Massachusetts | Member Since 2010
Faulty bridge infrastructure derails a train travelling from Paris to Marseilles in 1919. The resulting 300-foot plunge into a rock-strewn ravine leaves only two survivors--or possibly there was a third--and maybe even a fourth? Three years later, Scotland Yard's Joe Sandilands arrives in Simla, India, high in the Himalaya and the summer capital of the British Raj, to investigate the apparent assassination of a prominent English trading executive. On the steep final approach to Simla--at the exact spot of the first murder--Joe's traveling companion is identically shot and killed. We are now at the end of Chapter 2. It is obvious early on that we are seeing the fruits of a case of identity theft. But the repercussions of the earlier events are many, varied, and surprising, and play out in an exotic locale and with a cast of characters that adds panache. Terry Wale's narration, in the rather flat intonations of a British military officer, becomes entirely part of the action and is totally believable. Highly recommended for those who like their mysteries with color, character, and complexity.
"Murder 101" is much better than "The Beast," the book that preceded it in the Decker/Lazarus saga--but then, almost anything would be. That said, as a longtime fan of the series I enjoyed this one, including the new setting, new characters, and the new narrator.
New setting: Peter Decker has left the LAPD and taken a "semiretirement" job as detective for the Greenbury, NY police department, a quiet town whose claim to fame is being the host of five small but prestigious colleges (hence the academic reference in the title). The move means Peter and Rina now live within easy driving distance of their myriad (and multicultural) kids and grandkids. Rina is still hosting Shabbos dinners, teaching Hebrew, and baking cookies. Peter has not acclimated quite so well, but perks up when a local art theft leads to murder and he's suddenly pulling all-nighters, living on coffee and bagels, and getting shot at again.
New character: Decker is also back in his Wise Old Dad role. His new partner, Tyler McAdams, is a Park Avenue trust funder, a recent Harvard grad who is resisting the law school road his loudmouthed, overbearing, 1-percent-entitlee father insists on. Like Chris Donati and Gabe Whitman before him, Tyler is a young man with a chip on his shoulder and daddy issues. And, like Chris and Gabe, he soon comes to respect and admire Saint Peter and to venerate Saint Rina (if I may be excused the mixed religious metaphor in referring to the Orthodox Jewish Deckers).
New Narrator: I really like Richard Ferrone's narration. Upbeat and energizing, yet easy to listen to. The one (minor) flaw is that he does not even try to do feminine voices, and I was often taken aback to realize that Rina had been the one speaking. Peter and Tyler sound a little too much alike, but interestingly all the minor characters--college frat boys, New York art dealers, Park Avenue matrons, Boston police, and Harvard profs--are subtly and neatly distinguishable.
I think if you’ve enjoyed other books in the series you’ll probably like this one. It’s not the place to start the Decker’s long story, over which they’ve aged in real time (among the very few series regulars to do so), although Rina at 50-something is apparently still quite astonishingly beautiful.
There was one aspect of the book that I found distracting at first and eventually just found amusing. The fictional town of Greenbury and its fictional 5 colleges is at different points in the book described as being in upstate New York; closer to Boston than to Manhattan; about 1.5 hours by car from Boston; *and* closer to the Hamptons than to Manhattan. Now, I’m not geographically challenged, but I couldn’t triangulate any location in the northeast that met all those criteria. But I enjoyed my visit anyway.
Naxos releases another Heyer classic. This one is a short, fast, fun read. Our hero and heroine, both being pressured by family to enter marriages they find abhorrent, "meet cute": Penelope has shorn her hair, donned men's clothes, and is climbing out the window at 3 a.m. when she is rescued by a "bosky" Sir Richard, who is walking home after drowning his sorrows at White's Club.
Stirred by the idea of disappearing--and thus not having to propose to "the iceberg" his mother is pushing on him--Sir Richard (in his elegantly inebrieted state) agrees to pose as the gender-disguised "Penn's" tutor so that he can escort her to her childhood sweetheart's family estate.
By the time our hero sobers up, he and "Penn" are travelling on a public stagecoach, where they meet with an interesting assortment of the common folk (no fancy dress balls or evenings at Almack's in this story), and an especially interesting assortment of highway robbers. Mystery and danger ensue, but we know what will happen in the end--which is part of the joy of these books, at least for some of us.
Georgina Sutton's narration is top-notch; all the Naxos narrators are competent, but she's exceptionally good.
