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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:

  


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.

April 2019: Book notices

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Linwood Barclay, A Noise Downstairs

  Amazon  

Linwood Barclay can write quite the page-turner, and although he's Canadian, he tends to set his books in nearby (to me) Milford, Connecticut, which is cool. A Noise Downstairs is about Paul Davis, a nice-guy professor at "West Haven College" (a made-up place), whose life gets upended after he tries to help a colleague he sees driving erratically one night. Turns out the colleague was up to no good. For most of the book we watch Paul dealing with the consequences of what happened at the side of the road that night, his mental and physical recovery. He's in a fragile state to begin with, then, when he starts hearing strange noises coming from downstairs when he's in bed for the night.... So, this book was definitely an exciting read, but it was also rather strange--structurally, I guess. I can't be more specific without giving away a very big twist. There were actually a couple big twists, the first of which really surprised me, about 70% of the way into the book. I'm not even sure that it's right to call it a twist, but it was a surprising plot development. Maybe if the book were divided into several parts, with the big breaks in the story's direction thus flagged, I would have found that first revelation more acceptable. At any rate, the book is worth the read. It's just kind of odd.

Blake Crouch, Dark Matter

  Amazon  

Jason Dessen teaches intro physics at a small-time college in Chicago. He's happily married, with a son and a generally comfortable life, but he sometimes wonders about the path not taken. Specifically, had he not abandoned his cutting-edge work in theoretical physics to raise a family, would he be publishing seminal papers and winning august prizes? Would his wife, who made similar sacrifices, be a celebrated artist instead of an art teacher? But Jason comes to realize how good he had it after he's kidnapped at gunpoint one night and drugged. From there, things get really crazy. I hesitate to say more, although a look at the book's description on Amazon may suggest what sort of sci fi ride you're in for. But boy was this fun. And thought-provoking. And thrilling. I really didn't want it to end, and I don't think I say that often. 

Gregg Hurwitz, Out of the Dark

  Amazon  

Orphan X is back for his biggest mission yet, getting the guy who killed his mentor and who's been trying to eliminate Evan and the rest of the Orphans. He's got his work cut out for him, though, because his nemesis is the President of the United States. It's a big job, but Evan gets help from some unexpected quarters: He's slowly building an army of allies as the series progresses. At the same time, Evan has another task on his plate. Someone's contacted him through his Nowhere Man number, and he's obliged to help the helpless. This is another good read from Hurwitz, with the expected fun action scenes and some development in Evan's personal life as well. 

James Renner, The Man from Primrose Lane

  Amazon  

Well, this book is a wild ride. It was touted as mind-bending and genre-bending and it's certainly both--mind-bending enough, in fact, that somewhere toward the end my brain had had enough. I think it would take a series of late-night conversations with other people who've read the book for me to be confident I know exactly what happened. It starts off as an interesting true-crime-y novel. Who killed the man from Primrose Lane, the guy who walked around all the time with mittens on, even in the summer? That would have been enough for the book, truly, but there's a lot more going on than that, and there's a lot of jumping around in the timeline, and the story moves between different characters' perspectives. It's kind of awesome and kind of confusing. Definitely worth reading, though.

March 2019: Book notices

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Christine Carbo, The Wild Inside

  Amazon  

The Wild Inside is the first in a series of police procedurals by Christine Carbo. The book is written in the first person and follows Ted Systead, a special agent with the Department of the Interior's National Parks Service, as he investigates a murder-cum-bear-mauling in Montana's Glacier National Park. Ted works out of Denver, but this crime has him back where he grew up. The case hits close to home in a more figurative way as well: When Ted was fourteen, his father was dragged by a bear from the tent they were sharing and mauled to death. This case has Ted facing the memories he's mostly suppressed in the twenty-odd years since his father's screams stopped.

The murder Ted's investigating is somewhat interesting; the book's setting is more so: I haven't read a crime novel that plays out in this kind of wilderness before. I liked Ted and his ad hoc partner Monty as characters. The writing was fine. It was a pleasant read. Still, I'm not sure I'm eager to jump into another in the series. The book felt long. There are no great dramatic moments in the story. We just follow the day-to-day investigation and Ted's struggles with his past until both find some resolution in the end. So maybe some day I'll reach for the second book in the series, but not for a while.

Michael Kardos, The Three-Day Affair

  Amazon  

Wow. I can't remember the last time I read a book that I really didn't want to put down, that I put off doing other things to finish. And when I was done with this one, I hightailed it to Amazon to see what else the author has written. This book had me thinking of Scott Smith's marvelous A Simple Plan. It's similar in that both books put their protagonists in a situation that progressively worsens, seemingly inexorably, each reasonable-under-the-circumstances decision leading to another that's just a little more awful. So, three old college friends are getting together for a golf weekend in New Jersey when one of them does something impulsive and criminal and immediately involves his buddies in the mess he's made. And things go downhill from there. The story of this modern crime in progress is woven together with the characters' back story, their time together at Princeton, their girlfriends and careers. All of it eventually comes together to make us understand their relationship and their shared crime better, because there's more to it than we originally suppose.... 

