Tag: thriller

July 31, 2014

The Canon Classics | Casino Royale by Ian Fleming



Title: Casino Royale
Author: Ian Fleming
Publication Date: June 1954
Publisher: MacMillan
Series: James Bond {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

In the first of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH.

The battle begins with a fifty-million-franc game of baccarat, gains momentum during Bond’s fiery love affair with a sensuous lady spy, and reaches a chilling climax with fiendish torture at the hands of a master sadist. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in his inaugural adventure.



I was surprised to find that I didn’t really like Bond all that much. He was arrogant (expected) but what really got me was his overwhelming prejudice against women. I don’t know if it was just the time period, but his disgust and annoyance at women in general, specifically at Vesper, his “partner”, made him hard to cheer for. 


I have a feeling that Bond’s initial character introduction was a little rough to allow for more character development as the series went on… He definitely grows from the agent in the beginning to the driven man in the end. 


On the other hand, I really enjoyed the plot twists and adventure scenes in Casino Royale. The best was the unexpected and somewhat unsettling surprise twist at the end with Vesper. The plot kept me on my toes, but it didn’t have that addicting charm that made me want to keep reading. The best scenes were between Bond and his villian; they were just so unusual


There was great pacing in the adventure and race scenes, but otherwise the book was occasionally a bit dull. The narration occasionally took a major detour when Bond explained the protocols of gambling. Truly, I skipped a large portion of this; it was just dry. 


THE RATING:

WHY:
– Bond’s prejudice to women made him hard to cheer for. I’m sorry. It was just so weird.
– Pacing was off at times, especially during the info dumps times.
– Some great scenes and plot twists, but not enough to make up for the rest of the story. 



Posted July 31, 2014 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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July 25, 2014

Review | The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury

Title: The Last Templar
Author: Raymond Khoury {website}
Publication Date: January 2005
Publisher: Signet

Series: Templar {Book 1}
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

“It has served us well, this myth of Christ.”
Pope Leo X, 16th Century

In a hail of fire and flashing sword, as the burning city of Acre falls from the hands of the West in 1291, The Last Templar opens with a young Templar knight, his mentor, and a handful of others escaping to the sea carrying a mysterious chest entrusted to them by the Order’s dying Grand Master. The ship vanishes without a trace.

In present day Manhattan, four masked horsemen dressed as Templar Knights emerge from Central Park and ride up the Fifth Avenue steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the blacktie opening of a Treasures of the Vatican exhibit. Storming through the crowds, the horsemen brutally attack anyone standing between them and their prize. Attending the gala, archaeologist Tess Chaykin watches in silent terror as the leader of the horsemen hones in on one piece in particular, a strange geared device. He utters a few cryptic Latin words as he takes hold of it with reverence before leading the horsemen out and disappearing into the night.

In the aftermath, an FBI investigation is led by anti-terrorist specialist Sean Reilly. Soon, he and Tess are drawn into the dark, hidden history of the crusading Knights, plunging them into a deadly game of cat and mouse with ruthless killers as they race across three continents to recover the lost secret of the Templars.



I’m a Templar junkie. Years ago, I fell in love with Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and The Da Vinci Code (although I thought his latest book was a bit of a dud) and it’s been a strong love affair ever since. 


Raymond Khoury’s The Last Templar came by complete chance. I was breaking the snack bar and had forgotten my book, so I was poking around the realms of the downstairs pit (there’s the most random things down there…) and came across the chef’s copy. I read sixty pages before it was time for me to go back upstairs. 


I credit the surprisingly addicting first scene. This was one of the only books that developed such TENSION in the first scene that it was impossible to put down. The opulent rich milling around New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, disturbed by the sudden appearance of four masked horsemen on a mission was such an astounding combination. The descriptions of characters, emotions, motives were so intense that I immediately sank into Khoury’s world. The vast amount of tension and fast pace set by the first scene kept me longing for a time to sit down and read. 


