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By Debra Hamel

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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

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By Debra Hamel

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By Debra Hamel

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Authors & publishers:
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:


March 2015: Book notices

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Stephen Carpenter, Killer

I love the main storyline of this book. Jack Rhodes is the author of a bestselling series of crime novels that focus on the murders of a mysterious serial killer. The killer has a gruesome M.O. that involves the beheading of his victims' corpses and the amputation of their hands. Jack's story starts when a corpse is found with eery similarities to the victim in his first book. It might have been a copycat killing if it weren't that the real-life murder pre-dated the book's publication. So, trouble ensues, and it's a good story.

The real-life killer's story alternates with Jack's. We learn about the abuse he suffered as a kid and how he came to find solace in the murder and mutilation of a series of women. This part I didn't like very much. I think it may have detracted from the book to let us know fairly early on that Jack was not in fact guilty of murder--he might have been, had the story played out differently, or his guilt or innocence might have been ambiguous. So we know that there's a real killer out there, and somehow that cheapens the story a bit. There remains a mystery--how did Jack come to be writing the books he writes, which seem to have real-life parallels, but that question is answered fully by the book's end. (I had initially thought that Jack would wind up on the run and trying to clear his name in the book's sequel, but I was wrong.) On the whole a good read, but I think it could have been better.

February 2015: Book notices

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Hy Conrad, Mr. Monk and the New Lieutenant

The stakes are unusually high in the latest Monk novel, because someone wants Captain Stottlemeyer dead. Monk and Natalie  have to figure out who's targeting him while dealing with a handful of distractions--a mysterious woman who hires Natalie for her divorce case, the hippie printers next door to their office, and an oafish new lieutenant who can't hold a candle to Amy Devlin, let alone Randy Disher. Eventually, inevitably, the case is solved, and you'll be surprised at the who and why behind the attempts on Stottlemeyer.

The bigger news, though, is that Mr. Monk and the New Lieutenant is slated to be the last Monk novel. Hy Conrad, who took over from Lee Goldberg three books ago, is leaving the series, and apparently no one else is stepping in to take over. For those of us who have read the Monk books religiously, this is very sad news. Conrad leaves the series in a good place. We can feel good about where the characters are at the book's end, but the conclusion also leaves things open so that someone could pick up the reins again in the future. Here's hoping.

January 2015: Book notices

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Lee Goldberg, My Gun Has Bullets

This early book by Lee Goldberg has elements that will be familiar to his readers: television references that betray the author's love for the medium, and a certain light, readability to his prose. It's not as good as Goldberg's more recent stuff, however. The characters are cartoony (the guy with hair implants, for example), or some of them, the plot a bit too farfetched (the pair of stunt men), and the story sometimes veers into excessive detail when it comes to discussions of the television schedules of the various networks. The lead character was enjoyable, however, and there are elements to like here as well--the love interest, the grande dame who is not what she seems.

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.

June 2014: Book notices

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Nancy Atherton, Aunt Dimity's Death

So I stumbled on this charming cozy from the early 90's. Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity's Death is the first in a series that is apparently still going strong. The 19th Aunt Dimity book, Aunt Dimity and the Wishing Well, was just released about a month ago. With the arrival of a letter Lori Shepherd, who's temping to barely make ends meet when the book begins, soon finds herself whisked into, well, lots of stuff: a world of privilege, romance, mystery, and the supernatural. Her transition from struggling American divorcée to refined, tea-serving American expat in England seems a little abrupt, as do some of the revelations (romantic and supernatural) that come along. But all in all I liked it. I'm not sure that I'd read all nineteen novels, but I wouldn't rule out another one.

Joseph Finder, Suspicion

Joseph Finder's stand-alone thriller Suspicon is simply a great read. Finder starts backing his everyman protagonist into a corner pretty much from page one, and the tension never lets up. When the book opens, widowed father Danny Goodman is trying to figure out how, given his depleted finances, he can send his daughter on a school trip to Italy. The answer presents itself pretty quickly, a stroke of fortune in the person of the father of his daughter's new friend, but accepting money from the guy turns out to have dire consequences....

Veronica Roth, Insurgent

The Divergent series is huge deal with tweens at the moment, and my own tween has required that I jump on the bandwagon. I like that we're reading buddies, so I jump when told. The book's not bad, but I have trouble keeping the various secondary characters straight, which suggests that I'm not paying as close attention as I should. It's very difficult to accept that the society Roth has created could actually exist, but there are hints--maybe something stronger than hints--that it didn't spring up organically. I'll be able to accept the story better if it turns out they're all living in a big social experiment. 

May 2014: Book notices

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Chris Pavone, The Expats

The story told in Chris Pavone's The Expats is an interesting one, and just the sort of thing I like: Kate Moore, a former CIA agent who is now retired with her husband and kids in Luxembourg, becomes suspicious of another expat couple and, ultimately, of her husband. It's a very cerebral story. Not much happens, really. There's just a lot of Kate figuring things out. That the book holds one's interest despite the lack of action is impressive. On the other hand, the author takes a very long time to tell the story. He throws in a lot of description at times when you wish he'd really just get on with it. It took me forever to read. The story is also confusing because there's a lot of jumping around in the timeline, and it's sometimes hard to follow. This may have to do with my reading the book on a Kindle, however: books in hard copy are better able to signal such leaps visually. So, in short, it's a very putdownable book, but not so putdownable that I didn't want to pick it up again. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll bother reading the book's sequel, which is a shame, because there's a lot to like here.

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.


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