Sunday, April 27, 2014

Murder in the Marais

Title: Murder in the Marais
Author: Cara Black
Series: Aimée Leduc, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 1998
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I generally buy books online based on reviews I read and friends' recommendations. However, I also enjoy browsing in the book stores and this is one of the books that randomly caught my attention. I've never heard of the author before, I've never seen any reviews for the series. I just picked it up on a whim and proceeded to read it.

Murder in the Marais is the first book in a series about a Parisian tech investigator, Aimée Leduc. Aimée specializes in cracking encryption and other tech-type investigations; however, in this case she gets involved in something much bigger. It all starts with a rabbi hiring her to decode an encrypted photo and leads to Aimée discovering a body when she delivers the results and the subsequent investigation of the murder.

The book is set in late 90's Paris and the interesting part is that many of the events relevant to the murder happened during the WWII. Neo-nazis, war criminals, collaborators, and survivors are all part of the plot. I liked how the author tied the past to the present and the plot itself is well-written with a nice twist at the end of the story. I stayed up late to figure out whodunnit and generally enjoyed the ride.

While I enjoyed the story, I did not like the characters as much as I expected. Generally speaking, I like strong female protagonists in books. However, I did not really connect to Aimée, nor to her partner (who played a rather small role in the overall story). I don't even know why -- on paper, she is the sort of character I should like. She is smart, tough, strong-willed, with realistic failings and insecurities. But something about her just didn't click for me. It's not that I disliked her, but rather I felt more apathetic to her plight than I should have.

Perhaps that was a function of the author's writing style. I generally thought the writing was a bit rough around the edges and probably the weaker part of this book. I would consider picking up the next book in the series based on the plot strength, but I am not rushing to the book store. Overall, it's a solid murder mystery with an interesting background, but it comes a bit short in characterization and writing.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fables: Vol 1 & 2

Title: Fables: Legends in Exile and Animal Farm
Author: Bill Willingham
Series: Fables, vol 1 & 2
Genre: Graphic Novel
Published: 2011
Rating: 8/10

Review: Since I enjoyed 1001 Nights of Snowfall, I've decided to continue with Fables by reading volumes 1 and 2 of the series. Conveniently, they were loaned to me by a friend to whom I gave them for Christmas.

The premise of the story is that the characters of various fables, having escaped their respective worlds because of The Adversary, now live in two communities. One is in New York proper, where human-looking Fables live and the other one is upstate New York, hidden by spells, Animal Farm.

In Legends in Exile, Rose Red's apartment is discovered completely trashed and covered in blood. Bigby Wolf is the detective on the case with all the tropes of the genre written into the story. I liked the story-telling and all the nuanced pokes at the original identities of the characters. At the end of Legends in Exile, there is also a short story telling how Bigby came to look human and move to New York, which was a nice touch.

The second volume centers its action on the Animal Farm, the community of non-human fables. Snow goes to the community for her semi-annual visit and interrupts the conspirators in the middle of a revolution against their human community. References to Orwell's Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies are pretty fun to see and the ending has quite a bang to it.

I am pretty curious to see how the characters turn out, especially with a certain romance brewing in the story. I just might have to pick up more books in the series.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

This is a Story of a Happy Marriage

Title: This is a Story of a Happy Marriage
Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: Essays
Published: 2013
Rating: 9/10

Review: I came across a review of this book on Book Riot (by the way, they are awesome and I've been enjoying that site a lot since I've discovered it). This is the first book of essays I've read in a really long time. I pick up essays extremely rarely, not because I hate essays, but rather because I rarely hear about essays worth reading. The title on this book caught my attention though and the review was so positive that I bought the book.

I have to say I was totally and completely in love with the author by essay number four. I was slightly less interested in her essays about writing craft, but all her essays dealing with life stories and her relationships were simply phenomenal. They were honest and insightful and generally quite entertaining. My favorite one is definitely The Wall, in which Ann, age 30, decides to train and then takes the entrance exam into the LA police academy. It's funny, it's touching, it's full of neat cultural observations. The titular story This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is also great, telling the story of how Ann meets her future husband and why she finally agrees to marry him after 11 years of dating.

One of the things I enjoyed throughout is Ann's distinctive voice and clear, concise, striking writing style. You can hear her in every one of the essays and you can tell she's choosing her words carefully when she writes. I am now pretty curious to pick up one of her novels, though I barely know anything about them, just based on the quality of writing. And I would definitely recommend this compilation to anyone who would enjoy a very well written glimpse into another human being's life.