Book Reviews

Review: Until Proven Guilty

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Until Proven Guilty
Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Borrowed the ebook from the library. Whizzed through it during my staycation, rolling my eyes for some part of it. You see, I thought he was a bit of a twit at first. But Jance is a skillful writer who knows how to draw a reader into the characters. She turned my antipathy and rolling eyes into sympathy and understanding, as well, as harpooning my cynicism. Ahem.

This book was written awhile ago, and I found the need to find payphones and people not being instantly accessible or not having access to Google or specialized searching, a little disconcerting. I had to check the copyright page (1985/1995/2002) to see what era we were in because, other than those details, it read modern! A good beginning to this series, and it left me wanting more.

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Review: Death in the Age of Steam

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Death in the Age of Steam
Death in the Age of Steam by Bradshaw Mel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I acquired this awhile ago, maybe during Toronto’s Word on the Street when publishers have those last-minute fire sales before the festival ends. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for ages, but the time came that I needed a break from gritty modern-day British crime and to snooze awhile in 19th century Toronto.

Well, okay, I didn’t snooze. But this book isn’t gritty or realistic either in the sense that everything must be depressing and dour and all despair and cocked up. Instead, it has suspense, romance, history, adventure, and interesting characters. The romance part is central. The protagonist of this tale Isaac Harris is a true white knight. He lost his love to another man, but when she goes missing, he’s the one who hares off searching for her. His search takes us travelling north, south, east, and west of Toronto and into all manner of modern-19th-century conveyances. His conflicts give us a hint of politics pre-Confederation style. And the characters cover every strata of society. Some of the characters, in fact, are so well drawn, that I had to find out if they were real, based on real people. Nope. But they continued to seem like real.

Death in the Age of Steam is a good romp, as they say. My only objection to this book is the exposition. I know, I know, exposition is very 19th century. But this was written in the 21st century for 21st-century readers. We get bored. Fast. Exposition is good and needed at times, but is not so hot when dialogue suddenly turns into exposition. It confuses the reader as well as deflating the conflict or emotion between characters that the dialogue had been creating. The exposition-instead-of-dialogue got entirely too much, and I have to admit, I skipped a few bits just so that I could get back to the action. But all in all a good tale with a good ending. Definitely liked the ending!

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Book Reviews

Review: Please Pass the Guilt

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Please Pass the Guilt
Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The rating should be a 4, but I was thinking more about the act of reading than reading the book itself. Let me explain.

I had this conversation, not the first, with several members of my brain health care team who said it’s not normal to read a book in one day, that that’s unusual. Really?! Before my brain injury, I’d take out three of these kinds of books — mystery or Star Trek, mass paperback, usually longer than a Rex Stout book — per week, five if I could get away with it, and read one in a day, about two hours, less for a book like Please Pass the Guilt, more for a PD James mystery. I’d often read a book like this in one go, or maybe I’d take it with me when I went out and read it on the TTC, while waiting, while eating alone, even on the escalator or walking, and it was not usual for me to take longer than a day to finish it. I absolutely know I’m not the only one — one day I saw three women on one escalator, noses in their ebooks or paperbacks. I see more and more men reading trade paperbacks on the subway too.

So I downloaded Please Pass the Guilt from the library onto my Sony Reader and made myself finish reading it in one day.

The best part of reading Please Pass the Guilt was spending time with Archie. Being the narrator, Archie is more present in one’s mind than Nero is. I learnt a few new things about Archie and the running of Nero’s household, and I liked the nuanced change, if temporary, in the relationship between Nero and Inspector Cramer.

The worst part was the act of reading. Because my brain injury harmed my reading ability a great deal — and even though we’ve been focussing treatment on healing the damaged systems involved in reading — it was not easy. First off, reading fatigues me. I had to keep taking breaks to recharge. It reminded me that if such an easy-to-read book as one by Rex Stout saps my energy, then I still have someway to go to be able to read at my old level without needing a nap or three. Then I had a hard time staying engaged — the more tired one is, the harder it is. Plus reading outside naturally means distractions — squirrels, far-off conversations, sounds of an air show. And then there were the usual-for-me-now keeping track of characters, dates (and Rex Stout makes it soooo easy to know what day it is), but at least not plot . . . although the solution made no sense to me. I think my brain must’ve been fried at that point. I shall have to reread it at a slower, broken-up pace so that I can keep up with Archie’s narration and revelation of the motive.