The first five novels in Stephen Saylor’s “Roma Sub Rosa” saga span almost 30 years, from when Gordianus the Finder met Cicero the Advocate (“Roman Blood,” set in 80 BC) to the murder of Clodius (“Murder on the Appian Way,” 52 BC). Gordianus rubbed shoulders with historical bigshots while he solved crimes, got married, acquired children, and watched as the Roman republic crumbled. In "Rubicon," the sixth book of the series, he (and we) reach the era of outright civil war--early 49 BC, as Julius Caesar and his legions “cross the Rubicon” in defiance of the Roman senate and its leader, Pompey Magnus (“the great,” a title Pompey apparently bestowed on himself).
“Rubicon” opens with Pompey’s nephew found murdered in the atrium of Gordianus’ own home. “Pompey is going to be mightily pissed,” moans Gordianus, now 60 and retired. He has tried to avoid taking sides in the civil war, despite the fact that his son Meto is Caesar’s close adviser and literary amanuensis. Gordianus the Finder has given way to Gordianus the Father (and grandfather), paterfamilias of a unique family that he loves deeply and is desperate to protect. But of course the startling murder drags him into the thick of things. Pompey, about to lead his own army against Caesar, takes Gordianus’ son-in-law hostage and will return him only when Gordianus finds the killer.
Especially considering that it’s one of the shorter entries in the series, the plot of “’Rubicon” is complex. There are secret love affairs and coded messages and disguises and blackmail and a climactic battle. The ending reveals the killer but opens up a whole new mystery that will play out over the next few books.
The Roman Republic-into-Empire era epitomizes the curse “may you live in interesting times.” Saylor’s books portray the uncertainty, violence, and chaos and its effects on ordinary citizens with verve and scholarship. The parallel but somewhat less earnest SPQR books by John Maddox Roberts feature the same timeframe and events, starring a young aristocrat who is prone to stumble across murders. Both series are treats for the classical history lover.
In terms of audiobooks, it’s unfortunate that the early Gordianus novels were *extremely* poorly narrated. Ralph Cosham takes over the narration for Rubicon and later books, and I enjoy him (once I get over wondering how Inspector Armand Gamache--a trademark Cosham character--got from modern Quebec to ancient Rome). The SPQR books are narrated by Simon Vance and John Lee, both great old hands at this type of material. We who are about to listen salute you!
The title novella in this anthology by Man Booker Prize recipient Ismail Kadare is a reference to the Greek king Agamemnon, who lured his daughter Iphigenia to the altar with promises of marriage to the hero Achilles, only to seize her and sacrifice her to the gods so that his army would be allowed to sail away and attack Troy. The narrator of Kadare’s novella, a broadcast journalist in totalitarian socialist Albania during the early 80s, finds the ancient story of Iphigenia strangely resonant. He is hurting because the woman he loves has recently left him, allegedly because her father did not find their relationship politically expedient. He has also received a last-minute ticket to a grandstand seat at the May Day Parade--a high honor he cannot refuse--and his romantic musings as he walks to claim his unsought “exalted” position are interspersed with paranoid reflections as to the meaning behind the anonymous invitation. Is it really a reward (and if so, for what?), or is it a trap?
“Agamemnon’s Daughter” is Kadare’s no doubt autobiographical mirror of the conditions prevailing in Albania from 1944-1985, under the rule of dictator Enver Hoxa (referred to in the story as the “Supreme Guide”). During that time Albania achieved unprecedented economic and agricultural success; the people were said to be “tax-free”; education (within rigidly prescribed socialist contexts) was available to all and literacy skyrocketed. By the May Day described, it is also a society where personal privacy, independence, family loyalty, and love itself have been sacrificed to absolute political authority. It is all the more chilling for having been drawn from reality.
The second story, “The Blinding Order,” explores the paranoid psychology that grips people when a “witch hunt” is on; in this case, the hunt involves seeking out those who possess the “evil eye.” It was an original approach to a topic that’s been covered many times.
I found the last and shortest story, “The Great Wall,” to be the most interesting. Set in the 14th century, it documents the internal musings of two men, one an engineer called to work on shoring up China’s Great Wall against an attack by Tamarlane’s army; the second man is a scout for that army. It’s not exactly action-packed, but it’s an interesting take on fear, conquest, and psyching out the enemy.
