Fiction, Mystery

The Club Dumas

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. He is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas’s masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris on the killer’s trail in this twisty intellectual romp through the book world.

I almost gave up this book. I almost did. But once I got about fifty or so pages in, when they started talking about the Satanic texts and The Nine Gates, I was hooked. The front of The Club Dumas describes it as Anne Rice meets Umberto Eco, which worried me. Anna Rice I like, but I tried to read Eco’s The Prague Cemetery some months ago and I just couldn’t do it. But this, I could.

You definitely have to really love books and the history of books, including how they’re made. There’s a lot of discussion about book-making techniques across the years, including bindings, woodcuts, printing presses, etc. If the thought of that makes you go to sleep, don’t read this book. The plot is definitely on the order of a mystery/thriller, but it’s very sedate. There aren’t bombs going off in every chapter.

The Club Dumas is very well-written, the sentences taut and beautiful. Sometimes the plot becomes a little confusing, as it often seems poised to veer off into the surreal. One of the characters is referred to simply as “The Girl” because she gives the main character, Corso, the false name of Irene Adler, of Sherlock Holmes fame.

This book is a treasure if you really know your literary history, particularly where Dumas and Sherlock Holmes are concerned. There’s a lot of nice references that the educated reader will notice and appreciate.

The end let me down though. It grew too convoluted. I’m still not sure how the two major plot lines connect, nor am I sure exactly what happened in the last hundred or so pages.

Overall, while The Club Dumas was a fairly enjoyable way to pass some time, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest–to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.

This is a book I’ve had sitting around for a long time. Despite being so excited to buy it, I only just now got around to reading it. Howe’s novel had the perfect recipe of things I love in books: mystery, history, a tiny bit of supernatural, and a scholarly taste to it.

I liked this book well enough though I felt it could have been much longer. I felt that Howe only scratched the surface a bit with this one. The house in Marblehead was just so enchanting and gorgeous, I didn’t want the book to end because I didn’t want to leave it!

As summer comes upon us, I would definitely label this a beach read for people who don’t like beach reads. Just intellectual enough, but not complicated or difficult to follow. The plot chugs along at a good clip, rarely slowing or lulling.

Fiction, Reviews, Young Adult

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Maureen Johnson is an author I’d enjoyed in the past, but kind of forgot I liked. I saw The Name of the Star mentioned on another book blog some time ago and purchased it on my Kindle. I started it when I found in need of some distraction during my lunch break.

Johnson has a very engaging style that is every bit in evidence here. I really enjoyed the character of Rory… From her first chapter, I loved her stories about her eccentric family in the south. She was overall a great lead.

The storyline was intriguing and great… Someone is repeating the Jack the Ripper murders. I loved the mix of history in this YA, set in an old city, at a boarding school (honestly, she had me at boarding school). The time period of the history is also one of my favorites… Victorian.

Supernatural twist: Did not see that coming/ was not prepared for it. But it totally made the book great.

I’m stoked to read the next books in this new series. The Name of the Star was pretty addicting and I’m sure the others in the trilogy will be as well, knowing Johnson’s writing.

Fiction, Young Adult

Shadowlands

Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived… and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection with her father and sister, Darcy, leaving their friends and family without so much as a goodbye.

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children, but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. But just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?

As part of my new decision to review everything I read, I’m going to be letting my geek flag fly. I love YA. I really, really do. Kate Brian’s Private series is one of my favorites. Over the years I’ve read a few of her stand-alone novels as well as her Privileged series. Shadowlands is the start of yet another series.

I didn’t know all that much about this book before I got into it. I figured it’d be similar to Private and Privileged. I was not expecting things to take a … supernatural twist. Well, I guess the title is Shadowlands after all.

I really enjoy Kate Brian’s writing and Shadowland was no different. Her characters feel very life-like and altogether normal. She’s a fan (in most cases) of using the rather average, slightly self-deprecating protagonist. Because doesn’t every girl kind of feel like that inside?

That aside, this book was creepppyyyy. It’s about a girl named Rory who finds herself targeted by a serial killer. When she manages to escape, she and her family enter the witness protection program.

Unlike Brian’s other works, this is told in alternating viewpoints: Rory and the serial killer, Steven Nell. And Nell is creepy as anything. He reminds me of Hannibal Lecter. That level of creepy.

