Monday, August 31, 2015

book review: City of Echoes by Robert Ellis

The backstory: Robert Ellis is one of my favorite mystery writers. His Lena Gamble series (City of Fire, The Lost Witness, and Murder Season) is extraordinarily good and criminally underappreciated. I've also enjoyed his earlier stand-alone novels Access to Power and The Murder Room (read before this blog, which means a long time ago.)

The basics: City of Echoes is the first in a new series featuring Los Angeles police detective Matt Jones, who catches a big case on his first night as a homicide detective.

My thoughts: Sometimes I have a hard time reviewing mysteries because so many things are not as they seem that by the end, I struggle to remember where I entered the story as a reader. City of Echoes is one of those mysteries. I read it while my in-laws were visiting (for the nomadbaby's first birthday), and I promptly asked my mother-in-law to read it. I'd given her copies of Ellis's earlier novels for holidays over the years, and she was excited to see he had a new one. Her husband read it next. In the span of two days, three of us read it (Mr. Nomadreader is behind the times), and we had an excellent discussion about it. It's rare that mysteries end with me still wanting to talk about things. To help me resist giving away any of this novel's delightful, surprising and horrific twists, just read it.

If you read this blog last year, you know that I read all 27 of Michael Connelly's novels last year. I was curious to see how Ellis would stack up, as they both heavily feature corruption in the LAPD and have similar writing styles filled with  twists. Ellis is every bit as good as I remembered. If you've read and enjoyed Connelly, please start reading Ellis. His backlist isn't as extensive, but it's just as good, and City of Echoes is the start of something great with Matt Jones.

Favorite passage: "Two eyewitnesses who had seen everything but, like most eyewitnesses, understood nothing, in spite of their seats in the front row."

The verdict: City of Echoes is a stunningly good police procedural. Jones is a dynamic character, but the mystery and frequent shocking twists take center stage here. If you want a compelling mystery that will keep you guessing, be nearly impossible to put down, and have you eagerly awaiting the next book after the last page has turned, then pick up City of Echoes.

Rating: 5 out of 5 
Length: 360 pages
Publication date: September 1, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy City of Echoes from Amazon (Kindle edition--only $4.99!)

Want more? Visit Robert Ellis's website, like him on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

book review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

The backstory: A Pattern of Lies is the seventh mystery featuring World War I nurse Bess Crawford. My reviews of the first six: A Duty to the Dead, An Impartial Witness, A Bitter Truth, An Unmarked Grave, A Question of Honor, and An Unwilling Accomplice.

The basics: The action in A Pattern of Lies centers on the small Kent village of Cranbourne, where a gun powder mill exploded two years ago. More than one hundred men died in the explosion. The truth, never certain, has yielded to the titular patterns of lies and accusations in a town still reeling from tragedy, all are looking for someone to blame, as Bess tries to figure out the truth.

My thoughts: A Pattern of Lies is darker and presents dangerous situations (aside from the war itself) than most books in this series. It's set in 1918, and as readers know, World War I is nearly over. I'm quite curious to see where the series goes beyond the war. But in A Pattern of Lies, the War remains an increasing source of pain and despair.

I liked A Pattern of Lies, but I didn't love it. Bess remains a fascinating, dynamic character, and I enjoyed the time I spent with her. I enjoyed the combination of time spent on the front and off. I enjoyed the insights into life and manners of the time. I found the mystery itself to drag at times, and when it ramped up at the end, I found it interesting, but the resolution wasn't nearly as interesting as the cultural commentary that preceded it. I was struck by the consistency of human nature one hundred years ago and today.

I'm continuously intrigued by the cast of recurring characters, and A Pattern of Lies was so focused on the Ashtons that the other characters had very minor roles. I hope to seem more of London, Somerset and, of course, Simon, in the next book. As a World War I novel, A Pattern of Lies succeeds, but I wanted more of Bess's world and less of the Ashtons' world.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: August 18, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Pattern of Lies from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Charles Todd's website and like them on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Friday, August 14, 2015

book review: Doodle Diary of a New Mom by Lucy Scott

The basics: As the title indicates, Doodle Diary of a New Mom is a book of single-pane comics about the first year of motherhood.

My thoughts: Hawthorne turned one yesterday(!) I picked this book up at the library awhile ago after hearing about, and while I don't have a lot of things to say, I do have a few. This book wasn't quite what I expected, but that isn't the book's fault. I expected it to be more of a memoir than it was. In hindsight, I don't know why.

