Not Quite Home

Not Quite Home

Mysteries, histories, comedies, classics, children's, YA, British and Russian lit, nonfiction--I love reading, especially with a bold cup of coffee or a steaming mug of tea in my hands. Is it weird that I wish I were British? 

Review
4 Stars
Toto's Tale
Toto's Tale and True Chronicle of Oz - Sylvia Bortin Patience

What took so long for someone to write the Oz story from Toto's point of view? This is a sweet story that includes some of the illustrations from Baum's originals Oz chronicles. The author draws from the original stories, not the movie, and I appreciate her fidelity. I'm a sucker for all things canine, so this is a hit with me. 

Netgalley ARC, views my own

Review
3.5 Stars
War and Turpentine
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans, David H. McKay

War and Turpentine is separated into three parts: the first about Urbain's childhood and family; the second recounts his experiences during World War I; the third focuses on his life after the war.

 

The writing is elegant, if a bit too alliterative at times, but quite beautiful are the author's descriptions of his great-grandparents' love and the tenderness with which great-grandmother Celine treats her husband, Franciscus, despite their poverty, cramped quarters, five children, and Franciscus's fragile health. Hertmans presents his grandfather's impoverished childhood in terms that show how the beautiful, the ugly, and the mundane intertwined to create the man Urbain would grow to be. Hertmans captures the great love Urbain had for his mother, Celine, and the tenderness of her love toward both her husband and her son.

 

Before he was even old enough to shave, Urbain had already seen a great deal of the painful side of life. He was barely a teenager when he witnessed a horrific accident at an iron smith/mechanic's shop, and, as was the custom at the time, nobody talked about what happened; everyone kept to himself while things and people fell apart. Urbain also spent time working in a foundry at the age of thirteen, and the reader can feel the intense heat of liquid metal and see young Urbain's muscles tremble as he struggles to steady the basin of molten iron.

 

I was also particularly moved by a scene from the Great War, describing animals swimming across a river in a flood during a lull between battles, "fleeing an unimaginable Armageddon . . . fleeing blindly like lemmings." One can only begin to imagine how tempting it must have been to want to flee with them, to swim away to a distant shore, to a place where one can look in any given direction and not see insurmountable death and destruction. Urbain describes war as being "like the wrath of God, minus God." Powerful and poignant.

 

My only real point of contention with the novel is that I felt the author's presence more than I wanted to. At times, images and sounds flowed over me in cascades; at other times, I was only too aware of the author's presence. Outside of that, I really enjoyed reading War and Turpentine and found the prose both fluid-like and soothing, even when describing some of the darkest moments of Urbain's difficult life.

 

I received access to the galley for free through the First to Read program, but all opinions are MY OWN.

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Stand up and be counted. --T. J. Watson
Stand up and be counted. --T. J. Watson

Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crack-pot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost."
Thomas J. Watson

Reading progress update: I've read 98 out of 336 pages.
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans, David H. McKay

I'm having conflicting feelings about this one. This is going to be a difficult one to review. 

Review
4.5 Stars
The Twits
The Twits - Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake

If I were a man with a beard, or a wife with a husband with a beard, by the time I got to page 5 of The Twits, that beard would have to go. Dahl's description of beards in general, and of the various refuse that made its home in Mr Twit's beard in particular, had me wincing, and Blake's illustrations made it that much worse. Yuck! Mrs. Twit doesn't fare much better. She's mean and hateful and cruel, a most terrible, horrible woman.

 

The Twits is more gross than dark, and pretty humorous. If I were going to read Dahl to a kid who might not go in for the darker, scarier stuff, this is the story I'd choose.

 

Review
4 Stars
The Witches
The Witches - Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl

I could see kids squeeling with delight with this one. I don't think Dahl's books would be right for every kid, but for the ones who have the stomach for it, this is a fine place to start. My favorite line from this: "It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you." Well now, that's certainly some good news! 

Review
4 Stars
the BFG
The BFG - Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake

I love the way the BFG talks. He gets his words confused in the cutest way, and he thinks "whizzpopping" (farting) is most fun a person (or a giant) can have. He may get his words mixed up, but, as the Queen of England herself noted, he's no fool. He doesn't have a giant head for nothing; there's an awful lot of wisdom in that big brain. Thumbs up for cuteness on this one. Of course, The BFG also has the darker bits Dahl is famous for, but if you have an older kid who likes that kind of thing, s/he may just enjoy this book.

