Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Buy from the Book Depository
Title: The Body in the Library
Author: Agatha Christie
Series: Miss Marple, Book 3
Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 207 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The body of a beautiful blonde is found in the library of Gossington Hall. What the young woman was doing in the quiet village of St. Mary Mead is precisely what Jane Marple means to find out. Amid rumors of scandal, Miss Marple baits a clever trap to catch a ruthless killer.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Mystery stories were what started my reading addiction, and although I don't read them that much anymore, it's comforting to return to the genre that made me love reading in the first place. Agatha Christie is an all-time favorite of mine (as can be said for a lot of you, probably!), and while I've read a lot of Hercule Poirot, I haven't read a lot of Miss Marple, which is a shame. The Body in the Library is the third in the series and it's Christie's successful attempt to take a cliched topic and turn it on its head.

I really enjoyed this book. It's perfect summer reading, with its short length and fast-paced plot. As always with Christie's books, the characters are remarkable. There is so much humor and silliness amid all the drama and sleuthing, which makes these books pure entertaining, fun.

The ending was clever and I actually didn't see the twist at the end, which was a nice surprise. It was, however, rushed and I wish we could have actually seen the playout of Miss Marple's trap instead of a recap of it, but that's the only flaw I can find in this book.

In short, this is one mystery that will keep you in suspense all the while keeping a smile on your face. If you find yourself with a few extra hours this summer, definitely keep The Body in the Library in mind.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Buy from the Book Depository
Title: Gameboard of the Gods
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Series: Age of X, Book 1
Hardcover: 464 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.  
When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

*Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BookExpo America.*

Okay, so when I first started reading this, I was a bit flummoxed and I maybe, may have reacted a little too strongly. It went along the lines of:

What is this?! This isn't Richelle Mead! What's all this science fiction stuff doing in here? Where's the witty banter? The paranormal stuff? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

But then I calmed down. Because, as it turns out, there is witty banter and quite a bit of mythology/fantasy elements. Mead just had to set the scene for us. And after a few dozen pages, I started to really get into the story.

This is definitely a science fiction book (yes, with mythology elements -- SO COOL!) and most definitely not young adult, but I became a Richelle Mead fan through her Georgina Kincaid series, and I actually prefer her adult books. I'm also a huge fan of science fiction -- just transitioning from my expectations of what Mead usually brings to what she brought with Gameboard of the Gods was a little difficult.

With that said, Gameboard of the Gods is brilliant and I am amazed by Richelle Mead's talent and skill all over again. This is a terrifyingly realistic portrayal of a futuristic society in which the government severely limits religious practice, and the gods are starting to fight back. I loved the characters, and I especially loved the tension that fills Justin and Mae's relationship. (But, let's face it: creating a dynamic like that is Mead's forte.) There's also a lot of action where Mae kicks some serious butt.

*sigh* I love strong female characters.

The way the story unfolds is masterfully done; at the beginning, it all seemed very on-the-level and I wasn't really sure where the story was heading, but then clues and pieces of the puzzle started to drop in to create a story and a world I totally wasn't expecting. And it's not like the revelations ever end, either. Right up until the very last page, new facets are added to the world and the characters that live in it. Of course, not everything is resolved and I still have TONS of questions and ponderings about what's to come, but that's why this is a series, right?

Well done, Mead. Well done. I'm hooked.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry

Title: The Templar Legacy
Author: Steve Berry
Narrator: Paul Michael
Publisher: Books on Tape
Duration: 15 hours, 42 minutes
Series: Cotton Malone, Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The ancient order of the Knights Templar possessed untold wealth and absolute power over kings and popes . . . until the Inquisition, when they were wiped from the face of the earth, their hidden riches lost. But now two forces vying for the treasure have learned that it is not at all what they thought it was-and its true nature could change the modern world. 
Cotton Malone, one-time top operative for the U.S. Justice Department, is enjoying his quiet new life as an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen when an unexpected call to action reawakens his hair-trigger instincts-and plunges him back into the cloak-and-dagger world he thought he'd left behind. 
It begins with a violent robbery attempt on Cotton's former supervisor, Stephanie Nelle, who's far from home on a mission that has nothing to do with national security. Armed with vital clues to a series of centuries-old puzzles scattered across Europe, she means to crack a mystery that has tantalized scholars and fortune-hunters through the ages by finding the legendary cache of wealth and forbidden knowledge thought to have been lost forever when the order of the Knights Templar was exterminated in the fourteenth century. But she's not alone. Competing for the historic prize-and desperate for the crucial information Stephanie possesses-is Raymond de Roquefort, a shadowy zealot with an army of assassins at his command. 
Welcome or not, Cotton seeks to even the odds in the perilous race. But the more he learns about the ancient conspiracy surrounding the Knights Templar, the more he realizes that even more than lives are at stake. At the end of a lethal game of conquest, rife with intrigue, treachery, and craven lust for power, lies a shattering discovery that could rock the civilized world-and, in the wrong hands, bring it to its knees.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

