Adventure, Reviews, Thriller

Review: The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3)The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I call this third novel in the Robert Langdon series Langdon at his most obtuse yet. There is very little actual symbol/code deciphering in the 600+ pages of this book and most of what is deciphered is either done by others or all but spelled out for Langdon. I felt like he wasn’t true to the characterization from the previous books except in that Brown leaned too heavily on Langdon’s claustrophobia and acrophobia. For one, you’d think that the man who had discovered the secret of the grail would be more open-minded but through the book, right up to the end, he doubts everything he’s told about the pyramid and the legend. There’s skeptical and then there’s just ornery.
On top of my annoyance with Langdon, which is not unique to this book, this installment is boring. Rather than being a non-stop race from clue to clue, there is a lot of scientific explication, rambling passages about enlightenment, descriptions of various locations around Washington, D.C., and far too much of Mal’akh. Brown’s previous villains have been intelligent though misguided or improperly motivated but Mal’akh’s motivations are purely selfish and literally evil.
With the two prior novels, I’ve complained that I was able to solve the clues faster than the so-called expert. I can’t say that that happened in The Lost Symbol it is because the solution is more symbolic than anything, lost in a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and revealed well after the climactic scene when I was beyond ready for the story to end. However, I did quickly figure out Mal’akh’s big secret and I guess where the clues would ultimately lead, though, for the sake of the story, it was pretty meaningless by the time they arrived there. Everyone involved should’ve been in the hospital instead of continuing their grand tour of Masonic D.C. I’ve had issues with each of Brown’s novels that I’ve read but I expect certain things that keep me coming back to the series but this one failed even in delivering that fast-paced thrill and symbolic mystery.  For a while, I thought that if this one had followed the superior The DaVinci Code I would’ve enjoyed it more but…nah.

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Adventure, Reviews, Thriller

Review: The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon #2)

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a lot of issues with Angels & Demons, the first of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books. The only one of those solved in this famous second novel was the length and at 300 fewer pages than the first book, it still feels overly long.  There was a lot more downtime during which Robert and the other characters tried to figure out Sauniere’s cryptic messages with a bit fewer moments of real peril. Once again I found myself figuring out the mysteries long before Langdon. The hint of romance between Robert and Sophie is tacked on and unnecessary.
Despite my complaints, I must admit that The Da Vinci Code was all it was meant to be before all of the controversies – an entertaining work of fiction, albeit one with fascinating ideas. The way Brown ends many of the chapters brings to mind old soap operas – “next time on The Da Vinci Code…will Robert and Sophie escape.” That’s an exaggeration but you get the picture.
Like its predecessor, amidst all the excitement, there were moments of profound truth. Also, like in the first novel, these truths were usually spoken by the ‘bad guys’. At first, I wondered what that said about me, then I realized that perhaps Brown meant to show that reason can be found on all sides; it is what people choose to do with their ideas that makes the difference. How they interpret the truths – not unlike with the scriptures that figure so prominently in Brown’s stories.

I actually read The Da Vinci Code a couple of years ago but somehow my review got lost. I only discovered this when writing up my review of the next Robert Langdon novel, The Lost Symbol, which I will be posting tomorrow.

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Children's Literature, Reviews

Review: The Trumpet of the Swan

The Trumpet of the SwanThe Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read The Trumpet of the Swan many years ago as a child but I didn’t recall much of it. Reading it again I realized somethings about literature and growing up.  It’s funny, for adults there are basically two kinds of fiction – realism or fantasy. While there is some blending of the two, the actions of the story follow certain rules be they rules of nature in our world or the rules created by the author that dictate life in the world of the story. In children’s literature, however, like in a Disney movie, rules are often thrown out of the window for the sake of the story. I had forgotten about that. And, apparently, I’d forgotten how to suspend my disbelief as fully as I did when I was a child. In this classic from E.B. White, people often react as you would expect them to when faced with a trumpet playing swan who can read and write English and at other times, they react differently than you would expect; animals (well, the swans anyway) often understand things about the world of men that they wouldn’t while at other times they are clueless. As a boring old adult, this took some time for me to get used to. That being said, this is a fun, sweet, and truly funny story. And the illustrations in this new digital edition by Fred Marcellino are beautiful yet sometimes humorous.  The cob’s speeches and his mate’s responses to them were the highlights of the book about man working with nature, honor, and overcoming the obstacles we’re giving in life.

