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Books by the Blogger:

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)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (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)

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Authors & publishers:
I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  


January 2020: Book notices

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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.

December 2019: Book notices

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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.

November 2019: Book notices

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Alexander McCall Smith, The Department of Sensitive Crimes

  Amazon  

Ulf Varg heads up a crew of quirky detectives in Sweden's Department of Sensitive Crimes. They investigate unusual offenses--those that have odd elements or maybe aren't worth the attention of a more traditional police investigation. Honestly, the office seems overstaffed and underworked, and the cases not really worthy of extraordinary official involvement. But I don't care. It's an excuse to watch McCall Smith bring the formula he's established in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books to a new set of endearing characters and to a new exotic locale. That's basically what's happening here. Ulf Varg--both of whose names mean "wolf"--is the Precious Ramotswe of Malmö. He's a kind, thoughtful man who observes the foibles of humanity and investigates their indiscretions. I enjoyed the book, and I think fans of McCall Smith's Botswana books will find this series equally comforting.

September 2019: Book notices

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Mark Edwards, Here to Stay

  Amazon  

Elliot gets married to Gemma after a whirlwind courtship, but when his inlaws come to visit, things go south fast. They're possibly the most annoying people on the planet, and they seem to have no intention of leaving. They're also malevolent. You'd think that malevolence would make for a good read, but this book was just plodding for me. It turns out that reading about annoying people is pretty annoying itself. Here to Stay was just interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I ever came back to it with any pleasure. By the time things got a little exciting in the story—at the very end—it was too little, too late.

August 2019: Book notices

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John Braddock, A Spy's Guide to Taking Risks

  Amazon  

John Braddock is back with another brief, highly readable entry in his Spy's Guide series. This time, he walks us through a meeting with a source while explaining an approach to minimizing risks by adding extra conditions into the risk equation. It's always enjoyable to watch Braddock unpack potentially dangerous situations, and I think the information about risk taking in this one may be more potentially useful in the real world for me than the information in previous stories in the series. Another good, quick read.

Blake Crouch, Recursion

  Amazon  

As he did in Dark Matter, Blake Crouch explores the repercussions of cutting-edge science in his latest novel, Recursion. Helena Smith's research into memory retrieval is funded liberally by an eccentric billionaire who sometimes seems to  know more than he should about her project. Turns out, he has ulterior motives, and her research has practical applications she's never dreamed of. Once her life's work is completed, there's another lifetime of work ahead of her as she tries to deal with the consequences of her creation. Along the way she teams up with Barry, a policeman, who unwittingly stumbles into the nightmare Helena's research has created. Recursion is a complex, mind-bending story that may even merit a second read. I liked it as much—or nearly as much—as Dark Matter, which is to say, quite a lot.

Joseph Finder, Judgment

  Amazon  

I've been a fan of Joseph Finder's for more than fifteen years, and I've read the majority of his books. This is not one of the better ones, I'm afraid. The setup is very promising: A usually cautious judge makes a rash decision while out of town that leaves her vulnerable to blackmail and threatens to ruin her life. I love a story like this, where a relatable person gets in over their head and is thrust into impossible circumstances through a series of understandable decisions. But this time the setup never thrills. A lot of the story has to do with the minutiae of a legal case the judge is presiding over, and a lot of that is related to finances—not the stuff of thrillers, really. More importantly, while there's real physical danger involved, it's not treated as real. The protagonist is nearly choked to death, for example, but while she's shaken, she doesn't seem to have any visible bruises the next day. The judge's family is in at least as much danger as she is, but when she finally bothers to tell her husband (so that maybe he can keep a closer eye on their son, say), that conversation—which I'd been waiting for for chapters—takes place off-screen! The family is treated throughout as an afterthought. There was a lot of potential to rack up the tension there, but it all just falls flat. And the denouement is tepid. If you're new to Joseph Finder, give this one a pass, because it's really not representative of his talents.

July 2019: Book notices

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Peter Swanson, The Kind Worth Killing

  Amazon  

This book just prompted me to make an actual physical list of must-read authors with Peter Swanson's name on it so I won't run the chance of forgetting how much I loved The Kind Worth Killing. What a wonderful, complex, twist-filled page-turner. It starts with a nod to Strangers on a Train. The movie was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, yes, but the book was written by the wonderful Patricia Highsmith. And when Ted meets Lily in an airport, she's reading a Highsmith novel (Two Faces of January, "Not one of the best"). They talk. Ted's wife is cheating on him. Plans emerge. And it gets more interesting and a lot more complicated from there. It's a great book with, incidentally, a fantastic cover, and with a final paragraph that elicited an audible exclamation of delight from me.

