Archive for the 'Library Thing' Category

Review: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

THIS_DARK_ROAD_jacket_2_revised_8-1_(1)-210Easter Quillby makes a fine narrator, even though she is only 12 years old – maybe especially because she’s only 12. In This Dark Road to Mercy, author Wiley Cash does a great job of capturing the voice of a young girl who is already older than she should have to be. Easter doesn’t trust easily because life hasn’t given her a reason to. Her father ran off when she was 9, her mother died of an overdose, and she and her younger sister, Ruby, are in foster care. She thought the courts would decide their fate, probably sending them to Alaska to live with relatives, but then their father, Wade, shows up at her school and their lives go off the rails.

Wade is a washed up minor league baseball player who was never much of a father. He gave up his girls to their mother but he never forgot them. With their mother gone and money in his pocket, he comes back for Easter and Ruby. Now, the girls’ court-appointed guardian, Brady Weller, is looking for him and what he’s finding has him worried – Wade may be connected to an armored car heist, and Brady might not be only person looking for him.

This was a pretty fast read, but one I enjoyed. I think Cash, as I said, does a terrific job with Easter and Ruby. Easter has clearly been taking care of her sister for a while now, probably for her mother as well. She has a “wise beyond her years” quality to her, but she’s still a little girl. Her feelings are hurt when  some kids at a carnival make fun of her and her sister, and she worries about the almost-boyfriend she left back home. She knows this thing with her father can’t last, that eventually, they’ll need to find a place to live and go to school and this road trip will come to a bad end. Sometimes, I got the feeling she was the only adult in the group.

Brady Weller is an interesting character, although not quite as believable to me. He’s a man on a mission, looking for these girls, even though he doesn’t seem to have any legal standing. But her clearly cares about them and knows that no one else is going to be looking very hard for a few foster care orphans who’ve gone missing.

It’s an old story with a few twists. You want Wade to do the right thing, you want Brady to find the girls, you want the cops to do more than pay lip-service to helping him, but you don’t think any of that will happen. The pages flew by, because I got caught up in the story and in these little girls and their hapless father, and I always love a book the sucks me right in. In this case, I found the ending more satisfying than I expected.

My copy of This Dark Road to Mercy is an Advanced Review Copy, provided free of charge by the good folks at William Morrow.

For more information on Wiley Cash, check out his website and his list of upcoming book signings. Maybe he’s coming to your neighborhood.

Review: Other People’s Money by Justin Cartwright

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

To be honest, when I started Other People’s Money by Justin Cartwright, I wasn’t sure that I was going to love it. The book came to me through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program, and when I got the notice I was getting it, I couldn’t remember requesting it. It was a little slow going at first, but the story really draws you in. These aren’t always very likable people, but you find yourself interested in them and wondering how things will turn out for them. Eventually, I found I did not want to put it down.

Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal has been the head of Tubal & Co., a small privately-owned bank in England, for decades. A stroke has left him weakened, unable to write, unable to speak clearly. His son, Julian, has taken over the bank. His wife, Fleur, is absent — she can’t bear to see him this way. He is cared for by his longtime secretary, Estelle, who is secretly in love with him:

“But when Harry’s first wife, Eleanor, killed herself she had foolishly hoped that he might turn to her, Estelle. It was like something from Jane Austen: the plain governess who hopes her good qualities will win through with the master in the end. But he was arranging for Fleur, the twenty-five-year-old actress, to be cast in a play he was financing.”

The bank is in trouble. Julian was suckered in, like so many financiers, and now the bank is sunk deep in worthless mortgages and complex financial instruments that he barely understands. His father always said he wanted to run a bank, not a casino, but his son gambled and lost. Now Julian will need some fancy footwork — and shady dealing — to keep the bank solvent.

The complication in all of this is playwright Artair MacLeod, Fleur’s ex-husband. When they divorced, he was given a grant — a quarterly stipend and a stern admonition to stay away from Fleur. That has worked well for MacLeod, until the money dries up. He’s a character, one of my favorites, cobbling together a living out in the sticks from grants and speaking arrangements and children’s theater productions of Thomas the Tank Engine. When the checks stop coming, MacLeod takes action.

