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BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist


Celeste Temple, a willful young woman from the West Indies, receives a terse note from her fiancée ending their engagement without any explanation. Roger Bascombe, a rising figure at the Foreign Ministry, has been cruel in his rejection and after mourning the engagement for a day, Miss Temple’s natural determination rising to the fore. Resolving to receive more information, Miss Temple follows Bascombe to Harschmort Manor where she finds herself an unwilling participant in a bizarre ritual involving masked guests, lewd behaviour and strange equipment.

When Miss Temple manages to escape from the Manor, she meets Cardinal Chang and later Dr. Svenson. Together they discover that the bizarre ritual Miss Temple observed involves a process of capturing experiences and trapping them in blue glass which can then be fully experienced through all sense by anyone viewing the image. Not only does this mysterious glass capture images and seduce the users, it can also be used to subdue and control others or to kill people. With the Cabal that controls the Process determined to see them dead, Miss Temple, the Doctor and the Cardinal band together to stay alive and uncover the Cabal’s secrets, and prevent them succeeding with their evil machinations.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is a massive book and not only in its page count. The novel is overblown in the manner of the best Victorian gothic novels, both in the scope of the conspiracy, the gloom of its setting and the number of players. The three protagonists and the Cabal leaders are all larger-than-life (essentially stereotypes), yet are fully drawn and readers will quickly come to respect each for how they push their personal boundaries and develop through the novel. Edgar Allen Poe explored “the terror of the soul” in his gothic novels, most notably in Fall of the House of Usher, and Dahlquist does the same here as his protagonists face their deepest desires in the seductive offerings of the Cabal.

Each time readers are convinced that Miss Temple, the Doctor or the Cardinal are finished, a twist happens and they manage a death-defying escape. While readers may be unable to completely suspend belief – for really the number of escapes is exorbitant – the over-the-top nature of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters perfectly mirrors its predecessors.

Readers who are seeking a quick or straightforward novel should take a pass on Gordon Dahlquist’s debut novel; however, lovers of period, genre-bending novels full of florid language will find The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters a delight which captures the imagination as completely as one of the Cabal’s books.

ISBN10: 0385340354
ISBN13: 9780385340359

768 Pages
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: August 1, 2006
Book Website (US):
Book Website (UK):


BOOK REVIEW: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander


Emily Bromley, a beautiful young woman is under persistent pressure to marry from an overbearing mother. Even though she would prefer never to marry, she accepts the proposal of wealthy Viscount Philip Ashton as a means of escape. Her new husband has a passion for hunting and shortly after their wedding departs for Africa for hunting. When the young bride is informed of her husband’s death due to fever, she feels relief rather than grief for she barely knew the man she married.

During her year of half-mourning, Emily begins to learn more about Philip from his friends as they pay condolence calls. Intrigued by the picture painted, she begins to study Greek literature and antiquities in an effort to learn more about the man she married. During her studies she develops a friendship with Cecile du Lac, a wealthy Parisian, and Colin Hargreaves and Andrew Palmer, Philip’s best friends.

As Emily learns more about her husband’s life, she begins to develop feelings for him. The more she discovers, the more worried she becomes that his death wasn’t an accident. Colin and Andrew are both behaving oddly and Emily uncovers that Philip may have been involved in unscrupulous activities. Uncertain who to trust, Emily decides to investigate on her own.

Tasha Alexander’s debut novel And Only to Deceive: a novel of suspense is a delightful mystery set during the Victorian period. While the story is engaging and the mystery fascinating, what is most compelling is the portrait she paints of the life of a young Victorian woman desiring independence. In the afterword Alexander describes her motivation in developing the character of Emily: “I was determined not to create twenty-first-century characters, drop them into bustles and corsets, and call them historical.”

She has succeeded in this novel, obviously doing extensive research to uncover the ethics and principles guiding Victorian upper class society. And Only to Deceive brings the Victorian period to life, capturing the small details of a widow’s life and the severe restrictions they face during their period of mourning. The small points of etiquette, such as opening the curtains facing the street or wearing a dress made out of a fabric other than crepe, could destroy a widow’s place within respectable society. Within this setting Alexander incorporates subtle commentary on the social politics of the time without hindering the pace of her mystery.

Lady Emily Ashton’s second adventure A Poisoned Season is scheduled for release in April 2007. Hopefully this series will maintain the historical depth exhibited by the first novel.