I wanted to give this religious/mystery/thriller genre another try, because it's so popular! When I dislike a popular book or genre, I feel like I'm not giving it a fair chance. So, even though I did not at all like The Da Vinci Code, I ended up reading The Templar Legacy. I've heard some people call this the "poor man's" Da Vinci Code, but I don't agree with that. It's pretty much the same premise and kind of has the same characters, but the writing is better (and less offensive) than The Da Vinci Code. That still doesn't make this book good, though.

I see the interest that this book may have for people, and if you can overlook writing filled with clichéd phrases and characters, go for it. The plot is interesting and I like that these sorts of novels take a for-granted story and twist it on its head. But I just couldn't get past the writing. There's a lot of telling instead of showing and a lot of unnecessary direction that I feel like I simply didn't need as a reader. When someone started talking, the dialogue would be interrupted to simply tell me that the other person listened. Like this:

Alyssa told Georgina, "Well, I'm not so sure about that."

Georgina listened.

Alyssa continued, "You see..."

So, that got annoying fairly quickly. Along with that, there was just too much explanation and information dumps, making it a slow, tedious read. If a quarter to a third of this novel were cut out, I think it'd be a better story.

Despite my dislike of the story, I thought that the narration was good. Not anything extraordinary, but enjoyable -- Paul Michael did a good job with what he had. It just didn't hold much interest for me.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: No Moon by Irene N. Watts

Buy from the Book Depository
Title: No Moon
Author: Irene N. Watts
Publisher: Tundra Books
Paperback: 234 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Louisa Gardener is the fourteen-year-old nursemaid to the young daughters of a wealthy, titled family living in London, England, in 1912. 
 Despite the bullying Nanny Mackintosh, for whom she is an extra pair of hands, she loves her work and her young charges. Then everything changes. The family decides to sail to New York aboard the Titanic. An accident to the children's nanny, only days prior to the sailing, means that Louisa must go in her stead. She cannot refuse, although she dreads even the mention of the ocean. Memories she has suppressed, except in nightmares, come crowding back. 
When Louisa was five and her sister seven years old, their two-year-old brother died on an outing to the seaside. Since that time, Louisa has had a fear of the ocean. She blames herself for the accident, though she has been told it wasn't her fault. 
If Louisa refuses to go on the voyage, she will be dismissed, and she will never get beyond the working-class life she has escaped from.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

No Moon is a story about Louisa, a nursemaid who finds herself in charge of two young children while their family sails on the Titanic. Threading factual information about the early twentieth century within a personal narrative format, Watts gives a general overview of what life was like in the early twentieth century within a story that tells of the tragedy of the Titanic. In some ways, I was disappointed by this book, but I can see how that might be useful for introducing children to the subject of the Titanic and the early 1900s.

The Good Things:

This is a great book for children who are reluctant or beginning readers. The story is simple, easy to follow, short, and moves along quickly. It provides a nice contrast between the people of the working-class and upper-class in England during the early twentieth century, and even hints at the burgeoning of the women's rights movement. I could see elementary school teachers reading this aloud in their class to complement a history unit for this time period. It brings up a lot of things to reflect and learn about, such as women's rights, marriage practices, work practices, family dynamics, etc., which makes it a great starter for a unit.

The Bad Things:

As an adult reader, I was a little disappointed in story's lack of complexity. I think that the emotional response of the Titanic's sinking could have been explored further. Instead, the characters said something along the lines of, "Oh, this is so terrible!" And then the story moved on. On a related note, the characters also seemed over-simplified, and I would have liked to see more growth or change within the side characters.

Overall, I think this is a great introduction to the story of the Titanic and it introduces topics that children could research and explore on their own. It'd be a good pleasure read for kids interested in the subject, but I could definitely see elementary school teachers using this in their classroom as an introduction to early twentieth century England and the Titanic.

*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.*