Category Archives: review copy

Mini-reviews: Mysteries

Warning: Some of these reviews contain spoilers.

leaving everything most lovedLeaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (March 2013, Harper), 352 pages

I loved the color and spices of India that infused this novel, the tenth in the Maisie Dobbs series.

I felt a little manipulated by Winspear. I wondered if she was delaying a decision on Maisie’s relationship with James just to prolong the series (ugh!). On the one hand, I just want to see them together. I think they’ll work well, and I want to see that. But on the other, I think Maisie still acted within her very independent nature. So mostly I’m just sitting here wishing and hoping. And a little sad.

Another great installment in one of my favorite historical mystery series.

doors openDoors Open by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur (Little Brown), 2010), 368 pages

I’d heard lots of great things about Ian Rankin’s books, so I was glad to get the chance to pull this one from its lingering spot on the TBR shelf. Mostly, though, I was disappointed by this one. If I hadn’t heard such great things, I probably would have put it down mid-read (and I maybe should have abandoned it regardless).

I did enjoy the Edinburgh setting, though.

I plan to give Rankin another try, starting with book one of his Inspector Rebus series, Knots and Crosses.

missing fileThe Missing File by D.A. Mishani (Harper, March 2013), 304 pages

This is another one that didn’t really live up to my expectations. Again, I enjoyed the setting (Israel this time). But most of the book really plodded. The protagonist’s low self-esteem seemed to pervade the book. We have this supposedly great detective, who doesn’t do or learn anything really. It’s like he’s living in an allergy fog like those commercials, except we’re given no explanation for his inaction.

The twist at the end is pretty great, though, I thought. And how the main points are never really, truly, nailed down.

red herring without mustardA Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (Bantam, 2011), 432 pages

This third Flavia de Luce mystery was the needed rebound after the sophomore slump that was The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (my review). Our precocious protag is back at it, and I quite enjoyed this one. I hope it’s not too long until I can return to the series (I think I’ve got books four and five on my shelves waiting patiently).

I received some of these books from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Word Lily review

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), 240 pages

Summary
Pearl feels like the very uncool little sister, especially compared to the great life Lexie (eighth grade) has — with a boyfriend, tons of friends, great grades — while Pearl’s only boyfriend is the cat, Bitey (the name’s not ironic), and she doesn’t even have her own key to the apartment.

Thoughts
I picked this up because it’s by the Ann M. Martin, the author of the Baby-Sitters’ Club books, and I’d just had a conversation about reading those books and was feeling nostalgic. It also didn’t hurt that I knew it would be a quick read! :)

This was a fun story about starting to know yourself and growing up, grasping some self-control. I felt for the character, who was moved ahead in school based on academic testing but perhaps before she was ready for it socially.

The “hand-drawn” lists and charts are a definite plus.

It’s been a bit since I read a middle grade book, but this one felt like it skewed a bit younger than most/some. The protagonist is (just barely) 9 years old.

Rating: 3 stars

Other reviews
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I loved, loved, loved The Shadow of the Wind, so it’s no surprise that I jumped on the chance to read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Prisoner of Heaven nearly as soon as it was released.

This is the third book (of four, I believe) in this collection (they’re not exactly chronological, so I’m not going to call it a series) of gothic novels. Set in Barcelona, it takes place primarily in 1957, but some sections are set a couple decades earlier.

Lots of readers were put off by the second book, The Angel’s Game. They found it too convoluted or too vague. I didn’t mind the ambiguity; the twists and turns and lack of one singular reality was apropos to me. Still, I didn’t like it nearly as well as I did The Shadow of the Wind. I didn’t hate it, either. It was just OK.

This one falls somewhere in between OK and all-out love for me. It’s not nearly as complex (practically entirely straightforward) as I remember either of the other two being, which might be good for those who disliked The Angel’s Game, but I was almost disappointed by the lack of levels. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books experience in this book isn’t nearly as magical. In fact, this may be the least magical book of the three (as in, most of this story can be explained by rules of the natural world).

This volume also had a decided lack of female presence, which was disappointing to me.

