Archive for the ‘Fiction Review’ Category

Review of The House of Unexpected Sisters, by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Lisette Lecat

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

The House of Unexpected Sisters

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2017. 9.5 hours on 8 compact discs.

Another book about Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency! I keep reading these books (now listening) because the characters feel like an extension of my family. Now that I’m on the 2019 Newbery committee, during 2018 I’m trying not to listen to Newbery-eligible books, not wanting to be swayed by a good or bad narrator. But that gives me one opportunity to “read” books for adults – during my commute. This is a wonderful choice, because Lisette Lecat’s accents make me feel like I’m in Botswana itself.

I wouldn’t, though, recommend that anyone first introduce themselves to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with this book. They only have one real case, and it’s one they don’t get paid for, which makes me wonder how they’re carrying on.

Alexander McCall Smith’s books all seem to progress at a leisurely pace, but this one seemed even slower than usual. I still enjoyed it – because I love these characters. But even I thought of switching to something else a few discs in.

One place where I laughed out loud – not in a good way – was when something villainous came up and you-know-who was involved – Yes, none other than Violet Sepotho! It’s getting a bit silly how much she gets around. I remember at the beginning of the series, there were some very creative puzzles. Instead of having the main mystery be how did Violet Sepotho cause trouble this time?

But the part I enjoyed most was the part that related to the title – discovering unexpected sisters. I won’t say more, because I’ll let you enjoy what drama there is. It is truly a surprise – but ends up (no surprise there) being a delightful one.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

The Woman in Cabin 10

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Encore (Simon & Schuster Audio), 2016. 9 discs.
Starred Review

While I’m reading lots and lots of children’s books for the 2019 Newbery Medal, during my commute I indulged in a thriller for adults. This book is so intense, I can’t promise that it didn’t mess with my driving.

We’ve got a wonderfully unreliable narrator. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer, and she gets an opportunity to go on a luxury cruise on a small lavish ship while her boss is on maternity leave. But a few days before the trip, she suffered a break in, and she’s very much on edge. And then, yes, she had quite a bit too much to drink the first night of the cruise.

So when she wakes up suddenly in the night to the sound of a body thrown into the sea, we definitely wonder if that’s really what she heard. But there must be an explanation for the fact that before dinner, there was a woman in Cabin 10 who gave Lo mascara when she asked to borrow some, and didn’t want it back. After Lo hears the splash in the night and calls security, there is no one in Cabin 10, and she’s told that the person who booked that room never came on the cruise at all. So who did Lo see and talk with?

The security staff don’t believe her. The reader isn’t sure we should either. The ship keeps traveling on.

But some more odd things start to happen.

This book does a wonderful job of setting a puzzle which I not only couldn’t solve, but I couldn’t imagine how the author could possibly solve.

Let’s just say that the author did make the puzzle work – with plenty of life-and-death danger and suspense along the way.

The narrator was fabulous. Though I have to say that I’m easily pleased by anyone with a British accent – but she did a good job and was a delight to listen to. Lo’s precarious mental state was communicated often by the tone of voice, sounding somewhat desperate when called for, or bewildered, or simply exhausted.

This was one of those audiobooks I eventually brought into my house to finish, because I couldn’t stand waiting until my next commute. Highly recommended for a version of a locked-room mystery – at sea.

audio.simonandschuster.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Precious and Grace, by Alexander McCall Smith

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Precious and Grace

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2016. 9.75 hours on 8 CDs.

Here’s another book about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, with co-directors Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi. The main puzzle of the book involves a Canadian lady who wants to find the place where she grew up in Gabarone and the lady who cared for her. But Mma Ramotswe senses there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Other plot threads involve a stray dog befriended by Fanwell and a business scheme which Mr. Polopetsi falls for. And guess who’s up for Woman of the Year? It’s Grace Makutsi’s nemesis, Violet Sepotho.

It’s interesting that this one doesn’t have a surprisingly amusing title, but boils the work down to a story of friendship between two interesting ladies, Precious and Grace. They have their difficult moments, but ultimately they help people solve their problems. The book is filled with the usual gentle philosophy.

