Friday, July 21, 2017

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1)  Cocaine Blues is a mystery set in in late 1920s/ early 1930s Australia (so maybe it is a historical mystery). Phryne (pronounced fry-knee) was born poor in Australia. Thanks to the Great War several people in Phryne's extended family die, resulting in Phryne's father elevation to a title and wealth. And just like that, Phryne and her family are removed to London. Now an adult, Phryne has grown bored with flower arranging and whatever else wealthy women do with their time. When family friends ask her to check on their daughter back in Australia, Phryne welcomes the change of scenery.

Within hours of setting foot in Melbourne, Phryne stops a woman from stabbing the man who wronged her. From there Phryne finds herself involved in one mystery after another. She uncovers the identity of an illegal abortionist who has been butchering women, breaks up a cocaine ring, and enjoys the company of handsome Russian dancer. She is intelligent, fearless, and always fabulously dressed. Cocaine Blues is the first in a series with dozens of volumes, which means plenty more adventures for Phryne Fisher, lady detective.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Shiny Broken Pieces (Tiny Pretty Things, #2)  Shiny Broken Pieces picks up the fall semester after Tiny Pretty Things ended. Gigi is recovering mentally and physically after being pushed in front of a car. Bette has been suspended from school and struggling to clear her name and get back in everybody's good graces. June's difficulties with food have taken full of control of her life. And Cassie is back. It is their final year at ballet boarding school. What amounts to their final exam is also their final chance to prove they deserve a spot in the ballet company. There are only two spots open in the company. Who will it be?

In Tiny Pretty Things readers got the story from the perspectives of three fiercely ambitious girls vying for the best roles while dealing with the ups and downs of life. Sometimes those who didn't get what they wanted when they wanted took out their anger and frustrations on others. There was bullying and nasty pranks, culminating with one ballerina ending the night in a hospital. In Shiny Broken Pieces the ballerinas are dealing with the repercussions of their (and other's) actions. The bullied want revenge. The bullies begin to see how much they hurt others. All of them contemplate how everything that has happened could affect the potential careers they want so desperately and have worked so hard for. Not each realizes it right away, but each is in danger of losing everything. Gigi an Cassie in particular have to figure out which is more important to them - getting revenge or ballet.

I loved this! There's ballet, boarding school, a diverse set of characters, and extremely ambitious young women - this series is basically catnip for me. The authors wrapped up the story well and I get why it is a duology, but oh how I wish there were more books to read!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad   Cora is a slave on a Georgia cotton plantation. It is as horrible as it sounds, violent and vile in every imaginable way. In addition to the cruelties of slavery, Cora is also an outcast among her fellow slaves. In short, her life is horrible. One day Caesar, one of the newer slaves to the plantation, asks Cora to run away with him. As first she says no. The punishment for a runaway attempt is not only death, but the most painful death the sadistic slave masters can think of. Caesar urges her to reconsider and eventually Cora decides to run.

I had high hopes for this, what with all the awards and nominations for awards this book has received. Unfortunately it didn't quite live up to the hype. For starters there is the idea of the railroad itself. Here the underground railroad isn't just a metaphor, it is an actual train or at least a single train car. Anytime someone mentions this book they mention this so I was really looking forward to seeing how Whitehead was going to flesh this out. Unfortunately there wasn't very much meat on this bone. How the railroad was built, by whom, or how people got involved with it was never explained. So making the underground railroad an actual train instead of it simply being a metaphor didn't really add much to the story.

Cora's journey is epic. In epics I think you either need a really strong main character to connect to, a character whose joy and pain you feel bodily with each word of the story. Or alternatively, the main character can be less important than the journey itself. In this case the character is more of a device used to flesh out the events surrounding the main character. In The Underground Railroad I didn't exactly get one or the other. Cora isn't the strongest of characters. I felt the story in one respect because it is about slavery and that alone elicits strong feelings but Cora herself felt too removed and too distant from the story even though she was its main character. As for her journey, Cora visits different states, each of which is dealing the population of slaves and free Black people differently. Whitehead uses these different states to touch on various actual historical events (Nat Turner rebellion and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, and more) but it didn't quite explore them enough.

I'm not sure if I liked this book or not. There were aspects of it I definitely liked. There were many great ideas but in the end it fell a little flat for me. I am glad I read it, so that's something.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1) Leviathan Wakes is book one in The Expanse series written by James S.A. Corey, which is the pen name of the writing duo consisting of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. (Query: Why do authors use pen names when everyone already knows their real names? This is a legitimate question. I really want to understand the reasoning behind this choice) The story is a mash up the science fiction and mystery genres set against the back drop of space. I loved it! 

Humans have colonized Mars and an asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Sufficient enough amount of time has passed that generations have been born and grown up on the asteroids and on Mars. Martians and belters think of themselves as separate and distinct from Earth. Not in the sense of being a different species, but in the sense of being citizens of different nations. This is especially true of the belters who because of growing up in the lower gravity of asteroids tend to be taller and thinner and have larger heads than humans from the inner planets of Earth and Mars. 

In one sense Leviathan is a story about global politics and scarce resources. Instead of Earth bound nation-states the superpowers are planet Earth and planet Mars. Earth has the things humans need to live - namely air, water, and soil where things can grow. Mars has the superior military force but its people live in domes because Mars's atmosphere is not yet suitable for human life outside of a dome. Belters are the poor colonials caught in the middle and at mercy of the inner planets. They depend entirely on Earth for oxygen, water, food – basically everything humans need to live. With a press of a button or maybe it is the turn of a knob, Earth can ration the amount of oxygen Belters breathe.

