Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

murder is binding by lorna barrett Publication year: 2008
Genre: Mystery
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.

Summary
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.

General impression
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.

Setting
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.

Characters
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.

Relationships
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.

Plot
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.

show spoiler

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).

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  1. 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 []
  2. “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. []

The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner

Publication year: 2008
Genre: Fantasy / Juvenile Fiction
Time and place: contemporary Washington (mostly)
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Norbert Johnson had never met such strange people in all of his life, much less two on the same day—within the same hour even.
Verdict: Kids would love it :)

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Out of Time by Deborah Truscott

Genre: Time Travel / Romance
Main characters: Kathleen “Kathy Lee” Finlay, Colonel Robert Christian Upton
Time and place: contemporary US
First sentence:I buried Earl shortly after Valentine day.

Verdict: Enjoyed it :)

Summary
At thirty-two, Kathy Lee’s marriage is in shambles. It’s time for her to take a deep breath and address the problem head-on. However, before moving away and asserting her independence, there is one more thing she has to do: sell the house she has inherited from her uncle, the house she is quite fond of but knows she will never use.

As she was planning to get ready the grounds for the potential buyers’ visits, she went to the shed to get a rake. There was something else in the shed but tools however: a man, strangely dressed and just as surprised to find himself there as she was. More so actually, since he is very convinced that it’s the autumn of 1777, and where did the wall he was just sitting on go?

General impression
An nice book that started out okay and got better as I read on.

Characters
I wasn’t fond of Kathy Lee for most of the book. I didn’t dislike her, she seemed nice enough, but she also seemed more like a placeholder for a person. I cannot pinpoint why I felt like that, because the author has been really thorough with her, giving her a family, back story, and even a cat. The feeling subsided in the second half of the book but in the first few pages Kathy seemed to exist simply because someone had to be there to meet and greet the colonel, and no more. She also seems a bit too selfless to be true, particularly at first, when she first meets Robert and she radically alters her own plans to include him, although he was a total stranger: “We’d simply stay here as long as it took to get the Colonel back, and if it took longer than we thought I’d tell Lila I had decided to keep the house after all. That I would live here. And then we’d set up camp — the children, me, and, um, oh hell, Uncle Robert. And hope to God that no one came to visit us.”

On the other hand Robert, the colonel, felt sort of opposite: a character I rapidly grew attached to, which is an interesting thing if we consider that we only see him through Kathy Lee’s eyes. The fact that he was a British soldier fighting the Americans-to-be was a particularly nice touch :) Sure, he does adapt to modern times and morals blazingly fast, but that is sort of a given in a TT book, else the protagonists could hardly understand one another. Furthermore, the trip to this century has addled his senses a bit, a thing that can also account for some of his flexibility. Overall he’s a nice guy, smart, handsome, and with a troubled past — all the quintessential traits of a romance hero — and yet he didn’t feel cliché.

Relationships
One of the parts I liked most was the relationship between Kathy Lee and Lila, her mother. Lila is a historical romance writer five-times divorced, whose mental issues made her spend some time in a hospital while Kathy Lee grew up. As the latter puts it, “Until I went away to college I spent a good portion of my life never really understanding what was going on around me or what was going to happen next“. Even now the two are not very close, and Lila feels guilt for all the times in Kathy Lee’s childhoos that she was away. And yet all throughout the book it is obvious that Lila loves Kathy, and Kathy loves Lila despite it all. show spoiler

As for the main relationship, it started out a bit less that ideal, especially as for the first bit Kathy Lee acted like she was the mother and Robert her unruly child. However, as pages flew by and our hero and heroine grew used to each other, the relationship between them got cozier, making a romance between both desirable and believable.

Plot
The book revolves around the way Robert gets to adapt to his new environment, as well as his attempts to go back home. There is a bit of element of suspense, as there may be someone, an enemy, that is after him, but it is mostly hinted at than presented outright. I personally was far less interested in the ‘Robert adapting’ part than any of the rest.

What I liked most
The way Robert just had to explain the etymology of the names of the things he discovers in the present day. I didn’t realize there are so many things with Greek/Latin names surrounding us. Also, his infectious curiosity about how everything works, even convincing someone at one time to open up a lawn mower to show him what’s inside. I’ve seen the ‘man from the past discovers modern technology’ trope quite a few times until now (a thing that’s only natural, given my penchant for time travel-ly stuff) and I can say that this author has dealt with it very, very well.