I’m now enjoying listening to these in audiobook format, getting more of the flavor of the book, as well as correct pronunciation, with the skilled narration and lovely accent of Lisette Lecat.

There’s nothing really new in this installment. But if you’ve come this far, you’ll enjoy another installment of philosophy and friendship with Precious and Grace.

alexandermccallsmith.com
recordedbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Christmas Return, by Anne Perry

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

A Christmas Return

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2017. 176 pages.

Anne Perry’s Christmas murder mysteries have become a holiday tradition for me. They’re cozy; they’re short; and reading one is a nice way to indulge myself as Christmas approaches.

A Christmas Return features Charlotte Pitt’s grandmother Mariah Ellison, who is asked for help with a striking message – a Christmas pudding with a fake cannonball inside. She’s being told that someone is digging up the case about an old friend who was killed when his bookcase fell over and a decorative fake cannonball struck him, which happened twenty years before.

The dead man’s grandson is asking for her help. He was only ten years old when the death happened. Now he wants Mariah’s help clearing his grandmother’s name. Mariah was there at the time, so she alone can help.

These Christmas mysteries are short, but Anne Perry gives us enough back story to care. And there’s something nice at Christmas about seeing justice done and good people vindicated.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Provenance, by Ann Leckie

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Provenance

by Ann Leckie

Orbit Books, 2018. 439 pages.
Starred Review

Ann Leckie is incredibly skilled at building alien worlds and cultures and imagining how they will interact with each other. Provenance is set in the same universe as her brilliant Ancillary trilogy, after those events have taken place, but you don’t have to read the first trilogy to enjoy this book, which takes place on a different set of planets altogether.

We’re following the actions of Ingray, the foster daughter of the Netano, a powerful political leader on the planet Hwae. The Netano hasn’t yet chosen which of her children will be her successor, and Ingray has spent all her money trying to show up her brother Danach. She’s trying to break a person out of Compassionate Removal, a lifetime prison planet, and find out from him where he put the originals of the vestiges he stole and replaced with forgeries.

The first problem is that the person she’s broken out is delivered in a suspension pod. When he awakes, he says he is not the person she sought. And the captain of the ship she’s taking back to Hwae is in trouble with the ambassador from Geck – an alien race that no one dares offend.

That’s just the beginning of her problems, and the beginning of her embroilment in intergalactic affairs.

This one is similar to the second Ancillary book, Ancillary Sword, in that it reveals a seething mass of complicated local planetary politics. On Hwae, vestiges are revered and important – souvenirs and artifacts from important events. But some of the most revered vestiges may not be authentic. Then there are the people from another planetary system who want control of the gate in another system. Then there are the oh-so-alien Geck and the upcoming Conclave to renegotiate the treaty that keeps them from killing humans.

In this book, we aren’t dealing with the sentient Artificial Intelligence of the earlier books, though some people have mechs they can pilot with thought. But Hwae culture does have three genders, and I liked the way that was seamlessly woven into the story, including the pronouns used for the gender that’s neither male nor female – e, em, eir. The pronouns were used naturally and made a lot of sense. It seemed much more natural than using they, them, and their as singular pronouns.

I also like the way she shows us the importance of the vestiges and how they work, as well as the process on Hwae of naming a successor, who can then stand in for the person who does the naming. She weaves these details in seamlessly without spending all our time on exposition. We find out when it’s important to the plot.

The various plots and counterplots, including a murder mystery, finish up with the tension of a life-threatening hostage situation, so you’ve got a suspenseful read as well as a fascinating look at what alien cultures might be like.

After reading an Ann Leckie novel, I come away thinking – Now, why did we think that alien cultures would be so much like our own? Oh yeah, that way it’s easier to use human actors in science fiction films. Reading this book will open your mind to many more possibilities.

orbitbooks.net

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, by Alexander McCall Smith

Friday, November 10th, 2017

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

by Alexander McCall Smith
read by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2015. 9 hours 15 minutes on 8 discs.

This is the 16th book about Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana.

I love these books, especially loving the characters and the relationships that have developed through the series. However, it feels like the action moves more and more slowly each time, so I’ve taken to listening instead of reading, because I tend to be more patient with audiobooks. And the lovely narrator’s voice has finally settled for me the pronunciation of “Mma” and “Rra.”

