Monday, January 30, 2012

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

There is a new thing in horror and it’s an oldie but goodie.  Haunted houses are back – big time.  They have been showing up in horror movies for about a year now and the novelists are catching up.  Dean Koontz, who I’ve think was lacking with his horror for a while now, is back in form and delivering the chills.  He’s drawing upon the supernatural, the natural and the engineered to bring this chiller of a novel.

The Pendelton is a Gilded Age palace in some large city somewhere in the middle of the country.  Once an opulent single family home it was converted into luxury apartments in 1973.  Some things didn’t change with the renovation.  Every thirty-eight years something strange happens and the inhabitants of the Pendelton disappear, or go mad, or change somehow.  It’s 2011 and the last disturbance at the Pendelton was during the renovation.  You do the math.

Was it scary?  I have no problem reading serial killer thrillers, zombie horror, or anything just plain gross.  I do get a little…concerned…when the book is spooky.  Things seen out of the corner of your eye, unexplained voices, irrational happenings, now that’s when I get a little unnerved.  Did I stay awake for a bit looking at the shadows in my room before falling asleep while reading this novel?  Yes.  I most certainly did.  And it was worth it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Horseracing with a bizarre and deadly twist.  Stiefvater takes the myth of the water horse, a malevolent creature which looks like a normal horse but can swim like a fish, run like the blazes on land, and only ingests meat (human, horse or sheep are just fine), and combines it with an annual race on a rocky island for a large winning purse.  Sean has won the Scorpio Races with the water horse Corr four times in the last six years.  If he wins this year he can buy Corr from the Malvern Stables, the richest family on the island, and his employer for the past nine years.  Kate rashly claims she is entering the races on her horse Dove, a regular horse, not a water horse, so she can save her family home and keep her brother from leaving for the mainland for a few weeks more.  Kate is the first woman to ever enter the races and the first participant to ride a normal horse.

I got the sense that the book was set off the coast of Great Britain during the early 1900s but I’m not quite sure.  There are British accents and references to America so it is set on a fictional island somewhere in the real world.  Mostly an adventure and coming of age story there is a romance as well.  Something for everyone!

Since the story is told in alternating chapters from Sean and Kate’s points of view it was great to hear both a male and female voice actor.  I loved it on audio until the last disc.  The action was so fast paced that it was hard to listen to!  If I had the book in hand I would have been furiously skimming to the end.  So, I guess it’s good that I listened to it otherwise I may have missed something!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Human remains are found buried in the peat in Saltmarsh near Norfolk.  Archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in to determine if the remains are ancient or if it could be Lucy Downey, a five-year-old girl who went missing ten years ago.  DCI Harry Nelson hopes that he has finally found Lucy and is disappointed to learn that the body is that of a young girl, but a girl who was sacrificed during the Iron Age.  Threatening letters were sent for a year when Lucy first went missing and seem to link her disappearance to Saltmarsh and the henge there.  When another young girl, Scarlet, goes missing and letters once again start to arrive referencing the area DCI Nelson goes to Ruth for help puzzling out the mystery.

This is one of the few instances I’ve read where the expert in the field (amateur sleuth) and the police detective work well together.  Ruth doesn’t go off and try to solve the mystery.  She trusts that DCI Nelson knows what he’s doing, and he does.  This is not to say that our amateur sleuth doesn’t find herself in some interesting situations, but we can forgive her because she didn’t do anything silly to end up in peril, she remains intelligent and true to character throughout. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Whispers in the Dark by Maya Banks

Whispers in the Dark by Maya Banks
Review by Cassandra, Librarian at Mary Jacobs Library

It is that time of the year when the nights are dark and cold so why not spice up your winter reading selections! I started reading Maya Banks' KGI Series several months ago and the latest installment, which came out in early January, is a winning choice for steamy, romantic suspense.

Whispers in the Dark is book 5 in the KGI Series and focuses on the story of Nathan and Shea.

Unlike the other books in the series, Banks throws in a twist in that Shea has special telepathic powers. Overall, her special abilities have made her life hell, but she can't ignore the telepathic communications from a soldier being tortured who is on the brink of giving up, Nathan Kelly. For Nathan these skills save his life and enable him to survive. They also create an incredible bond between these two people.

