BOOK REVIEWS BY DEBRA HAMEL SINCE 2003.
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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


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

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


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

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


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)







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


Book Notices | The Man on Table Ten by Luke Smitherd / Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson / A Dangerous Thing by Josh Lanyon / The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Luke Smitherd, The Man on Table Ten

  Amazon  

Luke Smitherd's novella The Man on Table Ten poses an interesting question: What would you do to ensure your survival if the fate of the world depended on it? Smitherd's story is told from the perspective of an old man who has had to answer just that question. The man who sits at table ten in the restaurant that serves as this story's setting tells his tale to a waitress, fully expecting that she won't believe him. And that's really it: The story is mostly his narrative, with a bit of drama thrown in at the very end, and then the novella ends abruptly. On my Kindle, the ending seemed even more abrupt, because it ended when I was only 50% through the file, so I'd expected a lot more. (The remaining 50% was an author's note and a book preview.) So, overall, the story is fine, and it's built on a neat idea, but I think more could have been done with it.

Robert Kurson, Shadow Divers

  Amazon  

Amazon tells me that I bought this book in June of 2005. It's sat on my shelf for 15 years, just waiting for its time in the sun. Happily, that time finally came. I've never been interested in deep wreck diving, but, man, as Robert Kurson tells it, the subject is absolutely fascinating. Kurson brings readers into this alien (for most of us) world with detailed discussions that are always edifying and often poetic. I love it when nonfiction authors unpack unfamiliar subjects and make technical details easy for readers to understand. So what have I learned in this one? Fishermen jealously guard the geographic coordinates of secret shipwrecks because that's where the good fishing is. A two-hour deep dive may require a decompression period—the diver's ascent to the surface along an anchor line—of some nine hours. If divers stay down too long, their judgment can become impaired enough by nitrogen narcosis that they'll make stupid decisions that will get them killed. Or they may become paranoid enough to kill a diving partner. Who knew? And all that's before the author even gets to the juicy stuff, his meticulously researched real-life account of his subjects' discovery and exploration of one fisherman's secret wreck, which turned out to be a German U-boat sunk 60 miles off the New Jersey shore. Its discovery in 1991 was followed by years of trying to identify the boat, which was made especially difficult because there was no historical record of any U-boat in the vicinity in which this one was found. Shadow Divers is nonfiction at its finest. It's beautifully written—by which I mean that the sentences themselves are often lovely—and written in precise language. It teaches readers a lot. And beyond that, it's a great story.

Josh Lanyon, A Dangerous Thing

  Amazon  

Twelve years ago TO THE DAY (it's August 14, 2020 as I write), I reviewed the third book in Josh Lanyon's Adrien English series, The Hell You Say. I was quite taken by it and had meant to come back to the books, but, well, time flies and life happens. A Dangerous Thing is the second book in the series—not sure why I'm going backwards in steps here. Adrien is a likable protagonist, a mystery writer and bookstore owner whose love interest—Jake the studly cop—hasn't fully embraced his homosexuality yet. In this outing, Adrien drives off to his grandmother's old house, which he's inherited, to get away from things, and he quickly stumbles across a corpse. The ensuing story finds him investigating the unusual history of his property. It's an okay but ultimately forgettable read with a strangely abrupt ending. I'm not recommending against it, but it didn't impress me as much as Lanyon's third installment.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club

  Amazon  

I've been a fan of Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana books for years and have read a great number of them, but I'm new to his Sunday Philosophy Club series, of which The Sunday Philosophy Club is the first installment. Isabel Dalhousie is a moral philosopher, the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. She is middle-aged and unmarried but has a beloved niece nearby in Edinburgh. Her life is civilized—tea and crosswords and lectures and concerts—but she evidently has a knack for insinuating herself in other people's affairs. And so, in this outing, she winds up looking into the death of a young man she saw falling from the balcony of a concert hall one evening.

Isabel Dalhousie is not completely unlike Precious Ramotswe, the protagonist of the author's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. But Precious's wisdom is homespun, and she is herself the salt of the earth. Isabel's insights come from Cambridge lectures and philosophy treatises. Not my cup of tea, and so the observations in this book appeal to me less than Precious Ramotswe's lower-brow offerings. I'm torn as to whether I'll read more in this series. I enjoyed the read, and I liked Isabel Dalhousie, but I did not love her.

