportunity to get up and slink out of this place like a rat before I open my eyes, because if I open my eyes and still see you there, oh Figment of My Diseased Imagination, I’m going to stab you in the neck with my fork.”
I probably should write a bit about Ashley too, after having mentioned him quite a few times already. Thing is, he’s nothing but a small time crook, cocky, rotten to the core, and with no redeeming qualities at all. Meh.
Miriam is attracted to dangerous people. And alas, I am not a fan of dangerous people, who don’t give a damn about other people’s feelings. Which means it should go without saying that I did not approve of Miriam’s relationship choices (except, of course, when she got close to Louis, whom, while I did not perceive as nice, at least had the potential to be so, which is far more than I can say of Ashley). Sort of a waste of time, this part, although I did like the way Louis grew on her despite the fact that she did not want him to.
Someone is on the run and there are killers after him and Miriam ends up caught in the middle. Louis too is unwittingly dragged into it. And that’t about it, plot wise. To be honest I didn’t care all that much about any of it (how could I, given that I couldn’t stand any of the people involved), all I cared about was seeing how things with Miriam’s vision would unfold — will she be able to change the past and save Louis? If so, how? The rest was more or less background noise.
What I liked most
There’s something else out there. After having her vision of Louis’ death, Miriam starts being haunted by his ghost (despite the fact that he is still very much alive). At first she thinks he’s nothing but a figment of her imagination, but sometimes it turns out he knows things she doesn’t. Whatever he is, I liked both the mystery (the fact that I get to theorize about what he may or may not be :) ) and the way the relationship between ghost Louis and Miriam evolves — sure, he’s very creepy-looking, but since he always showed up in times of crisis I think that Miriam actually welcomed his company near the end; when times are tough any company being better than no company at all and all that. Also, another reason why I think she grew quite comfortable with him (notwithstanding the way he looked) is that he is able to know what she’s thinking, so around him she never needed to pretend she was anything else. Sounds like a comfortable dynamic, and I enjoyed discovering this one more than I did the one between Miriam and the real, live Louis.
What I liked least
The nitty-gritty of the way Miriam’s power works is revealed to us via her answers to an interview, of all things. Try as I might I cannot imagine why someone with her strange power and not-quite-pleasant personal history would want to see any of these revealed to the world. Sure, nothing is printed in the end, but all I could think of while reading was what a bad, bad, bad idea this was, for all sorts of reasons.
Also, this is of course a personal preference and YMMV, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the imagery in the book. Okay, I get the reason for the foul language, as someone as damaged as Miriam and the rest of the cast would probably talk like that, if not worse. However, some of the things that the author chooses to conjure via the said language were a bit too aggressive for me — like saying that a car “gallops forward like someone’s trying to stick a riding crop up its a**“, or that the traffic was “locked up tighter than a handful of tampons crammed up a nun’s a**hole“. Eeek.
Thoughts on the title
I actually loved the title :)
“Blackbirds [...] are cool birds. Symbols of death in most mythology. They say that blackbirds are psychopomps. Like sparrows, they’re birds that supposedly help shuttle souls from the world of the living to the world of the dead.”
Although I am not quite sure why the plural form was preferred, since as far as we know now Miriam is the only person with these abilities. Or perhaps the term should be expanded to include all killers?
Thoughts on the ending
Somewhat far fetched and a tad overdone. Reminded me of the movie The Ring, in a way.
Recommend it to?
The book’s current Goodreads rating is 4.20, so despite the fact that I felt it lacked something to make it truly memorable, I encourage anyone who is not put off by foul language and/or some physical violence to give it a try.
- Admittedly, this is only a theory of mine, that can turn out to be disproven in the next books. Until then however… [↩]
A former Shakespearian scholar, Kate Stanley has recently discovered her love for the theater. A chain of lucky events helped her land a position as the director of Hamlet at the Globe, and she couldn’t be happier. When her former mentor, Roz Howard, pays her a visit and hints at a mystery she has uncovered and needs Kate’s help with, Kate is less than thrilled, as her current job is more important to her than chasing shadows with/for Roz.