I timed my reading because I always do in order to track my reading progress. It took me just shy of three hours to read this book (I wonder if reading a mass paperback version would’ve taken me longer or the same time . . .). So about 1.5 times longer than my old normal. Since in the early years after my brain injury, it took me longer than 21 days to read a mystery mass paperback and hardly absorb one word of it and would cause me to incur library fines, hence me stopping borrowing books, that’s pretty good. Wish it was better though. (The year it took me a year to read a short non-fiction book liberally sprinkled with illustrations is the year I stopped reading altogether until I found and began treatment for my brain injury.)

I used to solve mysteries before the end, and always loved to see how quickly I could do it. Now I don’t, before the end or even a few times understand them at the end. I’ve gotten used to that big change, but maybe if I can leap the hurdles of reading a short, easy mystery in one day, I shall set the next goal as solving the mystery before the author reveals it, even if it’s only a sentence before.

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Book Reviews

Review: Gabriel’s Redemption

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Gabriel's Redemption
Gabriel’s Redemption by Steve Umstead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s one tiny problem with rating this ebook: I read it in two time periods. I began and stopped reading it before I started LORETA neurofeedback and direct brain stimulation to help me with my reading. And I picked it up again and finished reading it one session short of the end of my LORETA treatments. Thus there are two different reading-level ‘me’s who read it with two different reactions.

The first problem for me is that it’s not my usual genre. Due to my brain injury, I’m rather partial to sticking to mysteries and to series I know by authors I’ve lived with for years. But this year I wanted to make a concerted effort to try and read new-to-me authors; hence, buying this ebook. Plus I follow the author on Twitter and wanted to try and support him. Well, my good intentions kind of tanked. I couldn’t keep all the characters in my head; I had trouble following the plot; my injured brain was not happy with something new; and despite the fact that Umstead used Toronto as one of the settings — which definitely perked me up — I couldn’t engage with the story. Because of my brain injury, I really was pushing my limits with this novel. The worse thing for my ego is it’s not a hard read. It’s written well and with good flow. Anyway, a library ebook became available, and I dropped Gabriel’s Redemption. I intended to go back. Really, I did! But one thing led to another, and I couldn’t face the effort.

But then I picked it up just before my penultimate LORETA session, right after the third direct stimulation of my Wernicke’s area (area for language input, aka reading), and finished reading it after that LORETA session. Big difference. I still couldn’t keep the characters straight at first. But then they started to firm up in my mind. The plot became knowable. And the story engaged me. I wanted to read it because now my brain was up for the challenge. And I finished it quickly, almost too quickly.

I have some quibbles, like the use of imperial instead of metric. Metric will be dominating by the time of the story. 🙂 And the cliché of Chinese goods. And the lack of women. I know the US Army has only just managed to consider women for combat roles, but that’s not true for the rest of the world. And in the future, I think there will be more . . . or they’ll be put back into purdah. But it won’t be the current status American quo. The ending reminded me of how old 1970s’ TV dramas used to end. I could take it or leave it. So all in all, I’d recommend this ebook.

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Review: The Lion

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The Lion
The Lion by Nelson DeMille
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Trying to rate these books sometimes requires too much mental work. I really liked the voice of the narrator, his humour, his personality, but I found the repetitive violence soooooo tedious. They say it’s an action book, but I actually found the action flagged. The waiting parts made sense, but unfortunately the conversations and thought processes during the waiting parts kind of got rather predictable and so created no tension, which dialogue and inner thought can do when physical action is not appropriate to the story at that point in it.

And then there’s the problem with violence: it’s addictive like a drug, with all the downsides of building up a tolerance. You take a bit, you get a high, you feel good, you get low, you want more. But the bit is not enough and you don’t get a high now. You want more. You get more, you get a high, you feel good, you get low. You want more and you want it even more violent. And so it goes. The same addiction cycle is the same for reader and author. Plus I find violence kind of simplistic. I mean, isn’t there ANY OTHER WAY?!! Would it kill an author to surprise me one day? Apparently so.

So to sum up: great main character, wonderful humour, repetitive plot whose solution you see coming in chapter 1, and violence that gets boring. Sigh.

I won this book as one of ten in a Twitter contest The Crime Vault held early in 2013.

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Review: The Placebo Effect

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The Placebo Effect
The Placebo Effect by David Rotenberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The problem with writing a review on this ebook (I read the ePub version) is that I got the ebook a year ago, almost exactly to the day, and started it twice at least. I suppose that should be a sign that it wasn’t quite good enough to hold my attention. But the interruptions were for one reason or another, and I was interrupted recently because a library ebook I put on hold last March finally became available and I had to read it before it was due. I decided not to start The Placebo Effect from the beginning for this, the third time, because I was too far into it this time. But it did mean I couldn’t remember everything that had happened. Since forgetting is par for the course for me, that didn’t worry me too much, and I followed along as best I could.

