Thursday, July 27

The Triumph of the West: The Origin, Rise & Legacy of Western CivilizationThe Triumph of the West: The Origin, Rise & Legacy of Western Civilization by J.M. Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another lovely book from Mr. Roberts. His smooth presentation makes this necessarily surface telling of the ENTIRE history of Europe quite palatable. It is, as is all his work, smoothly written, with a sly sense of humor that I find particularly appealing, The narration by Frederick Davison is excellent; now that I've gotten over hearing his extrordinarily plummy voice (which sounded terribly phoney at first) I've found listening to him to be very enjoyable.

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Tuesday, July 18

REVIEW: Historical Mystery

The Guardian StonesThe Guardian Stones by Eric Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[2016] #1 Grace Baxter, WW2, rural Shropshire England, 1941. A tiny village, "odd" inhabitants, much darkness and sadness, mixed with a stalwart young woman and a tired and damaged Visiting Academic. Unsettled times and places indeed, especially so once the children begin to vanish... Interesting setting and characters, and a good plot, but a somewhat sketchy execution at times. Entertaining, but I had hoped for a bit more substance: 3-and-one-half out of five stars.

It's a society falling to pieces, falling into darkness, hurting all that come within reach, a truly diabolical - and unsettling - story; a darkly atmospheric thriller set at a time when all the world (at least in Europe) seemed to be falling -literally- to pieces. And the village of Noddweir most of all. Known (mildly) in Academic Circles for its standing stones, no-one appears to have investigated them in centuries, well, not "properly", that is. So Professor Carpenter comes to the village to look them over and perhaps excavate a bit, learn the history of the village, and The Old Ways and mores of The Locals. He gets more, finds more, than he had bargained for. He meets Grace, for one thing, and she's quite a handful, as are her family and friends. With no police in or nearby the village, investigating the odd - and then deadly - happenings as they escalate, falls to Grace, daughter of the former Constable. She has a far better grip on both reality and on the local mysteries both past and present, than does the putative Law officer sent to investigate.

The pacing is fairly good, and the plotting is very good, spiraling and twisting around several mysterious themes: missing children, robberies, possible sex crimes, a fire, a murder. Another murder. Another murder, or, maybe not. A missing adult, then another. A great set-up, in fact, and the denouement was sharply drawn and extremely dark. However:

There were many small things that distracted me from the flow of the story, particularly the use of very short chapters, each with a "thrilling hook!" meant to pull the reader on to the next bit. And the use of italics as a change in viewpoint for A Mysterious Observer was incredibly annoying as well. The short short chapters mixed with the multiple abrupt changes in viewpoint were terribly distracting, and never allowed me to actually "get into" the story. Unfortunately, those sorts of techniques are far overused in general these days, and remain "Pet Peeves" of mine. They broke any chance at a reading "flow" and didn't allow the developement of deeper emotional connections with Grace or the Professor, although the characterizations were generally good. I enjoyed the slight bits of personality shown, but they felt like chess pieces, not people in trouble.

This plot was strong, and *should* have been absolutely terrifying - all the right bits for that were present, but the ending was rushed, and not enough attention paid to what really matters most in this kind of psychlogical-based thriller story: we needed to fear for, hope for, Grace and/or Edwin, but all we were given were tiny glimpses into their selves; so many people died or went missing that it seemed as though Grace and/or Edwin would be next, and that this would have been just another chess piece so as to move The Plot along!

And there was, alas, yet another Pet Peeve of mine: The Big Twist was slyly and well-hinted at throughout the novel, but we were never led to believe that it actually *was* a possibility. It's potentially an enormously emotional and evocative ending and concept that ought to have ripped my guts out; when it actually arrived it was with a big "Ta-Da!!!" and only seemed thin, not truly horrifying. The revulsion and horror I ought to have felt at the denouement, the sadness and hurt I ought to have felt for the villagers that I had rather liked at times, seemed to have faded into pastel. This ought to have had a Technicolor strength of feeling.

BUT. Mary Reed and Eric Meyer ("Eric Reed") are superb writers, justly renowned for their many wonderful books. So perhaps I am grading too hard? It's true: I had *expected* something superb in this first-in-series, and what I read was good entertainment; that disappointed me rather. Yet, Grace Baxter is an intriguing character; I liked her. This series has many places it might go, many stones it might look under (sorry, couldn't help it), much darkness and upheaval in a world and at a time when nothing - and no-one - seemed secure. That holds promise.

[NOTE: not for the squeamish, a goodly amount of blood'n'guts, plus there are children and vulnerable elders in much fully described danger and then there's the particularly harrowing bits about a dog...]

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