A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed the author’s Julia Gray mystery series, so I was looking forward to the beginning of another series by her. But I was torn about this novel when I finished it. There are very few things in life that I am ambivalent about, but this book is one of them.
The narrator (heroine) really starts off the book as highly dislikable–Vernoica Speedwell is arrogant and smug and a know-it-all. It is a testament to the author’s skill that she slowly grows on you and, by the end of the book, is almost likable.
The hero of the book is likable enough in his irascible way but since the book is narrated in the first person, it’s difficult to get any sense of him outside of the narrator’s perspective.
The historical background is well-researched and well-integrated into the book. You get a sense of atmosphere and context without feeling like you’re reading a history tome. It’s well done. And the mystery is almost a side interest, as you become familiar with the characters and the secondary characters (who are mostly great fun).
There is no doubt that the second half of the book is better than the first half, but in a new series, that is understandable.
I think highly enough of the author and of the second half of the book that I will read the second book in the series when it comes out. But I still can’t decide what I think of this first installment!
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I love the Bourne series of movies. I love its anti-government, conspiracy theory nature. I even love “The Bourne Legacy,” which most people don’t. I adore Jeremy Renner, and the character growth of the female lead in that movie isn’t something you see in a lot of in action movies (see also “The Terminator” and “The Peacemaker”).
However, I may have to make an exception for the latest installment in the series. Oh, sure, there are still the highly thrilling fight scenes and the fast-paced action sequences. And there are actually plot twists, kind of (miracle of miracles). In addition, the acting of the secondary characters is solid if not extraordinary. But (and this is a big BUT), I don’t go see Bourne movies for angst. (If I wanted to see angst, I’d go see some chick movie. Not my thing.) And there was way too much angst in this movie. Jason Bourne is either a killer or he’s not. The government is either covering up some illicit program or it’s not. But to angst about either of these things is a waste of good celluloid.
The family opinion was split. Jim doesn’t like action movies to begin with (he only goes to indulge me) and was appalled at the collateral damage in this one. The daughter thinks Matt Damon is hot and loves angst so liked the movie very much. This was the son’s first Bourne movie, and he did not care at all for the herky jerky filming style.
Next time someone proposes another installment of the Bourne series, I recommend returning to the government conspiracy theory plots (and to come up with an original one). In the meantime, I’ll go back to being on Team Cap and wait for the next Avengers movie.
We just returned from 10 days in paradise (aka Hawaii and, more specifically, Honolulu). Among other things, the kids took surfing lessons, we saw rainbows,
we built sand castles,
we visited the Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific),
and we went on a Segway tour of Diamondhead with Marcus’s best friend and his family.
We also ate lovely meals (at Chef Mavro (more about that later), Town, Alan Wong’s, and The Pig and the Lady amongst others), and we had shave ice (at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha).
Oh, and the daughter worked on her college application essays.
Despite that unimportant detail, we had many days of relaxation and family time. There is something special about Hawaii for us. I’m not sure if it’s the beautiful scenery
sunset on Waikiki
or the friendliness of the people or something else, but we just feel at home there. (Maybe it’s because having hapa kids there is no big deal—we get taken for locals all the time.) All of our trips to Hawaii have been wonderful, but this one was amazing!
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoy this mystery series and its unique and interesting take on Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, the past few books have been the weakest of the lot, so I was delighted that #13 in the series proved to be such a delightful read.
The book takes place in 1920s Oxford with a flashback to 1920s Japan. I’ve been to Japan several times and am reasonably familiar with Japanese culture, and the author did an excellent job describing pre-Westernized Japan as perceived through the eyes of the British. Her descriptions were quite accurate and perceptive and made for an enjoyable read (especially when you don’t have to throw the book figuratively against the wall and yell, “That’s simply not how it works.”).
In addition, the plot was extremely clever and well done. While I accurately picked out the major villain, there were several unexpected (at least to me) plot twists. I loved coming to the end of the book and having to do a re-read to pick up on all the clues that I missed the first time. That’s my favorite kind of mystery.
As always in these books, the characters are well drawn, and Mary Russell’s narrative is full of personality and character.
If you haven’t read this series yet, run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore or library, and start reading. (It’s best to read it in order.) And if you’ve stopped reading the series, I highly recommend picking it up again. “Dreaming Spies” is a highly worthy addition!
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What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is the first in a Regency mystery series featuring Sebastian St. Cyr, an aristocrat with an interesting set of skills learned in fighting for the British against Napoleon. Don’t let the Regency time period deceive you, however. This is not a Georgette Heyer-type mystery–lighthearted and mischievous (and I love Heyer Regency novels). This is a gritty Regency mystery, with dark descriptions of London’s underclass, the role of women in all levels of society, and a sadistic and unbalanced murderer. Sebastian St. Cyr is simultaneously troubled and appealing (but mostly appealing). And while there are definitely black-hearted villains in this book, there are no unflawed heroes or heroines.
Oh, and what angels fear is falling in love with mortals.
If you combined Georgette Heyer with Bernard Cornwell, you would end up with “What Angels Fear.”
I look forward to continuing the series!
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