Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg

            I don't often read nonfiction. However, I really enjoy history (except wars) and I love knowing about words - where they came from, how their usage has changed over time - so this book was right up my alley. It describes how the English language went from a local dialect of a few thousand words to the world wide form of communication it is today.

            Admittedly, some of the earlier chapters went over information I was already familiar with. But it was very interesting to read about how the language spread beyond the island of England to become the basis of communication on other continents. Naturally, I found the language's arrival in and progression through the US fascinating. I was unaware of how influential the Lewis and Clark expedition through the Louisiana Purchase was in the increase of American English vocabulary. I liked how the chapter on the American expansion opened:

If you can imagine a language having a life of its own...that language after a certain take-off stage becomes a living entity, like water...the reach of English has been oceanic. It had already by this stage in its history, the middle of the eighteenth century, gone from a splinter dialect of a subdivision of a branch of an Indo-European tongue to the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, the language that sailed in the mouths and minds of zealous and dedicated men and women to plant itself in a new world.

            Obviously, this book is not for everyone. I enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, October 29, 2012

11th Hour by James Patterson and Maxine Peatro

Women's Murder Club #11

Read by January LaVoy

            This installment of the Women's Murder Club has a pregnant Lindsay Boxer faced with a series of bizarre murders. She is called to a scene at a compound built by a man who liked his privacy. The new owners are not there much, but there is a small staff residing at the location. Upon arriving in the garden of the compound, Lindsay is shown two decapitated heads, one old, and one still relatively fresh. They are displayed on the patio surrounded by freshly picked flowers. As if this is not weird enough, further investigation turns up more skulls of varying ages buried on the grounds.

            Suspicion naturally turns first to the owner of the property who years earlier was acquitted of murdering his wife whose body has never been found. Try as she might, Lindsay cannot make a case against him for any of the dead women. In looking farther afield, Lindsay finds an odd and reclusive woman squatting in the servants' quarters at the compound. She does not seem quite sane, and does admit to displaying the heads in the garden. Unfortunately, a case cannot be made against her for the murders. But Lindsay does not give up and eventually discovers her murderer.

            While trying to identify the skulls and solve their murders, Lindsay is having problems at home. An old flame of Joe's calls and leads Lindsay to believe that Joe is having an affair with her. Lindsay, apparently suffering from a bad case of hormones and pregnancy brain, throws him out without letting him tell his side of the story. It turns out she is wrong and she has to deal with her marriage woes while trying to do her, always difficult, job.

            This is pretty typical James Patterson fare, although the squatter in the servants' quarters is particularly odd, and Lindsay's lack of perspective with Joe is a bit out of character. It was a good way to spend some time, and it was nice to catch up with the girls in the Club.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

          John Carter #1

          A Princess of Mars is the first book in a science fiction series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was originally published in 1917. I added this book to my to-be-read list when it was referenced in a novel I was reading. (I don't remember which one off hand.) This was not the first time I had encountered such a reference. One of my favorite authors is Robert Heinlein, and he makes frequent reference to the Barsoom novels -and the Oz books by L Frank Baum- none of which I'd read. So, in order to have a better grasp of the context of more modern novels, I decided to take in some of these classics.

          John Carter is a Civil War veteran who heads West after the war to try his hand at prospecting. He and his business partner are quite successful at it, and soon determine they require better equipment for their mine. His partner takes off one morning to acquire the equipment, and many hours later, John Carter is watching the tiny dot of his pony disappear over the most distant rise he can see.  As he turns to go back to work, he sees several other tiny dots appear and follow his partner. Indians!

          Knowing there is really nothing he can do to help, John Carter gets on his horse and rides frantically after the group. He does eventually catch up, but it is too late. His partner’s arrow riddled body lays in the middle of an Indian encampment, dead. John is filled with grief and fury and rides into the camp, grabs the body and rides away. The Indians give chase, and John eventually finds himself trapped in a small cave. There, something inexplicable happens and he finds himself transported from Arizona to Mars! And, here is where the story really gets started.