The story is told primarily from the points of view of two men: Jim Holden and Detective Miller. Miller has been assigned a missing persons case. He is tasked with finding a missing woman named Julie Mao. Julie left her wealthy family on Earth to live and work among the Belters. Her parents want her back home on Earth. Meanwhile Holden, a former soldier, works on a commercial vessel hauling water around in space. That he works on a water hauler is apt in part because the law of space is not unlike the law of the sea – if there is a distress signal and your ship is the closest then you are duty bound to come to the aid of the distressed ship if you are able. So when the Scopuli sends out a distress call, Holden and his shipmates go to help only to witness a disaster. In alternating chapters Miller searches for a missing girl while Holden and his crew try to figure out what secret is worth killing over and who was willing to do the killing. Eventually Miller's and Holden's stories intersect in an interesting way.

Effortlessly Diverse as It Is Entertaining  

In December 2015 The Expanse, a science fiction series, began airing on the SyFy channel. I originally bought this book with the intention of reading it before the show started but that never happened. One of things I noticed immediately on the show was its racially and ethnically diverse cast.  I wondered if that was due to a conscientious casting director. It is not, or at least that is not the only reason for the diverse cast. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck imagined a future that includes not only White people but also Asian people and Black people and all kinds of other people. Even better, the characters of color read like fully realized people. Personally in my experience, and I realize other people's experiences may differ, science fiction seems to assume a world where diversity means a mixture of blonds and brunettes or if there is a person of color in the story, there is only the one. It was incredibly refreshing to find something different in Leviathan Wakes. Yes and thank you people writing as James S. A. Corey.

Trying New Things: Hard Science Fiction 

I have a confession. I like the idea of science but am not particularly good at it. While I don’t purposely avoid it, it is not something I seek out either. When I read a book that for one reason or another has a lot of science (or complex math) my brain might initially try to decipher the science but eventually my eyes glaze over and my brain treats the science as magic and therefore as something that will never truly makes sense to me. What can I say other than I studied social sciences and humanities in college and graduate school, not the physical sciences. Admittedly part of this laziness on my part. Part of is not having the necessary background knowledge and taking time to acquire the background knowledge would take me completely out of the story. So I accept the science as magic and quickly move on. 

Leviathan Wakes is what people refer to as hard science, meaning a lot of the science in the book is real. I knew that going to it but read it anyway. Surprisingly I didn't mind the science. I was constantly looking stuff up to get a better understanding of things like gravity and its effect on the human body and what the deal is with asteroids. Overall the science was manageable. It was even interesting. Before reading Leviathan Wakes I thought of space the way I think of Antarctica – an exotic locale that looks pretty in pictures but that I will probably never visit and will spend little time thinking about. This book made me actually interested in space and the planets in a way that I have never been particularly interested. Not that I will ever go to space but I’m interested in learning more about it.

Yes It Is Really that Good 

My copy of Leviathan Wakes is an oversized paperback, really the size of a hardback only with a soft cover, and is 561 pages long. Between the length of the book and the hard science, I expected to spend at least two weeks reading it.  Instead I tore through it in about a week and the only reason it took that long was because there were two or three days when I wasn’t able to get any (or almost no) reading done at all due to other obligations. Getting through a 500+ page book in a week is a sign of good book in my opinion. Luckily it is part of a series. So I have more books to read. Also, The Expanse the television series based on the books is fantastic too. I am eagerly looking forward to season three.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Barry Lyga's Jasper Dent Trilogy

I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent... Game (Jasper Dent, #2) Blood of My Blood (Jasper D...
I Hunt Killers, Game, and Blood of My Blood make up Barry Lyga's trilogy centered around Jasper Dent, the son a serial killer. Let me start of with a warning and that is there are mild spoilers ahead so stop now if spoilers are something that bother you.

Jasper Dent is the son of the country's most notorious serial killer, William "Billy" Dent. At the beginning of I Hunt Killers, the first in Barry Lyga's trilogy, Jasper is seventeen and Billy has been in prison for the past four or five years. Billy got away with murder for literally years, with 123 confirmed kills until he got sloppy and killed two local girls. Jasper believes Billy's number is 124, certain that his mother was one of Billy's victims.

You would think Jasper would be an outcast given his lineage and the fact that Billy's last two victims were locals in the small town in which Jasper lives. Surprisingly, he leads a fairly normal life. Howie, Jasper's childhood best friend, remained his best friend even after Billy's crimes were revealed. Jasper is dating a girl named Connie. He's even in the school play. Jasper's biggest problem is figuring out who he is and what to do about it. Does nature or nurture turn in a person into a sociopath? Doesn't matter because Jasper got a lot of both. Jasper is the biological son of a serial killer who trained him in the ways of killing. Jasper was thirteen when his father was arrested. Growing up he knew about his father's extracurricular activities and knew they were wrong, but did nothing to stop him, not even calling the police. Billy wants his son to follow in his footsteps. So far Jasper hasn't killed anyone and doesn't want to but he is aware of how to do it. He constantly reminds himself that people matter, contrary to what Billy taught and told him repeatedly.

Jasper feels the need to prove that he is not like his father, though no one else seems to be asking for such proof. When a dead body is found in a field, Jasper is sure it is the work of a serial killer. He attempts to nose his way into the police investigation, arguing that with his upbringing he has insight into how serial killers think. The police initially scoff at Jasper's offer to help. Aside from the fact that he is a minor, they are skeptical that there could be a second serial killer in such a small town. Of course Jasper turns out to be right. In fact, he is more right than he imagined for not only is the body the handiwork of a serial killer, but the new series of murders ties back to Jasper's father Billy. I Hunt Killers ends on both a positive and negative note. On the upside, Jasper and the police have caught the killer. On the downside, Billy has escaped from prison.