Book Notices | The Ghost Writer by John Harwood / Half Broken Things by Morag Joss / High Crimes by Joseph Finder

John Harwood, The Ghost Writer

  Amazon  

John Harwood’s gothic novel The Ghost Writer centers on Gerard, a boy of 13 when the book starts, growing up in Australia, who begins a penpal correspondence with an orphaned English girl named Alice. Gerard’s mother is not keen on their relationship, thinking it somehow dangerous, but that’s just one in a series of strange things about her: She is very private and paranoid. Gerard's relationship with Alice is a little weird, though, and the mysteries it offers keep us reading, but this central story is interrupted repeatedly by stories within the story, gothic tales that Gerard finds here and there. They too are good reading. Still, I disliked the constant interruptions and the jarring refocusing of my attention, and it became very confusing trying to figure out what significance each story had to the central one. The book can be boring in parts—particularly the lengthy discussion of the layout of a house Gerard explores toward the end—and confusing: I’m still not completely sure I understand everything that happened. But the author also succeeds in building our dread—and I say this as someone who read the last bits with increasing discomfort in a dark house at 2:00 a.m. I don't think I'll be reading more of Harwood, because I don't really care for the genre, but that's not to say his story isn't impressive.

Morag Joss, Half Broken Things

  Amazon  

This beautifully written novel takes its time building to the crime hinted at on its dust jacket. Joss tells a sweet story about three broken people—Jean, Michael, and Steph—who find each other and build a family unit, living as divorced from the rest of society as possible. Their days are filled with homely pursuits—house repairs, fruit picking, childcare, family dinners, wine by the fire. But Joss's description of even the most idyllic of summer afternoons is suffused with tension because we readers know that the trio's happiness has an expiration date. They know it too, but they choose not to think about it. The story is told partly in third person and partly in first, the latter in an account being written by Jean. If I were to complain, I'd say I'm not completely sold on Michael's character development—something toward the end of the book that I'm not convinced he'd agree to. But I wouldn't argue that point too strongly. What a beautiful read.

Joseph Finder, High Crimes

  Amazon  

High Crimes is an earlyish novel by Joe Finder, published in 1998. I suppose it’s not super early, as Finder already had four books under his belt by then, but it’s the earliest of his that I’ve read. And it’s a bit different from the others I’ve read. High Crimes is a legal thriller: Harvard law professor Claire Heller has to defend her husband at a court martial for an atrocity he’s alleged to have committed 13 years earlier. Legal thrillers really aren’t my cup of tea, but the book held my interest pretty well despite my lack of interest in the genre.

Book Notices | The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick

Edward Dolnick, The Rescue Artist

  Amazon  

In this very readable narrative, Edward Dolnick writes about the 1994 theft of Edvard Munch's Scream (or one version of the piece, as there are several) from Norway's National Gallery and the ensuing undercover operation, which resulted in its recovery a few months later. The star of that show, and of Dolnick's book, is English/American detective Charley Hill, a larger-than-life member at the time of Scotland Yard's so-called Art Squad. The book also introduces readers to the world of art crime (security in the art world is surprisingly lax, and priceless masterpieces aren't necessarily insured) and the criminals who commit it. We also learn a bit about Edvard Munch and his work along the way. This is very well-done nonfiction.

Book Notices | Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz / Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg

Gregg Hurwitz, Into the Fire

  Amazon  

Into the Fire details Orphan X's latest--and maybe his final--mission This time, he's contacted on his super secure RoamZone phone by Max Merriweather, a down-on-his-luck construction worker who lands in serious trouble after his golden-boy cousin gives him an envelope for safekeeping. And then the usual: lots of bad guys, and Evan using his unusual talents to save the day. Meanwhile, he's determined that this will be his final mission. He's hoping to settle down afterwards and live a normal life--if he can figure out what normal is. But is it really his last mission? Maybe. Probably not. On the one hand, the book's ending ties things up well so that it would make a good closer to the series. On the other hand, it also opens the door to further adventures ahead, should the author choose to continue. In either case, another good read from Gregg Hurwitz in an enjoyable series.

Lee Goldberg, Killer Thriller

  Amazon  

Ian Ludlow has a good imagination and an uncanny knack for writing fiction that comes true. His latest book is being turned into a movie, and Ian is on set in Hong Kong with Margo French, dog walker turned author escort, etc., who's there to scout locations for Ian's next Clint Straker novel. Turns out there's a plot against the U.S. government, and the world once again needs the services of Clint Straker...er, Ian Ludlow. I like Lee Goldberg's novels and have read a whole lot of them over the years, but I didn't get into this one as much as previous titles. Probably it's a me thing: There was too much time between reading sessions, and I wound up forgetting the plot and having to look up characters. That said, I do like the developments that happen in this book and how things are set up for the next installment in the series (Fake Truth, which came out in April, 2020).

