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About the blogger:
Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


paperback | Kindle | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Click here for a complete list of books reviewed.

Book Notices | The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith / Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Alexander McCall Smith, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

  Amazon  

This is the fifth book in Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. If you're this far along, you'll know what you're in for: occasional reflections on philosophy, music, and art packed around the twin scaffolds of Isabel's personal life and her ethical dilemma du jour. This time around there's a depressed, disgraced doctor she feels responsible for, and she does a wee bit of sleuthing to try to help him out. But mostly the book is about watching Isabel's life and relationships unfold. A gentle read, which is sometimes just what one needs.

David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

  Amazon  

I've finally gotten around to reading the copy of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day that's been weighing down my shelves since—not an exaggeration—May of 2004. It's a collection of 29 essays about Sedaris' life that anyone reading this has probably already read at some point in the last 17 years. The praise for the book in the praise-for-this-book section suggests that the stories are "hilarious"—"wildly," "dangerously," even "blisteringly" funny. I don't know about that. I did laugh aloud once, at a line in one of the shortest stories in the book, "Big Boy," about the author's encounter with alien feces while using the bathroom at a dinner party. And Sedaris' essay about his sister, actress Amy Sedaris, in "A Shiner Like a Diamond" was interesting in displaying how peoples' passions can reveal themselves early. When I was a kid, I pretended my little glass dogs ran a newspaper. Amy Sedaris, meanwhile, was studying her teachers' mannerisms and stockpiling wigs. So, not laugh-out-loud funny, for the most part, but competently written little windows into the author's life that left me feeling well inclined toward him.

Book Notices | The Perfect Marriage by Adam Mitzner / Almost by Elizabeth Benedict

Adam Mitzner, The Perfect Marriage

  Amazon  

This story has sort of a strange arc. Jessica and James are happily celebrating their first anniversary, but their "perfect marriage" was built on the backs of two destroyed relationships. Both exes are on the scene and suffering in their own ways from the betrayal of their former spouses, and Jessica's teenaged son is facing a grim medical diagnosis. James, meanwhile, is getting involved in a shady art deal with a sometime associate. So there's all that backstory, which goes on for more than a third of the book, and then suddenly everything changes: one of the characters is found dead, and now we're in the middle of a police procedural. Then it turns into a legal story and we watch the initial proceedings against the accused in some detail until, ultimately, the story rolls to an unsatisfying, unsurprising conclusion. It's not an awful book, but it doesn't make me eager to read more from this author.

Elizabeth Benedict, Almost

  Amazon  

Well, this was a lovely book. Narrator Sophy Chase is almost divorced when she finds out that her husband, Will, has died. She leaves her new boyfriend to fly back to Swansea, an island off of Massachusetts, to deal with things—her grief, her guilt, her stepdaughters, the funeral, the dog she left behind when she left. Sophy's desperate for answers about Will's sudden death, but there aren't any firm conclusions on offer here. That's the beauty of the book: It eschews Hallmark Channel certainty for ambiguity and moral grays. By the end of the story, after the funeral and a couple of other dramas piled on top of it, Sophy's character has moved forward in her life, but it's a subtle shift only, to a subtly better place. It's not a Hallmark ending, that is, but a realistic one.

Book Notices | Never Go Back by Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard, Never Go Back

  Amazon  

Back in England for his mother's funeral, Harry Barnett winds up traveling to a Scottish castle for a 50th reunion weekend with his old RAF buddies. They'd been involved in an experiment at the castle back then—learning academic subjects in an isolated setting for three months in lieu of their regular service. Their stint as guinea pigs had been uneventful, or so Harry had always thought. But the reunion stirs up some old memories and a lot of trouble, and Harry and one of his RAF mates find themselves on the hook for murder. I've enjoyed a handful of Robert Goddard's novels in the past, but this one dragged for me. In addition to a not very exciting plot, the big problem was that a lot of names are thrown at the reader early on—a bunch of secondary characters who are sometimes referred to by their given names and sometimes by nicknames. It was just too much. I was never able to keep them straight and wound up not caring about any of them.

Book Notices | The Passengers by John Marrs

John Marrs, The Passengers

  Amazon  

John Marrs' The Passengers takes place in the same universe as his earlier novel The One (my review)—a not too distant future in which cool scientific advances tend to have unpleasant unintended consequences. In The Passengers, self-driving cars are an everyday thing, and the government hasn't been as up-front as one would hope about how the vehicles are programmed to deal with accidents. Enter a bunch of disgruntled hackers, and live broadcast a handful of passengers who are trapped in their cars, and you've got a nightmare scenario that's not too hard to imagine happening in real life, at least in some form. The premise of the book is intriguing, but it didn't hold my interest for all 350-odd pages. The last 20% of the book—the what happened afterwards part—dragged a bit. I also didn't care very much about the passengers: their bios come thick and fast at the beginning, and it's not easy to keep them straight. 