But then the Globe is set on fire (on the very anniversary of the day the original Globe theatre’s fire), and Roz is found dead. Which makes the mystery she mentioned earlier Kate’s number one priority: she feels she must do everything in her power to find out who killed Roz, and why. It all starts with a brooch, and the mention of a book…
This is a classical case of book that I start with very low expectations and ends up surpassing them. I have had this book at the top of my to-read list for years now, and, as I considered reading it, I browsed through a few of its reviews, just to remember what it was supposed to be about. To my disappointment, its latest ratings on Goodreads were all 1- and 2-stars, and so I braced myself for quite a bad book. Which is probably why I ended up liking it :) While it is not one of my all time favorites, some things in it worked well for me (and others didn’t), so on the whole I am not sorry I gave it a try.
The book is the classical ‘travel around the world searching for clues’ type, and so our characters get to visit many interesting places, such as Valladolid, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and even the Old West. The author has a Ph. D. in English from Harvard, and I was happy to see that a part of the story takes place in Harvard’s buildings. Another interesting place was a ghost town somewhere in the US called Shakespeare (a place that actually exists)1, where an eccentric millionaire has built a copy of the castle that was the inspiration for Hamlet’s Elsinore :)
The characters are not the forte of the book, they felt to me more like vehicles that moved the story along. I quite liked Kate (“Not yet thirty, American, and trained first and foremost as a scholar“), but her resourcefulness, albeit usual in such books, was a bit too much at times — she’s never jet-lagged, never truly afraid, although people were dying right and left. And she doesn’t know about Cardenio, despite specializing in Shakespeare(?) (my reaction when the name was mentioned was something like “OMG! Shakespeare’s missing novel!”, whereas Kate’s was more along the lines of “where oh where have I heard the name before?”).
The rest of the cast is more or less glossed over — Benjamin for example does not talk too much about himself, so we know little to nothing about his previous life. He runs a security firm with lots of resources that apparently he affords to spend scouring the world with Kate (I doubt that Roz, the one who technically hired him as Kate’s bodyguard, has paid him enough money for all his and Kate’s arrangements). In a way I liked having him around, as every time something serious was needed (such as passports, or clothes) the solution was simple, “Ben will get it”. A thing that admittedly made matters too simple for our characters to feel truly real, but also allowed me, as a reader, to focus more on the mystery/Shakespeare-related parts, rather than having to bother with the more mundane ones.
I don’t have anything to say about this, as I felt the characters were not well formed enough to have meaningful relationships. There is one notable exception actually, the state of the matters between Roz and Kate (as remembered by the latter throughout the book). Roz was a dedicated scholar, a perfectionist and very rarely offering praise. However, the less than amiable way she treated Kate turned out to have been nothing more than a façade, as apparently Kate was her favorite assistant (and, of course, everyone knew that but Kate).
Have I mentioned there is a strong similarity to the DaVinci Code? (there’s even a well-meaning policeman that follows the h & H) :)
Which means that you probably know by now that the plot is shaped by solving small mysteries, and each of them leads to a bigger one. The stakes? Solving the two biggest Shakespeare-related mysteries ever: finding out who actually wrote his plays, and discovering a manuscript of Cardenio, one of Shakespeare’s two lost works. This hunt for clues is the central part of the book, and was quite well done (albeit stretching the imagination at times it was never truly implausible), which is probably why I ultimately enjoyed reading it. :)
What I liked most
As previously stated, there were many things that did work for me. First and foremost, the clues were very well set up at times (my favorite being the “Jacobean magnus opus”/1623 thing). Especially as, in her Afterword, the author takes the time to tell us what parts were imagined by her and what is actually true, and it was very interesting to me how much of the story does actually exist. The mystery of Shakespeare’s being involved or not in the translation of the King James Bible for example, complete with a small Easter egg — did you know that the 46th word in the 46th psalm is “shake” and the 46th word counting from the end is “spear”? Some people consider this a hidden message to show that Shakespeare (presumed to be 46 in the year the translation was made) has taken part in the translation. Of course the chances are that we will never know the truth, but it is an interesting tidbit nonetheless.