Claire McGowan, What You Did

  Amazon  

I got this as an Amazon First Reads selection, and I'm glad I did. It kept me interested and guessing to the end. Six friends from college get together for a reunion--two couples, Ali and Mike and Jodi and Callum, and two singles, Karen and Bill. They spend the night drinking and reliving their Oxford days, and everything is great until Karen staggers in from the backyard claiming she was raped by Mike. It's he said/she said, and Mike's wife, Ali, has to choose sides. Things get worse from there. At the same time, there's a ghost in their past: An acquaintance was murdered at the very end of their time at Oxford, and her attacker was never found. Could there be a connection? Anyway, it's a book worth reading.

June 2019: Book notices

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Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

  Amazon  

This book falls in the just okay category for me. I liked the earlier part of the story, when our hero, Clay Jannon (whose name I had to look up despite just finishing the book, which suggests something about my level of commitment to it), gets a job at Penumbra's store and begins to realize how weird it is: Odd characters drop in, and the store is more lending library than profitable business. But then it all turns into an unlikely quest that I ultimately didn't care very much about, with a bunch of characters that I also never really cared about. So it was okay, but not a memorable read for me.

Michael Kardos, Before He Finds Her

  Amazon  

Before He Finds Her by Michael Kardos tells the story of Meg Miller, aka Melanie Denison, who has lived in hiding with her aunt and uncle for 15 years. She has had to live a cloistered life—mostly homeschooled, no internet—because her father is out there somewhere and wants her dead. Ramsey Miller killed his wife years earlier, didn’t succeed in killing his daughter, and disappeared. On the cusp of adulthood, Meg decides to disobey the rules she’s lived with for as long as she can remember. She leaves home to try to find her father, to take the fight to him, so that she can stop living in fear. In a few short days away from her guardians’ strict oversight, she winds up discovering a lot more than she bargained for. This book was worth the ride (though I bet some readers will figure out the big reveal early), but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as another book I’ve read by Kardos, The Three-Day Affair (my review).

Michael Marshall, Killer Move

  Amazon  

Bill Moore is a real estate agent in the Florida Keys with grand plans and the self discipline to match. He's all about developing positive habits to maximize his potential and kissing up to higher ups. Things in his life are in order and on track...until they're not. Bill finds out that his computer's been hacked, and things go downhill from there. Someone's out to destroy him, and his carefully orchestrated life spirals out of control very quickly. For part of the book Bill's story is intertwined with another—a powerful figure is kidnapped by an ex-con. We don't immediately understand how the two are connected, but it eventually becomes clear. I was annoyed by Bill's initial reaction to his troubles, which seemed to me both unhelpful and uncharacteristic—wallowing in drink. Also, it's kind of hard to buy the story as a whole, what's behind what's happening to Bill. But if you can suspend disbelief, it's a fun read.

May 2019: Book notices

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John Marrs, The One

  Amazon  

How would life be different if a simple DNA test could tell you the identity of your soulmate, the one you were biologically made to be with? In The One, John Marrs tells the stories of five different people who've been matched with their DNA mates, exploring some of the potential unexpected consequences of this scientific breakthrough. The stories are unconnected except that they all take place in the same universe. Marrs switches from one person's story to another with each chapter. This was a little jarring, as I had trouble remembering people's names, and it would take me a moment to get my bearings after each transition. That said, each of the stories was quite compelling. Indeed, on one occasion I was curious enough about how one character's story was going to continue that I skipped ahead to read her next chapter out of order. (Theoretically, you could read the whole book that way, as six novellas read one after the other. But I guess I wouldn't advise it.) This was an entertaining read, and the premise was intriguing.

John Braddock, The 24th Name, Part II

  Amazon  

This is a continuation of John Braddock's short book The 24th Name, which I read in March. (Here's my review.) I'm still entertained by the author's dissection of the decision making that precedes action. Once again, Braddock wraps two stories around one another, skipping between them in his narrative. I would recommend reading both parts of the story (and any that follow) one after the other, though, so that the details will remain in your mind. You don't have to, but it would help, as there isn't a lot of attention paid to catching the reader up on any details they may not remember.

Natalie Barelli, The Accident

  Amazon  

Eve happens to be in the right place at the right time when Kat's elderly mother starts choking on her lunch in her nursing home. A few pats on the back, and Eve is a hero, and Kat is in her debt. A friendship between the two quickly blossoms. Eve is just the greatest, and Kat is grateful enough to take Eve out to lunch, to offer her a  job, to give her a place to stay. Eve very quickly insinuates herself into Kat's life, and then she isn't so great anymore. 

The first half of this book was pretty frustrating since I cottoned on to what Eve was up to long before Kat did and because Kat, for all her alleged intelligence, was pretty stupid and irritatingly weak. I wanted to slap some sense into her and jolt her out of her helplessness. But then things picked up at about the 60% mark, and the story actually got downright riveting toward the end. A fun read.


About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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