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About the blogger:
Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)





Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Click here for a complete list of books reviewed.

Book Notices | The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz, The Word is Murder

  Amazon  

Anthony Horowitz injects himself into the story in this first book in his Hawthorne and Horowitz series, playing the John Watson figure to an enigmatic ex-policeman known mostly by his last name. A particularly intriguing case—the murder of a popular actor's mother on the day she plans her own funeral—prompts Hawthorne to propose the partnership, and after some initial reluctance, Horowitz signs on. So Horowitz is the real-life author writing about his fictional experience tailing the fictional detective while he solves a fictional crime. I write those adjectives with the certainty of someone who's Googled to find out exactly where the many real-life details in this book give way to fiction. The blend is exquisite. So I really enjoyed that playfulness—the melding of reality and fiction—and I like the first-person narrative in which Horowitz brings us along not only while he shadows Hawthorne but also while he tries to figure out how to approach writing this kind of story in the first place. It's quite a fun read, and there are (to date) three more books in the series waiting to be enjoyed! Hopefully they'll keep coming. (In closing, I must say that I love the cover art for these books. Also, in my head, Hawthorne was played by actor Bruce Weitz.)

Book Notices | A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Ken Follett, A Column of Fire

  Amazon  

A Column of Fire is the third installment in Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series.* Like its predecessors, it's a big, sprawling read, centered loosely around the fictional English town of Kingsbridge. This novel picks up the story of the city's inhabitants hundreds of years after the events of Follett's World Without End. We're now in the 16th and early 17th centuries, when Europe is riven by religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The main protagonist, Kingsbridge native Ned Willard, spends his life in the service of Queen Elizabeth helping to root out extremist plots, all the while hoping for a world free of religious division. He's a good guy who's thwarted throughout his life by, among others, the brother of his (Catholic) childhood sweetheart. If you're familiar with the author's books, you won't be surprised by anything here—the huge cast of characters and clearly delineated good guys and bad guys; the stories of characters it's hard not to root for or against woven around real historical events; and, always, the sheer readability of it all, even at 900-plus pages.

*A prequel to the series published in 2020—The Evening and the Morning—complicates things: A Column of Fire was the third book published (in 2017) in the original trilogy of Kingsbridge books, which includes Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End (2007).

Book Notices | The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins / Fifteen Minutes to Live by Phoef Sutton / The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith

Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

  Amazon  

The girl on the train is Rachel, who watches strangers from her seat during her morning commute—one particular couple, whom she embues with personalities and a backstory. As the story unfolds, we learn why Rachel is interested in this couple, how their lives overlap with hers, and we watch as she steps into their lives after seeing something disturbing from the train. The story is told primarily from the perspectives of Rachel and this woman she watches, "Jess" (although there is a third narrator as well, whose identity I won't reveal because it will give something away). Both women are broken when we meet them, and in Rachel's case, we don't know how much of what she tells us can be believed. Nor does she. So it's an interesting read. The only thing that gave me problems was kind of technical. The chapters are dated, and one woman's storyline takes place before the other's. It's not super complicated, but the prominence of the dates made them seem important, and on my Kindle I couldn't quickly flip around to see what the last date was. It was just an unnecessary irritation that took me out of the story. If the dates had been appended to the chapter titles in the table of contents, I think that would have improved my experience significantly.

Phoef Sutton, Fifteen Minutes to Live

  Amazon  

The conceit of the book is interesting: Moved back into his parents' house after their deaths, Carl is surprised when his old girlfriend shows up out of the blue, throwing pebbles at his window like she used to in high school. Turns out, she does a lot of things like she did back in school. Carl has to figure out what the mystery behind her bizarre behavior is, and that leads to him uncovering big secrets. A lot happens in his life in a short period of time, and a lot happens in the book in a relatively small number of pages. The book is readable, it keeps you turning the pages, but it also felt rather rushed. An okay but ultimately forgettable story.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

  Amazon  

This eighth book in the author's Isabel Dalhousie series brings a familiar mix of philosophy, music, and meddling. Stuff happens as the characters' lives unfold unhurriedly: Isabel helps a new acquaintance who's looking for her roots in Scotland. Professor Lettuce rears his leafy head. Cat has a new employee. Charlie eats olives. Jamie is handsome and somehow impervious to his effect on women. And so on. This time around, in addition to being annoyed at how little parenting Isabel seems to need to do, I'm irritated by Grace, Isabel's housekeeper. Sure, she's kind, and she helps out a lot with Charlie, and because of this, we're supposed to find her shortcomings endearing. But in this book she does something very stupid financially, and Isabel is there, ex machina, to pull her out of the hole she's dug. It just irritates me that she was so stupid and that there's no natural price for stupidity. And didn't Isabel already buy her a house a while back? Am I misremembering? Honestly, I don't even particularly like Isabel at this point. I just read a review that called her a "sanctimonious bitch," and they have a point.

Book Notices | Grammar for a Full Life by Lawrence Weinstein

Lawrence Weinstein, Grammar for a Full Life

  Amazon  

I didn't expect to like this book. Intrigued by the title, I figured I'd read a few pages to satisfy my curiosity and then delete it from my Kindle. Hippie treacle, I figured. But I was wrong.

Grammar for a Full Life is a collection of some 30 essays, a pleasing mix of grammar and philosophy, humane and thoughtful musings on the power of words and syntax and punctuation to enhance the human spirit. The essays are divided into thematic sections that relate to human needs—agency, belonging, freedom, and so on. One of my favorites of the bunch considers ellipses—both the punctuation mark and, more generally, elided words—and their connection to, well, connecting, because "a good deal goes without saying" in our most intimate relationships: "It is, to a large extent, the ellipsis which accounts for the joyful, bonding power inherent in the telling of a good joke." The same brief essay considers the poem "This Is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams, in which the narrator confesses to eating plums that his reader was saving for breakfast. It's a love poem, Weinstein argues: "Between Williams's mischievous lines, I hear him saying, 'I feel so certain of our staying power as a couple that I have no fear even of reminding you of what a problematic choice of spouse you made.'"