What I liked least
A nitpick, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was no place for the parenthesis that appeared now and then (this may very well be the only book with parenthesis in it I’ve ever seen). Why yes, I know that I too am guilty of parenthesis overuse, but it feels a bit different to find them in a novel, especially as there were times there wasn’t an actual need for them. It made me feel like the book lacked an editor, which is a pity because other than this and a few typos here and there the book was rather okay written1.

Thoughts on the title
Quite generic, as I imagine it would fit more or less any time travel book out there. However, I must admit it was the thing that attracted me to the book (since I am such a fan of time travel stories and all) so it must be doing something right too.

Thoughts on the ending
Nicely done :)
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a light time travelling romance.

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  1. ah, sad sad times, when we consider a few typos to be nothing bad. I cannot help remembering how, eons ago, even one typo in a book was quite a big deal :( []

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Genre: Paranormal
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.

Summary
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.

General impression
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.

Setting
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.

Characters
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.

Relationships
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.

Plot
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.

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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.

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  1. Admittedly, this is only a theory of mine, that can turn out to be disproven in the next books. Until then however… []

Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

Genre: Mystery
Main characters: Katharine J. Stanley, Benjamin Pearl
Time and place: 2004 — England, US and Spain
First sentence:From the river, it looked as if two suns were setting over London.
Verdict: Like The Da Vinci Code, only with Shakespeare :)

Summary
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…

General impression
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.

Setting
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 :)

Characters
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.

show spoiler

Relationships
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).

Plot
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 :)

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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 :)

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  1. I had no idea that people in the Old West knew or cared about Shakespeare, but apparently they did []

The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

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.

Summary
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?

General impression
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.

Characters
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 :)

Plot
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?

Relationships
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.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone interesting in reading a book about people and relationships.

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The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose

Genre: Adult Fiction
Main characters: Jacinthe “Jac” L’Etoile, Robbie L’Etoile, Griffin North
Time and place: present day, New York and Paris (mostly; there are also bits set in China & London); 18th century Egypt and France; a bit of Egypt in Cleopatra’s times too
First sentence:Giles L’Etoile was a master of scent, not a thief.
Verdict: Not much love lost between us.

Summary
In Egypt in 1799, Giles L’Etoile discovered an ancient book of fragrance formulas. One for an elixir that enabled people to find true soul mates. After he’d smelled the scent, he was never the same. The book and the fragrance have been lost, but once upon a time in the future another L’Etoile will find them and–

General impression
It seemed to me, while reading, that this book was like one of those multi-faceted bottle stoppers that Jac enjoyed playing with as a child. It has many facets and treats many aspects; the disadvantage of this is that there is way too little time to get to know each character, and this has kept me from getting emotionally involved in everyone’s fates all throughout the book.

Characters
The one character I did manage to connect to was a young Chinese artist who happens to be the next Panchen Lama. As the book opens, he is allowed to leave China on a promotional trip to Europe, and he knows this is his on chance to escape his current condition and get recognized as who he really is. It is a risky endeavor, and, naturally enough, the young man is frightened about the Chinese government discovering his plan before he is able to pull it through — living in a former communist country myself, I related with his plight a lot more than I did with any other character’s.

I could not connect with Jac in any way, sadly. Her very name bothered me, as it always made me think of Jacques (a boy’s name, pronounced Jac), and it confused me a bit at first (also, I am not certain, but I don’t think Jac can be the short form of Jacinthe, as there is no c heard in the latter). Her feelings too were quite confusing to me. Sure, she loved her brother, and I respected that about her. I also liked her chosen field of work, following the source of myths to find out how they started (I wish I could do that myself :) ). Other than that however, she struck me as less than rational at times, and I am not fond of characters who cannot think straight when need arises. One thing I did not like about her in particular was the way she constantly refused to acknowledge that she had visions of her past lives. One, there must have been a way to check whether Marie-Genevieve had been a real person, and two, even if Jac’s fear that her previous illness was coming back, and she was merely imagining things, was real, hiding it from her brother would not have helped any one in any way. I mean, here’s this amazing miracle (her being able to see her past lives) that she knew her brother expected, and she just keeps it to herself, lying repeatedly about it… why?

As for the other characters all I can say is some of them would have had potential, had they been given enough time/space to properly develop. Robbie L’Etoile is the best example for this. We know about him that he’s bi, he’s a Buddhist, he’s ever resourceful and he fights to keep the family business afloat. But all these are outside markers, I wanted to know more about who he was on the inside. The same goes for Griffin, who is also surprisingly resourceful when he needs be, but basically this (and a few pointers about his former life) is all we get to know about him — he almost feels like a prop, someone who was there simply because the heroine needed a hero.