The whole debate about who actually wrote Shakespeare’s books was quite interesting to me, as I got to find out new things/theories about it. While I do not have an opinion on the matter (if so many scholars could not agree, how could I pretend any certainty about it), I nonetheless find the very existence of such a mystery quite interesting, and I love reading about it.
Having the people being killed thought of as “changing their names” into the Shakespeare’s characters whose fate their shared was also an interesting idea (although I am not convinced that it was worth it for the killer to keep emulating characters’ deaths, not that I’m complaining :) ). I liked the idea of someone “forcing other people into his favorite fictions, and those fictions into life“, even if in this case it involved death.
Another idea that I liked:
“Roz told me that Shakespeare’s language is so thick because his stage was so bare,” he said without looking up. “No scenery. Nothing but costumes and a few props.”
I jumped. I hadn’t realized that he’d noticed me.
“He built his worlds from words.”
What I liked least
There are a few scenes in the book that take place in Shakespeare’s times, having the man himself as a character (and a few others). I started out quite interested in them, of course, but they were so few and far between that they eventually turned boring (I couldn’t get invested in them as there was very little action in them; also, sometimes they mirrored facts that Kate’s present-day investigation has discovered). So yeah, I could definitely have done without them.
My least favorite moment however is this:
Wordlessly, we picked up our pace to something just under a run. A growl rose in the distance, then a humming ran through the pipes, lights flickered through the tunnel, and I realized what was happening. Someone had finally reached the electricity; if it went on before we reached the door, it would lock and we’d be trapped.
(h & H are in a tunnel, and if/when the power comes back on the tunnel door will be sealed — all nice and well, but am I really expected to believe that people can run faster than power travels through lines?)
Thoughts on the title
For some reason the book was renamed in the UK as “The Shakespeare Secret”, which is totally bland compared with the original title. I happen to find the latter quite cool :) (although I was a bit confused at first as I have taken it way too literally, and I thought it referred to people being interred with their bones — making me wonder, could they have been interred without? Silly, I know).
It all starts with a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.“, which constitutes a clue of sorts (one of the characters hides something in a grave at one time, and writes in a letter how she hopes “[t]hat the good that we do might live on after us, while the evil lies interred with their bones.“). Last but not least, the manuscript itself is found somewhere below ground, together with the remains of the people who brought it there — so yeah, “interred with their bones”, and I liked that :)
Thoughts on the ending
As great as the author was when it came to Shakespeare-related stuff, she was less so when it came to suspense/plot-related matters. There are some twists and turns near the end, some of them less plausible than others. But, in Shakespeare’s own words, “all’s well that ends well” :) As I am sure you’ve noticed by now the things that had me excited about the book are unrelated to the actual plot, so I suppose any ending would have been fine with me :)
Recommend it to?
People who like the kind of stories where one clue leads to another, which in turn leads to another and then another :) Also, I think your interest in Shakespeare (or lack of it thereof) will have a decisive role in whether you enjoy the book or not, as I have seen people complaining there’s too much of an info dump at times — yet I noticed no such thing. Actually, I would have liked to be told more :)
- I had no idea that people in the Old West knew or cared about Shakespeare, but apparently they did [↩]
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Main characters: Harvey Swick
Time and place: the Holiday House — somewhere outside our reality
First sentence: “The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.”
Verdict: Loved it!
One bleak and boring February day Harvey Swick receives a surprise guest: a strangely dressed man who tells him about this great place to vacation in. Happy for the break in his routine, Harvey accepts to visit this mysterious place — so magic and mysterious that is hidden behind a wall impenetrable to the rest of the people. Everything turns out to be even better than he imagined and, together with two other children he met there, Harvey loses track of the days he spends happily playing one game or another.
The situation however is bleaker than the kids realize. One day Wendell, the other boy, gets sick of playing and wants to go home. And, as it was only to be expected, he finds no way out. He calls Harvey to his assistance — but can two kids defeat the magic guarding the house?
The book grabbed me with the very first sentence and it didn’t let me go until the last. It’s a short book (267 pages), easy to read in one sitting (which I did) and quite captivating too. And did I mention the beautiful writing?