          Carter finds himself in a strange landscape with much less gravity than he is accustomed to on Earth. Before long, he encounters a race of savage, large green people. His fighting skills come in handy among them, as well as his “supermartian” strength.  He quickly becomes a chieftain among these people through combat.

          As he is settling into his new life among the green Martians, a group of flying boats appear and are immediately attacked by the green Martians. At this point, Carter discovers there are also red Martians who are much more human-like. One of the flying boats is carrying the princess Dejah Thoris, the most beautiful woman Carter has ever seen.  She is taken prisoner by the green Martians and held while they decide whether to kill her or hold her for ransom.

          Carter helps her escape and has many adventures while returning her to her people. He and Dejah Thoris fall in love, and he becomes a prince among the red Martians when they marry.

          After ten years on Mars, at atmospheric tragedy occurs, killing most, if not all, the population.  Carter breathes his last on Mars, and awakes in the cave in Arizona.

          This was a fun book to read. The language and technological concepts were old-fashioned, but not distractingly so. Apparently, the other ten books in the series detail John Carters further exploits during the ten years he remains on Mars.  I think I’ll add them to the T-B-R list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Celebrity In Death by JD Robb

    In Death #34

   I loved this book! As you may already know, Nora Roberts (who writes as JD Robb) is my favorite author. I have read every book in this series, and enjoyed them all. I like them so well I own most of them, starting with an ancient paperback copy of Naked In Death, through a series of hard backed editions to the most recent releases in digital format.

   In Celebrity In Death a movie is being made about the Icove case, one of the murders Eve Dallas and her partner Delia Peabody solved (see Origin In Death). Dallas and Peabody are invited to a gathering of several of the principal performers and their real life counterparts. after dining and enjoying a gag reel from the upcoming film, a death is discovered. The actress portraying Peabody is found dead in the lap pool.

   Eve and Peabody set out to determine who done it in this version of a locked room mystery. Everyone at the party was in the screening room watching the gag reel - or were they?

   Before long, a second murder has occurred. This time it is a private investigator that had been hired by the dead actress shortly before her demise. Eve doesn't believe in coincidence, and assumes the two deaths are connected.

   With the help of her expert consultant, civilian - Roark, her husband - Eve follows the money and power to the only possible conclusion.

   With the death of one of Hollywood's rising stars and the arrest of one of its movers and shakers, Eve and Peabody may well find themselves the subject of another blockbuster film!

   I highly recommend this book, but I also recommend reading some of the earlier ones as well. The love story between Eve and Roark over the course of the series is lovely. It's wonderful to watch two independent people strive to make a relationship. Both of them are strong and temperamental, but have their weaknesses and demons. Seeing them give and take and compromise and draw lines in the sand of their convictions makes them feel real. And the murder mysteries are great!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

          I just finished Gone Girl. And, I've got to say, Wow! What an imagination! As a reader, I am regularly impressed by the imaginative powers of authors. But I am awe struck by Ms. Flynn's - very complex, very devious, positively enthralling.

          Every marriage has its ups and downs. Every spouse gets angry with their partner. Some spouses act on their angry feelings. Nick and Amy Dunne take this to unprecedented levels. They make it an art form.

          Amy Dunne disappears on the afternoon of her and Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary. The front door is standing open when Nick comes home and there are signs of a struggle in the house. Naturally, the police look at the husband first. They always do. Nick’s story does not quite add up and some of the evidence looks staged. And, once the police home in on Nick, they cease to look anywhere else.  Weeks pass without Amy’s body being found. I’d love to tell you more, but do not want to give any of the good stuff away. 
           The story is told from both Amy’s and Nick’s points of view. The voices alternate each chapter.  We see how the two of them met and fell in love. We are given an insider’s view of how they married and each fell out of love. We see how each of them reacted to the crumbling of the marriage.  And we see how all those puzzle pieces fitted together culminate in the events of the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary.