This collection was an unusually literary choice for me; I tend to listen mostly to genre fiction, which these stories definitely are not. If this had been a novel I probably would have found it, well, boring, but the length of these pieces made each of them an intriguing change of pace. I was a little put off by the coarse, even misogynisitic, language Kadare uses when describing women sexually, but aside from those brief instances I found the writing admirable. All in all, a worthy selection, especially for anyone interested in political history.
It has been five years since "An Echo in the Bone" was published, and the long awaited Volume 8 is finally imminent (June 2014). Although readers are now five years older, the forthcoming "Written in My Own Heart's Blood" will apparently pick up the story on the same day (well at least one of the same days) "Echo" ended.
I started listening to this series four years ago and listened to them all in sequence (along with the Lord John Grey books--and a lot other books in between). I just recently finished "Echo," so I guess I timed it right. I can't imagine how frustrating it's been for fans of the series who read "Echo" when it came out to have had all those cliffhangers hanging all this time. You've probably re-read the book in anticipation of the new one; it's certainly a good idea to do so.
After three books set claustrophobically in frontier North Carolina and stories centered almost exclusively on Jamie, Claire, Roger, and Brianna, in "Echo" we *finally* get off of Fraser's Ridge--with a vengeance! If almost nothing happened in "Fiery Cross" and the action was slow (and mostly depressing) in "Snow and Ashes," then "An Echo in the Bone" seems determined to make up for it. Not only do characters from previous books (notably Ian, Lord John, and William) now take center stage right along with J,C,R&B, we are suddenly world and time travelers again. The action covers much of the American east coast, has great scenes in Scotland (in TWO story lines, 200 years apart!), and for kicks throws in several scenes in London and France. We meet historical characters, including Benedict Arnold and a naked Ben Franklin. Even Rollo the Wolfhound gets featured actor status.
The mind reels and the plot jumps can be hard to follow, but I enjoyed "An Echo in the Bone." I'm especially grateful for the action-packed pace after the previous two snoozers. I think you do need to have read "The Brotherhood of the Blade" in the Lord John series to fully appreciate "Echo," but that should not be a hardship; in my opinion, "Brotherhood" is, all things considered, Diana Gabaldon's best novel to date. And I'm glad I won't have to wait five years to find out what happened in Philadelphia that day.
Hard on the heels of Naxos releasing "The Grand Sophy" and "Sylvester," two of Georgette Heyer's greatest, comes the equally wonderful "Venetia." All three books were written at the peak of Heyer's career. "Venetia" has a bit more melodrama than "Sophy" or "Sylvester," partly because of the reformed rake with a painful past that is the the hero, Lord Damerel.
All her life Venetia has heard oblique references to her "delicate position," along with veiled warnings that she must be especially protective of her reputation, "so as not to be thought to be...." At which point her well wishers generally trail off and say something like "....but I must say no more on that head," leaving Venetia puzzled, to say the least. The arrival of the charming but brooding Damerel increases these warnings to a fever pitch, for reasons that the reader will probably guess before Venetia solves the mystery.
During her lifetime Georgette Heyer was said to resent the fact that her Regency romances were so much more popular than her mysteries or her historical fiction. I agree her mysteries are underrated (particularly "Envious Casca," which I think is a minor masterpiece that Masterpiece Mystery should dramatize immediately), but, whether she agreed with the assessment or not, her Regencies are in a class by themselves. The best of them -- including Venetia -- stand head and shoulders above the pack. Enjoy!
If you are a huge fan of Michael Sullivan's "Riyria Revelations" (as I am), you may be disappointed by storyline of this book. If you love Hadrian and Royce and Gwen and Arista (as I do), you may be disappointed by the characters in this book. If you are simply a fan of Sullivan's writing (as I am), or if you like thought-provoking social commentary with offbeat sort-of science fiction, you may like this book.
Elements of the book reminded me of "Looking Backward," an 1888 book by Edward Bellamy. It is a change to see a vision of the future that had at least some elements of utopia, rather than the bleak and brutal dystopian futures portrayed in most 21st century novels. But 2,000 years is a long time (trying to go 200 years into the future, our MIT-trained protagonist miscalculates by an order of magnitude), and this future is indeed weird.
Definitely a change of pace for Michael Sullivan, and not something I would have chosen if he hadn't been the author. "Hollow World" lives up to his high standards as a novelist, and I'm not exactly sorry I listened to it, but, unlike the "Riyria" books, it's not something I'd want to listen to a second time.