The main character is a ten year old boy, Harvey Swick. He’s quite everything one would want in a hero of such a book: a bit reckless, yet smart and courageous and willing to help and do the right thing whenever the need arises. What’s more important, he does not give up easily — once he has noticed there is something wrong, he never lets go of the idea of escaping; later on, likewise, he does not let the house distract him from his purpose. Which is probably why he is the one child able to defeat Mr. Hood, all the others before him having been sidetracked :)
As for the villains, methinks the author has done a great job with them. Both their physical appearance and their behaviour made a perfect “wolf in sheep clothes” impression, as they cannot help giving off a disturbing, menacing vibe even when they want to seem friendly and nice. In my eyes the whole book has great cinematic potential, but if a movie were made it’s the villains I’d be most curious to get to see :)
Ah, the Holiday House. The very reason I like Clive Barker’s books is that at times he has some fascinating ideas :)
Imagine a house where four seasons pass every single day. In the morning the trees are blooming, for there is spring. Later on, the sky clears and the temperature rises, as summer has arrived. The clouds come back then, and leaves start to fall; each evening there is Halloween. And then, the snow starts falling and a huge Christmas tree appears in the middle of the house; and each day there are presents under it, and perfect ones too, as the house can read minds.
And let’s not forget that, of course, at Holiday House there’s always holiday — the children are free to spend their time playing and generally doing whatever they please. I don’t think it can get any better for a ten year old than that :)
First of all, I liked that Harvey, although delighted with the prospect of a holiday in a magical place, has remembered to spare a thought about his parents, and even calls them periodically. Other than that, there is of course the friendship that forms between him and the other two visitors at the house, Wendell and Lulu. I didn’t feel it to be a central part of the story though (although they do matter for him, especially Lulu, after her change at the end). It seemed to me that Harvey’s motivations were a bit more general than just relating to his two friends — he wanted back what he lost, and he also wanted to help the rest of the children (the scores that have fallen prey to the house in previous years), not Wendell and Lulu alone. Or perhaps I am misremembering and it’s the other way around, he wanted to help Lulu and helped the rest as a side effect. :)
Ever since Harvey first sets eyes upon the house, the reader is treated to certain clues that all is not as it should be. The theme itself is similar enough to Pinocchio’s Toyland, so it is obvious almost right from the start that Harvey is about to learn that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, most likely the hard way. However, this knowledge does not dim in any way the joy of reading — getting to discover the Holiday House’s domain is fun enough by itself. Not to mention that, while it is obvious that someone wants something from Harvey, I personally was very curious to see what that something is (this curiosity being one of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down). This mystery will be revealed halfway through the book, and then another will replace it: Harvey wants to take back what the house has stolen from him — will he manage to succeed? And if so, how?
What I liked most
The cats :) I liked the idea of having three cats named Stew-Cat and Blue-Cat and Clue-Cat, and the fact that Blue-Cat was blue and Clue-Cat had a tail shaped like a question mark was also a nice touch.
My absolute favorite moment however is somewhere near the end:
What I liked least
Clue-Cat’s accident :( I kept hoping that he will be resurrected somehow :(
Blue-Cat’s fate too :( :(
Thoughts on the title
Brilliant :) The very idea of a “thief of always” sounds quite cool to me. Even more so since both the hero and the villain are referenced as such inside the book, and I like the fact that we cannot be certain who the title refers to :)
Thoughts on the ending
Could the ending be anything but positive and cool? I knew that all along, of course, and yet still I was taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed it :)
I very much liked the last few sentences — the idea that one would treasure every moment from then on may be a bit cliche, but the wording is anything but:
He’d fill every moment with the seasons he’d found in his heart: hopes like birds on a spring branch; happiness like a warm summer sun; magic like the rising mists of autumn. And best of all, love; love enough for a thousand Christmases.
Recommend it to?
Everyone — kids in particular, but I bet it can hold the interest of adults too :)
I loved the first page so much I just have to quote it here:
The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.
Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter. He didn’t think much of his chances. More than likely he’d become so bored as the hours crawled by that one day he’d simply forget to breathe. Then maybe people would get to wondering why such a fine young lad had perished in his prime.
