Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry

This is the fourth book featuring the character Cotton Malone. Right off, I have to say that I'm a huge fan of Steve Berry's work and have been anxiously awaiting this novel. This book brings back several characters that have appeared in previous books: Stephanie Nelle, President Danny Daniels, Edwin Davis, and of course, Cotton Malone. It also introduces a twisted German family and a Navy conspiracy. This adventure roams up and down the East coast of the United States, Germany, and Antarctica.

While I enjoyed this book, I was a little disappointed. It didn't seem to grab me the same way the previous books did. I felt that this novel centered on too many relationships and personal conflicts rather than the history/mystery that usually keeps the story moving. Oddly, I enjoyed the chapters about what was happening state-side more than Cotton's journey. The concept behind the story is fascinating, though only really tangentially related to Charlemagne.

All in all, this was a good book. I would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone (though of course I would recommend they read the previous novels first) - in fact, my sister is already desperate to read it. One of the best things about this book was that the end more or less promised a future novel. Steve Berry remains one of my all-time favorite modern novelists.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss was really quite fun to read. A copy was sent to me by the lovely simon_saysuk. The premise is basically that Lucifer Box is a secret agent. He is also a painter and somewhat of a rogue. The story is set in England and moves to Naples, Italy where a sinister plot is waiting to unfold.

Gatiss's writing style is brilliant. Scenes, people, ordinary objects - they are all described vividly and in great detail. I really enjoyed the way things were described using whole palettes of colors and hues. While some authors may drag you down with all this description, Gatiss manages to pull you along at an incredible pace.

Lucifer Box is probably the most well defined character in this grand adventure (and rightly so, as he is the main character). The secondary characters are colorful to be sure, but not nearly as memorable. In fact, I was totally puzzled when a character is reintroduced near the end of the book - I couldn't remember having met them in the first place. Some of the plot "twists" were a little too convenient and sometimes too obvious, but this did not interfere with an otherwise spectacular book.

I heartily recommend this book. If you like spies, evil plots, scandal, and humor then this is the book for you. I look forward to reading the next Lucifer Box novel (The Devil in Amber).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

I received this book as a member of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Unlike most recipients, I did not read the free "prequel" short story, so I had no idea what I was getting into. However, I did sort of expect this to be a garden-variety urban fantasy. In this, I was not disappointed.

Elizabeth Phoenix is the main character. She is well developed and feels genuine. Some things about her irritated me for a while - her somewhat dumb-blond approach to figuring things out. But that's part of her character and I came to accept it. Because she is an ex-cop, I assumed the story would be more crime-fighting based and was pleasantly surprised when it wasn't.

In a way, I'm reminded of Karen Chance's Pythia character in regards to Elizabeth's role in the supernatural community. That's not to say that this book is a clone of another already written. I find that most books of this genre have certain similarities, and I'm okay with that. The plot was fast paced and interesting. I enjoyed the mythologies that the author incorporated and found some approaches to be quite unique.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will definitely read future novels in this series. As with most urban fantasy, I found it to be a relatively quick read that was pure entertainment. Don't expect to use your devious investigative powers with this book, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner

I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. The description of the book led me to expect something a bit different than what I actually encountered, though. I have to say that I did not really enjoy this book. I made it through the whole thing and can honestly say that I've read worse, but it just wasn't to my taste.

To begin with, the characters are very flat. Details about them, their past, who they really are, etc. are given out only as necessary. I never felt that any of the characters were really real. By the end of the book Victor is almost three dimensional, but not quite. We know a little of his past and present - but nothing that makes you feel like you could meet him in person in real life.

Secondly, the place descriptions and scenery seemed very random to me. I know next to nothing about Paris, let alone Paris in 1889. I found the constant place association via street name to be very confusing. In addition, the Expo was depicted as an enormous circus of revelry. I couldn't help but view the majority of Paris as having been taken over by ludicrous sights and exotic vendors. Even at the conclusion of the book, I couldn't be sure that I had the proper impressions of exactly where this book too place.

