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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.


Click here for a complete list of books reviewed.

Book Notices | The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean, The Library Book

  Amazon  

Well, reading this was a balm. Susan Orlean here focuses her loving homage to libraries on the great fire that destroyed Los Angeles's Central Library in 1986. We learn about the events of the day itself—the damage done to building and books, the arson investigation that followed, and the unusual character on whom suspicion soon settled, a likable would-be actor and compulsive liar named Harry Peak. But in telling the story of the fire and its consequences, Orlean allows her attention to wander. She fleshes out the book with discussions of Central Library's staff and previous directors, its departments and collections, the architect who designed the building, its rebuilding and reopening in 1993; she also moves beyond Los Angeles to library get-togethers around the globe, to lending libraries that deliver books by burro and camel, to a consideration of the surprisingly large range of services that libraries have provided and continue to provide, updating always for the needs of their communities at the time. The Library Book is wide-ranging and pretty much always interesting and, really, just a lovely book.

Book Notices | Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay, Broken Promise

  Amazon  

Broken Promise is the first book in Linwood Barclay’s trilogy set in Promise Falls, New York. There’s a lot going on in it: dead squirrels, murder, kidnapping, more murder, a series of sexual assaults, and a creepy tableau of mannequins on a carnival attraction. And there are a lot of characters to watch: David Harwood, an out of work reporter whose cousin is implicated in one or two of the crimes mentioned above; David's mother and father and aunt; a bully and his gun-toting mom; a donut-loving detective; a disgraced former mayor; a very busy doctor. The story is interesting, but it felt as if there was too much going on for one book. And that turned out to be true, because not all of these storylines are resolved by the end. They spill over into book two, at least. I like Barclay’s novels in general, and this one was good, but I’m not sure it was good enough to keep me reading the series for another 1000-plus pages.

Book Notices | Gone the Next by Ben Rehder / Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Ben Rehder, Gone the Next

  Amazon  

This is another book that somehow has been sitting unread on my (virtual) shelves for years. And while it's languished on my Kindle, the author has added another four books to the series, now seven books strong. Gone the Next introduces Roy Ballard, a charming smart alec who pays his bills by investigating insurance fraud. That means he stakes out insurance claimants hoping to film them exercising or picking up heavy objects when their alleged injuries should preclude it. It's a stakeout that lands him in some trouble in this first outing: while on duty, Roy catches site of a child who's been all over the news. But try convincing the police that you saw a kidnapped girl when you've got a history like Roy's! The book also introduces a small cast of characters to flesh out Roy's world—a love interest, an accomplice, a policeman with whom he's mostly at odds. I liked the characters. I liked the story. Mostly I liked Roy's personality, and I'm glad he's got a series wrapped around him.

Peter Swanson, Eight Perfect Murders

  Amazon  

A murder mystery that references Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and whose protagonist is a cat-owning bookstore owner? Count me in! It turns out that life in the book trade is more dangerous than you'd expect. Someone's killing people, evidently using a blogged list of perfect literary crimes as a template, and the list's author, Malcolm Kershaw, is called in by the FBI to lend his expertise. This all seems like a straightforward, if unlikely, series of events plot-wise, but straightforward flies out the window early on as Swanson starts throwing twists at us. And the twists keep coming. It's a good read, with my one caveat being that I felt there were too many names of victims tossed around. I couldn't keep them straight, and I felt it distanced me from the story somewhat. Another consideration is that Strangers on a Train is not the only classic novel mentioned here. Readers who are more familiar with the books on the murderer's list will probably connect more with Swanson's novel. I was only familiar with some of them.