ISBN10: 006114844X
ISBN13: 9780061148446

Trade Paperback
336 Pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 10, 2006
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl


Since the death of his wife, itinerate professor Gareth Van Meer has traveled extensively across the United States with his daughter Blue. He never spends more than one semester at a school before moving on with the result that, by age 16, Blue has attended 24 different schools. Their travels provide fertile ground for Gareth to instruct his daughter on life, literature and everything in between, with the result that Blue is erudite, overly educated and socially awkward. To ensure Blue’s entry into an Ivy League school, Gareth is determined that his daughter will have an uninterrupted senior year and so he settles them in Stockton, North Carolina where Blue is scheduled to attend the elite St. Gallway School.

Shortly after her arrival in Stockton, Blue meets Hannah Schneider, the magnetic film studies teacher at St. Gallway School. Through Hannah, Blue is introduced to the BlueBloods, the ruling aristocracy of the school who meet each Sunday night at Hannah’s home. When a student ends up dead during a party at Hannah’s home, Blue and the BlueBloods decide to investigate and later, on a camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains, Hannah ends up dead dangling from a tree.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is told as a flashback and readers are aware from the start that Hannah meets her death by hanging. When readers first meet Blue, she is in her freshman year at Harvard University and is trying to make sense of the past year. Structuring her reminiscences as a survey course of “great literature,” each chapter bears the title of a classic work as well as contextual similarities to the chosen work, as a means of framing this difficult period in her life.

Blue has whole-heartedly adopted her father’s philosophy of communication: “Always have everything you say exquisitely annotated, and, where possible, provide staggering Visual Aids.” Least readers worry that the continual annotation becomes too distracting, rest reassured that Blue’s distinctive voice supports her unique style of narration. Lovers of mysteries may moan that Marisha Pessl’s love of all things literary and erudite provides an onslaught of information which interferes with their enjoyment of the mystery central to this weighty novel. For some readers this may hold true and those readers might be wise to take a pass on Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

Pessl takes time to build the tension in Special Topics in Calamity Physics, walking readers calmly through introductions to the players and the scene. However, the pace quickly escalates about a third of the way into the book and from there readers may feel like they are on a runaway train. The pace, combined with Pessl’s thousands of references to books, movies, and popular culture result in a novel that often leaves the reader off-balance and confuse as to what actually happened – a state reminiscent of teenage angst. Pessl uses language as a shield and a mirror, reflecting the emotion of her characters while protecting them from extensive scrutiny, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and illusion.

In the end, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a difficult novel to penetrate and within which to gauge what truly happened to Hannah Schneider. As one reviewer comments: “Pessl…is like an explosion, her energy going off in all directions, her power not under control.” This is directly attributable to her youth as a novelist. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an amazing achievement for any writer and is extraordinary as a debut novel. Marisha Pessl is a writer to watch as she discovers her métier and matures into her talents.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 067003777X
ISBN13: 9780670037773

528 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: August 3, 2006
Book Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Final Paradox by Mary E. Martin


Norma Dinnick is sure that the named executor of her estate is trying to poison her, or else he’s in league with the upstairs tenants to drive her mad, all in a bid to ensure she doesn’t change her will. When she requests Harry Jenkins do something about both the will and the upstairs tenants, he discovers that Norma may be on brink between lucidity and madness – there are no upstairs tenants.

In a bid to forstall Archie (the executor), and protect his client’s safety, Harry follows her instructions and files claim against Archie and the others pursuing a claim on some valuable shares. Unfortunately the motion sets of a chain of events ending up with murder in open court and the reappearance of an acquaintance from Harry’s past. Now Harry must help sort out Norma’s tangeled memories if he hopes to track down the shares – and protect her life.

Final Paradox, the second volume in the Mary E. Martin’s Osgoode Trilogy, once again sees honest lawyer Harry Jenkins up against lawyers willing to twist the legal profession for their own gain. Like Conduct in Question, the book which introduced Harry, what sets Final Paradox apart from other legal thrillers is Harry’s personal struggles and development. Readers will enjoy Harry’s challenges in running his small law practices, intergenerational conflicts with his junior, his difficulties of dealing with an aging parent, and his burgeoning relationship with Natasha.

Unfortunately the central mystery in Final Paradox feels convoluted and contrived, while the villains are not nasty enough to fully engage reader in the action. Natasha is too enigmatic in this outing and readers may be left wondering why Harry doesn’t just walk away. While entertaining, Final Paradox is shadowed by the much stronger Conduct in Question. Hopefully the next in the series will provide a better showcase for Martin’s delightful Harry Jenkins.

Read the review at Front Street Reviews.

