Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Red Herring Without Mustard

by Alan Bradley

Last January I read the first of the Flavia de Luce mysteries and said I'd probably read another. Well, here it is. This book is filled with many of the same characters and Flavia struggles with many of the same family troubles as mentioned in the first novel. These interactions give a rather morose tone to the overall story, which takes away from the fun.
The story centers around a gyspy, who after reading a villager's fortune is found nearly dead in her caravan. A day later, the likely suspect is found dead, hanging from the trident at Poseidon's fountain. So the search for the killer begins. Unfortunately, in Red Herring, there really isn't much of a mystery, I think any reader could pick up all the clues long before the heroine does.
In his novels, Mr. Bradley references a variety of other literary works as well as providing little factoids about chemicals, their interactions, their uses and their founders.
I read this book for the reading challenge. After this one, I think I've had my fill of Flavia. These books should be marketed to a younger audience.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

When I finished Gone Girl my first thought was, "that was creepy!"

My overview of this book has to be minimal in order to preserve the mystery for those of you who have yet to read this best-seller. In a nutshell, this is a dysfunctional marriage gone disastrously wrong beyond your imagination. The novel is divided into alternating narrations between Nick Dunne and his wife "Amazing Amy" telling their perspective of the relationship and encouraging readers to pick a side. Halfway through, Ms. Flynn introduces a twist, which throws readers into some confusion and doubts. These people are sick, they are psychotic, they are unbelievable! And there is the problem, by the time part three comes along, the characters and the story-line becomes unbelievable. It seemed like the focus shifted, the story lost momentum and although issues were resolved, it was unsatisfactory.

I give credit to Flynn for entering the minds of these clearly disturbed people, she wanted you to experience the mind of a wack-a-do, and did a great job of it! I can see why this has been a popular read. It is creepy, but doesn't leave you with the lingering anxiety received from Silence of the Lambs or Misery

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Just Deceits: A Historical Courtroom Mystery

by Michael Schein

I love reading books that introduce me to pieces of history that I never knew about. I also love books that inspire me to do research along the way to verify if the history being presented is accurate. And I love a good courtroom drama. This book has all of that!

The unknown history deals with the trial of Richard Randolph and his sister-in-law Nancy Randolph. In 1792 they were accused of having an adulterous affair resulting in an unwanted pregnancy, birth and murder of said baby in order to avoid scandal. They hired as their attorney the young John Marshall, who was subsequently joined by the more mature Patrick Henry. All these well-known historical figures involved in an obscure yet scandalous legal battle. Richard Randolph, his wife, two brothers and Nancy lived on an estate named Bizarre, so this story originating from that property shouldn't come as a surprise as so much of these happenings are bizarre. This story is adapted from trial notes, public records and letters from that time. The trial itself contains some gottcha's on par with Presumed Innocent and similarly leaves the reader questioning the verdict.

Although the writing is a bit immature (it does improve along the way), Just Deceits is a debut novel  for Schein and it shows promise for future material. It was a free Amazon download when I got it, but is currently available for only $.99. This changes my negative experiences with free downloads, one out of five worth reading. Odds of success are still iffy.

I am being lenient in my rating because I'd like to encourage this guy to write some more.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

You may remember about 6 months ago I mentioned some friends' debate over Dickens' literary genius.  One said A Tale of Two Cities was his greatest work while the other lobbied for Great Expectations. I was so intrigued over this controversy that I determined to read each novel and decide for myself which I would endorse if asked. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I could choose. I liked both books and they are so different it may depend on your genre preference.

Great Expectations is a coming of age story as recalled by the main character, Pip. It begins with his encounter as a youth with a convict who coerces Pip's assistance. As he grows up he is taken under the wing of a reclusive old lady whose relationship creates in him a desire for advancement. His dream of improvement is realized when he is bequeathed a great expectation, which eventually turns sour. It is a rags to riches to rags story.

Here is what I found in favor of Great Expectations: the story is engaging from the start, the themes are obvious and the language is generally easier to understand.

Here is what I favored in A Tale of Two Cities: the history, the relationships and the sacrifices.

Both books have great characters, strong writing and some unexpected plot twists.

So cast your vote, if you can. Which would you pick?