Author: Roberta (page 2 of 34)

Celine by Peter Heller Review

Time to jot down a few notes after reading Celine* by Peter Heller.

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:

Private investigator Celine is renowned for her ability to track down missing persons. When a young woman’s father goes missing in Yellowstone Park, Celine leaves the comfort of her apartment in New York City to track him down.

Notes:

Although Celine is older (late 60s) and has emphysema, she still can shoot, drive, and attach tracking devices to suspect’s vehicles with the best of them. Some reviewers say his main character is unrealistic. According to the blurb at Amazon, however, Heller based the main character on his mother, who was actually a private investigator.

How Heller handles the opening set up for the novel is unusual. He reveals the details of the client’s missing father in chapters two through four as a series of conversations between the woman and Celine. Sometimes the dialogue goes back and forth in big blocks of text with a bare minimum of tags. To break things up, he has the young woman leave and send Celine a letter containing some of the facts before they talk again. Even though these chapters are essentially an information dump, the author withholds at times and reveals bits of backstory of characters at times, and thus keeps the reader interested enough to continue reading.  I’m not sure the extended conversation without much action would have been my first choice with a mystery, especially since it duplicates some of the prologue, but overall it worked.

The author’s word selection and descriptions are lovely and you can tell he has an MFA. At times the novel seems to wander into the literary rather than mystery and there is a bit of road trip trope thrown in as well. In fact, the plot/tone feels like a car trip along a long, flat stretch of road with a few stops at cafes or roadside attractions to add surprises along the way.

Best Quote:

Here’s an example of one of the stops, when Celine spots a girl who is crying in front of an art gallery:

Celine reached for the girl’s wet hand, held it. “You, know I have lost three great loves. Loves that could knock the earth off its axis. Truly. Each time I thought my life was over.” The girl as very still, she was listening. “I have finally found the one I’m meant to die with. It’s a love so deep I cannot attempt to fathom it, and I don’t want to. I wish I could have told that to my younger heart-broken self. That everything would work out, more than work out, it would be glorious, So I am telling it to you, One day you will be grateful for this new chapter.”

 

Conclusion:

The fact the traumas occurred in a past (distance), the lack of realistic conflict (Celine confronts some bikers in a bar in a scene that went beyond contrived), and the main characters who rarely make mistakes, it all adds up to make the plot seem flatter than it should have been. A disappointment, given the premise.

 

Public domain photograph by Ken Kistler at PublicDomainPictures.net

#BookBeginnings Celine by Peter Heller

Let’s take a look at Celine by Peter Heller for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-

Celine* by Peter Heller

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Private investigator Celine is renowned for her ability to track down missing persons. When a young woman’s father goes missing in Yellowstone Park, Celine leaves the comfort of her apartment in New York City to track him down.

First Sentence of Prologue:

It was bright and windy, with the poppies flushing orange down the slopes of the bluffs, all mixed with swaths of blue lupine. The Pacific was almost black and it creamed against the base of the cliffs all along Big Sur. He loved this.

First Sentence Chapter One

The call had come while she was at her workbench wiring the naked taxidermic form of an ermine onto a rock, beside the skull of a crow.

 

Discussion:

The novel follows a common mystery format by introducing the victim in the prologue and the investigator in chapter one.

I’m really looking forward to reading this novel for a few different reasons. First of all, the protagonist is a 68-year-old woman who is also a private investigator. Also, the author’s own mother, who was also a private investigator, inspired the story. Finally, a friend recommended it for its lush descriptions of the setting. I can’t wait to delve into it.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Peter Heller? Do you think you’d like to read Celine?

Ballet Video Spaces

Thinking in three dimensions

(click on the microphone icon for sound.)

#BookBeginnings Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

Today I’m starting a book set in Detroit, Michigan: Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Detroit ex-cop August Snow spends his time renovating houses in a neighborhood called Mexicantown. After a young girl from the community is found dead,  Snow discovers she was last seen alive during an ICE raid. Soon he is embroiled in a violent campaign to prevent the perpetrators from acting again.

First Sentence:

Her secret ingredient was nutmeg.

Not a lot — maybe half teaspoon or less — but she got the same complex undercurrent effect that she would have with smoked East Indian paprika or authentic Mexican chili powder.

