Book review: The Map of Time

Those who know me know I love historical novels, and The Map of Time definitely delivers. Set in late 1890s London and featuring H. G. Wells as a character, the novel takes the reader on a journey from Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel through to a future of time travel. It is clever, with twists that had me considering the next possible outcome during the times I could not be reading (oh, that dastardly job of mine!).

The author, Felix Palma, wrote the book in Spanish, which I find intriguing in itself. We English-speaking nations don’t generally consider that “other people” might be fascinated with the social mores and scientific discoveries of 19th century England. Mr Palma definitely painted what I believe to be an accurate portrait of the time and was able to believably describe both the lowest classes of prostitutes and the highest classes of the wealthy elite.

The novel is structured as three intertwined stories, all involving the concept of time travel, which H. G. Wells wrote about so famously in his novel The Time Machine, published in 1885. It simultaneously questions the consequences of changing the past as well as exploring the daily lives and loves of its protagonists. Some of the plot lines were so well developed that no detail was left untouched, all the way to exposing one of the source of one character’s fortune having come from the importation of toilet paper – an irony that is both hilarious and revealing of his inner compass.

It’s a bit of steampunk, a bit of history, a bit of science fiction, and a bit of romance, all smash together quite well. It will have you secretly trying out Victorian vernacular while you wax poetical on the possibilities of the 4th dimension. I highly recommend this one!


Book Review: The Cypress House

I listened to The Cypress House as an audio book without knowing much about the story. This is my favorite way to enjoy a book – letting it carry me along without expectations. There are certainly books that I can predict a little bit because of previous experience, such as in a series, or in the case of a Stephen King book – I expect them to be good. But there is something to be said for the naked reading of an unknown story and allowing it to unfold in its unpredictable fashion.

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta is a great story. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you like you can click here for the publishers summary. There is a touch of supernatural, a lot of mystery, heroics and romance; the ghosts of the past intruding on the lives of the characters. Set during the Great Depression, Arlan and Paul are workers on one of the many public works projects designed to rejuvinate Americans and break the Depression. Their travel brings them to Florida right before a terrible hurricane, and sets off a series of suspenseful twists and turns that cut open the underbelly of 1930s corruption and criminal enterprise. The novel includes history, empathy and some weirdness that is so unbelievable it is somehow easily acceptable. Arlan is an old fashioned man’s man who might remind you of your grandpa – no nonsense, hard working, dedicated, but loving and caring under the tough calluses and rough edges.

The story unfolds in such a way as to bring you back, revealing a peek at a time and allowing you the reader to put together the pieces of the multiple mysteries at a pace that is quick yet deliberate. The story builds to a crescendo with an unexpected twist and then falls into a satisfying resolution. In a nutshell, it was great.

Book review: Dog On It

I have read several books lately, so I’m going to fill up the book review section for you! First up is Dog On It by Spencer Quinn.

I decided to try out a mystery/detective story, and this book was well reviewed by other readers. It also has a different take on story telling – the dog’s perspective. Intriguing. The dog is named Chet and he *almost* graduated from police K9 training school, but for some sort of a mishap during his final exam. Bernie is his owner and a private detective. The two are inseparable and very loyal to one another. While Bernie does the talking, Chet does the smelling, chasing and tail wagging. Chet narrates the story in a hard-boiled detective style, bringing to mind Phillip Marlow and Sam Spade, while keeping his doggy good humor and short memory.

The story is a good entree to a series, as there are a slew of Chet & Bernie Mysteries on the shelves. A frightened mom contacts Bernie to find her possibly missing (possibly just acting out) teenaged daughter. Bernie investigates in the way people do and Chet does his part too, finding contraband, bad smelling house pets and clues along the way. Not only do they follow the leads to solve the mystery, Chet and Bernie show us the dedication between humans and dogs that has gone back thousands of years. There is a reason we call dogs “man’s best friend.”

I would read another Chet & Bernie Mystery in the future, if only to find out what mischief Chet has gotten up to in the next installment. If you want a light read that is funny in parts and exciting in others, give this book a try.

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

I often get my book fix through audiobooks because I just don’t have enough time during the day to sit and read for any significant length of time. One of the audiobooks I listened to recently was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The publishers summary (which of course are always biased) says it’s a sensual and historical mystery about a witch and a vampire basically breaking the rules that prevent their love. 

While the book started out somewhat interesting – a scholar in medieval alchemy and a centuries old vampire – and it ended somewhat interesting – as they prepare to time travel into the past to discover some secrets – the middle was a bit of a bore. Yes, I listened to the whole thing because I kept thinking it would get better, but it kept on in its tedious descriptions of wine, tea, exercise and eating. Riveting. Where was the romantic tension that would inspire me to think it was a sensual story? No where. 

Yes, this is a fantasy genre story, and people who liked the Twilight series might like this story, but I didn’t. As the best parts of the story came about 2 hours before the audiobook ended (at it was 24+ hours long), I came to realize I was being set up for a sequel, and rather badly at that. It was disappointing and I felt used honestly. Many many books end with a sequel necessary to move the story forward, but this one ended right in mid-sentence, so to speak, and it felt disingenuous. 

Book Review: Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

After having read so many thrillers, Stephen King horrors, and vampire books lately, I was expecting every turn of the page of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman to bring something terrible. But, I was pleasantly surprised. Not to say that bad things did not happen to Ceecee Honeycutt. They did, in spades, but the title of the book is Saving Ceecee Honeycutt, after all. Without giving too much away, I will try to inspire you to read this book, because it will make you feel good all over.