Last, I think the story itself was lacking something. The plot was so basic (which isn't always a bad thing) and the end result so anti-climactic that I felt a little cheated. It was like sitting through a three hour movie that could have been adequately summed up in a half-hour television show.

Perhaps this is what a "real" mystery novel is like. I don't have a basis for comparison as I tend to read the thriller/suspense flavor of mysteries. If that's what you're looking for, this book is not for you. If you want a somewhat aloof who-done-it that doesn't require a commitment to the characters, you might enjoy this.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sandstorm by James Rollins

I started this series with the second book. I had picked it up for two reasons: 1) it sounded interesting and 2) the main character shares my son's name. I enjoyed it so much that I sought out the rest of the Sigma Force books.

Sandstorm is the first of the Sigma Force novels. I was disappointed at first when I discovered that Grayson Pierce was not even a minor character, however, I quickly warmed to Painter Crowe. The story is that of a lost city in Oman. The action was consistent and the history interesting. As with all the books of this sort, there were an obscene number of "well, isn't that convenient" circumstances.

The scenery was amazing. You'd think that endless sands would become boring, but Rollins kept the land alive and moving. Each location was described with enough detail to allow me to form complete pictures in my head. The characters were realistic and vivid for the most part. Clay bothered me. He seemed very on-again-off-again, but he wasn't exactly a main player.

I've enjoyed everything I've read by this author (including the fantasy he writes under the name of James Clemens) and would recommend this book without hesitation. In fact, I've already gotten several family members interested in it. If you like well planned and fleshed out history-mysteries, you'll enjoy this book as well.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits was a whole world wrapped into a 433 page book. It followed several generations of a very interesting family. Often, while reading, I wondered if the book was every going to actually go anywhere. When I decided (halfway through the book) to try and explain what it was about to my husband, I realized just how much had already happened.

Allende beautifully combined a solid world with a transient one of spirits and magic. Clara was, by far, my favorite character. I was a little disappointed that Esteban was the sometime-narrator. He was one of my least favorite characters - but I think that was intended. He didn't seem to be written to be likable.

The last quarter of the book seemed to not really fit, to me. It sank into politics, government, and misery. I realize these are all part of life, but it was just so concentrated that I felt I was reading a totally different book all of a sudden. The cyclical nature of the characters was evident to me even before Alba spoke of it in closing. The epilogue brought everything to a comfortable finish. I wasn't left feeling like anything was missing or neglected. I've already recommended this book to my husband and would easily recommend it to others as well.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

I really love Isabel Allende's style. The voice she gives to her characters is simply awe-inspiring. She describes people, places, and events without slipping into tedium and can, overall, make any place as real as your own backyard.

This story was peculiar to me. If pressed, I'm not sure I could tell you exactly what it is about. Sure, I could say that it's one woman's journey to find herself. I could tell you that it's about discovering different shades of love or that it's simply a work of historical fiction about the gold rush. But none of those quite covers what this book is.

In the beginning of the book, each chapter almost seems disconnected. We flit from one character to the next, seemingly losing the main character for chapters at a time. While this made each character real and gave them depth, I felt like I wasn't sure what book I was reading at any given point. Was I reading about a woman betrayed by love in her youth in England? Or about the harsh life of a Chinese doctor? Was it about the young man who took a momentous trip on a bet and unwittingly fell in love? What happened to the young woman, Eliza, the supposed main character of the book? Some times she seemed lost in the sea of characters.

Three quarters of the way through the book I began to worry that nothing was going to happen. By the end of the book I realized that a lot had, in fact, happened and there was no disappointment at all. There didn't seem to be a climax to the story - not in the traditional sense and maybe that was my real issue all along. There were plenty of conflicts and resolutions, lots of things that happened - but not much of a climax. And while I wouldn't consider this to be my favorite of Allende's novels, this will not stop me from recommending it to others.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss

My familiarity with David Liss's work begins and ends with The Coffee Trader. However, having thoroughly enjoyed said novel, I was very excited to have received The Whiskey Rebels through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program. To begin, I must say that I know little about early American history. Government and economy have never been high on my list of interests.

