Category Archives: Book reviews

Mr Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange

I had a great deal of fun with Mr. Darcy, Vampyre , from the very moment I read the title and couldn’t stop thinking, “Mr. Darcy, Slayer of the VamPYRES.” Darcy is not a slayer, just a regular old Victorian vampire who manages to hide his condition from all but his closest friends by appearing prideful, brooding, and generally like the Darcy we see in Pride and Prejudice.

The story picks up on Elizabeth’s wedding day and follows the new Mrs. Darcy through her wedding tour through Bram Stoker’s geography as she meets more and more bizarre people from the greater Darcy clan. Darcy himself acts even more secretive, tortured, and brooding than before they were married, baffling Elizabeth, who has to navigate her way through married life with an absence of mirrors and an abundance of creepy portents.  She writes letters to Jane which may or may not ever get delivered.

Darcy is a classic literature character primed for vampire-dom, already dark and mysterious and enticing. How could Elizabeth tell the difference between reluctant romantic hero and vamPYRE? This book is much more enjoyable than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which tended more toward the preposterous. And vampires are always cooler than zombies.


Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Still have pie leftovers packing your fridge, or wishing you still did?   Check out this appropriately titled new mystery by Alan Bradley, and get a taste of Flavia De Luce’s fantastically strong storytelling voice. She’s an eleven-year old chemist with an unusual family and a penchant for poisons. You’ll love her dramatic presentation of her world.

Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

It took me a month to finish the eighth book in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, not because the story was anything less than captivating, but because I didn’t want it to end. I read the Mary Russell series books two ways – dragging them out like this by reading half a chapter every night, or devouring them whole in a weekend (or one extremely late night.)

The Language of Bees comes barely the time it takes to travel after the events of Locked Rooms, where mysteries about Russell”s mind were tangled up with the plot in California, and we were gifted with whole chapters from Holmes’  point of view.  Russell is feeling the strain of the previous trip, but also the inevitable let-down that both she and Holmes suffer at the end of a case, no matter how good it is to be home. They need not worry about being bored for long, though, because they return to find Holmes’ son waiting for them at the house.

This mystery takes us through Bohemia, up into airplanes, through secret passages in Mycroft’s home and into a fascinatingly creepy upstart religious group. Damian, an artist who perhaps walks the thin line between genius and madness, is both like and unlike Holmes, is convincingly written as both a sympathetic figure and a suspect.

The end comes with more loose threads than I wanted, but the implication seems to be that the next book picks up where this one left off.  I can’t wait to see what sort of character Holmes’ granddaughter will turn out to be.  The God Of The Hive will be published June 2010.

For fun (and book updates), you can follow Mary Russell on Twitter:

Review: The Victoria Vanishes

The Victoria Vanishes: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler

I picked up The Victoria Vanishes,  I’ll admit, because of the cover, which had a crow, a bowler hat, a bottle of poison, and a syringe, and the word “peculiar.” I’m not a regular mystery reader, but the peculiar investigations of  Arthur Bryant and John May were madcap, macabre and quite hilarious, and I felt as though I already knew them even though I had not read any of their earlier investigations.

A serial killer is targeting middle-aged women who he injects with a poison, but his attack and their deaths remain hidden in the crowd of the pubs.  The Peculiar Crimes Unit gets the case after Bryant realizes that he observed one of the victims enter the Victoria Cross, a pub that hasn’t existed for almost a century.  Bryant is losing his memory and May is considering retirement in the wake of his failing health, and someone has misplaced the ashes of the co-worker they’ve gathered to honor as the book opens.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is the sort of place I’d want to work if I were in British Law Enforcement and didn’t really care about having a life or advancing my career.  Bryant and May seem like fascinating if sometimes undependable and workaholic bosses, and the crimes the Unit ends up solving would likely never be solved by normal means. Still, it’s a department that exists on the very edges of the law, and it seems like some bad things historically happen to their coroners.

Be warned: The Victoria Vanishes is apparently the last of the series, so, while it’s very readable even if you haven’t read the others in the series first, there is only one direction to go in after Victoria Vanishes, and that’s backwards. If that means I get to spend more time with Bryant and May, then I’m happy to start over at the beginning.


Review: Demon’s Lexicon

Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan,  Not Yet Published.

demonslexiconThere are perks to being a librarian, not the least of which is getting a crack at advanced reader copies of upcoming books.  And as soon as I saw a copy of this book, I thought, “Ooh, Tom Welling!” shortly followed by, “I should read this.”

But despite my first impression, this book turned out to be less Smallville and more Supernatural. For one thing, it’s about two brothers who fight demons and are perhaps unhealthily obsessed with keeping each other alive. For another thing — nevermind, that’s a spoiler.