I hunkered down over the weekend, determined to finish it once and for all. I found some parts of it more engrossing than others. The lead character Decker seemed kind of, well, stand-offish or aloof or disconnected or something. I just couldn’t feel any sympathy for him at all. It was like I was trying to grab a hold of a two-dimensional being who kept hovering out of my reach. On the one hand, he seemed like a total dunce; on the other, well, not quite a dunce. I would’ve thought for someone with his abilities, that he’d be more observant, and for someone with his kind of job, that he’d be more thought-ful. The cast of characters around him were interesting. I can see series potential with them in the next books. The plot was intriguing and a little disconcerting. Made me wonder if it is true in real life or only in fiction. I hope not!

The best thing about this book is that it is centred in Toronto. We need more books that feature Toronto!

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Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

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The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me as a good read. It’s certainly popular because after I placed it on hold at the library, I had to wait months and months before an ebook copy became available. I began reading it right away as I wanted to finish it before it was due. I made it with days to spare!

It isn’t a hard read, but I didn’t find it compelling enough to hold my interest non-stop. It’s not my usual fare, and I read that some have likened Allan to Forrest Gump. Never read the Gump book; never saw the movie. I know, that makes me…weird. So I can’t comment other than from the Forrest Gump movie trailers I saw, it does seem like both characters meander through life meeting famous people and affecting famous events. But I don’t think Gump did it in quite the unusual style Allan does, with the tone of the book being a counterpoint to Allan’s vocation. It’s certainly an interesting choice of character trait and ability Jonasson chose. That’s one thing that makes this book unique; the other is the age of the protagonist. I mean, how many books feature centenarians having adventures? There’s something hopeful about that, that retirement doesn’t mean the end of life. And sometimes after retirement life begins all over again. (And on a side note, retirement doesn’t equal 65. Or 55.)

I liked it. I found it funnier at the end than during the middle. But humour is a fickle mistress. What one finds hilarious, another finds deadly dull. I wouldn’t go by laughter, but more by the feeling of amusement and light-heartedness the book engendered. I’m sure there are lessons in here; they’re more the kind you reflect on as you’re reading not at the end when you’re all done. They’re small yet thought-provoking. For this reason, buying the book and allowing yourself the time to read it deeply is probably better than borrowing it from the library…unless you’re a fast reader.

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Book Reviews

Review: One Careless Moment

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One Careless Moment
One Careless Moment by Dave Hugelschaffer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The back story made the first book in the series interesting, and though there was a bit of an emotional disconnect between reader and characters, the emotionality of the back story gave the book a little bit of depth. That back story isn’t in this second book in the series really, and, as well, I felt there was less connection between Porter and the character most important to him than there was previously. Which was weird and unexpected.

I also found the paternalism a little bit much. I mean, really, one shouldn’t be glaring at the main character in an escapist mystery series like this one. This series isn’t a brooding-angst-filled one where the hero is not just flawed but repulsive. Porter is a likable character, so this attitude with respect to his romantic interest is a bit much. The reason for it doesn’t seem believable enough either. I mean, it’s there but didn’t fill me with fear for Porter or anyone else in the way other authors can draw you in and terrify you. I’m not sure I’ll continue on with this series . . . we’ll see.

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Review: Day into Night

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Day into Night
Day into Night by Dave Hugelschaffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not exactly sure how to rate this book. This is definitely one of those times when half stars would come in handy! Perhaps it’s more 3.5 than 4…

I don’t remember how I ended up with this ebook in my Kobo app, maybe it was on sale or something, but it’s been sitting around awhile, silently adjuring me to pick it. I finally did. And I did at a time that suited my mood. I needed something not heavy on the brain, something escapist, something Canadian. And most of all a good story. This one fit the bill.

However, there are some unrealistic elements, sort of like those 1970s’ cop shows when the hero takes a beating that would floor giants and somehow keeps on ticking. Those kinds of unrealistic elements would normally be non-starters for me. But I rolled right over them, practically not caring, twitching away my scathing disbelief. There was also a feeling of skimming right over the emotions. I wondered at one point if it was a diction problem or that the character himself doesn’t connect well to his own emotions and so the author had mimicked that for the reader or if the author was sort of skirting around because he was more interested in the plot and action. I’m still not sure.

On the positive side, I had a good sense of the characters. The hero is well drawn. The author cleverly misled the reader. The setting of forest fires during a hot summer was enjoyably different. It didn’t have boring bits that would make one want to skim. And the ending in its nuanced greyness without being absolutely depressing like some mysteries these days, suited my Canadian heart. I’ve borrowed the second in the series from the Toronto Library and hope to begin reading it soon.

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