From the beginning I was drawn to the character Ethan Saunders. He is a richly described and very well developed character. At times, even on the same page, I alternately wanted to hug and slap him. His sense of honor (when he has one) is admirable but on the same note, his lack of scruples can be infuriating. The other main character, Joan Maycott grew on me less. I thought I would prefer her chapters, but there were times when I honestly wished I could just skip over them to get back to Ethan and his story. His wit and humor made his parts very enjoyable to read. Once Joan is introduced into Ethan's "present" things got a little confusing - switching from past to present with the same character in each. It wasn't too difficult to follow, just a bit jarring and it quickly evened out.

The descriptions of places and scenery were amazing. Almost too amazing in some instances - the dirty streets of Philadelphia and the unkempt settlers were so vivid I was amazed sometimes that I couldn't smell them myself. However, something bothered me throughout the novel (and not just this novel, but perhaps historical fiction in general). Men, particularly "bad guys", are seemingly always portrayed in an extreme. They womanize and have nasty streaks a mile wide. The assumption that all "less civilized" men harbor masochistic leanings (especially toward women), never bathe, and generally behave like beasts is a little tiresome. I don't think that a villain needs to be cliche to be appropriately evil. Another small thing that bothered me was the dialect. I couldn't always tell when it was possibly a typo (this having been an ARC) and when it was intentional. Some of the more refined "gentlemen" still fell into "that don't bother me none" speech at times.

The last quarter of the book really picked up. It was thrilled and I really didn't want to put it down at all. Joan was somewhat disappointing to me in the end, but Ethan definitely held a special place for me. All in all, I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to others. I can't vouch for the history (as I said, I'm not as familiar with early American history as maybe I ought to be) but it was definitely interesting and entertaining.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Fire: A Novel by Katherine Neville

I was really excited to receive this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program. I had thought, prior to reading the blurb, that the book would be a continuation of The Eight with the focus on those familiar characters. Honestly, I'm glad it's not - I couldn't see how a whole book could come out of it. However, I was disappointed with the small role Alexander Solarin played in the story. He was my favorite character (next to Mireille) from The Eight. However, the story quickly picked up and I was able to put that small prejudice behind me.

I found the first chapter that takes place in the past incredibly difficult to read. The names and places that are difficult to pronounce - even in my head - made things very disjointed for me. That too, quickly passed, though. Katherine Neville was able to tie these two books together in a way that really worked for me. The way things fell to the descendants of the previous story was a nice way to keep things familiar to old readers. It took a while for me to warm up to Xie and the other new characters. I had a hard time liking Key. She seemed to be entirely too convenient - her connections, her knowledge. There were, of course, things in the plot that were obvious from very near the beginning. I've found that most sequels follow a pattern similar to their predecessor, so it wasn't exactly surprising when certain things happened.

The story was lively and there really weren't any dull moments. I was a little disappointed that the locales were not as exotic and varied as in The Eight, though the story itself more than made up for it. There were some things that I simply couldn't "get" - I'm no chess guru, nor do I have any esoteric or deep philosophical knowledge. I may not have a head for puzzles, but I do know a good book when I read one. I would very heartily recommend this book (and The Eight) to others.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster

First I have to say that this book was beautifully written. The imagery was amazing. But the plot, the story? I don't get it. I couldn't connect with the characters at all. Being human was the extent of commonality. Now, I wasn't alive in the 50's through 70's. I've never been to Australia or London. So maybe it's just that I can't get it. For the most part, the story seemed entirely too cliche. I suppose those cliches have to be there for a reason, right?

For the first third of the book or so, I had no idea how old Sooky was or what the passage of time was like. It could have been days or years - there was little reference. The second third of the book was printed horribly. Every five pages or so there were two blurry pages. It's hard to read, enjoy, and review a book that literally gives you a headache.

