Book Review: The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

The Blurb:

Seven years after a financial crisis nearly toppled America, traders chafe at government regulations, racial tensions are rising, and corrupt financiers make back-door deals with politicians… 1799 was a hell of a year.

Thanks to Alexander Hamilton, America recovered from the financial panic of 1792, but the young country is still finding its way. When a young lawyer returns to prove his father’s innocence, he exposes a massive financial fraud that the perpetrators are determined to keep secret at any cost. And reaching the highest levels, the looming crisis could topple the nation.

This is an incredibly well researched book. Hirsch has delved deeply into 18th century New York, and he brings all the details–the sights, smells, and people, to vivid life in this richly textured mystery story.

Unfortunately, while he has a vivid eye for detail, the pacing of the story seems unequal to Hirsch’s vision. Events string along one after the other, slowly moving the plot along, some even seeming to serve little purpose. For me, the slow-moving and meandering plot overshadowed the carefully crafted setting.

Hirsch is a journalist, and has a journalist’s eye for detail and truth. Fiction is a whole different animal, and talent with non-fiction subjects does not automatically translate to prowess with fictional ones. That being said, Hirsch is clearly a talented writer, and this story marks his first foray into writing fiction. Future endeavors may even out the pacing of his plots, and tighten up wandering storylines. If so, he will likely be a talent to watch.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Haunted Heart of America by Logan Corelli

The Haunted Heart of America: In-Depth Investigations of the Villisca Ax Murder House, Myrtles Plantation & Other Frightful Sites by Logan Corelli

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? A tale of phantom footsteps, flickering lights, and unexpected icy drafts. So much the better when huddled under the blankets on a dark winter’s night. I’d be willing to lay down money that even the most scientific and logical among us experience a pleasurable frisson while reading about these purportedly true hauntings. And so I opened The Haunted Heart of America with anticipation, especially as the book details the author’s own experiences in famous (or infamous) haunted locations across the country.

Unfortunately, I found the book to be disappointing. While Corelli brings us to well known sites like the Myrtles Plantation and Waverly Sanatorium (famous from any number of ghost hunter television shows), he doesnt really bring anything new to the story. Each chapter details his experiences at a different haunted location, and each is written in the style of a high school lab report. The chapters are ungainly and awkwardly written, with little attention paid to telling Corelli’s story in a compelling manner. The use of lab report-style chapters would be more appropriate if the techniques and approach to the subject matter was handled in a more scientific way, but Corelli and his colleagues seem to be without defined purpose or set methodology, and rather wander about haunted locations, using instrumentation and personal observation at whim.

I’ll say again, I don’t read books such as these for their scientific merits, by rather for their entertainment value. Unfortunately, Haunted Heart of America fails to deliver on both counts.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

Kaine Prescott has traveled to the ends of the earth (also known as rural Wisconsin) to try to put the suspicious death of her husband behind her. Unable to convince anyone–including the police–that his death was anything other than a tragic accident, Kaine throws her energy into rehabbing the ancient and rundown Foster Hill house, long abandoned and rumored to be haunted. Meanwhile, in 1906, a young woman named Ivy finds the body of a young woman hidden in the hollow tree at Foster Hill. Obsessed with uncovering the girl’s identity, Ivy finds herself in greater and greater danger the more she learns.

This book sounded like such fun. I don’t mind a dual narrative when done well, and I settled myself in for an entertaining haunted house read. Unfortunately, the book fiys more closely into the Christian romance category than anything resembling horror or suspense. I enjoyed the historical half of the narrative for the most part, but I found modern-day Kaine hard to like or care about (aside from her dog).

In the end, this book just wasn’t for me. I’m not a fan of romance most of the time, and I just … don’t really enjoy majorly religious protagonists. I wish the book had billed itself less along haunted house lines and had a blurb that more closely described the plot.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Boneseeker by Brynn Chapman

Boneseeker by Brynn Chapman 

So Arabella Holmes (daughter of Sherlock) and Henry Watson (son of John) practice forensic anthropology at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. How could I resist?! I love any halfway decent Sherlock story, the Mütter Museum is frankly fascinating, and forensic anthropology is (as the kids say) my jam.  

Now, I didn’t go into this expecting a literary masterpiece. I wanted nothing more than a good time. Unfortunately, the book was simply not for me. The trouble begins when we find out that our leading lady is being targeted by Darwinists for seeking out the remains of a nephilim (Angel offspring, watch the Prophecy movies). There have certainly been plenty of Holmes-supernatural crossovers, but the character (even when dealing with offspring) carries a certain expectation of a scientific approach. Coming in with Holmes’ daughter talking about Angel skeletons is a bit off-putting.

And then, we enter into the angst-ridden “I love him/her but we can never be together” portion of YA fiction almost immediately. While I like angsty romance in single serving portions, cracking that egg open within the first twenty pages is simply more teen angst than I can handle.

So, this book is likely aimed at an audience younger than me. At my advanced age, some of the idiosyncrasites of the YA genre just don’t appeal as much as previously. 