Relationships
A central thing of the book’s was supposed to be the fact that Jac and Griffin (as Marie-Genevieve and Giles L’Etoile before) are supposed to be soul mates, having spend their previous incarnations in love with one another. Which is in itself quite a good thing, but I could not get into it. Sure, Marie-Genevieve (Jac in a former life) was clearly in love with her Giles — I believed her and I suffered with her when Giles did not return from Egypt; her story did touch me. The contemporary story of Jac & Griffin, not so much. The reason I think is that we’re always in Jac’s head when interactions between them happen, and all Jac thinks about is how she has learned her lesson with him (he was the one who left her fifteen years before) and how she will never let her guard down around him ever again. Now, of course I can understand her reasoning, and her struggle to protect herself — and yet her coldness towards him made me cold and uncaring towards him too.

Plot
There are multiple plot threads, almost all of them are related, one way or another, to the belief in past lives. Robbie wants to make sure his ‘memory tool’ ends up in Dalai Lama’s care1; the Chinese mafia wants to stop him. When Robbie disappears, Jac and Griffin are conducting their own investigation to find out what happened. And then there’s Malachai, who wants to claim the said memory tool for himself; Xie Ping, the Chinese art student who needs to reach Dalai Lama himself; there’s also thirst for revenge, and memories of previous lifetimes, all interweaving to form a complex story.

What I liked
The whole idea of being able to access past lives sounded very cool to me. I liked both the idea of soul mates (souls who found one another again and again and again) and the idea of learning from the past in order to make a better future. I don’t quite believe in reincarnation, but this book made me dream of ‘what if’. I love history, and getting to see first hand various historical events & periods sounds very attractive to me :)

I also liked a few other ideas in the text, such as there being poetry in perfume (“Poetry is the very essence of what we do.“, says Giles at one time) and some considerations about myths:

She believed she was debunking myths. Bringing them down to size. But she wound up doing the opposite. The proof that myths were, in fact, based in fact—that some version of ancient heroes, gods, fates, furies and muses really had existed—gave readers and viewers hope.

Myths are a culture’s collective dream. Small stories about individuals that, out of the thousands told, were the ones that clicked with the most people because of the patterns in our collective unconscious. As the stories are handed down, they change, grow, become more extravagant and magical.

What I did not like
I read this as an ARC from NetGalley, and as such I am aware that the typos & various casing mistakes (L’etoile instead of L’Etoile has bothered me the most) will eventually be corrected. I keep my fingers crossed that the French words will be corrected too. The mistake that bothered me the most was when Jac remembers that her brother’s nickname used to be Tourjours Droit, wanting to mean ‘always right’. Now, ‘droit’ does mean ‘right’ in French, but as a direction, so “toujours droit” (there’s only one r in ‘toujours’) means something along the lines of ‘always goes right’; a fit nickname would have been “Toujours Raison”. Google Translate agrees with me, and it saddens me to see that neither the author, nor the famous publishing house were at least vaguely curious to check it. It kinda throws a shadow on the level of documentation the author has done for the book :(

Also, as much as I like the idea of soul mates, I hated the fact that there was cheating involved — many of Jac’s reminiscences have either her or her mate (or both) married to other people. I could have had them spend time together; I could have had them run away together, unable to resist the mutual attraction between them; however, they chose to lie to their significant others, and cheat on them, and soul mates or not I was not a fan of that.

Thoughts on the title
It is a beautiful title (the reason why I picked this book up), yet I found it to be strangely unrelated to the content of the book. There is an Egyptian recipe book of fragrances mentioned at the beginning; the same book is mentioned yet again near the end. And… that’s about it :) Everything revolves around the ‘memory tool’ that Robbie has discovered; the book is mostly forgotten all throughout.

Thoughts on the ending
Disappointing. It seemed to me that Jac has taken away the wrong lesson from the past lives she get to see.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
The current Goodreads rating is 3.98 — this means that most people like it, despite my issues with it. So, if the premises sound at least vaguely interesting to you, by all means go ahead and give it a try :)

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  1. I never actually got what the Dalai Lama was supposed to do with it — aren’t the Lamas chosen for their very ability to remember past lives? []

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Theseus Cassio Lowood, Anna Korlov
Time and place: Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada), present day
First sentence:The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway–no pun intended.
Verdict: Captivating. Want sequel now. :)

Summary:
I think of her again. Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. I wonder what tricks she’ll try. I wonder if she’ll be clever. Will she float? Will she laugh or scream?
How will she try to kill me?

Cas Lowood is a ghost killer, like his father and his father before him. He dedicated his life to this pursuit, moving around with his mother and cat to any place he finds out there’s a ghost in need of sending to the other side. At first, his next mark didn’t seem like much. A sixteen-year old girl, savagely murdered in 1958 on her way to a school dance; she bled so much that the white dress she was wearing was soaking red. Her name was Anna. She was known from then on as Anna Dressed in Blood.