It would become a celebrated mystery, which wouldn’t be solved until some great detective decided to re-create a day in Harvey’s life. Then, and only then, would the grim truth be discovered. The detective would first follow Harvey’s route to school every morning, trekking through the dismal streets. Then he’d sit at Harvey’s desk, and listen to the pitiful drone of the history teacher and the science teacher, and wonder how the heroic boy had managed to keep his eyes open. And finally, as the wasted day dwindled to dusk, he’d trace the homeward trek, and as he set foot on the step from which he had departed that morning, and people asked him-as they would-why such a sweet soul as Harvey had died, he would shake his head and say: “It’s very simple.” “Oh?” the curious crowd would say. “Do tell.” And, brushing away a tear, the detective would reply: “Harvey Swick was eaten by the great gray beast February.”
Written by the same author:
Books of Blood, Volume One
Kinsey’s life is getting back to normal, as her little flat has just been rebuilt (after being blown up in the previous book). She has taken on a new case, to find someone’s elderly mother. Sounds like a cut-and-dried job, and, sure enough, locating the old lady is a breeze. Kinsey is puzzled to see her acting as if she’s frightened of going to Santa Teresa — but then things start happening and the mystery is forgotten.
One of the guys that Kinsey helped put behind bars wants revenge, so he paid a guy to kill her. While Kinsey did take the threat seriously, it wasn’t until an actual attempt was made on her life that she internalized the danger she was in. She hired herself a bodyguard, one Robert Dietz, recommended to her by a common acquaintance. Dietz takes his mission seriously, but will Kinsey’s independent nature allow him to protect her?
It’s been a while since I last read a book in the alphabet series so I figured I should correct that. This felt a bit different from the other books I read so far (A through F). Up until now every book was centered around an investigation, and the reader got to follow Kinsey around, talking to people, gathering clues, and little by little putting together the big picture. In this book, Kinsey is more preoccupied with preserving her own life, and she only realizes that there may be something worth investigating somewhere in the last third of the pages. The book even felt romance-y at times (what with a hero and a heroine stuck with one another for awhile), and I enjoyed that, especially as Kinsey, jaded about love, marriage and men, is not the classical romance heroine type.
After six books there’s not much more I can say about Kinsey that I have not said before :) As usually, I love her no-nonsense attitude, her courage, the way she has no patience for weakness (not even for her own), and not in the least her brain, the way the little cogs and wheels whir and theories get born.
A character newly introduced in this book is Robert Dietz, whom I certainly hope I will see again as he was quite interesting to me. An investigator bored with his job, he enthusiastically took up the job of protecting Kinsey, working for free simply because it was a break in his routine. I imagine he is quite well off financially, as he drives a red Porsche (which in theory is a cliche but in this case it just seemed like his kind of car). He is a man of action, restless and fidgety when there is nothing to be done in the immediate period of time. He is the independent kind, the kind that just goes out there and takes what he wants, making Kinsey’s former(?) love interest — the one who keeps running back to his wife whenever she calls, despite the fact that she left him more than once — fade in comparison.
A quote about him, albeit a bit large:
Dietz put a cigarette between his lips and flicked open a Zippo. He hesitated, glancing over at me.
“My smoking going to bother you?”
I thought about being polite, but it didn’t make much sense. What’s communication for if it isn’t to convey the truth?
“Probably,” I said.
He lowered the window on his side and tossed the lighter out, flipped the cigarette out after it, and followed both with the pack of Winstons from his shirt pocket. I stared at him, laughing uncomfortably.
“What are you doing?”
“I quit smoking.”
“Just like that?”
He said, “I can do anything.”
Can one not like someone with such a can-do attitude? :)
What I liked most
I enjoyed seeing a softer side of Kinsey. Up to now she always knew what she was doing, she was always in control. This time however she is scared enough to allow herself a moment of letting another guide her, and I liked that, because it humanized her. She herself is taken by surprise by it, and perhaps a little wistful — in her own words, “I wasn’t famous for letting guys tell me what to do and I was hoping I wouldn’t get used to it.“. She has been on her own for so long that she has almost forgotten how it is to have someone to take care of her, and she is not sure how to deal with the current situation. And, though she realizes their arrangement is only temporary, she falls for him, harder than I thought her capable of (“I didn’t want to see Dietz die, didn’t think I could bear it, didn’t want to live myself if it came down to that.” <--- this doesn't sound like our jaded, distant, emotionally unavailable Kinsey, does it?)