ISBN10: 0595407609
ISBN13: 9780595407606

Trade Paperback
268 Pages
Publisher: iUniverse
Publication Date: November 10, 2006


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BOOK REVIEW: The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez


In Oxford, Mrs. Eagleton is found smothered in her apartment by an Argentinian graduate student and his mentor, a leading mathematics don. Arthur Seldom had been drawn to her home by a cryptic note containing her address, the time, a circle and the words “the first of the series.”

Seldom’s latest book, reflecting on the parallels between the crimes of serial killers and mathematical theorems, has drawn significant attention. He suspects the killer is challenging him to a duel of wits, taunting him to figure out the series and stop the murderer. His theory begins to carry more weight as further murders, and coded notes, are found.

The Oxford Murders is a thinking person’s whodunit. Atmospheric yet challenging, philosophical yet logical, Guillermo Martínez has crafted a mystery which, while meditating on lofty subjects, does not talk down to his readers. Even though the pace moves along rapidly, readers have time to investigate the subtleties of the relationships among the main characters.

The clearest exposition on Martínez’s main message in The Oxford Murders is found part way through the novel when Seldom, musing on the crimes and the infinite number of solutions, states: “…the known terms of a series, any number of terms, are always insufficient.” He then goes on to elaborate: “If a man is no more than the series of his actions, I realized, then he can’t be defined before his death: a single action, his last, could wipe out his previous existence, contradict his entire life…Man was no more than what I most feared.”

Guillermo Martínez has a PhD in Mathematical Science and it should be clear to readers that this watertight mystery was written by a master of maths – for two separate yet equally important reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, the mathematical elements are described clearly and concisely, providing even a novice mathematician the opportunity to follow Seldom’s explanations.

Second, solving a crime is as methodical as proving a mathematical theorem and the best mysteries have at their core an elegantly simple solution, yet provide an array of plausible solutions. Martínez pulls together an astonishing array of clues and red herrings to create an enthrallingly complex mystery, which holds up under both logical analysis and Wittgenstein’s Finite Rule Paradox.

The Oxford Murders is the first book by Guillermo Martínez to be translated into English. Sonia Soto has managed a difficult feat with grace, translating a dense mystery without losing the ease or flavour with which Martínez imbued the original Spanish. A film version, staring John Hurt and Elijah Woods, is currently in pre-production.

ISBN10: 014303796X
ISBN13: 9780143037965

Trade Paperback
208 Pages
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: October 31, 2006


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BOOK REVIEW: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


Vida Winter, one of Britain’s best-loved novelists, is known for her reluctance to share the truth of her life story. Having spent the past six decades creating outlandish stories, Vida is facing death and wishes to leave the truth as her legacy.

Margaret Lea is surprised to receive the request from Miss Winter, an author she’s never spoken to, asking her to act as biographer. Margaret has published a few articles on lesser known author but is unable to fathom why an author of such reknown would choose her. In an effort to learn more about her potential subject, Margaret picks up her father’s rare copy of Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation and is mesmerized by the stories. As she nears the end of the volume she is confronted by one of Britain’s biggest literary mysteries: where is the thirteenth tale? Margaret agrees to meet with Miss Winter and is quickly engaged in the unfolding story of her complex life and the destroyed estate of Angelfield.

Diane Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale rocketed up the best-seller lists soon after its release mid-September and many skeptics wondered how much of this success was due to aggressive online marketing efforts rather than its merit. This reviewer is pleased to report that, in her opinion, Setterfield’s success is due to a well-crafted plot, engaging characters and frequent nods to gothic novelists of the past.

The Thirteenth Tale centres around a story-within-a-story, as Vida recounts the family history leading up to her birth and beyond. All the elements of a gothic novel are found here; a mouldering old house, mental illness, twins, neglectful parents, a domineering governess, isolation and ghosts. Margaret, an exceptional narrator, is drawn into the action as she tries to substantiate Vida’s story, while battling the specters of her own past.

Initially Margaret is reluctant to be drawn in by Vida, maintaining a professional distance from her subject. Her research, and the parallels she sees between Vida’s and her own story, eliminate her defenses and, like a du Maurier or Brontë heroine, Margaret becomes consumed by the story around her.

Setterfield uses her descriptions of place to increase the readers’ understanding of her characters. Miss Winter has spent so many years suffocating the truth that “..the other rooms were thick with the corpses of suffocated words: here in the library you could breathe.” The library, Margaret’s domain, is the place of truth, therefore a place within which light and air preside.