Book Notices | A Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler / The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

Barry Eisler, A Graveyard of Memories

  Amazon  

A Graveyard of Memories is a prequel to Barry Eisler's series featuring John Rain, a half-Japanese, half-American assassin. I've only read the first book in the series, some years ago, so I'm not familiar with the character's later development. But in this outing he's twenty years old and naive. He's bloodied his hands in Vietnam, so he's no stranger to killing, but we watch as he gets involved in a complex plot that forces him to translate the skills he honed in the jungle to an urban environment. Eisler spells out Rain's learning process as he goes. This may be a little heavy-handed, in that it's very noticeable that he's doing it, but I nonetheless do like being walked through Rain's thoughts and process. Somehow, Rain is both a vicious killer and a likable young man who's tender to a love interest, an unexpected combination, but it somehow works. One thing that I personally don't like is that the book is dotted with Japanese terminology. It's always explained, and I guess it serves to exoticize the setting, but mostly I find it an interruption, and I think a lot of it could be dispensed with. It's one thing to use a couple of terms that are repeated frequently enough that they can become part of the reader's vocabulary, but including too much unfamiliar terminology is alienating.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Charming Quirks of Others

  Amazon  

This is the seventh book in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and things are going much as they always do for Isabel Dalhousie. Her life of calm near perfection, that is, is peppered with small annoyances and moral dilemmas—her own and others'—that she has to mull over. This time she's tasked with looking into the qualifications of a suite of candidates for the head mastership of a local boys' school. Of course, as usual, the book isn't really very much about that at all. The boys school plot just forms a scaffold on which to hang Isabel's reflections on guilt and trust and poetry and Scotland and so on. I still find Isabel kind of annoying (but I have more volumes of this series already on my Kindle, so I can't stop yet), and the ease with which she navigates motherhood while everyone around her jumps to take care of Charlie rankles. But no, I'm not bitter. Anyway, I love AMS, but this is not my favorite of his series.

Book Notices | The Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark / The Mourner by Richard Stark

Richard Stark, The Man with the Getaway Face

  Amazon  

This is the second of 24 Parker novels by Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake). Parker isn't the kind of protagonist you root for, exactly. He's a criminal, a thief and sometime killer. He's amoral. He's not very nice to women—or men, for that matter. But he's very professional, and there's something compelling about watching him plan and execute crimes. And since the early Parker novels were written in the 1960s, there's an added historical interest to them. They're gritty and dirty, and everything goes down in a simpler, meaner, pre-traffic camera world, in big hulking Chevies and Fords. In this outing, we're along for the ride as Parker plans an armored car heist and deals with an unexpected problem related to his recent facelift. I doubt I'd ever do it, but it would be fun to read all 24 Parker books in order, one after the other, and since they're fast reads, it wouldn't be a very difficult undertaking. 

Richard Stark, The Mourner

  Amazon  

It took me a while to get interested in this fourth book in the Parker series, maybe because I was just coming off of book two, maybe because I'd skipped book three, but it just seemed a little disjointed. Eventually the story improved. What's going on is a little complicated, but in brief, Parker and his partner in crime Handy are going after a 15th century statue. They've got a buyer for it, but there's another party who's after the same mark for different reasons. And actually it's more complicated than that. Anyway, Parker is Parker—shrewd and good at what he does but not above making potentially fatal mistakes. The series continues to interest me, but after this one, probably less so than previously.

Book Notices | Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith, Lethal White

  Amazon  

This is the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). I really enjoyed the first three, and I continue to enjoy the relationship between Strike—Rowling's one-legged private eye—and his associate Robin. But holy Christ this book was long. Too long. The first three books in the series were less than 500 pages each (464, 464, 497). This one was 657 pages long, and I think that's the main problem. Had it been 200 pages shorter, I would have liked it a lot more. Maybe I'm unusual, but for me, the mystery in a book like this isn't the main attraction. It's the scaffolding that supports what I really want to read about, the unfolding relationship between the principals. In this case, there was a whole lot of scaffolding, and I couldn't bring myself to care about the mystery at all or any of the minor characters (with their cute little aristocratic names and horse obsessions). I made it through the book only because I care about Strike and Robin, but I think this installment may be my last. I was in a bookstore just yesterday and I happened to see Lethal White on the shelf next to the next book in the series, Troubled Blood. Guess what! That one is—maybe you should sit down for this—945 pages! I can't do it. 

