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review 2018-11-18 15:34
Dark Voyage
Dark Voyage - Helen Susan Swift

by Helen Susan Swift

 

Two people are out on a pleasurable boating trip on the North Sea when storm clouds suddenly move in and turn the sea violent. As if that weren't enough to ruin their day, things take a strange turn.

 

This is a ghost ship story with a few weird turns. It did stretch believability in some places, but was overall an interesting read. My one complaint is some lazy writing where one of the main characters would 'just feel' what she was meant to do or that a ghost wanted her to do something.

 

The majority of the story is told through the voice of a doctor who had been on the ghost ship and what happened to the rest of the crew. There are some triggers here. It was a sealing ship and animal lovers like myself may find some passages difficult, though it isn't gratuitous gore. Just the thought of a sailing expedition whose purpose is to slaughter animals, including baby animals, is enough to be upsetting.

 

The writing is excellent and the supernatural aspects of the story are very well done. The beginning and end sequences felt rather rushed, but the bulk of the story, told by the doctor's journal, made for a very good read.

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review 2018-11-15 17:58
"The Elementals" by Michael McDowell
The Elementals - Michael Rowe,Michael McDowell

If you're looking for a deeply atmospheric, well-written and perfectly narrated novel to fill you with an inexorable dread, "The Elementals" is the book for you.

 

"The Elementals" has a remarkably powerful, cliché-free start, that embeds your imagination in the South like a throwing knife splitting a rotting log. What better way to start than with a funeral that goes from dire and depressing to deeply disturbing in a few pages.

 

I'd never read Michael McDowell before but I wasn't surprised to learn later that he was an excellent screenwriter.  The style of"The Elementals" is cinematic in a lots-of-close-ups, see-the-motes-in-the-sunlit-air lighting and strange but intimate camera angles kind of way.

 

The characters, especially Luker and his preciously independent daughter India are engaging and believable. Despite being unconventional people (Luker came from around hear but he raised his daughter in New York City so you can't exactly expect them to be normal, can you?) become the anchor points for sanity in a world that is sliding towards the lethally strange with the slow grace of an unmoored house sliding of a cliff into the sea.

 

The heat becomes almost a character in the story in its own right. India discovers for the first time the heat and humidity induced languor of the South that bends time and alter perceptions. Luker explains to her that this hot humid coastal resort of Beldame is:

"...a low energy place. The kind of place where you can only get one or two things done in a day and one of those is getting out of bed."

 

Not surprisingly, the horror in this book is of the slow but deeply disturbing kind. It seemed to me that the dread in this book had a pulse: slow and strong, like an ambush predator waiting on a branch.

 

Having this atmospheric tale delivered to my ear in R.C. Bray's gravelly but insistent voice was a remarkable reading experience.

 

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review 2018-11-04 22:55
Brief Thoughts: Small Town Spin
Small Town Spin - LynDee Walker

Small Town Spin

by LynDee Walker
Book 3 of A Nichelle Clarke Crime Thriller

 

 

A YOUNG ATHLETE IS DEAD.
A TRAGIC SUICIDE?  OR FOUL PLAY?


A retired NFL quarterback's teenage son is found dead on a rocky shoreline near his family's Virginia home, and crime reporter Nichelle Clarke is called in on special assignment to handle the delicate story.  Just yesterday, T.J. Okerson seemed destined to follow in his father's footsteps towards gridiron glory.  Now his parents, close friends to one of Nichelle's inner circle, are blind-sided and grieving.

The sheriff of the sleepy Chesapeake Bay town is ready to stamp the case a tragic drug overdose and move on.  But Nichelle isn't so sure.

Determined and unafraid, she dives into the seedier side of the quaint island community.  Nichelle's investigation reveals an underground moonshine operation--and more suspicious deaths.  Soon she finds herself confronting a killer who will stop at nothing to keep Nichelle from uncovering the truth.



Small Town Spin is another solid story in this well-written cozy series that I'm happy to have been recommended.  As per usual, I love Nichelle's thought process whenever she starts investigating each case, and I love that she's so resourceful and confident.  I also appreciate the fact that Nichelle has kind of learned from her previous experiences and indeed DOES try not to be the TSTL.  As she mentions, she's not exactly looking to get herself killed or anything.  She just wants her story.

Unfortunately, danger just seems to keep popping up because she's so determined to get to the truth of each story.

Of all the books so far, I kind of feel like this is one with a meatier plot than the rest.  It's quite thought-provoking, even if the entire detailed outline of the murder mystery was quite convoluted.  Maybe Nichelle was following too many trails, I don't know.

Still, this was highly enjoyable!

On a side note:  the love triangle is quite prominent in this particular book than it had been in the previous.  I suppose I understand Nichelle's need to play the field a little bit.  But something about triangles just really ruffle me up.

On another side note:  I was chatting with my BFF about this series, wanting to introduce her to it if she were in the mood for a new cozy.  The topic of the love triangle came up, and then I suddenly admitted that I was really hoping that Nichelle and fellow reporter, sports persona Grant Parker would end up together.  I'm sure that's not going to happen, because the two have already friend-zoned each other; AND Parker is in a committed relationship.  Also, a lot of other readers seem to be rooting for the mafia boss...

