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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-17 18:09
The Waiting Sands - Review
The Waiting Sands - Susan Howatch

The back blurb said two people died and someone Rachel loved killed them.

 

The truth was that I didn't care who died and I didn't care who killed them.  All the characters were despicable -- except Mrs Willie the housekeeper and George the dog.

 

Only the buddy read kept this from being a DNF.

 

Only the tightness of the plot kept this from being a 1-star, and only Howatch's writing kept it from being a half-star.

 

Brief overview, with maybe a spoiler.

 

Rachel Lord -- I kept forgetting her last name -- receives a cryptic invitation to her friend Decima's coming-of-age party in Scotland.  The two friends have been out of touch for about two years, since Decima's wedding to a renowned scholar, Charles Mannering.  Anyway I think that's his last name.  I know it wasn't Middleton, because Charles Middleton was Ming the Merciless.

 

 

Rachel arrives at Roshven, Decima's ancestral estate, on Thursday.  Decima turns 21 at midnight Saturday.  So the whole thing takes place in something like a little over 48 hours.

 

In addition to Decima, Charles, and Rachel, there are three other guests: Charles's cousin and Rachel's lifelong friend Rohan Quist, Charles's former student at Oxford Daniel Carey, and Daniel's sister Rebecca.

 

Everyone spends the next two days confiding in Rachel that they are either having/not having an affair with Decima or Charles, that they are afraid of being killed by Decima/Charles/Rebecca/Daniel/Rohan, that they know Rebecca/Daniel/Rohan is having an affair with Decima or Charles . . . or maybe both.

 

All in all, they were a tiresome, desperate, despicable lot.  And Rachel was just a doormat for listening to them and not telling them all to go jump in the Cluny Sands and get sucked to perdition.

 

The threats/fears of murder hinge on Decima's inheritance.  According to her father's will, if she lives to midnight Saturday, she inherits the estate and its fortune; if she dies beforehand, it all goes to Charles.  If she dies after midnight, but without children, it goes to Charles.  She, however, has made her own will, which will be effective only if she survives to midnight.

 

Well, of course, she doesn't.  Someone kills her, but that someone had already killed Charles.  So that lets Charles off the hook for her murder.  We can assume Rachel didn't do it, since she's the more or less "heroine" of the story.  That leaves the Carey siblings with their really unhealthy relationship, or Rohan.

 

And here's where Howatch's plot becomes sort of interesting, a kind of reward for the reader's having plowed through the awful mess thus far:  Daniel Carey arranges Charles's body to make it look as though the professor committed suicide after killing Decima.  Daniel persuades Rachel to go along with him in presenting this scenario to the police.  The impression given is that Daniel is protecting his sister, whom he believes committed the murders.

 

I told you their relationship was unhealthy.

 

More unhealthy, however, is Rachel's relationship with Daniel.

 

She has fallen in love with him, even though he's really a disgusting person.  Was he having an affair with Decima or not?  Was he plotting to kill her or not?  Was he plotting to kill Charles or not?  (We won't even get into whether he was boinking his sister or not.)  Rachel has fallen in love with this jerk after knowing him two days and despite seeing how eager he is to cover up a murder, which he himself may have committed!

 

At that point, after the murders are "investigated" by the police and the conclusion of murder/suicide is accepted, Rachel goes back to London and eventually ends up in New York.  I'm not sure why the whole New York thing is thrown in, but it is.  She still pines for Daniel, even though she still thinks he and/or Rebecca murdered both Charles and Decima.  Daniel, who had been a very ambitious academic, gives up his career to teach in Africa.  I'm not sure what Rebecca did and I don't care.

 

Five years after the murder, a kind of reunion is arranged, to take place at the now abandoned estate of Roshven.  While sneaking into the actual house with her lifelong buddy Rohan, Rachel suddenly remembers a tiny clue about the night of the murder and realizes neither Rebecca nor Daniel could be the killer.  Therefore, the killer had to be Rohan.

 

Climactic scene on the beach, and the quicksand delivers justice.

