Criminal Tales

Title: The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession

Author: David Gann

Described as “a collection of spellbinding narrative journalism,” this book contains an amazing assortment of stories. From the opening story about the Sherlock Holmes fan who died in real life mysterious circumstances, to the final profile of a truly nasty criminal, this was a compelling read (or rather, listen, as I got the audiobook from my library. It’s not quite up to his book, The Lost City of Z, but it’s quite good. I think what I missed was something to tie all these stories together. These were pieces that appeared in print previously, so maybe there wasn’t really a thread that tied them together, but I think he could have grouped them differently or something. As it was, it was sort of odd. My favorite story was the one about the sandhogs, construction workers building a giant series of tunnels under NYC. Recommended, but not so strongly that you should add it to the top of your list.

The Seven Dials Mystery

Title: The Seven Dials Mystery

Author: Agatha Christie

Themes: adventure, secret criminal organizations, exotic foreign adventuresses, stolen government plans, and plenty more
Setting: Chimneys in England

If you’ve only read Agatha Christie for her mysteries featuring the famous Belgian sleuth or the mild old lady with the mind like a steel trap, then you have missed some thrilling adventure stories. This one is the second one set at the Stately Home of Chimneys in England. The first one, The Secret of Chimneys, takes place four years earlier and involves the missing heir to the throne of a fictional European country, a stolen government contract, the Comrades of the Black Hand or something like that, and a very satisfying love story. This one differs only in the details; the feel is just the same.

Lady Eileen Brent, known to all as Bundle, discovers that a young man of her acquaintance has died in her home. They had let it to a wealthy industrialist, and during a house party, the man had died in his sleep. Now Bundle nearly runs over the dead man’s best friend, who dies of a gunshot wound in her arms, whispering the words, “Tell – Seven Dials – Jimmy Thessinger.” Bundle rushes off to find Jimmy and enlist him in her fight against this evil criminal gang.

Really, really fun. I listened to this one, and I do have a few complaints about the audio version. The reader, whose name I can’t locate, did fine with the voices of most of the major characters, but she had a tendency to make the rest of the young girls screechy and shrill. I didn’t like Superintendent Battle’s accent either. She did a good job at making them all sound different, but she was much too screechy now and then, and the American woman at the very end was just dreadful. No one sounds like that. Ever.

If you want an exciting, clean adventure with some romance and not a lot to slow it down, try the stand alone titles by Agatha Christie. I also love The Man in the Brown Suit, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, and They Came to Baghdad. 5 stars for book, 4 for audio.

Book Review: Captain America

Title: Captain America, The First Avenger

Author: Alex Irvine

Genre: Movie novelization, superhero, WWII, YA,

Format: Audiobook

Found it: Browsing library’s audio titles

I haven’t been reading as much this year as last year. Partly it’s because I’m busy with sewing, but partly it’s because I’ve been kind of (really) depressed lately and books take too much concentration. But audiobooks are still a good way to read without actually reading. I found this one browsing my library’s digital audio books.

Have you seen the movie? If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve read the book. It doesn’t add anything new to the story. In fact, it takes some things away. The book is strictly written from Cap’s POV, so anything about the Red Skull or Peggy is not in the book. Even then, it leaves a few scenes out.

I didn’t love it, but it was perfectly fine to listen to while I was sewing. Also recommended for reluctant or beginning readers, including adults with emerging literacy, who are fans of Marvel. Most other readers are going to find the book as flat as Steve Rogers’ shield. 2.4 stars

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In other news, I’m working on my book again. I didn’t hit 50k words during NaNoWriMo 2016, but I was really close. I’m writing a thriller and I was almost at the conclusion. But by then, all the problems I ignored earlier were making it hard to push through and just finish the damn thing. But after letting it sit and thinking things over and over and over in my head, I think I’m ready to finish the rough – and I mean rough – draft.

I hate leaving things messy, so I am always tempted to rewrite before I start something new. I resisted doing that this time, and when I found a big error that was making problems, I would put a note in brackets and just keep going. So even if this is close to being done, it’s nowhere near ready for someone else to read. My goal, then, is to have a readable first draft by the end of the year. At that time, I’ll be asking for beta readers.

