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Further Fran Faves
The premise of Drew Chapman's debut novel, The Ascendant is that the next global war might end with boots on the ground, but it will begin in cyberspace, and that's a premise he brings to vivid and disturbing life.
Garrett Reilly is a 26-year-old bond trader from Long Beach who's rocketing up the ladder in his New York firm. Garrett has a knack for numbers, a talent for seeing patterns that others can't see. In the wash of information, Reilly can detect hidden patterns, and he has no problem using them for his own gain, and to make money for the firm. To him, it's a game and he's very good at it.
So when Garrett notices a subtle trend - Chinese dumping bonds in numbers that, when taken together, could shake the US economy - he's excited. Sure, the US dollar will tank, but he'll make huge profits. He tells his mentor (and one of his two only friends), Avery Bernstein, and Garrett is surprised by Avery's reaction. Instead of jumping on it, Avery tells Garrett not to mention it to anyone, and the next thing Garrett knows, the military is at his doorstep, asking questions.
From that point on, Chapman takes us on a twisting and incredibly fast journey stretching from a lone woman's unhappiness with her situation in China all the way to the White House. Skillfully weaving various story-lines into one cohesive unit, we follow all the players in a global game of chicken that could be the beginning of the end.
One of the most disturbing concepts that Drew Chapman has come up with is how very easily manipulated so many of us are by what we see and read online, and how perception influences reality. The scenarios he has envisioned are altogether too plausible, and it's scary to realize how precarious our day-to-day life can be. But he also delves into the power of people to create change on a very human level, and that's what stayed with me.
Chapman's protagonist is not a very likeable guy, but that doesn't really matter. He's compelling, and he's volatile and he's unexpected, which makes him interesting. For those who read science fiction, you'll probably notice, as I did, a certain nod to Card's hit novel, Ender's Game, but the end result of The Ascendant is a story that is uniquely Drew Chapman's, and I can't wait to see if he's going to follow it up!
And, on a side note:
If you pick up the new Playboy magazine for the story by Don Winslow (which is fabulous!), there's also an article about real-life Russian hackers. That article ties into Drew's book so closely that all of a sudden, The Ascendant is incredibly terrifying!
What, doesn't everyone pick up Playboy for the articles?
Some of you may remember how much I enjoyed Mark Gimenez's debut, Color of Law, so it's no surprise that I'm back discussing his new one. However. With The Abduction, Mark has taken giant steps forward in his writing. Ben Brice, ex-Vietnam Green Beret, is living a solitary life in northern New Mexico with only his dog and whiskey bottles to keep him company, except for the summers when his granddaughter, Grace, comes to visit. Grace, age 10, and her family, Ben's son John, his wife Elizabeth and their young son, Sam, all live in a Dallas suburb. John has never had Ben's physical prowess; instead he has focused his attention on computer skills and is on the verge of sending his company public, which will make him an overnight billionaire. Elizabeth is a ferocious attorney with a secret in her past that makes her even more aggressive. When Grace is kidnapped after a soccer game, and the man who is accused of kidnapping her dies, even the FBI believes she's dead. But Ben refuses to give up on his granddaughter.
What happens afterward will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat. The plotting is intricate and detailed, the strands weave together seamlessly, and the pace is relentless. But what kept me involved is that I knew the people, and I cared, even about the less likeable ones. Gimenez manages to let you understand people's points of view, even perhaps those with which you disagree. People in this novel will fight and die for what they believe in, be it family or country or beliefs. Gimenez also has a deft touch with dialogue and moments of unexpected humor. When John relates to the world in computer geek-speak, I found myself chuckling. But mostly I was enthralled while the characters changed and grew and learned things they probably didn't want to know.
So while the entire novel is an action thriller, there are some deep philosophical undercurrents that will leave you thinking long after you've finished the book - which you'll do in record time, I promise!
In Autumn Whispers, Yasmine Galenorn has taken her Otherworld series to an incredible new height. The changes to both our world and the Otherworld are massive and non-stop.
Autumn Whispers find Delilah becoming more comfortable with being a Death Maiden. She’s seeing more how things work and her place in them. And things have been fairly quiet on the home front. All that changes when Grandmother Coyote shows up and requires the sisters’ help, especially Delilah with her status as Death Maiden. And when Grandmother Coyote wants something done, there’s no question that the sisters will comply. The fact that she doesn’t even try to bargain should tell fans of this series just how serious things are about to become.
And events take off, and it’s a breakneck run to survive. I don’t want to say much more, but anyone who’s been reading this series will need to read this one. It’s a game changer, a world changer. It’s a transitional novel, where you’ll see lots of different stories set into motion. There’s so much going on, so many things happen, that when the ending comes, you’ll want to re-read the book just to be sure you’ve caught all the clues and nuances.
The next book in this series cannot get here soon enough!
I love diving into a book by Erin Hart because her love of Ireland just shines through, and The Book of Killowen (no signed copies available – sorry!) is no exception. This fourth book in the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series finds them investigating the body of a medieval bog man found in the trunk of a car, which was also buried in the bog. And underneath the bog man is a substantially more modern corpse. All the nearby residents become suspects, especially the group of people living in the artists’ community, Killowen Farm, since they all seem to have something to hide, and the wife of the modern body is an artist in residence. Nora and Cormac really want to concentrate on discovering the secrets of the medieval bog man, but their investigation is deeply intertwined with the modern death, and they have to work with local detective, Stella Cusack, in order to figure everything out.