What I liked least
Ah, this is most likely a personal pet peeve, but I could not believe that neither Kinsey nor Dietz knew anything about Anne Bronte and Agnes Grey. I know that neither of them have gone to college and all, but still, the Brontes are such household names, are they not?
Thoughts on the title
While I totally love the idea of the alphabet titles, this particular one is not among my favorites, as it is too generic (a ‘gumshoe’ is a detective — I initially thought is was a sort of rubber-soled shoe, the kind that nurses wear, and I was happy about it because the mystery includes an old lady in a nursing home). I like better the ones where the title references the content at least vaguely (B Is For Burglar had burglary in it, F Is For Fugitive had a fugitive, and so on).
Thoughts on the ending
The last fifth or so of the book flew by quite fast, and I enjoyed that.
Recommend it to?
Fans of the series, most of all. I thought it was more character-driven than plot-driven, and I am not sure how people who are only interested by the mystery side would see it.
“It was not the sea that was cruel, but the people.”
Grace Winter is 22 and she’s only been married for a few weeks when she becomes a widow. The ship that she and her husband were travelling on sinks, and Grace is one of the passengers of the few boats that were launched; sadly, her husband is not. The real trial is only now beginning though: there are 39 people in Grace’s boat, a bit more than its dimensions allow. As days pass, the hope of rescue dwindles and the weather becomes agitated; the boat’s load should be lightened — but how? Does some people’s chance of survival justify the death of others?
The premise of the book — thirty-nine people crowded on a tiny boat, a boat that spent twenty-one days at sea — reminded me of Life of Pi, which I loved, and this was the reason I ended up requesting it from NetGalley.
There are indeed similarities between the two books. This one starts out quite captivating, with the difficult choices that the people in the boat must make — their boat is overcrowded as it is, and so they have to steel their hearts at the plights of the people all around them. Particularly touching is a scene where they have to ignore a young boy, nicely dressed, whose mother has died after setting him on a plank. This moment will come back to haunt Grace, our narrator, now and then, and I can only imagine how unsettling the experience must have been.
Like Pi, the people in this boat have to make do with as little resources as possible. Their bodies grow gaunt, raw meat feels like a delicacy, the rains bring with it the blessing of sweet water. And also, like in Pi’s actual story, conflicts break out among the passengers, with some ending up dead. And this is where the book’s grip on my interest faded almost completely. Grace, as a woman, spends her time with the women in the boat, and so we know little to nothing about the talks going on in the men’s group. This is why my opinions/feelings only apply to the female travelers. And boy, they were a despicable lot. Scratch that, despicable probably is too strong a word — yet I cannot find any other right now, so it will have to do. The women spend their time gossiping, fabricating stories out of thin air, and then believing these stories themselves and reacting with indignation towards the ones the story’s about. Instead of wanting to keep peace — after all, they were all literally in the same boat — some of them sow dissent, while others are preoccupied with seizing as much influence and power as possible. While I do of course realize that this is the way things would probably happen in the given situation (as the average person has a tendency for all the things described), I cannot say I am fond of people acting in an average way in extraordinary circumstances. Which is why I spent half the book wanting to punch some of the said women in the face, and also why the moral ambiguity of most of the story was lost on me — to me there was nothing ambiguous about it, those women were in the wrong.
Consider that the people in the boat had one experienced sailor among them, just one. And he, albeit gruff and not very social, has done everything in his power to care for his little flock — he rationed the provisions, he instituted a schedule, he caught fish — and the idiots in the boat owed him their survival, such as it was. They themselves should have known that, as at one point they intersect with another boat from the same ship, and the people there seem a lot worse off. Now, this sailor, Mr. Hardie, may not have a completely clean character — he may have been a thief, but there is no proof of that, just stories upon stories upon stories, most of them fabricated as likely as not. But no, the women decided to hold him responsible for their situation (“He made his best guess, that was all, which was certainly better than mine. Yet I and others blamed him as if he knew the truth and kept it from us–capriciously, or as a form of punishment for our sins.“). They said he was a threat to them and he had to be killed. And this is supposed to be morally ambiguous? Not in my book it isn’t. It is one thing to kill someone to ensure your own survival and quite another to finish one off simply because you’ve grown tired of being under his command.