Book Notices | Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman

Rachel Hoffman, Unf*ck Your Habitat

  Amazon  

This is a book about cleaning that might have been written by your therapist. Rachel Hoffman--who doesn't seem to be a therapist in fact--gives advice about cleaning, sure, but the real value here is in her advice about less palpable cleaning-related problems--how to overcome the dread of starting larger projects, how to talk to people you share your space with about sharing responsibilities. The book is surprisingly wise. It's worth a read, particularly if you're trying to navigate a roommate/spousal situation in which chores need to be divvied up.

Book Notices | In the Dark by Loreth Anne White

Loreth Anne White, In the Dark

  Amazon  

In the Dark is a story about what happens when a group of people is put in a real-life Survivor-type situation. Eight guests and their pilot are invited to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to a secluded lodge in British Columbia, but the lodge is not the luxury destination they expected, and it turns out that the various guests share some dark ties with one another. Their story at the lodge is overtly patterned on the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. Creepy stuff happens. Chapters detailing the dark goings-on at the lodge alternate with an account of the search and rescue operation that would occur later. This is lighter fare, but still not very light. It pairs grieving RCMP officer Mason Deniaud, who's new to the wilderness of Kluhane Bay, with grieving search and rescue expert Callie Sutton. There's potential for romance here, but she's off-limits for now, which of course adds some welcome tension to their relationship. Anyway, these two parts of the story mesh together nicely. The only boring bit was at the very end, when there was too much explication. I don't know if there's a sequel in the works, but I think the relationship between Mason and Callie was interesting enough that I'd stick around for a second Kluhane Bay novel.

Book Notices | Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg, Lost Hills

  Amazon  

This is the first book in a new series by Lee Goldberg, author of a bajillion books, including the late Monk series, which I enjoyed a lot. This one is a police procedural focused on Eve Ronin, a newbie in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Robbery and Homicide Division, who got her position because of politics and unsought fame from a viral video she unwittingly starred in. This doesn't win her any friends in the department, but her seasoned partner, Duncan, has her back more often than not. Turns out she's good at what she does. She takes the lead in the investigation of a triple homicide and proves that the grit she showed in that viral video wasn't a one-off. She's also pretty clever. That sounds like it could be annoying: The new female cop shows everybody how great she is by making astute observations and out-performing the more experienced men. But it's not like that. Ronin is likable but flawed, smart, but credibly so. She makes mistakes, and her partner is usually the first to point them out. I like their interaction a lot. Unfortunately, he's due to retire in less than a year, which worries me about future books in the series: I want more of the two of them. Goldberg, like Duncan, is a seasoned pro. He makes writing look easy. Often his books are humorous, and they're often steeped in references to television and old Hollywood. This one is more serious than I'm used to from him--which is appropriate in this case and works very well. It does have a taste of Hollywood in it--the setting, certain aspects of the crime, and Eve's mother, a wannabe star. If I had to complain about anything in the book, it's that the mother comes off as a little cartoony in a story where that doesn't quite fit. I'm not usually a big fan of police procedurals, but I liked this one a lot, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series, Bone Canyon, which is due in early 2021.

Book Notices | The Sleep Experiment by Jeremy Bates / Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

Jeremy Bates, The Sleep Experiment

  Amazon  

UC Berkeley professor Roy Wallis is conducting a sleep experiment in the basement of a soon-to-be-demolished building on campus. He's got two students working with him, both of them enamored of the wealthy, confident, allegedly brilliant Wallis in their own ways. The plan is to keep watch over two subjects who will be staying in an apartment fishbowl Wallis has built. An experimental gas will be piped in that will prevent the two from sleeping, and this will go on for, well, as long as it takes. After a long setup, the experiment starts, and things go downhill from there. Wallis's methods aren't exactly kosher, and his motives aren't pure. And by the time anyone cottons on to this, it's too late. Bad things happen. Seventy-five percent of the way in, the book becomes a gore fest, and the plot becomes almost secondary. Indeed, the story is not tight at all. Characters are introduced who don't wind up mattering; characters who do matter aren't introduced. The relationships described in the first part of the book come to very little. And the story is scarcely credible. (And not just the really crazy parts.) I left the book dissatisfied.

Linwood Barclay, Elevator Pitch

  Amazon  

New York is brought to its knees when some evil mastermind gains control of a few elevators and kills a bunch of people. Suddenly, vertical travel in this vertical city means taking your life in your hands. New Yorkers are trapped in their high rises or are having heart attacks on the stairs. Governor Richard Headley is at pains to respond without creating a panic, and the media--particularly Manhattan Day writer Barbara Matheson--isn't making his job any easier. The story follows her reporting, the mayor's response to the crisis, a related police investigation, and a side story about a domestic terrorist. It's a good read, built on an interesting premise, but not a great one. I was never lost in it, as I have been reading other books by Barclay.