          This is the story of a marriage between two of the sickest, most twisted people imaginable. I loved it. I’m having a tough time describing the story without any spoilers.  It is too good to give away any of the juicy details.  You have simply GOT to read it for yourself. I insist!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Come Home by Lisa Scottoline

          I struggled with this book. It had some very interesting premises and I think it could have been very good. However the main character, who should have been smart and sensible -she is a pediatrician - keeps doing things that are just stupid. I spent large portions of this book wanting to shout "Stop that, you silly wench! What are you thinking??"

          Dr. Jill Farrow finds out her ex-husband has died when one of her former step daughters arrives on her doorstep drunk and devastated. The youngster is certain here father was murdered despite his death having been declared an accident by both the homicide cops and the medical examiner. And she wants Jill to help her find out who did it.

          Rather than doing the sensible thing for the young woman with whom she has had no contact in several years, and getting her to a counselor, Jill begins looking into her ex husband 's life. She snoops into his laptop, after being asked not to by both the executor of the dead man's estate as well as her fiancĂ©. Jill starts to realize there are things about her ex that just do not add up. And she begins to investigate them - once again after being asked repeatedly not to. She begins to believe she is being followed. And her step daughter suddenly disappears without a trace.

          As it turns out, the step daughter was correct- daddy was murdered. And Jill is also nearly killed trying to prove it.

          Now, granted, a doctor has to be confident that their decisions are for the long term best interests of their patients. And, granted, it is important for doctors to trust their guts and push for the responses they need from those around them. However, it is just silly to risk life and limb over a guy who betrayed and left you, especially when you have a young daughter of your own at home and a relationship with a good man at risk. I couldn't help but think that Jill was being irresponsible and inflexible. I didn't like her or the way she thought. As a result I didn't like this book very much.

          If you are going to write realistic fiction you shouldn't test the bounds of my ability to suspend disbelief. I find it irritating, not entertaining.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis

 Audio book Read by January LaVoy

          The next time I get irritated with my husband, I'll try to remember the husbands in this book. They'd make any ordinary jerk look like a prince.

          Four women decide to have a girls’ weekend in Monte Carlo. Right away you know these are not ordinary housewives. They are the wives of rich and powerful men. While partying at th
e casino, they meet a group of men and decide to make it a more private party on one guy’s yacht. Adulterous sex ensues, and in various states of inebriated exhaustion, everyone on the yacht sleeps.

          They are rudely awakened by a SWAT team early the next morning, and are marched off to police headquarters where they are interrogated as terrorists. Each of the women is shocked and horrified to discover that two of the men they had been with had been murdered in the early morning hours. They are even more shocked to find that the four of them are the prime suspects.

          After being vilely treated by the police and an alleged confession coerced out of one of the wives, they are all arrested and charged with the murders, either as perpetrators or accessories. They are sent to prison in France to await trial.

          Months later, they go to court. As witnesses are called, it becomes apparent that someone is actively working against them. Repeatedly, the women listen as people who could exonerate them perjure themselves in court. It quickly becomes apparent that the wives are going to be convicted and spend the rest of their lives in a French prison for something they didn’t do.

          They are pressured to confess, and are offered vastly lighter sentences if all four of them do. But one of them refuses. She will not confess to a crime she did not commit and knows her friends did not commit either. She knows they are all innocent of murder and is determined to prove it. But, all four go to prison, never to see their homes or families again.
The holdout bides her time, learning to tolerate the nasty conditions in the prison. She refuses to break down, even under torture, refusing to confess to the murders she and her friends have been convicted of. And, she eventually escapes from prison and finds the proof she needs to exonerate herself and her fellow wives.

          During the entire ordeal, the husbands are distant, unhelpful and actively working to procure the confessions the French police so desperately want. They may believe their wives deserve to be punished for their infidelity, but to allow them to be sent to a foreign prison for life seems a little extreme to me.

          This was a fast-paced thriller with lots of interesting twists. It is a very typical James Patterson offering. This won’t go down in history as the great American novel, by any stretch of the imagination, but was a pretty entertaining read.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kill Shot by Vince Flynn

          Mitch Rapp #2

          Kill Shot is not my usual kind of book – spies, assassins and terrorists are not really my thing. This is not a book I would read again, not because there is anything wrong with it; it is just not to my taste.

