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review 2018-09-24 21:35
The Xibalba Murders / Lyn Hamilton
The Xibalba Murders - Lyn Hamilton

Lara McClintoch, her marriage ended and her antiques business sold, eagerly embarks on a trip to Mexico to help an old friend solve a mystery. On arrival, her friend puts off their meeting and then disappears. After Lara witnesses a brazen robbery of a valuable statue of the ancient Mayan civilization and stumbles on a corpse in a museum of antiquities, she becomes a police suspect. Afraid of the police and unsure whom to trust, Lara follows clues pointing to black marketeers and zealous revolutionaries. This dangerous trail takes her to remote archaeological ruins, lush jungles, and bustling streets filled with revelers. Lara engages in a thrilling battle of wits and courage to unmask a killer and stop a tomb-robber in the shadowy world of Xibalba, the Lords of Death.

   

I guess that the purpose of various reading challenges is to get us to read outside our comfort zones. I chose this book to be my “title beginning with X” choice for this year. Although I am a sometimes mystery reader, I’m generally not a big fan of the cozy mysteries and that is how I would have to categorize this one.

What I did really like in this book was the emphasis on Mayan mythology and culture. I hope that the author did her research, as I’d like to believe that I learned a few things about both. However, this is very much a first book as well as the first book in a series. Not too bad for the first novel of a bureaucrat (Hamilton was director of the governmental branch responsible for licensing of archaeology in the province of Ontario) and it did get nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel in 1998. Apparently Ms. Hamilton visited the sites where she set her books—what a wonderful way to choose your travel destinations!

I can’t say that I feel impelled to read the further adventures of Lara McClintoch, despite the fact that there are ten more books in the series. I suppose that if one of them fit into another reading challenge, that I could be convinced to pick it up.

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review 2018-09-24 16:39
Stolen / Kelley Armstrong
Stolen - Kelley Armstrong

It was in Bitten, Kelley Armstrong's debut novel, that thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman and the only living female werewolf.

In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the "other races" and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals - witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves - are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Shifters square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

I just don’t know quite know why this series doesn’t grab me. It had been a year since I’d read the first book and I was actually looking forward to this second installment. The assumptions in Urban Fantasy are always ridiculous to those who don’t like the genre, but this one seemed a bit more ridiculous than most.

Take an ultra-insensitive billionaire, add his secret prison for supernatural creatures, and shake it up with the plot line of Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game, and you get Stolen. The first book limited itself completely to werewolves and was all about Elena coming to terms with her life as a member of that community. Hey presto, this book suddenly produces a whole range of other supernatural folk not hinted at in book one—vampires, witches, demons, shamans and sorcerers. Might as well go whole hog, I guess.

I’m not sure why some authors can do this successfully (for me) and yet I find this version annoying. I find Elena to be a disappointing main character, not nearly as mentally strong as I would like her to be. What good is supernatural strength if you haven’t got the brains to back it up? Her relationship with Clay is also an irritant—they are incredibly irresponsible, often stopping in the middle of something crucial for a quickie. The sex seems gratuitous to me, not really moving the plot along, just thrown as “characterization” I’m guessing.

However, I haven’t given up. I will persevere with book three to see where Armstrong takes the concept from here. Just not until I’ve wrapped up all my various reading challenges for this year.

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review 2018-09-24 16:10
Judgment Day / Wanda L. Dyson
Judgment Day - Wanda L. Dyson

The weekly cable news show Judgment Day with Suzanne Kidwell promises to expose businessmen, religious leaders, and politicians for the lies they tell. Suzanne positions herself as a champion of ethics and morality with a backbone of steel—until a revelation of her shoddy investigation tactics and creative fact embellishing put her in hot water with her employers, putting her credibility in question and threatening her professional ambitions..
           
Bitter and angry, Suzanne returns home one day to find one of her sources unconscious on her living room floor. Before the night is over, the woman is dead, Suzanne has her blood on her hands, and the police are arresting her for murder. She needs help to prove her innocence, but her only hope, private investigator Marcus Crisp, is also her ex-fiancé–the man she betrayed in college.
                       