Erin Hart always crafts a strong story, and she has some twists in The Book of Killowen that I definitely didn’t see coming, much to my delight. But as always, it’s the people who captured me, and I was impressed with how much attention Ms. Hart gave to her detective. We really get to know Stella, and I have to admit, I’d love to see more of her. And Ireland! Oh my, every book by Erin Hart always finds me swearing that soon – soon! – I will visit Ireland! Her love of history and how it impacts our modern lives, her respect for the people and the areas all conspire to draw me in. I just wish she’d write faster!
As you know (well, maybe you don’t), I prefer to read books in order, so I'm here to 'fess up that, in this case, I didn't. I should have read Thomas Perry's Silence first, but I didn't. Instead I jumped directly into The Boyfriend, so I know I missed out. I'll have to fix that. In the meantime, let's talk about The Boyfriend.
Jack Till, retired LA cop turned investigator, doesn't want to raise the hopes of Catherine Hamilton's parents. See, Catherine was a high-priced escort and that's a dangerous line of work. But her parents are absolutely convinced that there's more to her murder than the cops believe, and they want Jack to investigate. Reluctantly he agrees.
And is surprised. Because Catherine's parents were right. Jack's investigation uncovers a pattern: strawberry blonde escorts around the country have been murdered, and several of them are wearing identical custom-made jewelry. Jack's investigation will take him across the country in search of “The Boyfriend”.
Thomas Perry is an incredibly versatile writer. The Boyfriend's style is quite different from his "Jane Whitefield" series. This is starkly spare writing, lean and fast-paced. And yet Perry takes time to make sure you can see exactly what's going on, fills in details along the way, but he never over-burdens with excess descriptions. I have to admit, it wasn't what I was expecting, and it did take some getting used to. But when Thomas Perry's at the helm, you know you're getting a well-crafted and fast-moving story.
I would encourage you to let us know if you want a copy of Silence as well as The Boyfriend, so we'll be sure to have enough on hand!
I have to say that I’ve been looking forward to reading this book, both because it’s set near my hometown of Las Cruces, NM, but also because…well…Urban. He’s a great writer!
Ray Lamar had great plans at one point in his life. But work dried up in his little town of Coronado, and to support his family, he got in with the wrong folks, drug traffickers out of Mexico. When his wife was killed and his son badly damaged, Ray tried to walk away, but that’s not allowed. Especially with the skills Ray has – he’s cool under pressure, and he’s an efficient killer.
So Ray agrees to one last pick-up, and of course things go badly. As things spiral out of control, all the citizens of Coronado are going to be drawn into the conflict between Ray and the cartel. Sheriff Edna Kelly will do her level best to keep the peace, but she’s badly outnumbered and definitely outgunned, and dispirited.
Urban Waite proves with this second book that he is excellent at taking his very human, deeply flawed but always compelling characters step-by-step down some very dark paths. Having lived in the area, I know just how desperate some people become, and how very important home is, even when that home is crumbling around your ears.
I have to admit to a very teacher-ish gripe (and it is just me, really, but as an English teacher for a decade, I can’t help myself) in that Urban uses short, choppy phrases and sentences, and while they do set the tone brilliantly, I found it jarring. However, that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying The Carrion Birds!
I agree with most of what Fran said. I didn’t mind the shorter sentences, but then I like James Ellroy as much as I like James Lee Burke. Like them or the late, great Ross Macdonald, Urban is able to carry over the descriptions of the landscape into the mood of the novel:
“He ran a hand through his hair, resting his scalp in his palm. It was already late enough in the day that the sun began to stretch the shadows long and thin across the parking lot, constructing a stilted world that teetered toward the point of falling.”
This is great noir, where no one is happy in their lives, everyone thought they’d be somethere else, doing something better, but they find themselves in the same place where they’ve always been and are beginning to understand they’ll never escape, where the sand and heat and bullets and cartel killers are all inescapable. If you enjoyed The Terror of Living, you’ll The Carrion Birds just as much.
When both Amber and international bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn tell me I have to read a book, I take them seriously.
Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, while being marketed as a YA novel, is certainly complex enough for all readers of urban fantasy. The premise is that vampirism, once hidden, has through an unhappy accident spread throughout the world. Humans don't go out at night, and anyone who's infected is legally required to go to a Coldtown, a prison-city where vampires, vampire wanna-be's, and people who are Cold -- bitten by a vampire but not yet turned -- must go.
If you're Cold, it is possible to shake it off and be human again. You just have to go 88 days without drinking human blood. There's a very, very slight chance of being able to do it, but it is possible. It is illegal to do this on your own, however. You have to go to a Coldtown, and very rarely are people allowed to leave.
Tana is 17, and has gone to a popular themed teenage party, a Sundowner party, where teens lock themselves in from dusk to dawn with garlic and holy water at the windows, and party. However, this time, when Tana wakes up, everyone is dead. Everyone, that is, except her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and a vampire. In a twist, both are chained up, Aidan is infected with the Cold, and the vampire is unable to reach him. It takes no time for Tana to realize that both Aidan and the vampire are being set up by someone, and she resolves to save both.
