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

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Blog stats:
BOOK REVIEWS: 624
BOOK NOTICES: 258
2003: 50
2004: 68
2005: 66
2006: 75
2007: 58
2008: 88
2009: 81
2010: 57
2011: 48
2012: 27 | 1
2013: 0 | 35
2014: 1 | 25
   2015: 0 | 17
2016: 3 | 22
2017: 0 | 24
2018: 0 | 14
2019: 0 | 34
2020: 0 | 25
2021: 0 | 35
2022: 0 | 8
2023: 1 | 16
2024: 0 | 2
2025: 0 | 0
2026: 0 | 0

Updated 2-6-24. [Reviews are longer and have ratings. Notices do not have ratings.]

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 | Calico by Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg, Calico

  Amazon  

I don't particularly like police procedurals, and I don't particularly like westerns, but it turns out that I really like police procedural-westerns that are blended with a dash of science fiction—at least this one. Lee Goldberg's stand-alone Calico is named after a town in the Mojave Desert. In the 1880s, it was a squalid mining town. Nowadays—in real life and in the book—it's a restored ghost town with attractions like gunfights and gold panning and a trading post. The area surrounding Calico (at least as Goldberg describes it) is the kind of place people drive through to get somewhere else—unless they get trapped there for some reason. Beth McDade is one of the trapped. An unhappy transplant from Los Angeles, she's a detective in nearby Barstow who's investigating a series of strange events that turn out to be related—a disappearance, a skeleton dug up at a construction site, a vagrant hit and killed by a motor home. Her investigation also winds up being connected with events in the same area in the 1880s, and Goldberg deftly alternates between the two timelines, both of which are equally compelling. I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that this is the most page-turny book I've read in a while. With a six-shooter to my head, I'd complain that the pace of the book slows quite a lot at the end and that during the big reveal, there are a handful of names thrown at us that I had trouble keeping straight. But it would be a quibble. Loved this book.

Book Notices | Bad Weather Friend by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz, Bad Weather Friend

  Amazon  

Benny, as we keep being told, is a really nice guy, and this despite having experienced a string of awful situations during his childhood and adolescence. But at 23, he's got money and a fiancée and a nice house and a good job—until one day, a lot of that inexplicably disappears. Enter a weird, casket-like box sent by a mysterious distant relative, and suddenly Benny's on a road trip with some new friends to figure out why his life has imploded. The story is told in two threads: Benny's present and past play out in alternating chapters and eventually end up at the same point. It's a fun enough story, engaging enough to read, but you have to suspend disbelief quite a bit—and I'm not talking about the insect-human hybrids and other non-human characters. It's more that the story is based on this bizarre conceit that nefarious forces are bent on methodically doing away with niceness in the world by targeting guys like Benny. Eh. It's a fun enough light read.

Book Notices | The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

  Amazon  

On June 25, 2003 (less than a month after my first blog post here), I ordered three books from Amazon. I read and reviewed two of them pretty quickly, Greg Iles' 24 Hours and Paul Hoffman's Wings of Madness. The third book was Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, which I was interested in because it's one of the first detective novels ever published. But my interest in its subject didn't lead to action on my part, and the book sat on my shelves for twenty years. I measure the enormity of that time mostly by the yardstick of my children's ages—the then 7-year-old is finishing up her MSW, and the 1-year-old is graduating from college in the spring—although God knows a lot else has changed besides.

Anyway, clearly, I've finally gotten around to reading Wilkie Collins' book! It's been a while since I've dived into a sprawling 19th-century novel. I'd almost forgotten the pleasure of it. The mystery here has to do with the disappearance of a priceless diamond, the titular Moonstone, which was bequeathed to Rachel Verinder by an unsavory uncle and delivered to her on her 18th birthday. That very night, it goes missing from the Verinders' country estate. A police investigation follows, and thereafter investigations by private actors. The story is told as a series of accounts contributed by various concerned parties, all part of a project undertaken some two years after the stone's disappearance to record what happened as a matter of historical interest. My main impressions upon leaving the book are simply, first, that the mystery held my interest, such that I was quite riveted when approaching the resolution of it; and second, that with the luxury afforded by a high word count, Collins has created a handful of very well-realized characters. For me, the most memorable of them among the much larger cast are Gabriel Betteridge, the Verinders' long-time steward and resolute fan of Robinson Crusoe; the sanctimonious, religious-tract-thumping Miss Clack; and the tragic outcast-cum-physician's assistant Ezra Jennings. I'm happy to have finally read this one. (And holy cow! [That's an apt interjection given this book, as it happens]. There's a comic book version of The Moonstone coming soon!)