I loved the writing in this book — it pulled me in and kept me reading. I loved his descriptions of people and places:

“He couldn’t wait to come back to Cornwall, where you could take a lungful of air which had travelled undisturbed from Nova Scotia, rather than one which had passed through the lungs of twenty wheezing cockneys on its way to yours.”

The descriptions of the villa at Antibes, with its turtle doves and umbrella pines, its hushed servants and the view of the Mediterranean — vivid and enticing. (Well, maybe not the servants, but definitely the turtle doves.) It’s a peek inside a family that is shackled in many ways by its ridiculous wealth, by all the unwritten rules of their status and its obligations. They operate on a different plane than the people around them; it both insulates and isolates them.

You see the trainwreck coming, but there is no getting out of the way. I was particularly impressed with the wrap-up; I hate a book with a bad ending. Here, the storylines are wrapped up nicely, but not too tightly. Even in the train’s path, people manage to salvage bits of their lives; some of them are even happy. All in all, a lovely, satisfying read.

My copy of Other People’s Money was provided by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program free of charge.

Review: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Hurray!  Another mystery series!

Regular readers know that I love a good mystery series, and Linda Castillo’s novels featuring Kate Burkholder have all the indications of a good series.  In Pray for Silence we’ve got a main character with an interesting background and character flaws that will keep things interesting, a problematic love interest, engaging minor characters and a good setting.  Actually, the setting is what might cause the most trouble, in the long term; we’ll have to wait and see.

Painters Mill is a small town in Ohio with a large Amish population.  Kate Burkholder heads up the police force — she was raised Amish, but did not join the church, a difficult decision for any Amish teenager, but one with very ugly roots, in her case.  She drinks too much (way too much, in my opinion), but she’s a good, solid police woman.  And then one night, one of her detectives makes a horrible discovery…

The Plank family has been murdered — all seven of them.  The murders are brutal and sadistic and the victims are Amish.  What kind of person tortures little Amish girls?  It’s staged to look like a murder-suicide, but Kate’s instincts tell her something different, and the evidence eventually proves her right.  Now Kate has to figure out which of her friends and neighbors is a monster.

She gets some help from another troubled cop, John Tomasetti.  He and Kate started a relationship in the first book in the series, Sworn to Silence, when they worked together to catch a serial killer in another case that dredged up bad memories for Kate.  This case has the potential to do the same thing — Kate can see strong parallels between herself and one of the victims, Mary Plank.   Leads in the case keep leading back to Mary — she is the key to all of this and figuring her out will take Kate back to some ugly memories of her own.

John Tomasetti also has his demons.  Kate is reluctant to call him in because she’s afraid of hurting him — John’s family was tortured and murdered, and family cases are always hard for him.  What she doesn’t know is that he is dealing with some serious professional setbacks, and helping her could cost him a chance at saving his career.

This will be an interesting series, I think.  The writing is good, the mystery had plenty of twists and turns, and the characters are interesting and engaging.  The problem I foresee is the setting; you can only have so many serial killers in a sleepy little Amish town before it becomes ridiculous.  It will be a challenge for Castillo to keep coming up with interesting puzzles for Kate, while not turning Painters Mill into the serial killer capitol of the Midwest.

This is the second book in the Kate Burkholder series; before this, Linda Castillo was known for her romance novels.  Harlequin Intrigue?  I’m pretty sure I won’t be reading that part of the backlist, but they will make great Christmas gifts for my mother.  She’s an old Harlequin fan and she loves a good mystery.  I think she’ll really enjoy these.

I received my copy of Pray for Silence through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program, where publishers provide review copies of books to interested readers.

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Review: Green Eyes in the Amazon by P.J. Fischer

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Green Eyes in the Amazon is a very timely book — almost too timely. Fundamentalist religious groups are conspiring to control society and stifle scientific advances by any means necessary, including violence. It is set in a hazy but not-too-distant future. No more cellphones and SUVs, now we all have vidcoms and autopiloted cars. Central America is a Dead Zone, university professors and students have to swear loyalty oaths and religion is on the rise. In this contentious climate, a brilliant young biologist may have ushered in the next step in human evolution — but what will the religious zealots do to stop him?