The last eighth of the book, everything was too easy. Paul's appearance and all that he brought with him was too.. out of nowhere. It wasn't realistic or believable in the slightest. And the ending? It was neither happy nor sad. I wasn't left with any sense of closure.

I did not enjoy this book - which is sort of rare for me. Very rare, actually. But I can say that it was written beautifully. A blurb on the front cover claims that it is "poetic" and I completely agree. I never saw the comedy that the back blurb promised, but I can live with that. Blurbs often seem written by people who never read the book anyway. This one was no exception.

I don't think I'd actively recommend this book to people. Maybe a select few, if I truly thought they'd enjoy it. But not as a "wow, this is a great book that every one should read!" sort of suggestion.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead

First off, I have to say that I'm addicted to this trilogy. I've always had a thing for Robin Hood and this version just blew me away. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead is the second book in the King Raven Trilogy. The Premise of the story is that Bran ap Brychan has been more or less exiled from Elfael - his rightful land. He's taken to the forest where his loyal followers are eking out a living while Bran and his men wreak havoc on the Ffreinc invaders.

In this book we're introduced to William Scatlocke - Will Scarlet. He is the main focus of the story, where Bran was the focus of Hood. When the book begins, Will is in prison telling his story to a scribe named Odo. Through the retelling of this story we learn of Bran and Will's exploits and how he came to be imprisoned. Throughout this there are a smattering of chapters that take place while Will is in jail, letting us know what is going on in the meantime.

The pace of this book was wonderful. It never drags, never gives too many boring details, and is pretty much filled with surprises. Lawhead succeeded in making these characters extremely real and vibrant. The thing I love the most about this book and it's predecessor is that it is the story of Robin Hood, but it isn't. The settings and circumstances are similar enough to see but different enough to make this a brilliant new twist to a tried a true legend.

My only complaint - besides that the third book Tuck isn't out yet - is the repetition of certain phrases. Occasionally Odo interrupts Will in his retelling of the events that led to his predicament. Will patiently answers Odo's questions and then the sections end with some version or other of "and so we trudge on.." It's a minor complaint to be sure, but it did irk me something fierce.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with a love for righteous bandits, raven legends, the myth of Robin Hood, or a good story set in the conflicted realm of England.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott

I was really excited to receive this book through Librarything's Early Reviewer program. The day after the book arrived I began reading it. I do have to admit that my nervousness about writing a review may have clouded my enjoyment of the book, as this is the first review I've ever written.

This book is about a crystal skull referred to as a heart-stone, two of it's keepers (one past, one present), and possible Armageddon. It is also about the struggle between those who seek with all their souls to do the right thing and those individuals that succumb to the failings of humankind such as greed and a lust for power. It is about reconciling science with the mystical and following your path despite the difficulties.

Overall, I'd say The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott was a good read. The history was fascinating, though I can't vouch for it's accuracy. I found that Manda Scott was able to marry the practical and the mystical very convincingly. The characters are startlingly vivid, especially Fernandez De Aguiler. Character relations were believable and well fleshed out. I also found that most of the scene-setting descriptions were the perfect depth - no tedious goings on about each tree and hill. One criticism I feel I must point out is that a lot of the situations seemed a bit too convenient. The story bounces between past and present. I find no fault with the chapters dealing with the past, in fact they were my favorite. However, in the present things happened much too easily. People were easy to locate, meetings were always possible. Things were unbelievably punctual and reliable. I wouldn't say that it detracted from the story at all, it was just a personal pet peeve. I imagine that most books with an element of mystery and discovery have their own "well, isn't that convenient" moments as well.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history with a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in. If I were to generalize, I would group The Crystal Skull with books such as The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Labyrinth by Kate Mosse for their past/present switching and enthralling history as well as books like Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry, and The Lucifer Gospel by Paul Christopher for their similarly suspenseful history-mystery themes.