Game begins a few months after the events of I Hunt Killers. A New York police detective show up on Jasper's doorstep asking for his help with a serial killer case in New York. Game was the longest book in the trilogy and frankly, the most exasperating. Jasper, Howie, and Connie are teenagers who make stupid teenage decisions repeatedly. They all believe, Jasper and Connie in particular, that they are smarter than the police and FBI. While the teens do figure out many clues, the police and FBI agents were not stupid people. I couldn't help but think of the show Criminal Minds and kept hoping a profiling team would show up and show the kids how it's done. But that doesn't happen. By the end of Game Connie has purposely and stupidly walked into a trap and finds herself at the mercy of her boyfriend's murderous father. Jasper has been shot and left for dead. And Howie, oh Howie - Howie decides to confront a suspected serial killer with a shotgun he knows doesn't work. Incidentally Howie is a hemophiliac so physical confrontations, even mild ones, never end well for him.

In Blood of My Blood everything comes to a head. I couldn't help but think if only the teens went to the police there would have been less carnage but of course the teens don't go to the cops right away. They think they can handle everything on their own. Jasper believes that he is the only one who can stop his father and takes off after him, assaulting innocent people along the way. Connie and Howie always follow of Jasper's lead. Howie at least has doubts.

I can't remember why I picked up the trilogy - serial killers aren't usually my thing. I have read one of Barry Lyga's other books, so maybe that's why I decided to pick up this series. One thing I appreciated is that although Jasper aims to do good by stopping his father, all the criminal crap he does along the way is acknowledged. Overall I, don't know if "enjoy" is the right word, "like" will have to suffice, so I'll say I liked the series. The series did give me nightmares and for that reason this set of books will not be staying in my home.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

Easy Motion Tourist  The publisher's description of Easy Motion Tourist grabbed me straight away. British journalist Guy Collins is at a nightclub, enjoying his first drink in Lagos, Nigeria when suddenly people come rushing into the club. They are clearly running from something. Collins goes outside to see what all the commotion is about and stumbles upon the mutilated body of a woman. Collins quickly learns that the reason people were running into the bar is because standard police protocol in Lagos is apparently to arrest everyone at the scene of the crime, regardless of whether they have done anything wrong or not. That is how Collins finds himself inside a Lagos jail cell. He isn't there for long. A mysterious women he has never met arrives and convinces the police to let the journalist go.

Amaka is that mysterious woman. The publisher described her as a Pam Grier-esque heroine. I'm not sure if I would agree with that but I will say she is pretty impressive. Author Leye Adenle depicts Lagos as a city of prostitutes, corrupt police officers, and a select group of wealthy residents who take advantage of both. Amaka is one of the few people who is trying to do something about it, running a charity for prostitutes, and punishing the men who like to take things too far. In Collins Amaka believes she has found a journalist who can broadcast the plight of women forced into prostitution. Whoa, things just got serious. Easy Motion Tourist isn't serious. It does tackle a serious a topic but mostly it is a fast paced thriller.

It wasn't a perfect book. The multiple perspectives got confusing at times. There is a completely unnecessary and unbelievable romance that makes no sense on either side. The casual way women are treated and talked about bothered me. Most of the female characters in this story are described as prostitutes. I don't think prostitute is the right word to describe these women since many of the women were forced into selling their bodies one way or another. Further, many of the women aren't women at all, but young girls. So that bugged me, but at least there is Amaka, fighting the good fight against the odds.

I couldn't find much information about the author Leye Adenle. I think this might be his debut novel, but am not a 100% sure. If it is then Easy Motion Tourist was a pretty good first book. The last line left me wanting more. If there is a sequel, I will read it.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Giving It Up by Audra North

Giving It Up Everything about Audra North's Giving It Up suggests a sexy, erotica, romantic read. From the image on the cover, to the name of the series (Pushing Boundaries), to the tongue-in-cheek warning on the back cover that reads "Contains an out-of-her element, wannabe Domme who has no idea the power she wields, and a SWAT officer who can't wait to show her just how deeply he needs her command. Buckle up and keep your safeword handy." Unfortunately the story wasn't all that sexy or erotic, and worst of all, it wasn't that romantic.

Beatrice, or Bea for short, is the out-of-her element, wannabe Domme and Warren is a police officer on the SWAT team. The story opens at a wedding. Warren is one of the groomsmen. Bea is the photographer and a friend of the bride. Bea and Warren have met loads of times before the wedding at get-togethers hosted by their friends. They are both already infatuated with each other but have never pursued it. At the wedding Bea overhears Warren attempting to make an appointment with a professional dominatrix. On an impulse Bea suggests he hire her instead. So these two adults who secretly like each other but refuse to say so enter into a contractual arrangement where Warren agrees to pay Bea to engage in intimate behavior with him for an hour a week (but no actual sex because prostitution is illegal and Warren is a cop) and no feelings will be involved. What could go wrong?

My biggest problem with Giving It Up was that I never quite bought into the Bea and Warren romance. From page one they both kind of liked each other already but it was never clear why. Then they start their arrangement and to no one's surprise feelings are instantly involved. This is a romance so I expected a happily-ever-after (HEA) moment but some steps were missed on the way to the HEA. It all happened too quickly, too instantly.

Bea was the most interesting character in this book. I wanted to know more about her. All we get is that she came from a family that was very conservative and controlling. She was raised to be nice and docile, to do what she is told, and to be somebody's wife. She broke away from her family, put herself through college, and pursued a career as a photojournalist. Given her background one might reasonable to assume that sex was not something that was discussed in her home growing up and now here she is trying to be a dominatrix to a guy who isn't exactly a stranger but isn't someone she knows that well either. How did Bea got from A to Z? That's what I want to know. I'd read a book about that.

