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review 2015-09-22 13:00
The Nature of the Beast
The Nature of the Beast - Louise Penny

”Here.” The boy handed Gamache the stick. “If anything bad happens to me, you’ll know what to do.” He looked at Gamache with deadly earnest. “I’m trusting you.”

Everyone is so used to nine-year old Laurent Lepage’s outlandish stories that when he finally tells the truth, that he’s found a giant gun with a monster (with wings) on it, in the woods, no one bats an eyelid. But someone believes and Laurent is found dead a couple days later in what initially looks like an accident but turns out to be murder. Who would kill a child? This has to be one of the most heart-wrenching questions ever, and the closer we got to the answer, the more unnerved I became.


The pacing was good, starting out slowly to set the groundwork, but taking off as soon as poor Laurent was found dead. The plot was great as usual, but somewhat ambitious, IMO – a child murder exposing events that took place about 30 years ago, even now with present and dire international repercussions, and yet, for the most part, contained in the small space of Three Pines, where much of the story takes place. So many monsters and so much darkness; it got a little claustrophobic at times. The identity of the murderer, if you do not allow yourself to be sidetracked by everything else that’s thrown out at you, isn’t hard to figure out. I was a little afraid, with all the diversions, Ms Penny would pull a jump-shark on me, so it was with relief I got safely, though not too shockingly, to the end.


There’s also a side story about a play written by a convicted serial murderer, and Gamache is adamantly against its production. This causes Reine-Marie to ask Clara a thought-provoking question: “You’re an artist,” said Reine-Marie. “Do you think a work should be judged by its creator? Or should it stand on its own?”, to which Clara responds: “I know the right answer to that. And I know how I feel. Would I want a painting by Jeffrey Dahmer, or to serve a meal from the Stalin family cookbook? No.”


The book incorporates details from at least one real life event and from the life and work of one real life person that I felt were well done. The details I found online about the event mentioned were horrifying, and they added to the overall dark feel of the story.


The usual characters are their usual great selves. Ruth is still rude and intrusive though we see new layers to her character in this one, things that explain more about the woman she is today. Clara seemed a bit off-color but that is to be expected from the events of the previous book; her artistic eye comes in handy in helping to expose another one of the book’s monsters - this one was a shocking twist. Lacoste is growing into her new role and Beauvoir is still maturing nicely (I’m liking him more and more). And we have a new protégé! Maybe it’s the distance of waiting some months for this book, compared to reading the previous 10 in about two weeks straight, but I found the character of Gamache a tad deified. While he’s quite humble himself, those around him, especially his former colleagues, have him firmly set on a pedestal. I don’t know how I feel about that. But I like how he’s starting to consider what next, as he’s had some time to heal. Many offers are coming in but Gamache is nothing if not deliberate, and Reine-Marie is taking it all in stride.


Overall, there’s a fantastical feel to the book, starting with Laurent and his absurd cry wolf stories, and the beasts and monsters uncovered by the investigation into his death. There was a lot of mask on, mask off going on from beginning to end. In all, I enjoyed this entry in the Armand Gamanche series and I’m eager for what’s next for Three Pines and its residents.

“Through the window he could see splashes of astonishing color in the forest that covered the mountains. The maple and oak and apple trees turning. Preparing. That was where the fall began. High up. And then it descended, until it reached them in the valley. The fall was, of course, inevitable. He could see it coming.”

Source: lucianyaz.booklikes.com/post/1257356/the-nature-of-the-beast
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review 2015-09-05 13:00
The Forsaken Inn
The Forsaken Inn (Illustrated) - Anna Katharine Green

“Oak walls. Ah, my soul! It has come soon!”

A traveler is caught out during a storm and is warned, by a fellow traveler, against seeking shelter from the old, dilapidated inn. They move on to a more welcoming refuge, where the helpful traveler gives the other a manuscript that will explain his warnings against the inn, which he calls a ‘charnel house’. The story itself starts out in 1775, during the unrest of the American Revolution.  Edwin Urquhart visits the ironically named Happy-Go-Lucky Inn with his new bride, Honora; they only stay one night but it is enough to show Mrs Truax all is not well with the couple. Mrs Urquhart, while veiled, seems unwell and unhappy, and Edwin seems falsely jovial and uncaring of his wife’s comfort; he seems more concerned with an inexplicably large box he has brought with him.  Edwin makes a tour of the available rooms and insists upon the least favorable one, the oak pallor with its stuffiness from disuse, because it’s on the ground floor and easier to move his great big box into.


In the night both the landlady and Burritt, her man-of-all-work, are wakened by a strangled shriek coming from the oak pallor. They investigate and both occupants of the room claim all is well.


The couple leaves the following morning and this would be the end of it, except for two things: Honora seems strangely happier and more energetic, and Burritt claims the big box was markedly lighter that morning than it was the night before. Both he and Mrs Truax can find nothing to account for these two changes and that makes them uneasy.


Sixteen years pass, and a new guest makes a startling revelation about the inn’s oak parlor, a revelation that causes Mrs Truax to reflect back on that long ago night of the Urquharts’ stay. From there, the story turns to the past, to the events leading up to the couple’s arrival at the inn, and then back to the present as the long-brewing consequences of that time come to a disastrous conclusion.


The story is told from the perspectives of different characters, through letters and journal entries, but all in the first-person POV. The manuscript given to the traveler is really Mrs Truax’s journal, with her own observations, but also includes letters from other characters, and in these letters are observations from other characters; think nesting bowls.


I liked this book more than I thought I would, and would’ve liked it even more if not for the overwrought, heavy-handed writing and the melodramatic characters. It also has a few paranormal elements, is not much of a mystery, and the plot is very contrived. Ah, fun stuff!