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Chick-Lit, Reviews, Romance

Review: What You Wish For

What You Wish For

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

Thank you to and St. Martin’s Press for this ARC of Katherine Center’s What You Wish For. Sometimes it is difficult to properly rate these uncorrected proof copies because even disregarding the obvious typos, you never know exactly how much more of the writing will be cleaned up. Parts of the story needed tightening up and there were times when it was somewhat repetitive. So, I give it 4 stars for writing, and 4.5 stars for story, and 5 stars characters, and setting.

And based entirely on the story and characters, I have to say that I absolutely adored this book. The cast of lovable characters is wonderfully drawn, especially the main character, Sam, a small-town school librarian who after a life of pain and upheaval seems to have found a home at a progressive coastal school. When a blast from her past finds his way to Galveston and her school, Sam is afraid it will all fall apart and she’ll lose the only home she’s ever known. But it is so much worse than she imagined.

Though Sam can be, at times, a little slow on the uptake about others and herself, she has a delightful sense of humor, real strength, and a few thoroughly human flaws. I identified with her in a way that I’ve done with few other characters. I really don’t know if I’ve ever met a character who spoke (or even thought) so exactly what I feel inside.

As for the story, it is a sweet but not unrealistic love story – romantic love as well as love for friends who are more like family, and learning to love yourself. The setting of Galveston, TX is lovingly described so that I felt like I was there with the characters. What You Wish For has beautiful, uplifting messages about creating your own joy and learning from your past but not letting it define you.

For me, reading What You Wish For was a lot about the characters and the messages their story conveyed.  There have been a few books that have struck a chord with me like this book.  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane by Kelly Harms, Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen, The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller, and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman are among my recent reads that have touched me as deeply as What You Wish For, particularly through the characters.  They’ve also all earned a 5-star rating from me proving, I think, how important well-written, relatable characters are for good fiction.

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Mystery, Reviews

Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder (Hannah Swenson #25)

Coconut Layer Cake Murder (Hannah Swenson, #25)Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 2.25 of 5 stars

I signed up for the Goodreads Giveaway of Coconut Layer Cake Murder for my mother who’s been a fan of the series for a few years now. She enjoyed this 25th book in the Hanna Swenson series enough to give it 3.5 stars, saying that the steadiness of the familiar character was comforting like a warm cookie and the precise explanations made the story easy to follow even when her attention was divided. She did admit, though, that she prefers to listen to the audiobook versions.

I’ve been wanting to check the series out myself since my mother and I have similar tastes in books and, I must admit, because the books are so pretty (It isn’t judging by the cover if you’re just observing that they are attractive, right?) so, after she read it, I decided to give it a whirl. I was a little worried that in starting with book #25 that I’d be lost but while I did have some questions about the characters and past events that they referred to, that wasn’t one of my problems with this book.

The first thing that caught my attention was the stiff, stilted nature of Fluke’s writing, especially in the dialogue. It felt as if Hannah was talking to strangers or acquaintances rather than her family and friends. Also, the characters often said the name of the person they were speaking to way too many times as if Fluke had read books where pronouns had been overused causing confusing and she wanted to make sure that didn’t happen here. I get that; I’ve read books like that too but her was just as annoying. Then there are the detailed explanations of what each character is doing – step-by-step lists of mundane actions that have little or no bearing on the story or the mystery. This attention to detail works very well for writing recipes; in fact, I loved the way she wrote the recipes with so many details, tips, and suggestions, but their inclusion within the story was distracting. As was the characters’ talking about the recipes. There was more about the baked goods than any actual sleuthing which begs the question: Why not just write a cookbook? (which Fluke has done with her Lake Eden Cookbook).

As for the story itself, I expect certain things from a cozy mystery. Either it is a really good mystery with an interesting amateur detective or there is a bit of fun mixed into the character’s story or the detective work. This book had neither. The mystery was interesting for a while but I figured out ‘whodunit’ pretty quickly and just had to wait for Fluke to stop writing recipes and Hannah to focus on the task at hand to find out if I was right. I was though the murderer’s explanation left a bit to be desired.  At least it was a quick read.  I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of Hannah Swenson’s mysteries though I’ll probably ask my mother which great guy Hannah chooses and how that works out because that part of the story was more interesting than the murder case at the center of it. 

I don’t read a lot of mysteries but when I do they are usually cozy mysteries like this.  If you enjoy a good cozy mystery with interesting characters and a bit of fun, I recommend M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series starting with The Quiche of Death.  If you’re looking for a really intriguing mystery written by a master mystery writer, you cannot go wrong with Agatha Christie.  I’ve been reading her Miss Marple mysteries which may be the gold standard of cozy mysteries.

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