What I like: It’s very atmospheric and the sense of place is strong. The writing is fun to read.

Not that I exactly know, since I have nothing to compare it to, but I get the feeling that Lucia Graves’ translation is outstanding.

Here are my reviews of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game.

3.5 stars (out of 5)

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Alison’s Book Marks
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Word Lily review

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs book 9 (Harper, March 27, 2012), 352 pages

Summary
It’s the spring of 1933, and the costermongers Maisie grew up with come to her for help. They’re convinced that a guy from their neighborhood was murdered, that his death was not an accident. Eddie was a gentle soul, more boy than man. Most of the neighborhood looked out for him with kindness. And when a horse needed calmed? He was the one to call.

Thoughts
Note: This review may contain spoilers of previous books in the series.

In Elegy for Eddie Maisie continues to walk somewhat blindly through life, confident when it comes to her cases but not so clear in her personal life and relationships. Her life has changed drastically, and while she thinks she has come to terms with that, she’s still working it out.

More than a note of sadness pervades this book, as instead of recovering from World War I the global perspective shifts to preparing for World War II.

The state of her relationship with James in this book was frustrating to me, most of the way through (if not all the way). I kept thinking, *if they would just sit down and talk to each other, they’re more on the same page than either of them thinks they are.* I know I sometimes live with slights, imagined or otherwise, rather than addressing them immediately, but so many things could be solved by just a little communication!

I did like how this case took her back to the part of London where she grew up. This dovetailed nicely (as I’ve come to expect from Winspear) with the conflict Maisie’s feeling presently about her place in society.

At this point in the series, my affection for any particular title is greatly influenced by the state of Maisie’s relationship with her beau. And I was pretty unsettled, disgruntled, annoyed by how this was handled in this book. It reminds me of how I felt about Bones last year. It felt like, to drag the series out, they had Brennan reverting to old behavior, like she’d forgotten everything she’d learned, all the ways she’d grown over the past several years. Maisie seemed to be acting like Brennan — not as the person we’ve come to know her to be, but as the person she grew beyond already. That comparison might be a little unfair, but it’s how I felt while reading.

Maisie Dobbs books

1. Maisie Dobbs [my review]
2. Birds of a Feather [my review]
3. Pardonable Lies [my review]
4. Messenger of Truth [my review]
5. An Incomplete Revenge [my review]
6. Among the Mad [my review]
7. The Mapping of Love and Death [my review]
8. A Lesson in Secrets
9. Elegy for Eddie

Rating: 3.75 stars

About the author
Jacqueline Winspear (Facebook) quit her day job for her writing when she saw the tour schedule for Birds of a Feather. She lives in California, after leaving England in 1990. She finally has a blog.

Other reviews
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Word Lily review

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens, book 1 of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series (Crown/Broadway, March 2011), 320 pages

Summary
Vanessa “Michael” Munroe deals in information. If you need to find out something undiscoverable — and have the resources to pay — she can figure it out for you. She grew up as a missionary kid in Cameroon, and she still bears the scars of her past life (literally and figuratively). Her gift for languages comes in handy in her work. When a Texas oil man wants her to find his daughter, who disappeared in Africa, she’s thrust back into the jungle haunted by her past.

Thoughts
I knew I wanted to read it when I heard the first whisperings of the hardcover. When I had the chance to read the paperback, I was thrilled. When I cracked open the pages, I wasn’t disappointed.

I love so many things about this book, about Vanessa Michael Munroe. I love the West African setting, the heart-pounding story arc, the genuine pain of past hurts that comes through (not that I’m glad the pain exists, but I’m glad it shows up and feels real). I love Munroe’s skill with languages and reading people. I enjoy the [few] personal connections she does have.

While the blood and sex and language might make this book an uncomfortable read for some, I found it generally appropriate for the setting and the characters.

I finished reading this book a couple weeks ago, and I’m still over the moon about it. Love it!

My biggest problem with this book is that, when I finished it, I couldn’t yet get my hands on the second book in the series, The Innocent, due out December 27. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but I want more! I can’t wait.