Although The Last Templar was a good, solid book, it didn’t live up to the high expectations set by the first scene. Maybe this dramatic entrance into the story set my expectations a bit too high, but the other scenes just couldn’t match the same emotional intensity I experienced in the beginning. Not to say the story was boring; far from. The chase for the Templar’s secret kept me turning pages, but not with the same voracity as the first few chapters. 


The characters themselves were fairly stereotypical. Tess, the gorgeous archaeologist turned detective represents the scientific standpoint in the war on religion. Tess’s personality appealed to me; she was kind, maybe a little too determined, and yearned to get to the bottom of the mystery. She was susceptible to others’s lies, especially Vance. 


Her romantic interest and philosophical opponent, Sean Reilly, was much more interesting. Reilly’s inner battle between his past, his religious beliefs, and his job created one of the more fascinating characters of the story. His inner debate emerged as one of the more fascinating plot elements. 


I enjoyed Khoury’s take on the Templar legend and the thematic discussion of science versus religion explored some areas I hadn’t thought of. The Last Templar was a good read, one that would have been stunning if it kept up the expectations from the fir scenes. 


THE RATING:

WHY
– AMAZING first scene
– liked the themes of religion vs science
– loved Reilly’s character
– the rest of the book just didn’t live up to the standards in the first book

RECOMMENDED FOR
Dan Brown fans, Templar-seekers, and those looking for a good adventure

Posted July 25, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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June 6, 2014

Review | The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby

Title: The Chardonnay Charade
Author: Ellen Crosby {website}
Publication Date: August 2007
Publisher: Scribner
Series: Wine Country Mysteries
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

“The Chardonnay Charade” begins with a daring helicopter flight in the middle of the night. Facing a freak spring frost that threatens to kill the grapes in her vineyard, Lucie Montgomery hires a chopper to fly over the vines in order to blow warm air on them. But her thoughts soon turn from grapes to murder when she discovers the body of Georgia Greenwood, a controversial political candidate, lying near the fields. Georgia’s husband, Ross, Lucie’s friend and doctor, immediately falls under suspicion. To make matters worse, Ross, a renowned collector of Civil War documents, has just discovered a letter that seems to prove that Confederate president Jefferson Davis had prior knowledge of the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.


In the small town of Atoka, Virginia — proud home to the “Gray Ghost,” the Confederacy’s legendary guerrilla commander — the letter is a bombshell.Three years ago Ross saved Lucie’s life after she was involved in a near-fatal car crash. Now she intends to return the favor and prove Ross’s innocence. As the search for Georgia’s killer escalates, Lucie crosses swords with her attractive but cantankerous winemaker, Quinn Santori, and confronts her own unwelcome feelings of jealousy over his new romance and job prospects. Her worries about her kid sister’s out-of-control drinking and a second vineyard-related death further ratchet up the tension. Even though Lucie believes that in vino veritas — in wine there is truth — she finds that the path to uncovering a murderer involves making a heartbreaking decision that will alter the lives of those she loves.


The Chardonnay Charade was a mixed bag for me. I loved the premise: dark mystery, murder, and a small vineyard with a strong female character narrating it all. Lucie Montgomery is inquisitive, a little bit prideful – especially when it comes to her injured foot – and devoted to her family. She is focused on keeping the vineyard – her mother’s memory and Lucie’s own family legacy – alive. That quick determination, strong personality, and slightly naive lack of fear made Lucie a fun character to follow around in The Chardonnay Chronicle


The plot, however, let Lucie down. The first few chapters were solid, making Georgia’s murder the main plot. So many different plot elements were thrown in after that point it just became confusing. Ross’s Civil War interests felt awkward in the story; it simply didn’t fit with Georgia’s murder. Lucie’s struggles with the vineyard were a better fit to the plot, but not perfect. There was no real resolution, making it feel like the plot simply left that particular end untied intentionally, which annoyed me. The background into Lucie’s family didn’t fit, but at least it was interesting with all the warring personalities. 