Also, I’d love to go to Juniper Landing and stay in the house her family goes to. The island sounds amazing and the house adorable. Even with the weird fog stuff.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away the twist. Because once you know the twist, it completely flips your perspective on everything.

Have you read Shadowlands? Or any of Kate Brian’s other books?

Fiction, Reviews, Thriller

The Atlantis Code

The Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw

A thrill-seeking Harvard linguistics professor and an ultrasecret branch of the Catholic Church go head-to-head in a race to uncover the secrets of the lost city of Atlantis. The ruins of the technologically-advanced, eerily-enigmatic ancient civilization promise their discoverer fame, fortune, and power… but hold earth-shattering secrets about the origin of man.  

While world-famous linguist and archaeologist, Thomas Lourds, is shooting a film that dramatizes his flamboyant life and scientific achievements, satellites spot impossibly ancient ruins along the Spanish coast.  Lourds knows exactly what it means: the Lost Continent of Atlantis has been found.  The race is on, and Lourds’ challengers will do anything to get there first.

Whoever controls the Lost Continent will control the world.

I’ve realized that, now that I don’t have much time to read, in order to keep my blog going I’ll have to review everything I read. In the past, I kept it just to things I genuinely loved and would recommend to people. That’s changing starting now. Because I don’t love everything I read.

This book is one them.

I love thrillers and am a huge sucker for historical/religious/supernatural mystery thrillers. The Atlantis Code was obviously right up my alley.

I liked the plot okay…though I’ll say that Dan Brown writes a better history-centered thriller. What I didn’t love was the characters, especially the female characters.

The central group of characters are Lourds, Leslie, Natasha, and Gary.

Lourds reminds me very much of Robert Langdon, but less suave and more man-whore. Their is a lot of introspective commentary on the part of the narrator, justifying Lourds’s habits of sleeping around, because his only true love is his work.

Uh-huh.

Leslie seems to be in this story just to play the ditzy blonde who desperately wants to shag the professor and when she does, gets all clingy. When she’s scorned in favor of Natasha (who we’re getting to in a second), she turns into a psycho-bitch.

Uh-huh.

I liked Natasha pretty well. She’s like a female James Bond: sexy, competent, and hard as ice. But she’s kind of a man-eater, which puts her opposite Leslie for Lourds’s affections.

Really could have done without the weird love triangle.

Plot and story are good…an interesting spin on Atlantis and the Bible that I hadn’t heard before. It was also really timely, with the Vatican angle, considering we’ve just witnessed the election of a new pope. The book was interesting, exciting, and kept me reading, despite the obvious issues with the characters.

Not a bad offering for a genre that is more plot-focused than character-based. I’ve certainly read worse. This would be an amusing companion for a long plane ride.

Author Spotlight, Fiction, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Author Spotlight: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

In my opinion, these guys have a lock on the thriller genre. And for good reason. In a genre that counts among its authors, Dan Brown, Jack DuBrul, James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Greg Bear, Iris Johansen, James Rollins, Raymond Khoury, David Lynn Goleman, William Gibson, and a bunch more, these guys really only have competition from Michael Cricton, who’s probably the undisputed God of this genre. Let’s talk about the fact that this is a convoluted and ambiguous subset of fiction. I think that most of the books one could term “thriller” also have their fingers in a separate genre. According to Amazon, my interests are apparently in “action & adventure fiction”, “science-fiction adventure”, “mystery & thriller”, “suspense thrillers” (really, Amazon?) and “techno thrillers”. Makes sense, yeah? Good, moving on.

I suppose you could say I’m a Preston and Child Completist. To-date, I’ve read (including solo efforts):

-Relic

-Reliquary

-The Cabinet of Curiosities

-Still Life with Crows

-Brimstone

-Dance of Death

-The Wheel of Darkness

-The Book of the Dead

-Cemetery Dance

-Fever Dream

-Thunderhead

-Tyrannosaur Canyon

-Blasphemy

-Riptide

-Mount Dragon

-The Ice Limit

-Impact

-The Monster of Florence (non-fiction)

-The Codex

-Death Match

-Utopia

-Deep Storm

-Terminal Freeze

-I’m currently in the midst of reading Cold Vengeance.