But when Nathan is rescued, Shea cuts off their connection because she is in her own fight for her life as she is being hunted for her abilities and is on the run. Only when things get desperate and a weak moment on Shea's part causes their connection to flare back to life. That's when the entire KGI team swings into action to save Shea and in turn, save Nathan.

I loved that we got to see an even deeper level of the dynamic between the Kelly brothers. They have a huge part in this story as they are all working together to save Shea. However, just a bit of a fair warning that this is one of those books that you either really love or really hate and be prepared to suspend disbelief!

Three Days in Europe Story by Antony Johnston, Art by Mike Hawthorne

Three Days in Europe Story by Antony Johnston, Art by Mike Hawthorne
Review by Kay, Librarian at Bridgewater Library

“Love in the Fast Lane” is how I would describe this graphic novel. The story involves a couple who are attempting to improve their relationship by planning surprise European vacation trips for each other.  But lack of communication and hasty departures brings about each person traveling to the wrong location.  Both parties - Jack and Jill - end up with one-night stands and in dangerous situations.  There is a happy ending:  the couple up in Paris together, the police catch the bad guys and Jack and Jill are once again a couple.  The graphics are all in black and white and the action is fast and predictable.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

This is a wonderful mind bender of a book; a love story that makes you think about life, love and what comes after.

Jake and Zoe Bennett go skiing in the Pyrenees early one morning and are engulfed by an avalanche.  They manage to free themselves from the crushing snow and hike down to their hotel only to find it empty.  There is no one at the front desk, in the kitchens, anywhere.  There is no one in the town, in the shops, at the police station.  They reason that there must have been an evacuation of the entire area due to the avalanche threat.  Not wanting to be caught in another avalanche they try to drive, hike and walk to a neighboring town.  But they always end up where they started.  As Jake and Zoe explore their surroundings they come to the conclusion that they are dead.  But as time goes by they start to wonder: are they really dead?  Where are they?  What exactly is going on?

This is a slim, descriptive tale that will keep you reading, smiling and crying until the very end.  A story about love and how it truly conquers all.

How I Made It to Eighteen: A Mostly True Story Story and Art by Tracy White

This is the tale of how Stacy Black (Tracy White’s illustrated self) wound up in a psychiatric hospital, faced that she had a problem (actually problems) and got herself back on track.  The author freely admits on page one that the book is in essence true.  She did a lot of drugs, she was depressed, and she had other problems.  As far as the untruths go, she changed the order of some events and the names of some people to protect their identities.

This is a stark in your face look at the process of facing your problems and beginning to work them through.  We see Stacy through the eyes of four of her friends from different times in her life as well as through her own eyes.  As much as you want to shake her sometimes (her obsession with her boyfriend is painful to behold) you like her and want her to get better.  It’s a very real feeling book and the simple black and white line drawings fit perfectly with a person reconstructing their life.

American Jesus Story by Mark Millar, Art by Peter Gross

American Jesus Story by Mark Millar, Art by Peter Gross
Review by Carolyn, Librarian at Bridgewater Library

After 12 year old Jodie Christianson escapes unscathed from an accident with an eighteen wheeler everything changes. In school he begins to ace his tests, he can cure the sick, and even raise the dead. Could this kid be Jesus reborn?  The pacing is fast and the character of Jodie is well developed. The artwork provides a clue to the story’s ending.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

The book starts with PI Ray Lovell recovering from his injuries in hospital.  (Yes, the book takes place in England.)  He knows that he was meeting with a family of gypsies just prior to his car accident, but an ordinary car crash can’t explain the strange symptoms he is experiencing.  The whole book leads up to this point and what happened to Ray and why.

Ray was hired by a Romany father trying to find the daughter he hasn’t seen in six years.  The trail is cold, but Ray takes the case starting with the last people to see her, her husband and his family. Told alternately by Ray and J.J., a teenaged member of the gypsy clan at the center of the mystery, the reader gets an interesting perspective on the life of the modern day (actually 1986) of the Romany living a nomadic existence in England.

As Sherlock Holmes says in The Sign of Four: How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?   I have to pat my own back for a minute here.  I did figure out the twist of the story prior to the ending.  All the reviews mention the shocking ending, but if you follow Sherlockian deduction methods you too may figure it out just before Ray does.