All of the Civil War history and wine information was interesting, but it quickly overwhelmed the plot and became something along the lines of an info dump. Although the author used dialogue to give the reader all this information, it had no bearing on the original plot: murder


I kept reading, hoping the pacing would pick up, that the plot would return to Georgia’s murder (it’s amazing how often it slipped back into the background), but it never returned to fulfill it’s intended premise. By the time the novel ended, I didn’t care about any of it anymore; I just wanted the book to be over.


THE VERDICT: I loved the main character, but she wasn’t enough to overcome the missteps in the plot and pacing of The Chardonnay Charade. If you have the patience to wade through all the extra information about wine-making and Civil War history, give it a try. For me, this one’s going back to the library. 

Posted June 6, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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May 30, 2014

Review | Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead Reckoning
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publication Date: May 2011
Publisher: Ace Books
Series: Sookie Stackhouse {Book 11}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

There’s a reckoning on the way …

Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. It’s a job which has its own challenges, but now the vampires and the shapeshifters are finally ‘out’, you’d think the supernaturals would get on with each other. But nothing is that simple in Bon Temps!

… and Sookie has a knack for being in trouble’s way; not least when she witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte’s, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is known to be two-natured, suspicion falls immediately on the anti-shifters in the area. Sookie suspects otherwise, but before she can investigate something else – something even more dangerous – comes up.

Sookie’s lover Eric Northman, and his ‘child’ Pam are plotting something in secret. Whatever it is, they seem determined to keep Sookie out of it; almost as determined as Sookie is to find out what’s going on. She can’t sit on the sidelines when both her work and her love life are under threat – but as their plans gradually become clear Sookie finds the situation is deadlier than she could ever have imagined.


Like I mentioned in my mood reading post, I reach for mysteries, paranormal, and romantic suspense when I’ve got things on my mind. The eleventh book in the Sookie Stackhouse series was just what the doctor ordered. 


THE CHARACTERS

Sookie, the lovable waitress/telepath from Bon Temps, has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. She is consistently adorable, slightly ditzy, and always willing to believe the best in others, despite her ability to see what they’re really thinking. Typically, in a Sookie installment, the heroine herself is often excusing her own knowledge of words, phrases, whatever, by crediting her Word-A-Day calendar or reading. While I love that there is a powerful female character that reads in literature, her constant excuses detail where and why she knows such things drives me up the wall. Dead Reckoning has none (well, very little) of that. Sookie morphs into a confident female character, one that isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, which she does multiple times throughout the novel. This evolution from the past character is what really sold me on this particular installment. 

Sookie isn’t the only one that faced some major character development in Dead Reckoning. From Pam to Sookie’s fairy relatives, everyone experiences some major upheaval, revealing a little more about their story or personality that I didn’t know before. Eric’s revelations were particularly intriguing to me; finally, the grumpy Viking is explained. Throughout the book, his sulkiness and demeanor are borderline irritating, but when the reason for his sulk is revealed, he changes from the big vampire sheriff into, well, a person.

THE PLOT

It has to be said: I loved the plot of Dead Reckoning. There was so much going on in every corner of the book; from Sookie’s love life to the two-natureds revelation affecting the town of Bon Temps, the twists made this plot engaging. Sookie’s love life makes for excellent plot twists, especially her subconscious eagle eye on Sam’s relationship. Even in her narration, Sookie is a little guarded about revealing her true feelings about her love life: it would be so fascinating to hear her speak frankly about it all. 

The main plot ties up most of the recurring cast of vampires I’ve come to know and love: Pam, Eric, Bill and even the reclusive Bubba. I loved how these characters’ vast differences came together to battle a common enemy, one that stands to destroy them all. It’s the common tale of the rebellion: it’s impossible to not cheer for them.


THE WRITING

Dead Reckoning does an excellent job of tying off previous story arcs and introducing new ones, a struggle for series and this one in particular. Unfortunately, this was really the only highlight of the writing. 