There are a lot of interesting topics in Green Eyes – human evolution, the expansion of science, the influence of religion, medical and scientific ethics. It promises so much, but really doesn’t deliver. This may be a case of a book biting off more than it can chew.

The story is an interesting one: brilliant young biologist Steven Sumpter has distilled all the “mysterious, complex processes of life” into a series of algorithms. (Exactly what religious conservatives have always been afraid science would do.) He has used these algorithms in conjunction with some amazing quantum computer programming, to create a child, a whole new species of human. Steven is on the run from the authorities who accuse him of violating the Mutant Laws and hiding from religious extremists who want to be sure this child is never born. As the world lurches towards an all-out war between religion and science, Steven’s creation may represent reason’s only chance.

Steven receives some help from the military and spends most of the book hiding out in the Dead Zone. He is accompanied by his father, Dennis; former colleague, Benny; and Eli, his lover, his colleague, and the woman about to give birth to his greatest creation. They have to deal with the difficulties of surviving in the wilderness, avoiding the sort of thugs and villians that would make their home in the Dead Zone, while caring for a pregnant woman. Eventually, Steven and Julia will be called upon to try and prevent the end of the Enlightenment, as religious forces gain strength and show a frightening willingness to use mayhem and violence to increase their authority.

Unfortunately, I found the book rather shallow. There is a lot of discussion about what to do with this child, Julia, what she really is, but the discussion can be summed up as “she’s a new species and we must treat her with respect.” The question, at least for me, isn’t always can we do something, but should we do it. The shoulds are never addressed here. Julia is useful, she may save our world from a new Dark Age, and that’s all that’s important. Eli was also a biologist, but she doesn’t seem to think or speak like a scientist. She is completely taken over by her maternal instincts. I would have been more interested in her if she had more than just this dimension.

There is a lot going on in the story that is not fleshed out. For example, I am not sure how far in the future we are really talking. Steven’s father, Dennis, has a very cool car that will do 100+ miles an hour on autopilot, complete with evasion mode. Steven is able to synthesize a variety of human growth hormones from a small computer set-up he hauled into the Amazon with them. But the university Steven attends seems no different from any college today. I can’t tell if the story is set 20 years or 50 years or 150 years in the future. Steven is tried and convicted of violating the Mutant Laws, but I never knew for sure just what that entailed. There is a great deal of talk about war involving the military, the scientists and the religious extremists, but no real detail on what this war will entail. The description involves a lot of casualties, but what caused them? Did we bomb the churches? Did the extremists start burning libraries and librarians? If the government is getting more religious and more conservative, why does the military seem to be on the side of the scientists?

All in all, the story left me wanting. I wanted to know more about Steven’s world, more about the world of Helen and Alphonse, our window into the religious forces at work, I wanted to know more about Steven’s singing rabbits, about Toid — the virtual world he used for developing his theories — and the original Julia, a computer program that gained sentience and had to be destroyed. I wanted to know what the government and the military were up to while Steven and Eli were hiding out in the Dead Zone. It felt incomplete and unfinished. I think it’s good when an author leaves you wanting more, but this wasn’t the way to go about it.

My copy of Green Eyes in the Amazon was provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.

Review: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

The Brutal Telling is a first-rate detective novel. The mystery is complex and well-plotted, while the beautiful Canadian scenery and charming characters breathe life into the story. It is a look into the very darkest corners of the human heart, a reminder that we never truly know what another person is capable of, or what secrets they may keep.

The book starts with a story, told in the dead of night by a crackling fire.

“Chaos is coming, old son, and there’s no stopping it. It’s taken a long time, but it’s finally here.”

It will be a long time before we know the whole story, or what Chaos is coming to this little village.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is head of the Sûreté du Québec. His team is called to the remote village of Three Pines to investigate a brutal murder: a body is found on the floor of the small bistro run by Olivier and Gabri. No one admits to knowing the victim, but it is clear he was murdered elsewhere and purposely dumped in the couple’s place of business. Who is the old man and why would someone target Olivier? Some residents of this picturesque village will become entangled in a web of lies as they try to hide their knowledge and their connection to the victim.