 

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Jeeve and Wooster back from the dead
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells - Sebastian Faulks

My first thought when I saw the title in the bookstore was, "How in the world did I miss this?! I've read EVERY Jeeves and Wooster in the series!" Looking more closely, of course, I realized that this is an homage to P.G. Wodehouse's beloved characters, written by Sebastian Faulks in 2013. I bought the book (of course I bought it!) feeling equally split between excitement and anxiety. I really wanted to read more Jeeves and Wooster--but I really didn't want someone screwing up something I love so much.

 

In the author's note, Faulks says he wasn't trying to imitate Wodehouse insomuch as he wanted to try to introduce Jeeves and Wooster to the younger generation. He calls himself not an expert but a fan. I decided to give him a chance, so with slitted eye like the chihuahua in the popular meme, I turned the page.

 

This was better than I had expected! Yes, there are two parts that didn't feel like Wodehouse wrote them, but that's okay because Faulks addressed that issue in his author's note. For the most part, though, he really nailed Jeeves's and Bertie's characters, and that, to my mind, is what matters. The only real issue I had is that he had Bertie use the word "bunged" at least ten times. I mean, it was noticeable, and while I know Bertie would have used "bunged," he wouldn't have used it so many times in one book. Nit picky on my part, perhaps, but there it is. Other than that minor point, Faulks nailed the dialogue, the characters' distinct tones, and he even managed, for the most part, to capture the zaniness of a Jeeves and Wooster adventure.

 

Was this Wodehouse? No. Was it humorous and enjoyable? Heck yea! I even found myself literally laughing out loud, and I could "hear" Bertie and Jeeves in my head (thanks to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie). It was like Faulks brought my two good friends, Reginald Jeeves and Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, back from the dead and gave me the chance to spend just a little more time in their presence. For that, I truly thank him.

 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
George's Marvelous Medicine
George's Marvelous Medicine - Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake

I really enjoyed George's Marvelous Medicine. Having had a truly wicked crazy grandmother, myself, I related to George's plight and probably enjoyed his experiment with the craven old lady just a little too much! How fun!

 

I'm inspired to write a verse in response:

 

Roald Dahl's got it all

There's humor, suspense, and disgust

I'll have to try them all now

So my reading life's "Roald Dahl or bust!"

 

 

Review
4 Stars
Malice by Keigo Higashino
Malice - Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith

Sometimes when I'm reading, it takes me a while to get into the flow of the narrative, but Malice grabbed me from the start. The writing is smooth, and Higashino strikes the right balance between dialogue and description. He knows when to show and when to tell, the reading equivalent of drinking the perfect cup of coffee--just the right blend, not too acidic, not too sweet. For example, consider this line: "Though Kaga spoke softly, I could feel his words slowly advancing toward me, each step powerful, inevitable." So smooth, and yet so weighty.

 

An interesting factor is the alternating narrators. For the first part of the book, a chapter is narrated by Nonoguchi, an author, former school teacher, and murder suspect; then the following chapter is narrated by Kaga, detective in charge of the case and Nonoguchi's former coworker. This technique, skillfully executed, gives the book a sense of "real time" happenings and provides the reader with intimate access to the push-and-pull between Kaga and Nonoguchi. Higashino deftly handles the shift in POV and gives Nonoguchi and Kaga each a unique tone and voice. Not every author can handle this style of writing, but Higashino pulls it off without a hitch.

 

The crux of the conflict is less about identifying who killed Hidaka, and much more about determining why. What drives someone to murder another person, especially a benefactor, after so many years of friendship? How might a child's past prejudice manifest itself in his adult present? Higashino takes the reader on a journey into the depths of the human heart and the intricacies and complexities between emotions and morality.

 

I couldn't be a detective. There's no way I could filter out fact from fiction and relevant info from filler. Malice made me think, and even though I was wrong is much of what I surmised, I still enjoyed the process.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 103 out of 288 pages.
Malice - Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith

I don't usually do updates, but I'm excited because I'm loving this so far!

Review
3.5 Stars
Played to Death: Scott Drayco Mystery #1
Played to Death - B.V. Lawson

BOOK BLURB: Still suffering nightmares from a case that ended tragically, brilliant freelance crime consultant Scott Drayco considers retiring from crime solving altogether. When a former client bequeaths Drayco a rundown Opera House in a Virginia seaside town, he figures he'll arrange for a quick sale of the place while nursing his battered soul in a peaceful setting near the shore. What he doesn't count on is finding a dead body on the Opera House stage with a mysterious "G" carved into the man's chest.