Book Notices | Find You First by Lynwood Barclay / The Man with the Silver Saab by Alexander McCall Smith

Linwood Barclay, Find You First

  Amazon  

In this stand-alone thriller, Miles Cookson is a terminally ill rich guy looking for his nine children, the products of his donation to a sperm bank decades earlier. But while Miles is hoping to improve his progeny's lot in life, someone else seems to be trying to take them out, one by one. Linwood Barclay can be counted on for a good page-turner, and this book is no exception. It's a good, fast read, but if you think too closely about the plot, you'll start to notice how much of it hangs on unlikely coincidence. My advice: Just suspend your disbelief and enjoy the read.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Man with the Silver Saab

  Amazon  

I read the final lines of this third book in Alexander McCall Smith‘s Department of Sensitive Crimes series and realized I was smiling. Ulf Varg charms in a way that the author’s Isabel Dalhousie simply doesn’t—although I enjoy that series enough to continue reading it. (Do I like Ulf more than Precious Ramotswe? Maybe!) In this outing, Ulf and his loquacious colleague Blomquist investigate fraud in the art world, Ulf’s dog Martin has a run-in with a squirrel, and a trip to the vet results in interesting developments of a more personal nature. I'm already looking forward to reading what happens in book four.

Book Notices | The Traitor's Story by Kevin Wignall / The Speed of Sound by Eric Bernt / The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Kevin Wignall, The Traitor's Story

  Amazon  

Finn Harrington is an ex-spy who's spent the six years since he left the business writing popular history books. He lives in Switzerland with his girlfriend, Adrienne, and with a vague sense that his past will one day come back to haunt him. It does in this story when Finn agrees to investigate the disappearance of his neighbors' teenaged daughter. Turns out that she unwittingly dredged up ghosts from Finn's past, and we learn about them in historical chapters that are interlaced with the modern narrative. In order to reclaim his life with Adrienne, Finn has to put those ghosts to rest. I really enjoyed this book. It took a little effort to keep the timeline straight as the author's switching between the modern-day and historical chapters was sometimes confusing. But that's my only complaint. Finn is a complex, interesting character, a flawed hero for whom "nothing much had mattered" for a long time when the book opens. It's enjoyable to watch him find his way after six years of living a life of shadows.

Eric Bernt, The Speed of Sound

  Amazon  

There are a lot of moving parts in this fast-paced sci fi novel by Eric Bernt. There are the good guys, a new doctor at a secret home for autistic savants and her genius patient Eddie, who's working on a project that could change life forever for everyone. And then there are the various sets of bad guys who are out to get Eddie's invention for themselves. The machine, by the way, is an implausible one: The device is able to scan a room and replay sounds that were made in it at pretty much any point in the past. You just have to input the proper date to retrieve the sounds you're looking for. So, yes, it's definitely a machine that would change the course of history. There's a lot going on in the book, with the crazy science and the multiple teams of malefactors, but Bernt does a good job of keeping things from getting too confusing. My only major complaint is that the book ends very abruptly. It's the kind of ending where you turn the page and literally say aloud—I speak from experience—"That's it?" We're being set up, it turns out, to read a sequel, Bernt's The Sound of Echoes, which was published a year after this one. I liked this book enough to read a sequel one day, maybe, but it annoys me a bit that I wasn't really given closure within this book, that the story isn't finished, and if I want to know how it ends I'd have to read book two. 

Brian Freeman, The Night Bird

  Amazon  

In this first of a three-book (so far?) series, San Francisco Detective Frost Easton is investigating a string of bizarre deaths. A handful of otherwise happy women have suffered violent psychotic breaks that led to their dramatic deaths. Turns out they're all one-time patients of a psychiatrist who specializes in rewriting people's memories, and someone is tormenting her through her patients. There's scary stuff here, specifically, a guy in a creepy mask with a creepy voice—either is a problem independently, but in combination they're a nightmare. The main story is interesting, and the characters' back stories add to it. I liked Frost Easton, too. He's a cat lover with a weird living situation and a tragic past, a good anchor for a series. I think this one would make a good TV show.