Warren is less interesting. He's a good guy who takes care of parents, his little sister, and her kid. Warren tells anyone who will listen that he can't possibly be in a relationship because he is super busy and a girlfriend would mean taking care of another person and he doesn't have the energy for that. In support of this theory he cites his ex-girlfriend who balked at having to share so much of him with his family. His insistence that all women are the same and want the same thing grew annoying very quickly. And anyway, everyone is busy and everyone has been hurt so Warren at least needed to come up with better excuses. Also, it was pretty clear to everyone except Warren that Bea was not only not looking for someone to take care of her, but was ready and willing to help him out with his complicated life.

So there's not much in terms of romance but at least there's a sexy story with a dominatrix right? Not quite. Neither Warren nor Bea are that knowledgeable or even into the domination and submissive scene. Bea is intrigued by it. (Again, would have loved to know more about her personal journey.) What Warren really wants is to relax and let someone else make decisions for a while. It wouldn't hurt if he had someone to talk to as well. Bea is totally willing to take control in the bedroom and she's a good listener. All that is cool but that doesn't live up to the warning on the book's back cover.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Product DetailsWhat Belongs to You is a novel of lust and longing. An American teacher in Bulgaria goes into a public bathroom with a man named Mitko. So begins the on and off relationship between the American and the hustler. I'm calling Mitko a hustler because one way or another he always manage to get something out of his American friend.

I can't remember how this novel first came to my attention but all the sudden it was everywhere and I had to read it right away. Somehow my urgent need to read this book seems appropriate. Speaking of reading, at times it was a little difficult to get through this. This books is maybe ten long paragraphs. Okay I'm kidding, sort of. Whole chunks of the book, pages and pages, are one long paragraph. With the lack of paragraphs I sometimes got lost. Still the sentences were beautiful and got me through.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon

 
It's that time of year again - time for the semi-annual Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon! The Readathon will take place on Saturday, April 28th. Start times vary depending on where you'll live. For me the start time is 5 am, though time will tell if I actually get up that early.

This year I hope to get through three to five books, including a few comics, hopefully leaving my unread pile just that much smaller. Follow along on Twitter.

Updates
1:30 pm - Not surprisingly, I didn't exactly make it out of bed at 5 am. But immediately when I did wake up I did my usual morning reading - one page from the The Bedside Baccalaureate. Started reading in earnest around 11:30. Now on the last 100 pages of The Unyielding by Shelly Laurenston (which a started well before the Readathon began).

Books Read as of 2 AM
1. The Unyielding by Shelly Laurenston
2. Home by Nnedi Okorafor
3. Black Panther, Volume 2: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Product Details"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." That is how Everything I Never Told You begins. Lydia is the 16-year-old daughter of James and Marilyn Lee. Of their three children, Lydia is the favorite, a fact that her older brother Nath and younger sister Hannah are reminded of constantly. For her part Lydia would gladly share the spotlight with her siblings. Being the favored child means carrying all her parents hopes and dreams on her shoulders: her mother Marilyn's burning desire to become a doctor and her father's wish to fit in.

In a mere 292 pages, Celeste Ng manages to tackle multiple issues including race, gender, family dynamics, loneliness, loss, and especially thwarted ambition and unfulfilled dreams. Somehow it all works. And the writing, oh the writing! It is exquisite and haunting. Marilyn and James want the best for their children. The things they say and do to Lydia are said and done with the best of intentions but eventually all their hopes and dream begun to crush Lydia and the reader feels it. Ng perfectly conveys the suffocating love Lydia is desperate to escape, her siblings' yearning to be noticed, and everyone's desperation. Long after the details of the story have faded from memory I'll still remember the writing and the way it felt.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Bring on the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins

Ever come across an author and know that even though you have yet to read a single word he or she has written, that author is destined to become one of your favorites, or least one that you will read again and again? That was what happened when I first heard about Beverly Jenkins. I am mildly embarrassed to admit that up until last year (2016) I had never heard of this African-American woman who writes African-American historical and contemporary romances. The more I learned about her books, the more I thought not only do I need to read these books, I need to own them!

I am a member of a book club called Mocha Girls Read. Every month our club founder announces the theme for the month. Members submit book suggestions based on theme and then we vote and choose a book from the list of suggestions. In February the theme was Beverly Jenkins. (Usually the theme is a genre like mystery, or an area of the world like South America. Having one person be the theme is unusual.) The Beverly Jenkins book that won the most votes was Bring on the Blessings. For various reasons I didn't get around to reading it until late March. (Luckily my book club welcomes you if you didn't read the book.) Now that I've read my first Beverly Jenkins I can say I was right - this will be an author I return to again and again.

Bring on the Blessings starts with multiple threads and eventually weaves them together. First there is Bernadine Brown. She catches her husband cheating, divorces him, and leaves the courthouse with a bank account somewhere north of $200 million. At first she is content to travel and enjoy her money but knows she knows she was meant to do something more with her life. The second thread follows the plight of Henry Adams, a small town in rural Kansas founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The town is so broke it put itself up for sale on eBay.

Interspersed between Bernadine's millions and Henry Adams' money problems are five children from across the country who are either homeless or in foster care. Bernadine reads about the town and about a woman who started an intergenerational community that brought foster children and elderly people together. With that Bernadine finds her purpose and starts her own intergenerational community in Henry Adams. The residents in Henry Adams are skeptical at first but few can resist being swept up in her hopeful vision for the future of the town and the children.

When you're in a book club there are a lot of hits and misses in terms of what you end up reading. Bring on the Blessings was definitely on the hit side of the ledger for me. It wasn't a perfect book by any means. For one thing it is not terribly realistic. Almost every problem is solved with Bernadine pulling out her checkbook and everything happens way too quickly. New houses are immediately constructed without any delays or setbacks. Foster children and the foster parents needed to take care of them are quickly found and they all agree to move to middle of nowhere Kansas. Nevertheless, I am glad my book club picked Bring on the Blessings. It was heartwarming and sweet in a Hallmark movie sort of way. I love Hallmark movies so this largely worked for me.