 

And Daniel covers up the truth again!

 

There were elements of DuMaurier's Rebecca in this, or at least according to Rohan there were.  We'll never know for sure.  The only person who knows the whole truth is dead, and everyone else is covering up.

 

I think that's what I disliked most about the whole romantic resolution: Daniel was too eager to tell lies under far too many different circumstances.  First it was just nastiness, then it was to protect his sister whom he thought was guilty of a double murder, then it was to make someone feel less horrible about the death of their child.  So some of his motives for lying were maybe good, but he still seemed too willing to avoid the truth.  I wouldn't trust him as a husband.

 

Although Howatch's writing was on the whole professional and evocative, I disliked her frequent use of long monologues to reveal backstory.  There are ways to break those up with some description and action and reaction.  They come across as contrived and insincere on the part of the writer.

 

All in all, a poor experience, but a learning one.  And the Harry Bennett cover was probably worth it!

 

 

Because of the limited cast of characters and the remote setting, I'm using this for the Cozy Mystery square, whether anyone likes it or not.  ;-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-09-27 19:35
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
HEX - Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 

HEX was not what I expected. At all. It had some very creepy moments and for that reason I'm glad I read it, but I didn't find it to be the end all-be all of dark fiction like most of my friends did. I'm a little bummed about that because my expectations were high.

 

I'm not going to get into the plot much as this book came out several years ago and everyone knows it's about a witch. She haunts the town, but her type of haunting mainly consists of showing up at weird times and places, creeping the hell out of everyone by just standing there, and then she vanishes. Okay, there's more to it than that, but that's the gist.

 

As I mentioned above, there were a few genuinely disturbing moments and I could almost feel the stifling atmosphere at times. The few scenes that unsettled me were effective and creative. However, my enjoyment of them was often marred by breasts. That's right: breasts. What is the fascination with them in this story? Also, the poor lady with the high forehead. OMG, get over it already! Every single time this character was mentioned, so was her forehead. Lastly, I think the (I'll just call them) portents of doom, were overused and unnecessary. Owls all over the place looking at you, and peacocks...peacocking themselves about. Enough! Get on with it!

 

I cared for almost none of the people in Black Spring, nor did they deserve my care. For the most part they were all terrible human beings. It's partly because of that that I LOVED the ending! From what I've read and my discussion with my online friend Lillelara, who buddy read this with me, the denouement was completely re-written from the original Dutch version. I think it worked wonderfully for an American audience, (or at least me),especially in today's world. (Lillelara was less impressed than I.)

 

In short, I really liked the first half and I found the creepy times to be genuinely eerie and disturbing. The second half seemed to ramble... foreheads, breasts, peacocks, etc. The ending rocked. I don't know what else to say, other than I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

 

I read this for my 2018 TBR challenge, (to read books I've owned for years and still not read), and I also read it for the TERROR IN A SMALL TOWN square in Halloween Bingo at Booklikes.

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review 2018-09-24 11:39
The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)
The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett

I never know how to review the discworld books.  They're sort of impossible to describe to anyone who hasn't already read them, and likewise, they're hard (for me) to review.  

 

Generally, having read a few of the later discworld books in a couple of the sub-series, I found this one to be the weakest in terms of personal enjoyment.  I'm happy to have The Luggage finally explained, or at least properly introduced, and there were a few great jokes, but the story... meh.   And is it just me, or is Death distinctly less personable in his earliest incarnation?  I also missed the footnotes that add so much to later discworld books.

 

I read this in both audio and print as part of the Discworld group and for Halloween Bingo - I'm using it for the Free Square.

 

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review 2018-09-24 08:34
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

I finally finished this one.  The delay was a combination of being on holiday, and needing to put some space between my experience of this book and the experience of others, as I was starting to feel like I was losing my objectivity regarding my feelings about this book.

 

So, my feelings: Get Well Soon was poorly sub-titled and marketed.  As a popular science book, or a popular history-about-science book, it fails.  As an introductory anthropological and cultural survey of how society has historically reacted to epidemics and pandemics, I think its excellent.