That decision will change Tana forever. Caught in a series of increasingly bad options, she does what she can to save as many people as she can, including Gavriel, the vampire.
Amber called The Coldest Girl in Coldtown "noir-ish" and she's right. This is not a sparkling, easy read. Bad, bad things happen and they're sometimes difficult. Holly Black deftly shows us that it's easy to see only the glamour of the vampire, but the truth is that they're a completely different species and they're not pretty or romantic; that's their illusion, but not their truth.
I really liked Black's heroine, Tana. She knows she's caught in a series of bad decisions, she does what she can to make things right, and she never gives up, either on herself or others. She may very well be one of the best female protagonists to come along in a while, and I've got to say that if you like urban fantasy and strong female leads, this is an amazing and hard-hitting book. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone under 15, because some of the situations are really fairly disturbing, but after that caveat, I strongly recommend The Coldest Girl in Coldtown to everyone who likes a solid story with multi-layered people dealing with horrible situations the best way they know how.
Thank you, Amber and Yasmine! You're absolutely right!
"There is an aspect of my character that tends to latch on to one difficult but potentially solvable problem, rather than grapple with the vast and unsolvable problem that would be all I could see, if I were to look up, figuratively speaking, from my small blue notebooks."
That's how Ben Winters' character, Henry "Hank" Palace, describes himself in the second of this amazing trilogy, Countdown City. In the first book, The Last Policeman (winner of the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original), we meet Hank when the world has realized that our days are, quite literally, numbered. An asteroid, Maia, will hit sometime in October, and it's a dinosaur killer. Mankind is doomed.
I don't want to give too much away if you haven't read the first one (and you really, really should!), but once again, Hank takes on a job he shouldn't. A man has left his wife, and she begs Palace to find him, send him home. But at a time when so many people are going Bucket-List, and when there are no conventional resources to find anyone -- there's no electricity, so computer searches are right out -- this is the sort of thing that Henry's good at. It's what he can do. But people keep asking him why he's doing it, when everything's going to end anyway.
"There are undoubtedly other things I could be doing with my time, things of value to myself and to others. But an investiagion of this sort has its own force -- it pulls you forward, and at a certain point it's no longer profitable to question your reasons for being pulled."
One of the great things about the world Ben Winters has created is how absolutely matter-of-fact Henry is about what's going on. He's budgeted food resources for himself and his dog through the day of impact -- 77 days from the beginning of Countdown City. He's got his routines, the people he looks after, and he's getting by. The events in this second book change everything, and we get to see more of his sister, which is great. But the changes are those you would realistically expect when a society is rapidly dying, and Winters handles it smoothly and with a deft hand.
"Because a promise is a promise, Officer Cavatone, and civilization is just a bunch of promises, that's all it is. A mortgage, a wedding vow, a promise to obey the law, a pledge to enforce it. And now the world is falling apart, the whole rickety world, and every broken promise is a small rock tossed at the wooden side of its tumbling form."
I absolutely cannot wait until October, when the third in the trilogy comes out!
Fans of Alan Bradley’s “Flavia de Luce” series wouldn’t dream of missing one of his books, but you definitely won’t want to miss Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.
I can’t say much about the plot because it’s all spoilers, but rest assured that you find out about the man who dies on the train tracks, a lot more about Harriet, and why Winston Churchill came to the village.
But here’s the thing about Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – it’s a transition novel. During the course of this book, Flavia’s life changes in unimaginable ways. But that also means that it’s not as light-hearted as the earlier books. There’s a darkness, a sadness, in this one that hasn’t been present in the past ones. That’s not a bad thing!
Flavia’s growing up, and her world is changing in many ways. Those changes are reflected in Bradley’s writing, and this book is in many ways quite sad. But Flavia is still embarking on chemical experiences, and we learn more about her father’s past, as well as Dogger’s history. And, of course, Feely and Daffy are as difficult as ever!
Up until now, you could probably pick up any of the previous books and just jump in, but with this one, it really is best if you’ve read the first five before you read Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. So much of it relies on your knowledge of Bishop’s Lacey and the inhabitants of Buckshaw Manor, and the changes that occur won’t have near the impact they should if you’re not familiar with all the people.
I can’t wait to see what the next book brings! Huge changes are afoot!
When you hear the job description “forensic accountant”, kick-ass action probably isn’t what leaps to mind. But if you are Ava Lee, Ian Hamilton’s Canadian-Chinese lesbian bombshell in The Disciple of Las Vegas, high-octane action is the order of the day.
Ava has just returned to her home in Toronto when she gets a call from Uncle, her septugenarian Hong Kong partner, who asks her to fly to Hong Kong immediately because there is a problem in the Phillipines. Tommy Ordonez, one of the richest men in Manila, is convinced his brother has lost several million dollars in a real estate transaction, and Ordonez wants Uncle and Lee to get it back. Ordonez has a temper and has been rude to Uncle, which is something that would immediately disqualify him from receiving assistance, but Ordonez’s right-hand man, Chang Wang, is a friend of Uncle’s, so Ava agrees to fly in to help.
What happens then takes her from Manila to San Francisco and, of course, to Las Vegas.