What I am really interested in are Ms. Jenkins historical romances. From what I understand she mostly writes African-American romances set in the 19th century. This is something I haven't seen too often and am eagerly looking forward to.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty

Product Details Heather W. Petty's Lock & Mori is the sixth and final book in my Sherlock Holmes related reading tour. It is a contemporary, young adult novel set in London featuring a teenage version of the consulting detective. There is a Watson but he barely makes an appearance. Instead, the crime solving duo at the center of this story is comprised of a female James "Mori" Moriarty and a male Sherlock Holmes whom Mori nicknames "Lock". Although Lock gets top billing in the title, this is Mori's story.

Lock initiates their partnership by suggesting that he and Mori play a game. He takes her to a crime scene where the two observe from a distance as the police go about their investigation of a dead body and the area surrounding it. Lock challenges Mori to see which of them can solve the murder first. The only rule is that they must share information. At first Mori rejects his proposal with half-hearted protests about how murder shouldn't be a game. But when she spots of a photo of her own mother with the murder victim, Mori cannot help but investigate. And since Lock and Mori are in high school (or whatever the British equivalent of high school is) and are opposite genders, of course there is a romance added into the mix.

I had mixed feelings about this one. On the positive side, I read on Goodreads where the author mentioned that in Doyle's original stories no one but Sherlock ever meets Moriarty. That got her thinking about what if the two knew each other long ago and something happened that turned them into enemies. With that in mind, Lock & Mori could be seen as a prequel telling the story of how Lock and Mori became friends and then enemies. That is an interesting take on the Sherlock Holmes story that I haven't read before.

In the minus column, the identity of the killer is made clear pretty early on, which is rarely a good thing in a murder mystery. Once that mystery solved, the remaining questions to be answered were why and how the murderer would be stopped. That it would be Mori stopping the murderer was never really a question. That brings me to my next issue, is that this really isn't Lock's story. Which could be okay, but if there isn't a Sherlock solving a crime then it isn't a very Sherlock story. And Mori as a lead character was... frustrating. Despite her intellect she makes bad decision after bad decision. I had to constantly remind myself that Mori was only a teenager and that her bad decisions were exactly the kind of idiotic things a teenager might do (but not a teenage Sherlock because that just isn't how Sherlock works).

Mori and Lock were also too much alike. They were both very smart and observant. They were both moody. Neither seemed to have very many friends. They were both all about solving the puzzle. In real life two people who share similar interests and traits may make for an ideal partnership. On paper they make for a rather bland duo. I like that they were both smart but they needed to be smart in different ways. They needed to balance and complement each other rather than merely mirroring each other.

Despite my issues with the book I do want to know what happens next. We already know their relationship can't last. The only question is what will blow it up and how.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Product DetailsA Study in Charlotte is a contemporary young adult mystery featuring a teenaged Holmes and Watson. They go by the names Charlotte and James (sometimes Jamie though he doesn't particularly like the nickname). The central conceit of A Study in Charlotte is that Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and James Moriarty were all real people whose respective descendants, with a few exceptions, don't get along. This is not particularly surprising in the case of the Moriarty family, but even Holmeses and the Watsons keep their distances from one another.

Charlotte and James are direct descendants of Sherlock and John. Charlotte mirrors her ancestor in her brilliance and habits while James has a bit of an anger management problem. Though both were both born to English parents for reasons the two teenagers now attend boarding school in Connecticut, where all the action takes place. That action begins with an obnoxious boy who turns up dead under suspicious circumstances. Given that James punched the obnoxious boy the day before after the boy made some very rude remarks about Charlotte, the two detectives quickly become the primary suspects.

A Study in Charlotte was entertaining but by no means a favorite. Much of the story revolves around various love related issues - unrequited love, first love, angry love. It's cute but not at all what I expected (or wanted) from a Sherlock Holmes story. There were also some serious issues (sexual assault, drug addiction) that were glossed over and could have been handled better.

This is the first in a series. Despite a few reservations I am intrigued enough to see where the story heads next.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Product Details My Sherlock Homes themed reading series continues with A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas. It is the first in a new series dubbed The Lady Sherlock series. In this first book readers get an origin story as to how Charlotte Holmes, youngest of Lord and Lady Holmes's four daughters, becomes the famous and much sought after detective, Sherlock.

The Holmes daughters are Henrietta, Bernadine, Olivia (who goes by Livia), and Charlotte.  Like Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, Lady Holmes is most concerned about securing beneficial marriages for her daughters. So far she is one for four, Henrietta having successfully found herself a husband. Unfortunately for Lady Holmes her success rate is unlikely to improve. Bernadine has an unspecified disability that suggests she is unable to care for herself and Lady Holmes's two youngest daughters are both disinclined to marry. Charlotte outright rejects marriage because it is clear to her that marriage in nineteenth century English society is an inherently unequal and unfair institution in which the woman almost always loses. She does not entirely reject men or romance. There is at least one man who captures her attention, but more than anything Charlotte wants freedom.

When her father refuses to support her education - Charlotte had hoped to become a headmistress at a girls' school which would have given her some degree of freedom, financial and otherwise - Charlotte decides to make herself unfit for marriage by engaging in a dalliance with a married man. Charlotte's plan works a little too well and she finds herself not only ruined for marriage but also publicly disgraced. Livia comes to her sister's defense, accusing the mother of Charlotte's lover of ruining Charlotte's reputation. When the elderly woman dies shortly thereafter Livia becomes a suspect, at least in the court of public opinion. Charlotte realizes the best way to help her sister is to help the police find the real murderer. Of course the detectives of Scotland Yard would be skeptical of the opinions of a woman and so Charlotte adopts the persona of a man - Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Holmes writes lots of helpful letters to the police. Unfortunately he is too ill to ever meet anyone in person...

