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By Debra Hamel

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By Debra Hamel

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By Debra Hamel

Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

By Debra Hamel

paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

By Debra Hamel

Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

By Debra Hamel

Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

By Debra Hamel

Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them. The blog, however, will continue, and if you've got a good first line to share for TwitterLit please do so here.

From a random review:


December 2014: Book notices

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Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie's book is the sort of thing you hear about all your life but never bother to pick up, because, I don't know, because it's just there. But I ran across it while hanging around Amazon the other day. It's got an enormous number of reviews (favorable reviews), so somebody's reading it, and looking at some of them my curiosity got the better of me. So what's the book like? Basically, Carnegie offers a lot of very good, common-sense advice, practices which, if followed, probably would do a lot to help you win friends and influence people. His advice could be summarized in a page or two, but not so as to make it stick. What he does is devote one short chapter to each of his tenets--things like, encourage other people to talk about themselves. And then he discusses this practice at length by giving a bunch of real-life examples in which following that advice helped someone out--these are people who took his classes or whose autobiogaphies he's read, for example. All of this is in very straightforward, down-to-earth prose, so it's very readable. The book is also interesting, unintentionally so, because it is to an extent dated. The advice is not dated, but the stories he tells of people who benefitted from it are from a different era, where men with hats were employed by typewriter companies and sent letters via the post to their business contacts. It's kind of charming.

October 2014: Book notices

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Alexander McCall Smith, The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café

I haven't yet read the last couple of books in this series: while I was off doing other things Mma Makutsi changed her title and had a baby--pretty big doings. Still, time moves slowly in McCall Smith's Botswana, and one is able to jump into his books out of order without missing too much. This time out, Mma Ramotswe is asked to discover the identity of a woman with amnesia. She also concerns herself with the future of Charlie, her husband's girl-chasing apprentice mechanic. Meanwhile, Mma Makutsi is wading more fully into entrepreneurship by opening the café of the book's title: things don't quite go as planned. As always, it's a delight to spend some time in the company of Mma Ramotswe and her people. McCall Smith's writing is a simple joy, in the way that watching dust motes waft lazily in a shaft of summer sunlight is a joy. Life should have more such moments. And more such books. Fortunately, Mr. McCall Smith is a most prolific author.

Veronica Roth, Allegiant

I have finally finished this trilogy! This last one was sitting around a long time before I picked it up. It's not that there's anything wrong with it. I just never particularly cared about the characters, particularly the second-tier ones, and so I would completely forget what was going on between books. It was difficult to work up the enthusiasm, therefore, to open a new one. My twelve-year-old loved the books, though, and the movie, which I've yet to see.

Paul Alexander, Homicidal

I really wasn't impressed with this Kindle Single. Singles are supposed to be "compelling ideas expressed at their natural length." This is a good description, and in my experience Singles do tend to be well told stories, whether they're fiction or nonfiction. Alexander's account of a string of murders in Los Angeles, the work of the so-called Grim Sleeper, starts well, with the arrest of the killer while his shocked neighbors look on. But it quickly becomes a string of repetitious descriptions of murders, with names of the dead and of law enforcement officers blending together. I have no idea how many murders were committed, or whether all of the murders mentioned in the book were the work of the one killer. The author hasn't honed his story into a readable whole. Worse than that, it comes as a shock in the last couple chapters when you realize that the man arrested for the crimes has yet to go on trial! The author never spells this out. His verbs just suddenly change to the future tense when he's talking about the trial. Failing to make the status of the case perfectly clear to the reader is, I think, really unforgivable.