Marcus and his partner Alexandria Fisher-Hawthorne reluctantly agree to take the case, but they won’t cut Suzanne any slack. Exposing her lack of ethics and the lives she’s destroyed in her fight for ratings does little to make them think Suzanne is innocent. But as Marcus digs into the mire of secrets surrounding her enemies, he unveils an alliance well-worth killing for. Now all he has to do is keep Suzanne and Alex alive long enough to prove it.

 

I read this book to fill the Genre: Suspense square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

2 stars, my reading experience was okay. It’s strange what one finds oneself reading to fulfill certain reading challenges. One of the prompts this year was to read something by an author with whom you share a first or last name. So I checked my public library’s database for things written by other Wandas. I could read this or an Amish romance. This book won that competition, but it certainly won’t be a highlight of my reading year. Since it was supposed to be a thriller, I also scheduled it for Halloween Bingo.

I found the characters to be very stereotypical, either very bad or very good. I guess this is to be expected in something classified as “Christian fiction.” There were quite a few details that really strained my willing suspension of disbelief—for example, Alexandria, the rich man’s daughter turned private investigator, was known for shooting the ears of those who annoyed her. I’m thinking that would be a pretty tricky manoeuvre and wondering how many people she shot in the head before mastering that particular skill.

The framed TV host, Suzanne Kidwell, is morally and ethically bankrupt, hosting a show called Judgment Day—revealing corruption and supposedly rendering judgment on the high & mighty. The author obviously had verses from the Book of Matthew (7:1-2) in mind while writing it: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Suzanne gets her comeuppance and is judged for her shoddy reporting on these matters. Of course, she comes close to death and gets her “come to Jesus” moment.

The book isn’t awful, but I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone besides people who only read Christian fiction.

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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 2018-09-24 00:24
Vermilion
Vermilion - Phyllis A. Whitney

Another one of my finds from my Friends of the Library book sale trail I did while on holiday back home; this one I had to pay a bit more for, as it was at a retail used book store, but I'm determined to collect Whitney's work, and it was still priced cheaper than a new mass market paperback.

 

Vermilion is set contemporary to the time Whitney wrote it - the 80's - and at first glance of the book jacket I was left with the impression that the cane was going to be central to the story in some slightly paranormal way.  This would make it perfect for the bingo square Relics and Curiosities.  Unfortunately, while it is central to the plot, it's not an object of superstition or paranormal power.  BUT, the setting in Sedona, with the red rock formations, and Vermilion herself - who turns out to be an imaginary friend the MC created as a child that has rather more personality than your standard issue imaginary friend - offer enough superstition, object fear, and possible paranormal activity to more than qualify this book for the square.  (Otherwise, it's dripping with romantic suspense, and it's a murder mystery that takes place amongst a closed set.)

 

The one thing about Whitney's female characters that bugs me is that she portrays them as strong, intelligent and independent (at least in the contemporary books), but then allows them to get rolled over by events or other characters.  Lindsay agrees to things, or rushes into things that are the cliche'd equivalent of don't go into the basement!  

 

Readers of Whitney's Window on the Square will find familiar ground here with the character setup, but it's not re-tread ground.  The dynamics are similar, but Whitney isn't repeating herself; I get the sense that she was taking the opportunity to take that dynamic down different paths.

 

The mystery plotting was excellent - not quite as shocking as Window on the Square but still better than average, and Whitney uses the Native American history and culture, woven with plain old anglo evilness to really ratchet up the suspense and create a tense atmosphere where the reader really doesn't know who's doing what to whom.  

 

The romance was ... absolutely unsurprising, but I continue to admire Whitney for daring to trod on morally shaky ground.  Yes, the hero and heroine always get an easy out, but she was writing her heroines into morally shaky situations back in the 50's and 60's that few authors have the courage to put their heroines in today.

 

Vermilion is not amongst her best, but I'd definitely put it above her average and definitely better than Woman Without a Past.

 

I read this book for the Halloween Bingo square Relics and Curiosities 

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