Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Pompomberry House by Rosen Trevithick (2012)

Bottom line: A very fun read with a good mystery, an interesting main character (despite describing every single hat she puts on), and a clever roasting of the indie scene.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

A writer’s retreat seemed the perfect chance for Dee Whittaker to take her mind off her marital difficulties.

However, she meets five of the most hideous writers ever to have mastered a qwerty keyboard, and her problems quickly multiply. Things escalate further when the handyman winds up dead.

After fleeing from the island, Dee attempts to get her life back on track but begins to notice that something strange is going on. The stories written on the island are coming true and hers is next – complete with a murder.

Her estranged husband makes an unlikely sidekick as the two of them try to stop the literary copycat killing an innocent woman.

Packed with topical references, Pompomberry House provides a satirical look at the emerging world of indie publishing.

Review:

As an avid reader, I’ve been watching the changing dynamics of writing and publishing – both through the introduction of e-books and greater prevalence of independently published authors. You could have one without the other, but e-books have made it possible for anyone to take ANY piece of written work, hit “publish”, and it’s available to the masses. Pompomberry House takes a look at a group of characters who probably should have thought twice before hitting the publish button on their books.

It takes a look at some of the challenges of being an indie author, as well as some behind the scenes action of what authors have to do to get their books noticed. (There’s a huge difference between being able to e-publish a book, and being able to e-sell it.) Most of the characters felt a little TOO over the top for me, but it is satire, so that might have been a stylistic decision. Although the murder/mystery/discovery aspects of the book were handled quite cleverly, I felt that the author was at her best when portraying the complicated relationship and emotions between the main character and her soon-to-be ex-husband.

As it says in the blurb, this is a book “packed with topical references…” I don’t know how well Pompomberry House will stand the test of time with all the contemporary mentions, but in the here and now, it’s definitely worth checking out – especially if you have any interest in indie authors.

Side note: This book is firmly in the PG-13 camp, so be warned.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Timekeeper by Heather Albano (2012)

Bottom line: A very strong sequel to Timepiece, and a very fun read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

An alternate history adventure featuring time travelers, freedom fighters, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon invading Britain by dirigible.

In Timepiece, young adventurer Elizabeth Barton and her suitor William Carrington used a mysterious pocket watch to travel from 1815 to 1885. Horrified by what they found—a steampunk dystopia patrolled by Gatling-gun-wielding robots—they joined fellow time traveler Mr. Maxwell in his quest to prevent that future from taking form…and accidentally set in motion a chain of events that allowed Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo.

Now they are trapped in a second 1885, one even worse than the first, where the tricolor flag flies from the Tower of London and Britain has long since accepted its fate as a conquered possession of the globe-spanning French Empire. In Timekeeper, Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell struggle to undo the damage they caused—and gradually come to realize the stakes may be even higher than they initially supposed, for they are not the only ones attempting to affect the timeline.

Review:

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well worth waiting for. The plot ran smoother, the characters had more depth, and the writing was just as strong as the first book, Timepiece (review here). All of the minor quibbles I had with the first book were nonexistent here. I think you could read this book as a standalone, but I wouldn’t really recommend it – it definitely follows straight on from the first, and you’d miss a lot of the context. I think one of the great strengths of this book was how she took the same people and made them believably act differently due to their external circumstances, yet consistently with their characterization in the alternate timeline.

The story wraps up satisfactorily for two of the main characters, and there is enough closure for the third that you don’t feel left hanging, although his story is certainly not finished. I’ll certainly read that when/if she writes it, but I was very happy with the way things concluded.

Available:E-book currently $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

Review of the Lord Peter & Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers

Bottom line: Great mysteries, great characters, great writing. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

Gaudy Night is my all-time favorite book. Not just mystery, but book. The other three books in this series are all very, very good (though I’d rate Have His Carcase a bit below the other three – it’s slow in places). The depth of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, combined with their interactions, feel more real than any other characters I’ve read. It feels more like being in a room with two people you know well than reading a story about fictional creations.

Continue reading

Five Free Kindle E-book Classic Mysteries Written in the 1800s

I think it’s interesting to read some of the earliest mysteries and science fiction and see what has changed in the genres over the centuries. Some are as enthralling as the day they were published and some….not so much. Here are five free Kindle e-book mysteries from some of the writers who popularized the genre and inspired those who came later. Barnes and Noble links are included, but they are $0.99 as of 7/2/2013.

The Cask of Amontillado (1846) – Edgar Allan Poe  (short story) – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started this, but I ended up liking it. It’s a REALLY short story. I think it could have benefitted from explaining what the offence was that had been committed against the narrator, but it’s a creepy (in a good way) short read from the perspective of the perpetrator. More of a thriller than a mystery.

The Woman in White (1859) – Wilkie Collins  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Of the five books here, I found this one to be the most of a slog. It’s long, and there is a lot of  “women are to be pretty and helpless”, but if you can get past that it’s a well thought out plot, and the way the amateur detective goes about uncovering the evidence seemed pretty believable. The main perpetrator reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s perpetrator in The Man In the Brown Suit, but I don’t know if that was an homage or coincidental on her part.

