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The Word Warehouse

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Not so many thrills under the big top

Pantomime - Laura Lam

This is one of those novels that paints a picture of the surroundings so well that you can easily imagine you are there. The difficulty lies with the story or the lack thereof. Not a whole lot actually happens, and too much time is spent on the backstory which isn't central to the plot. Don't look for supernatural, science fiction, or romantic elements because there aren't any. Just a straightforward tale about a teen who wants to join the circus with a few frills. I was expecting more seeing how this was published by Strange Chemistry, an imprint of Angry Robot. Perhaps the second book in this series will pick up the pace but I was left underwhelmed with this one.

A plot in need of balls

The Janissary Tree - Jason Goodwin

This was in the unread pile like forever and it wasn't worth waiting for. Setting the scene is one thing, but so much time is spent on details and surroundings that the plot gets bogged down and moves at a snail's pace. By the time it got to the unnecessarily convoluted end, I cared more about the book being over than who done it. Honorable mention for originality as it's not every day you read a book with a eunuch as a lead character.

Tough as overdone steak, but well worth it

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

     Most assuredly, this is not an easy book to enjoy. In fact, I would say if you can't abide by a book with leading characters who are totally unlikeable you might want to pass on this one.

     The creepy story deals with a married couple who wind up hating each other. And I don't mean dislike, I'm talking deep, dark hatred. It raises the question: how well do you really know someone close to you? Nick and Amy look like a perfect couple but their relationship goes south, like all the way to Antarctica.

     The plot mostly evolves through Nick's perspective and Amy's diary entries that she started even before they were married. The biggest strength here is in the writing. Cleverness abounds along with the obligatory plot twists and turns and suspense prevails throughout. But this is a dark novel, about as far away from light reading as it's possible to get.

     Overall, an enjoyable read but do not give this book to newlyweds unless you want to creep them out. Easily 4 stars.

 

Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum - Richard Fortey

Lest you think a museum is a stuffy old building filled with the same antiquated exhibits, here's a book that provides an enlightening look behind the scenes at one of the biggest museums in England.

The amount of material stored in the Natural History Museum is staggering. Literally miles (not to mention kilometers) of all sorts of objects from creepy crawlies found only in a remote part of South America to minerals from right around the corner by comparison. I had no idea the museum employed such an array of specialists. For every family of bug there's a person who has made it their main field of study.

Among the employees are the eccentric old gents who thrive in this sort of environment. From the guy who kept and filed by length all the pieces of string ever sent to the museum as packaging to the bloke who tried on his bulky diving apparatus and then couldn't remove it so he walked out of the museum looking like as the author put it "an extra in a science fiction movie" there are certainly a varied assortment of people working out of the public view.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in science or those who enjoy a trip to a museum.

A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top: Fraud and Deceit in the Golden Age of American Mining - Dan Plazak If you are a stock market investor, you may never buy shares in a mining company after reading this. There are so many ingenious and diverse ways to swindle an unsuspecting sucker, from salting a mine with melted silver coins to opening a worthless mine next to a profitable one then stealing their ore and throwing it down a shaft.These days, the SEC frowns on this sort of practice and mining companies have evolved into much bigger entities than those prior to 1900. But the idea of buying a stock for peanuts and then selling it at a huge profit will never lose its allure which explains how a multitude of unsavory crooks have waltzed off with millions in other people's money.It's hard to believe how little regulation once existed for a company to publicly trade shares. A prospectus? Bah, who needs one. A financial statement? Didn't that go out of style with the covered wagon? A highly entertaining look at the (mostly) bygone era of stock manipulation through creative bookkeeping and outright fraud. But you may never deal with a broker who says has he got a hot mining stock ever again.
Countdown City - Ben H. Winters It's not necessary to have read The Last Policeman to enjoy this. The best part of the novel is the way the author realistically portraits civilization knowing that an asteroid will impact the earth. Some people join a cult, others hoard food and supplies. If you can get past the flimsy premise that begins this book, it's an enjoyable read. Why an officer would undertake a monumental task for someone he doesn't know very well and expects nothing in return is a bit far-fetched especially since there's less than three months to go until impact. I was impressed that this book didn't slump which has been known to happen to second books in a trilogy. It's very well paced and captures the attention of the reader from the start. I will definitely pick up the concluding novel in the series.
Sacred - Dennis Lehane

Typical Dennis Lehane action, suspense and a side of levity. He's one of the very few authors I would say is incapable of writing a bad book. There are lots of plot twists and although the conclusion is a bit predictable it doesn't deter from a book that gets in gear from the first page and continues straight to the end. 4 1/2 stars.