I love a book that entertains me and makes me think on multiple levels. A Study in Scarlet Women definitely did that. One of the many things that I found interesting were the gender and sexual politics. Most of couplings are unhappy, forced, or otherwise result in some sort of misfortune: an unplanned pregnancy, social and financial ruin, hopelessly mismatched husband and wives. Not surprisingly it is usually the women, though not always, who suffer the brunt of these couplings. I'm not sure which is a more damming commentary on the institution of marriage and gender inequality: that the way Charlotte escapes the institution is by not being a virgin or that another character thinks the best way he can help Charlotte after her disgrace is by offering to make her his mistress and thereby save her from financial ruin. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet in 1887. In that story Sherlock Holmes and John Watson set out to figure out how a man was killed when there is no visible wounds on the corpse, who that man was, and what he was doing in London. It comes out that the man, and a second who is later killed, were from Utah. There was woman whom they thought should marry one of them. The woman, however, was in love with a third man. The woman's father supported her choice in husbands. (Or maybe supported is too generous. Let's just say the father had reasons for not wanting his daughter to marry either of the first two men.) So the two men killed the father in order to get to the daughter. The daughter eventually dies too. Holmes figures out that the death of the two men in London is tied to their pasts in Utah. This is a long way of saying that I loved how Sherry Thomas incorporated elements of Doyle's original story - namely the marriage plot point and the issue of consent - and re-imagined it in her equally compelling novel.

I really loved this! Of the four Sherlock Holmes inspired, re-imagined or otherwise related novels I've read in the last month, this is my favorite. It managed to be both modern and yet fitting for its Victorian time period. I'm so glad this is going to be a series. Sherry Thomas - I'm ready for book two in the Lady Sherlock series, and while you're at, books three, four, five, and so on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse


A few weeks ago I was reorganizing my unread pile and discovered I had several books inspired by or otherwise related to the character of Sherlock Holmes. So I decided to make February a (mostly) Sherlock themed month. The third one in my queue was Mycroft Holmes by NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse. In this Sherlock related book, the detective on the case is Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft Holmes. 
 
Product DetailsMycroft’s friend, Cyrus Douglas and Mycroft’s fiancée, Georgiana Sutton both happen to be from Trinidad, though from different sides of the island. Both Douglas and Sutton hear rumors about mysterious deaths of children in their home country. Locals fear the killer is supernatural. Neither Douglas nor Georgiana believe the supernatural excuse, and for that matter, neither does Mycroft. Nevertheless, Georgiana immediately bolts for home, insisting that she must go alone and find out what's going on. Before Mycroft can stop her Georgiana is gone. Mycroft decides to follow her, convincing Douglas to go with him. Almost as soon as the two men set foot on the ship that is to carry them to Trinidad, Douglas and Mycroft are attacked. Someone doesn’t want them poking their noses around in Trinidad.

I read this book for character more than plot. I wanted to know more about Mycroft. Let me pause here and admit that I am no expert on the character of Sherlock Holmes. Although I have read about half of the original tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, my frame reference comes primarily from the BBC series Sherlock. When I think of Mycroft, I think of Sherlock’s smarter, older brother with the non-specified but very important government job. Here, Sherlock isn’t yet brilliant and Mycroft isn’t yet very important. Mycroft is, however, much happier and well-adjusted than his younger brother. I mean, he’s engaged for goodness sake. Can you imagine Sherlock ever marrying? I think not.

My favorite part of Mycroft Holmes was Cyrus Douglas – a strong, smart Black man in 19th century England. He’s not Watson; he’s better. He is not as in awe of Mycroft as Watson is of Sherlock. Douglas has a life, a history, and a viable business apart from Mycroft. The two seem like equals in a way that Sherlock and Watson often don’t. In terms of plot, overall this was a pretty good mystery. If Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse right another Holmes and Douglas mystery I'd read it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Good Behavior by Blake Crouch

Good Behavior It's not that I've been reading bad books. The books I have been reading have been awesome, but Blake Crouch's Good Behavior is the first book I've read in a while that I really didn't want to put down. Seriously I read this book anytime I had a spare moment. I read standing on street corners while waiting for the walk signal to change in my favor, at an author signing while waiting to take a picture with the author, on the bus - you get the idea. Good Behavior had me from page one. But let me rewind a bit...

The cable channel TNT has been knocking it out of the park lately with all kinds of interesting new programming. One of their new shows is, or was, Good Behavior. It began airing in November 2016. I know it is now February 2017 but understand that in addition to the pile of books sitting in the corner of my apartment waiting to be read, there is also a slew of TV shows and movies saved on my DVR waiting to be watched. I am always behind. Anyway, the television series was fantastic. If a fantastic TV series is based on a book, of course I'm going to get the book. Hence, how I came to be reading at street corners while walking home from the library.

The TV show stars Michelle Dockery as Letty and let me tell you Letty is no Lady Mary (that's a Downton Abbey reference for those who didn't know). Letty is a thief, drug addict, ex-con who listens to self-help tapes as she tries to get her life back on track. That's not easy given that stealing is the only thing that gives her the high crystal meth did. Actually I would go further and say it isn't just the stealing she gets off on, it is being a different person. Letty's true talent is how she can transform into someone else before your eyes. Instead of a recovering drug addict recently out of jail, she's a ghost writer for famous authors or a high school teacher. All it takes is a wig and an accent change and she is a completely new person. Too bad she can't keep it up and change for real.

