Book Review: Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn

While a dark enough movie, we are talking Hitchcock after all, the book is much, much darker. Perhaps it’s why most books are better than their movie counterparts, even when those movies are very well done: a good author can just get into a character’s head so much more, and in a different way. Right from the opening paragraphs du Maurier sets a sinister tone that refuses to let up until the very last paragraphs. And she does almost as good a job as Shirley Jackson at making a building one of the scarier characters. Although I was just as scared on the moors….

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Book Review: Derek B. Miller, Norwegian By Night

By the end of this novel there were tears in my eyes and I had white-knuckled hands. Well-deserving of the Crime Writers Association John Creasey Dagger Award, awarded for a first crime novel published in the UK by a writer of any nationality, this plot-driven book is gripping from the start. Centering around the ghosts, past and present, of Sheldon Horowitz, a newly widowed 82-year old living the last of his days in Norway with the granddaughter he raised and her husband, and a fine work of crime fiction, the novel also explores what it means to be one of a thousand Jews in a country that declared itself neutral during WWII. After witnessing a brutal murder in a land with few, Sheldon flees the scene with a young boy, trusting his former marine’s instincts to aid them in their escape from the perpetrators of the crime as Horowitz also tries to escape his past. Fast-paced writing with good attention to character development that crime and mystery lovers will enjoy.

Book Review: Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

A powerful story with a powerful ending by one of the greatest living authors today. Theatre director Felix Phillips has had three recent strikes in his life with the loss of his wife, daughter, and job, the latter to the prodigy he was coaching only too well. Withdrawing from the world and with his heart set on revenge he seeks out a seemingly ill-suited position in a prison for three months out of the year coaching a motley crew of medium security inmates through the Fletcher Correctional Facility literacy program. Successful beyond anyone’s hopes, four years in the government threatens to pull the plug on it at the same time Felix has an opening to finally hatch his plans for vengeance. Reviving his failed production of The Tempest twelve years afterward with the help of the actress he hoped to make famous in her role as Miranda, Felix sets out to direct his best performance ever. Containing a synopsis of Shakespeare’s original play at the end, this is an imaginative retelling of the bard’s famous work.

V’s Reading Year in Review: 2016

Thanks to my discovering a cozy crochet mystery series by Betty Hechtman the number of books I read in 2016 continued to exceed both 2015 and 2014. I read 34 total books, up from 29 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. I read 15 literary journals, down from 19 in 2015 and the same as in 2014. I suspect the number of literary journal will continue to decrease, as I’m submitting barely anything anymore, much less writing anything except reviews. But, I digress, as I’m wont to do at times.

Back to the stats. Excluding the one anthology I read and all of the review books (since I don’t get to choose those), and also thanks to the cozy crochet mystery series, the authors I read in 2016 were overwhelmingly women. Equality would have been closer if it weren’t for those cozies. Some analytics:

  • Total Literary Journals Read: 15

Another future reading prediction: the number of women will likely continue to exceed the number of men I’ll be reading, based on both what’s already in my queue and a new project I hope to embark on soon: reading every Agatha Christie book starting with her first. I’ve been collecting them at used book stores and antique malls and am halfway there. Yes, I am aware of the fine institution called the library, as a former librarian. But I want to do this my way, so the hunt continues, and has been more fun in person, but it may be expanded to the internet depending on my level of patience, as I had originally wanted to start this 1 January of 2017, not 2018. We’ll see, since my reading plans are often like my gardening plans which is often how life is: the more you plan, the more you’re likely to find yourself not following a plan….

First Book of the Year: Lawrence Block, Sinner Man

A hard-boiled crime novel my Aunt got me for Christmas set in the lower west side of Buffalo. It’s hard for an author to write such an unlikeable character well enough to keep their audience reading until the end, much less not be able to put the book down, but Block masters that art in this book. (That and the art of the great one-liner, of which each chapter has more than a few.) Published by a small house and lost for fifty years until Block went on a mission to find it, recounted in the very entertaining afterword. And of course, it was great to read about all these places I know. For all that’s changed on the lower west side, there’s a lot that’s still the same: neighborhoods run by organized crime, a police force that does just enough to keep it’s citizens thinking they’re actually doing something. And yes, the winter sky in Buffalo is often seven different shades of gray. I’m looking at one now.

Last Book of the Year: Amanda Lee, Better Off Thread (An Embroidery Mystery #10)

A cozy Christmas mystery mom got me for Christmas. In addition to running her embroidery shop the Seven Year Stitch during what promises to be a busy holiday season after a successful Black Friday, Marcy must also clear the name of her good friend Captain Moe from murder. With all the gosh, hecks and darns characteristic of the cozies, along with a not-in-my-world kind of romance, this book is very different from my first book of 2017….