Harris’ dialogue just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t know what it is: more often than not, the words her characters speak feel forced and wooden, instead of the free flowing narrative and conversations that are so common in popular books. I want to not forcibly think about Sookie saying these words. Instead, I would love if it felt like I was watching a movie in my mind, seeing her say the words, feel the emotions, and roll with the plot twists. It feels more like a battle to keep my mind engaged, more often than not. Although Dead Reckoning helped with this, it didn’t completely erase my frustrations with Harris. 

THE VERDICT

All in all, Dead Reckoning was a good, fluffy read. We all need a dose of fluffy in our lives. 

Posted May 30, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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April 7, 2014

Book Review | Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Title: Zodiac
Author: Robert Graysmith 
Publication Date: April 1987
Publisher: Berkley Books

Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Who was Zodiac? A serial killer who claimed 37 dead. A sexual sadist who taunted police with anonymous notes. A madman who was never apprehended. This is the first, complete account of Zodiac’s reign of terror. Is he still out there?


Here’s the thing: I’m a scaredy-cat. Horror movies freak me out so much that I can’t even watch the previews. I like mysteries and thrillers because there’s usually a conclusion, an ending of some sort that makes me feel like I don’t need to worry  about the bogeyman under the bed. When my dad passed me Zodiac, praising Graysmith’s work, I was a little apprehensive. 








THE NARRATOR

Graysmith was working as a political cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle when the Zodiac murders began. He provides an interesting perspective, switching back and forth from a personal narration to a simple presentation of the facts and witnesses’ statements. He indulges in story-telling occasionally, but it allows for me as a reader to sink into the scene. I particularly liked the story-telling aspect in the beginning of the book because it really set the scene for the more straight-forward narration later on. Graysmith occasionally provides insights in the beginning of Zodiac, but it is later in the book where he becomes immersed in the case and his personal observations take over the narration. 

For the most part, Graysmith remains in the background. He focuses on the personality of Zodiac and his own drive to unmask the man. 

THE FACTS

The first half of the book presents the basic layout of the story, focusing on setting up the perspective of the man himself as well as the victims. I loved the addition of the letters and ciphers. I had only heard about these letters, but to read them in their entirety sent chills down my spine. 

The addition of the emotional and physical perspective of those involved made the whole story come alive. Graysmith’s story-telling skills, especially when recreating scenes, made these people feel alive and personal to me. 

THE STORY

All in all, this is an incredibly chilling book. The depiction of the Zodiac is terrifying, especially as the book continues. I loved the psychological perspectives and the glimpses into the police department to see how they were coping with the case. The psychological perspectives let me observe from an almost distant standpoint, making the crimes easier to read. It was the stories of the police themselves and the families that were affected that made this story come alive.

 THE VERDICT

Not for the fainthearted, but definitely a good book. Graysmith’s narration varies from bone–chilling to matter-of-fact. I liked the additions of Graysmith’s personal opinions and stories from his hunt to unmask the man, as well as the stories of those involved, especially the police. A great book for true crime lovers. 

Posted April 7, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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March 22, 2014

Review: Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

Title: Concealed in Death
Author: J.D. Robb
Publication Date: February 2014
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Series: In Death {Book 38}
Source & Format: Borrowed; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

In a decrepit, long-empty New York building, Lieutenant Eve Dallas’s husband begins the demolition process by swinging a sledgehammer into a wall. When the dust clears, there are two skeletons wrapped in plastic behind it. He summons his wife immediately—and by the time she’s done with the crime scene, there are twelve murders to be solved.

The place once housed a makeshift shelter for troubled teenagers, back in the mid-2040s, and Eve tracks down the people who ran it. Between their recollections and the work of the force’s new forensic anthropologist, Eve begins to put names and faces to the remains. They are all young girls. A tattooed tough girl who dealt in illegal drugs. The runaway daughter of a pair of well-to-do doctors. They all had their stories. And they all lost their chance for a better life.

Then Eve discovers a connection between the victims and someone she knows. And she grows even more determined to reveal the secrets of the place that was called The Sanctuary—and the evil concealed in one human heart.