Essentially, The Thirteenth Tale is about the battle between truth and fiction, and the consequences of each. Fiction is easier, as Miss Winter points out: “What succour, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story?” As readers soon learn, there is a price for each and no simple line can be drawn in the sand.

ISBN10: 038566284X
ISBN13: 9780385662840

416 Pages
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Publication Date: September 12, 2006


BOOK REVIEW: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld


It is a historical fact that in 1909 Sigmund Freud paid his only visit to the U.S., after which he labeled Americans as “savages.” In Jed Rubenfeld’s debut novel, The Interpretation of Murder, Freud’s arrival in New York coincides with a rash of attacks against beautiful young socialites. Dr. Stratham Younger, a Freud devotee, is asked to help the second victim, Nora Acton, regain her memory. He turns to his teacher for help in treating his reluctant patient and, in turn, must aid his mentor by allaying the cloud of suspicion hovering around Freud.

The Interpretation of Murder is based around the real-life mystery surrounding Freud’s visit to America in 1909. In an interview with, Rubenfeld says he was inspire to use, as the jumping off point for his novel, a basic question which has puzzled Freud’s biographers for a long time: “Could something have happened to Freud during his week in Manhattan, something we still don’t know about, some event that could account for his severe antipathy to America?” In his detailed author’s note, Rubenfeld carefully delineates the line between his fiction and historical fact.

Rubenfeld portrays a New York City well known to readers of Edith Wharton and Henry James’ work. Dr. Stratham Younger and many of the other characters inhabit the world of the beau monde, the Vanderbilts and the Astors. These glittering figures wander carelessly through the events portrayed with the same cold disdain portrayed so cleverly in The House of Mirth. By invoking the spectre of Wharton and James’ writing styles, Rubenfeld effortlessly exposes the hollowness filling the houses and settings his killer treads.

This world of excess is in sharp contrast with corruption found within the New York police department and government. In these early days of investigation, crime scene investigation is almost non-existent and the wealthy can easily circumvent procedure. What is particularly fascinating in The Interpretation of Murder is the commentary he provides on American society in the early 1900s. The resistance to Freud’s theories is expounded upon at great length and the developing rift between Freud and Jung gradually exposed.

Many of the theories expressed are laughable viewed from a century later; others however, are extremely repugnant. Many Americans felt that Freud was promoting sexual license and believe his theories would lead to all sorts of social ills. At a dinner party attended by Freud, one of the guests suggested that, as a man of science, Freud should be concerned with the dangers of sexual emancipation such as the problems of overpopulation. His proposal is that every immigrant without means should be sterilized so that American society “are not required to bear the charge of their unfit offspring, who end up as beggars and thieves” although the guest is willing to “make an exception, of course, for those who can pass an intelligence test.”

Early in The Interpretation of Murder, Dr. Younger explains one of his most exciting theories – man’s moments of revolutionary genius have all happened at the turn of a century, specifically in the first decade of a century. Rubenfeld has brought this dynamic period vividly to life and proposed a fascinating solution to the mystery of Freud’s visit to and the rise of psychoanalysis in America.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0805080988
ISBN13: 9780805080988

384 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt
Publication Date: September 7, 2006


BOOK REVIEW: The Hidden Assassins by Robert Wilson


On Monday, June 5, 2006 Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón faced the most mutilated corpse he has ever had to investigate: scalped, faced burned by acid, handless and found on a garbage heap. The next day a massive explosion destroys an apartment building and preschool, killing many and putting the region on high alert. When it’s discovered that a mosque was in the basement of the razed building, everyone’s worst terrorist fears are realized. As political and media pressure intensifies, Falcón works frantically to uncover the truth, while facing personal tragedy connected to the case.

The Hidden Assassins is the third volume in the Inspector Jefe Javier Fal?on series. Fans of British police procedural mysteries are the logical audience for Wilson’s novels; however, readers should expect to put some work into unraveling the structure and hierarchy of the Spanish police and judicial system.

Robert Wilson writes crisp, lean prose that veers toward the austere, throwing the horror of destruction and violence into sharper relief. With no padding, the reader is left no choice but to confront the picture Wilson presents. In a crime of terrorism, “truth” is slippery, changing with each person’s perspective. Utilizing terse, unambiguous prose, Wilson ensures this point is unavoidable to readers. Terrorism and violence are horrific and yet, somehow, Wilson provokes empathy for almost all his characters. By the final pages, readers understand the motivation of the main players, while still questioning the outcome of the case.

The Hidden Assassins can be read as a stand-alone work, although some of the undercurrents will make more sense if you’ve read the previous two books in this exceptional series. Those interested in the political aspects of The Hidden Assassins should read the excellent interview with Robert Wilson at HarperCollins Crime & Thrillers.