Shattered by Karen Robards

Shattered by Karen Robards

Lisa, a researcher at a Lexington law firm, gets in trouble with her boss and is banished to Siberia.  In law firm parlance that would be the basement and the cold case files.  All the files need to be reviewed and scanned into the computer system.  One of her colleagues finds a photograph of a missing family in a cold case file and the mother in the picture looks exactly like Lisa.  It’s uncanny how similar they look.  And the doll that the young girl is holding in the picture seems very much like a doll Lisa remembers playing with as a child. 

As soon as Lisa discovers the picture and starts looking into the missing Garcia family horrible things start happening to her.  Is it coincidence or are all these incidents related?

Robards is a romantic suspense author and in this book you definitely get both romance and suspense.  If you like a fast paced mystery mixed with passion you may want to try Robards to get you in the Valentine’s Day state of mind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Real People – Unreal Crimes

The Mysterious Mornings group met this morning and talked about their favorite mysteries featuring real people as sleuths.  If it’s a mystery and the main character is famous for something other than solving crimes, and is now solving crimes, then it fit this month’s sub-genre. 

Here is the list of group favorites listed by author and sleuth:
  • Alexander, Bruce (Sir John Fielding)
  • Barron, Stephanie (Jane Austen)
  • Brandreth, Gyles (Oscar Wilde)
  • Davis, Lindsey (Marcus Didius Falco)
  • Frost, Mark (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • Hall, Robert Lee (Benjamin Franklin)
  • Harper, Karen (Elizabeth I)
  • Ifkovic, Ed (Edna Ferber)
  • Kaminsky, Stuart M. (Toby Peters)
  • Rivers, Joan (Max Taylor – Basically Joan Rivers)
  • Rowland, Laura Joh (Charlotte Bronte)
  • Stevens, Rosemary (Beau Brummell)
Interested in joining a Mysterious Mornings discussion?  A list of suggested authors and titles are available at the Bridgewater Library and books will be on display about a month prior to the discussion.  (If you’re a voracious mystery reader you can read more than one!)  Our next theme/subgenre is British Bobbies & Inspectors.

If it’s a mystery and the main character is a member of the police force in England, then it fits this month’s subgenre.  Just keep in mind how the setting affects the mystery (and the police procedures) because that’ll be a major talking point at our discussion in March.  (The meeting will be on Tuesday, March 6th at 9:30am at the Bridgewater Library.)

Quiver by Holly Luhning

Quiver by Holly Luhning

Danica Winston moved from America to England for two reasons: to follow her artist boyfriend and to work at Stowmoor Psychiatric Hospital and interview Martin Foster.  Martin Foster brutally murdered a 14-year old girl mimicking the savage murders of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  Danica has always been intrigued with the Bathory legend: known as the Blood Countess this Hungarian noblewoman is thought to have murdered over 600 young women and bathed in their blood.  Maria, Danica’s archivist friend who seems to pop up at the same conferences as Danica over the past few years, is also intrigued with Bathory and has finally found, and is beginning the translation of, the Countess’ diaries.  The stories of the past and present intertwine in this mysterious thriller.

The premise and the gradually growing oppressive tone of the book were great.  The story needed a little more.  Maybe because I read a lot I saw where the story was going, but the ending was still good.  I just think she needed a little less predictability to go with her atmospheric novel.  I’ll be interested to see what she writes next.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Reviewed by Cassandra, Librarian at Mary Jacobs Library

David McCullough cannot seem to go wrong regarding his writing topics. The Greater Journey is part travel, biography and history that catapults the reader across the pond to Paris as we learn about America's greatest artists, politicians, writers, physicians and thinkers.

We follow known figures such as James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Mary Cassat, Elizabeth Blackwell, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Whistler, William Wells Brown and Augustus Saint-Gaudens as they experience life changing adventures that ultimately played a vital role in transforming the course of US history.

