Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie MurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a mystery within a mystery. The book begins with Susan Ryeland, book editor with Cloverdale Books, receiving the latest book by their best selling author, Alan Conway, for weekend reading. It’s a mystery titled The Magpie Murders, featuring private investigator Atticus Pund. After the first three or four pages, we are thrust into the fictional mystery. At first it was hard to get into. It’s an investigator that exists within this book only and there are references to previous cases/books. After a bit, though, I got into the mystery. There were a lot of clues, but you don’t see who the murderer is and there are a couple of red herrings, including the number of murders and the culprit. Right as we are about to get the resolution, we learn that Susan’s copy has missing pages.

Now, we are back in “real life.” Susan heads to the office on Monday to see if her boss, Charles Clover, has the chapters. He doesn’t and worse - he’s just learned that the author is dead. He committed suicide and sent a suicide letter to Charles.

Susan heads to his home to search for the chapters and after talking with Alan’s much younger boyfriend, James, who he left his wife for, and with his sister, and looking at his diary, Susan begins to believe that perhaps Alan did not commit suicide. Susan was not close with Alan and didn’t particularly like him. We learn that many others didn’t really like him and, in fact, he wasn’t a really likable guy. Susan begins investigating, knowing how crazy it is what she is doing. However, she’s looking for the missing chapters and begins to see parallels between Magpie Murders and Alan’s death.

There is a side story with Susan’s personal life, she has a Greek boyfriend, Andreas, who has decided after his last visit to Crete, that’s he’s going to resign from teaching and take over a hotel on Crete with his cousin. This throws Susan for a loop - she’s not sure she wants to give up her life in England and she’s been offered the opportunity to take over the publishing house so Charles can basically retire and be a grandfather to his new grandbaby.

I won’t go too much further or the whole thing will be given away. Alan was a puzzler first and foremost and he carried it through his books. Once Susan realizes this, she knows what to look for. Clues are laid out, and in fact, I picked up on them in the same niggling fashion Susan did, though I didn’t put it together as fast as she did. The ending is somewhat dramatic and, as stated by our heroine, it costs her dearly. I’m not sure the repercussions would necessarily have been what was written, but maybe so. As I said, Alan was not well liked. There’s an undercurrent here that perhaps since he was so disliked and not a nice person that maybe Susan should have let sleeping dogs lie, that maybe it was okay. He was dying anyway and his death prevented something that would have benefited no one from happening. You wind up wondering if you should think that Susan pursuing what happened was wrong. It’s subtle, but it’s there and really gives one pause for thought.

In the end, I think things for Susan happened as they were meant to be, but it was a hard way to come to the realization. I enjoyed this book and debated between three and four stars, but ultimately went with three because I never quite connected with Susan. I think for such a long book, some of the relationships were hinted at or maybe because they were already established, there just wasn’t a need to provide more. I couldn’t really tell if Andreas and Susan’s relationship should or shouldn’t move forward, but was happy with the ending. Overall, it was an enjoyable read.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review: Arrowood by Laura McHugh

ArrowoodArrowood by Laura McHugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story is told by Arden Arrowood, who was eight years old when her almost two year old twin sisters, Violet and Tabitha, disappeared. After a stressful time in graduate school, Arden has inherited the family home, Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa. After the disappearance of her sisters, the family eventually moved away, but it’s always been home to Arden. The house was left to her by her grandfather, but only passed to her upon her father’s death. Arden has a love of history and knows not only the history of her home, but of many of the homes in Keokuk. You wonder if her interest in history is partly because you can’t go back. History (the past) is where her sisters are -- they are not in the present.

Her relationship with her mother is odd at best -- she’s a shadowy woman, who from what little we see, is not particularly attached to her daughter. Which makes one wonder if she was attached to the twins. We don’t see a lot of the mother, but what we do see is that perhaps she puts on one personality for the world and another for Arden.

Since Arden was playing outside with the twins the day they disappeared and because she is six years older than they were, she has always felt responsible for their disappearance. Even though she was only eight at the time and had been sick.

A mystery investigator, Josh Kyle, reaches out to Arden, who agrees to talk with him. Their first talk makes her doubt her memory of what happened that day. She later learns that Josh’s brother disappeared and has yet to be found -- though in that case, he was a 17 year old who ran away. They both share a sense of loss shrouded in mystery. Rounding out the book are her childhood friends Ben and Lauren and their mother, Julia Ferris, and caretaker Mr. Heaney.

Arden narrates, but I never really connected with the characters. There was narration and a telling of the past (from Arden), but I never really felt like I got to know the characters. It was almost there, but not quite. Maybe that was the design. Arden is narrating and on some level she wants to be who she was when she spent summers in Keokuk as a child. But, the last summer was 10 years ago, when she was 15, and we all know that a lot happens in 10 years, especially if you go from 15 to 25. The house is decaying, the town is decaying. There is a saying that you can’t go back and I wondered throughout reading this book if the decay that surrounded Arden’s return was in fact a way of confirming that we can’t go back. Sure you can go back to a place, such as a town or a house, but it’s never going to be the same. Sometimes, it will be better. In Arden’s case, I think she was somehow connected to Keokuk, not only because she was born there and because that’s where the twins disappeared, but because that was probably the only time she had a true home. Regardless of what happens to the town, it’s her home. And, for those who have moved, we know some places we connect with and others we don’t. There is no place like home though, literally.