I really like Ava and Uncle, and the nuanced, subtle relationships between Ava and Uncle, as well as their relationships with Ordonez and Chang, as well as the other people involved in what turns out to be a complicated and ingenious scam adds a layer of intrigue that kept me involved.
I only have two issues, really. One is that Ian Hamilton name drops designers to a level that I found distracting. Once we’ve established she wears high-end clothing, knowing the brand is irrelevent to me. But I freely admit that could just be me, since I am obviously no fashionista.
The other problem I have is with the US publisher. The Disciple of Las Vegas is second in a five-book series, but it’s the first one published in the US. Why the second?! And where are the rest? I want to read the entire series, but we can’t get them here. Yet. Picador, are you listening? Give us all the Ava Lee novels, please? Now!
Because I really want to read them all!
At first glance, you might be tempted to sing, “Goblins and pixies and bugbears, oh my!” when reading Yasmine Galenorn’s novel in the Otherworld series, Dragon Wytch, but that would be misleading.
Oh, certainly there are all three in the opening scenes, but that’s just a teaser. In this, the fourth in the series, Ms. Galenorn is beginning to show us the true depth and fabric of her writing.
Dragon Wytch, like Witchling, is told from Camille’s point of view. Yes, she and her sisters, Delilah and Menolly, have to face hordes of goblins and other nasties that are cropping up, all planning mischief, and there is a demon searching for the third Spirit Seal. The time has come for Camille to start repaying her debt to Smoky (and there are a few surprises there, let me assure you!), and as promised in Darkling, the unicorns are going to be involved in unexpected ways.
But that’s not all that makes this, in my opinion, the best of the bunch, although each element is important.
In Dragon Wytch, we’re now going to begin to get a glimpse of the numerous threads, Yasmine has so subtly woven into the first three books, and there are more than you might have imagined upon the first reading of the books. In fact, before I read Dragon Wytch, I went back and re-read Witchling, Changeling and Darkling, and I’m glad I did. That prepared me for the tapestry that we’re only beginning to glimpse in Dragon Wytch.
If you’ve dismissed this series as “merely romantic supernatural stuff”, I’d strongly encourage you to reconsider. Yes, there are romantic elements, but with this one, we’re going to see a more complex and definitely darker side of Ms. Galenorn’s writing, and I’m thrilled that she’s added such depth to her characters, and such an edge to her writing!
Joseph Geist begins his story with us by saying, “I used to own half of Nietzsche’s head.” Geist has been working on his doctoral dissertation in philosophy at Harvard for more than a few years. Finally he has been kicked out of his grad school and out of his girlfriend’s apartment for pretty much the same thing – not moving forward. Geist is a wholly involved with the life of the mind and intellect, of the power of thought, and he is a bit irritated at the intrusion of mundane life. However, he answers an ad for a “conversationalist”, where he meets Alma Spielmann, an elderly lady who is looking for someone to stimulate her mind with intelligent conversation. What seems to be the perfect situation, however, turns out to be more fraught with danger than Joseph could possibly be prepared for. Jesse Kellerman has written a thoughtful, deeply intellectual novel exploring the nature of humanity, need and motivation. He has created in Joseph Geist a man who lives up to his name, who explores the nature of everything, who involves the reader in the various ramifications of things as ordinary as whether or not to buy a pair of shoes to whether or not there is such a thing as free will. This is not an action-packed, jet-fueled read, although when the action kicks in, it’s fierce. But this is a quieter, more intellectually intense novel than a traditional thriller, and I found it to be a nice – if at times unsettling and challenging – change from the usual suspects.
I followed up Jesse’s book with one of his father’s Alex Delaware novel, Deception, and I have to say up front that I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s for ages now. Long before I worked in bookstores, I was following Alex and Milo’s investigations, and I am incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to meet the author who has provided me with so many hours of enjoyment.
If you haven’t read the Alex Delaware series, why not? Get started! The first is When the Bough Breaks, and then sit back and enjoy the ride. If you are, like me, already a fan, then all I can tell you about this is that a woman is found dead under incredibly strange circumstances and behind her has left a DVD accusing some of her fellow faculty members at a highly regarded private prep school. As always, Dr. Kellerman’s writing is assured and compelling, and despite the turmoil and grief in the story line, Deception is a joy to read. For me, it was like coming to visit old friends, and I have to remind myself not to stay away so long!
It's no secret that Amber and I are fans of Patricia Briggs, so we were excited to get her latest Mercy Thompson book, Frost Burned.
However, Amber hasn't read it yet -- and what's keeping you? Hmmm? -- so I'm not going into too many details here.
Mercy and her step-daughter, Jesse, are out on Black Friday, shopping for all they're worth, when they find themselves tangled up in a car wreck. They're banged up a bit, but the Rabbit is toast, so they call Adam for a ride. Except that Adam isn't picking up. No one in the pack is answering their phones. And Mercy has a serious sense that something is deeply wrong.
They discover that the pack -- the entire pack -- has been trapped, and those folks who have captured the others are after them now. Mercy has to turn to the vampires for help, and that presents its own set of serious dangers.