If you’d like to be on that list, be sure to follow my blog so you are notified when I’m asking for readers. It’s a thriller about a woman who gets kidnapped on her way home from work, but survives when someone murders her kidnapper before he has a chance to kill her. Now she has to find the killer in case she’s the next name on his list. My MC is a POC, so I’m especially looking for POC, but anyone who likes this genre would be eligible to win a chance to read.

Thanks everyone, and happy reading!

Book Review: Fred the Vampire

Title: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant (Fred, the Vampire Accountant #1)

Author: Drew Hayes

Genre: urban fantasy, comic horror

How I heard about this book: Familiar author

Format: Audiobook

Source: Kindle Unlimited

I really like old Fred the vampire accountant. He’s a funny guy. There was a lot about the world of this story that I wanted to know more about. The book was a collection of several adventures, starting with Fred’s 10 year high school reunion. The story starts with Fred already having been turned into a vampire. In fact, we don’t learn much about how it all started until the last story in the collection. His reunion kind of takes a downturn when a group of werewolves turn up and start devouring the alumni.

I liked all the characters, but  I *LOVED* Bubba! The worldbuilding was was well done and it was genuinely funny. I laughed out loud more than once.

But there was too much swearing in here, especially for an audiobook. I’m not sure if I want to read the next in the series or now. The narration was done by fellow Utahn Kirby Heybourne, and he does a really good job. But like I said, I got tired of hearing the F-bomb so many times.

Bubba alone is worth 1 star, so overall, I’m giving this one 3.3 stars.

Year in Review: Audiobooks

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My last post gave you some of the low points of my reading year. This time, I’ll hit some of the high points. But I’m going to focus this time on books I listened to.

I have a friend in my book club who still hasn’t fallen in love with the audiobook. For those of you out there waiting to be convinced, here are a few that I think will do the trick.

Michael J. Sullivan’s Ryria

We all love a good buddy movie, and a good buddy book, or even better, a whole series, is a definite crowd pleaser. This fantasy series features a former soldier turned swordsman and a rogue/thief. But both of them have some secrets and they are more than they appear at first glance. In the first book, Theft of Swords, they’re hired to steal a sword, but they almost immediately wind up in the dungeon accused of regicide. There are three novels in this series plus a couple of short stories, and I went slightly crazy over them. The audio version is totally amazing – Hadrian and Royce both seem like real people. You’ve got to check this one out.

Terry Pratchett

I don’t think I’ll ever have a year when I don’t read something by this guy. He was a genius, and the world is much poorer without him. At least he left an amazing and varied body of work. This year my favorite book I listened to was Eric, but I also loved Wintersmith. If you’re feeling down or stressed out, Discworld is the perfect antidote. No matter how bad you’ve got it, someone over there has it worse.

Non-Fiction

One of my few 5 star reads this year was The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. For some of you old enough to remember the Civil Rights Era and Jim Crow South, this case may already be familiar. But I missed all that, and I’d never heard of this case. It was all too timely, with the Black Lives Matter movement this year and the rise of a new and nasty racial hatred. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and should be required reading for all politicians and journalists. And it’s all true, which makes it even more shocking.

Grimdark

I am not a fan of the new gritty fantasy, which makes it surprising that I was completely won over by Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. There’s not a hero among the characters here, and yet I can’t help rooting for them to come out on top. It’s not a pretty story, not a bit of sweetness or light, but it feels real and it’s definitely compelling. The narration was fantastic. I got the second book as soon as it came out but I’m saving it for the new year.

Right, I hope I’ve inspired you to listen to one of these great books. The links take you to Audible, but you can also check with your library. Mine has ebook and digital audiobooks you can check out online for free. Happy reading!

Vampire book review!

xmasvamp

This one totally should have been up for Halloween, but I didn’t finish it in time, so Merry Christmas, bloodsuckers!

