Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sworn to Silence

I first read about Linda Castillo’s novel Sworn to Silence in USA Today. According to the review: “Lovers of suspense will find no better novel to read this summer . . . a teeth-chattering debut thriller.” How could I resist reading it?

Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in small Painters Mill, Ohio. When Kate was a 14-year-old Amish girl, a serial killer terrorized the town. Now, sixteen years later, the killer appears to have returned, and Kate is called on to solve the crime.

I’ve never been a hardcore thriller fan (Iris Johansen and Catherine Coulter are as far as I go), so I wasn’t prepared for the graphic details of the murders. If you are a fan of the cozy mystery, this may not be the book for you.

The story alternates between a first-person narrative (Kate’s perspective) and third-person. I’ve seen this tactic employed to show the killer’s perspective, but that is not the case in this novel. As such, the shift seems unnecessary and distracting. Nevertheless, the story is engrossing and a definite pageturner.

Kate isn’t my ideal heroine. For a chief of police, she seems weak and not always intelligent. Perhaps she is meant to be more human, but I like my popular fiction females strong, smart, and superhuman.

Sworn to Silence is a fun read. But if you are looking for anything beyond the typical popular thriller, you are in for a disappointment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guest Blog - The Diary by Eileen Goudge

I was pleasantly surprised by this little novel by Eileen Goudge. Once in awhile I break away from mysteries and read something romantic. The blurb on the jacket of The Diary caught me. Two sisters, Emily and Sarah, find an old diary belonging to their mother in the attic. All of their lives they have heard about how their father, Bob, was the only man that their mother loved. As they begin to read her diary from 1952, they discover that she had a passionate romance with a man named AJ. Who is this mysterious man? And why did she marry Bob instead?
When I picked up the book and started reading I thought, “Oh no. Do I want to read this? Is this going to be another The Bridges of Madison County?” I never could believe Robert James Waller’s assumption that children would be touched deeply and feel sympathetic when they discovered that their dead mother had an affair years ago and only stayed with their family out of a sense of duty.
The Diary did not fall into the unbelievable pattern of Bridges. It has a life and story of its own. I will not ruin the ending for you. I will simply say that this is a romance that was a delightful break from my usual who-done-it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Graveyard Book

Newbery Award-winning The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was on the top of my reading list once I returned to the land of libraries (or rather, English-language libraries). I haven’t always been impressed with past Newbery winners, and Graveyard left me a little bit disappointed.

The book begins with a murder (actually, three murders). Although the murders’ description is not graphic, I found the deaths disturbing, and I am an adult reader. I can’t help but wonder what affect such details would have on a young mind.

One person, a child, escapes the murders by wandering into a graveyard. The child, Bod, grows up in the cemetery with other-worldly companions as his guides. The murderer, though, never forgets that Bod was the one who got away.

The murder mystery is intriguing, and the book begins and ends with this element. Yet, the middle of the book wavers from the mystery. Instead, the story meanders through anecdotes about Bod’s childhood and the graveyard inhabitants’ lives. Although some of these tales are charming, and they later play a roll in the novel, I felt frustrated at the book’s apparent lack of focus.

The Graveyard Book is well written and certainly creative. It is a fine book, worthy of reading, but I am just not convinced, in terms of organization and plot structure, that it was the best children’s book of the year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Guest Blog - Plum Lovin’ by Janet Evanovich

Evanovich is another author I had never read before. My sister has been encouraging me to try her novels for several years. She has qualified the recommendation by saying that it is not an author she would recommend to all of her friends. The books contain both language and sex.

At Clics I found several of her books and picked up the one that indicated that it was not necessarily part of the series. Plum Lovin’ falls “between-the-numbers.”

In this tale, Stephanie Plum can claim the woman who has jumped bail, if she will do some “relationship” work first. She sets off to bring some couples together before Valentine’s Day. Along the way, she meets some good guys and some bad guys. Overall it is a light hearted tale with lots of laughs. And yes, some bad language and lots of references to sex.

When I tackle one of the ‘numbered’ novels, I’ll let you know if it is funny or not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Guest Blog - A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

While browsing through the new novels at Clics, my husband asked me if I had ever read anything by Jeffrey Archer. I had not. Archer is not only a novelist but has spent time in both the British government and the British penal system. I checked out the two novels on the shelf written by him and brought A Prisoner of Birth home to read. When I started reading, it was difficult to put it down to attend to other responsibilities in my life. Fortunately, I am on vacation so there are not too many of them.

In the novel, the protagonist Danny Cartwright thinks about Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo, but once sentenced to 22 years of imprisonment for killing his best friend Bernie, he sees no way that he will ever be able to escape the high security prison where he is incarcerated. Fate has other plans for him, however.

The novel has quite a few court scenes. I thought that I would be bored and have to slog my way through those pages. I was surprised to find that I found Danny’s moments in court interesting. Of course, the story is totally implausible but it did not make it any less enjoyable.