There were still times when I was annoyed with the slow plot arc, since more than once Mma Ramotswe was thinking long and hard about whether she should talk to Mma Makutsi. But the overall story had the usual one or two interesting cases. This time there was one about a scandal in the past of a late government official as well as the story of a little street boy who vandalizes the tiny white van.

But the overall story is about Mma Ramotswe going on holiday. It’s not her idea – her staff seem to be conspiring to get her to take one. Now that she’s a partner, is Mma Makutsi plotting to take over the agency? However, taking a holiday is more difficult than it would seem.

Truly, a woman with a loving husband is like a woman who walks in sunshine. Listening to this book will bring sunshine into your life.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Earthly Remains

by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017. 308 pages.
Starred Review

I have long meant to read a Donna Leon Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. Her books are set in Venice – and who can help but love Venice? I finally got my hands on an advance reader copy – and I like to bring those on vacation – so I finally got one read, and think I will have to read some more.

I haven’t read any others, but I was quickly involved in this book. The Commissario gets himself in a situation where he’s given medical leave to take a vacation.

He goes out into the laguna to a villa of a family friend of his wife. He does daily rowing with the old caretaker, who it turns out was a friend of his father. But after some time together, rowing and caring for the old man’s bees – the old family friend turns up dead after a storm.

Guido is enough involved to want to figure out what happened. One thing leads to another….

I enjoyed this book very much. I expected Venice and got the laguna where I’ve never been – but the writing was wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric. But I loved the characters. Guido Brunetti has been around and understands people. I like his curiosity that won’t simply let this rest.

I will say I wasn’t completely happy with how things turned out. When I read a mystery, I expect to see justice done, and there was more than one instance that seemed to be coming up short. But – it’s all presented with Guido Brunetti’s pragmatic awareness of what can be done and his philosophical attitude about what people are really like. And it all makes for enjoyable reading. I think I’m going to be looking for the first book in this series and get some history with these characters whom I liked so much.

groveatlantic.com

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Berkley Books, 2014. 456 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve meant to read this book for a very long time, especially once I had a signed copy. But I have a horrible problem with not getting around to reading books I own because they don’t have a due date. Anyway, I finally got this book read on a flight home from Portland – and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But usually such retellings are Fantasy. This one takes out the overt magic. There is a possibility of a curse; there is a possibility that the baby’s great-aunt does dark magic. But the story is told as historical fiction, set in medieval times, as something that could have actually happened. (Except that the kingdoms mentioned are still not actual kingdoms from our world, so technically, I’ll have to classify it as Fantasy. But the flavor is Historical.)

Our narrator is an old servant of Queen Lenore, the mother of Rose who became the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. She saw all the events of the tale from start to finish. She’s looking back on her life and telling the story to her great-grandchild.

In the prologue, she’s hears children telling the fairy tale based on the experiences she lived.

Ha! It would be a fine trick indeed to fell a royal daughter with a needle, then see her revived by a single kiss. If such magic exists, I have yet to witness it. The horror of what really happened has been lost, and no wonder. The truth is hardly a story for children.

I was afraid with that line that the book would be too dark for my taste – but the story is beautiful. Yes, there are dark and tragic parts, but it’s woven through with love and with actual human passions and mistakes and foibles.

In the fifty years since those terrible days in the tower, I have never spoken of what happened there. But with my body failing and death in my sights, I have been plagued by memories, rushing in unbidden, provoking waves of longing for what once was. Perhaps that is why I remain on this earth, the only person who knew Rose when she was young and untouched by tragedy. The only one who watched it all unfold, from the curse to the final kiss.

During the course of the tale our narrator, Elise, grows from a child in poverty into a mature adult, living in the castle. She gains perspective and makes hard choices and becomes a guide for young Rose through difficult times. I think that’s why this isn’t a young adult novel. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but a story of a life lived beside large events, events that affected a kingdom. It’s about love and about choices and about making your way in the world.

And I especially liked the ending.