Something in the Blood: The  Untold Story of the Man Who Wrote Dracula

by David J. Skal

genre: non-fiction, biography, and horror

where did I find this: Received by Library Thing for an early review – Thanks!

I’ve always been bugged by the sparkly vampire type of story. Vampires should not sparkle. They shouldn’t be the heroes of any story. They are the villains. I’m okay with them as silly, campy villains like in Bugs Bunny or Scooby-Doo. I’m fine with them as menacing villains like in Buffy. I like a good comic vampire. But as a possible romantic partner? A misunderstood sort of fellow who agonizes over his need for blood but at the same time keeps it PG and clean, avoiding any real mention of the violence inherent in its very existence? No thanks.

In a new book by David Skal, the writer confronts head all the most disturbing aspects of vampires, and he does it with a scholarly thoroughness. The blood and gore, the violence, the sexual dominance, the violation – he really examines it, what it all means, and where it fits into Victorian society of the times. He uncovers all the little secrets of Bram Stoker and his influences. If you are a reader who thought Dracula was just a crackling good horror story, you would appreciate it so much more when you see what you missed.

But.

Why are we reading so much about so many other things? Where are you going with this, Mr. Skal? So many times listening to this, I  would just be getting into the story of Bram Stoker, when the writer would introduce a new character, like Oscar Wilde, or Oscar Wilde’s mother, or Oscar Wilde’s brother, or a friend of Oscar Wilde – seriously, why so many Wildes? – and we’d wander totally off the into somewhere else. By the time we meandered back onto Stoker, I had completely lost track of what he was talking about before.

So I don’t know how to rate this. I think I’m going to take the easy way out and give it 2.5/5 stars and split it right down the middle. Also, if it does sound interesting to you, I would recommend the print version instead of audio. The author read it, and he did a fine job, but like I said, sometimes I wanted to skip ahead and the tracking made it impossible for me to know when a chapter was coming to an end.

Book Review: The Android’s Dream

electric-sheep

Title: The Android’s Dream

Author: John Scalzi

Format: Audiobook

How did I hear about this book? I liked the author, so I went looking for more

Review:

Let me start by saying that I’ve never read the sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which inspired the title and the content of this book, as well as the classic film Blade Runner. This one I picked not because of any fondness for the original, but because I love John Scalzi’s unpredictable plots and dense worldbuilding and because it had Wil Wheaton as the narrator. After a couple of Audible duds, this one seemed like a sure bet.

I was so right. It is really hilarious and twisted. It starts with a prolonged bit about flatulence that was very funny but also sophomoric. That was kind of why it was funny. But it’s not your typical fart joke book, so don’t let that discourage you. See, it’s all about aliens and politics and cloning and religion. I don’t really even know how to explain it all, but I really liked it. This book got me through the 2016 election results, and that’s surprisingly appropriate. Completely recommended. 4.6 rating

 

 

Some Brief Reviews

Still reading and still writing. I’ve finished Chapter 1 in my book, and it’s off to a solid start. Of course, the beginning is always easier. But I’m happy so far.

Reading is not going as well. I made a very nice exchange lately, 3 bags of books, most like new, donated to the new library in the next town, and then I bought 2 bags of old mystery paperbacks from my library. I’ve already finished 2 of them, and neither one was very good. But it was kind of fun, in that they were authors I’d never tried before, and I like trying new authors, even if it doesn’t pan out. So here are the reviews:

Wycliffe and the Guild of Nine by WJ Burley

Apparently the last in a series about a British police detective. The story is pretty solid – a woman who lives at an artist’s colony in Cornwall is found murdered – but the whole thing is a little dated.

After Francine inherits a bunch of money, she is found dead in her cottage. Was it the money? Or was her murder related to her involvement in the murder of her father years ago? The characters are not very believable, but the whole thing was interesting, very unlike any other mystery I’ve read. But it was written in the 80s and it shows. Police procedure has changed so much, plus Wycliff is all upset about his – GASP! Female Boss. Um, what? I can’t take you seriously right now.

