Tag Archive | book review

Book review: The Lauras by Sara Taylor

The LaurasThe Lauras by Sara Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the middle of a spring night, 13-year-old Alex’s mother hustles both of them into the car, puts Alex in the back seat with a blanket, and drives away from their home and Alex’s father, with no explanation. All Alex knew was Ma and Dad had been fighting, again, and this time must have been the worst, or Ma would never have left.

The pair spends the next few years on the road, traveling from place to place, small town to small town, more or less in hiding, while Alex’s mother works odd jobs to support them. Now and then Ma talks about her past; now and then they visit places and people Ma had known as she was growing up in foster care. Ma has loose ends to tie up.

Alex has loose ends, too. Mainly, Alex hasn’t decided whether to present as male or female, and so alternates depending on mood and available clothing. While this usually doesn’t cause trouble, Alex occasionally runs into people who don’t understand and want to classify and categorize by gender. Ma is fiercely protective of Alex’s genderqueer identity and won’t stand for any nonsense from jackasses.

Told in the first person from Alex’s perspective, this wandering road trip of self-discovery — for both Alex and Ma — is mesmerizing, beautiful, tender, gruff, and heart-wrenching. Life on the run isn’t easy, but our stalwart nomads make the best of their circumstances, and eventually find themselves a satisfactory state of being.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

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Book review: The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce #9)The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six months after the death of their father, Flavia de Luce and her sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, are on a summer boating holiday with family retainer Dogger, in a desperate attempt to jolt themselves out of their gloom and come together as a family once again. As luck would have it, and as one has come to expect when 12-year-old Flavia is involved, a body turns up — in this particular instance, it’s snagged by Flavia herself as she trails her hand in the river while they are punting along.

The boating party pulls ashore and Dogger goes off to fetch the local constabulary. While Daffy and Feely stand watch on either side of the soggy corpse, a delighted Flavia begins her investigation. And thus we’re off on another romp through our intrepid sleuth’s thinking process as she sifts clues and calculates advantages and outcomes.

Lots of lovely secondary characters here: I was nearly as enamored with Hob, the undertaker’s son, as Flavia was. He seems to be cut from the same jib as our young heroine: determined, spunky, and with a little larceny in his soul.

Yes, with each book, Flavia becomes a little more devious, I think, in the sense that she recognizes there are certain things the adults mustn’t know or they won’t let her continue with her favorite hobby. She generally wracks herself with brief moments of guilt over these little deceptions, but the ends always seem to justify the means. She’s more than a little frightening, actually. But she’s also starting to grow up here: she’s seeing her sisters in a more forgiving light, which is a good thing since they’re orphaned and have only each other now (leaving aside Aunt Felicity, of course).

Oh, almost forgot. Of course Flavia solves the mystery. Because she wouldn’t be Flavia otherwise.

I look forward to the next installment.

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Book review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of TimeThe Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never having read A Winter’s Tale, the Shakespeare play on which this novel is based, I waded into The Gap of Time with no preconceived notions. The lack of familiarity wasn’t a hindrance, however; Jeanette Winterson thoughtfully provides a synopsis of the play before the novel begins; even that synopsis is unnecessary unless one is looking for the similarities and parallels. I wasn’t, and so I enjoyed the novel for its own sake.

Briefly, Leo Kaiser suspects his pregnant wife MiMi is cheating on him with his best friend Xeno, and believes that the child she carries is not his own. He mistreats her so badly that she leaves him, but not until he steals her newborn daughter. A series of miscommunications result in the infant being abandoned in a “Baby Hatch” and subsequently adopted and lost to her birth family. Some seventeen years later, circumstances bring unknowing child and unwitting parent together.

I loved young Perdita and Zel; Perdita’s adoptive father Shep is warm and gruff and sweet; Xeno and MiMi are beautiful and tragic…the only character for whom I couldn’t find any redemption was Leo, who is unremittingly awful to the point of caricature throughout the entire novel.

