Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan


I am delighted to welcome a guest blogger for this week's review: my sister Tammy! Tammy is a paralegal, a published freelance writer with more than 300 newspaper and magazine credits to her name (including The Writer, Rangefinder, Paralegal Today, and others) and an as-yet unpublished mystery novelist. Tammy has been a fan of e-books since they first emerged on the PalmOS platform a decade or so ago and just got a Kindle 3 graphite for her birthday. She says she believes it is finally starting to realize the promise of e-books and she dearly loves it! Tammy also reads on a MacBook and a Droid, but neither of those is quite as satisfying as reading on the Kindle! You can find out more about Tammy and her work at her website and at Mobile Read.

Now, onto today's review! The book is Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan, and here are Tammy's comments:

***

I'll be honest: I wasn't expecting to love Still Life With Murder. I don't read a great deal of period fiction, and in much of that which I have read, the author's attempts to set the period overwhelmed the story. This book was different.

The story centers around Cornelia “Nell” Sweeney, who through an accident of circumstance becomes governess to the adopted daughter of a high-society Boston family. But Nell’s world explodes hen one of the Hewitt family’s sons, long believed killed in the Civil War, is found both alive and accused of murder. Viola Hewitt enlists Nell’s aid to clear her son, and Nell finds out that unburying secrets can have a heavy cost indeed.

The story's setting was clearly placed, in both location and time, without seeming heavy-handed. The author's writing had a pleasant, almost lyrical, feel that I really enjoyed, and was quite well-crafted. By the end of the book, I genuinely liked the characters and cared about what happened to them. And, best of all, the mystery ended with one of those surprise twists that, upon further reflection, makes the reader say “of course, it had to be that.”

Overall, I’d give this one a 4/5, but that’s just because I don’t read much in this genre. If you love period fiction, bump my rating up to a 5 and go buy this one. Whether you love period fiction or not, you’ll probably enjoy being swept away into Nell’s world. I know I did,

***

Thanks, Tammy, for the review! Tammy will be contributing other reviews to this project and I look forward to seeing what other gems she will bring our way!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: The Bad Seed by Maurilia Meehan


The Bad Seed is a paranormal-themed small press title by a veteran Australian author. It is set in Australia, at a spooky run-down house in a 'spa' town which is purchased by a gardening columnist seeking an escape from a life in tatters after the disappearance of her daughter several years before.

The writing is top-quality and the atmosphere and mood of a small tourist town is captured very well. But I found the plot tended to wander a little. Agatha's job as a magazine columnist is very prominent as the novel begins, then fades away and comes back again several times. It was also not portrayed completely realistically. I doubt, for example, that an editor would be pestering her to run tours of a garden he himself has never seen. And the supernatural lore of the local village could have been woven in a bit more smoothly rather than just being dumped in all in a lump at a convenient juncture.

This is my third read from indie publisher BeWrite Books and I while I respect the kind of business they seem to be running, I have to confess that I have been a bit disappointed with the books I've actually finished. In addition to the above-mentioned issues with this one, there were some sub-plots that would have benefited from better pacing, and there was a glaringly obvious error in a Wizard of Oz reference that never should have made it through the first editing pass. It's disappointing because they seem to choose to choose interesting novels from authors who clearly have the chops, but then it never seems to come together so that the book realizes its full potential.

If this were a first draft, I would give it top marks and be eager to read the final version. But as a finished product, I rate this one a 3.5 at best. More subtlety on the supernatural aspects, a better-paced narrative and a clean-up of some of the obvious inaccuracies would up it to a 4 or higher. But it's not there yet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Capable of Murder by Brian Kavanagh


I needed a short one this week; I am recovering (hopefully) from bronchitis and spent most of the weekend sleeping. Capable of Murder by Brian Kavanagh was just the thing---just barely novel-length, and a fairly inoffensive cozy that made for a quick and easy read.

The story involves a young woman who inherits an old cottage near Bath, England from her aunt and goes to live there. She meets several sinister characters who all seem to have an interest in the cottage and grounds, and as the body count climbs, she wonders what secrets her aunt---and the old cottage---contain...

The story was entertaining, and the setting well-realized---Mr. Kavanagh's author bio says that his day job has been work in the Australian film industry, so this is definitely evident in the writing. The characters, however, were less well-realized. We got little sense of the heroine as a person other than that she used to live in London and has inherited a cottage. And the villains were cartoon-ish and not terribly subtle. This was a plot-driven story, not a character-driven one. Unfortunately, I can't help but feel, as I have with other books from this publisher, that the story would have benefited from one more pass by an editor to flesh things out a little.

There appear to be two more novels in the series. My gut tells me they are better than this one, but they are a bit over-priced for an indie read so I probably won't get past the sample. That said, this was not a bad story and made for a reasonably entertaining Sunday read. I give this one a 3/5.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: Wake Up! You're Probably Never Going to Look Like That... by Michelle Pearl


This Smashwords freebie is one of the few wellness titles I have found there that is not either an informercial ad, or priced like one. It's a full-length, content-rich and well-written motivation guide for anyone interested in health, fitness and wellness issues.

The focus of the book is attaining a healthy lifestyle---not necessarily a size zero lifestyle, but rather a realistic and maintainable one where you are at your personal fittest and best. Pearl, who is a personal trainer, outlines ten steps to 'transformation' which include eating regularly, controlling your cravings, reducing temptations and other common-sense but useful suggestions.

The book has many personal anecdotes from both Michelle and her clients (including a former contestant of the Biggest Loser show who has been making media rounds with an eating disorder and a scathing indictment of the show) and is written in a chatty, informal style which works well for the type of book it is. I would have liked to see a sample two-week plan with meals and workout suggestions spelled out in detail---that is standard for 'real' books of this type, and Pearl is at times vague on actual specifics---but that aside, I did find the book a good read, especially for a freebie.

My one big complaint is the formatting---it looks fine on the website and iPad, but this book looked absolutely abysmal on the Kindle. Someone needs to go through her code and clean it up a lot! Page breaks in odd places, weird spaces in between lines, images that just don't look laid out correctly and other glitches abound. I deleted it off the Kindle after less than a dozen pages.

I am going to say 3.5/5 for this one. She loses points for the occasional general idea which could have benefited from being a more specific idea instead, and she loses points too for the absymal formatting. So it's not a 4, but it's better than a 3...