When people come in asking about good urban fantasy, we steer them towards Patricia Briggs. She writes clearly, seemingly effortlessly, and her characters are people you sincerely care about. She's smart, too, which is great. There are threads in Frost Burned that she started several books ago, and they've been woven in beautifully. And I'm incredibly proud of her for making a tough decision, doing something that may be wildly unpopular but was exactly what needed to happen in the story.
If you're a fan of the Mercy Thompson series, you'll absolutely have to read this one. But one of the things we continually point out to Mercy fans is that you have to read the "Alpha and Omega" parallel series as well. What happened in Fair Game changes the whole world, and some of the events in Frost Burned won't make any sense until you've read it.
This stand-alone follows Jane Gresham, a Wordsworth scholar who holds a deep-seated belief that Fletcher Christian returned from the South Seas following the legendary Mutiny, and who would have told his story to his schoolhood friend, William Wordsworth. When a body is discovered in the Lake District, preserved by the peat and covered with tattoos of a South Seas design, Jane scrambles to see if her often-derided theory might prove true after all. But before she can head to her hometown, where the body was discovered, Jane must first help her neighbor, Tenille, whose home life is taking a turn for the violent. Jane, and ultimately Tenille too, end up in Felhead, Jane looking for proof that the body is in fact Fletcher Christian, and Tenille running from the police and her own gangster father.
Ms. McDermid is a proven story-teller, and she turns her masterful skill to a piece of history that has enticed romantics through the years, skillfully weaving the story of the mutiny on the Bounty into a modern day murder mystery with gangland overtones. This is a fast-paced and complex tale bringing together stories from 1789 to modern day London, and it’s a great read!
Every time I read one of Mike Lawson's books, I'm astonished at the short-sightedness of Hollywood. Joe DeMarco is perfect for the screen, big or small. Mike's latest installment, House Odds just drives my beliefs home. Congressional in-fighting, gambling, Atlantic City, the Mob, back deals and doublecrossing, it's perfect for film. Hollywood, are you listening? House Majority Leader, John Mahoney, needs DeMarco to fix a problem, as usual, but what is unusual is that the problem revolves not around politics, but around one of Mahoney's daughters, Molly. Of the three daughters, Molly's the quiet one, the engineer who keeps her head down and works diligently. So when she's accused of insider trading -- the firm she works for just let the world know that they've got a special battery for submarines that'll streamline their efficiency, and several accounts under her name appeared before the announcement, and were highly suspicious -- Mahoney wants DeMarco to clean it up. More importantly, Mahoney's wife, Mary Pat, wants DeMarco to clear Molly's name, and Joe will do anything for Mary Pat. But it's not that simple. It never is. And it's a good thing DeMarco's handling it, because very bad things are going to happen.
Bill Farley has said that Mike Lawson's writing is assured, and JB says Mike's writing is smooth and cynical, with a clear eye towards how power is really used in this country.. Both are absolutely right. But there's a depth to Mike's characters, not just Joe and Mahoney, but every character down to the smallest throw-away. They're all real people caught up in real situations, and the solutions are frequently ugly and messy. Good people get hurt, bad guys succeed, and strange alliances are formed. If you haven't read Mike Lawson's work, it's really best to start with The Inside Ring but hurry and catch up, because this is one you won't want to miss
In the thirteenth book of the “Otherworld” series, Haunted Moon, Yasmine Galenorn takes us back to Camille’s point of view. Things are beginning to really heat up in the war between the demon world and ours. The Lord of Ghosts is ransacking cemetaries, and the Aleksais Psychic Network seems to be in league with him. If that wasn’t enough, Camille has to undergo a special rite in her priestess training that takes an unexpected turn.
This series just continues to get better and better, and one of the things I liked most about Haunted Moon was that we get to know Morio better. We get some of his backstory, and we get to see how his relationship with Camille is growing. The complexities of all the sisters’ relationships, not just romantic but with everyone, both in the Otherworld and here in Seattle, are being explored and the depths Yasmine is bringing to them are fabulously intriguing and non-stop.
Joan Opyr 1st novel, Idaho Code is great fun! Cowslip, Idaho, has all the drama of a small town, and when Wilhelmina “Bil” Hardy’s brother is accused of killing a man while they’re both in jail, Bil feels obligated to find out what happened. Sure, he could have done it, and while Sam admits to many misdeeds, he vehemently denies this one. Since Bil is trying to get over breaking up with her girlfriend, she throws herself into investigating this mysterious death. And a mystery it is, since no one quite knows who the dead man is, much less why anyone would want him dead. But it’s possible that he is the father of the beautiful Sylvie, who might just very well be the answer to Bil’s broken heart. Joan has created an intriguing, vibrant and entertaining cast of characters, and has skillfully embroiled them in a complex, fast-paced and frequently quite funny story that will keep you involved until the very last page. If you liked Joshilyn Jackson’s Gods In Alabama you’ll enjoy Idaho Code.
I wasn’t going to review Jennifer Lee Carrell’s, Interred with Their Bones because there were a couple of things that I found a bit awkward.
One of the hallmarks of a really good book is how it digs itself into you and won’t let go, one of those you find yourself thinking about long after you’ve put it down. This one did that. I’ve been tossing some of the ideas that she’s presented around in my head, and she’s made me think and re-assess some ideas I’ve held.
