Review: A Lady in the Smoke

UP_Big_Boy_4014

Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.

 

Review: The Fixer

Title: The Fixer

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Setting: Washington DC

Tagline: Scandal meets Veronica Mars

Why did I read this book? I think it was because other people I follow really liked it, so I decided to give it a try. I should have known I wouldn’t really like it though.

It wasn’t that it was awful. The basic idea is not bad – Tessa is forced to move in with her older sister after their grandfather’s illness gets bad, finds out sister is a political fixer in DC, Tessa gets caught up in secret stuff in her elite high school, winds up in a big conspiracy – but then I have to go back to the beginning – it’s about high school. I don’t like books about high school. I already did that, did it with my kids, have no desire to read about it, watch shows about it, nothing.

So I’m sorry, whoever it was that read this and loved it, it just wasn’t for me. I did finish it and like I say, I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t like it either. At least it was a quick read from the library so I didn’t buy it or spend too much time with it.

2/5 stars

Currently reading

Into the Heart of Tasmania (and not enjoying it)

The Lady in the Smoke

about to start

American Born Chinese

 

Review: Norse Mythology

30831912Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Short stories and myths

When I was younger, I couldn’t understand how the Norse could live with gods that would die. How could they stand a mythology that included an end of the world where the gods lost and the world ended and the bad guys won? Nobody else really had that, as far as I understood. Well, I’m glad I read this book, because I get it now.

It helps that I’m older and, I hope, a little wiser now. I understand that sometimes old things have to come to an end to make room for new things. Death has a purpose. Things start off new and fresh, full of promise and bright beginnings, then mature, then start to decay. Eventually they wither and fade. Death is just a natural conclusion. It’s necessary.

Not to be a downer. Most of this book is about the crazy things the gods do. Like the Romans or Greeks or Persians, these gods are pretty human – they are jealous, petty, vengeful, proud, in short, just like us. But they can be capable of great things too. And they’re pretty funny sometimes.

It’s just that ending that bothered me. And now that I’ve read Gaiman’s book, I get it. It’s not so much an ending as a new beginning. And that’s something I can really appreciate. 4.5 stars

Review: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point

Title: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point (Angela Marchmont, #3)

Author: Clara Benson

After solving two cases in close succession, Angela Marchmont is struck with a nasty case of pneumonia. Her doctor has ordered a rest cure at the sea side, so she’s headed to Cornwall. She’s barely unpacked when her impulsive goddaughter has shown up and discovered a local story of buried treasure.

Naturally, young Barbara has decided that would be the perfect project for their summer holiday. Angela is reluctant at first, but she gets caught up in the lives of the local residents. There’s a sweet old lady and her nephew, a quarrelsome married couple, an odd scientist, and an attractive Scotland Yard detective all involved in the events nearby.

The lighthearted treasure hunt takes a deadly turn when someone takes a shot at Angela and Barbara goes missing.

This one was my favorite in the series so far. The others were rather predictable, but not in a terrible way. This one I was actually caught off guard more than once. I thought I had it figured it out, but there were several surprises in there. I have already downloaded the next one in this series. If you like the British mysteries, this series is so much fun.

Review: London Road

Title: London Road, Linked Stories Volume 1

Author: Tessa Smith McGovern

Setting: London, present day

Theme: second chances, family, mental health, love

This little book starts with Janice, recently released from prison for manslaughter with no plans and no friends. She’s heard vaguely about a boarding house that will take in people like her, so she heads that way. It turn out to be a lucky break.

All these stories are short, each focusing on just one person, and just little glimpses into one day of the life of the residents of the London Road boarding house. But together, those glimpses add up to a complex picture. I quite liked this book and I would love to read more by this author.

Stand Alone Sunday: Mars One

Title: Mars One

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Themes: Space, love, terrorism, family, engineering, friends/teamworks

Setting: Near future Wisconsin then space

I really liked Mayberry’s zombie series, the Rot & Ruin series with teen Benny Imura. When I heard he had a new book out, a science fiction one  which was getting great reviews, I couldn’t wait to read it, and then the library had a copy just sitting there with the new books. It was meant for me.