This is the fifth novel in the series, so some of you may already be familiar with the Chief Inspector, his moustache, his graying hair, his kind eyes. He is not the sort of detective to chase criminals through dark alleys; instead, he is a thoughtful man, well-read, cultured, with a keen ability to see through the masks that people wear. He understands that to solve a murder like this you don’t move forward, you move back, back into the past to find the conflict that started it all. But how do you move at all when you cannot even identify the victim?

The novel is filled with wonderful characters. I was especially fond of Ruth and Rosa. Ruth is a curmudgeonly old poet, inclined to a few too many martinis and a lot of foul language. Rosa is a duck, and Ruth takes her everywhere. Old Mundin, and his wife — The Wife, no one knows her real name — and their tiny son, Charles. The Parras – Roar and Hanna and their teenaged son, Havoc. (What a terrific name for a young man.) Agent Morin, the young fellow who works up the courage to ask the famous inspector if he might join in the investigation…and is rewarded for his bravado. There is also Clara, perhaps my favorite character. Clara faces the sort of moral dilemna where we all want to believe we would be brave and stalwart. It would be so easy to turn a deaf ear — but would the guilt eat her alive? And is it worth all she would be risking?

The Gilberts – Marc and Dominique and mother-in-law Carole – gave up their big-city existence to escape the stress and came to Three Pines to open a hotel and spa. They bought the old Hadley house, the site of an earlier tragedy, and turned it into a luxurious vacation spot. But there are plenty of small-town rivalries to deal with; trying to hire away Olivier and Gabri’s staff is not going to make them any friends. They don’t quite grasp the dynamics of running competing businesses in a small town, and by the time someone points out their missteps, it might be too late.

Throughout the novel, I was charmed by Gamache’s thoughtful methods and his understanding of people and the things that move them. His second in command, Beauvoir, is a perfect foil. He’s more earthy, and even though he knows the value of the Inspector’s methods, he is sometimes frustrated and eager to act. Due to the nature of the investigation, the book is full of history and culture — art and poetry and music — and glowing descriptions of the beautiful Canadian wilderness.

As far as he could see there were mountains rising from the water, covered in dark forest. He could see an island and fishing boats. Overhead, eagles soared. the men walked onto the beach which was covered in pebbles and shells and stood silent for a few minutes, listening to the birds and the lapping water and smelling the air with that combination of seaweed and fish and forest.

The Brutal Telling is the fifth novel in the series and it is sure to send you looking for the first four (which I already have on request from my local library). You can read more about Louise Penny’s work at her website, I received my review copy free through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program.

Tuesday Thingers

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

You know, one of the things I love about Tuesday Thingers is that I am always learning something new about LibraryThing! This week, I learned how to edit my library style. As always, a big thank you to Wendi at Wendi’s Book Corner for hosting.

Questions: Have you explored the different styles? Have you customized any of the styles? If so, what are your favorite customized items (isbn, Dewey Decimal, Reviews, Book-Swap, etc)?

I didn’t know I could edit this! This is great – I normally have Style B (I like seeing the covers), but I have now edited the page to show my reviews. This is important to me, because my goal is to add a review for all of the books that I have read, even if it’s just a short one. I’m going to have great fun playing around with this. Thanks, Wendi!

Tuesday Thingers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I am really excited about today’s topic! This is something I’ve been meaning to do since I saw the Library Thing Blog post…

Questions: Do you have a LT widget on your blog? If so, what is your favorite thing about it? Have you had a chance to go see the all new widget building page, and if so, have you built a new widget? If so, what do you like about it?

I do currently have one of the older widgets, but I love the new one! By the time you read this post, it will probably have changed. I love the changing books! Really great stuff.

One thing I’d like to see change, and I will probably post this over at LT this morning – they give you an option to filter on certain tags, but it would be more convenient to filter out certain tags. For example, I have a number of books tagged “erotica”, that I would probably prefer not to see in my sidebar! (Well, I don’t really care, but I would hate to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities.) Other than that, I think they’re fabulous!

Review: The Disappearance by Efrem Sigel

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: one minute your child is there – the next minute, he’s gone. In The Disappearance, Joshua and Nathalie Sandler’s son, Daniel, disappears and their lives change completely.

The Sandlers are a very happy family. Joshua runs a furniture sales business; Nathalie is a professional cellist. Daniel is 14 years old, generally a pretty good kid. They have a place near the city and a second home in the country, in the picturesque town of Smithfield.