Leo aside, there is some gorgeous writing in this novel. I really should have marked the passages I found particularly lovely. Nicely done, Ms. Winterson.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

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Book review: The Gates by John Connolly

The Gates (Samuel Johnson, #1)The Gates by John Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Samuel Johnson is a curious kid, in more than one sense of the word. Curious as in inquisitive, and curious as in just a little bit odd. This year he decided to get a jump on Halloween by trick-or-treating a few days early, to beat the rush and maybe get the best candy. Unfortunately, the adults in his neighborhood didn’t find his initiative as charming as this reader did, especially the Abernathys. Mr. Abernathy shooed Samuel off the front stoop as quickly as he could; and then returned to the spell-casting in which he and Mrs. Abernathy and another couple were engaged in the basement. When their spell is an unexpected success and they accidentally open a portal into Hell (simultaneously causing an issue with the Large Hadron Collider), Samuel, still lurking about outside the house, noticed. And the demons who jumped through the portal noticed Samuel noticing.

And then all Hell proceeded to break loose.

Written in a light quirky child-like voice, this is a quick, fun read filled with humor and memorable characters. First in a series, aimed at a YA audience, but entertaining enough for adults.

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Book review: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truth: I forgot I had this book. I don’t remember when I picked it up, or where, but it was probably on a book exchange shelf at one of the local coffee shops. So when Netflix made a series out of it, the title languishing on the bookshelf upstairs caught my attention, prompting me to pick it up for a read-through before jumping into the TV show.

I won’t be jumping into the TV show.

Okay, it’s a good story, a well-written story, a cyberpunk take on an old-fashioned noir detective story: Takeshi Kovacs is an elite military operative, currently inhabiting the “sleeve” (read: body) of an incarcerated “Bay City” (read: San Francisco) police detective. Kovacs — well, his consciousness, at any rate — has been brought out of cold storage and sleeved into this detective at the request of an extremely wealthy individual who wants Kovacs to solve a murder: his own. See, the wealthy individual apparently shot himself in the head, and then was re-sleeved into one of his clones; once re-sleeved, he insisted his death had to be murder because he would never EVER have committed suicide, especially knowing that he had standing orders to be re-sleeved from his backup consciousness upon the demise of whatever current sleeve he was wearing.

Yes, there’s a lot of body-swapping going on here, and much discussion of the technology involved, which I found fascinating. It’s far-fetched, but it makes sense in the context of this world some 200 or 300 years in the future.

Anyhow, along the way to his discovery of the truth, Kovacs runs afoul of some very powerful and dangerous people. Much violence ensues. Much. Violence. And torture. Plus murder, rape, and other assorted mayhem. Thankfully, Richard Morgan leaves at some of the violence and mayhem to the reader’s imagination, but it’s graphic enough that I winced and grimaced and skimmed my way through those sections….thus bringing me to why I’ll skip the Netflix series. Because (according to friends who have watched it) the TV show took those scenes and made them graphic to the point of verging on torture porn. No thanks.

So if you’re sensitive to violence, rape, and torture, skip both the book and the series. If you can handle skimming certain passages of ultra-violence, read the book.

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Double book review: The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse; Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse  (Flavia de Luce, #6.5)The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Flavia de Luce is as charming as ever in this short story.

Young Flavia is hired – hired! – by a student to solve the mystery of the death of a teacher, discovered in a bathtub by that same student, who had recently expressed a desire to see said teacher dead. In fear that he would be accused of murder, he reaches out to the resident underage sleuth in an effort to clear his name before adults and other responsible members of society learn of the recently departed. Flavia sets to her task with her usual gusto, intelligence, and forthrightness.

If you’ve never read any of Flavia’s adventures, this is a good stand-alone place to start. For those of us who’ve been with her since the beginning, it’s lagniappe, a little something extra to tide us over between novels.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been, um, invited to disenroll from the exclusive young ladies’ academy in Canada to which she had been sent, Flavia de Luce arrives home in England only to discover her father is gravely ill. Thwarted at every turn in her attempts to visit him in hospital, our intrepid young sleuth runs an errand for the Buckshaw household and, amazingly enough, stumbles over the body of yet another individual who appears to have met a suspicious end. Solving this mystery serves to occupy Flavia’s mind and time while she waits for her opportunity to see her father and reassure him and herself that all is well.

She solves the mystery, of course, but trouble still awaits.

As with all Flavia novels, we are treated to the delightful inner workings of the young lady’s precocious and highly intelligent mind, as well as her perambulations about the countryside on her faithful Gladys, and her frequent (and unaccompanied!) trips to London on the train. (Flavia has bottomless pocket money, it seems, or the family has a running account with the railway.) I suppose that’s my only quibble with this series — Flavia has a massive amount of unsupervised time for a girl of 12. But I also have to remember that this is set in the late 1940s/early 1950s (years actually not closely specified), and children were left to their own devices much more then than they are today. Still, quibble aside, another enjoyable installment in the series.