Tristan is a typical high school guy. He has a best friend, he’s kind of a nerd, he’s crazy about his girlfriend Izzy. But maybe he’s not entirely typical. He’s a brainiac, has an entire assembly dedicated to him plus a reality TV show, he has terrorists trying to kill him, he has two bodyguards who go everywhere with him, and oh yeah, he’s going to Mars. His whole family is going. His dad is a botanist and Tristan and his mom are both mechanical engineers.

His family was accepted a couple of years ago, but time is running out and they’re finally ready to leave earth. Now he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend Izzy, then say goodbye again for the cameras, and make his way to mission control. It’s time to leave for Mars.

I really liked this book, so much that I finished it in a day. I keep saying I’m done with YA, but books like this are the reason I read it. It takes all the same issues that an adult book would have but condenses them down to the essentials so that what’s left is the central story, no political subplots, no sex (usually), no gloomy angles, just the story. And it’s a good story.

My family has actually discussed this–would you go to Mars, knowing that for now at least, it’s a one way trip? Knowing that you’d never see your family again, that life would be completely unpredictable and that you’d die on an alien planet? Knowing that you’d be doing something no one else in the history of life has ever done? We’re divided. I wouldn’t do it, but I have one kid who absolutely would. (That one is also the hugest Star Trek fan, which is no coincidence, I think.)

Reading this book would make you think about what choices you would make and why. It’s a fast read and a compelling one. I’m giving it an easy 4.3 stars and I recommend it for anyone who likes space or well-written YA.

Review: Animal Farm

PrintTitle: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

I’m really having a hard time writing a review on this book. Pigs. Communism. Stalin. Heavy stuff, even in a barnyard allegory. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s much easier to read that you would expect. BTW, capitalism isn’t all bread and roses either. Neither is socialism. In fact, a lot of isms just basically stink.

Wow, what a downer. But I still think you should read this book.

Review: The Murder at Sissingham Hall

question-mark-1750942_960_720Titles: The Murder at Sissingham Hall and The Mystery at Underwood House, Angela Marchmont books 1 & 2

Author: Clara Benson

Setting: England, 1920s

Looking for a mystery along the lines of Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion? These might just be right up your alley. They have the fun of the Lady Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn.

Our sleuth is Angela Marchmont, a charming divorcee who has a bit of a past with British espionage, although this is disappointingly vague. The first book involves the murder of a wealthy gentleman during a house party, just when his wife’s former beau has returned to England from making his fortune in Africa. The second book is about a mysterious family curse that’s wiping out the members of the Haynes family once per year and the family reunion has struck again. Angela is on the scene, with a little obliging help from Scotland Yard, but I found it much too obvious who the culprit was in each case.

These are the kind of comforting reads that I gravitate towards when I need something soothing and light, something where it all works out in the end and my brain doesn’t have to work too hard. It’s the literary equivalent of chicken soup and crackers, or a nice bowl of ice cream. Maybe that’s not fair, but sometimes that’s just what I want. These are available through Kindle Unlimited too, so they’re worth trying.

Review: Band of Brothers

Encore review!

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E Ambrose

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.

Two DNFs

I’ve got a couple of recent DNF (did not finish) that I thought I’d mention. Sometimes people are surprised by how fast I read, but they don’t realize that I count ALL books I read, including the ones I try, but just don’t like for whatever reason. Here are a few I didn’t finish lately.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan

This one was just what it sounds like, a collection of stories about Greek heroes written as though told by Percy Jackson. I love Percy, but when he’s telling someone else’s story, I find him a little more annoying than when he’s telling his own. My main problem here though is that I really already know most of these stories, so I wasn’t interested in reading them again. There was one in there I hadn’t heard, but I know about Daedalus and Theseus and so on. Just wasn’t interested.

Belle Dame Sans Merci by Astrea Taylor

Belle is a cool heroine, but for some reason reading a story set in Hell was stressing me out! I skimmed this one, so I mostly read it and then skipped to the end. I’m betting this one has a sequel. If you like stories about demons and stuff like that you’ll probably like it more than I did.