Monday, February 28, 2011

The Montmartre Investigation by Claude Izner

This is a Victor Legris mystery--it was translated from the French and it takes place in late 19th century France, the "heyday of the cafes-concert and night-clubs, which embodied all the modernity and daring of belle-epoque Paris" (quoted from the afterword in the novel). The famous Moulin Rouge (which is still around, by the way) is the setting for several encounters in the course of this mystery.

I really felt like I was in 19th century Paris when I read this book. It was full of atmosphere. I loved that about it. It was also just a little bit confusing because of all the French names and the French phrases. I speak absolutely no French, so I got a little bit muddled from time to time. However, the story itself was involved and interesting and the ending was unexpected. I really like our main character Victor Legris, with his cleverness, his jealousy and his passion for his love, Tasha. Of course, this is Paris and everyone has his mistress. Tasha and Victor are passionately in love and have plenty of sex, but they aren't married. And the sex isn't graphic. They are a very sympathetic couple; I loved them both.

It was a fun book to read. I enjoyed it. Will I read another Victor Legris mystery? Perhaps.

Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey

This YA book is subtitled, "A Retelling of 'Sleeping Beauty'", which is just what it is.

I found this to be engaging and charming. I am a sucker for any fairy tale retelling--I just love fairy tales. This was kind of a "journey" book (have you noticed how many fantasy tales are journey tales?) and a love story too, with not a lot of emphasis on the love story. I especially liked how Aurore's affection for her true love evolved--it was not an obvious pairing from the first, although there were clues along the way for the reader to pick up. I also liked the way Cameron Dokey dealt with the 100 year sleep--Disney just bypassed it, as do most retellings, but Cameron Dokey included it, with a twist.

I liked the book a lot. It was a cute retelling of one of my very favorite fairy tales.

Hunting for Hemingway by Diane Gilbert Madsen

This is a DD McGil Literati Mystery. Our main character is not-so-young anymore female insurance investigator DD McGil. She's intelligent and persistent. She's not been lucky in relationships--her fiance died and her latest love has disappeared without a trace.

I liked it! DD goes to bed with 2 men in this book, which I thought was too bad, but there aren't any details, so it wasn't intrusive. I found all the Hemingway info interesting. I liked DD herself and I liked the other characters as well. I didn't guess who the murderer was either, and that's always a good thing. I look forward to reading more about DD.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland

Another Lynn Kurland. This one's the second romance she published. It's a bit more,, than the later ones of hers that I've read. Still totally lovely, of course. It's about Jamie MacLeod--the eldest of the clan (I think. I'm not expert yet, having read only 3 of these).

I liked the attempt to keep it "real" by the inclusion of rotten food, vermin infested dungeons, garderobe use, filthy common rooms.... that doesn't sound romantic, but I did like it. It's funny how so many of these romances that are set back in time overlook all the smelly and disgusting parts. Not that the above-mentioned smelly and disgusting parts are prominent in this book either. But they are there and that makes it all feel more believable, somehow. (Not that the whole time travel thing is believable, of course. And not that I require believability if a story is engaging enough. Mostly.).

I liked it! I'm so grateful for "clean" romances!

Merchant Kings by Stephen R. Bown

Subtitled "When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900", this book tells the stories of these brilliant, powerful (and often unscrupulous) men: Jan Pieterszoon Coen and the Dutch East India Company, Pieter Stuyvesant and the Dutch West India Company, Sir Robert Clive and the English East India Company, Aleksandr Baranov and the Russian American Company, Sir George Simpson and the Hudson's Bay Company and Cecil John Rhodes and the British South Africa Company. Whew!

This was a very very interesting book. It was also not too difficult to read, although I found myself very eager to be finished with it once I got about halfway through because these men had so much in common that I got a little.... bored isn't quite the right word. I guess I just got tired of reading about the plight of the poor indigenous peoples of all these places! What an amazing group of men, though. And there are so many lessons to be observed and applied to today. Leaders, no matter how brilliant, just are not perfect. Is there ever a fool-proof way to avoid conflict of interest? Running a country is not a profit-making endeavor. Monopolies inevitably lead to abuse... and so much more.