Not sure I’d recommend this one. I like British police mysteries, but I don’t think I’d read more by this author, even if I could find one. 2.5 stars

Alibi in Time by June Thompson

Inspector Rudd, #7

Very unpleasant writer Patrick Vaughan is found dead from a hit and run. After a lot of talk, a lot of detail about what the police are doing and thinking and eating, we find out he was murdered by *SPOILER ALERT* the doctor who found the body. Because, well, he had it coming. There’s more to it than that, but everything is so slow and again, so dated. 2 stars.

But I can end this up on a high note!

Eric by Terry Pratchett

Once again, a great Pratchett book. I love this guy! Eric is a 14 year old boy who tries conjuring a demon. Instead he gets a semi-competent wizard, Rincewind. He makes his 3 wishes, but none of them turn out quite the way he had expected. I laughed out loud all through this one.

*Update*
Just listened to this one and it is still freaking hilarious. I loved it as an audio. The whole view of Hell as a bureaucracy is just brilliant. Give me fire and brimstone any day! 5 stars. Really.

 

Planning a Road Trip!

What’s the most important part of a successful road trip? You might say lodging, but you could always sleep in your car. You might say snacks, and I admit, snacks are pretty crucial. But they’re also easy to find, and no matter what you pack, you know you’re gonna buy more. No, the MOST IMPORTANT part of a road trip is something to listen to.

It never fails, you’re driving rural utahalong, and then you get too far away from a town, and you suddenly are out of range of all radio stations. And you would listen to your iPod or your phone, but that would drain the battery. Yo
u sure can’t depend on buying something decent to listen to when you’re on the road, so you better plan ahead.

I live in the Rocky Mountains, so we have lots of wide open space. I am taking advantage of that this week, before the snow falls, and heading out of town. I stopped by my library to get some actual CD’s for my truck, because it’s old, and I am all set.

Here’s what I’m taking:

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Death Comes to Pemberly by P D James

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Eric by Terry Pratchett

You may have noticed a distinct romance theme to this list. It wasn’t really intentional, I gotta say. My choice was limited to what was in the library right now and because I wanted books I was pretty darn sure I would enjoy. I will admit that Eric is a reread, but it’s been a few years and I wanted something in there besides romance. I was hoping to include some YA books, but those are always checked out. I am also bringing my Kindle, my phone, and some physical books which I may Bookcross along the way.

Also, wondering if anyone is enjoying the writing prompts I’ve started. I’m planning a new book, a paranormal thriller, so I think that most of them will be from that WIP for now. See you folks when I get back!

Currently reading: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

 

The Sorcerer Heir

Spoilers for the series!

Title: The Sorcerer Heir (The Heir Chronicles, book 5)

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Genre: Teen fantasy

Format: Audiobook

Plot: Magical savants Emma and Jonah are suspected of murdering mainline wizards and must find out if the person who poisoned them as children is the same person trying to frame them for murder now.

Pros:

Chima is a really good writer. The basic idea for the series was really intriguing, the characters are well developed with plenty of growth (mostly), and her action sequences are always super exciting and really solid. I liked the narrator on this one – good job making the large number of characters each have their own voice.

Cons: 

This would have been better as a new series. The first three books are so different that adding these next two books on just doesn’t work for me. In fact, Book 3 really wrapped everything up. Then I found out there were two more books, and they just didn’t need to be there. The only benefit to adding on these two books, really, was that she got to have Leesha’s character arc come to a satisfying end. Also, I didn’t like these two MCs as much as the main characters from the previous books. Jonah in particular seemed so hard to relate to – he was super at combat, he was super charming, super handsome, he was this super protective brother, he has deadly touch – just enough already. She could have dialed it back a bit and he would have been a more human character. As it is, I never really worried about him in a fight. I knew he would win, everything would be fine, and then he’d find a way to feel guilty afterward.

Verdict:

I would definitely recommend this series for fans of teen fantasy. There are some great characters in here, the plots are really exciting, and the romance is pretty clean. There is strong language, but not often. The first book in the series is The Warrior Heir and you should start there.