Rating: 4.75 stars

About the author
Taylor Stevens (@Taylor_Stevens, Facebook) was raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond the sixth grade; she broke free of the Children of God and now lives in Texas. She’s working on the third Vanessa Michael Munroe book.

Other reviews
Jenn’s Bookshelves
Leeswammes’ Blog
S. Krishna’s Books
Beth Fish Reads
Toothy Books
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Secrets of Harmony Grove by Mindy Starns Clark

Word Lily review

Secrets of Harmony Grove by Mindy Starns Clark, (Harvest House, October 1, 2010), 386 pages

Summary
Sienna is pretty happy in life; she’s got a new job at a swanky Philadelphia advertising agency, which affords her the amenities of life she’s always wanted. Her boyfriend is really into her, and the mere sight of him makes her swoon. But she returns from a business trip and is called to the bosses’ office. She’s suspended, without pay, indefinitely, because she’s under investigation by the federal government. She heads to Lancaster County to check on her bed and breakfast, and what she finds there puts her being investigated in the back of her mind.

Thoughts
This is a book set in Amish country — Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, even — but it’s not really an Amish book.

I was distracted from the story by corny similes on the page and set this book aside for awhile. I’m glad I came back to it, though, because of this:

“During the renovation, when I was spending more time with the [Amish] relatives than I had in years, I had even done an experiment, privately taking note of how I was feeling and when. Over and over, the way it went was that at five minutes, I would finally stop listening for a radio or TV in the background. At fifteen minutes, even if the company was interesting and the conversation stimulating, I would find myself glancing at my phone wondering if emails had come in, discreetly checking for texts. At twenty-five minutes, I would wonder to myself how these people could possibly live like this. Weren’t they bored out of their minds?

“It usually took about an hour before my muscles would finally start to relax. By the two-hour mark, I would find a stillness I forgot I could even experience. To their credit, this kind of silence was intentional. As isolated as the Amish often seemed, it always surprised me how very aware they were of the impact noise could have on a life and the damage confusion and chaos could wreak on a soul.

“Ultimately, beyond that hard-won stillness came the true goal: a oneness with God. Was it any wonder I always felt spiritually renewed when I spent time in Amish country? By turning down the noise of my life, I was able to hear those still, small whispers of a loving God, whispers that filled my heart and never failed to refresh my soul.”

~Page 194, Secrets of Harmony Grove

In this brief excerpt, Sienna is clearly talking about the stillness she’s found in Amish country, particularly when she’s with her Amish relatives. But she’s also contrasting a fast-paced city life with a slower, more intentional, more rural one. This resonates with me. Not that it’s a completely new thought, but, I guess, I needed the reminder. The last month or so I’ve been craving a slower, simpler, quieter lifestyle, and perhaps the reason for that is just as Mindy Starns Clark (through Sienna) stated here.

I also enjoyed the perspectives given on nonviolence, conscientious objector status and self-defense.

I did figure out well ahead of time some of the answers this mystery sought, without trying.

It had been awhile since I’d read a Mindy Starns Clark book, and I was glad for the chance to try another. While not the greatest books I’ve ever read, I’ve always enjoyed her work, and this was no exception. I’ve especially appreciated her books for the touches of humor.

My [old] reviews of other Mindy Starns Clark books:
The Trouble with Tulip
Blind Dates Can Be Murder
Elementary, My Dear Watkins

Rating: 3.5 stars

About the author
Mindy Starns Clark is a former singer and stand-up comedian; she and her family live in Pennsylvania.

Other reviews
Books, Movies and Chinese Food
Lighthouse Academy
Mom’s Pace
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

A Wedding Invitation by Alice J. Wisler

Word Lily review

A Wedding Invitation by Alice J. Wisler (Bethany House, October 1, 2011), 312 pages

Summary
Samantha Bravencourt mostly enjoys her quiet life near Washington, DC, working in her mom’s clothing boutique. When she gets an invitation to her friend’s wedding in North Carolina, she’s excited to see her college pals again. But that trip turns out differently than she expected. She’s reunited with Carson, who she had taught alongside with at the refugee camp in the Philippines, as well as with one of her former Amerasian students, who needs help.

