Monday, January 18, 2016

Middle Sister's Second Mid-January Review: A Muddied Murder

I am going to change my review style a bit. When reviewing titles for Net Galley that have a looming publication date, I'm going to post reviews during the month with the specific title in the post title line.But monthly reviews of non-Net Galley titles will continue as in years past, with a round-up at the end of the month. Here is my second Net Galley title for January:

A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson I found this first outing for this new series to be enjoyable. It's set in a lovely part of the world (rural Pennsylvania), the main characters (Megan, Denver, Bonnie, Clover, etc.) are all nice enough folks you'd nod to in real life. The author uses the setting very effectively, with the denouement during a terrible thunderstorm, which presumably gives rise to the title. I suppose it could also be an allusion to the muddied pasts that seep through the story: Megan's family ghosts, the farm's two-hundred-year legacy, the mysterious pasts of Denver, Sarah, and other characters. But Megan's dash for help through the blinding storm most readily springs to this reader's mind. History-buff that I am, I liked the Revolutionary War connection to the modern mystery in which Megan is tangled. What didn't I like--the most obvious ploy to try to keep the reader coming back: the decades-old drama between Sarah and Bonnie, the mystery behind Sarah's mother (Where is she? Where are the children?), the loose end that Eddie appear to be, floating off-center in Italy with just brief appearances. I know, I know, these are deliberate carrots to keep us coming back, but I hate carrots being really obvious, and I found these to be blatant. The mystery was not terribly mysterious, as I figured out the whodunnit early. I did find some bits of Megan's actions to be out-of-character: she was a high-powered lawyer yet she doesn't even discuss Jeremy's menu, nor have a contract with him, nor pursue the failed inspections that begin the book with more vigor? I realize my objections are largely nitpicking, which is probably due to my really liking the premise of the book and wanting to see it fulfill the potential I saw for it. Overall, a solid B+, maybe even verging into an A- for the author's descriptive powers of the farm, the town, and the storm. A promising start to the series.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Middle Sister's Mid-January Review:Bill Bryson's Road to Little Dribbling

I just finished reading Bill Bryson's soon-to-be-published "Road to Little Dribbling." I have read several of Mr. Bryson's books and enjoyed them all, and while I enjoyed much of this one, I have to reluctantly admit that my takeaway from this one can be summarized easily: meet Bill, the curmudgeon. Mr. Bryson writes about his forte, walking around various parts of England, the subject his first book many years ago, but does not revisit all the places he wrote about then. Unfortunately, he usual conclusions are: "I visited here in 197-, and it was nicer/prettier/cleaner/less crowded then." Oh, there are a few places that charm him today, but in general, it seems that England today is nothing like the England of 40 years ago, and not in a good way. I'm pretty sure people in the 1970s said the same thing about the England of the 1930s. And of the England of the 1880s, and so on, and so on...

If you like Mr. Bryson's books, you'll find enough to enjoy in this one, but if you've never read his work before, start with another one, or you might be put off forever, and that would be a shame.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Middle Sister's December Books

December's list is short, sadly.

Amelia Earhart, Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson. A preview read for NetGalley, I am unable to recommend this book. Jameson rehashes a theory originally put forward in 1971 without providing any new data to support it or to merit its resurrection. Repetitive uses of the same annoying phrase (so frequent that I started counting them), typographical errors, and odd word choices had me checking to see if this was a vanity press that did not employ editors. Major inconsistencies include the author wholeheartedly accepting the overheard hearsay evidence of a small boy (and indirectly at that, as the author never spoke with him) at some points and later rejecting evidence from that same source when it contradicts the author's pet theory. Full confession--I personally know two of the anthropologists derided in the book and can assure readers of this blog that they are highly respected, well-trained scientists. With faults too numerous to go into, give this one a wide berth.

Trouble in Mudbug by Jana Deleon. Interesting setting: Louisiana bayou, check. Sympathetic heroine: check. Paranormal occurrences: check. Yes, gentle reader, I gave another of this subgenre a try. Well this was much better than the others I've read, mainly because the ghost Helena is a hoot, I still can't say I am a fan of paranormal mysteries. However, the appearance of Helena to her estranged daughter-in-law, Maryse, and Maryse's reactions were depicted very realistically. Personally, I was disappointed in the very graphic sex scene included for no real reason (and I wound up reading that passage in the lunchroom at work), but I realize I may be in the minority when it comes to disliking graphic sex or violence in my novels. Pleasant read otherwise.