The story is about a Shakespearean scholar who has given up research to direct Shakespeare’s plays. Kate Shelton’s been given a great opportunity to direct Hamlet in the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London, quite an opportunity for an American. However, her mentor, Roz Howard, shows up to a rehearsal, gives Kate a package and arranges to meet her later to explain. But then the theatre catches fire, ironically enough on the same date, June 29th, that the original Globe burned, and Roz is found dead. This begins a huge chase across England, the US and Spain to find a missing Shakespearean manuscript.
Let’s get the problems I perceived out of the way – and do remember, this is my perception and others may very well think I’m loony. I thought there were a few too many suspicious coincidences, I felt that she underutilized a character that should have been given greater prominence, and I found myself muddled in trying to keep all the various earls and dukes and whatnot straight, although that last one may be just my mental incapabilities.
But Ms. Carrell is a scholar, and her research and love of the subject is phenomenal, and I found myself sucked into the various debates that I’ve been aware of through the years, the idea that Shakespeare didn’t actually write the books, that there are others who might be better contenders, that there are people who are adamant that only Shakespeare himself could create such magnificent work. I also got caught up in her joy in the way people are influenced by Shakespeare even though they don’t realize it.
And I had forgotten that Shakespeare lived not only during the reign of Elizabeth, but also the time of King James and all that that implies, especially Biblically.
So I have to tell you that if you want a fast-paced read with outstanding scholarship, and if you liked Michael Gruber’s The Book of Air and Shadows then I think you should ignore my nit-picking and pick this one up!
Adele talked me into reading Jussi Adler-Olsen's first book, The Keeper of Lost Causes and so I absolutely had to read The Absent One, and it's just as much fun as the second one!
Carl Mørck is still head of Department Q, and he's not sure which cold case to take on next. But his assistant, Assad, has one already picked out, and it's one that's going to cause controversy. You see, the murder of the two siblings back in 1988 has been solved; someone confessed and is doing time. So why should Department Q take another look? Because perhaps those weren't the only two murders. And perhaps some of the assailants are now high-society members. Carl's not convinced, until his supervisor tells him to leave it alone. Nothing will get Carl Mørck's attention faster than being told to go away.
Adler-Olsen has added a new member to Department Q, a secretary named Rose who is definitely thorny, and he's set up a story that is fast- and well-paced, filled with unique and intriguing people, and has managed to make someone who's really a dreadful person be sympathetic. That's no easy feat!
And the humor comes through as well, maybe not as clearly as in the first one, but different translators do sometimes emphasize different aspects. Still, I found myself snorting in amusment at times.
This is such a great series, and I'm glad Adele talked me into it. These books should be read in order, but read they absolutely should be!
Once in a while, a book surprises and astounds me. I love when that happens.
Brunonia Barry has created something special. In her debut novel, The Lace Reader, we get to meet Towner Whitney, who tells you up front that she lies all the time. Towner, who used to be named Sophya, left Salem, MA, after the suicide of her twin, Lyndley, and after a prolonged stay in psychiatric care. However, when her brother calls her in California and tells Towner that her beloved aunt, Eva, has vanished, Towner knows that she has to return.
The Whitney women have always been able to read the future in lace, especially the Ipswich lace that they spin. (Incidentally, there are people who do read lace, and you can learn about it if you're interested.) Towner was very good at it, but she has tried to put that part of her life behind her. However, with the conflicts that arise between Towner's mother, May, her beautiful but damaged Aunt Emma, Emma's ex-husband, Cal, and the rest of the townspeople, Towner's survival may very well depend on her abilities.
Ms. Barry has woven her own lace into this story. There are twists and tangles and as you read, you can see a pattern emerging, a pattern that began before Towner and Lyndley were born, going back to the horrific old days when witches were burned and religious intolerance flourished, the days of the Trials. In an echo of the past, modern day witches confront Calvinist zealots, and Towner is caught in the middle.
The writing is elegant and smooth, the characters are heartrendingly flawed and human, and the entire story left me breathless.
Andi Marquette has found a way to circumvent the dreaded “Jessica Fletcher syndrome”: she has alternating protagonists for her series. In her first book, Land of Entrapment, we meet K. C. Fontero, a cultural anthropologist who has gone to Texas to heal her broken heart, but when her ex approaches her, appealing for help, K.C. feels obligated. She goes back to Albuquerque to help Melissa extricate her sister, Megan, from a cult. With the help of her best friend, Chris Gutierrez, she takes on a white supremacist organization.
Then, in her second book, State of Denial, Andi switches to Chris’ point of view. Chris Gutierrez is a cop with the Albuquerque police department, and she is assigned to investigate the murder of a young gay man with ties to a local megachurch.
In the most recent book, The Ties That Bind, we’re back to K. C.’s point of view. She reads about a man found dead on the Navajo reservation up by Farmington, and wonders about the cultural and legal implications of a white man found dead on the rez. But when the murdered man turns out to be her partner Sage’s father, K. C. and Sage, along with K. C.’s flighty sister and Sage’s stoic brother, must go to Farmington to discover what happened to the father that deserted Sage and River all those years ago.
Andi Marquette has created an engaging, dynamic and altogether realistic group of people who can band together to face adversity from the outside, but often have difficulties within their own lives, much like any band of friends. She captures the societal and cultural dynamics of the different folks who live in New Mexico, and she does it with compassion, humor, and keen insight.