This is a beautiful book, which I know I’m going to want to read again sometime in the future.

elizabethblackwellbooks.com
penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Arabella and the Battle of Venus

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Arabella and the Battle of Venus

by David D. Levine

Tor (Tom Doherty Associates), 2017. 416 pages.
Starred Review

It took me a long time to get around to reading Arabella of Mars, which meant I could immediately pick up the sequel, for more adventurous fun. A blurb on the back cover calls this “Regency space opera,” and that’s about right. We’ve got an alternate history where sailing ships fly between the planets during the Napoleonic Wars.

In this book, Arabella is still on Mars, but her fiancé has traveled to Venus – and there was captured by the French. He sends Arabella a letter telling her not to worry about him, but of course Arabella comes up with a scheme to try to save him. She hires a privateer to fly her to Venus. Her brother permits this plan as long as she brings along a chaperone, Lady Corey.

This second book isn’t mostly about adventures between the planets, as the first was (though they definitely have some). Instead, the privateer’s ship – and everyone on board – also gets captured by the French and held on Venus. But there’s something big afoot in the shipyard where some of the prisoners are laboring. Now there’s more to do than simply plan a mass escape.

Arabella’s character is so much fun! She’s resourceful and smart. And not slow to act. I was surprised how much I came to enjoy Lady Corey, too.

The science of this interplanetary travel and “interplanetary atmosphere” is iffy, but seems to be consistent with itself. I still roll my eyes a bit at the automata magically gaining personality and coming up with results the programmer doesn’t understand. It can even hear Arabella speak without having ears!

But it’s all in good fun. This is an adventure yarn with a memorable heroine who tries to rescue the man she loves and faces danger, capture, and even dinner with Napoleon.

tor-forge.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Arabella of Mars

by David D. Levine

Tor, Tom Doherty Associates, 2016. 350 pages.
Starred Review

It was a year ago now that my sister Becky recommended this book to me – and in fact I’d had it checked out to read – but then I became a Cybils judge and needed to focus on reading Young Adult Speculative Fiction. I’m not completely sure why this particular book is marketed to adults rather than young adults, since Arabella is 17 years old – but since it’s fiction for grown-ups, I had to put it aside – and just managed to read it before I start reading for the 2019 Newbery Award.

Like my sister told me, this book is simply good fun. The premise is that instead of seeing an apple fall, Isaac Newton watched a bubble rise from his bathtub – and discovered flight. In the 1810s world of the novel, space ships are very like sailing ships, navigating the atmosphere and currents between the planets for interplanetary travel. How this could actually work is rather murky to me – but the implications of this world are a lot of fun.

The book starts with Arabella, who has grown up on Mars, being trained, along with her brother, by her Martian nanny in hunting and fighting and strategic thinking. But alas! A small accident results in a bloody cut on her head, and all is revealed to her mother, who uses this to finally convince Arabella’s father that Mrs. Ashby and her three daughters should go home to England.

Not long after arriving in England, they receive the sad news of Arabella’s father’s death. Then when she is visiting her cousin Simon, she unwittingly gives the cousin the information that at this time the passage to Mars would be at its quickest – so he is going to go to Mars, win her brother’s trust, and kill him for the inheritance of the family plantation, which is entailed on the oldest male heir.

He and his wife lock Arabella in a closet, but she didn’t receive all that training from her Martian nanny for nothing. When she escapes, though, she reasons that she must find passage to Mars and get there before Simon so she can warn her brother. But how to book passage without money? That’s when Arabella decides to disguise herself as a boy, and she gets a position as captain’s boy – because of her skill in working with automata, a passion she shared with her father. The ship she serves on has a mechanical navigator, and she is trained on how it works.

And so her adventures begin. The voyage isn’t at all uneventful. There were times I forgot it was a spaceship, the descriptions were so like a seagoing vessel. She must learn the ropes (literally) and about navigation. Along the way they deal with attack by French corsairs and mutiny, and there are new challenges when they finally land.

Like I said, the science is very iffy, but the story is told with enough confidence, you don’t often notice. I’m skeptical of the automaton acquiring sentience, but the atmosphere and currents between the planets was merely interesting.

This story is a whole lot of fun, and the advantage to being so slow to getting around to reading it is that now I can pick up the sequel.

tor-forge.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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