On a typical summer afternoon, Joshua and Nathalie make a run into town for supplies; Daniel stays at home. When they come back, the house is empty. Daniel is gone.

If I had to imagine what two parents go through in a situation like this, I think it would come out a lot like this book. Joshua and Nathalie handle their grief and uncertainty in different ways. Joshua requires constant activity – he is always on the move, at work, walking the woods, talking to neighbors, looking for clues. At one point, he takes up a post in the center of the road near his home, stopping passing motorists to ask if they were in the area on the day Dan disappeared, asking them if they saw anything strange. Nathalie withdraws into herself. She cannot bear to touch her cello. She stops taking care of herself, stops talking to people, stops living. They live in limbo for months, but what is the acceptable waiting period before you begin your life again? What is the recommended period of mourning? How do you decide when to stop looking, when to give up hope?

As Joshua questions Dan’s friends, he begins to get to know Dan as an entirely new creature, someone he never really knew.

“To his shock, he realizes that all these observations apply to Dan. He must have had, did have a secret life – a communal secret life, involving a whole other cast of characters, a performance place, a range of behaviors that Joshua and Nathalie knew nothing about.”

Joshua also fears that he may be somehow responsible for what has happened to Dan – he’s involved in a big real estate deal that has raised the hackles of some of the long-time residents. There have been threats, some vandalism, even some violence – could Dan’s disappearance be linked to it?

Nathalie and Joshua go through a whole range of emotions over the course of these pages. You feel Joshua’s frustration with the investigation of his small-town police department. You understand why Nathalie feels like picking up the cello would be a betrayal. You are like these parents – wanting to turn the page, find some closure, but afraid of the news that awaits you. A very effective piece of work.

My copy was a bound galley that I received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program; you can order your copy at

Tuesday Thingers

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Today’s question, from Wendi’s Book Corner: Were you aware of the Member Giveaways Program? Have you posted any books in the giveaway? If so, what are your thoughts on the program? Have you requested any books, and if so, did you win any?

Yes, I was aware of the Member Giveaway Program. I have requested a couple of books, but I have honestly tried to stay away from it. (While looking through it again for this post, I requested a few more.) I am an addict! The first step is to admit that I am powerless against my addiction to books. Nothing will stop me from acquiring more books – not a lack of bookshelves, not a lack of time to read them – and giving them away free like that just makes it worse!

Seriously, I think it’s a fine program. I was a little curious why someone (not an author or publisher) would choose to give away a book there when there are so many swaps and mooches available, but it seems to have gotten great response so far. I am all in favor of anything that gets books into people’s hands.

Tuesday Thingers

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

From Wendi’s Book Corner, we get today’s Tuesday Thinger Question: Were you aware of the Early Reviewer Program? Have you received any books from the program? If you have, how have you liked the book(s)? Any other thoughts on the LTER program?

I have been extremely fortunate to receive a total of about 10 books from Early Reviewers! I think it’s a fabulous program. I have always been very careful to make sure they get reviewed quickly, even if I have to bump other things. I get really annoyed when you see how many books have gone out and only a few reviews have been posted. I consider it a commitment and I think folks who don’t meet the commitment should get dropped from the program. (Harsh, I know.)

I also think the way they hand out books is very interesting. It’s a great idea to try and match readers to books to make sure they get read and they get into the hands of people who are really going to want them.

Here are some of the books I’ve received from Early Reviewers and the rating I gave them on LibraryThing:

  • The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff – 5 stars
  • Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland – 1.5 stars
  • A Dog Among Diplomats by J. F. Englert – 1 star
  • Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah – 3 stars
  • Happy Hour is for Amateurs by Philadelphia Lawyer – 0 stars
  • The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston – 4.5 stars
  • The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax – 4 stars
  • The Stories of Devil-Girl by Anya Achtenberg – 4 stars
  • Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke – next on my reading list
  • The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss – 3 stars

Quite a bunch, don’t you think? How could I not love a program that has sent me such great books? (Even if they also sent me a few clunkers.)

UPDATE: Just got word that I am getting a copy of Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor from the February batch! I am the luckiest girl in the world.