You should only consider getting this title if you're already a fan of the Black Jewels trilogy ("Daughter of the Blood," "Heir to the Shadows," and "The Queen of Darkness," hereafter referred to as BJT), and even then I wouldn't recommend "The Invisible Ring."
The BJT is a mix of magic, epic fantasy, sadistic evil, adventure, romance, and erotica (both romantic and BDSM). Its world is one of multiple planes (Terreile, Kaelaer, Hayll, and the Twisted Kingdom) and different races (winged humans, humans who live for centuries, regular humans, "black widows," and undead sorta vamps). Jewels are the source of magic, and the darker the jewel the more potent the magic. Women hold the dominant sexual power and evil queens enforce it by forging "rings of obedience" onto the … anatomy … of any powerful Warlord Prince they can get their hands on.
If you're still reading this after the above description, you might enjoy the BJT books, which are unique, intriguing, exciting, romantic, and often erotic. But "The Invisible Ring," a prequel to the BJT, is none of these.
The marvelous, fully developed characters of BJT are absent. Instead we have the callow Jared and a pretty young pre-queen who may, if Jared and his buddies can manage to save her from the hideously evil Red Queen Dorothea, develop into a full-fledged Grey-Jewelled Queen (grey jewels being pretty high-powered items in this world). Dorothea is the only major character from BJT who shows up (well, BJT' s hero Daemon has a cameo, but it's so pale you can overlook it). Dorothea's scenes are truly gruesome--she is one corrupt witch queen!--but mostly the book is just boring and trite, and very unlike the books of the trilogy.
P.S. The review of Invisible Ring by Tango is spot on. I have been meaning to post this "warning" review for a while, and her excellent summation has just beaten me to it!
Archer Mayor's mysteries featuring Joe Gunther are "regionals" depicting life and crime in Brattleboro and other locales of the upper Connecticut River Valley of Vermont, along the Interstate 91 "ski-way." This installment takes Joe south down I-91, into the Western Massachusetts part of the Valley--which happens to be the region where I happily hang out. The action centers on Northampton, the self-proclaimed "Paradise City" of the book's title, which is generally regarded as the fine arts and fine dining center of Western Mass. (Snobs from Boston need not comment on that statement, thank you.)
I enjoyed reading the portrayals of Northampton, Amherst, Greenfield, and other haunts of my stomping grounds. Most of the places described are real--from Coolidge Cafe to the Summit House, from the abandoned Strategic Air Command post hidden inside Mount Tom to Amity Street and Potwine Lane, the accuracy of the locations was fun (at least for a "local" like me). The art and jewelry gallery that is crucial to the story is fictitious, but certain (noncriminal) elements of it were recognizable in real establishments.
Even though the "taste of home" kept me reading, I found the overall story less than compelling. I also found it very hard to follow the characters. We are introduced in rapid succession to Billie, Willie, Mickey, Bobby, Tony, Jimmy, Dan, and Ed, to name a few. One's a victim, some are cops, and the rest are bad guys. We also have Mina, Anna, Donna, Nancy, Sammie, and Lou. It was a relief to meet Li Anming, an artisan "smuggled in" from China and kept as slave labor, re-setting and re-crafting stolen jewelry; her character at least I was able to recognize readily.
I remember reading a couple of the early Gunther books, and that I enjoyed "Borderlines" and "The Skeleton's Knee." But the series never grabbed me, and there are 15 or 16 books in between "Knee" and "Paradise" that I never read; so it's partly my own lack that I didn't know the characters (beyond Joe Gunther himself) who are series regulars. But even discounting the regulars, the rather flimsy plot seemed overburdened with players. It's a fairly short read with some interesting scenes. Not awful, not great.
To me, one of the most best things about the three volumes of "Riyria Revelations" was the seamless way everything came together over the course of the saga and, especially, at the end. There are no bewildering meanderings by pointless characters; the whole enterprise is beautifully conceived and well written (and the narration is also very good). "The Jester" encapsulates all these qualities into a short, neat 1-hour package. Immediately, we are plunged (literally) into the adventure with no idea of what's going on, but over the course of a few pages all becomes clear and winds up in a poignant "wow" moment that's very satisfying.
It probably helps to have a little "Riyria" background -- at least enough to know who Hadrian and Royce and Riyria are -- but in terms of the story "The Jester" stands alone. Well done, Mr. Sullivan!
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