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas


These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Evelyn is bored. Bored with dresses and balls, bored with her mother’s constant matchmaking schemes, bored with the petty gentlemen she is forced to be pleasant to.

And so begins just about every Victorian-era book, no matter the genre. This one does branch out a bit more: Evelyn’s sister Rose disappears, and her trail follows a mysterious (and huge) Frenchman into London. With her parents concerned more for their reputation than Rose’s safety, Evelyn runs off to find Rose herself. Enlisting the help of dashing Mr. Kent, Evelyn is also forced to work with the infuriating Mr. Braddock, who has a game changing revelation for her: she and her sister may have special powers.

I’m not one of those people who automatically dismiss YA books as beneath my notice. There’s some fantastic work out there and some great stories being told. However, this is one of those genres where it is all too easy to fall into a formulaic trap. Like many recent psychological thrillers have been diminished by trying too hard to be the next Gone Girl, a lot of YA (especially the fantasy genre, which tends to be one of my favorites) suffers by trying to be the next Twilight or Hunger Games. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A young, headstrong girl is dissatisfied with her life, but unsure what she wants to do to improve it. After a calamitous event, she is forced to engage a wider, crueler world at its own level, discovering herself in the process. Oh, and you naturally need two potential romantic interests for her, one is “safe,” and has been around forever, the other someone she will never ever like, someone just so infuriating. . .

It sometimes seems like the same song set to different music. That’s not to say that books that follow the formula are all bad, but you need great characters, strong writing, and something special to set your story apart. Unfortunately, These Vicious Masks falls a bit short. Evelyn is intelligent and willing to defy convention if she can help others, but never becomes a truly sympathetic character. The love triangle is of the dimensions expected from the genre, and doesn’t deviate from the pattern.

Still, YA fantasy enthusiasts may want to give the book a go. I’ve always said that I am picky about the genre.

An audio book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Law and Vengeance by Mike Papantonio

Law and vengeance

Law and Vengeance by Mike Panantonio

An explosive case against a weapons manufacturer sets the law firm of Bergman & Deketomis, and young lawyer Gina Romano, in the sights of some truly awful people. Gina’s mentor and friend, Angus Moore, is killed under suspicious circumstances while investigating a whistle-blower’s claims that weapons manufacturer Arbalest’s holographic gun sight, the “Sight-Clops,” is responsible for a number of preventable deaths. Gina vows vengeance for her murdered friend, and finds herself facing down ruthless businessmen, crooked cops, assassins, and gun lobbyists.

I decided the plot of the book sounded interesting, and certainly seemed relevant in these times. I also looked forward to a legal thriller whose political views seemed more in line with my own (no Ring of Fire– or Target Omega-style dick waving here). But I just  . . . couldn’t get into it. I don’t know, I’ve enjoyed legal thrillers in the past, but this one just wasn’t for me. The pace of the book is quick, and I always love having a woman as the protagonist, but the dialogue seemed a bit stilted and unnatural. The character interactions didn’t flow like conversations, but instead each line bounced off the others with little subtext and a lot of exposition. After a while, the choppy flow of the dialogue started to interfere with my reading of the interesting story, and I simply had to stop.

Still, fans of legal thrillers may want to give this one a try, as I’m always willing to admit when something just wasn’t for me, but may well appeal to someone else.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Book Review: White Bodies by Jane Robins

White Bodies by Jane Robins

Callie and Tilda are twins, though they couldn’t be more different. Tilda is beautiful, outgoing, and a successful actress. Callie is quiet and introverted, and worships the ground her sister walks on. When Tilda becomes involved with successful stockbroker Felix, Callie is at first happy that her sister has found someone so perfect. But after Tilda starts behaving oddly, and displaying mysterious bruises, Callie begins to worry that Felix is dangerous. Getting drawn into an internet site for abused women, Callie becomes more and more obsessed with revealing the truth about Felix. But as the foundations of Callie’s concern begin to shift and crumble, can her perceptions be trusted?

I am now in full-fledged psychological thriller burnout. I have to admit that I feel a bit more justified in my feelings on the subject after reading Emily Martin’s article on Bookriot entitled “Why We Should Stop Searching for the Next Gone Girl” (warning: spoilers for Gone Girls, The Couple Next Door, and The Girl on the Train). Martin makes the point that in the rush to achieve to runaway success Gillian Flynn did with Gone Girl, folks have been cranking out similar stories, each trying on their own brand of mental illness to up the suspense. However, as much as Amy Dunne was a psychopathic bitch, her flaws and intelligence made her a complex and compelling (if horrible) character. As Emily Martin points out in her article, Flynn was able to give us a leading female character who was pretty much unlikeable in every way.

The inevitable consequence of Flynn’s success, according to Martin

. . . is a new and equally problematic female character archetype – the unwieldy off-the-rails woman. This woman is not any more complicated than the “strong female character.” Her craziness is not a personality, and her bouts of insanity that not even she can control allow for absolutely any twist possible that the writer wants to imagine.

And with this, I can finally put my finger on what has been bugging me about this genre recently. None of the recent protagonists of these books have been more complex than their mental illness. And while our current protagonist, Callie, is probably the weirdest I’ve seen yet, simply being crazy does not a compelling character make.