Things happen at a steady, but slow pace. This is not a mystery per se, though I’m not sure I’d throw it in the gothic genre as while there was suspense, it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat. I wanted to know what happened to the twins. I even wanted to know what happened to Josh’s brother (while it’s a part of Josh, it’s never mentioned if he investigated that and of course, it’s not really part of Arden’s or the twin’s story, so it’s just kind of in the background).

There is a somewhat dramatic end and while you think you know what happened, you find out you don’t. I’ll admit - I didn’t like the ending. You think it’s there, but it’s almost a cop-out. Then, you think there is another twist, but it just hangs out there, leaving the reader to decide what they think actually happened. There is no true resolution as to what actually happened. Arden finds a way to make it make sense and finally move on (she was in essence waiting for the twins to return to truly get on with her life). However, the ending for me was disappointing and somewhat of a let down.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book. Ultimately, I liked Arden and Josh and Ben and Lauren and even Mrs. Ferris. I think Arden’s decision at the end was the right one and wouldn’t mind someday finding out what happened to Josh’s brother. Does this make me want to read everything by the author? It doesn’t as I’m not a fan of this type of ending. I get them -- life doesn’t always give us pretty answers, but I prefer it when my books do.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review: My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

My Italian BulldozerMy Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book, knowing by the title that it could be beyond belief. However, I enjoy a bit of fluff and was looking forward to fluff that came with a male lead character. While the title seemed absurd, the description on the back made it seem interesting. I should have paid more attention to the title. There is not much meat to this book and I don’t feel like we get to really know any of the characters.

In the beginning, Paul is feeling sorry for himself because his girlfriend of many years threw him over for her personal trainer. So, he’s lamenting being single and goes to Italy to basically recover and finish his book (he’s a food writer). I hope this is not the “real” Italy. **Spoiler ahead**. He winds up with a bulldozer after he’s arrested because the car he rented isn’t in the parking lot and they accuse him of stealing it! I wish I were making this up. Someone he met at the airport (or on the plane), who is a local, bails him out and talks with the folks at the rental agency. They explain that they are all out of cars, but they’ll rent him a bulldozer! For him to drive to another city and use as car while in Italy! I’m not kidding.

I couldn’t really get past the ridiculousness of renting a bulldozer as a car, thought Paul was kind of a whiny little dude and that a little backbone wouldn’t have hurt. There was a side story about an escaped prisoner that was never fully developed. and, while you could see the ending coming, it just sort of appears -- there was no development leading to this.

If you’ve read and liked Alexander Smith McCall’s books, you may like this. I have not read any of his other books and do not plan on reading them. If you’re looking for a good bit of fluff to read, pass this one up. I was hugely disappointed, but was immensely proud that I was able to finish it as I hate not finishing a book.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: Drawing Conclusions by Deirdre Verne

Drawing ConclusionsDrawing Conclusions by Deirdre Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve gotten a little tired lately of the typical “themed” cozy mystery. At first blush, this book appears to be a cozy, but I wouldn’t classify it as such. There is no gore, but there is some language and some sexy times (nothing over the top, but it’s there). The main character is also a Freegan - we meet CeCe when she and friend Charlie are dumpster diving. They live in what amounts to a commune, established by CeCe, along with three other people - Jonathon and Trina, who are dating, and Becky, who is involved with Charlie.

The book opens with CeCe of the death of her twin brother, Teddy. It turns out to be murder. I’m sad that we never really get to meet Teddy as I think he was a cool guy. CeCe becomes a target, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Enter Frank DeRosa, detective. He’s been requested by CeCe’s father, Dr. William Prentice, to solve Teddy’s murder and winds up guarding CeCe, along with two other officers. I like that there isn’t friction between the house and the cops - they all wind up working together. The big catch to all of this is that Teddy was a scientist, working on decoding the human genome, and he worked at a lab basically run by CeCe’s father.

One of the best things about this book is CeCe’s involvement in finding out who killed Teddy is organic. She doesn’t look to get involved, but after she becomes a target, her involvement (and her roommates involvement), just seems natural. It doesn’t hurt that she’s an artist with a gift for faces.

The thing I struggled with in this book was the Freegan lifestyle. I get organic farming. I get communal living. I get not wanting a 9-5 job (CeCe’s an artist and her sketches did help solve the case). I get going with a used car, though I’m not sure why it had to be so ancient as a Gremlin - the gas mileage and pollution from that thing have to not be in line with Freeganism. Why not a used hybrid or even an electric car? I don’t get not using a washer and dryer. I don’t really get dumpster diving for food.

Despite the Freeganism angle, I very much enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the next one in the series. I liked the Detective. I liked how CeCe’s skills contributed to the investigation. I liked how the other cops got along with the housemates. I liked that this was definitely not the run of the mill mystery. Odd main character, but in a way I like that she challenges me a bit. Recommended if you like a good mystery and/or are looking for a change from the “themed” cozy mysteries.

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