This is definitely a book worth reading. I really enjoyed it. Thank you, Mr. Bown.

The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis

This one was about a tight knit female community of Orthodox Jews in Memphis Tennessee and its reaction to a newcomer. The males were around too, but this book is all about the women (hence the title).

While the theme and the message in this book were trite, the look into the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle was interesting. Too bad the plot was predictable and the "lesson" heavy-handed.

I did, however, find the point of view very interesting. The whole story was told by the voice of many, by the "we". I really liked that approach. It underscored the unity of the lifestyle, the herd mentality of the ladies and it threw into relief the few independent thinkers. It was very consistent with the theme of the book which is the tradition-bound majority vs. the free-thinking and sincere minority.

Because this story was so cliched and so predictable, I didn't find it as interesting as I did "Sotah" by Naomi Ragen--a book I really liked and found very memorable. But the religious observance of the Orthodox Jews is so fascinating in itself to me, that I hung on through the whole book all the way to the rather unsatisfying ending.

This book was worth reading. It was interesting. And totally clean. An impressive first offering from a lovely writer. A good book.

A Garden in the Rain by Lynn Kurland

This is another time traveling romance/adventure story by our squeaky clean Lynn Kurland. And I have to take back what I said earlier about being irritated by LK's "formula" novels. I guess they do use the same formula, but each one does stand alone, with its own version of the historical thing. I have really liked all I've read so far.

This one tells the story of Patrick MacLeod, the first guy to travel from the Medieval Highlands to 20th century Scotland. Patrick is a rather complex guy with some serious fears that keep him from committing to his ladylove (Madelyn). He makes it, though, after she's fallen into some deep trouble.

There is an unrealistically nasty bad guy who is the fiance of the lady Patrick is falling in love with. Really, I had trouble believing all the mean things he did. That was just the teensiest bit implausible.

But I shouldn't be so picky. It was a fun, lighthearted romance with just enough Medieval verisimilitude thrown in to make me feel virtuously "educated" on that period in history. I'm loving these Lynn Kurland books. Lots more still to go!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

This review is by Isaiah, age 12.

Percy Jackson and two of his friends go to a military boarding school where another of their friends, Grover, a satyr, finds two half-bloods. They manage to get the half-bloods back to Camp Half-Blood, but when they get to the camp, they find that Artemis (the Goddess of the moon) has been captured. They must go on a quest with the hunters to find Artemis and rescue her.

I like this book, but not as much as the other ones because it's not quite as exciting and it is somewhat of an odd storyline. It seems odd to me because it uses a lot of mythology that is unfamiliar to me.

An interesting thing about this series is that it is set in the United States. Mount Olympus is above New York City's Empire State building, the underworld is under Los Angeles, California, and Atlas' mountain (where he holds up the sky) is in San Francisco. Also the labyrinth of Dedalus is under the entire American continent, the monster Typhon's prison is Mt. St. Helen's in Washington State, and the cyclops' island is in the Bermuda Triangle (the Sea of Monsters). According to these books, as people moved to the west, so did the gods. "The Gods will be wherever the heart of the west is", the people in the book say. And currently this is in America.

These locations make both mythology and these books easier to understand because I know the name of every single place mentioned and I've either seen pictures or been to these places myself. This makes me enjoy these books even more.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

This story takes place during the Wars of the Roses--the battles for the throne of England between the Yorks and the Lancastrians, beginning in the mid 1400s. We hear this story told from two points of views--Harry, Duke of Buckingham, and his wife, Kate Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham. These two meet and marry when they are just children and we hear the story told from them as they grow up and their lives become more and more complicated.

I really liked this book. Susan Higginbotham has made both of her main characters very likeable and I was very engaged with the story all through the book. It's particularly interesting to me that so much is NOT known about this time in history--there are questions that can never be answered! I guess that's one of the things that makes history such an attractive subject to so many. I liked Susan Higginbotham's answers to some of these mysteries very much. I appreciated her "author's note" at the end and her suggestions for further reading.

If you liked Wolf Hall , you'll probably like this one as well. There was little or no bad language but there was plenty of sex--none of it explicit. It happened, but you don't have to read all about it. I really enjoyed this book!