In the first episode Letty is stealing from hotel guests. One guest comes back early forcing her to hide in the closet. While hiding she overhears a conversation between a husband and the man he has hired to kill his wife. Letty may be a criminal but she still has a conscience. She can't simply let a woman be murdered. So she intervenes. From here the show and the book go in different directions and both are captivating. The show focuses on Letty's struggles and various relationships in her life (one in particular). The book, which contains the novellas The Pain of Others, Sunset Key, and Grab, is all about Letty. In each story she continually gets into and out of trouble, always of her own making. Letty is a fantastic and memorable character. She is smart and quick on her feet. She is a survivor even though she keeps doing things that pose very real threats to her survival. It was hard not to like her.

I'm not sure when the three novellas were originally published. The edition I read was clearly repackaged and republished to coincide with the show. In addition to the novellas, it includes short essays from the author on the evolution of the stories from print to the screen. The essays were great, adding insight into how and why the story changed. I would definitely recommend this (and the show too).  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Title: Moriarty: A Novel, Author: Anthony Horowitz Earlier this week I was trying to decide to what to read and realized I had a half-dozen books that were related to, reminiscent of, or inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character. These included A Study in Charlotte, A Study in Scarlet Women, Mycroft, Beastly Bones, Lock & Mori, and Moriarty. So I thought why not make Sherlock Holmes the theme of my reading for the next few weeks and see how they compare. Since Anthony Horowitz's Moriarty was officially authorized by the Doyle estate and thus would likely be the closest to the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I decided to start there. My plan is then to make my way through the other novels and see how Doyle's most famous character has been interpreted and adapted.

The story begins in Switzerland at Reichenbach Falls where Holmes and Moriarty fall to their (supposed) deaths. One body is recovered. Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard goes to Switzerland to ascertain the identity of the recovered body. There he meets Frederick Chase, one of the Pinkerton Detective Agency's senior investigators.

Chase tells Jones that he has been chasing after Clarence Devereux an infamous American criminal. Chase warns Jones that with Moriarty gone a power vacuum has emerged in London's criminal world and we all know how nature abhors a vacuum. A violent group of American gangsters has already started making trouble in London. According to Chase, Devereux and Moriarty were planning an alliance. With Moriarty having gone over the falls, that just leaves the devilish Devereux. Chase and Jones hurriedly return to London, determined to stop the Americans from taking over in London. With Jones doing his best Sherlock Holmes impression (turns out he's a super fan) and Chase playing his Watson, the two men test their wits against the men who would try to fill the hole left by Moriarty.

I thoroughly enjoyed Moriarty although strictly speaking it is not a Sherlock Holmes story. Except for the early pages at the Falls, neither Holmes nor Watson makes an appearance. Instead we get two very good imitators. The more I think about it, I am hard pressed to call this a mystery. Instead I might place Moriarty in the category of a suspense. Jones and Chase find the man (men really) they're looking for fairly easily. The question is more how to lure them out into the open. I suppose there is a bit of a mystery in that there is some confusion over who killed who, with different characters each thinking someone else is responsible. The ending was half surprising. Half because I knew something was off about certain characters but I wasn't able to precisely predict the manner in which they were off (though I was close).  In any case I enjoyed the journey, especially the last hundred pages.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara

Murder on Bamboo Lane (An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery #1)  I love mysteries. The clues, the puzzles, the dark alleys, and shadowy informants - I can't get enough of it. It's fun, challenging, and strangely comforting. Most of the mysteries I've read feature a white person, usually male but not always, as the main detective. One of my ongoing reading goals is to read more diversely. Since mystery is one of my favorite genres I have been looking for mysteries where the main detective - be it police, private, or amateur detective - reflects something other than a white male perspective. I will continue to read and enjoy that perspective, I simply want to experience some others too. On a separate but related note, one of my goals is to read more books of any genre written by Asian and Asian-American authors. For whatever reason I have read relatively few books written by people of Asian descent and I would like to change that. So when I stumbled across Naomi Hirahara's Murder on Bamboo Lane at the Japanese-American National Museum gift shop in Los Angeles I thought this is kismet: a mystery written by an Asian-American women where the primary police detective is also an Asian-American woman. It was just what I have been hoping to find.

Eleanor "Ellie" Rush is a fresh-out-of-the-academy bicycle cop. She spends her days riding around downtown Los Angeles mostly handing out tickets to jaywalkers and listening to neighborhood residents complain about this and that. One day she happens to be nearby when a woman is gunned down - a woman Ellie went to college with. From there Ellie falls in and out of rabbit hole after rabbit hole trying to figure out who killed the woman while not upsetting her superiors too much. She is a bicycle cop after all, not a homicide detective, at least not yet.

Murder on Bamboo Lane was a solid mystery with enough twists to keep things interesting. The story is grounded not just in Los Angeles but in a part of Los Angeles many Angelnos rarely see, let alone non-Angelenos. (I don't recall one mention of a palm tree, the beach, or celebrities.) It features a diverse cast of characters. Ellie isn't the only person of color in a world of white. One of things I appreciated most was the insight into Asian-American cultural politics. For example, one of the main suspects in the murder investigation is a Vietnamese-American artist who courts controversy by making art that is pro-North Vietnam. A group of South Vietnamese people protest the artist's exhibition, with one character claiming that Ho Chi Minh is their Hitler. In another example Ellie notes how her ex-boyfriend, whom she dated for two years, never told his grandmother that his girlfriend (Ellie) was half-Japanese because he didn't want to "rock the boat." This is partly what I meant about getting a different perspective, a different story.

I did have a few minor/medium complaints. Ellie's knee jerk anger to any criticism of the police was annoying but then again perhaps that reflects the attitudes of actual police officers. Ellie's self-pity and inability to accept responsibility for her part in the deterioration of some of her relationships was equally annoying. Cortez, Aunt Cheryl, and other characters could have been fleshed out a bit more. Notwithstanding these issues, overall I enjoyed the story.