          Kill Shot is well written and fast paced. The main characters are easy to differentiate and remember. My only issue is that one guy’s first name is Stan and another’s last is Stanfield.  And, as is normal with this kind of book, characters are referred to by first and last names interchangeably. This took me a couple of chapters to get lined up correctly in my head.

          There was a little too much blood and gore for my taste and too little remorse for the taking of life – even scum sucking terrorist life should not be taken emotionlessly. However, the “good guy” (AKA Mitch Rapp, CIA assassin) was an efficient killer. The bad guys were all trigger happy idiots, but that did make it easy to tell the good from the bad.

          The story centers on Mitch Rapp, a CIA operative based in Paris. He has been given a list of targets he is supposed to kill one after another. This story gets started as Mitch enters a Paris hotel room with the intention of doing away with a Libyan official.  Rapp is met by a hit squad of Islamic terrorists spraying the room with bullets. Rapp manages to complete his assigned kill then kills four of the five member hit squad. He escapes the hotel with one minor bullet wound which he dresses himself squatting under a stone bridge support.

          The French police are left with a mess and a mystery created when the French version of the CIA comes in to tamper with the evidence. Rapp walks away from the incident convinced there is leak within the CIA and he has been compromised.

          The rest of the story involves bringing Mitch in after the debacle, running down the source of the leak at the CIA and finally torturing and killing Mitch’s nemesis within the agency.

          This is most definitely a “boy book” and I am not a boy.  However, it is well written enough that I won’t mind reading others in the series as they come along. And, I’m definitely recommending this one to my husband.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Catch Me by Lisa Gardner

          D.D. Warren #6

          This was a good book – not great, but a fine way to spend a few hours.

          Detective D.D. Warren of the Boston Police Department is a homicide cop who finds herself with two series of murders to solve simultaneously. The first is the executions of several pedophiles.  While at the scene of the first death she is called to, D.D. spots someone moving suspiciously at the edge of the crowd outside the building. D.D. runs this character down to find she is Charlie Grant. Charlie’s murder hasn’t happened yet, but she assures D.D. it will happen in a few days. She claims to be at the scene to check out D.D. since she’s heard D.D. is the best. Charlie wants D.D. to handle the investigation of her murder once it happens.

          This introduces the second series of murders D.D. must solve. Charlie’s two best friends have been killed. The first on January 21st two years prior; the second was murdered on January 21st of the previous year. It is now mid January, and Charlie is counting down the days and hours till the twenty-first and preparing herself mentally and physically to fight her killer to the end.

          D.D. is trying to balance her job as a murder cop with her job as mother to her ten week old son.  And, as if she does not have enough on her plate, her parents are coming to visit! D.D. is frazzled and sleep deprived as she juggles job and family.  It makes her wonder if she’s losing it when aspects of the two cases seem to relate to each other.

          The story twists and turns as D.D. tries to solve the murders of the pedophiles while preventing Charlie’s demise by solving the murders of her two friends. Little does she know that many of the answers to both puzzles are lurking within her own Boston PD.

          On the evening of January 21st, D.D. realizes two things nearly simultaneously: she knows who has been killing the pedophiles, and Charlie has disappeared. As D.D. races to find Charlie before the killer can finish her off, Charlie is discovering that all her preparations for facing and defeating her murderer have been for naught. Unless a miracle happens, she is going to die, and several others may die along with her.

          But D.D. arrives in the nick of time.

          I can recommend this one as an entertaining read. While I won’t go back to read the first five books in the series, I will gladly read the others as they come along.



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae by Stephanie Laurens

          The Cynster Sisters Trilogy #3

          This is the third book of a trilogy of which I have not read the first two. While I found this a fairly fun book to read, there were some gaps in the story which may not have existed for me if I’d read the others. In particular, there was a bad guy who appears mysteriously very near the end. The part he plays seems largely unnecessary, and his motives are not explained. But could be I’d have known what was going on with him if I’d started this trilogy by reading the first book.