I have always enjoyed David McCullough's books and this one is no different. McCullough delivers miniature biographies of obscure and well known Americans to produce a colorful parade of Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris. The audio book, read by Edward Herrman and David McCullough, was very well done and I once again found myself driving circles around my house in order to finish a chapter.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Murder at the Academy Awards by Joan Rivers with Jerrilyn Farmer

Murder at the Academy Awards by Joan Rivers with Jerrilyn Farmer

The sleuth in this mystery is Maxine Taylor, a say-it-like-it-is red carpet fashionista covering the Academy Awards with her daughter Drew.  Sound like anyone we know?  Of course it does.  Joan Rivers admits that she is writing about herself (albeit a much younger version) who gets involved with a juicy murder on the red carpet (which has thankfully not happened). 

Halsey Hamilton is the second youngest starlet ever nominated for Best Actress.  She is also a train wreck.  She’s been in rehab for the past three months and wasn’t supposed to come to the ceremony, but Max has just learned that not only is the troubled starlet coming, she’s giving Max an exclusive interview!  All seems wonderful until Halsey arrives sans dress and incoherent, eventually lying down on the red carpet, and as far as Max can tell, dying.  Who could possibly want to extinguish such a rising star?  Max and her entourage are on the case.

While humor and biting comments abound with name dropping and Hollywood commentary, there is also a really good mystery at the core of this story.  I was pleasantly surprised.  If you need some pre-Oscar warm up this may be the book for you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

I am a fan of Crichton’s work and I was a little nervous to hear that the author’s unfinished work was going to be finished by another writer.  Then I heard that the author doing the finishing was Richard Preston.  This was cause for much joy since I loved Demon in the Freezer and The Hot Zone. 

While I can’t say I loved the book, and I didn’t hate it, I was disappointed.  The science was fascinating – a plausible way to shrink humans and other materials.  The dangers were scary – bugs are REALLY scary when they are bigger than you are.  But the plot was lacking.  If you want to get people out of the way (as in dead) then you just get rid of them (as in murder).  Don’t turn them into very tiny humans (half an inch tall – VERY tiny) and not squish them right away.  Due to the villain’s delay in getting rid of them they end up dumped in the jungle.  These are smart graduate students.  Someone will survive simply because you don’t want them to.  For a very smart villain he was pretty dumb. 

On the plus side there were some great plot twists and action scenes.  This would make an excellent movie.  And if you wanted to know how deadly and amazing bugs are to other bugs, you can get a bug’s eye view and see how well you would fare in the microverse.

Monday, January 2, 2012

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone is at is again.  She’s investigating one crime and gets pulled into a whole world of wrongdoing.  But that’s life for a PI in 1988. 

That’s the best thing about this series, when Grafton started writing in 1982 it was a contemporary series.  She structured Kinsey’s cases to take place every month or two so while twenty-nine years have passed for our readers only six have gone by for her main character.  There is something refreshing about phone books being prime sources of information and having a spare rotary dial telephone in your closet.   The book is slower paced than many contemporary mysteries, especially since a lot of research is done at the library and city centers which are closed on weekends.  Computers are just starting to come on the scene; carbon paper is still used by Kinsey on a regular basis when writing reports.

This is a good choice if you’re looking for a mystery that is interesting and a story line that fills you in on the minute to minute activity of a PIs day.  Grafton is also great at taking unrelated stories and not filling you in on all the ways they are interconnected until the very end.  I listened to this one while cleaning up after the holiday madness and if your mind wanders or you miss a minute or two you’re okay.  It’s a relaxing listen that doesn’t require your full attention to remain intriguing. 

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

In this book a man trusted by many is accused of an unspeakable crime.  It is Boston in 2002 and the Catholic Church is under fire.  Art is yet another priest at the center of a scandal.  Did he or didn’t he?  His sister is sure her brother is innocent of all claims against him, her other brother, himself a father with three young boys, isn’t sure what to believe.  The parishioners are divided.  Some believe that Father Art couldn’t possibly harm a child and others are in doubt.  What is true? 

The story is related by Shelia, Art’s sister.  She has unswerving faith in her brother’s innocence.  She is determined to get to the bottom of the accusations and discover the truth behind the lies. 

Well written and complex this narrative takes you thorough the life of a man as revealed by the searchings of his sister.  She thought she knew all about her brother, but even a priest in the public eye has secrets.  Faith, in God, in yourself, in others, is at the core of this story.