Murder on Bamboo Lane is the first in a series. I look forward to following Ellie's further adventures.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #4)  Sinner is a companion to Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. I say companion because it really has little to do with that trilogy other than that the two main characters in Sinner were first introduced in the trilogy. I really liked the original trilogy, which consisted of Shiver, Linger, and Forever. It has been awhile since I read the trilogy but what lingers is the romance between Sam and Grace, two lonely kids who meet and start building a life and a family together. Notwithstanding his surrogate father, Sam was more or less an orphan. Grace had two parents and they were not bad people but they were super in love with each other and with their work (they were artists) to the point that they kind of forget they were parents. This left Grace to more or less raise herself. All of that was set against this wolf problem. Sam turned into a wolf for half the year. Not a monster werewolf, just a regular wolf. Aside from the obvious problems of changing into another species, Grace and Sam's lives were made more complicated by people in town fearing the growing number of wolves in the nearby woods and wanting to kill them. The romance was compelling and the wolf part was interesting, making for an overall good story.

Sinner moves the story from Minnesota where Sam and Grace remain, to California. Isabel and her family moved to California following the death of her brother. His demise has torn them apart. As the story begins Isabel and her mother are in Los Angeles while her father is in San Diego. Enter Cole St. Clair.

Cole St. Clair was a rock star who was always looking for a way out of his life. Drugs didn't work. He thought becoming a wolf might. Fast forward a year or so, Cole leaves Minnesota for California in part to record a new album and in part to see if there is anything left between him and Isabel. Cole is hyperactive, not sure about how to be happy or how to balance being rock star Cole with being regular person Cole. The only thing he is sure of is that he loves making music and he loves Isabel.The wolf thing doesn't make much of an appearance in this book. It is little more than an alternative means of escape. He used to do drugs, now he can change into a wolf but of course the idea is that he has to learn to live without doing either.

I didn't not like this book, but it also wasn't quite what I expected and for that reason I was disappointed. Isabel is an ice queen, permanently pissed off about something, sometimes justifiably so but more often her anger felt misplaced and pointless. She's smart, has plans for life, and the means to make those plans happen. She struck me as the type of person who always thinks she understands the world better than absolutely everyone else. Even when she is right it was irritating, and she wasn't always right.

Cole and Isabel fight. Then they make up. Then they fight some more. Unlike Sam and Grace, I doubt this romance will stick with me. Like I said, I didn't not like this but I didn't love it either. Sinner is not a must read. If anything, read the original The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Image result for tiny pretty things  Do you ever want to read a mystery set in a fantasy world where at least one of the main characters is a person of color? What about a story about an African-American woman trekking through the Amazon on her own, à la Eat Pray Love or Wild? How about an international spy thriller set in Paris with a bisexual Asian female protagonist? I do. I like lots of different genres and am interested in reading about the experiences of people from different backgrounds. Ideally what I want to read more of are ordinary and fantastical (i.e., genre) stories that include diverse main characters, who may be diverse in multiple ways. Bonus if the story mixes genres. I have gone down many rabbit holes looking for books that combined different things that interest me. Maybe some of my combinations are esoteric, but it shouldn't be so hard to find books with POC and female leads, especially when the story is set in the contemporary or futuristic world. Imagine my delight upon stumbling across Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton.

The story is told from the point of view of three young women: Gigi, June, and Bette. Giselle "Gigi" is an African-American dancer newly arrived from California. She is laid back, sweet, naïve, and her dancing is superb. It is not long before she secures leading roles. Unfortunately making friends is much more difficult when you're on top. People hate and envy her as much or more than they admire her. Having heart condition doesn't help either. So far it hasn't stopped her and she she's determined to make sure it never does.

June is a half-Korean native New Yorker with ballet in her blood. Her mother danced but refuses to talk about time at the American Ballet Conservatory, the school the girls attend (a thinly veiled version of the real American Ballet School in New York). June's father also danced. That and the fact that he abandoned June and her mother before June was born is all she knows about him. There are two things June wants more than anything else: to find out who her father is and to be the star instead of the understudy. If she can get back at the former best friend who betrayed her or pick up a boyfriend along the way, even better.

Bette is the seemingly perfect blond who seems to have everything. Her older sister Adele was a star when she attended the conservatory and is now climbing up the ranks as a professional dancer with the American Ballet Company. Bette expected to follow in her sister's footsteps like it was her birthright. She also expected Alec, her male counterpart and friend since childhood to be by her side on and off stage. But things haven't worked out as Bette planned. First came Cassie, another music box ballerina whom teachers and audiences loved. Luckily for Bette Cassie didn't last long at the conservatory. Just when Bette thought she was on top again, Gigi came along and started getting the roles Bette always assumed would be hers.

Tiny Pretty Things combines some of my favorite things: ballet, boarding school, and girls who are as ambitious and talented as they are mean. There was so much I loved about this book. For one, I appreciated that while racism is not ignored the principal conflict among the characters has to do with ambition. Each of the three main characters, along with a few of the side characters, wants the starring role. But there is only room for one Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.

Tiny Pretty Things tackles a lot in its 400 plus pages: eating disorders, sexuality and homophobia (lesbian and gay), teachers taking advantage of students (and sometimes vice versa), parental expectations, first love, bullying, and injuries. The downside and my one criticism is that nothing is completely resolved at the end of the book. It is clear a sequel was intended. I am eagerly waiting for that sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces, to be released in paperback. From what I've read the authors only planned two books but I hope the authors makes this a series. Tiny Pretty Things is just what I need to fill the hole left by Gossip Girl (the TV show more than than the book series).