This book is a ridiculously quick read. I read it from cover to cover in about half an hour. Each page is a single illustration with a caption. Some are hilarious. Some are almost tragic. Some aligned with my experience so perfectly I want to frame them. Some were so different from I experience I marveled at how different motherhood is for everyone.

The verdict: Doodle Diary of a New Mom is an entertaining collection of comics. I would have enjoyed more exposition and reflection, but I think new moms struggling to find any time to read or do anything for themselves would enjoy this quick read.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 128 pages
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Doodle Diary of a New Mom from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Lucy Scott's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

book review: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg

The basics: Bill Clegg was a successful literary agent who spiraled downward with a devastating crack addiction. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man is a glimpse into what crack addiction looks like for a privileged white man in New York City.

My thoughts: I have an odd fascination with drug memoirs. I appreciate them for providing a window into a world I don't want to visit in real life, but I'm critical of them for attempting to recall facts and events that may not be clearly remembered. In Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, Bill Clegg intertwines two stories: his childhood and his crack addiction. He writes about his childhood in the third person, which I found awkward. While I came to understand the importance these childhood scenes played in his life, they were my least favorite part of the book.

The first half (approximately) is sensationalist reading. Clegg still has a leg in his normal life, even as he seems to be slipping into the phase of only caring about crack. My mind raced with questions as I read, "how did it start?" I was getting the beginning and the start of the end, but I longed for the middle. It did come eventually, and I found it anticlimactic. The revelation didn't feel like a revelation, which could have been an interesting opportunity to dig deeper.

Favorite passage:  "She reads. She is always reading. She asks him what he thinks about the books they read for school...He devours them and worries about the words he doesn’t understand and loves them because she does and often sobs at their endings, because for a while he is away, out of time, somewhere he can’t remember himself, and it is a shock, always a sad shock, to come back. She talks about these books, and each time, with each book, she sees more and better and has words that dazzle him to transcribe what she sees."

The verdict: While I enjoyed parts of this memoir immensely and found other parts fascinating, I enjoyed it less as the book went on. It started to feel repetitive, and the lack of chronology and dates made the narrative feel muddled. In a sense, this experience mirrors Clegg's experience as time disappeared and life became muddled. For having some brilliant passages, I wanted a lot more of Clegg reflecting rather than just chronicling.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 237 pages
Publication date: June 7, 2010
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

book review: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The backstory: Lila is the third novel in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead trilogy. I did not like Gilead (my review), which won the Pulitzer Prize. So far, Lila has won the National Book Critics Circle award, been shortlisted for the National Book Award, longlisted for the Booker Prize, and named a New York Times Notable book.

The basics: Lila is the story of Ames's wife Lila, from her troubled girlhood to her unlikely marriage to the much older pastor. Readers will find the characters and many of the events familiar.

*spoiler* unpopular opinion ahead!

My thoughts: Despite not liking Gilead, I was somewhat excited to read Lila. One of the biggest issues I took with Gilead was the believability of the marriage of Lila and Ames. I hoped seeing things from Lila's perspective would even make me appreciate Gilead more.

Near the end of this novel there is what I presume is intended to be a poignant religious scene, yet I rolled my eyes. The story of Lila should be something I enjoy. If you told me about it, I would be enchanted, yet Robinson's writing dulls the intrigue of her life, and Lila's own interior monologue mostly made me sad rather than helped me understand her motivations.

Favorite passage:  "He looked as if he’d had his share of loneliness, and that was all right. It was one thing she understood about him. She liked his voice. She liked the way he stood next to her as if there was a pleasure for him in it."

The verdict: I found Lila to be frustrating and dull. As in Gilead, there were some nice passages, but I continue to not be wowed by Robinson's fiction prose the way everyone else is. She clearly has the accolades for both books, so I take full responsibility and admit she is an author whose fiction is not a good fit for me. While I liked Lila moderately more than Gilead because Lila is far more interesting than Ames, I've decided I probably won't be picking up more of Robinson's fiction. But if you liked Gilead, then you'll likely love Lila.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Length: 273 pages
Publication date: October 7, 2014 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Lila from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Like Marilynne Robinson on Facebook

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

book review: Blackout by Sarah Hepola

The backstory: I've been reading Sarah Hepola's work for years on the Internet, thanks to one of my oldest and best friends, Kathleen, who introduced me to her writing on The Morning News in the (very) early 2000's. I greeted the publication of her first memoir with delight.

