Thursday, December 7, 2017

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch, it's so good to spend some days with you again!  I've missed you.  Connelly has turned out another terrific read.  How he keeps Bosch fresh and avoids the pitfalls of some series authors/characters is admirable.  His characters are growing over time.  Bosch is developing new skills and trying out new ways to move through his work.

I think another  reason Connelly's books stay fresh is that he continues to tackle current events.  In this book, not only do we have two compelling mysteries, but also an exploration of the oxycodone epidemic.  Although the two mysteries are both well done what really engaged me was Connelly's treatment of the oxycodone epidemic. 

I don't want to say much about this----doing so might spoil some of pleasure of the read.  I found nothing in the novel to detract from my enjoyment!

Design for Dying: A Lillina Frost & Edit Head Noveel by Renee Patrick 2016

Renee Patrick is a pseudonym for a married couple.  Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist.  Design for Dying is a 1930's detective novel set in Hollywood.  The main character comes to Hollywood to be an actress but quickly turn to dress design as a way to actually make a living. 

I think the authors have probably recreated the language patterns and idioms of the 1930's Hollywood film industry and detective fiction.  It is also likely that the prose actually feels more like a screen play.  Initially it took me a while to feel comfortable with the prose but by the end of the book I felt ready to dive back into Dashiell Hammett and black and white films.  Another joy of reading the book is the use of famous Hollywood folks as characters within the story (including Edith Head).

The number of characters and potential killers can be a bit confusing.  I hope in future books the authors pare down the cast a bit.  I'd prefer more depth in characters possible only by cutting some out.

I am drawn to Lilian Frost, the main character.  She is young but learning fast.  I look forward to a second book in the series.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Spellhaven by Sandra Unerman (2017)

Unerman's prose is a delight to read. This first novel shows great promise for future works. It also shows a few typical weaknesses of first books. The plot is not quite as tight as I might like, characters not fully developed, and the ending somewhat disappointing (it seemed almost as if Unerman was having trouble finding a resolution so she just stopped). The main character, Jane Fairchild, is compelled by a magician, Lucian Hunter, to walk to the magically protected island Spellhaven. He selects her based on her musical gifts. Magicians from Spellhaven travel the world to find gifted artists to fill Spellhaven's needs. Much of the plot of the book is a detailing of the history of Spellhaven and its genesis. The other plot elements are the attempts by various magicians and their families to obtain Jane's services and use her gifts for their entertainments. There is also a larger plot pulling all together but in the interest of avoiding "spoilers" I'll leave that to readers.

The book is enjoyable, but ultimately a bit unsatisfying. I'm not certain whether the book should have actually been an trilogy so that Unerman had time to develop the characters more fully or if it simply need more ruthless editing to reduce the lush details about Spellhaven and focus more on plot and character.

I hope Unerman continues to keep writing. She is clearly talented.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Proving Ground, by Peter Blouner

Using a traumatized Middle Eastern War veteran as a main character,  Blauner goes just a little over the top with including too many "hot topics" in one novel.  A story of betrayals, drug trade, murder, and PTSD the story is obscured a bit by a little too much "screen writing."  Blauner left a successful career as a novelist to work in television as a producer/writer for both Blue Bloods and Law and OrderHis credentials for understanding crime, particularly drug related crime, are impressive.  As a journalist for New York Magazine and several smaller newspapers he decided to expand his background experience and worked as volunteer probation officer.  I think we can assume that he writes with some authority on these topics. 

The story of a Vet returning to the States and dealing with some well-deserved PTSD is timely.  I know that we have been "protected" from really understanding the challenges our service people and veterans of this particular war are facing.  Blauner's portrayal of PTSD was convincing and I expect probably well researched.  I could have done with one or two fewer plot twists.  I hope that now that Blauner is returning to print that he will focus the next book a little more carefully.

I'm not accustomed to reading novels so thoroughly influenced by screenwriting traditions.  As a reader I was challenged to appreciate some of the nuances of this style.  Particularly some of the dialect work caused me to reread some passages. 

I will however, keep an eye out for the next book.  I'd like to find out what the main character, Natty, does next.  This one of Nancy Pearl's summer reading suggestions gets a "thumbs up" from me.

The Defectors" by Joseph Kanon

I've been trying to widen my reading a bit.  Seems like I've been sort of stuck in fantasy and science fiction (also reading many of my "go to" detective fiction novels).  Nancy Pearl's (NPR) recommendations for summer reading sounded like a well advised plan so I began to work my way through them. 

The Defectors is, as promised, a "classic" 1950's spy novel.  I was a bit young to remember all the anxiety about Russian spying in the U.S. but certainly remember the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis.  Thus, reading about the "insider's" view of Russian spy-craft was interesting.  I haven't really be reading any spy novels for a long time---not since Ian Flemming's James Bond books.  Generally I found it somewhat slow going.  The plot line is intended to keep tension tight by making it difficult to know where reality lies.  Indeed I felt the tense but did not find it particularly thrilling.  I had a little trouble following the plot because much of it was transacted through dialogue.  Kannon sometimes lost me...who was speaking.  It's rather classic period dialogue, just think James Bond.  However, it was somewhat frustrating for me to have to return and reread dialogue to untangle just who said what.