I should mention a few words about Grace. It’s interesting how, despite being the narrator, she didn’t feel that central to the book; she felt to me like yet another woman among those in the boat (although to be fair to her Grace did have the sense that the others lacked — or perhaps she just tells the story in such a way to make herself look good). I did like that she was a doer, not a talker; her motto is “God helps those who help themselves” and she considers hope “a weak emotion, a kind of pleading passivity or entrenched denial”. Her father went bankrupt and killed himself, and her mother, on hearing about this, went mad. Grace’s sister went on to become a governess, while Grace herself evaded this fate by marrying a rich guy (interestingly enough she considers her sister the weak one, the one who settled for less — I find the opposite to be true). Marriage seems to be Grace’s ‘weapon of choice’ (she finds herself a new husband before the book is done), and this has detracted from my initial opinion of her. I feel somewhat cheated in a way — I loved her motto, and a female character who believes in doing things herself can only be a likable one, I thought. But Grace spends the vast majority of the pages entrapped in an environment she cannot influence, regardless of what her philosophy may or may not be. The cases when she does find herself a mistress of her own destiny — after her father went mad and after the thing with the boat is fully over — her solution is marriage, which basically delegates the doing to someone else. Sure, she is very proud that she was able to secure her future by finding a rich husband — but is this really ‘doing something’?
Which brings me at last to the conclusion. Was this a bad book? I don’t think it was. Was this a book for me? Alas, unfortunately it wasn’t. I did enjoy it quite a bit at first, but as the characters revealed their true colors I became less than enthusiastic.
A quote (Grace recollects her former life):
“My mind was blank and terrified, unable to fathom what had brought my handsome and worldly lover to his knees in a patch of dirt that was not a rich and earthy loam built up through generations of natural processes, but a combination of horse dung and wash water and boot scrapings and kitchen scraps that were too spoiled for even the ragamuffins to eat. Then I realized with a shock that seemed to leap like primordial fire from Henry’s blazing eyes to my own that the thing that had brought Henry to his knees in that filthy courtyard was me.”
Recommend it to?
Anyone interested in reading a story of survival & psychological ambiguity. At the moment it has a rating of 4.05 on Goodreads.
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Genre: Adult Fiction
Main characters: Edward Constantin, Camille Harte, Angie D’Amato
Time and place: present day New York
First sentence: ““We had a nice time,” Kat said.”
Verdict: Quite sad.
Camille Harte is a professional matchmaker, recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Her mother died when she was just a kid, and her father neglected his parental duties. She had a hard time growing up, having to take care of her younger sister almost all by herself. Now, while her husband is a great man, he is very dedicated to his profession; Camille can easily see her own children suffering her fate after she’s gone. Her way of coping consists in taking care of things — and, given her profession, what better way to take care of her family than find the kids a replacement mother and her husband a replacement wife?
To me, the book felt authentic. The characters face real challenges (illness, deceit, unwanted feelings taking over), and I could easily see myself in their shoes, and their problems tugged at my heart strings more often than not.
Read courtesy of NetGalley.
First of all, hats off to Camille. She is an incredibly strong woman, and I have spent the bulk of the book admiring her. I loved her maturity, the way she puts the needs of her family ahead of her own — sure, she may have chosen wrong (although in her condition I am not sure whether there could be a better course of action, despite what Edward thinks), but she made that difficult choice and stuck with it all throughout. I liked how responsible she was, how dedicated to taking care of others — her little sister, her suicidal roommate, Edward and the kids. I also liked this quote:
The selfish part of her wanted her husband to mourn forever after she was gone. She pictured him in his bereavement, a lonely figure in black wandering the windswept moors like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. But this was real life. And real life was messy, full of pieces needing to be picked up.
