Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flipping Out

From www.Borders: "Nora Bannister is a bestselling mystery novelist who buys run-down houses in Los Angeles. While her business partners turn the house into a showpiece, Nora makes it the scene of a grisly murder in her House To Die For series."

This is the first Lomax & Biggs mystery I've read, but it won't be the last. It's set in L.A. in the days before the real estate bubble burst, and opens with five LAPD detectives playing poker on a houseboat owned by one of them. The next morning, one of the cop's wives is found murdered, and Lomax & Briggs are assigned to the case. Though they work it hard and are top homicide detectives, they can find neither rhyme nor reason for the murder. Then a second cop's wife is found murdered in the same way, and it turns out both victims were partner in the house-flipping scheme. The stakes are raised even higher ~ since Biggs' own wife is one of the partners of the house-flipping consortium.

This is not deep like your P.D. James or even Michael Connelly. Rather, it's light and humorous ~ more like a Janet Evanovich or early Robert Crais. The plot is somewhat outrageous and pretty involved, but Karp manages to keep it from being too convoluted to comprehend by his clear, concise writing style. The chapters are short, and the action moves quickly, making it a fast read. The dialogue was true to life, and I found myself chuckling in amused appreciation several times.

The only thing that troubled me a bit was the almost banal treatment of the deaths of the women. These weren't scum whose deaths seem no great loss, such as those who often end up murdered in the Stephanie Plum mysteries, or strangers to the reader like many victims in P.D. James' mysteries. Although we never "meet" some of them until they are already dead, we get to know them through what is said about them prior to their deaths by their husbands and friends, and the banter between the detectives and others involved in the investigation seems a bit more callous than I like to think homicide cops are.

All in all, though, I enjoyed the novel and recommend it without hesitation.

The Hand of Isis

I wanted to read The Hand of Isis because I love historical fiction, but it was with some trepidation that I actually began reading it. I mean, I've read a lot of historical fiction about this period ~ from a YA novel read in my youth to McCullough's version and many in between. To be honest, I thought it might turn into just another rehash of the tawdry life and love affairs of Cleopatra. Plus, I'm not a fan of first-person novels. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find The Hand of Isis was really good ~ well-written, with fully developed, interesting characters, and a detailed and historically accurate plot that brought the politics, time period, and Alexandria to life. Plus, I really liked the element of mysticism that was introduced.

This story of three sisters facing the world and their fates together, was charming even as it was tragic. Being myself the eldest of four sisters, I especially liked the closeness and the acceptance of each others' strengths and weaknesses displayed by the three sisters: Cleopatra, Iras, and Charmian. Charmian, the narrator, was easy to like, flaws and all. I did find the seminal scene with Agrippa a bit unrealistic considering Charmian's generally kindly nature, but without a huge misunderstanding like that he wouldn't be as likely to turn out as he did. I also found Dion and Emrys wonderfully realized, and the relationship between the two of them and Charmian was beautiful. Cleopatra, at least in the beginning, was well-realized and surprisingly likeable. Later on, I thought what she did with Marcus Antonius went pretty much against her nature as earlier described, although I imagine it's possible that the tragedy she experienced on her way back to Egypt from Rome effected her in such a way that her later actions are more believable. I'm afraid I didn't get much of a feeling for Iras, which is a shame, as she was a strong, memorable character yet I felt she wasn't as fully developed as the others.

I admit that it took me awhile to get to the point where the novel grabbed me; although I enjoyed it from the beginning, it didn't hook me until about page 200. Then, I couldn't put it down and read the last 282 pages in one big gulp.

As one LT reviewer has noted, being written from an Egyptian point of view rather than a Roman one was refreshing and made some of the Egyptians' behavior much more comprehensible. I also found the juxtaposition of Eastern and Western philosophies well done, and thought the supernatural aspects a wonderful touch. I also liked the portrayal of Isis, a goddess with three aspects. Finally, there were some pretty raunchy sex scenes. I didn't have a problem with them, although I didn't find them all that necessary. I tend to skim over most sex scenes anyway.

Only regret is that I didn't read Black Ships first, although I'm told it's not necessary, just that it might have added to my enjoyment. All in all, The Hand of Isis rocks, and I highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong female (and male) characters, and legendary times brought to life.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I'm so far behind, I may never catch up!

I've really enjoyed the books I've gotten to review, at least the ones I've had a chance to read so far, and I've also enjoyed reviewing them, at least the ones...well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, my life over the past few weeks has been crazier than usual, what with a major plumbing problem which included a large jagged hold in the living room ceiling and a sopping wet carpet, removal of the unexpectedly asbestos-containing "popcorn coating" on the aforesaid ceiling, and a copper repiping job. Anyway, I'm still dealing with the fallout of that mess (repairing the walls and ceiling, including patching, plastering and painting, as well as getting the final approval of the job by the city's building inspector).

What's that's meant as far as my blog is concerned is that I haven't had much time to read, much less review, the many books that I have been sent by wonderful authors, publishers, and others, or to interview the authors I have lined up to have as guests on my blog.

So, this is my abject apology for slacking off lately and my promise to get started again just as soon as this nightmare is over.

In case you're wondering, the books for which I owe a review are: Brideshead Revisited, The Italian Lover, The Brass Verdict, The Hand of Isis, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, Fault Line, and Nine Lords of the Night. The first three have already been read, the fourth I'm reading now, and the last three are on the TBR pile.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming Giveaway

Hatchette Book Group USA is again making it possible for me to host a giveaway. This time, the book is The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson, which looks at the darker side of Southern living.

In the words of Entertainment Weekly, it is "[a] ghost story, family psychodrama, and murder mystery all in one. Jackson's latest is a wild, smartly calibrated achievement. A-." I'll be posting a review here as soon as I read the copy that's being sent to me, so stay tuned!

Up to 5 copies will be given away, and the drawing will take place at midnight on April 15. As usual, this giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only, and the novel cannot be sent to post office boxes.

Good luck, ya'll!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bad Girls

I've reviewed The King's Rose, a YA historical novel by Alisa Libby before, giving it a rave review, but I just thought I'd mention that it's now been released.

Alisa loves writing about the bad girls of history. The King's Rose tells the story of Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, who was married at age 15 to the aging and paranoid megalomaniacal king and who, shortly thereafter, got into a spot of trouble for her allegedly adulterous behavior. Her earlier novel, The Blood Countess, is an historical fantasy based on the true story of a woman who believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would make her young forever. (Can you say "Ewwwww?")

Anyway, there's a pretty neat article here about her and her novels that I thought others might enjoy reading. Do take a look at the video interview toward the bottom of the article. And be sure to check out The King's Rose in bookstores near you!