In order to make this review short (…not forty pages long, as I have the tendency to go on a bit…), here‘s a comprehensive series recap that will catch you up to speed on Eve’s story and her world. 


THE CHARACTERS

The focus on Concealed in Death isn’t about Eve, Roarke, or any of the other returning characters to the series. It isn’t about the murderer, who is unveiled in the end. This story is about the victims. Eve always becomes invested in her cases; as she is so often described in the book, she “stands for the dead.” In this particular case, maybe because of her particular history, she becomes so much more involved in discovering the murderer. 

Each of the twelve girls is, for the most part, painted out in full. Only one remains undiscovered, although I doubt that will stay that way for long in this series. The focus on these girls’ characters was amazing; I feel like I know them as well as Eve did. It made this book a little harder to read than others in the series.

I do wish there had been some character development within the recurring cast of characters. Roarke, Peabody, Summerset and McNab all performed, but only as side characters moving the main plot forward. There wasn’t any tension, romance, good-natured ribbing among the crew this time, which made me a little disappointed. 

THE PLOT

The mystery itself was engaging and strong; I had no idea how Eve would manage to solve this one. The lack of leads and the seemingly-cold trail only upped the tension and Eve’s drive to discover the truth. However, this wasn’t just a murder mystery; Robb brought in social issues, topics that aren’t normally discussed in murder mysteries. I was intrigued especially by the theme of family: Eve’s newly-made family, the families of the girls’, Peabody’s childhood shaped by her family, and the general importance of having someone to stand for you. It didn’t hurt the emphasis on this particular theme that the book took place right before Christmas (generally emphasized as a family holiday). 

I mentioned it above, but I do wish there was a side plot with the recurring characters in Concealed. I spent half the book feeling like something was missing, finally figuring it out about halfway through. The lack of…well, anything for the familiar characters I know and love was a letdown. 

THE WRITING

For the first time, I felt like Robb’s writing was a little jolted and disconnected in the beginning of the book. The immediate transition from crime scene to interviews left me feeling like I’d missed something, so I wasn’t in step with Eve when she began to do her magic. I had trouble sinking into the story. 

I did enjoy the different voices and characters. As Eve searches the history of each girl, she meets so many different characters connected to the girls. I loved the different personalities, especially the different ways of speaking, that came with each new character.

THE VERDICT

I’m still a fan, but this installment was so-so for me. The main plot was fantastic and engaging, but the lack of side plot with the characters so vital to the series was disappointing.

Posted March 22, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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March 13, 2014

Review: Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Title: Snow White Must Die
Author: Nele Neuhaus {website}
Original Title: Schneewittchen muss sterben
Translator: Steven T. Murray
Publication Date: January 2010
Publisher: Pan Publishing
Series: Bodienstein and Kirchhoff {Book 4}
Source & Format: Library; hardbook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

On a wet November day, Detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are summoned to the scene of a mysterious accident. A woman has fallen from a bridge onto the motorway below. It seems that she may have been pushed. The investigation leads them to a small town near Frankfurt, and the home of the victim, Rita Cramer.

On a September evening eleven years earlier, two seventeen-year-old girls, Laura and Stefanie (also known as Snow White), vanished without trace from this same village. In a trial based entirely on circumstantial evidence, Stefanie’s boyfriend, handsome and talented, Tobias Sartorius, was sentenced to ten years in prison. He has now returned to his home in an attempt to clear his name.Rita Cramer is his mother.

In the village, Pia and Oliver encounter a wall of silence. But when another young girl goes missing, the events of the past repeat themselves in a disastrous manner. The investigation turns into a dramatic race against time, because for the villagers, there is soon no doubt as to the identity of the perpetrator. And this time they are determined to take matters into their own hands.



The title caught me. I admit it. When I stand in front of the new shelf at the library, I usually scan the titles to see if anything catches my eye. This bold title immediately caught me eye and my hand added it to my (giant) pile all by itself. I don’t know what came over me. Snow White Must Die is an unusual police procedural, using the cultural aspects of a small village in Germany and social issues that affect us around the world to create an interesting story. 