John Braddock, The 24th Name

  Amazon  

This is the second Kindle Single that I've read by John Braddock, a former CIA guy. The first was his nonfiction piece A Spy's Guide to Thinking (my review), which I liked because he explains a system of thinking--DADA: data to analysis to decision to action--by unpacking the thought processes and decision making that would be involved in a real-life scenario, a subway mugging. The 24th Name is similar in that Braddock's discussing thought processes and decision making, but now he's doing so through fiction. This Single tells the story of a former spy who's unofficially gone back in the game. Two of his "cases" are described in stories that wrap around one another. Here's the sort of writing from it that I like a lot:


When someone asks you a direct question about your purpose, you have three options:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Lie
  3. Deflect

When you're a spy, you usually choose Option 3. And if you need to, Option 2. You keep your purpose secret. You keep it secret because when the enemy knows your purpose, they can reason backward to your tactics. They can figure out what you're going to do next.

But when you meet an ally, you tell them your purpose. You tell them, so they can help you get there faster.

Option 1, if they're an ally.

Option 2, if they're an enemy.

Option 3,  if you're not sure.

I looked at the woman and chose option 1.

I love this for some reason. I'm a sucker for lists, I guess. Oh! There's also a clever meta bit in the last chapters that will have you wondering what the author is up to when he's not writing. :-)

Tim Tigner, Falling Stars

  Amazon  

Kyle Achilles' latest adventure pits him against Ivan the Ghost, the criminal mastermind we first met in Tigner's novella Chasing Ivan. This time, Ivan's got an ingenious plan to use cutting-edge technology and the basic human instinct for risk aversion to make a killing. Achilles teams up with former con artist turned former CIA operative Jo Montfort to thwart him. Like Tigner's other Achilles novels, Falling Stars is a fast and fun read. I'll definitely be reading more in the series (next up: Twist and Turn). (Also, Tigner has a stand-alone novel coming out soon! Check out The Price of Time.)

John Braddock, The Spy's Guide to Strategy

  Amazon  

In A Spy's Guide to Strategy, former CIA operative John Braddock writes about the strategy of looking forward and reasoning backward. In other words, to make plans yourself or figure out someone else's likely moves, you look forward to the endgame, and then reason backward through the steps you or they have to take to get there. Braddock discusses real-life applications of the principle, including sussing out what Bin Laden was up to and a couple of issues Braddock himself had to deal with. One of these was a surprisingly suspenseful story about his shoes going through an explosives testing machine in an airport not long after 9/11. Braddock's writing is, in his own words, herky-jerky, and it's quite repetitive, more so this piece than the other two books I've read by him. But reading this was still a net positive for me.

February 2019: Book notices

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Dean Koontz, The Silent Corner

  Amazon  

This is the first in Dean Koontz's five-book Jane Hawk series. Jane is an FBI agent who takes a leave of absence to investigate her husband's mysterious suicide. Turns out, he's not the only seemingly non-suicidal person to take his own life of late. Jane quickly finds herself up against nefarious evildoers who are bent on recasting the world for their own purposes. I like Jane as a heroine. She's smart and resourceful on the run, a recipe for a good thriller. This one's a bit unusual in that the writing veers to poetic at times. Koontz also uses a surprising number of "big words." At least, I had to look up more than usual while reading. A winning book. I'll probably read the next in the series soon.

Mary Roach, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

  Amazon  

In Bonk, Mary Roach asks the sort of questions and explains the kind of things that our inner 12-year-old boys are dying to know about--from penis cameras to Danish pig insemination. She approaches the subject of sex with a lively wit and much verbal play: There's a phrase or two to admire on pretty much every page. This didn't surprise me given how much I loved her book Stiff (my review). Her prose goes down easy, but it also leaves me feeling like I've just downed one of those movie-size boxes of of Good & Plenty. It's a good read, but I'm not sure I'm really learning anything.

Jeffery Deaver, Ninth & Nowhere

  Amazon  

Ninth & Nowhere is an Amazon Original story by Jeffrey Deaver, a quick read, told in two parts. In the first, Deaver introduces seven very different characters who seem to have nothing to do with one another, from a gangbanger to a woman who’s sneaking off to meet a man who’s not her husband to a policeman on patrol and nearing retirement. In the second part, the lives of the characters intersect in a violent incident, and our preconceptions about them are in some cases proved wrong. Reading the first part, it’s hard to keep the characters straight, with so many separate lives introduced one after another.  But by the end their roles have clarified, and we know more about them than we did from the introductory vignettes. This is a good read, the first time I’ve read anything by Deaver, and worth the small investment in time (and money).

Mark Dawson, The Cleaner

  Amazon  

The Cleaner is the first in a series of self-published thrillers by Mark Dawson. His protagonist, John Milton, is an assassin, the number one hit man in his assassin collective, the man Britain goes to when problems need solving. But Milton’s had enough. He announces that he wants out, and spends his first days of retirement trying to help a new acquaintance’s son, who’s on the brink of becoming fully immersed in a gang. The book is not what most of us are probably expecting going in. We're looking for Jack Reacher or Orphan X, but what we get is a lot about gang life in the projects outside London. Not really my cup of tea. Still, the book is entertaining, a good page turner, and I’ll probably read more in the series. But there are problems. Milton, for all his lauded prowess, is just not that impressive. He’s often not very smart about things, and he winds up getting people killed. Which leads to my second major problem—spoiler alert: The people Milton sets out to help in this story would arguably have been better off if they’d never met him. People wind up dead or injured, and in the end the boy is left without the positive role models that might have helped him stay out of the gang. So what’s the point? Is Milton going to wander around England ruining people’s lives in these books? Is that the story we want to read? One other mild irritant: Does everyone in England use “younger” as a noun to mean, I guess, young man? Does anyone? Every appearance of the word grated, and believe me, it appeared a lot.


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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