Add to that the fact that her books are fast-paced and tightly written, and you have the makings of an up-and-coming new series!
I was on vacation a couple weeks ago (I know, JB let me run away, it was so cool!), and I wanted something…nice…to read. Something interesting and compelling but not as dark as I normally read. Enter Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, about fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange who has been assigned by Mother Zenobia, head of the Sisterhood officially known as the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster to assist at the wizard house, Kazam. However, since the director of Kazam, Mr. Zambini, is mysteriously absent, Jennifer is pretty much in charge, and she’s discovered that managing wizards whose magic is failing is rather like herding cats. Then a vision is had across the Ununited Kingdoms – the last dragon is about to die at the hands of the last dragonslayer. That means that all his land, which is quite valuable, will be up for grabs and people start converging on the last dragon’s refuge, which is disturbingly close to Kazam. And Jennifer discovers that, even though she has no magic and has her hands full with wayward wizards, training a new foundling, and dealing with the Transient Moose as well as the Quarkbeast, she is involved in the kerfuffle around the death of the last dragon.
This is the first in a new series by Fforde, and it was exactly the right thing for my vacation read. It is light and fast and charming, yes, but it has a hidden depth that I’ve come to expect with all of Fforde’s work, and his characters are just as wonderful and memorable and compelling as any I’ve read, and I can’t wait for the sequel!
I was intrigued by the subtitle of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s novel, Last Rituals which is “An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft and Modern Murder”. Knowing that she’s written five children’s novels and is a lead civil engineer, I was afraid it would be either simplistic or dry. It was neither. It was wonderful. Thora Guomundsdottir is a lawyer in a small firm with a surly receptionist who came with the building. She is hired by a wealthy German family when their son is found murdered on his college campus. Assisted by the family’s representative in Iceland, Matthew Reich, Thora investigates Harald’s rather gruesome death, although she’s a bit puzzled, since the police have arrested a friend of Harald’s in connection with the murder and the case seems solved. But as Thora learns more about Harald, who had a deep fascination with medieval witch hunts – so much so that he was heavily tattooed with runic symbols and implants – the more she believes that the wrong person is in jail.
Ms. Sigurdadottir’s novel is gripping, fleetingly gruesome and at times wickedly funny. There are twists and turns along the way, along with a good snippet of medieval religious history involving the Malleus Maleficarum and the interaction between several prominent religious leaders in the Middle Ages. Not all her characters are not perhaps as completely developed as they might be, but they’re still intriguing and captivating. If you’re at all interested in trying something new with a glimpse into Icelandic culture, this is a great read!
It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Lisa Lutz's writing. Her Spellman File documents have had me laughing out loud for years now. So when the latest document arrived, you'd think I'd've jumped right in. But there's a catch.
See, in all the other documents, the name "Spellman" was in the title. Not this one. It's called The Last Word, and the fact that it was not labelled a Spellman document in the main title (it's there, on the book, but that's not quite the same) made me wary.
In The Last Word, Izzy Spellman draws us into her world again, with humor and footnotes. After her hostile takeover of Spellman Investigations, Izzy has discovered that sometimes being the boss isn't as easy as it looks. Her employees, most notably her mom and dad, are proving to be as difficult as Izzy herself was back in her 20's. David's caught up in staying at home to raise the precocious Sydney, Rae's finishing up college, and the other Spellman employees are caught up in their own dramas. But the biggest problem for Izzy is that her primary client, Edward Slayter, is finding that his Altzheimer's is rapidly worsening. When he accuses Izzy of embezzling, things take a decided turn for the worse, for both the company and Izzy personally.
This is just a much fun as each and every one of the other documents, but Megan Abbott is completely correct when she says, "Like Raymond Chandler meets Salinger's Glass family, Lutz offers, with The Last Word, her richest, funniest, and most bittersweet Spellman tale to date." I can't wait to see what Lisa Lutz comes up with next!
Max Barry’s upcoming novel, Lexicon (If we get signed copies, we’ll let you know) will appeal to those of us who enjoy a good conspiracy theory with an off-beat concept. “Get this: in my city we spent $1.6 billion on a new ticketing system for the trains. We replaced paper tickets with smartcards and now they can tell where people get on and off. So, question: how is that worth $1.6 billion?” In an exclusive school outside Alexandria, VA, an elite group of students are being recruited to become “poets”, people who can manipulate others through the power of words. Emily Ruff is a street hustler who is recruited right off the streets, and she’s got the potential to be one of the most powerful poets they’ve ever found. Then there’s Wil, a man who’s brutally attacked in a restroom for reasons he can’t fathom. He doesn’t remember his past, but he’s being pursued by poets and he has no idea why. He has to rely on a man named Tom to save him, and Wil has no idea if they’re running to or away from danger. Wil and Emily’s trajectories are sending them headlong toward each other and the intersection could be cataclysmic. “Everyone’s making pages for themselves. Imagine a hundred million people clicking polls and typing in their favorite TV shows and products and political leanings, day after day. It’s the biggest data profile ever. And it’s voluntary.