Actually this review is going to be really hard to write without spoilers, and it’s one of those rare books where I actually think the reader shouldn’t be spoiled. I devotedly read the last chapters of books, but I didn’t in this one (except to take a quick peek to check that my favorite character was still alive to be quippy at the end), and I was glad I didn’t.  So sorry if I sound unnecessarily cryptic, but it’s for your own good.

Continue reading

Confessional: Books I Couldn’t Finish

(Dea and I are sorry for the long absence. We should probably do a thematic book list of stories about what happens to your work-life when your co-worker goes on maternity leave. We’re learning to cope with her absence   – and the baby pictures sure help!)

There are some books I can’t finish. And I know, I know, it happens to everyone, especially when you’re reading Breaking Dawn or Moby Dick (we all know how it ends, come on!) It’s just that, sometimes, I can’t finish a book that everyone else loves.

Today, I’m confessing that I could not finish Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I gave it a pretty good chance, too, but I just couldn’t finish it. The thought of reading more made my stomach hurt.

Bel Canto is based on the 1996 Tupac Amaru takeover of the Japanese ambassadorial residence in Lima, Peru. In some unnamed South American country, Mr. Hosokawa is having a very special birthday party. His favorite opera singer, Roxanne Coss, is singing for him and an audience of international business-persons and diplomats. Terrorists take the party hostage, and beautiful and supposedly deeply interesting bonds form between hostages and terrorists alike, but I don’t know how the story ends because I didn’t bother to find out. I suppose I could have skipped to the last few pages, but I wasn’t even interested in knowing.

I didn’t care about the characters. I wasn’t really moved by the universally agreed-upon ethereal beauty and talent of the opera singer or the the pervading beauty of life despite a hostage crisis, the dissonance between the harshness of life and the beauty of art. The repetitious, simple language evocative of a room full of people who need translators to understand each other grated on me.

Everyone says it’s beautiful, one of their top five favorites, deeply moving and amazing, exquisite, brilliant. I really, really wanted to think all of those things, but instead I felt like I was being forced to eat my lest favorite food every time I thought about opening the book (which would be a mix of peas and cottage cheese, by the way.) I was bored, and irritated, and one of my best teachers taught me the very important lesson that it’s ok not to finish a book you don’t like, because there are so many others out there waiting for your attention.

Bel Canto just wasn’t to my tastes, so much so that I’ve been wary of reading Run, which has had similarly great reviews . You might love Mr. Hosokawa and the beauty of opera as a metaphor and the alarmingly young terrorists. Maybe you love peas and cottage cheese. It’s ok, you can admit it.

After I put down Bel Canto, I picked up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a guaranteed good read anytime.


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, NY: Bantam, 1991.

English nurse Claire and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945 after the war. When Claire walks through a circle of standing stones in an ancient henge, she’s transported through time to 1743 where she encounters evil ancestors of her husband, extremely heavily armed Scotsmen, and wild love and passion in between all the treachery and clan warfare.

I had a hard time getting into Outlander at first, even once we’d travelled back in time with Claire. I kept expecting different things to happen. I didn’t like Frank, Claire’s husband in “our” time, and I felt like something was missing for that first part of the narrative. I only realized later that Frank’s lack of appeal and Claire’s half-lived life was written that way deliberately, so that it was easy to leave Frank behind. I spent the better part of the first half of the book thinking that a time travel romance story was about getting back to the one you left, and while Claire does try to get there, it’s clear that she was destined to find her true life with Jaime.

Perhaps I’m too used to the Doctor Who model of time travel, where nothing bad really happens to the characters when they break the rules of the universe they’re visiting. Lots of bad things happen to Claire – and she doesn’t learn – she can’t, obviously, change who she is, and her time governs her impulses, but she gets into lots of trouble because she follows her instincts and her instincts are out of her time. Ultimately, that’s why we like her, because as much as she tries to blend in to survive, she can’t hide the fact that she’s modern woman.

Outlander isn’t solely a romance, or a traditional sci-fi book, or just historical fiction, and I had to remember that when I was getting impatient with all the quite obvious signs that Claire was going to travel back in time – genealogy charts of her friends and family, a palm-reading that shows she has two lifelines – that this wasn’t necessarily a sci-fi novel where everyone knows how time travel works and what’s supposed to happen. Perhaps the romance plot would be as much of a surprise to sci-fi readers……

There are some steamy scenes, though, if you regularly read romance, you’ve surely read worse (or better). There is also violence and things that happen to Claire that made me deeply uncomfortable, and to Jaime, too, and aren’t normally what I want to read about, but were alternately socially acceptable form of punishment and done by a sadistic villain, so, it’s not like they came out of nowhere. Still, if I could have read the non-violent, non-torture, non-marital-beating version of the book, I think I would have enjoyed it even more.

Andrea’s Arbitrary Rating:swordswordsword

Andrea’s Random Awesomeness count:

Vampires: 0

Dragons: 0

Hot Heroic Scottish Soulmates:  1