 

With hopes for a quick sale dashed and himself a suspect in the murder, Drayco digs into old secrets buried like shells beneath the sand in order to solve the crime and clear his name. Along the way, Drayco must dodge a wary Sheriff, hostility over coastal development, and the seductive wife of a town councilman—before the tensions explode into more violence and he becomes the next victim.

 

MY TAKE: Drayco's inner demons aren't afraid to bubble up close to the surface and wrap their tendrils around his mind, but he does a pretty good job of keeping himself calm and steady on the surface--a good skill to have when you're a former member of the FBI turned crime consultant who's just inherited an abandoned, derelict Opera House with--what else--a dead body inside. There are lots of twists and turns in this one, as people from a past mostly forgotten have a way of making their voices heard, and the deeper Drayco digs, the more the past and present intertwine. I had a little difficulty keeping the cast of characters straight in my head at first, but I enjoyed figuring out who the killer is even though I initially had the wrong motivation. There's a bit more blood than I'm used to since I generally stick to cozies, but there's by no means over-the-top gore.

 

LAGNIAPPE: Drayco drives a blue Starfire, which I had never heard of before, so I decided to look it up. Pretty cool .

Review
3.5 Stars
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

I read this in the hopes that I could use it as a novel for a class read, but since I would be using this in my high school American Lit class, the profanity is prohibitive. A shame, really, because I enjoyed the character development and the gut-wrenching plot. At times I found the prose a bit too wordy, but I still enjoyed the novel as a whole. Owen's character really came alive for me, and I felt as though I actually got to know him. 

Review
1.5 Stars
Death By A HoneyBee - Abigail Keam

The novel begins with a dead man hanging out of an open bee hive, his corpse still being swarmed and stung, which I think should be a shock to anybody, but our apiarist/detective, Josiah Reynolds, seems more interested in her bees than in this dead human being, callously so--which makes me not like her from the start. She seems callous without cause, but I press on, hoping she'll show some redeeming qualities, but that doesn't happen, and I never learn to like her at all. She's self-centered and lacks empathy, and while I can overlook that in a character who's extraordinary in some way, Josiah simply isn't. There's nothing remarkable about her, nothing that makes me willing to overlook her unlikeable nature. She's a woman I wouldn't want to know in real life. In fact, not one of the main characters is likeable. The only two characters in the book who aren't mean are the dog and an old, arthritic man, but neither one of them is in here enough to make a difference. Jeez. The mystery, itself, is decent, but there's not a single main character in this book I can give a crap about.

 

Photo attribution Michael Gäbler

 

 

Review
5 Stars
The Devotion of Suspect X
The Devotion of Suspect X: A Detective Galileo Novel - Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith

My original review has disappeared, along with all my other reviews from 2015 :(.

 

At any rate, this is the first novel by Keigo Higashino I read, and it blew me away and made me a Higashino fan for life. The plot is meticulously developed and wonderfully paced, and my heart went out to Ishigami. I love this book. I haven't been this smitted by a mystery since I first fell in love with Sherlock Holmes. This is what mystery writing should be!

Review
3 Stars
Ghosts of Tsavo
Ghosts of Tsavo (Society for Paranormals Book 1) - Vered Ehsani

book blurb

Ghosts of Tsavo
A paranormal detective refuses to let danger, death and unwanted suitors inconvenience her in colonial Kenya: Armed with Victorian etiquette, a fully loaded walking stick and a dead husband, Beatrice Knight arrives in colonial Kenya desperate for a pot of tea and a pinch of cinnamon. But she’ll need more than that if she’s to unravel the mystery of the Ghosts of Tsavo without being eaten in the process. She must endure all manner of inconveniences while surviving the machinations of her best friend’s dashing godfather and the efforts of her safari guide to feed her to any lion willing to drag her away. What is a ghost-chasing widow to do?

 

My review

This is a paranormal cozy mystery set in Africa during the Victorian times--not exactly my usual fare, but I enjoyed the paranormal bits, and I certainly didn't see the big twist coming near the end. In addition to the paranormal, the book offers lots of suspense and a strong female protagonist. I'm glad I decided to give this one a whirl. 

2016 NetGalley Challenge First To ReadReviews PublishedProfessional Reader