But anyway, I just felt like Parker and Nichelle just clicked really well, especially after they finally started communicating more properly at the end of the first book.  Now the two are sort of partners in crime as he had helped her out, both in the previous book and this one.  And they seem to really understand each other.

While love interests, Joey and Kyle, will just tell Nichelle she needs to stop getting herself into trouble, Parker will offer his services to aid her investigative efforts.  I think I like that he doesn't immediately try to coddle her... then again, he's also not playing the role of over-protective potential boyfriend.

Anyway, another entertaining installment to the Nichelle Clarke series, and three more to go!

 

 


 

Halloween Bingo 2018

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2018/11/brief-thoughts-small-town-spin.html
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review 2018-11-04 22:28
More Rambling Than Review: Death by Dumpling
Death by Dumpling: A Noodle Shop Mystery - Vivien Chien

Death by Dumpling

by Vivien Chien
Book 1 of A Noodle Shop Mystery

 

 

Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant.  But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that a return to the Cleveland area to help wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together.  Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead―after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee.  But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy?  Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy―to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out―it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.



Here are a few things about a brief period in my own childhood that everyone might amuse themselves with:

My parents owned a restaurant for five years.  It was one of my dad's dreams to be a restaurant owner.  And while things didn't exactly pan out the way that either he or my mom had hoped, we were still in the business, even if only for a short time.  My brothers and I had two functions: we were to either hang around in the back, watch TV and keep ourselves out of trouble, or in mine and my elder brother's case, we helped out by waiting tables, seating customers, or sitting at the cashier's counter to keep an eye on things.

We also spent a lot of time with prep work and clean-up: vacuuming during quiet hours; folding dinner napkins during free time; mopping the bathroom floors after hours; rolling eggrolls for the next day, chopping veggies; washing dishes; changing dirtied table clothes; refilling salt and pepper shakers... tasks were endless, but at the same time, kind of fun.

I mean, I was a pre-teen with a job when most of my friends just went to school.  That's something, right?

So certainly, upon starting this book, I found some nostalgic feels coming out.

As a child, I came to the restaurant every day after school where my mother would keep me stowed away in the back room near her office.  She had set up a makeshift living room of sorts with a TV and couch, even a small desk where I could do my schoolwork.


Aside from the couch bit, this actually describes those short five years of my life, almost to a 'T.'  And also, I had my brothers to join me in front of the TV as well, or sitting around a corner table doing our homework.  I imagine it may also describe a lot of other young Asian children's lives as well since I know a lot of Vietnamese restaurants and Chinese restaurants in town that are family owned.  On top of that, I've seen the kids sitting off in an isolated corner in the dining room, at a table not made up for guests, doing their homework, or helping out by rolling silverware.

And yes, I do sometimes think back on those few years when I would be sitting in a corner, doing my homework, folding restaurant napkins or refilling salt and pepper shakers.

So I had a feeling that this book would be intriguing for me, even if not for the mystery or for the characters.  And truth be told, when Lana had also dropped this quote:

Things to know about me: I'm half English, half Taiwanese, and no, I don't know karate.  I'm definitely not good at math and I don't know how to spell your name in Chinese.


I had a distinct feeling I was going to like Lana and enjoy her story.  I'm sure I've spent some time in my lifetime growing up answering some of those same questions from friends and acquaintances and classmates.  I'm Cantonese, actually, and both of my parents are from the Canton region in China, even if some of my father's side of the family might have emigrated to Vietnam generations ago.  Both of my parents were born in Vietnam, actually, but they're from a distinct population in Vietnam who are mostly made up of immigrants from Canton.

I remember constantly being pestered by classmates and friends about teaching them how to say something in Chinese.  Specifically, they wanted to learn how to curse in Chinese, and how to say their name in Chinese.  And the responses I had to give them on the latter, were that there are not true translations of Western names into Chinese--really, we just string together a few characters to create a phonetic likeness to what your Western name sounds like.

So no, I also do not really know how to spell your names in Chinese.

But back to the book now...

The truth is, I did indeed find myself enjoying this book, but not as much as my biased preference would have liked to enjoy this book.  There were definitely a lot of glaring flaws in logic when it came to Lana and her sleuthing around with BFF, Megan.  There was also a nagging feeling that this book is a little too Westernized, probably in an attempt not to feel confusing.

There were a couple instances in the book where some of the Moms talk to each other in either Cantonese or Hokkien.  Even an instance here and there where Lana describes someone muttering something in Mandarin.  I guess I would have liked to see more than just an off-hand instance of the languages being used; because in an Asian community as big as the one described in this book, I have a hard time believing that everyone speaks English almost 98% of the time to every other Chinese or Taiwanese person present.  Even in my own household, the language you would hear is more of a 70% Cantonese and 30% English.

We often also mix the two within sentences.  But it's never 98% English.