The visual images and history of Russia did however make this a worthwhile use of time.  Especially right now as we try to understand the Russian hacking and propaganda that appears to have influenced the 2016 presidential election.  If Kanon is correct about the expertise of the Russian intelligence services then we do indeed need to be worried. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cainsville and Age of Legends, Kelley Armstrong



Recently I’ve been tearing through Kelley Armstrong’s books, particularly her fantasy books from the Cainsville and The Age of Legends series.  Previously I’ve read her Nadia Stafford series which is detective series.  I am delighted with everything I’ve read so far.

Cainsville is set in Chicago and an "imaginary" nearby small town, Cainsville (don't go looking for it on a map).  Having spent more than half my life in the midwest it was a very comfortable regional read.  (Those of you following me on Facebook know that I'm starting off retirement with literary tours.)  The Olivia, th main character, suddenly discovers she is adopted and that her birth parents are in prison for multiple murders.  She becomes acquainted with her birth mother's last attorney, a notorious attorney who does what is needed to get his often shady clients off of charges.  

She ends up, accidentally, retreating to Cainsville.  There she takes a job in to local diner (up to this time her adopted family is wealthy and she has lived a committed life as an advocate for homeless and abused women).  There she finds what seems to be a safe and almost timeless community that supports her.  There are the usual small-town characters but overall it is an idyllic retreat from Chicago and the media that has been hounding her.  Here the fun begins.

Armstrong weaves a new view of the fae, the Hunt, and other mythical entities into a very modern setting.    There is a perhaps a bit more sex in the book than I would normally recommend.  It makes it a series that I think prevents it from being a book that teachers could recommend to even high school students.  (I must be getting really old!  I could easily take the sex out, leave the romance, and get on with the story.)

The four books in the series were all well crafted and enjoyable reads.  I think Armstrong has left a possibility for additional books in the series which I would read immediately.  Some critics have criticized the series for being "slow" to unfold the plot and setting.  I did not find this problematic.  As a reader who is exploring a range of mythologies I was not impatient.  My own knowledge filled in the details that Armstrong does not immediately provide.  

In The Age of Legends series Armstrong turns to a more traditional fantasy setting, a "medieval" village, an emperor, and magical/mythical threats.  Twin sisters Ashyn and Moira are the spiritual leaders of their village, the outpost to the wilds where convicts are sent to die, or survive.  If they survive the are recovered after a year having served their sentence.  This series is a young adult series and will capture the attention of many readers.  There is plenty of action (sword fights and evil forces) to keep the attention of male and female readers.  I suspect it will be much more popular with young women.  There is a strong male character, Gavril Kitsune, who will engage young men.  I hope that in the second book that Armstrong develops him further to make the series more attractive to male readers (but there are many books out for them so I won't be disturbed if she does not).  

What I particularly appreciate in this book is the limited knowledge of the main characters, Ashyn and Moira.  In the tradition of "unreliable narrators" Armstrong helps us feel the confusion and anger of young women as they come to terms with the adult realities of their worlds.

Neither series is elevated to "four star" status because they don't rise to "universal truths" but they come close.  Armstrong certainly deals with some the interpersonal tensions of adult life as well as issues of power, politics and "human" weakness. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Louise Penny's Canada-Tourism through the Lenses of the Inspector Gamache series

 [Notice:  This is a work in progress.  I will continue to add/refine.  I've just have a few requests to post as I go. I'll post a notice when it's final.]

If you've been reading my entries you probably know that I am a great fan of Louise Penny's novels.  As a result, for a number of years I've been hearing the call of Canada. I expect that many of her readers are from Canada, particularly the Quebec Province.  These readers have a distinct advantage.  They have a visual memory of the settings of her books.  I'm going to use this particular blog to share some of my "home photos" of the real locations of some of the land marks and settings of her novels.

I'm visiting during the early fall.  Fortunately I will not be showing frozen lakes or pine trees covered with snow.  If I've made mistakes as I selected places to photograph the error is mine alone.  In some cases a bit of a language problem may have led me to an incorrect location.

I'll begin in Montreal:

As a reader I really was drawn to the libraries.  I'm currently rereading The Nature of the Beast in which research in the national archives is an important element.  I hope I selected the correct library--"Grande Bibliotheque."  It appears as if there are national archive locations in many places throughout the country.  I had envisioned some grand old brick or stone building.  Instead is it very modern and uses yellow birch as the wood throughout.  It is a lovely contemporary building.  I did not take photos in the national archive section.  There is a guard going into the room and I was too self-conscious to take a lot shot in front of him.  (If I'm going to become a literary tourist I am going to have to become more bold!)


Musee de'Art Contemporain de Montreal

I think this was the museum in which Clara had her first show.  It seems right.  It's a little more "cold and modern" that I feel fits Clara and Peter.  But, I can see it being the setting of her successful first one-woman show.  I kept hoping to see a painting that might make me think of her work--but of course Clara is way ahead of the curve.  I was there as a new installation was going in.  It made me think more of Peter's work.Construction in the area made it impossible for me to see the statue out in front.  The entire city is being refreshed for its anniversary next year.  Construction everywhere.