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review 2017-08-17 18:06
A Mystery of Errors / Simon Hawke
A Mystery of Errors - Simon Hawke

Two travelers, Will Shakespeare-a fledgling dramatist, and Symington Smythe, an ostler and aspiring thespian, meet at a roadside inn and decide to cast their lot together for fame and fortune in the cutthroat world of the London theater in Elizabethan England . . . but neither was prepared for their offstage encounter with A Mystery of Errors. When a backer's daughter is double-crossed by a would-be suitor, the reluctant bride turns to the ostler and the playwright for help.  Little does anyone realize that these simple affairs of the heart and an arranged marriage will lead to a vast web of conspiracy, mistaken identity, and murder that finds the playwright targeted for assassination and the ostler hopelessly in love.

 

This novel suffered from comparison with recently read historical fiction by C.C. Humphreys, whose work stands head-and-shoulders above this little mystery. The writing of just the first page had me wondering if I would even bother to finish the book. After all, life is finite and there are tons of good books out there.

I did persevere, however, and followed the story to its rather pedestrian end. The plot was imaginative and I wish the author had been able to exercise more skill in its execution. Rather than flowing, events bumped along rather brusquely. The dialog was simple and the characterization was basic. Every now and then, there would be a tiny info-dump as the author proved that he had done his research.

If you are considering this book, I would suggest that you approach with caution. If you are looking for a book featuring Shakespeare as a character (as I was), I would recommend Shakespeare's Rebel. If something involving a highwayman is your goal, try Plague. If you are looking for a 21st century humourous take on Shakespeare, pick up Shakespeare Undead, which is lighthearted yet effortlessly shows how to reference the Bard’s works without belabouring the point.

At some point, I will probably solider on and read the second mystery in this series, as I have made a bit of a project out of reading all the novels I can find that feature Shakespeare as a character. You are not obliged to follow me in this obsession.

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review 2017-08-17 18:03
Plague / C.C. Humphreys
Plague - C.C. Humphreys

London, 1665. A serial killer stalks his prey, scalpel in his hand and God's vengeance in his heart. Five years after his restoration to the throne, Charles II leads his citizens by example, enjoying every excess. Londoners have slipped the shackles of puritanism and now flock to the cockpits, brothels and, especially, the theatres, where for the first time women are allowed to perform alongside the men. But not everyone is swept up in the excitement. Some see this liberated age as the new Babylon, and murder victims pile up in the streets, making no distinction in class between a royalist member of parliament and a Cheapside whore. But they have a few things in common: the victims are found with gemstones in their mouths. And they have not just been murdered; they've been . . . sacrificed.  Now the plague is returning to the city with full force, attacking indiscriminately . . . and murder has found a new friend.

 

Chris Humphreys is an inspired historical fiction author. I met him last weekend at a literary conference and he is smart, funny, and charming as the devil. He definitely benefits from his acting background, particularly his ease with performing Shakespeare (we got an excerpt from one of the Henry plays during his key-note address). During one of his panel discussions, he mentioned that as an author, one must choose how the dialog will be written—choose your form of “bygone-ese” as he called it. Humphrey’s ease with the English of Shakespeare and his playwright’s ear for what will sound good gives his fiction a feeling of reality, using just enough older vocabulary and never becoming too 21st century.

There is, of course, theatre involved in the novel—a subject that the author is knowledgeable and comfortable with. But the variety of characters, from highwayman to serial killer to royalty, gives the story a breadth that I appreciated. As a reader, you are not limited to merely the theatre of 1665, you experience many parts of London. In fact London itself could be counted as a character.

I will be working my way, gradually, through all of Chris Humphreys works and will definitely look forward to more. Highly recommended.

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review 2017-08-15 03:41
The Hanging Tree
The Hanging Tree - Ben Aaronovitch

I enjoyed spending time back in the skewed world of PC Grant and his "Falcon" cases. But at the same time, I was slightly disappointed by Installment #6 in The Rivers of London Series.  

 

Not sure how much of that disappointment is from The Hanging Tree being a weaker, mature series book, where it feels like all that gets advanced is the plot and the character's don't grow much.

We DO learn the name/identity of a key villain, but somehow that doesn't seem to change much of anything. 

(spoiler show)

 

 

Or how much of my disappointment is just general malaise and book hangover from the intensity of the last few weeks of Booklikes-opoly.

 

 

 

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review 2017-08-14 18:40
Song of Susannah (Dark Tower #6) by Stephen King, narrated by George Guidall
Song of Susannah - George Guidall,Stephen King

 

Song of Susannah was not as enjoyable for me this time around. I deducted one star from my original rating.

 

It seemed like there were a lot of words, (especially the word "chap", enough already!) but the story didn't seem to move very far.

 

What I really enjoyed about this audio book were the diary entries from SK himself, which were read by the narrator after the story was over. In these entries, he talks about his drinking, about how some of the DT stories came about, and about how he and his wife argued over his taking his daily walks alongside a busy highway. That was truly chilling. I don't remember these being in the book back when I read it the first time, so it may be something that was only included in the audio, or in reprints of the original book? If I'm in error about that, I'm sure someone will let me know.

 

I only have one book to go in my audio re-read of the DT series.

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review 2017-08-14 03:35
Review: The Library at Mount Char
The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins

I liked some aspects of this book, and the story held my interest, but for some reason I didn’t completely connect with it.

 

This is a fantasy story set in the “real world”, in the present day. The basic premise, at least so far as we understand it at the beginning of the book, is that several orphaned children are adopted by a powerful man they call Father to be apprentices.  They live in a ginormous library, and each child is assigned to a different “catalog” that they’re supposed to study.  Our main character, Carolyn, is assigned to the catalog of languages.  This isn’t a normal library, though; it’s full of knowledge that teaches them abilities that would seem magical to a normal human.

 

The story is a bit non-linear and a little twisty, which I enjoyed. I takes a while before all of the layers are revealed.  It’s also darker than my description makes it sound.  Father’s teaching methods aren’t very nice.  The children are mostly adults throughout the story, except in some of the flashbacks, and they aren’t very nice either.  I didn’t have any trouble with that aspect of it, but I would not recommend this to anybody bothered by reading gruesome descriptions, violence, or harsh language. 

 

I think I enjoyed the book more in the beginning when I was still figuring out what was going on. The revelations as the story progressed were interesting, but they just made me like the characters less and I also thought some events felt too contrived, even within the context of the story.  I never really connected with any of the characters, and I also felt disconnected from the humor.  Sometimes the book made me smile or laugh, but there were more times when I would recognize that something was supposed to be funny but not feel the humor.  I’m not usually that hard to please when it comes to humor, but for some reason I just didn’t really connect with it in this book.

 

So this was moderately entertaining for me, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.

 

Next Book

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, my classic selection for the third quarter.

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