Book Review: Susanna and the Spy (Susanna and the Spy #1) by Anna Elliott (three stars)

Book Review: Susanna and the Spy (Susanna and the Spy #1) by Anna Elliott (three stars)

Everyone in the Rutherford Household was so very ordinary—so completely what they seemed. Could it really be possible that one of them was a murderer?

Pleasant, if formulaic period romance/mystery. Awkward blend of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. Readers interested in a Jane Austen mystery might try Northhanger Abbey.

Verisimilitude errors. “Time for those he works for in London to send word as to his veracity. I should think I have a few weeks, at least, the state of the roads and the mail being what it is.” Kent abuts London; verification could be had overnight. “I’ve been an agent of the Crown since war first broke out with France.” England and France had been at war for centuries.  

Fails to convey the period. Errors in details kick the reader out of the spell of the story. One character sustains several bullet wounds but keeps soldiering on.

Her mission, it appeared, was to call on some of the poorer members of the village and do what she could to scold and bully them into prosperity.

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (five stars)

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (five stars)

“Noch ein gespenstiger Spion … Another ghost spy.”

Well done. Cobbling together history and popular interest in spiritualism at that time, Kowal writes dramatic, credible historical fantasy set in France during 1916.

“You are a contradiction.” “I like to keep you guessing. It is the role of an intelligence officer to avoid predictability at all costs.” “Mm … and here I thought you just enjoyed being difficult.”

Kowal weaves together a diverse and occasionally real cast to create an engaging mystery as well as highlight the prejudices and practices of that day. Excellent denouncement; set the stage for possible (as yet unannounced) sequels.

“You are as stubborn as your mother was.” “I take that as a compliment.” “I meant it as one.”

Better than her already good Lady Astronaut series. Readers new to Kowal might start here. Excellent cover art, unfortunately not credited in the electronic edition.

“Your hearing is damaged, but your soul isn’t.” “After the war, I’m not sure any of us can claim to have undamaged souls.”

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (Four Stars)

“Reading Jane Austen was making him identify with Darcy and the thunderclap power of physical attraction that flies in the face of one’s usual judgment.”

More like 3.5 stars. Great concept for Jane Austen fans: a period (post World War II) retelling of an Austen-type story. Jenner is no Jane Austen, but hers is a credible performance. The male characters are more deeply developed than in the Austen canon, but not convincingly so. What would we expect of a group of Austen aficionados?

“Everyone was making mistakes, and falling for cads, and giving the wrong people the benefit of the doubt. He loved it.”

The denouement is abrupt and unconvincing. Austen fans will love it. Jenner invokes post-war England and Hollywood well, but modern sensibilities mar the tone. Much dialogue is people quoting Austen back and forth, just as you’d expect of a bunch of literary nerds.

“We all live with grief eventually, every last one of us. Austen knew that.”

Quibbles. “… over the noise of the engine as it sputtered to a stop.” Rolls Royce engines neither make noise nor do they sputter to a stop. American Security and Exchange laws do not apply in England, and “inside trading” restrictions were not in effect in the 1940s. Heroin dependency is not amenable to quitting by sheer willpower.

“Part of the comfort they derived from rereading was the satisfaction of knowing there would be closure.”

Book Review: Hazardous Duty by Christy Barritt (Three Stars)


Book Review: Hazardous Duty (Squeaky Clean Mysteries #1) by Christy Barritt

(Three Stars)

“Look, Nancy Drew. This isn’t your case.”

Great concept: agnostic crime scene investigator wantabee who dropped out of school because of family necessity starts crime scene cleanup firm. Unfortunately, both the writing and the plot fail to deliver. Needed another editing, especially of her philosophic musings. Good sense of place and time. Nice, relevant cover art.

“I didn’t want to be a know-it-all. I really didn’t. My best friend in college had been one, which drove me crazy, especially considering I knew more than she did.”

Gabby is an unsympathetic protagonist, perhaps not intentionally. She is stubborn and stupid. By rights she should have been dead several times.

“So far you’re the only sane one I’ve met.” “And I’m covered in ash, smell like smoke, and clean up after murders.” “My standards of sane are really low.”

The supporting cast is good, if they tend toward clichés. The action is questionable. For example, the story opens with Gabby pulling skull fragments from a wall. What CSI team would have left that behind? Not to mention oddly-placed droplets of blood.

“Who needed details when you had an imagination like mine?’