The basics: Blackout chronicles Sarah Hepola's complicated relationship with alcohol from childhood to the present, when she is happily sober.

My thoughts: I've been saying Sarah Hepola is one of my favorite writers for more than ten years, and I had just about stopped saying it because I was starting to dread the typical follow-up question about what books she's written when the asker has no desire to read a slew of Internet links. Now I can hand them a book. Blackout is one of those books that makes me pause when I try to describe it. It is absolutely about drinking heavily, blacking out, and Hepola's road to sobriety. That description wouldn't have made me pick it up, and it doesn't even begin to do this memoir justice. It's a story about life and connections, and for Hepola, alcohol figured heavily: "But I wanted my own stories, and I understood drinking to be the gasoline of all adventure. The best evenings were the ones you might regret."

I highlighted about half of this book. Hepola is a brilliant wordsmith. She pinpoints feelings and emotions with a beautiful precision that leaves me thinking, "yes! That's exactly what that feels/felt like." I can't say if my affinity for Hepola is a sign that we're very similar feelers and thinkers and that I treasure her ability to make me feel understood my reading about her experiences, thoughts, and feelings. I can say, even if I were the demographic antithesis of Hepola, I bet I'd still be wowed by her writing and searing honesty.

Favorite passage: "I've always been mixed up about attention, enjoying its warmth but not its scrutiny. I swear I've spent half my life hiding behind a couch and the other half wondering why no one was paying attention to me."

The verdict: Sarah Hepola is one of those writers who makes me say fangirl things like "I would read anything she writes." But I would. I'll also re-read this one, as much for the prose and insight as her ability to share so much with such poignant vulnerability.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 231 pages
Publication date: June 23, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Blackout from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sarah Hepola's website, follow her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, August 10, 2015

book review: Devil's Bridge by Linda Fairstein

The backstory: Devil's Bridge is Linda Fairstein's seventeenth mystery to feature New York City sex crimes ADA Alexandra Cooper. I discovered this series early in 2003, when The Bone Vault, the fifth book was released. I quickly read all five, and since then, I've eagerly awaited the publication of each book. Alexandra Cooper has been in my life longer than Mr. Nomadreader has.

This review will contain minor spoilers from earlier books, particularly Terminal City and where Alex's romantic life stood at the end of that novel.

The basics: Devil's Bridge opens up a few weeks after Terminal City. Mike and Alex are slowly feeling their way into a relationship that's new, even if they've been close friends for many years, and they're fielding questions most people get to avoid in the early weeks of new relationships. Early in the book, (minor spoiler) Alex is kidnapped, and Mike begins narrating the search for her.

My thoughts: I didn't know I was yearning for Mike to narrate a novel, but when the narration switched, I got excited. This device worked beautifully. It offered insight into his thoughts and feelings, but it also was incredibly effective as a storytelling technique. Although Alex works closely with Mike and Mercer in most novels, I enjoyed the opportunity to just focus on the mystery as a police procedural. I also liked having more direct insight into Mike as a character, including the history of his feelings for Alex.

There's an urgency to this novel because no one knows where Alex is. It reads quickly, and I was completely engrossed. Yet after I finished the book, I felt some frustration for the series. The last few books have all taken place in the span of a few months, which allows for little character growth, either during the books or between them. Particularly given the changes I've been hoping for for more than ten years and expecting for more than five, part of me is ready to just be there. Admittedly, Fairstein has come up with wonderful diversions for Alex and Mike the last few years, and perhaps if I were reading them all for the first time in quick succession it would feel fine, but to wait a year for the next adventure and mind more mystery than character movement feels like we're all standing a bit too still.

The verdict: Devil's Bridge is an adventurous thriller and a unique entry in this long-running and well loved series. In many ways, it stands on its own and would be a nice place for new readers to enter this series. The mystery is superb, but this long-time fan wanted more development in Alex's personal and romantic lives. And with Alex absent for much of this novel, I'm really looking forward to spending time again with her in the next book (but I wouldn't mind it at all if Mike helped tell the story.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Devil's Bridge from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Linda Fairstein's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!