Guest Post by Hamlette: Review of “The Cove”

Isn’t it interesting what will get someone to read a book? We all have things that automatically interest us in a book. One of mine is the state of North Carolina. My parents moved there when I was 12, to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I did my real growing up there, and it still feels like home to me. When I read the description of Ron Rash’s “The Cove,” I was drawn to it by the fact that it is set in those mountains.

“The Cove” begins with a man in the 1950s walking into a shadowy, creepy cove, which in this book is a dark valley, not a place where you keep boats. He stops at an abandoned homestead to draw a bucket of water from the well and finds something in that well that tells readers that this will not be a happy book, that it will not end well, that something very bad indeed has happened here.

Then the book flashes back to that same cove, but in early 1919, when the cove is the home of a sister and brother, Laurel and Hank. Laurel has a large, purple birthmark on her shoulder that has led the superstitious mountain folk to believe she is either cursed or a witch. As a result, most people shun her, and she is very lonely. Hank lost an arm in the early part of WWI, and is having a hard time patching up their farm as a result. A stranger arrives in the cove, a speechless man bearing a flute, sixty dollars, and a note explaining that his name is Walter. Hank hires him to help fix up the farm, Laurel falls in love with him, but an ominous shadow looms over all the happiness springing up in the cove. As I read this, I always had that opening scene in the back of my mind, the well’s contents and what they could mean.

I can’t say much more, as I’d be spoiling the story for anyone who would like to read it. If you like beautiful writing and learning about the impact our decisions have on the lives of others, “The Cove” could delight you. However, the characters do engage in activities that some readers may not appreciate. And it is dark and sometimes bleak, I will warn you of that, though it deals with joy and happiness as well. I found it a good book for the end of winter, when I am weary of grey skies and bare trees, but know spring will brighten the world again soon.

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Les Miserables: Book vs. Movie

I finally went to see Les Miserables, the movie. I had previously seen the play and quite enjoyed it. I felt the same about the movie. However, immediately after coming out of the movie theater, I knew that I was going to have to read the book, which I do every few years as it is one of my favorites.
As soon as I started reading the book (unabridged), I realized just how much the movie had to cut to fit within the timeframe of a movie. At the same time, I was impressed with how well the movie caught the emotion of the book.
I definitely like the book better, but I still love the movie and realize that it is probably unfair to compare the two. You just have to enjoy them in entirely different ways. Sometimes that is difficult (think Count of Monte Cristo–I really hated the movie). But in the case of Les Miserables, I love them both and am sure that I will see the movie again.

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Guest Post by Hamlette: Book review of “Garment of Shadows”

When “Garment of Shadows” opens, Mary Russell wakes up alone in a strange room, wearing strange clothes (okay, unfamiliar — she has a habit of wearing “strange” clothes, you know), and with no idea how she got there. Or who she is.

I will admit here and now that I am a fan of amnesia stories. I love Robert Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity.” And “While You Were Sleeping” is one of my favorite movies. I will also admit that a lot of books involving amnesia are trite, overwrought, and cliched. It is my opinion that Ms. King has avoided all those pitfalls.

Anyone who has read a book or two (or ten) in this series knows that Mary Russell is not a woman who is easily discombobulated. So when her inability to recall her identity or past sends her reeling, it has a similarly disorienting effect on readers as well. I whipped through this book at all possible speed, nearly as anxious as Russell herself for her memory to return. And I think my favorite aspect of this book was watching Sherlock Holmes watch his wife reconnect herself, puzzling piece by puzzling piece.

I’m having a hard time figuring out a way to describe this book’s plot in ways that don’t spoil it completely, so let me just say that it involves French colonists, two dear friends of the Russell-Holmeses, and a lot of middle-eastern political intrigue. The ending surprised me with a very unforeseen plot twist that had me rereading a few paragraphs and saying, “What?! Really!?! No!!!” in a way that warranted every bit of that seemingly superfluous punctuation I just used.

All in all, a very satisfying addition to this series, and one that returns it to a more serious tone after the recent, lighter-hearted jaunt that was “Pirate King.”

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The Season for Gift Giving and Supporting Novelbookratings.com

The holiday season is upon us! Hopefully this will be time for catching up on a little reading. As you buy gifts, whether it is books or not, help build Novelbookratings.com at the same time. Click here to see how to support Novelbookratings.com.

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Guest Post by Hamlette: Book Review of “From the Dust Returned”

Ever since Ray Bradbury’s death earlier this year, I’ve been meaning to read one of his books that I’d never read before. Since I’d only read four of his books before this, I had a lot to choose from. But I never got around to getting one from the library until last week, when I spotted “From the Dust Returned” on a display of Halloween books. I’d been in the mood for something gently spooky to celebrate the holiday, and I thought Bradbury might fit my tastes well, since I’d enjoyed the other books of his I’d read. I was right.