Edward, the hero of the story, is described by one character thusly:
“Looking at him now, she saw a study in contrasts. Someone who was kind and loyal but who could also be stubborn and intractable; who was his own man but also your typical man from Mars; who was always there for her but who had a tendency to hold back when showing his own emotions; who was forgetful at times but who never forgot was was most important.”
To be honest, I didn’t notice all those things about him, but they’re probably there. The one thing I did notice is that he was both reliable and unreliable — in times of serious crisis, he was always there; however, in the rest of the time he kept forgetting to do anything that was not related to his profession — so much so it bordered on annoying at times. Other than that, he was quite an okay guy, and I liked his determination in doing the right thing, no matter how difficult that may be.
An interesting character is Holly, Camille’s sister. She’s basically living her life the exact way she wants it, without accepting any constraints in any form. She loves all things rock, and even has a small business selling rock memorabilia. Despite her being way past her twenties she’s a rebel, but she manages to be a cool one, and I liked having her around :)
The thing about Camille’s choice is that she hoped to find Edward a platonic relationship. She didn’t expect Elise, ‘the chosen one’, to fall head over heels in love with him. She didn’t expect one of her customers, Kat, to hit on her husband. She didn’t expect Edward to become friends with Angie, a woman he met at a meet-and-greet. And the idea that he himself might allow himself to have feelings for someone else never had crossed her mind.
So… here we are. There are no less than four women vying for Edward’s affection at one time. Of course, he only thinks of his wife and her well-being; yet, slowly, he starts to think that hey, perhaps what she wants for him is not a bad idea after all. Who will he end up with, and how, and why?
I liked the way the relationship between Camille and Edward was written. They have met in college and been very passionately in love for many, many years. But things have changed when Camille first had cancer, and Edward started to think of her as less than substantial, like she would break if he didn’t treat her with the utmost care. Slowly, he became more her caregiver than her husband; he’s always there for her, but their passion is now extinguished. To me it felt like a plausible change/development, one that just happened, without any of them planning it to, a feeling that allowed me to get emotionally invested in their plight.
The Edward/Angie dynamic was one I liked a bit less. I liked the way they started out as mere friends, and things evolved from there. I found it plausible, albeit sad, that Edward would go look elsewhere the things he was lacking at home. And yet I couldn’t help thinking, while reading, about the people their liaison will end up hurting. I was not sure about Camille’s opinion, as theoretically someone to replace her in Edward’s life was exactly what she thought was best; however Elise, the one who fell in love with Edward without meaning to, was sure to be hurt — and I am not particularly fond of characters that hurt other people. I do understand, of course, that the circumstances were the ones most at fault, not the people, and yet I cannot shake off the feeling.
What I liked
Hehehe. I was very happy to find that Edward’s parents were from Romania. I did wonder at first, when seeing his last name, that I didn’t remember seeing Constantin as an English name before, but I didn’t connect it with my own country until later on. While Edward is not a Romanian name (its Romanian equivalent is Eduard, seldom used), both the names of the parents were very well chosen (their personalities too were quite believable, Edward’s father reminded me of my own at times). Now and then there were a few other Romanian words inserted, and I was very happy to see that all were correct, even when they contained letters not in the English alphabet :)
What I did not like
It’s more of a quibble than a serious matter, but the way Edward attracted every. single. female around him got tiring after a while. He basically has every quality possible — he’s tall, good looking, dignified, and a doctor into the bargain; I would have preferred a more ‘normal’ character, perhaps one normal-looking, that didn’t turn heads. It would have felt ‘real-er’ that way (I’m not saying that guys that are both good and good looking do not exist, just that they are rare enough to be harder to relate to than normal looking ones). And wouldn’t it have been nice if, instead of looking like George Clooney, he had such a kick-ass personality that made every female who discovered fall in love with him, regardless of his looks? :)
Thoughts on the title
Descriptive and also intriguing.
Thoughts on the ending
Predictably enough, since the whole book made me sad, the ending made me sad too. However, I am fairly certain that this was not the author’s intention :) In truth, the book ends as good as possible in the given circumstances — but still, it made me sad.
Recommend it to?
Anyone interesting in reading a book about people and relationships.