Needless to say, I did not delete this book from my Kindle after a few pages. In fact, I had downloaded it for free as part of a complimentary trial subscription to Kindle Unlimited, and that subscription expired while I was in the middle of reading it. So I bought the book, and I bought it in hard copy—something I simply don't do these days unless a book is a fat dictionary or it's not in English. But this book is such a joy that I wanted to have it on hand for future thumbings-through. 

Book Notices | Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir / Helpless by Daniel Palmer

Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary

  Amazon  

Project Hail Mary is another likable-smart-guy-in-space story from The Martian author Andy Weir. Ryland Grace isn’t stuck on Mars with a bunch of spuds. He’s been sent on an interstellar space mission with packets of food slurry so he can save the world. If you liked The Martian, in book or movie form, you’ll like this one too. And if you know anything about science — I don’t — you’ll probably enjoy it on a different level than I was able to because you’ll be better able to appreciate what Grace gets up to in space. (That’s assuming the details are believable enough that science types won’t find fault; I don’t know enough to comment on that aspect intelligently.) This was definitely a fun read. I guess Matt Damon can’t star in the movie version of this book too, so I’ll nominate Ryan Reynolds for the role. 

Daniel Palmer, Helpless

  Amazon  

An ex-Navy Seal/high school soccer coach is framed for child pornography in a complex conspiracy that leaves him a pariah in small-town Shilo, New Hampshire. Plus, his destroyed reputation puts him on the outs with his daughter, who’s newly in his custody and unsure whether she can trust him. This book was very middle-of-the-road for me. I didn’t care about the characters very much and wasn’t interested enough in the details of the conspiracy to keep track of the plot. In general, too, I couldn’t get past the feeling that I was not in the hands of a confident storyteller.

Book Notices | The Fine Art of Invisible Detection by Robert Goddard / Never by Ken Follett

Robert Goddard, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection

  Amazon  

Unassuming, middle-aged Umiko Wada is a detective's assistant tasked with traveling from Japan to England to investigate a decades-old death. The assignment lands her in the middle of a huge conspiracy and other assorted goings-on: murders, kidnappings, missing persons, assumed identities. That all makes it sound more interesting than it is, though. The plot is intricate—that is Robert Goddard's forte, after all—but that's really where it lost me. The story was too complicated, and not clear enough, and not interesting enough. I would have enjoyed this book more if more attention were paid to character development and less to the plot. Wada leaves me luke warm as is, but given attention, I can see myself liking her enough to want to read more.

Ken Follett, Never

  Amazon  

Well, Ken Follett's 800-page novel Never is unlike anything he's published before. Sure, it shares many traits with his earlier books—strong female characters and couples that overcome great hardship to be together, multiple storylines that somehow are never hard to follow. But in most of Follett's stories there are good guys and bad guys, and the line between the two is perfectly clear. The good guys ultimately win. True love prevails. Never tells a different kind of story. There are still some heroes and some unambiguously bad guys, but mostly the characters inhabit a gray middle ground. They're people who are doing the best they can in circumstances they can't control. Follett tells his story from multiple points of view—an American spy undercover in the desert, the President, a Chinese intelligence officer, et al. But there's a lot of information that has to be delivered to move the story forward, and some of Follett's narratives bear more of the weight of delivering that information. They are as a result less fun to read: Give me a romance in the African desert over political machinations in China any day. So, on the one hand, Never is a more serious story than the author's previous books. Really bad things happen in a progression that seems plausible, and the characters living through those bad things are more realistic. All of which is laudable, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The book was good, but I prefer Follett's usual fare.

Book Notices | The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean, The Library Book

  Amazon  

Well, reading this was a balm. Susan Orlean here focuses her loving homage to libraries on the great fire that destroyed Los Angeles's Central Library in 1986. We learn about the events of the day itself—the damage done to building and books, the arson investigation that followed, and the unusual character on whom suspicion soon settled, a likable would-be actor and compulsive liar named Harry Peak. But in telling the story of the fire and its consequences, Orlean allows her attention to wander. She fleshes out the book with discussions of Central Library's staff and previous directors, its departments and collections, the architect who designed the building, its rebuilding and reopening in 1993; she also moves beyond Los Angeles to library get-togethers around the globe, to lending libraries that deliver books by burro and camel, to a consideration of the surprisingly large range of services that libraries have provided and continue to provide, updating always for the needs of their communities at the time. The Library Book is wide-ranging and pretty much always interesting and, really, just a lovely book.

Book Notices | Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay, Broken Promise

  Amazon  

Broken Promise is the first book in Linwood Barclay’s trilogy set in Promise Falls, New York. There’s a lot going on in it: dead squirrels, murder, kidnapping, more murder, a series of sexual assaults, and a creepy tableau of mannequins on a carnival attraction. And there are a lot of characters to watch: David Harwood, an out of work reporter whose cousin is implicated in one or two of the crimes mentioned above; David's mother and father and aunt; a bully and his gun-toting mom; a donut-loving detective; a disgraced former mayor; a very busy doctor. The story is interesting, but it felt as if there was too much going on for one book. And that turned out to be true, because not all of these storylines are resolved by the end. They spill over into book two, at least. I like Barclay’s novels in general, and this one was good, but I’m not sure it was good enough to keep me reading the series for another 1000-plus pages.