England remains very much a society with clear class lines. Here in the US the lines are a little more blurred. But the reality is that most of us are in fact, prisoners of birth. Where we are born and who our parents are still make a huge difference to most of us on the planet. Often I forget how fortunate I am to have been born in North America to a good family.

Prisoner is not a conventional who-done-it, but I enjoyed it and am looking forward to exploring more Archer in the future.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran

I promised my friends (and boyfriend) in Turkey that I would read the Koran this summer. They are very concerned about the fate of their Christian friend’s soul. I appreciate their concern, so I agreed to study about Islam to alleviate some of their fears.

My first step, of course, was to buy an English translation of the Koran. I realized immediately, though, that I was entering into complex and confusing ground. My next step, then, was to put the Koran down and read, instead, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Koran.

This was my first foray into The Complete Idiot’s world. The book is clearly organized and easy to read. However, I never felt as if I was actually an idiot or that the book was written for a child or an adult with below-average intelligence. Instead, it has an easy-to-follow layout and stays with the basics.

I was expecting an explanation of the Koran itself, but the guide provides background information on the prophet Muhammad, the origins of the religion, and even addresses modern Islam. Although it makes many references to the Koran, most of the content deals with issues outside the book.

I believe I am approaching the Koran with an open mind. I live in an Islamic country. All of my friends there are Muslim. My boyfriend is a believer. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly manipulated by The Complete Idiot’s Guide. Rather than provide a subjective discussion of the Koran, the guide almost feels like a missionary tract—or something produced by a PR firm.

Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar, the author, is clearly concerned with Islam’s bad rap in Western countries, and justifiably so. I know from firsthand experience that much of what I hear about Islam in the Western media and popular culture is absolutely false, and Sarwar does his best to reverse and explain these misconceptions.

Yet, he paints an almost too rosy picture of the religion. No culture is perfect. I also know from firsthand experience that the culture (though not specifically the religion) can be deeply flawed (the same, of course, can be said of most religious cultures). I hoped for a more balanced view of the religion and culture. I wanted to know the good and the bad. I turned to the guide to learn the basics of the Koran and not to be proselyted to.

In the end, Sarwar invites the reader to pick up the Koran and decide for herself if it is really the word of God. I should have just done that in the first place instead of relying on The Complete Idiot’s Guide for background information.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

Precious Ramotswe is back in Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. This time, she is investigating a flagging football (soccer) team and facing the possible demise of her little white van. Meanwhile, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, has a rival for her fiancé’s affection.

Tea Time is a fine addition to the series. Like the other novels, it has a gentle, relaxing, and rhythmic tone and pattern to it. Smith unravels the tale at a leisurely pace that never seems to drag and rarely fails to entertain. However, the conclusion feels rushed. Within a few pages, most questions and problems are resolved. Such haste is unnecessary and inconsistent with the previous 200 pages. The series is enchanting, and most readers would be willing to invest time in an extra 20 pages.

In another twist, at one point in the novel, Smith hints at darker possibilities for the future. This foreshadowing leads me to wonder if the next novel may have a shift in tone. I am not sure whether I am for such a move or not. The reason I like the series so much is because it is light and easy, yet still realistic-ish. I see enough tragedy in my actual life—I have no need for it in my pleasure reading. For now, though, Tea Time is exactly what I needed for my summer reading.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Guest Blog - Ghost at Work by Carolyn Hart

I have enjoyed Carolyn Hart’s mysteries for years. I really like her character Henry O who is a retired newsperson. Henry O is a seasoned report who has worked all around the world. Her other leading lady is Annie Darling from the Death on Demand series. I am not a big fan although I have read a few of them. This series of books predates the television series on Hallmark called Mystery Woman about a book store owner who can’t resist getting involved with local homicides. I find Annie just a little irritating. It is really hard to justify her sticking her nose into every murder on the island. The population must be getting small.

Ghost at Work is a whole other approach to solving mysteries. Bailey Ruth is a feisty red head who has been dead for many years. She is sent on an assignment back to her home town to aid a woman who is likely to be accused of murder. A body is about to be discovered in the back porch of the rectory. There’s a little of a feeling that she wrote this one over Christmas after watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but it is entertaining. The characters are interesting and well described. I truly did not anticipate the solution to this murder. . . I have decided that my detecting skills are at an all time low. However, I like a mystery that tempts me to look at the final chapter, but I resisted.

It is unclear in which decade Bailey Ruth died. Possibly the sixties. There is no doubt that she is visiting earth in the 21st century. She is puzzled by cell phones and computers. However, I am not sure if Hart has looked at what anyone is wearing in the last few decades. The ghost has the ability to imagine what she is wearing and it is so. One of her outfits is a purple velour jacket and pants. Are women over 80 still wearing those? Is it possible to buy a set like that? Another anachronism is that the mayor of Adelaide is wearing a beehive hairdo. Maybe Hart needs to get out more.

The book ends with the feeling that there are more Bailey Ruth stories in the making. And sure enough Merry, Merry Ghost is due out on October 27, 2009.