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

This review is by Isaiah, age 12

Percy Jackson has always only had one parent, but he soon learns that his absent parent is a Greek God! When everyone thinks that Percy has stolen Zeus' master lightning bolt, it's up to him to find the bolt and return it to Zeus by the summer solstice.

This is a very good book. It's a good introduction to Greek and Roman mythology. I like this book a lot because it tells me a lot about mythology and monsters and magic and because it's exciting.

The other books in the series are: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian. I've read them all and I like them all.

p.s. There isn't any bad language (except for a lot of "Oh my Gods").

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Till There Was You by Lynn Kurland


This was an e-book! I PAID for it and downloaded it on my Kindle (I am the cheapest person ever and I have very mixed feelings about putting out money for a book I can't actually hold in my hands). I had no trouble reading it on the Kindle--I didn't find turning Kindle pages distracting from the story at all. I did miss holding the book, ruffling through the pages, looking at the cover and reading the back. But that has nothing to do with this book and everything to do with how I feel about electronic books. :)

This book was charming and clean, interesting and fun. It was also a total formula book. It looks like there are lots of Lynn Kurland books with this same idea--a couple meets and falls in love across time and someone must travel to another century so that they can be together. And each of these romances are embedded within another story that has to do with generations of families (it's the time thing again). Fun concept. And I really did enjoy this story. But I find the idea of different versions of the same story told cleverly and entertainingly... I find this idea irritating. I don't know why. I'll read more Lynn Kurland, but I wish each book stood alone, with its own concept, its own characters and a feeling of freshness in each one. A trivial objection, probably.

Overall, I so appreciate writers like Lynn Kurland who write sweet, clean and entertaining books. I'll definitely read more of her and I may even add a few to my collection (maybe even to my PAPER book collection).

Cathedral Courtship by Kate Douglas Smith


This was an e-book! It was FREE and I downloaded it to my kindle. Nice! And it was totally charming. In it I found a new phrase to describe my husband. From now on I'm going to call him "the flower of chivalry". :)

This romantic story was told through the journal entries of the two protagonists as they traveled through England on a cathedral tour. It was short and sweet and witty. I especially enjoyed our hero's descriptions of his lady. They were both charming and funny.

A fun, quick and FREE read! Can it get better than this?

The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris by Leon Garfield

This was an absolutely charming book! Written in 1971 and set in the mid 18th century, this book is the story of a lost baby, a mystery, a romance, a duel and of a Spartan custom. It is funny and witty and full of twists and turns. This is a book I'd like in my collection, for sure. I am eager to read the rest of Leon Garfield's books.

I'm often mystified at the genre labeling of literature. You can find an amazing variety of books in the children's section. And you'll find books that seem appropriate for children (like "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie") in the adults' section! So many books that are clever and sophisticated and totally pleasurable for adults end up languishing in the children's section! Well, I guess they're checked out by children, so they're not exactly languishing, but we adults don't get to find them unless they're recommended to us by our children! I need to spend more time trolling the children's section at the library, though, because that's where I found this little jewel. Totally delightful!

Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb

This was a very very strange book. It was written in French and translated to English by Alison Anderson. It was the story of an eccentric and reclusive author who, at the age of 82, has been diagnosed with a rare and terminal form of cancer. He consents to be interviewed by a series of reporters, all of whom irritate him beyond bearing EXCEPT for the last interviewer, Nina, who has read all of his books and, more than this, knows all about his past. She forces him to retell the past and face his own mortality. She essentially completes the circle of his life. Sounds promising, doesn't it?

This book was an ugly story full of foul behavior and foul language. It was very interesting, but very uncomfortable. If this is your cup of tea, forge ahead. This author has a stellar reputation in and out of France. I am afraid that I often don't like what are labeled "modern classics". I read the glowing reviews, but I can't agree. I guess I have no taste for originality rolled in the mud and sprinkled with obscenities. I'd much prefer just clean, shining originality.