When I say ‘gently spooky,’ I do mean gently — I can’t really handle anything scarier than “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I have a strong imagination, and horrific images can haunt my brain for years, so I take care what I read and watch. So you can believe me when I say that this is not a scary book. It’s not even particularly creepy, though all but one of the main characters are ghosts or vampires or other supernatural creatures. Instead, it is poignant and pensive, more concerned with raising your eyebrows than your hair.

Ray Bradbury - From the Dust Returned

From the Dust Returned

The book revolves around a giant house that is home to The Family, a collection of not-dead-anymore persons. It is also home to one human boy, Timothy, adopted by the Family as a baby when they found him on their doorstep. As he grows older, it becomes Timothy’s task to write down the history and wisdom of The Family’s members. This book is really a collection of short stories held loosely together by the framework of Timothy learning his family’s background. Bradbury wrote the stories over a period of fifty years, and quite a few of them had been previously published in various magazines.

As usual, what I like best about Bradbury is the way he uses unusual characters and fantastical events to speak about very real and concrete themes. Among other things, this book explores the nature of family, the various ways two beings can relate to each other, and the many different types of love that exist in this world. But I would say it mostly deals with the way the modern world of gadgets and speed has replaced the old ways of life that had more room for thought and imagination.

If you’re looking for a short story to read aloud on Halloween — to a group of kids around a camp fire, for instance — you’ll find plenty of possibilities here.

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Guest Post by Hamlette: Book Review of “Sweet Dreams, Irene”

Sweet Dreams Irene by Jan Burke“Sweet Dreams, Irene” is the second in Jan Burke’s series of mysteries starring intrepid newspaper reporter Irene Kelly. It begins with Irene reporting on the two men running for D.A. One candidate’s political machine accuses the other candidate’s son of being a Satanist. The boy comes to Irene to try to get his side of the story in the paper, insisting that rather than being a Satanist, he’s actually trying to get his best friend to leave a Wiccan coven. Before we know it, there are dead people, there are death threats, and then Irene winds up kidnapped. Even after she escapes (okay, sorry, that was spoily, but since there are a lot more Irene Kelly books after this, you know she didn’t stay kidnapped forever), Irene keeps having nightmares about her captivity. She expects this to put a strain on her relationship with Detective Frank Harriman, but the two of them are too busy finding out who’s behind all the murder and mayhem to stay apart for long.

This book was written in the mid-’90s, when Wicca was a hot new topic that would have raised a lot of eyebrows. Now it feels a little bit like the subject of witchcraft was included for shock value and timeliness, which makes the whole book feel a bit dated. However, the interpersonal relationships and the detective work more than make up for that.

Irene Kelly reminds me of Nancy Drew — she’s intelligent, feisty, loyal, and daring. She can get herself out of most jams, and when she can’t, her wonderful boyfriend can. Like Nancy’s Ned Nickerson, Frank Harriman is strong, handsome, athletic, and sympathetic. I look forward to reading more of this series, and am very glad to know there are almost a dozen of them so far.

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Summer Reading

First I want to thank Hamlette for her guest reviews. They are really refreshing. I am getting good feedback about her reviews and we will be asking her for more in the future. Her enthusiasm for good books is contagious. If you know of anyone else that would like be featured on our blog let us know.
Summer is quickly coming to an end. Have any of you found a good summer read? I have had a tough time finding the perfect book. Nothing has really made my summer. I finally decided to pick up”Catch 22,” having heard great things about it. I somehow missed reading this in high school or college and to tell the truth I may have enjoyed it more then. This is not going to make my favorite book list, but I must admit that I found myself laughing out loud at times. It is easy to see how this book became so influential (and I can’t help but think that the tv series “Mash” was heavily influenced by it). However, this book is not for the feint of heart–lots of violence, profanity and sexual content and I found myself skipping pages to get past scenes that just went too far for me. But this is a war book and is pointing out the immorality of war, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
But now I am looking for light fluff–no deep satire, just a book that is fun to read. Send me your suggestions and enjoy your last month of summer reading.

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Guest Post by Hamlette: Book Review of “Spider Bones”

I’ve been a fan of the TV series Bones since it first aired in 2005. So it was only natural that I would start reading the mystery novels the show is based on, written by real-life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. While initially disappointed that the books have little in common with the TV show besides the main character’s name and occupation, I found the first couple of books in the series (Deja Dead and Death du Jour) entertaining. But as I read the next few books, things started getting a little… predictable. Not the plots themselves, those are all twistedly complex. But in every book, three things would happen: Temperance Brennan would drink a lot of Diet Coke, she would wander off on her own and do something stupid that would enable the bad guys to attack her, and someone close to her would wind up in Terrible Danger. I eventually stopped reading the series, partly because I’d tired of those three things happening, and partly because I had other things to read.