About the only thing I haven’t read yet is Douglas Preston’s non-fiction and the “Gideon” books.

So what is it about these guys? These are thriller novels, not literary fiction. With the exception of the Pendergast series, the characters aren’t deep. But the writing is tight and quick, propelling you to an insane conclusion, one that you can’t reason out from page one. There isn’t any lag-time in these novels. You don’t even have a chance to get bored. Much as you don’t have a chance to stop reading the book. Sure, if you’re hardcore against these novels, I suppose you won’t enjoy them. They do require suspension of belief. But it’s not really a hard-sell. But I’m not convincing people who hate these types of novels to give them a shot. I’m explaining why these guys are at the top of their game and why their novels are absolutely top-notch. I started with Relic. That would be my suggestion to anyone looking to break into the series. The Pendergast set is what made them famous and for good reason. I read the series in order though, in the midst of waiting for the new releases (I’d estimate I started these books in the winter of 2006), I read their other stuff. The Preston solo efforts are a bit stronger than the Child projects, but they are all nonetheless quite good. Out of all of these, I probably liked The Codex the least.

These guys are masters of plot. They can spin subplots and subtext like woven wool. To read one of these novels is to embark on a ride you didn’t know existed. With the passing of Michael Crichton (whose later works were certainly less brilliant and whose career included some unfortunate missteps) this pair is the worthy successor to such a dynasty. They rarely write anything that isn’t excellent (though I haven’t heard good things about the Gideon series, though apparently Hollywood is trying to turn it into a movie, so go figure) and whenever I get my hands on another of their novels, I always start it next. Case in point: I got Cold Vengeance for Christmas and I started it on the 26th, right after finishing The Fellowship of the Ring.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

Cold Venegance at A Walrus Darkly

Relic at Ryder Islington

Riptide at Cher Cabula’s Mindbox

Thunderhead at Jandy’s Reading Room

Impact at The Book Smugglers

Author Spotlight, Fiction, In Translation, Mystery, Reviews

Author Spotlight: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A few summers back, I wandered into my local Barnes & Noble. I was hoping to interview with a literary agent the next week and wanted to read one of the books she represented. While looking for that one, I stopped the display for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game.With a title like that, I couldn’t not pick it up and skim the back.

In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.

Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed–a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.

I was hooked. I wanted to buy the book right then. Then I noticed The Shadow of the Wind on the table beside it. That one was in paperback while the other was in hardcover. I set down The Angel’s Game and picked up The Shadow of the Wind. In case you’re wondering, I also bought the book I game in for which was title, Something Missing (also good, might do a review in the future).

The book sat on my shelf for awhile. It wasn’t until Christmas that I started it. And I fell in love.

At this date, I’ve read The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I own The Prince of the Mist, but I haven’t read it yet. Zafon has utterly captivated me. I simply cannot believe only three of his books are available in English. Simply put, his work is fantastic. Every time I’ve recommended his novels, I’ve scored a hit.

Zafon has a lurid and lush writing style. He composes sentences that twist and fold in upon themselves like the shadowy streets of his romantic Barcelona. Zafon plans to write a four-book series that involve the mysterious place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Literature is involved at every level in his work. From this secret library sort of place to the readers who delve in its works to the bookseller and his son to the young author, Zafon paints the world of the bibliophile with love. And Barcelona is the perfect backdrop for it all. Beyond Paris and London, it is one of those cities infused with the romanticism of the nineteenth century.

One of my friends said his work was very cinematic. This is true, but it’s not cinematic in the Hollywood blockbuster sort of style. The Barcelona Zafon creates for the readers is as vivid and colorful as a reel of film.

Although this is an author spotlight, I’m going to briefly comment on the two novels I’ve read. Both are considered to be for adults. His previous works, including The Prince of the Mist and his untranslated works, are geared towards young adults. Of the two novels, I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind a little more. The Angel’s Game is dark and twisted, much more so than the preceding book. While both books deal in the currencies of sadness, regret, and memory, The Angel’s Game provides little respite from those hard-hitting overtones. However, I would easily recommend both books.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

The Shadow of the Wind at Jo’s County Junction

The Shadow of the Wind at I Hug My Books

The Angel’s Game at Compulsive Reader

The Angel’s Game at My Wordly Obsessions