Quibbles: “Bottle-cap glasses”? Her heart throb of the moment flees to his fiancé’s home state? Gabby jumps to so many conclusions she should have been in the Olympics.

“Don’t leave the state or do anything stupid.” “Understood.” “Which part? The leaving or the stupid, because I don’t think you have a lot of control over the latter.”

The inevitable come-to-Jesus climax feels contrived. Whose plea for divine intervention as she’s being murdered meanders into theology and qualification? Not “Please Lord, help me. If you really are up there, like my friends say you are, I want to know you.”

Book Review: Ordained Irreverence by McMillian Moody (Three Stars)


Book Review: Ordained Irreverence (Elmo Jenkins #1) by McMillian Moody

(Three Stars)

“I felt like the refuse of the rich and famous. If this is what it was going to be like working full-time in a church, I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

An engaging funny, and at the same time sad opening to a series about a young man becoming a Baptist minister. (The denomination is only mentioned once or twice, but it’s obvious from internal evidence.) Moody captures many internal dynamics which are true of all bureaucratic organizations, especially those with undue power an influence vested in those who have their own Continue reading

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Five Stars)


Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

(Five Stars)

“There certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.”

Austen at her best. Gone is the self-assured heroine of earlier novels who sweeps all before her; enter the humble waif who must learn the ways of the world and society on the fly. Fanny’s internal dialogue sets Mansfield Park apart from Austen’s earlier works. It’s still Austen, but it grips the soul of the reader.

“Her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy. Fanny’s relief, and her consciousness of it, were quite equal to her cousins’; but a more tender nature suggested that her feelings were ungrateful, and she really grieved because she could not grieve. Her cousins, on seeing her red eyes, set her down as a hypocrite.”

The reader gains a more mature critique on the corner of society which Continue reading

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Five Stars)


Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

(Five Stars)

“All poetry is a call to action.”

Bravo. A romance tucked inside an adventure stuffed into history festooned with whimsy and culture. Fully-realized characters burst off the pages as surely as they rupture the walls of Moscow’s historic Metropol Hotel.

“… and generally clamor about the world’s oldest problems with its newest nomenclature.”

Catches the spirit of each age. His grasp of the history and culture of Moscow in the span from after World War One into the 1950s betrays a respect one who looks for from a native. Pop culture references–music, politics, fashion, movies–appropriate to each decade.

“Adversity presents itself in many forms. If a man does not master his circumstances, his circumstances will master him.”

Comparable to Tolstoy; patronymics, diminutives and other naming varieties included. The scope of this work demands Continue reading

Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, read by Tim Matheson

Four Stars

A fun, seasonal story. The blurb claims Baldacci is “one of America’s most critically acclaimed storytellers.” Never heard of him. It is a good story–mixing (rail)road trip, mystery, romance, humor and advocacy (for increased Amtrak funding). Has a good heart.

A fun read listen. Perfect tale for whiling away the miles on a road trip of my own.

Concern: Current revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood are reflected in one character. What goes on is Hollywood, like Las Vegas, is an open secret which our society has winked and Continue reading

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

“There’s many a young man has got his hearts wish, only to curse the day he wished for it.”

Upon my fourth reading, I raise my rating one star because this story compares so well with other historical fiction. In addition to the murder mystery, this tale brings to the reader an understanding of a historical setting which borders on the mythic, an introduction to a medieval craft (in this case, making charcoal), reflections on life then and now, a love story, and the fun of a tale well told.

“He’s innocent enough, God knows, to believe that other men are as honest as he.”

Readers seeking a story grounded closer to fact than the average epic fantasy, which usually loses itself in horses that run forever, swords that never dull, clerics who call down lightning bolts and enough nihilism for a lifetime, Edith Pargeter’s series on the life and times of this former Crusader and now monastic should be welcome. That’s why I’m on my fourth reading of this series.

“Despair is a deadly sin, but worse it is mortal folly.”

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Five Stars)

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Five Stars

“If you go in with fear, fear is what you find.”

Totally awesome. The best science fiction I’ve read this year. Called a science fiction thriller and a romance, it goes beyond many genre expectations. Explores how choices relate to identity. We are who we chose to be.

“I have total control, but only to the extent that I have control over myself.”

Well-conceived, well-developed, well-written.

“I’m not allowed to think I’m crazy. I’m only allowed to solve this problem.”

The title, of course, is a pun. The story only tangentially relates to Continue reading