Source: lucianyaz.booklikes.com/post/1245947/the-forsaken-inn
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review 2015-09-04 21:00
A Strange Disappearance
A Strange Disappearance - Anna Katherine Green

Mrs Daniels, housekeeper to Holman Blake, requests the help of the police in the possible abduction of the sewing girl. She is frantic about locating this missing girl but very sketchy on details about her: what is her background, and why was she staying in such a sumptuous room clearly unsuited for a servant. It is also apparent she knows more than she is revealing. Mr Blake is equally unhelpful, claiming no knowledge of the missing girl, and not being privy to much of the day-to-day workings of his household, a duty he leaves to Mrs Daniels. He is also an ‘important man’ in society, who cannot be bothered with such trivial matters, and must be handled with kid gloves by the police.


Through a friendship with a maid in the house, Q, one of the detectives on the case, learns that both Mrs Daniels and Mr Blake are exhibiting peculiar, unusual behavior, and takes to surveilling Mr Blake, who seems to be on an investigation of his own.  This surveillance takes Q to a small town outside the city, where Mr Blake visits a house where no one is at home.  Q searches the house and questions the locals, where he learns the house belongs to two bank robbers, the Schoenmakers, who recently escaped from prison. How did Mr Blake come to know these men and why is he visiting them?


As the story progresses, the disappearance of the sewing girl and Mr Blake’s visit to the Schoenmakers starts to connect, but in the first half you are completely bewildered as to what is even going on. The writing is chunky, the plot is good but sometimes needlessly convoluted, and the characters are eye-rollers – all usual things for Ms Green. All these things were expected, so no disappointments there.  An OK read but nothing that can’t be passed over.

Source: lucianyaz.booklikes.com/post/1245949/a-strange-disappearance
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review 2015-08-13 12:00
Random Violence
Random Violence - Jassy Mackenzie

Private investigator Jade de Jong returns to Johannesburg ten years after she fled the country following the death of her father, the former Police Commissioner. She is back, and Superintendent David Patel, former mentee and deputy of her father, requests her help in solving the murder of Annette Botha, the victim of a possible carjacking gone wrong. In the course of the investigation, Jade discovers a string of violent murders which may be connected to Annette’s death. Along with this investigation, Jade is also pursuing her own agenda of revenge, against the man she believes is responsible for her father’s death.


This book is filled with bloody and senseless violence, and whack-job is just about the only descriptor I could come up with for the main antagonist, and his cohorts. Nothing complex about him, just crazy-violent. And greedy.


Jade, Jade, Jade … what about her? She’s done things that wouldn’t stand the light of day. She has blood on her hands, vengeance in her heart, and she’s keeping bad company. She’s also a good investigator.


David Patel is pretty much a cipher for most of the book and, even accounting for the pressures of ongoing racism (he’s of Indian descent, in a position traditionally help by white Afrikaners), I felt he added nothing substantial to the investigation, and was mostly just whiny and ineffective for most of the book. I kept wondering when he was going to ‘man up’.


Though I didn’t much care for the main characters, I liked the tight writing, the post-Apartheid setting (some interesting insights there) and most of the overall plot. The ending, though, was somewhat head-shaking and dicey, and convenient.


Not great; not awful.

“There’s always crime, Jade. Stay here for a month and you’ll hear the stories. Same as anywhere in the world. It always looks like paradise till you buy a house.”

Source: lucianyaz.booklikes.com/post/1226618/random-violence
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text 2014-06-02 03:42
If You've Read/Liked Nancy Drew, I May Have Some Ebooks for You...
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her - Melanie Rehak

Because I've been easily distracted in the past few months I've been playing a steady game of musical reads - like musical chairs, only I pick up one book after another until I'm reading a small stack. So far it's worked well - this way I can always find a book to suit my mood. Girl Sleuth has actually been great for this - it's the kind of book you can easily set aside and come back to.


I'll go into more detail in the full review - but the short version is that generations of girls who grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries had no idea that the books' author Carolyn Keene never existed. It was a pseudonym dreamed up by the owner of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer would outline stories, then hand them off to authors who would be paid for writing the book but not allowed to ever mention their authorship. And of course there were no future royalties - that all went to Stratemeyer. While Stratemeyer may have thought up Nancy Drew, the true author of most of the books was Mildred Wirt Benson - though her books would be carefully edited for content by Stratemeyer and then later Stratemeyer's daughters who took over the business.


Here's the fun part - while Mildred Wirt's prose was often edited (she apparently liked the make her female characters more daring or use more slang than was allowed in the Drew books), she eventually went on to write many books under her own name. And she did so while continuing to write the Nancy Drew books. (I'll be gushing over her a lot in the review because she was such an interesting person, and seemed to truly enjoy writing.)


Why am I mentioning all this now and not in the review? Because it only just now occurred to me to see if I could find Mildred's books online. And yes I found some - 24 of them! So if you want to see how these books hold up to the Nancy Drew books of your memories here's your Gutenberg link! If you've not read any "girl's books" from this era be prepared to giggle a bit over what was considered daring in those days - for example, participating in sports and driving a car. Also the wholesomeness of the kids' books in this era is as over the top as those old black and white short films they once showed...oh I'll just link:


The Home Economics Story - MST3K


A Date with Your Family - MST3K


Oddly they showed these kinds of old films (lots of hygiene stuff) to us in elementary school (in the 70s), because kids will watch anything if it means they get out of regular class. (Only recently did I wonder where the hell they got their hands on all those old films.) Anyway the sort of tone in those films is what I think of when I've read children's books of that period - what they considered "fun" and "dangerous" now seems laughable.


I haven't read any of Mildred's books myself - just looked at some of the artwork so far. Let me know if you find anything amusing in the bunch.

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