          The Earl of Glencrae seems like a good guy.  Of course, he’s a big handsome Scot – oh, and did I mention wealthy? – so what’s not to like here.  Angelica Cynster is my favorite kind of heroine. She is smart and feisty. She can take care of herself, and once she has committed herself to a plan, she follows it through, even if it means flouting convention. (It occurs to me, that if as many people flouted the conventions of the ton as happens in romance novels, the ton would have had a totally different set of conventions.)

          Angelica spots Dominic’s reflection in the window at a party and knows immediately that he is her hero, the man she is destined to spend the rest of her life with.  She maneuvers an introduction to him, and then requests a stroll in the garden, unknowingly setting herself up for her own kidnapping. This distresses her somewhat, but does not shake her faith that Dominic is her man.  Okay, that’s corny and goofy, but was very entertaining to read.

          As it turns out, Dominic is being blackmailed into kidnapping one of the Cynster sisters.  He’s tried to kidnap both of Angelica’s sisters in previous books, and Angelica is his last chance. She convinces Dominic to explain his reasoning for the kidnappings.  Once she finds out it is what he need to do to save his clan, she falls in with his plans immediately.

          The two of them, with their entourage of servants, set out to avoid her family, who will certainly want to rescue her. They must also convince Dominic’s mother that Angelica is being taken against her will, thus ensuring the social ruin of Angelica’s mother, her girlhood rival. Once that is accomplished, Mom will turn over the treasure that was promised to the bankers that hold title to all the clan lands and businesses.

          Angelica and Dominic succeed smashingly. And apparently live happily ever after. 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Dark Desire by Christine Feehan

          Dark #2

          I listened to this story immediately after listening to Dark Prince, the first book in the Dark series. While this one had a reader whose voice I much preferred hearing, I was once again not impressed with the audio book experience of this story. The reader had some unusual pronunciations for words which I found distracting.  Also I could regularly hear background noise on the recording – pages being turned, random sounds from around the reader. I don’t know what’s up with the recordings of Feehan’s books, but I think I’ll be sticking to printed versions from now on.

          This book started with the descriptions of the torture of a Carpathian male, and his subsequent burial alive. Nasty stuff. Naturally, being Carpathian, burying him in his native soil did not kill him, just kept him so weak he could not escape the confines of his prison. He remains there cut off from both sensory and extrasensory perception for seven long years, becoming increasing mad as time passes. 

          Jacque slowly builds his strength, first by consuming the blood of insects, and then as he creates and enlarges a hole in the box in which he is buried, larger creatures. At some point he begins to be able to reach another person telepathically, Dr. Shea O’Halloran.  At first he can only hear her thoughts but as his strength builds, his ability to make contact with her also increases. At some point he realizes she is his life mate, and in his unreasoning state assumes she has abandoned him to his hideous fate.  He decides to retaliate in the only way he can – by causing her mental anguish during her dreams.

          Over the course of time, Jacque increases his influence on Shea and guides her decision making till she is living and doing medical research in the Carpathian Mountains. While out walking one day she is drawn to a location, feels compelled to open a trap door in the earth and finds the pine box containing Jacque.  At first she assumes he is dead, but he quickly and violently destroys that idea. Shea removes him from the hole in the ground, takes him back to her place and spends many hours trying to repair the damage done by the torturers.

          Once the worst of the physical damage is dealt with, Shea and Jacque must work their way through the mental damage. And, while they are doing so, another Carpathian male is abducted and tortured. The best clues the Carpathians have are locked in the broken mind of Jacque. With Shea’s help and love, Jacque finds the strength to remember who the betrayer is, and helps to destroy him and rescue his friend.

          This book will never go down in history as the best ever written, and the technical issues with the audio aspect are a shame.  But it was entertaining – that being my main criterion for a “good” book. I’ll happily read – not listen to - the next book in the series, Dark Gold.