However, as Cas is about to find out, Anna is not an ordinary ghost. She is strong enough to tear people’s limbs apart. Cas is no match for her, physically. So, much as he hates involving ‘civilians’ in this kind of matters, Cas must try something else…

General impression
An interesting book with just enough horror elements to make it captivating without making it too frightening to enjoy. And yes, I read it at night, in the dark :)

Reading a few reviews, I noticed that people generally are not fond of Cas and his confidence. For me it was the other way around: one of the things I liked most in the book is Cas, and the way he never questions his ‘job’ and his ability to see it through. Although he’s not yet out of his teenage years, Cas already has his life figured out. I imagine he’s not particularly fond of his gruesome task, but he accepted that he is who he is; the job needs to be done, very few people in the world can do it but him, so the matter is settled. And if this means forsaking almost all others — he cannot make friends as he keeps moving around — then so be it. I thought it very mature of him, and I enjoyed his unselfishness1 and total lack of doubts.

And then there’s his first day in his new school. His confidence never wavers — I wouldn’t have liked it any other way. After all the things and adventures he’s been through, after getting beat up by dead people quite a few times, having to fit in at a new school should be a breeze, especially if, like Cas, one does this for the n-th time. It’s only natural to become jaded after a while. On the whole, Cas is quite the good guy, surprisingly normal for a kid who lost his father when he was seven and he has spent his life moving from one place to another ever since. And did I mention I liked his self-confidence very, very much? :)

Anna is somewhat of a paradox: a killer ghost, and an innocent girl all at once. She cannot leave her own house, and she’s compelled to kill everyone who enters — and she does so, violently. She does not know why she’s the way she is, why she experiences that unstoppable thirst for blood and revenge, yet deep inside she still is the same girl who all those years ago made her own dress, dreaming of going to a dance. Anna the ghost is very strong; she’s also aware that she’s dead and that few things can actually harm her. Even before she died she was a courageous girl, who stood up for herself. Now she is fearless and untouchable, her confidence level being as high as Cas’s.

There’s chemistry between these two: they are a good match, and their values are surprisingly similar. I very much liked the way their story developed. At first, she’s just another ‘mark’ for Cas, yet another ghost to be taken care of. Then, when he tries to kill her, they have their first conversation. Cas doesn’t let the fact that he finds her cool and intriguing get in the way of doing his job, but Anna is so strong she swats him effortlessly, like a fly. Despite actually liking her, Cas knows his duty is to destroy Anna; she becomes all he thinks about. He interacts with her again and again; he never found girls his own age truly interesting, but Anna is something else. Cas doesn’t even realize when he stops thinking of her as Anna Dressed in Blood — the feared name on everyone’s lips — and starts giving her pet names (“Anna, my strong, terrifying Anna“) in his head.

Speaking of Anna, I loved the way the author imagined her:

Anna is descending upon me, coming down the stairs without taking any strides. Her feet drag horribly along like she can’t use them at all. Dark, purplish veins cut through her pale white skin. Her hair is shadow-less black, and it moves through the air as though suspended in water, snaking out behind and drifting like reeds. It’s the only thing about her that looks alive.

She doesn’t wear her death wounds like other ghosts do. They say her throat was cut, and this girl’s throat is long and white. But there is the dress. It’s wet, and red, and constantly moving. It drips onto the ground.

While Anna does not always look like this — when she’s not angry she usually looks the way she did while alive — I found all the descriptions of Anna that involve her transformation to be actually beautiful. Sure, if they were in a movie they’d probably have me scared, all the dark veins creeping on her face, and all that; yet in my mind’s eye they look great.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re all promising, yet far less interesting than Cas and Anna. I liked Carmel, the beautiful, popular girl, who’s more than her high school persona. There’s also Thomas, a teenage witch who can read minds, but only in the right circumstances — sadly, this talent of his goes mostly unused. Perhaps we’ll get to see more of it in the sequel :)

Thoughts on the title
Hands down, one of the best titles ever. So very cool.

Thoughts on the ending
I cannot decide whether I like it or not. Scratch that, I think the way things ended is the best thing for everyone involved. It’s the fact that the author decides not to let things alone and hint at a sequel that has me less than satisfied.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone who can handle ghosts and a bit of violence. I usually shy away from mentions of ghosts with eyes sewn shut, but at the moment this particular character was introduced I was way too engrossed in the events of the book to care :)

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  1. he’s basically giving away all his life for the sake of others []