Kathy Reichs

Spider Bones - Inspiration for the Fox TV show Bones.

However, I recently picked up Spider Bones, a much more recent entry in the series, and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it contains can after can of Diet Coke, Tempe wandering off alone, and her loved ones winding up in Terrible Danger. But the dialog is a lot more realistic than in the earlier books, the forensic jargon gets worked in more naturally, and the plot is as hard to guess as ever. Maybe it also helped that this book has a fresh setting: Hawaii. The other ones I’ve read take place primarily in Canada and North Carolina, and relocating most of the action to a new locale was a nice change.
Spider Bones concerns the remains of “Spider” Lowry, which Brennan identifies in present-day Canada. Except he supposedly died in Vietnam in the 1960s. So who’s buried in his grave? And why do more remains turn up sporting one of his dog tags? Like Reichs’ other novels, there are a lot of grisly descriptions of decomposed bodies, which mean this series is not for anyone squeamish who is blessed with a vivid imagination. And there are jokes about sexually deviant behavior, which one corpse was engaged in just prior to becoming a corpse, so this is also not for those who would find such material offensive. However, if you are a fan of forensic crime shows like the CSI trio or, yes, Bones, you might dig this book — and series — quite a lot.

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Guest Post by Hamlette: Book Review of “Pirate King”

Pirate King” is the latest in a series of mysteries set in the early 20th century and starring a detective named Mary Russell and her husband. You may have heard of her husband — his name is Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve been a Holmes fan since I was thirteen, and I’ve read a lot of “non-canon” stories about him (written by someone other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), but none of them have presented the famous detective in all his complex allurement like these books by Laurie R. King. But unlike those other stories, these books don’t center on Sherlock Holmes — they center on his wife, Mary Russell. And before you throw arguments at me about Holmes being a lifelong bachelor, or a misogynist, or about Irene Adler being the only woman for him, let me assure you that these books deal with all those issues. Quite convincingly.

By Laurie R. King

A Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell Novel

But anyway, I’d better tell you what this particular book is about instead of nattering on about the series as a whole. Pirate King finds Mary Russell going undercover as an assistant for a silent film production of a movie that shares the book’s title. Scotland Yard thinks someone in the film company is selling guns and drugs, and they want Russell to find out who. Things sail merrily along until the entire film crew gets kidnapped by pirates.

While Sherlock Holmes in absent from the first half of the book, he makes a welcome addition eventually. This is a bit of a departure from the usual tone of the series, being rather lighter than some of the more recent books, but it still has plenty of suspense and plot twists to keep a reader guessing. It’s also chock full of the period and location details Ms. King excels at, as well as lots of wonderful descriptions of making silent movies and traveling aboard a sailing ship.

If you’ve never read any of this series, but love either Sherlock Holmes or just mysteries set in the not-too-distant past, I highly recommend these books. Start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and see what you think. Ms. King also has written a series about a modern-day detective, and several stand-alone novels, but I vastly prefer this series. In fact, it’s my favorite series by a living author!

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Guest Post by Hamlette: Book review of “Vanishing Act”

“Vanishing Act” by Thomas Perry is the first in a series about a Native American named Jane Whitefield. Jane is a guide, but not the kind that takes you hunting for big game or leads you on a tour through a historic site. She guides people who are looking to leave their current self behind and become someone new.

The plot centers around an ex-cop named John Felker, who has been accused of embezzling and set up to take the fall for some unknown scheme. Jane helps him escape his pursuers and assume a new identity, just like she’s done for many other unfortunate people, from victims of abuse to targets of Mob violence. This time around, she also forms a relationship with the person she guides, something she has never done before.

But once Jane returns home, things begin to unravel. Felker was not at all who he seemed, and he has twisted Jane’s help to his own purposes, killing people she cares about in the process. Jane transforms from Guide to Hunter, stalking Felker into the wilderness to extract vengeance for his treachery and murders.

I found “Vanishing Act” to be a satisfying read on many levels. The characters are complex and believable, and I loved how Jane’s Native American heritage played an integral part of the story. I’ve long been fascinated by the culture and history of American Indians, and my favorite parts of this book were the places where Jane was most connected to her Seneca roots. I hope to read the next book in this series soon.

If you enjoy reading mysteries or thrillers because you like to see justice served, wrongs righted, and good triumphing over evil, you won’t be disappointed. But because Jane is not a law enforcement professional, the story does raise some questions about vigilante justice and revenge that I wish the author would have addressed.

About Hamlette:
‘Hamlette’ is the nom-de-blog of a mother with three small children. Hamlette has been fascinated with storytelling since she was knee-high to a bookshelf, and she has been seriously practicing being a writer since she was fourteen. Although only one of her short stories so far has been a mystery, that genre remains her favorite to read.

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