The books also by necessity rely heavily on inevitable plot twist(s), and this one is no exception. The problem is, that while reading these books (much like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie) we are looking into every crevice and casually uttered word for said twist. With that amount of scrutiny, any surprises the plot might hold are going to be guessed long before the climax; if not from the evidence at hand, then simply by trying to think of ways to make the ending more shocking.

I apologize that this review is less about White Bodies specifically and more about the genre as a whole, but the field is crowded at the moment, and it takes a truly remarkable talent to separate oneself from the pack. White Bodies, unfortunately, does not do this. Callie is simply one more protagonist who’s mental illness is used to facilitate contortions of the plot.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

virgin of the wind rose.jpg

The Virgin of the Wind Rose: A Christopher Columbus Mystery-Thriller by Glen Craney

While investigating the death of her fiance in Ethiopia, State Department newbie Jacqueline “Jac” Quartermane stumbles upon a mysterious word puzzle in an underground church in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Determined to solve the puzzle, she finds herself thrown into an ancient Christian mystery. Her investigations spark a wide ranging race to resurrect the Temple of Solomon. Running parallel to this, we travel back to 1452, where a Portuguese secret society seeks to avert the Spanish crown’s designs to bring about judgement day.

If you’re thinking that this sounds very like The Da Vinci Code, you’re not alone. The promise of an interesting mystery tied to a historical thriller sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the main character, Jacqueline Quartermane, is a literalist, born-again Christian. Her mentor is a megachurch pastor with most of the GOP in his pocket. Forgive me for saying this, but I find the idea of cheering for someone like Jac to be repellent. The historical portions of the plot were interesting, although the time jumps did get confusing at times. It was the modern-day portions, with Jac at the helm, that ultimately turned me off this book. Perhaps I’m letting my personal feelings have too much sway, but especially in this day and age I find I have no patience for the religious set. If this book had been more secular, like The Da Vinci Code, it would have been much more palatable for me.

So, this book was entirely not to my tastes. For those who don’t mind the overly-religious bits, you may still enjoy it. One person’s tastes are not the be-all and end-all (which is the whole point of this blog). But for myself, I had to say no.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Visionary Mayan Queen by Leonide Martin

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The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque by Leonide Martin

This is a historical fiction novel about Yohl Ik’nal, a Maya queen who ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583CE. The book is the first in a trilogy detailing the early years of Yohl Ik’nal and her reign.

I didn’t finish the book. I had my doubts when it began with Yohl Ik’nal meditating in the jungle, then abruptly mind traveling to speak with a young (Scottish? Scandinavian?) girl who also visited the “realm of faeries.” While I’m not opposed to fantasy, I generally expect historical fictions to trend more towards history than outright fiction.

I also found the dialogue to be stilted and lacking in subtlety. Characters simply state their feelings to one another, or allow the omniscient narrator to tell us exactly what so-and-so was thinking. While Maya culture is formal and regimented, I feel there are better ways to demonstrate this than through awkward dialogue. Along these lines, Martin also gives the reader explanations and translations for various aspects of Maya life, often in parentheses within the paragraph. While this isn’t entirely a bid idea, this approach is more appropriate for an academic work; within a fictional setting the effect is jarring and tend to take the reader out of the story.

Leonide Martin is a scholar of Maya history, and there is no debating her knowledge. However, her strengths do not seem to lie in the fictional realm. A less fictional, more historical/anthropological work might be better suited to showcase her attention to detail and intimate knowledge of  the subject matter. Something along the lines of The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney, which stays mostly within the verifiable history but adds in conjecture by the author would have worked well here.

In all, I feel like the fictional aspects of this book are not as engaging as they could be, and the historical aspects are not well integrated with the fictional portions of the book. Yohl Ik’nal is a fascinating figure, and one certainly deserving of wider attention. Maya history enthusiasts may still want to investigate this book, but this may not be the best for the more casual reader.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Visionary Mayan Queen is currently available for purchase.

 

The Curse of the Bridal Chamber

The Curse of the Bridal Chamber

The Curse of the Bridal Chamber By Hunter Murphy

2 out of 5 Stars

I received an advance ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book seemed like it would be a lot of fun. Murder. At a mermaid convention. In the swamps of Florida. A pair of kooky old women as amateur detectives. This had all the makings of a great summer read, something along the lines of a Dave Barry or Carl Hiassen novel.

I tried. I really did, but I couldn’t finish the book. The mermaid convention is just beginning, the old ladies are appropriately saucy, and the dead body shows up within a few chapters. But the way most of the characters interact is so overblown and far from believable, it was hard to read. It was a bit like watching one of those day time reality shows, a Jerry Springer or some such. Most of the characters behavior seems overblown and overly confrontational. And two of the leads, Imogene’s son Billy and his partner, Jackson (who, I presume are not meant to be suspects in this case, as we follow them and the old women from the start of the book), make several choices after the discovery of the body so strange as to defy belief.

I hate not finishing a book, but sometimes it’s for the best.