Thoughts
A Wedding Invitation is very pink. I’m not talking about the cover here, either. The content is very girly, very pink. I wish I could describe this better. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I wasn’t quite ready for it. But speaking of the cover, why oh why can’t the girl on the cover match the description of the main character (olive skin, brown eyes)? I do like the flowery swirls, though, which are integrated inside the book, as well.

I loved the flashbacks to Sam’s time at the refugee center, as well as the touches of Asia (even if they seemed to center around food).

I was frustrated by the ignorance of fiber arts demonstrated in the book. Wisler uses a ball of yarn in a metaphor to indicate that someone is tightly wound, although yarn balls are supposed to be wound very loosely. And when a character crochets, she uses a “needle,” rather than the appropriate tool, a hook. But that’s not the main problem I had.

Overall, it was hard for me to connect with Sam. The characters didn’t communicate well with each other, and while I could usually guess what was going on inside her head, sometimes it felt like she was just, well … kind of crazy — acting on unmotivated whims. Honestly, I think Wisler was trying to adhere to the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, but I’m not sure she quite succeeded. And other than Sam, most of the rest of the characters felt pretty flat.

Rating: 2.75 stars

Read an excerpt of A Wedding Invitation by Alice J. Wisler.

About the author
Alice J. Wisler is the author of four novels. She taught at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in the mid-1990s. She lives in Durham, North Carolina. Since the death of her son in 1997, she’s taught grief-writing courses.

Other reviews (more positive than mine!)
Books, Movies and Chinese Food
A Peek at My Bookshelf
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I received this book from the publisher as part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Word Lily review

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, book 1 of The Books of Mortals series, (Center Street, September 13, 2011), 384 pages

Summary
In a world ruled by fear (no other emotions now exist), although violence is basically unheard of, people generally go through life keeping their heads down.

A vial of blood and a cryptic page are thrust into Rom’s hands by a man on the run from authorities. The old man says something that makes Rom think his father didn’t live quite the straight-and-narrow life he’d always thought. But he doesn’t have long to think about it, now that he’s being pursued because of what he now possesses.

Thoughts
This was, overall, an enjoyable read for me. I don’t always respect Dekker’s books much, but this is one of his better ones. He’s always been great at pacing, and this book is no exception. The story flies along, dragging the reader from one page to the next. Lee’s influence was clear — at times, the prose really sparkled, which is something I haven’t experienced in Dekker’s writing.

Somehow, while feeling pretty unique, the whole dystopian setup also felt trite.

There was also one scene, in particular, that was overwrought, more bloody than it needed to be. Maybe this will be sussed out in subsequent books, but as it stood in this one, it was out of place and gory.

The part of the book that was most interesting to me was touched on immediately, on the first page of the first chapter: Art, any kind of creative pursuit, only barely survives in this world, and that only because a long-dead expert had written about the educational merits of the arts. The life of an artisan is hard, in a world unmoved by creativity. [Not that the life of an artist is exactly easy, even today.] Even then, “artisan” is a more accurate word than “artist” because the act of creation doesn’t really happen outside the full scope of emotion, which this population lacks.

I love that one of the characteristics we as humans share with God is creativity. God created ex nihilo, and we, made in that image, create.

I can easily see how art appreciation might not happen in a world without love or joy or even anger. But I hadn’t really thought about creating being an act that required emotional undercurrents.

A quote:

“You only feel pain because you’re alive, boy!” the keeper thundered. “This is the mystery of it. Life is lived on the ragged edge of that cliff. Fall off and you might die, but run from it and you are already dead!”

~page 339, Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

What do you think? Could an emotion-less being create?

Rating: 3.5 stars

Book 2, Mortal, is schedule for release in September 2012; book 3, Sovereign, will be published in 2013.

About the authors
Ted Dekker is a bestselling author of more than 20 novels. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Tosca Lee (@ToscaLee) is the author of Demon and Havah.

Other Faith and Fiction Round Table Participants:

I received this book from the publisher as part of the Faith and Fiction Round Table. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.