 

Furthermore, while I like her writing style a lot, it is polarising.  Jennifer Wright is a 30-something author whose voice is informal, irreverent and snarky.  She writes the way friends - good friends - talk when they don't have to behave themselves.  She uses this no-nonsense voice to sometimes share her thoughts about topics that are themselves, polarising.  

 

So this is a book that isn't going to appeal to everyone.  It particularly isn't going to appeal - at all - to anyone looking for a more sober, scientifically-focused exploration of the topic.  After reading the whole thing, I'm pretty sure it was never meant to, at least, not from the author's perspective.

 

"If you take nothing else away from this book, I hope it's that sick people are not villains."

 

This is a recurring theme from start to finish.  Wright's objective seems to be to focus a spotlight on humanity's reaction to mass illness throughout history, whether good or bad.  Her hope in doing so is that perhaps those who read this book will learn from history rather than doom themselves to repeat it.  She does this is the frankest, bluntest possible way, with a lot of snarky humor.

 

In this objective, I believe she succeeds.  I think those of us who could be labeled as 'prolific readers' or those who voraciously devour their favorite subjects, might lose perspective on how well-informed, or not,  most people today are.  Society today is at least as divided as it's been at almost any other time in history, and a good deal of opinion is shaped via the internet, a source we all know can be about as accurate as a round of the telephone game.

 

In this context, I think the book is fantastic.  Jennifer Wright seems to be a popular author of columns in various newspapers and magazines; if even a handful of her fans from Harper's Bazaar, et al, read this book simply because she wrote it, and they come away having learned something they didn't know before they started, or thinking harder about their responsibility in society, then Wright will have succeeded where others have failed.  (And yes, I'm generally pessimistic about the world I live in - my country is being run by an orange lunatic; I think I'm entitled to a bit of pessimism.)

 

I'm not one of her magazine/newspaper fans.  In fact it wasn't until after I'd started this that I realised I'd ever read anything by her before.  I'm also quantitatively better read, if not qualitatively (some would argue), and I can say that not only did I enjoy this book a great deal, but I learned more than I expected to.  For example, I had no idea that the Spanish Flu wasn't actually Spanish, but probably American, and I had no idea that it killed so many Americans.  Granted, most of my knowledge of the Spanish Flu comes from British fiction, but it's a testament to the horrifying effectiveness of government censorship during WWI that you still don't read about it in American fiction, and this is a disease that killed in one month more Americans than the US Civil War.  I'd also never heard of Encephalitis Lethargica, and sort of wish I never had.  Even on the diseases I knew more about, Wright managed to impart something new for me, and in at least 2 chapters, left me misty eyed over the power people have when they choose to be selfless.

 

As a popular science book meant to tackle a complicated topic in a palatable way, this book is a fail; there's not nearly enough scientific discussion or data here to qualify this as such a book.  But as a popular, cultural overview of the way societies throughout history have succeeded or failed to handle epidemics when they happened and the importance of rational, humane leaders and populace in times of crises, I think Wright succeeds very well.

 

The tragedy of this book is that it's marketed to the very people who are bound to be disappointed by it and likely don't need its message, and the people who might gain the most from it are likely to pass it by because they think it'll be too boring and dry.

 

I read this for The Flat Book Society's September read, but it also qualifies for the Doomsday square in Halloween Bingo.

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review 2018-09-23 08:21
Worst best luck and a tourist
The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett

This is my first Pratchett, and I had so much fun.

 

It was all the elements: the zanny world, all the stabs at our world's and several sub-types of fantasies usual conventions, Rincewind's quality of "Luck's *shhhhhhhh!* The Lady's plaything" and Twoflower's perfect embodiment of the "too oblivious and exited to get it" tourist. And the luggage. The luggage was awesome, and the way it kept coming back the gift that kept on giving.

 

It ends in a cliff-hanger, but I'm not too anxious over it, because I was on the ride for the humour more than closure.

 

And apparently, this is not the best to be had in the Discworld... Sold on the author.

 

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