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker It would have been interesting enough to read about either one, but Helene Wecker gives us the tale of both a golem and a jinni trying their best to blend in during 1899 in New York City. The long arm of coincidence stretches a bit far at times in this otherwise mesmerizing story as the viewpoints switch often. In the hands of a lesser author this could have come off as just another retelling of a familiar theme but the real strength here is the characterization, especially the way they evolve over time. Will the golem overcome her tendency to be subservient? Can the jinni find happiness when all he wants is to return to his people in the desert? The author does an amazing job making the reader care about the characters and spins a tale reminiscent of 1001 Arabian Nights only with lots more depth. Definitely worth picking up.
Seraphina - Rachel Hartman I could kick myself for waiting to read this novel because as soon as I read the first sentence I knew that I should’ve gotten to it sooner.With “I remember being born” begins this outstanding coming of age tale. Seraphina slowly discovers she’s not like other children and as the story progresses it quickly becomes evident that her life isn’t going to be easy. There’s a memorable early scene where she laments that she just wants to be like other kids but she evolves into a strong character by the end. Then we have dragons taking human form, sometimes not too successfully. This leads to some interesting dilemmas.This novel is virtually flawless. You can’t help but root for our heroine, wish a pox on the bad guy, and admire the depth of the characters including the minor ones. The writing is epic and the world-building is amazing. This is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in quite a while. Most definitely 5 stars.
Rules of Murder - Julianna Deering, DeAnna Julie Dodson The author is obviously a fan of Dorothy Sayers as the protagonist is modeled after Lord Peter Wimsey. But a number of problems arise early on in this whodunit. First we are introduced to so many people in the first chapter it’s hard to keep track of the players without a scorecard. You can tell who the first victim will be from a mile away. As the story progresses, it seems as though no one could be the murderer. The characters are all one-dimensional and the story lacks suspense.The basic writing is not bad, and there’s an occasional bit of humor but the plot gets unnecessarily convoluted. It’s a X pretends to be Y but in reality he was Z type of mish mosh at the end, and the reader is left wondering why some characters were even involved in the first place.Not much here except women dissolving into tears, geezers having heart palpitations, and Drew of the manor strolling arm in arm with someone. There are better books of this genre on the market.
Snapper - Brian Kimberling This started out with a lot of promise. Socially inept middle-aged ornithologist teams with with college student as they pursue birds for a state survey over the summer.The narrative doesn't stay on that path however, and soon becomes less interesting. Written entirely in the first person, the book is a series of mostly random encounters with odd people. The writing is fine and there's levity thrown in, but the story reads like a bunch of diary entries. Compelling it isn't, and exactly what the author is trying to get across is never clear. Is the protagonist bragging or complaining or just plain sarcastic? No way of telling.The writing is too aloof and there's not enough laughs to make it as a humerous novel. It would have better if the author chose to continue with a few characters introduced early on and develop them instead of switching to new ones throughout. Overall, this could have been better. Somewhere between 2 1/2 and 3 stars.
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black - E.B. Hudspeth An interesting and rather unique book that incorporates a series of anatomical drawings to tell the story of a doctor whose studies take him from the study of human physical abnormalities to his preoccupation with mythological creatures. Cleverly using journal entries and letters, Dr. Black begins the tale as a prodigy in his field but he winds up in the mad scientist league after his colleagues shun him.I would have liked more of a story. Which being told in the first 65 pages, there isn’t much time to develop a character so Black’s transformation seems a bit forced. Yes the drawings are meticulous and look like they came out of a textbook, but there are too many of each individual creature.Minor problems aside, this is certainly a page-turner. From the setting through the illustrations there is a sense of the mysterious and the author handles the story with the right touch so it doesn’t come across as just another book about a doctor with bats in the belfry. For those looking for an unusual read, fans of the horror genre, or people who own a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.
Agent 6 - Tom Rob Smith Although this book didn’t disappoint me, I found it the least captivating of the three he’s written so far. It takes quite a while for the story to kick in, and even longer before we find out what the title refers to. Leo is still likeable as ever, but he spends too much time traipsing all over the place so the setting lacks a focus. Plus there’s just not enough tension. Once the murder pivotal to the story is committed the plot ambles along and doesn’t pick up until near the end.And speaking of the end….oy vey as my Jewish friends would say. There ought to be a law against ending a novel not in a continuous plot with a cliffhanger. C’mon, we know authors don’t kill off their main protagonist. Did Captain Kirk ever buy the farm when he beamed down to a planet? Heck no, that’s what redshirts are for.The writing is still way above average but this reads like the weak link in a chain of otherwise fine spy novels. I would strongly recommend reading one of the author’s older books first if you haven’t already before attempting this mediocre effort.
The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History - William K. Klingaman, Nicholas P. Klingaman Many people have heard about the eruption of Krakatoa in 1888 but when Tambora blew its stack in 1816 it was 10 times more powerful and created a cloud of ash that circled the planet and resulted in abnormally cold conditions across the world.Mostly this book centers on the history of 1816. There’s not a lot about the actual eruption or the weather that resulted shortly afterwards, but the consequences are dealt with in detail from the mundane to the serious. Be it the gloomy days that caused Mary Shelley to stay indoors thereby coming up with an idea for a story about a guy named Frankenstein to the potato famine in Ireland, it was interesting to read about the side effects of the eruption.A good read for anyone interested in weather, volcanoes or what a bummer it was to live through the winter of 1816-1817.

Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob - What a mixed bag this book is. On the positive side the writing is definitely above average, the plot moves along well, and the author captures the difficulties of the teenage years perfectly. On the other side of the coin I had difficulty feeling much compassion for the protagonist, the ending although unexpected was too much out of the blue, and there wasn't enough resolution.If you are the kind of person who hates loose ends, I guarantee you will not like the last chapter. Is Jacob guilty or not? Ultimately that question and others are left unanswered.I'm not a big fan of judicial procedure novels but although there are certain flaws it's still an entertaining read but not up there in the stratospheric 5 star level.

Untimed

Untimed - Andy Gavin If there was any justice in the literary world, this novel would be at the top of the bestsellers lists while those authors who need a wheelbarrow to take their money to the bank and write like hacks would wallow in obscurity.This novel started out a bit slowly but by the end I was thoroughly convinced I had enjoyed it. Adventure, time travel, close escapes, alternate worlds and steampunk goodies all add up to a rollicking grand time. The author is a true raconteur and writes convincingly of different locations in varying centuries. There are quite a few twists and turns in this book and they are well contrived with believable characters. There’s also humor thrown in on occasion. I liked how the author used the concept of a small change in the past can lead to a gigantic change in the future. Bonus points awarded for doing a realistic job on Ben Franklin’s dialogue.A book that will appeal to a wide audience, be it science fiction fans or YA readers. I look forward to the next in this series. 4 ½ stars.