But now I'm nitpicking, and that's probably not fair to this book.

Because, in earnest, I really, really wanted to really love this book.  I'm completely ecstatic that this book presents to us an Asian American protagonist, who's just an ordinary person living an ordinary life, with an extremely believable setting and cast of characters.  This book is entirely relatable to me, because I live this life of being stuck between my very Asian parents, and my own American upbringing.  If that makes any sense.

I'm entirely more American than my parents would like.  But at the same time, I'm just as American as my parents hope for in order to live an easier life in America.

Lana is just as American as I am.  She's an ordinary Asian American girl, living her life between cultures--and yet it all just feels completely natural.  At the same time, she still has to abide by a lot of the Asian cultures she grew up learning in order to interact with the very Asian community she calls home.

And I'm not saying that I didn't like this book.  I very much enjoyed it, between the setting, and even Lana's character (who really does remind me a lot of me when I was her age).  Being stuck in limbo and trying to find herself while fending off her mother about doing something meaningful with her life.  Being asked by every Asian relative and family friend why I don't have a boyfriend, and that I need to find one before I get too old to have babies.

On a side tangent:  I really DID start getting annoyed with everyone who kept making it seem like Lana needed a boyfriend to be happy.  Even her best friend started jumping on that bandwagon, wanting her to date or find someone new.  I expect this from parents and parental figures--but coming from Megan was a bit more frustrating.

Because you don't need to be in a romantic relationship to be happy about your life.  And constantly telling me that my life is not happy or not complete just because I don't have a significant other really, really irks me.  AND it's insulting.  How do you know what I want with my life to be happy?  How do you know that I'm not happy being carefree and single?

Ahem...

Anyway, jumping OFF of my soap box before I get too off topic again...

Really one of the bigger things that bugged me about this book (aside from my above ranting) was Lana's means of investigating the murder of Mr. Feng.  And I'm not sure if she was intentionally made to seem so amateur about it, because she is indeed an amateur sleuth.  Her interrogation methods were way too obvious, and made me cringe, wondering how nobody got suspicious with her, or upset that she was asking so many questions.  Everyone just straight up answered all of her questions.  Her rapid-fire way of questioning people felt too brusque, so rather than seeming like she was cleverly trying to find out information from the people in the surrounding stores, she sounded exactly like she was interrogating a suspect in a closed room.

This aspect, I'm hoping will be improved upon in future installments.

I would have also liked more background on what happened to Lana to land her back at her parent's restaurant to begin with.  We know that she broke up with a cheating boyfriend, and we know that she walked out of her place of work.  We never get a clear picture of what exactly happened to make her walk out of her job and come home to work at the noodle shop.  We never get to see much of Lana's ex-boyfriend to understand why everyone around her is so saddened by their break-up.

I'm also hoping that future installments might elaborate more on Detective Trudeau as a character.  Because at this point, while he's not really the broody, jackass detective I'd been expecting... well, he's really just "Love Interest #1" with no personality.  He does not stand out at all and I'm hard pressed to feel anything for any potential romance.

I DO, however, love the presence of Megan.  I thought it was wonderful to give Lana a partner in crime as she goes around investigating the murder.  And I loved that the girls had a moment wherein they realize that maybe they were in a little over their heads.  At least that kind of keeps them from doing anything too stupid.

But otherwise, I'm quite interested in continuing this series.  Like I said, there were a few quibbles--I know it looks more like I had LOTS to complain about--but considering I blasted through this book so quickly, I feel like it kept me quite hooked.  Certainly there were more characters than I could really keep track of, and tons of red herrings that kept me guessing.  And certainly the shoddy detective work by Lana and her BFF can be overlooked in this first book, simply as them being too green to know what they're doing.

I think I would like for the detective to have a bigger role in the next mystery if only to prove to me that there are cozy mysteries out there where the police force is NOT so incompetent that a couple of very green, very amateur wannabe PI's end up solving their case for them.  But I suppose that's just how cozy mysteries are set up?

 

 



 

Halloween Bingo 2018
(written by an author of color)


Other possible squares:  New Release; Cozy Mystery; Amateur Sleuth; Terrifying Women; Murder Most Foul

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2018/11/more-rambling-than-review-death-by.html
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review 2018-11-04 14:40
The Labyrinth of the Spirits
The Labyrinth of the Spirits - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

 

This is part of The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books universe, along with Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. They are stand alone stories but are connected through a common setting in Barcelona and some characters that appear in all of the stories. They are Literary, Gothic, Mystical Mystery stories that have helped define the Magical Realism category of fiction.

 

The book description tells us, "As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him."

 

They say you can read this series in any order and this was my first Zafón. I found it very slow in the beginning and with the characters changing in different segments, found it very difficult to find a linear plot line to follow. The second half was much easier as the various elements start coming together. The writing itself was undeniably good and there were definitely some exciting passages, but I think I might have to read it again with more familiarity with the characters and how they relate to each other. Hopefully the other books in the series will be easier as a result.

 

I think I would advise first time readers to start with Shadow of the Wind first.

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