Crime and Punishment (1866) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Parts of this book drag a bit, but it was an interesting look at Russian life during that time. The names can get a bit confusing (not because they’re Russian, but because each person has several different names, all used interchangeably depending on the person speaking). It’s different from many mysteries in that we get the point of view of the killer, but there is definitely murder, and detectives, and uncovering of evidence, and then resolution. It was a little uncomfortable to witness the effect the crime has on the killer’s mind, but definitely fascinating. Plus, there’s the advantage of being able to say “oh, you know, just reading a little Dostoyevsky”  to anyone you want to impress. Fair warning: It’s REALLY long.

The Leavenworth Case (1878) – Anna Katharine GreenAmazon, Barnes & Noble

The first novel of of one of the earliest mystery writers in America (at least according to Wikipedia). It has many elements of what I usually think of as the typical English mystery – a murder of a wealthy person in a locked house, secrets of those who may stand to gain from his death, a side of romance, unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and ending with the detective eliciting a confession from the guilty party. Some of the language feels a bit dated, and there are a few typos, but definitely worth a read.

The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes #2) (1890) – Arthur Conan DoyleAmazon, Barnes & Noble

This is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it’s free! Fantastical elements in a story that stretches back in time and halfway across the world. Holmes and Watson are in fine form, despite the distraction of a fair lady…

Bonus: Not free, you’ll have to shell out $0.99 for this book, but if you want to read about Holmes from the beginning, there is:

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes Vol.1) (1887) – Arthur Conan DoyleAmazon, Barnes & Noble

Have you read any of these books? Still enjoyable despite the 100 – 150 years they’ve been around?

Review of The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2011) (The Steampunk Chronicles – Book 1)

Bottom line: An intriguing first full-length installment of the series. I had a few complaints about the writing, but the story was very entertaining. I’d recommend reading The Strange Case of Finley Jayne first (although you don’t need it for The Girl in the Steel Corset to make sense) because it’s free and if you like that, you should definitely give this one a shot.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one…except the “thing” inside her.

When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch….

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help—and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on—even if it seems no one believes her.

Review:

The Girl in the Steel Corset continues the saga of Finley Jayne (introduced in the novella The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, review here), a girl with supernatural abilities. I found myself caught up in the plot and enjoying the characters. However, I was a little disappointed in the writing itself. I had been impressed with the author’s writing in her previous book, and was surprised to find that here I occasionally found it distracting. Normally when I read, I’m completely immersed in the book, but I kept being interrupted by thoughts like “wait, didn’t she describe the other guy in that exact same way?” “didn’t that other character say something the same thing to this same girl?” and “does EVERYONE in this book have a crooked smile?”. There are also some inconsistencies with the characters. It seems like this book could have benefited from one more pass by an editor – tighten up the writing and maybe decrease the amount of time spent on some of the subplots.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the read – I did, and I’ve read it a couple more times since the first time. I think it is a testament to Cross’s skill as a storyteller that the writing quirks were not as apparent on the first read through. At least for me, I was so caught up in the story the first time around that I didn’t notice as many of them, and then in the subsequent reads, as I became more familiar with the story, I noticed the writing more, and parts of it started to annoy me. There was a lot of ground covered – in addition to introducing all the members of the team to each other and the readers, and getting many of their back stories, there is the mystery to solve of what the bad guy is up to and how to stop him. I’m still excited to read the next book in the series (The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, due out June 2012), but I’m hoping the writing will be a little more polished and that the book will feel more seamless.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Blunt Instrument by Georgette Heyer (Inspector Hannasyde #4) (1938)

Bottom line: An easy-going murder mystery set in 1930s London. Worth a try if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh and want something new (especially if you can borrow it). I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually enjoy a Christie or Marsh, but it was still a pleasant enough read.

Rating: Recommended IF –  it’s free and/or you’re in the mood for a light mystery to pass the time.

Blurb:

Who would kill the perfect gentleman?

When Ernest Fletcher is found bludgeoned to death in his study, everyone is shocked and mystified: Ernest was well liked and respected, so who would have a motive for killing him?

Superintendent Hannasyde, with consummate skill, uncovers one dirty little secret after another, and with them, a host of people who all have reasons for wanting Fletcher dead. Then, a second murder is committed, giving a grotesque twist to a very unusual case, and Hannasyde realizes he’s up against a killer on a mission…

Review:

This is the first Georgette Heyer book that I’ve read. I borrowed it as an e-book from my library (You can get library books without ever even getting off the couch! Best. Thing. Ever.) after reading some reviews that compared her to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers.  While it’s certainly in the same style (more so of Christie and Marsh), I don’t think Heyer is in the same league quality-wise.

I didn’t really enjoy her characters (except maybe Neville and Sergeant Hemmingway) – I found them irritating rather than quirky,  some of the dialogue seemed forced and clichéd, and I couldn’t get excited about Hannasyde, her detective. One of my favorite elements of the book was the murder itself – who committed it, why, and how was cleverly done, but the plot itself of how the detectives and side characters discover the truth was lacking.

That being said, it’s not bad as a “read it and forget it” mystery. There are enough twists and turns that it keeps your brain moderately occupied, you are never really worried that anyone sympathetic is going to end up having committed the crime, and it’s not intense – I was able to put it down and come back to it later (a rare thing for me with mysteries) and I didn’t feel the need to rush out immediately and buy the next book in the series. Sometimes that’s all I’m looking for in a book.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

Side Note: Georgette Heyer wrote historical romances (think Jane Austen where the characters have more spunk) as well as mysteries – so if you choose to check out her work, make sure you know which brand of Heyer you’re getting!

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.