But Alan Bradley is on my naughty list for the last two pages.

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Double book review: In Memoriam; The Borrower

In MemoriamIn Memoriam by Nathan Burgoine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s nearly impossible to review this novella without spoilers, so let me just say this: James Daniels found a unique way to deal with the memory loss that accompanies his brain cancer, and said method is lovely and satisfying and heartwarming and sweet.

A beautiful piece of writing.

The BorrowerThe Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucy Hull has a favorite library patron, young Ian Drake. Unfortunately, Ian’s mother doesn’t approve of Ian’s reading tastes, nor of Ian himself, apparently. Early one morning, Lucy opens the library to find Ian camped out in the stacks, having run away from home. He convinces Lucy to take him somewhere else, and she obliges.

What follows is a haphazard road trip from somewhere in Missouri to Chicago and Pittsburgh and points northeastward, all directed more or less by the boy in the passenger seat, with Lucy’s passive acquiescence masking her inner turmoil at being led around by the nose by a 10-year-old. But this journey isn’t about Ian, really; it’s about Lucy coming to terms with her passive acquiescence of everything except her family legacy; and how family shapes who we are whether we like it or not; and how blood will out, regardless.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The short chapters written in the style of various children’s books were amusing and poignant and sharply aimed.

Highly recommended.

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Double book review: The Halo Effect; Crimes Against A Book Club

The Halo EffectThe Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An airplane read.

Predictable but enjoyable story, with no real surprises. Nicely written and well-drawn characters. I especially liked Will’s struggle to reconcile his lack of faith with his acceptance of the commission to paint saints for the church.


Crimes Against a Book ClubCrimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you do when you have bills you can’t possibly pay, a degree in chemistry, and a fabulous best friend with an entree into a high-society book club? You make an “ultra-exclusive” anti-aging face cream out of over-the-counter drug store lotions and, um, cocaine, and convince these women they can’t live without it.

An absolutely darling confection of a novel that I read on an airplane, smiling the whole time. Recommended for women, best friends, book club members, and anyone else who enjoys a good laugh and poking a stick at social pretensions.

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Book review: The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

The Map of True PlacesThe Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After the suicide of a client, Zee Finch leaves her fiancé and her Boston psychology practice to care for her ailing father in their Salem family home. Very little drama ensues. Really.

Honestly, I didn’t see any point in this novel. I didn’t particularly like Zee (although I loved the fact that her given name was Hepzibah) or her eventual love interest, Hawk; the emphasis on navigating by the stars was weird and contrived; in fact, the whole of the story felt contrived and weird and and incoherent, like a series of set pieces linked together only because they involved the same characters. Zee traveled some small distance as a character, but in the end I felt she was little different from the wishy-washy human being that began the story.

Sophomore novels are often a let down after brilliant debuts. The Lace Reader was brilliant. This? Not so much.

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Book review: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

JuneJune by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summer 2015: A persistent knock on the door and a ringing bell rouses 25-year-old Cassie Danvers from an alcohol-induced haze. Cassie, grieving a number of things — the end of her engagement, the demise of her photography career, and, most recently, the death of her beloved Grandmother June — stumbles to the dusty foyer and opens the door of the decaying family mansion to be greeted by handsome young Nick Emmons, who promptly informs her she is the sole heir and, allegedly, the granddaughter of Golden-Age Hollywood movie star Jack Montgomery, and would she mind giving a DNA sample to verify?

Summer 1955: Hollywood comes to St. Jude, Ohio, to shoot a movie. Lindie, age 14, is determined to get involved somehow; and she wants her best friend June to come along too. June is a few years older and already engaged, but Lindie disapproves of her fiancĂ© — he’s too stodgy and undeserving of June’s beauty. June reluctantly agrees to visit the movie set, where she meets Jack Montgomery. And all manner of complications arise from there.

I’m a sucker for stories that take place in two separate time periods. I love seeing the connections, and how long-ago actions affect present-day circumstances. Add a dreaming house, visions of ghosts, back-stabbing intrigue, murder, and quiet heroism to the mix, and you’ve got a fabulous page-turner of a story that satisfies right up to the surprising conclusion.

Excellent story. This is Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s fourth novel. I’ll certainly be looking for the other three.

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Thank you to LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.