THE CHARACTERS

My first impression of Tobias, the main character, was pity. Here is a man broken beyond all recognition. Unsure if he truly committed the ghastly murders of two teenage girls ten years before the book begins, Tobias enters the story a shattered man. His character is one of the most complex, dealing with twin emotions of guilt and grief over crimes he was incarcerated for over circumstantial evidence. 
His relationship with Amelie, the seventeen-year-old girl who immediately befriends him from her overwhelming curiosity from his notoriety. I loved how the two misfits of sorts find comfort in each other, developing a dependable friendship that lets them survive the hurdles thrown at them from the townspeople.

The townspeople in the story were terrifying. I haven’t seen many novels that are so affected by the secondary characters. Tobias and his family are humiliated and destroyed by the townspeople, characters that thrive on rumor and drama. These background characters are responsible for so many of the plot’s twists. 
I feel like I didn’t get to know Pia and Oliver as well (the two characters that the series is named after), but I loved their working relationship. They make a fabulous team, playing off the other’s observations or talents. They were great characters to read as a police team, but since I read the fourth book in the series, I missed out on a lot of their background story.

THE PLOT

The old murder mystery had laid relatively dormat in the town and Tobias’s return after his incarceration it comes alive with a vengeance. I loved how the plot stirred up all of the old emotions and essentially told the story of the past all the while moving forward
As the plot revealed the details of the past crimes and the personalities of the two girls, characters began to slowly reveal their deep, dark secrets and true motives. The plot really took off for me when all of the secrets and lies began to reveal themselves for the police procedural element of the novel really kicked into play. Pia and Oliver’s detective work and police interviews created a tense atmosphere in the town that all but forced the plot into its twists and turns. 

THE WRITING

As much as I loved the plot and the gristly details (the opening scene…oh my), the beginning of the novel was slow. Really slow. Almost to the point where I put the book down. To be honest, I felt detached from the characters and their struggles until about halfway through the book, when all of the emotions began to show through. I’m glad I hung in there, but the initial chapters of the book drained me. 

I really enjoyed the change of perspective in characters. The book didn’t stay in the same character’s viewpoint, keeping the tension high throughout the novel. As the story grew, it all depended on the perspective, mostly Pia and Oliver’s. 

THE VERDICT

I enjoyed Snow White Must Die, mostly because of the tension building in the end of the novel. I couldn’t wait to see who it ended up being – truly, the ending blew me away. However, the lack of attachment to the two main police characters tripped me up a bit and the slow start to the novel kept Snow White Must Die from being a must read. 

Posted March 13, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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March 2, 2014

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Title: The Cuckoo’s Calling 
Author: Robert Galbraith {website}
Publication Date: April 2013
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Series: Cormoran Strike {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.


I want to start this review by admitting something I’m sure you already know: I’m a huge J.K. Rowling fan. Also, I’d never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling until that publicity explosion that announced previously-unheard of writer Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for Rowling. That being said, I want to review this book according to it’s story, not by its famous author – I wanted to read it for what it was. So here we go.

THE CHARACTERS

Cormoran Strike is my ideal of a private investigator. His bumpy background, war-hero status, and struggling private eye business all fit into my characterization of the perfect detective. What I really loved about his character was how he used all of these different parts of his history and character in his investigation to his advantage. More often than not, he was looked down upon by – his own admission – somewhat strange appearance. He used this judgment, whatever it was, to find out exactly what he needed, wanted to know, whatever, to help him connect the dots. 

In the narration, his inner dialogue could be extraordinarily different from what he said aloud. He was a master at observation, but not like the Sherlock Holmes sort – instead, he simply watched and noted, poking when someone revealed an annoyance or dislike. The depth of his character slowly came to light, especially the further I went into the book and his background.