Book Notices | Sleeping with Schubert by Bonnie Marson / The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith

Bonnie Marson, Sleeping with Schubert

  Amazon  

Liza Durbin was in the women's shoes department at Nordstrom's when she was inhabited—literally, not figuratively—by the spirit of Franz Schubert. She sat down at the store's baby grand piano and played a piece skillfully enough to attract an audience. Liza had played piano before, but not well enough to impress her grade school piano teacher. Being inhabited by a dead genius has its benefits—the piano thing—but a lot of negatives go along with it. We follow Liza as she puts her life on hold to deal with her possession. She subjugates her interests to those of her inhabitant, I'd like to say, because she really does give up her life, although the book doesn't really focus too much on her decision to do so, or question it. Meanwhile, she's surrounded by a number of hangers-on, secondary characters who are never really fleshed out and whom we never care about, people who manage her new career as an out-of-nowhere piano prodigy that mostly plays Schubert. We don't really care very much about Liza either, for that matter, or Schubert. The premise of the book is interesting, but it was a bit of a slog, over-long and without much of a payoff.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Careful Use of Compliments (Book 4)

  Amazon  

The fourth installment in Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series picks up about a year after the surprising revelation of the last novel. With another dozen novels (and counting?) waiting for me in the series, I guess it's not sustainable to entirely avoid references to major plot developments in these early books. So beware of spoilers. Here's a big one: Isabel now has a baby, Charlie, by her much younger lover Jamie. But Charlie's kind of in the background so far, more of an accoutrement that's sometimes mentioned but doesn't dramatically impact the story or, it seems, Isabel's free time (because she has a willing babysitter in her housekeeper Grace). So, Isabel is free to become entangled in an art-related mini mystery that leads ultimately—after a graceful buildup—to the sort of moral conundrum by which Isabel is so often vexed. At the same time, her tenure as editor of the Review of Applied Ethics is in jeopardy, and I found myself angry on her behalf at the cowardly machinations that would threaten her happy avocation. Another gentle read from McCall Smith. I'm sure I'll be on to the next one shortly.

Book Notices | The School of Night by Louise Bayard

Louis Bayard, The School of Night

  Amazon  

In this 2010 novel, Louis Bayard twists the story of a modern treasure hunt around a centuries-old romance. "The School of Night" refers to a secret group of 16th-century intellectuals—among them Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, and a figure probably less familiar to most readers, Tom Harriot, around whom the historical part of Bayard's story revolves. There's romance in the modern story too—and a treasure map and an over-the-top collector of antiquities and a few dead bodies. Honestly, I didn't care very much about the modern-day hunt enough to try to figure things out myself. The historical romance grabbed my attention a bit more, but mostly I enjoyed Bayard's writing. That's what kept me reading through the early stages of the book when I might otherwise have abandoned it. A decent read (with an ending that may be a bit too far out there).

Book Notices | Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens / The Givenchy Code by Julie Kenner

Chevy Stevens, Never Knowing

  Amazon  

The premise of this book kept me reading: An adopted woman's search for her birth parents goes about as badly as it possibly could when she finds out that her father's a serial killer and her mother's the only victim who ever escaped form him. Sounds good, and here and there the book did become interesting. But mostly there was a lot not to like. It dragged. The main character whined constantly. Actually, there wasn't a single likable character in the book other than the dog. The serial killer was in fact more likable than the protagonist's six-year-old daughter. The story is told to a therapist in a series of sessions, a dramatic device that doesn't seem to have much point to it. And the twist, when it comes, isn't terribly surprising. So.... But I did like the author's first novel, Still Missing, which I read back in 2010.

Julie Kenner, The Givenchy Code

  Amazon  

This book is sort of an odd mixture of chick lit and smart thriller, and protagonist Melanie Prescott is herself an odd mixture: part shoe-obsessed shopaholic, part whip-smart code-breaker. I'm not convinced the blend is totally believable, and certainly the "I live to shop!" mentality was a little hard for me to swallow, but still, I enjoyed the book well enough. The deal is that Melanie gets caught up in a deadly game when a madman takes an international online assassin game offline. Suddenly Melanie's got a target on her back, she's paired with a hunky bodyguard, and she's got to run around New York collecting clues and solving puzzles or die. Totally not believable, of course, but kind of fun. I can see it making a halfway decent lighthearted movie. The Givenchy Code is the first installment in a footwear-themed trilogy: The next two books in the series are The Manolo Matrix and The Prada Paradox. I'd read them if they fell in my lap, but I probably won't seek them out.

Book Notices | The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith, The Right Attitude to Rain (Book 3)

  Amazon  

Things are heating up in Edinburgh! (And in Dallas, for that matter.) And love is in the air, at least for a couple of happy couples. This time out, Isabel is hosting her cousin Mimi (and Mimi's husband Joe) from Dallas, and they all vacation together at a house rented by another pair of Americans. Tom and Angie are an enigmatic engaged couple whose relationship may or may not be what it seems. This installment in McCall Smith's series is more about personalities than problem-solving, but Tom and Angie do pose a something of a mystery and raise a moral problem or two for Isabel. The book really moves Isabel's personal story forward as well, ending as it does with a revelation that I never guessed was coming.