September 2014: Book notices

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Joel Dicker, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

Joel Dicker's much ballyhooed The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is a very long book. Reading it, one has a lot of time to think about whether jumping into a 650-odd page tome was a good idea. I'm still not sure. There was a lot I didn't like about it. A litany of complaints: I'm pretty sure a lot of the book could have been lopped off to good effect. I found much of the story implausible. The too-precious chapter openings--in which Harry gives Marcus advice about writing--are often nauseating. Marcus' mother--a minor character, thank you, Jesus--is a ludicrous caricature of a Jewish mother. Everyone was supposed to love the fifteen-year-old Nola--whose disappearance in 1975 is the book's great mystery--but the persona she presented to people, as described in the book, was not particularly likable in my opinion. And the book within a book, Harry Quebert's alleged masterpiece, well, it reads like schlock in the snippets that punctuate this book. Towards the end, my interest in the story increased as we finally found out whodunit. And there is indeed a decent mystery buried in these pages. But there are so many twists and turns in the last couple chapters that I wound up not really caring by the end of it what had really happened to Nola.

Shane Kuhn, The Intern's Handbook

Well this was a fun read. Shane Kuhn's The Intern's Handbook purports to be a text written by an unusually successful assassin for the benefit of new recruits at his organization. At 25, he's about to retire from the biz. He's been working since he was a kid for a company that inserts assassins, posing as interns, into business settings to get access to high-profile targets. Anyway, there's a lot of assassin-y advice, and we hear about the principal's tortured past, and the story winds up having unexpected twists that work pretty well. Our narrator's tone and jokes and movie references get a little tiresome, but it's not unbearable. Not the height of literature, perhaps, but reasonably enjoyable.

August 2014: Book notices

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Deborah Blum, Angel Killer

Deborah Blum's Kindle Single Angel Killer is a very readable and interesting account of a series of unusually gruesome crimes, Albert Fish's string of child abductions and murders in the 1920s. A great, quick read--a perfect example of the Single format--but if you're faint of heart, some of the details may give you nightmares.

Peter Ross Range, Murder in the Yoga Store

In his Kindle Single Murder in the Yoga Store Peter Ross Range details the 2011 murder of a young woman working at a Lululemon store in an upscale part of Bethesda, Maryland. The book covers the murder itself and the backgrounds of those involved, the police investigation and trial and verdict. It's an interesting read that holds one's interest--another good use of the Single format, which I'm liking more and more. Given how vicious this crime was, I almost hesitate to say that the book is a good read, but it was, and it's appropriate to say it. I don't want to sound like the idiot on Amazon who gave this one a one-star review because the story, unlike Agatha Christie novels, is violent.

July 2014: Book notices

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Hy Conrad, Mr. Monk is in Business

I suppose I have to resign myself to the fact that we're living in a new age. Hy Conrad's Monk books are not going to be the same as Lee Goldberg's, and I shouldn't expect them to be. So far, Conrad's stories are not as funny or as poignant as those of his predecessor--the series' main selling point, in my opinion--but they're still  good and worth reading. This time out there's a pair of mysteries--thematically related, it ultimately turns out. One of them I had mostly figured out early on, the other not at all. I'm not usually very adept at solving these things before the principals do, so I have to assume Conrad telegraphed the solution more than is customary. 

Jonathan Stone, Moving Day

A plot summary of this one would suggest that what you're getting into is an edge-of-your-seat thriller: seventy-something Stanley Peke is conned out of a lifetime of possessions in a sophisticated moving truck scam and decides to get his own back. But what the author delivers is both less thrilling and more thoughtful than you might expect. Stanley, in the tense hours he passes in the book, has a lot of time to think about his past, and he and the reader explore how being a survivor of the Holocaust has impacted his life. And that turns out to be not as straightforward as you'd expect. An interesting book.

Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore, The Shield

Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore have brought retired OSI agent Maxine Decker back in this follow-up to The Blade. This time Maxine is pulled out of retirement to track down some pieces of extraterrestrial tech that enemies of the U.S. are attempting to weaponize. It's been a while since I read The Blade, but I'm pretty sure I enjoyed this book more. I think the storyline involving alien tech was just more interesting to me than the religious fanatic who wanted to level Las Vegas in book one. Turns out that Maxine Decker inhabits the same universe as Cotten Stone, the protagonist of the authors' previous series. References to Stone in this book were a bit jarring as they pulled me out of the narrative, but readers unfamiliar with the Cotten Stone books won't notice anything odd.

About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


The Sunday by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.