I really enjoyed Robin’s character. On her own, Robin struggles with a lot of life issues that many of us deal with day-to-day: relationships, job hunts/interviews, dodging the dodgy temp agency…you know. This alone made her interesting, but it was her yearning to be a part of the investigation and a help to Strike that made her fascinating. Her attention to detail and cleverness regarding the case made her a fantastic addition – I would think that Strike wouldn’t have been able to solve it all without her help.

All in all, the book was littered with amazingly detailed and deep characters. Each had a deep and (for the most part) dark back story they were trying to keep hidden, especially those close to Lula. As each’s defenses were unraveled or revealed, it became impossible to put this book down.

THE PLOT

My favorite part about this particular plot was how each characters’ deep and dark secrets were slowly revealed. The tension increased bit by bit in each chapter until I had to know why so-and-so had done this-and-this (no spoilers, don’t worry). 

Even though this plot fell into the familiar private-eye mystery, there was nothing about this novel that was typical in my mind. I loved the suicide/suspected murder angle, since it throws up so many barriers against the protagonist. In taking on this case, Strike has to go up not only against the police, but Lula’s loved ones who have already dealt with enough, let alone the worldwide press. The character roles were right (the somewhat reluctant police, the harried family, the arrogant boyfriend, and the dependable secretary), but the characters that played those roles were extraordinary. 

THE WRITING

It’s only fair to say that I struggled with this book in the beginning. The first few chapters were a bit of a slog for me, but I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe I didn’t know the characters well enough or wasn’t completely invested in the story yet. I did have to force myself to keep reading through the first thirty or so pages. 

The narration sneaks in bits and pieces of Strike and Robin’s personal life problems, which I loved. It made the characters flesh and bone to me – I began to care about Robin’s struggle on whether or not to take that human resources job, or Strike’s sadness at the loss of his longtime girlfriend. It was these flashes of their humanity that made the writing engaging.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Loved it. I wish I had read it earlier, but I wanted to wait until all the hubbub surrounding the book died down. From the familiar yet surprising private detective mystery plot to the deep and fascinating characters, I was hooked. The next novel in the series comes out in summer 2014, in case you’re wondering. 🙂

Posted March 2, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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January 4, 2014

Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Title: Paper Valentine
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Publication Date: January 2013
Publisher: Razorbill Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Paper Valentine is a hauntingly poetic tale of love and death by the New York Times bestselling author of The Replacement and The Space Between.



First impressions: Gorgeous cover! I love the simplicity of white, black and red. I’ve always been drawn to books with this kind of cover art. This gorgeous cover art hid the astonishing and unexpected novel inside. As this is my first Yovanoff novel, I’m pretty comfortable saying I’m a fan!


THE CHARACTERS

Although Hannah is the main character of Paper Valentine, I was most intrigued by the character of Lillian. Maybe it’s because I’m terrified of ghosts in general, but her Casper-the-friendly-ghost-quality was the first real connection I made with the characters in the novel. Her utter peace with her own death made some of the grisly scenes in the novel not so bad. I really liked Lillian’s role as Hannah’s sidekick; it was entertaining and helped move the plot along. 

Lillian’s biggest role was to show the soft side of Hannah. Hannah herself is a character I can really relate with. She’s got that sweet, good girl side that she struggles with throughout the story. Paper Valentine is unique because it is not only a book about murders in a small town, but it’s also Hannah’s growth period after her best friend’s death

I loved having Hannah as a narrator because she brought that same sweet girl-next-door flavor to a character struggling with constant changes in her personal life, with her friends, romantically, and the biggest struggle of all: losing her best friend.  

THE PLOT

Paper Valentine has one of the most fun plots that I have ever come across. Lillian and Hannah’s antics reminded me of the old Nancy Drew mysteries I used to read with my mom when I was a kid. It has that same innocence despite the dark nature of the crimes. 

The paranormal aspect of this novel added a little extra to the murder mystery. Although it terrified me when they used a spirit board, I thought it was an interesting way to allow the mystery to evolve and leave Hannah clues to the murderer. 