Bryant and May off the Rails by Christopher Fowler

This was a British mystery--a police procedural of a sort, only not Scotland Yard or anything like that, but A Peculiar Crimes Unit police procedural. I never got clear on the difference between the regular British police force and the Peculiar Crimes Unit--I didn't understand the need for both departments. The book itself was interesting, but not outstanding. Rather forgettable, in fact. I liked reading it, but don't feel inclined to read any more of the series. I think it was because I didn't really feel connected to any of the main characters--I just didn't care about them enough to read more about them. The story itself was not compelling either--engaging, but not compelling.

One very positive note is that this story was not smutty at all. That's always a good thing. And the mystery itself was interesting and not too transparent. I hate it when I can guess the ending ahead of time! Hmm, maybe I will try to read another of this series to see if I can engage more effectively with the main characters. So many little time!!

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

This was the first time I've read Terry Pratchett, so I can't compare this book to any of his others (although I DO plan to read some of the others), and I'm sorry about that. I can only comment on this book, which is obviously part of a much, much larger whole.

This one took place in "Discworld", if that means anything to you, and involved the faculty of Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University (all wizards) manning a football team (soccer to us). There really were a few laugh-out-loud lines and the story was interesting enough for me to be engaged for the whole book. It was entertaining enough. But not exceptional. It reminded me a bit of Douglas Adams' ("The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy") style--the way the author pokes fun at our reality as he tells the story within his own alternative reality. There was some cleverness on that score. I'm going to read a few more of Terry Pratchett's books so I can get a bigger picture of his stuff before I draw any hard conclusions for myself. I really did not get a clear picture of Discworld from just this one book. I know it's hard for authors to write stand-alone books once they hit on a successful formula that provides enough ideas for many books. And it's rare to find any series that includes the true stand-alone novels. I'm not sure this is one of them.

It was entertaining enough, though, so that I want to read a few more Pratchetts. It was also fun to read--total fluff but not offensive and pretty clever to boot!

Macbeth, The Graphic Novel

I so love this book!! I'd love to have every one of this classic book series on my shelves--the original text AND the quick text version.

So... it's graphic novel of Shakespeare's "Macbeth", which is pretty cool to begin with and a great place to start before reading the play in all its iambic pentameteric goodness. But this company ( does these graphic books with three versions of text: the original text in the speech balloons (wow!), a simpified version of the original text which they call "plain text" and a VERY simplified version which they call "quick text". This version was the quick text one and it was very easy to understand.

At the end of the story, the classical comics people have included some background information about the true story of Macbeth and some other interesting tidbits. Very cool. In future I'll start every study of Shakespeare with my kids (and for myself) with one of these graphic novels. It's a great way to get the story in one's head before tackling Shakespeare's beautiful (and sometimes confusing) prose.

A Tapestry of Spells by Lynn Kurland

This book is a fantasy-romance. It's got magic, it's got adventure, battles, good and evil, interesting characters, a world that feels real AND a romance along the way. And it's squeaky clean. This is book #3 of a 6 book series about the "Nine Kingdoms".

Here's how it works: Books 1, 2 and 3 ("Star of the Morning", "The Mage's Daughter" and "Princess of the Sword") tell a whole story--another fantasy romance that overlaps the one begun in this book ("A Tapestry of Spells"). Books 4, 5 and 6 ("A Tapestry of Spells", "Spellweaver" and the final book which comes out in a year or so) tell the story of Sarah and Ruithneadh.

Sarah and Ruith's story is the one that this book begins.

I LOVED how clean this book was! There was chemistry between the characters too, which is often lacking in "Christian" romances. I felt very drawn into the story, Lynn Kurland's Nine Kingdoms really felt real to me.

This is a journey book. It's interesting how many fantasy/sci-fi books are journey books. It must be a good formula. Speaking of which, I can see that Lynn Kurland is kind of a formula writer. This is good in that you know what you're getting into when you start one of her books--an interesting, feel-good story. It's bad in that you know what you're getting into when you start one of her books. :) If you know what I mean. Even the language and phrasing she uses can be a bit repetitive between books. Not a serious objection for me, just an observation. I wouldn't want to sit down and chain read Lynn Kurland because I think it'd get boring. But I certainly will add her to my reading list inbetween other stuff. I liked this book a lot!