Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing: From the Files of Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator (Vish Puri Mysteries #2) by Tarquin Hall
Release Date: June 15, 2010
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 320 pages
Rating:
Murder is no laughing matter. Yet a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles when a Hindu goddess appears from a mist and plunges a sword into his chest. The only one laughing now is the main suspect, a powerful guru named Maharaj Swami, who seems to have done away with his most vocal critic. Vish Puri, India's Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn't believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence, and proving who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha will require all the detective's earthly faculties. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India's hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges. How did the murder weapon miraculously crumble into ash? Will Maharaj Swami have the last laugh? And perhaps more important, why is Puri's wife, Rumpi, chasing petty criminals with his Mummy-ji when she should be at home making his rotis?

Stopping only to indulge his ample Punjabi appetite, Puri uncovers a web of spirituality, science, and sin unique in the annals of crime. (from publisher)

This book was so much fun to read. The mystery was beautifully put together with a cast of quirky and fun characters, and the way it all fit was perfect--I didn't see it coming but it was understandable all the same. Sometimes, what I want to read is a fun and entertaining mystery story, and this book fit that to a tee.

The characters are what made this book so good, I think. Instead of being a simple mystery story--which isn't necessary bad, of course--The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing made me invested as much in the characters as in the actual mystery. They had back story and fun little things that made them entirely unique.

I liked the information about the gurus in India as well. The whole industry has always been interesting to me, and I liked finding out more about it. And the illusions, of course, are always fun to dissect. I was always that person who, while at a magic show, was constantly trying to figure out the trick instead of going along for the ride. So, the inner workings of seeming impossibilities was a lot of fun.

This was a quick, light read that I would recommend to any mystery lover. It wasn't the most emotionally satisfying read, but sometimes it's exactly what you're looking for at a certain time.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Release Date: December 23, 2008
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Length: 368 pages
Rating:

A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

I love the original story of Romeo and Juliet. I'm a romantic at heart, and I find the idea of star-crossed lovers beautiful. Plus the fact that it makes for a really, really good story. And Perfect Chemistry is the Romeo and Juliet story, essentially, a reimagining I enjoyed reading about.

The characters of Brittany and Alex were far more interesting than the stereotypes it would have been easy to make them. Even Alex, who is practically the definition of the "bad boy," had a lot to his character, and I could see exactly why he was who he was. I think having the story told by both Alex and Brittany made this possible--we got both back stories and were able to understand each character's motivation.

Something about this book, though, just didn't do it for me. I think it might have been the pacing of the action and how it was spread across the course of the novel. Some parts felt a little rushed ("Wait, they're in love? Already?") and some parts dragged on. It wasn't enough to prevent me from enjoying the book, but it did put me off a little.

Overall, this was a fun, sweet book that I loved reading. I think practically every fan of young adult romances would enjoy this story like I did, and I would definitely recommend it.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Release Date: April 16, 2002
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Length: 336 pages
Rating:

Somewhere in South America at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening: until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage.

But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers.

This book was beautiful. And fascinating. And heartbreaking. And so many other things that I can't quite figure out how to say. I'm going to try to keep this review from being simple gushing, but be warned that I might not entirely succeed.

This novel is about a group of diplomats and other important or wealthy people who are held ransom by a terrorist group for money and for the release of certain political prisoners. When the government refuses to give in, a very long stalemate begins and the story of Bel Canto begins. This novel was in fact based on an actual situation in Lima, Peru; an interesting bit of information that I wasn't aware of while reading the book.

The characterization in this novel was amazing. The party is taken hostage very early in the story, so we slowly discover who the characters are while they're already prisoners, fleshing out the characters slowly and through their actions rather than any previous knowledge we might have had. The terrorists, too, were made into interesting and fully-formed characters. The reader starts to empathize with them as the hostages do, making the "villain" in the story much harder to spot. By the end, I was rooting for the terrorists as much as I was rooting for the prisoners, which was a brilliant piece of work on the author's part.

The ending to this book was gorgeous, too. I knew, I knew it was coming, but in my blissful ignorance still ended up so emotionally attached to these characters that every moment mattered to me.

In my personal opinion, you should go read this book. Now, if possible. It was truly a fantastic story, and I'm really looking forward to reading more from this author.

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