In the interview, Wilson explains the connected history of Morroco and Andalucia, two regions that are essentially the same other than their religions and some culture. He delves into the arrival of terrorism in continental Europe and its incorporation into the work of Inspector Jefe Fal?on and Wilson’s books. As the interview explains: “But after the Madrid bombings on March 11th 2004, and their startling effect on Spain’s election results, Rob knew he had to deal with the issue. Islamic terrorism had come to mainland Europe and contributed to a change in government and that was unquestionably going to affect his characters.”

In addition to the Inspector Jefe Javier Fal?on series, Robert Wilson is also the author of the Bruce Medway series and two stand-alone novels, A Small Death in Lisbon and In the Company of Strangers. In 1999, A Small Death in Lisbon was awarded the Golden Dagger Award by Crime Writers’ Association.

ISBN10: 01510129393
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
464 Pages
Publication Date: November 2006
Binding: Hardcover

Javier Falcon series:
1. The Blind Man of Seville
2. The Silent and the Damned (US Title: The Vanished Hands)
3. The Hidden Assassins


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BOOK REVIEW: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson


Jackson Brodie, retired from the private investigation business after a client leaves him her millions, has spent the last two years living a life of ease in France. In Edinburgh for his girlfriend Julia’s performance in a Fringe Festival play, Jackson ends up a reluctant witness to a rear-end collision cum road rage incident. As a chain of events is set in motion, a number of the bystanders’ paths begin to intersect with Jackson: the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon; a timid but successful crime novelist; and a hardheaded female police detective.

As the other bystanders begin experiencing unexpected consequences from witnessing the accident, Jackson is attacked by the Honda driver and then charged for defending himself. Suddenly Jackson must figure out what is going on if he wants to keep out of jail, and have time to figure out why Julia is acting weird.

After years of writing award-winning literary novels, Atkinson scored a breakout hit with Case Histories, her first foray into the mystery genre. In One Good Turn, Jackson Brodie returns and faces a puzzling mystery that unfolds over four days. Atkinson doesn’t write straightforward mysteries with a central crime that must be solved; rather, she presents details and events that are slowly woven together to create an emerging image. Certainly the reader can guess at what is emerging; however, Atkinson possesses a master’s skill and readers may be unaware at how effectively they are being manipulated.

To avoid any spoilers, little can be said about the plot of One Good Turn. As always, Atkinson creates characters so real that it wouldn’t be surprising to find them striding off the page. One Good Turn features some truly irritating characters, shallow to the extreme.

The sign of a good writer is one who can emotionally engage the reader in the created world. Atkinson is a literary writer, renown for her ability to create character studies and here she uses irritation to engage her readers. Some of the characters are so banal, passive and frustrating that the reader almost wishes violence upon them. And with that realization, readers are forced to face their own inner evil and propensity to violence, as the characters are within One Good Turn.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0316154849
ISBN13: 9780316154840

432 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: October 11, 2006


BOOK REVIEW: Sins and Needles by Monica Ferris


When Lucille Jones walks into Crewel World, Betsy notices that she looks an awful lot like Betsy’s friend Jan Henderson. It turns out that Lucille is an adoptee and she’s in town searching for her roots, convinced that Jan must be her sister. Everyone becomes suspicious when Jan’s eccentric great-aunt is found dead in her bed, and the only ones to inherit her fortune are the female children of her nieces. Was it just fortuitous timing that led Lucille to town?

Sins and Needles is the 10th book in the Betsy Devonshire needlecraft mystery series and this time the customers of Crewel World are focused on sock knitting. Part of the enjoyment of this series is discovering how Monica Ferris will incorporate the featured needlework skill into the mystery.

Unlike many of the earlier offerings in this series, Betsy and Godwin do not play as central a role in this book. Sins and Needles focuses mostly on Jan, Lucille, the members of their extended families and the challenges faced in clearing Jan’s name.

Those who enjoyed the Stanley Steamers featured in A Murderous Yarn, will be delighted by Great-Aunt Edyth’s Baby Gar boat and details about boating in the 30s and 40s.

Since Betsy is not as central a character in Sins and Needles, there is little development with Betsy’s personal life. While this was an enjoyable read, this reviewer missed the banter between Detective Mike and Betsy. Their chemistry adds a welcome element to this series.

For an overview of this series, visit Front Street Review.

ISBN10: 0425210030
ISBN13: 9780425210031

320 Pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Publication Date: June 27, 2006
Author Website:


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