Discussion:

I read some reviews of this novel that suggested it has a lot of violence, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the beginning. In fact, I really like the description. I want to know who “she” is and also what exactly the narrator is making.

What do you think? Have you read a book by Stephen Mack Jones? Would you read this one?

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Aside:  I have website that lists children’s books set in 50 different states, and thought it might be fun to try the same thing with mysteries. I already have three mystery series set in Arizona. Do you have any suggestions for others?

#Bookitas Diet for a Changing Climate

 

For our first ever Books In Their Appropriate Settings (Bookitas) post, we have Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought by Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich.

Bon appetit.

(For more about the book, see Growing with Science blog.)

#BookBeginnings The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

Today I have the most recent in the  No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Precious Ramotswe, owner and chief detective of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, allows herself to be pulled into running for a seat in a local Botswana election. To help her stay on top of everything, her apprentice Charlie takes over the case of a hit-and-run victim, perhaps before he is ready.

First Sentence:

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and one of the finest mechanics in Botswana, if not the finest, was proud of his wife, Precious Ramotswe, progenitor and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

Discussion:

Isn’t it clever how Alexander McCall Smith introduces two main characters and the setting in the first sentence? I immediately wonder why Mr.  Matekoni is proud of his wife.

One of the things that has made these novels so popular is the Botswana setting. For instance, I always find the names of the businesses to be so memorable.

These are not high tension mysteries, but instead more of a stroll.

What do you think? Have you read any of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series novels?

 

#BookBeginnings Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Today we’re getting ready to start the next novel in The Bestseller Code Challenge ListMaine by J. Courtney Sullivan, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Courtney Sullivan

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Four Kelleher women gather their families at their summer beach house in Maine, each bringing their own secrets and issues.

Genre:  Domestic fiction

First Sentence:

Alice decided to take a break from packing. She lit a cigarette, leaning back in one of the wicker chairs that were always slightly damp from the sea breeze.

Discussion:

Already I wonder why she’s packing up the summer home before anyone else arrives.

Although this looks like a summertime beach read, it also might be a great way to escape from the February blah weather.

What do you think? Have you read Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan? Would you like to read it?

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 46. Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) – Discussion begins March 11, 2019
Literary Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Informal Discussion of The Casual Vacancy

Rather than doing two formal reviews of each novel, Karen and I have decided to discuss each title from  The Bestseller Code 100 list more informally on our facebook page and post an edited version here. We’ll see how it works.

This post does contain spoilers.

This week we have The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: In the little town of Pagford, Barry Fairbrother’s seat on the council comes open when he dies unexpectedly. Behind the scenes of Pagford’s idyllic small town atmosphere are different groups of residents who are regularly at odds with each other; rich fight with the poor, teenagers battle and annoy their parents, wives attack their husbands, teachers grapple with their pupils. Before long, however, Barry’s empty seat on the town’s council soon becomes prize for the biggest brawl the town has ever seen.

Our Thoughts

We’re moving on to The Casual Vacancy. Have you read it? Any interest in reading it?

Karen  I’m still getting to know the characters. It’s interesting that the very first chapter the pivotal character dies…or at least it seems like he’s going to be a pivotal character.

Roberta Yes, the character’s death is an inciting incident. I’m looking forward to seeing what, if any, elements are common to Rowling’s works.

Karen  I just finished a segment where social worker Kay, Gaia’s mother, is at the home of Terri Weedon, a drug addict. This is definitely not the fantasy world of Harry Potter.

Roberta  She seemed to want to make it very clear this wasn’t a children’s book, with all the expletives, sex, violence, and drugs. She might have taken it too far to make the point? That said, there are some commonalities. For example, kids at a school play a big role. Plus, she creates an enormous cast of characters.

Karen  I took a break for a few days is illness and travel, but I’m still reading “Casual Vacancy.” This is one of the more complex books we’ve read so far, both in the number and depth of the characters and their intertwined lives. You almost forget the overarching plot of Barry Fairbrother’s death and resulting vacancy in the board. It’s nothing like the Harry Potter books and yet it is.

Roberta  Rowling’s ability to create and weave together so many interesting, relatable, and largely likeable characters — who are each memorable and unique — is a remarkable talent. I will refrain from saying more until you finish.

