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review 2017-06-22 13:01
"Camino Island" by John Grisham
Camino Island: A Novel - John Grisham

“Camino Island” starts as a fast moving, (very) stripped down, matter of fact, look how ingenious we are, heist. The plot moves along rapidly, if somewhat mechanically, executing what should have been the perfect robbery. The thieves are straight from central casting. The items being stolen, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts, are the only original things in the opening chapters. If this had been a movie, the robbery would have taken place as a background to the credits rolling by and no one would have missed anything.

Then the flow of the book suddenly slows and we’re gently meandering through the life of our heroine, a woman with one successful novel behind her, weighed down by her student loan debt, about to lose her teaching job, involuntarily single and three years behind on writing her next novel.


It turns out she is the last best hope for retrieving the missing manuscripts. She accepts payment to go back the island she grew up on and spend the summer infiltrating the life of a bookseller, suspected of holding the manuscripts.


Much of the book is spent describing the books seller’s life, the lives of the other writers on the island (they are legion) the changing nature of the publishing world, the delights of good food, fine wine and antique Provençal furniture and the freedoms of an open marriage.


The dialogue is well done and the characters are clearly drawn but I felt that I had walked into a different novel (possibly written by a different author) than the one I’d started. I was less engaged that I could have been as I found the bookseller unattractive and our heroine passive and voyeuristic.

I kept reading partly because I wanted to see how this dive into Floridian book culture would connect back to the heist and partly because the writing made up for the plot.
In the end, the clever twist emerges and is well executed but it had all the emotional impact of a magician pulling a rabbit from a top hat.

The epilogue that brings the main characters together for a final resolution simply confirmed that I didn’t like or care about either of them.

This is not a bad book but it left me feeling a little cheated because the heist never got passed the cardboard cut-out stage and most of the book was as thrilling as watching strangers drink too much and talk too much at a cocktail party

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review 2017-06-16 13:23
"Clean Sweep - Inn Keeper Chronicles #1" by Ilona Andrews
Clean Sweep - Ilona Andrews

"Clean Sweep" made me smile. Despite dealing with werewolves, vampires and predatory aliens locked in mortal hand to hand combat (which is describedin great detail) it manages to be completely charming and often quite amusing.

 

Set in modern-day Texas, it tells the story of a young Inn Keeper who's bed and breakfast is actually part of a network of magical Inns that offer a neutral place for travelers from different worlds and species to stay in in safety.

 

Ilona Andrews has created an original universe that cleverly combines and redefines urban fantasy and science fiction tropes into something new and intriguing. She's then used it as a setting for taking a tongue-in-cheek tilt at the romance themes that typically wrap themselves like vines around vampire. werewolf, magic maiden threesomes in Urban Fantasy. While the book never tips over into either slapstick or satire and has many scenes of graphic violence, humour rather than tension is the dominant scent in this book.

 

The Inn Keeper is fascinating. She speaks softly and draws upon formal Southern manners but is unphased by carrying out an autopsy on an alien who has attacked her and will happily slaughter her enemies in droves when necessary. The depth of her character is what makes the book. The male characters, regardless of species, seem to be mainly foils to display our Inn Keeper or generate laughter at the (self-evidently inferior) approach males take to problem solving.

 

The humour sometimes made it hard for me to take the science fiction seriously (the names of the planets could have come directly from Molière's comedies) but the comic scene in which one of the scary predators gets its ass kicked in a Costco aisle, more that made up for that.

 

"Clean Sweep" has been on my TBR pile for a while, partly because I kept selecting Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels books instead. I don't have the same hunger for another Inn Keeper book that the Kate Daniels books always leave me with but I'll reach for the next in the series when I need a light, unchallenging but original read that will make me smile.

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review 2017-06-15 13:07
"Still Life - Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1" by Louise Penny
Still Life - Louise Penny

"Still Life" is a like a favourite armchair: a comfortable, familiar, structure that you relax into and become reluctant to leave.

This is a leisurely tale of murder, betrayal, art, archery and excellent croissants.

Set in a rural French Canadian village that seems to be populated by local hunters who were born there and talented but poor artists and poets who relish its bucolic charms, it involves the investigation, by a senior detective and a surprisingly large team of police officers, of the death of a local artist who has been shot through the heart by an arrow.

The tone of the book is set by the polite but unyielding authority of the most senior police officer, Inspector Gamache, a well read, softly spoken man who observes closely, thinks deeply and spends much of his time gathering information either by sitting in the local bistro/café or by sitting on a bench on the village green, watching who does what with whom.

Gamache solves the mystery by pulling at loose threads that others might miss until the deceptions hiding the killer unravel and all is revealed.

The writing is vivid without being garish. There is a strong sense of place and community. The story has the unhurried pace of a dinner party where each course is to be savoured and discussed between friends before things move on. I rather enjoyed the poetry attributed to one of the characters who turns out to be a famous Canadian poet.

The plot is a puzzle, with a satisfying number of twists and turns and a relatively small number of suspects. I worked out the killer just before their name was revealed. I take this to be a kindness on the author's part, allowing me to feel smug but not bored.

Despite being about murder, this is a gentle, reflective, cultured book that is as much about understanding the lives the villagers have constructed for themselves as it is about discovering whodunnit.

I felt that I'd taken a pleasant weekend break in a place different enough to be interesting but not so exotic as to disturb my comfort.

The first book in a series, "Still Life" left me disposed towards reading more but not passionate about getting the next book as soon as possible.

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review 2017-06-01 16:37
"Enclave" by Ann Aguirre - DNF
Enclave - Ann Aguirre

This one was just too YA for me.

Well written and well conceived but too noisy with teen emotions. This was probably amplified by the "I must emote every sentence at full volume" approach of the audiobook narrator.

 After 90 minute i decided it was a DNF.

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review 2017-05-31 22:44
"Nice Dragons Finish Last - Heartstrikers #1" by Rachel Aaron
Nice Dragons Finish Last - Rachel Aaron

I picked up "Nice Dragons Come Last" because I was looking for some lighhearted escapism that would make me smile. Rachel Aaron's book delivered that and a good deal more; surprisingly strong and original world-building, intriguing characters, gentle humour and some great actions scenes.

This is a book about being nice, decent, honest, trustworthy and reasonable, It is not one of those knowing, self-mocking books. It occasionally goes right up to the cliff-edge of cute but never drops into the abyss of sugary wholesomeness. Instead it works through the idea that being nice doesn't have to make you weak, that being fair doesn't have to make you vulnerable and that being who you are is better than hiding from who everyone else wants you to be.

What spices all that up is that the person addicted to niceness is a dragon. Dragons don't hold with niceness. Dragon's are about cunning and power and strength and above all, about winning. Our hero is simply too nice to be a successful dragon, yet, if he fails to display a sufficiently draconian approach to the mission he has been given a couple of days to achieve, his mother will eat him. He teams up with a young mage, who, although she's human, behaves much more like a dragon than he does: she's fierce, territorial, always looking to find an angle and never backs down from anyone. Together they make the perfect odd couple.

There is a quest of a kind, labyrinthine intrigues, warring seers, hungry monsters determined to feed and lots of men with guns,

Our hero is congenitally incapable of being nasty and much of the humour in the book comes from the incredulity with which our hero's attempt to find win-win, conflict-avoiding, solutions to problems that are traditionally resolved by combat.

I found myself slipping more deeply into this world than I'd expected and liking the characters of dragons, even the scary or annoying ones.

So, I've bought the next book in the series "One Good Dragon Deserves Another" and I'm saving it for the next time I'm craving lighthearted entertainment backed up by clever ideas and likeable characters.

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