Book Notices | Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

Gillian McAllister, Wrong Place Wrong Time

  Amazon  

Jen Brotherhood sees her teenage son kill someone and is immediately plunged into a nightmare. There's the expected one—police lights and handcuffs and shock. She has no idea what could possibly have led to this. But she wakes up the next morning in a second nightmare: She's started to live her life backwards, by days, weeks, years. Every morning brings a new date in the past. Obviously, that's a fascinating prospect in some ways: the phones get bigger; her son gets shorter; she gets to see old living spaces and old coworkers, old waistlines; old people grow younger, and the dead return to life. Cool idea. But meanwhile, she's trying to figure out what led to her son becoming a killer so she can prevent it from happening again. It's an interesting concept, and the book was a fun read.

I found it a bit difficult to keep track of the timeline, although the author does do a good job in the narrative of locating us in the "present" with each time jump. One thing I really hated is an ostensibly small thing, but it had a big impact on my enjoyment of the book. The titles of most of the chapters refer to the date Jen has jumped to relative to day zero, for example, "Day Minus One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy-Two, 21:25." As you can see, the numbers get pretty big. And as you can see, they are written in words. I found it surprisingly difficult to mentally process them this way. Imagine how annoying and, to a degree, difficult it would be to read the time on a clock as, say, "eleven forty-seven" rather than 11:47. That's the trouble I had with it. This probably contributed to my having to refer back to the previous chapter's title each time to see how much time had passed in the jump. The information in written form simply hadn't stuck. (And then there was the added difficulty of having to convert something like "one thousand six hundred seventy-two days" into the more meaningful units of years and months.) I would suggest that these title dates be changed to digits if it all possible in subsequent editions of the book.

Book Notices | Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch, Upgrade

  Amazon  

Logan Ramsay lives with the guilt of having been involved in his brilliant mother's accidental destruction of the world as we know it. Now, in a post-apocalyptic world in which lower Manhattan is under water and dark gene labs are producing exotic new species to sell to Russian oligarchs, Logan—who only ever wanted to follow in his mother's scientific footsteps—is doing his penance as a federal officer tracking down rogue geneticists. At least until he's attacked at a cellular level and transforms into a kind of superman. And then he needs to save the world, more or less. Logan's metamorphosis is pretty far out there, of course, but it's so well described that it all seems very believable. There's a lot of science-y explanations throughout the book that lend the story credibility (but at the same time feel a little skippable). The dramatic battle at the end was a little hard to follow and felt rushed, but the story was capped off with a sweet epilogue that left me more contented than I would have been without it.

Book Notices | Mermaids on the Golf course by Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith, Mermaids on the Golf Course

  Amazon  

I enjoyed this batch of eleven short stories by Patricia Highsmith more than I did the last collection of hers that I read (The Black House), though I can't offhand say exactly why. These stories, not surprisingly, feature mostly unhappy—or soon to be unhappy—people. They are driven to murder or suicide, or they realize that their ostensibly happy relationships were a mirage. They seek an escape from loneliness in imaginary dates, imaginary (?) friends, and nearly imaginary penpals. "Life was nothing but trying for something," Highsmith writes toward the end of "The Cruelest Month," "followed by disappointment, and people kept on moving, doing what they had to do, serving—what? And whom?" That about sums up the hopelessness a lot of the characters experience in these pages. So, the book isn't a lot of laughs, and the stories aren't really suspenseful, as much of Highsmith's writing is, but I did enjoy reading them.

Book Notices | The Black House by Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith, The Black House

  Amazon  

The Black House is a collection of eleven short stories by Patricia Highsmith. The stories are all a little dark, which is hardly surprising given the author's tendency to dwell on the uglier side of human nature. In these pages, unpleasant people do unpleasant things, or they make questionable decisions in the face of unusual circumstances. (In the book's first story, for example, a friendly Scrabble game is interrupted when the cat drags in part of a human hand, which is truly a great start for a story.) I love the author's novels and have read all or most of them. But while these stories are fine, worth reading if you're a Highsmith fan, ultimately I doubt I'll remember them. 

Book Notices | Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

  Amazon  

Lori Gottlieb is a therapist and columnist, and I guess a podcaster too, though I haven't listened to her podcast yet. She has a background in writing, which may go some way toward explaining why this memoir is so very good. In it, she weaves together stories about her therapy clients (disguised versions thereof) with an account of her own struggles, principally the breakup that led her to seek therapy herself. So it's a book about a therapist giving and getting therapy and about the process of therapy itself, and it's fascinating and well written and heartwarming and heartbreaking and informative. It's a cliché to say that one didn't want a book to end, but I found myself thinking as I was reading that if this one somehow had an infinite number of pages, I would happily keep reading indefinitely.