I did not have a clue who the identity of the killer was. Truly. Knocked my socks off. Typically (even in my beloved J.D. Robb novels), I can finger who the murderer is. In Paper Valentine? Not a clue. 

My only critique is that I felt this great plot had a slow start. It felt like Hannah was just wandering around the town without a solid plot in place yet. Once I got past the beginning, the plot really took on momentum and had a fantastic ending. 

THE WRITING

I was really impressed by Yovanoff’s writing. While I was writing my notes for this review, I realized that this book can’t be pigeonholed into a particular genre; it’s spread all across mystery, murder, thriller, YA, and a touch of romance. For me. this usually tends to be overload. I credit Yovanoff’s fabulous writing to this compilation of genres being so successful.  

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, an outstanding novel. There were a few loose ends that I wished were tied up tighter at the end of the book, but nothing critical. I loved how the main plot was wrapped up. I am definitely impressed by Yovanoff’s magic, and I can’t wait to read more of her works. 

Posted January 4, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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November 16, 2013

Review: Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Title: Stranded
Author: Dani Pettrey
Publication Date: September 2013
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Series: Alaskan Courage {Book 3}
Source & Format: Netgalley; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

When her friend vanishes from a cruise ship, reporter Darcy St. James isn’t satisfied with their explanation that she simply left her job of her own accord. Something isn’t lining up, and Darcy believes the only way to find the truth is to put herself in Abby’s position. Within days, Darcy learns her friend wasn’t the only person to disappear mysteriously. Last summer, a woman vanished under almost identical circumstances. 

Gage McKenna has taken a summer-long stint leading adventure excursions for the passengers of various cruise lines that dock for a few days of sightseeing. He’s surprised to find Darcy working aboard one of the ships, investigating a troubling report. Something sinister is going on and the deeper they dig the more Gage fears they’ve only discovered the tip of the iceberg.


There are some books that make me feel like my life is pretty cool, and maybe I can be like that amazing character one day. Then there’s books like Stranded by Dani Pettrey that make me want to drop everything, buy a ticket to Alaska and go on an adventure!


While I’ll admit that probably isn’t the best idea in the grand scheme of things, it was hard to not rush off after finishing this novel and find some adventure of my own. Romantic suspense has been my flavor of the week (okay, more like month), and Pettrey’s third installment of the Alaskan Courage series does not disappoint. I hadn’t read the first two novels when I requested this book from NetGalley, but after a little research, I was caught up on the story. One of the most important elements of a good romantic suspense is the pacing. It all depends on how much the author tells me, when they tell me, and whether or not what they tell me actually matters to story. Pettrey has this down pat. Right from the first page, there was something grabbing my attention, forcing me to keep turning, keep reading. I LOVE THAT!


The setting of the cruise ship in Alaska added a lot to the story. A lot of the crew members on the ship are nomads of sorts, people without roots or ship loyalty. This specific attitude of the crew didn’t help Darcy’s search for Abby. Most of the crew just assumed she jumped ship, creating a tight spot for Darcy – either she reveal her relationship with the missing woman, or craftily create a persona that would let her search without raising too many questions. The wild setting of Alaska only heightened the tensions. Alaska is still a world very much belonging to the powerful Mother Nature. The Alaskan scenery is the perfect setting for this high tension story.


I have to admit, I really liked Darcy. It was impossible to brush off her worry about her friend, and the fact she threw herself into many dangerous situations just to find Abby struck a chord in me. She is a strong character, and perfect to employ as one of the third person limited narrators. Although I enjoyed Gage’s character, I didn’t feel like there were a lot of surprises coming from him. He was a steady guy, doing a steady job. He is, however, the perfect foil for Darcy.


Final Thoughts: The story itself was intriguing. I believed in Darcy, in her fear. I believed in each characters’ emotions, motives, and thoughts like I was inside of their minds instead of reading words on a screen. It was fascinating story, and I look forward to going back to Pettrey’s earlier works to discover all of the adventures of the McKenna family. 



Posted November 16, 2013 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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