Ceecee’s mother was a Southern Belle of the 1950s, married to an older man and spirited across the Mason-Dixon to the uncivilized Northern wilds of Ohio. She missed her home state desperately and struggled with mental illness. As her loving daughter, Ceecee tried to live with her mother’s foibles and eccentricities, but they took a toll on the young girl.

Enter her Great Aunt Talulah, Oletta Jones, Mrs. O’Dell, and the eclectic mix of ladies in Savannah, Georgia. One summer they take on the task of saving a young girl who is lost and tangled in the tatters of her life. The South offers hospitality, warmth, humor and love. There were several scenes that brought a tear to my eye.

This won’t be a long review because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, so suffice it to say that I highly recommend this book. It is a light read that had me coming back for more every day. The book doesn’t delve too far into racial tensions in 1967 Georgia, but if you are looking for a happy ending, this is the book for you.

Book Review: The Dead Janitor’s Club

Back when I had a MySpace account, I used to blog book reviews of the books I had read or listened to recently. I think I’ll continue this here, since I really want to talk about the book I just finished, The Dead Janitor’s Club by Jeff Klima.I was pleasantly suprised to find this book under the Christmas tree, and dove into it with eager anticipation of some gruesome war stories and possibly even a life-changing parable from the former crime scene cleaner.

This review may contain spoilers, so read on at your own risk.

I read it from cover to cover and did not find it boring in the slightest! Yes, there are gory details of crime scenes, suicides, and unattended deaths that resulted in long undiscovered bodies, ick. Yes, there are war stories of driving all over hell’s half acre from one job to another on very little sleep. It’s the story of a little company trying to establish itself in the brave new world of crime scene cleaning in Orange County, California. There were struggles, there were dry spells, there were tears, there were laughs, there was a tattoo.

But most of all, there was a complete lack of ethics.

Maybe it’s just me, but common sense tells me that cleaning up the remains of a deceased person would necessitate biohazard protections, insurance, licensing, bonding, etc. After all, these people were often left alone inside a deceased person’s home, with all their wordly posessions left available for anyones perusal. I was dismayed to find out that these so-called professionals (the business owner being an OC sherrif for heaven’s sake) took advantage of being left alone, and stole from the homes they were supposed to be cleaning. In cases of hoarder homes, they “never found” the cash relatives were certain was hidden through the home. They threw the bloody clean up materials in the dump rather than use a biohazard disposal service – to save money.

The writer of the book – Jeff Klima – was the sole employee for much of the company’s blessedly short life, and did the majority of clean up work. Supposedly this man was smart enough to go to college, but not smart enough to wear protective clothing when dealing with blood and bits of tissue or even when using dangerous chemicals. He was also not smart enough to respect that a crime scene that takes place inside a person’s home is their home first, crime scene second. He had no concern what so ever about using an expensive mink coat to try to soak up biohazardous materials at one scene. (No, it didn’t work and destroyed the thousand dollar garment) He stole an electric guitar and accessories from another home. He had no compunction charging more money based on a client’s ethnicity or appearance.

I think one aspect of the story that really bothered me was the author’s frequent digressions into his fraternity life at Cal State Fullerton – my alma mater. The events of the book took place in the 2000s, long after I left CSUF, but he had joined a fraternity that formed while I was still on campus – Sigma Nu. Oh how I pity the Sigma Nu chapter founders for having thier efforts destroyed by Klima and his associates. At the time I was in a sorority at CSUF, a fraternity famous for its hard partying and rule breaking ways had been suspended permanently, chapter closed – the infamous TKE house. It was the trigger to clean up fraternity row and sorority life at CSUF. There were non-alcohol policies installed at probably every house on campus, the Greek system embraced FIPG and tolerance, anti-hazing and ethical recruitment practices. The Sigma Nu chapter was founded by a group of gentlemen as far as I know. By the time Klima was a member of the house, they were apparently behaving on par with TKE back in its glory days. It was sad and pathetic, and had nothing to do with crime scene cleaning, so I’m not sure why it was even in the book. Maybe to illustrate how much of a degenerate pig he really was, I’m not sure.

The book finds Klima at a turning point in his life, no money, no job, no prospects, freeloading off his saint of a girlfriend, so what did he do? Did he call the head honcho over at the sherrif’s to express his concern about the conflict of interest with respect to his boss being on both sides of the crime? No, he just stopped returning his boss’s phone calls. Sure, he was young and people in their twenties do stupid things, but I guess I had hoped the big reveal at the end of the book would have been the sudden development of a conscience and some ethics. And no where in the book does he address the status of the property he stole from the many clients who trusted him to be in their homes. I hope it all burst into flames.

Ultimately, my take-away from this book is that death is a messy business that attracts the type of people willing to clean it up – at any price – and those people are sometimes not the professional, ethical, or respectable people you would hope to see on your doorstep after Uncle Fred has blown his head off in the garage. Some police agencies mandate that family or property owners call a “remediation” firm (crime scene cleaner) to handle some of the messier jobs because of the biohazard concerns. If you find yourself in this position – which I fervently pray you never will – take a minute to find out about the company you hire. It could save you thousands in expenses and tears of grief and anger if they try to rip you off.