Karen  Finished! So much happened in the last 10% or so that I’m going to have to reread it. Wow.
More thoughts on “Casual Vacancy” – I reread the last 15% of the book and then skimmed through the beginning to find segments of Barry Fairbrother’s funeral. 3 deaths, as foreshadowed in the song sang at the funeral. And unexpected deaths/funerals bookend the novel.

Of all the books we’ve read, this is one that has wormed it’s way into my brain. I keep considering the characters, how they intertwined, how they changed throughout the story. None come through unscathed.

This novel is categorized as Tragicomedy? Obviously I don’t understand the term comedy. There’s no humor anywhere. Why would this not be literary fiction like some others we’ve read, such as “State of Wonder” or “Little Bee?”

Roberta Perhaps the “comedy” is the ridiculousness that results in the tragic events? What could be described as “cruel jokes”? But, I agree, nothing to grin or giggle at.

As far as literary, I think that literary is an exploration of one person’s inner life in detail, and this is much too distant from any one character to qualify for that. In Casual Vacancy we see binocular-range views of many characters, rather than a microscope-level view of one or a few people like State of Wonder? At least that’s my understanding how literary works.

Karen  You have a much better understanding of of these genres than I do!

Roberta  Looking at the characteristics of literary fiction on Wikipedia, it does fit the first and last of them well: concern with human condition and the overall dark storyline.

I’m not seeing the inner story, introspective aspect as much, and this one has a clear plot.

What do you all think about the style and complexity of the writing? Is it lyrical? “Fancy?”

Karen  I didn’t find it lyrical. More gritty and real-life. She’s definitely lived the life of the have-nots.

Roberta Yes, it is well-known that she lived on government assistance as a single mother and her experience shows.

That wraps up our discussion for this novel.

Have you read The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join our discussion on Facebook or follow on other social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 47. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011) – Discussion begins February 25, 2019
Domestic Fiction

#BookBeginnings The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Have you seen The Library Book by Susan Orlean yet? Let’s take a look for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Nonfiction

Summary:  Using a horrific arson fire in the Los Angeles Public Library on April 29, 1986 as an “inciting incident,” Susan Orlean explores not only multiple facets of the crime, but also the importance of libraries and librarians.

First Sentence:

Stories to Begin On (1940)
By Bacmeister, Rhoda W.
X 808 B127

Begin Now – To Enjoy Tomorrow (1951)
My Giles, Ray
362.6 G472

A Good Place to Begin (1987)
By Powell, Lawerence Clark
027.47949 P884

To Begin at the Beginning (1994)
By Copenhaver, Martin B.
230 C782

Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.

 

Discussion:

Do you see it?  The author has started the chapter with book titles and their call numbers relating to “beginning.”  All the chapters start with appropriate book titles like this. Isn’t that cool?

I am glad I sprang for a hardcover edition because the book has so many extra special touches, starting with deckle edges. The end papers have the standard book jacket blurb in the front — printed on the endpapers — and an image of one of those old-fashioned library card pockets in the back. The image is so 3-D that it looks real at first glance.

I am really, really enjoying this book.

Have you read The Library Book? Would you like to read it?

#BookBeginnings The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury

Today we’re starting the next novel in The Bestseller Code Challenge List, The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When four men on horseback dressed as Templar knights steal rare artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, archaeologist Tess Chaykin, who witnessed the theft,  and FBI agent Sean Reilly team up to investigate.

This novel is a historical thriller of sorts. Some say it is similar to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, an author who also has a book on the challenge list.

First Sentence of Prologue:

The Holy Land is lost.

And so starts the prologue, set in Acre, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1291.

First Sentence, Chapter 1:

At first, no one noticed the four horsemen as they emerged out of the darkness of Central Park.

The setting in Chapter one is modern day (for a book published in 2005) New York City.

I’m actually about half way through and I’m enjoying the action. It seems like the plot is a bit less convoluted than The DaVinci Code, but the author hasn’t revealed everything yet.

What do you think? Have you read this? Ever read The DaVinci Code?  How do you think they compare?

 

Have you read The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury? Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 47. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011) – Discussion begins February 25, 2019
Domestic Fiction

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