That’s the funny part. People resist a census, but give them a profile page and they’ll spend all day telling you who they are. Which is…good…for us…obviously…” Max Barry has come up with an unusual and complex premise that I found utterly intriguing. My only complaint was that the novel bounced between events in the past and the present, and there was no warning, so there was often an abrupt shift in my perceptions that threw me out of the story momentarily.
That being said, Lexicon is a fantastic and deeply engrossing novel about the power of language, about power in general and its uses and abuses, and about the power of love. It’s fast and disturbing and beautiful. But you will have to get through the fairly graphic opening scene to get to it – fair warning! “Every story ever written is The same letters, same marks Differently arranged Sometimes the marks bring joy And sometimes sorrow And sometimes people have thrown them into fires Because they were arranged in such terrible ways.”
Like I have time to read a whole new series! And yet, I’m going to have to.
See, I finished Made To Be Broken second in the series by Kelley Armstrong and it just knocked my socks off. I loved the first one, Exit Strategy that introduced us to Nadia Stafford, ex-cop who is now owner of a hunting lodge that doesn’t do very well, and who funds her lodge by being a part-time hit woman. Person. Whatever.
In the latest installment, Sammi, a new employee of the lodge -- a young, single mother – doesn’t show up for work one day. Nadia becomes curious as the days go by and no one hears from her. Nadia begins exploring and discovers Sammi’s body, buried in a shallow grave. The biggest question, aside from the murder, is where has her baby has gone, because Sammi would never leave her child. Nadia teams up with her mentor, Jack (another hitman who has taught her a variety of skills) to find out who is killing young single mothers and what their motive might be. Nadia has to confront her own psyche as she takes on this personal challenge: When is a hit woman doing jobs because she enjoys it, or because it is necessary?
And that’s what makes this series so wonderful. The characters. They are so individual and complex and multi-layered and believable. They change and develop and grow. Nadia’s personal history has grown out of a troubled past, where the man who assaulted her cousin walked away unpunished, and further complicated by Nadia’s shooting of a man while she was a police officer.
Nadia’s relationships with Jack and Evelyn and Quinn are equally thorny and complicated, much as real-life relationships are.
But make no mistake, this is an action-packed, non-stop rollercoaster, and I found myself sneaking in a page or two when JB wasn’t looking. I’d say I’m sorry, boss, but I’m not!
So there’s my dilemma. Kelley Armstrong also writes the Women of the Other World urban fantasy series, and now I’m going to have to read all of them. Trust me, this Lady can really write!
Mercy Gunderson is back! The third in Lori Armstrong’s great series was a long time coming (why two years, Lori, why?!), but with Merciless, Mercy’s back and things are starting to look up for her. She’s learning the FBI ropes, although her mentor, ShayTurnbul, is making her a little cranky. But her relationship with Mason, the duly elected sheriff, is progressing nicely, even with the addition of his son, Lex. And then…
Naturally things go wrong, and one of the things I like about this series is that Ms. Armstrong is not afraid to let the darkness inside Mercy out. She’s a sniper – excuse me, an “insurgent removal specialist”, which is what she put on her tribal enrollment paperwork – and Ms. Armstrong is also not afraid to hurt the characters you like. Fast-paced and dark, which those of us who loved the first two in the series enjoyed, one of the things I really enjoyed about Merciless was the way Mercy grows and changes, all the while keeping hold of that place where she goes when she kills. I cannot wait to see what happens next!
As I’m sure you know by now, Reacher has made it back to Virginia. And three hours after getting out of the car that dropped him off, he’s back in service. He hadn’t planned on it, obviously, but he’s recalled to active duty and he can’t say no (remember, ya gotta read the fine print!). Nor does he want to, because something’s up, and he knows he’ll do better with his rank to back up his investigation. It turns out the lady he’d come all this way to visit, Major Susan Turner, has run into a problem herself, and you know Jack, always there to help a lady in trouble.
Although he’s got troubles of his own, come to that, namely a couple of warrants, one for his arrest and one for his immediate response.
Lee Child has made Jack Reacher iconic, and in Never Go Back, Reacher’s at his best. Fast, smart, intricate and sometimes funny, this is the Jack Reacher we fell in love with all those years ago.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“You can’t,” Reacher said. “I’m a military cop. And a man. I have no feelings.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“I was kidding.”
“No, you weren’t. Not entirely.”
She paused a long moment.
Then she said, “You’re like something feral.”
Those of us who know Reacher know that she’s not entirely right. But she’s not entirely wrong either, and that’s what makes Reacher so compelling. And in his latest encounters, he is everything we’ve ever wanted from Jack Reacher.
I’m just gonna go ahead and jump on the Craig Johnson/Longmire bandwagon. Resistance is futile, I’ve discovered. He’s just that good. I haven’t felt the compulsion to dive into an established series without side trips to visit other books since I found Carol O’Connell’s “Mallory”. Yeah, that good.
Even if you’ve seen the television series, read the books. There’s an underlying humor to Walt that is only subtly conveyed by the show. He’s smart, he’s funny, and he’s wonderful.
Yasmine Galenorn’s “Indigo Court” series hasn’t gotten the press that her “Sisters of the Otherworld” series has, which is too bad because she’s created some great characters and has tumbled their lives upside down in ways that are quite entertaining.
Night Vision finds Cecily Waters and her cousin, Rhiannon, ready to step up and become the Queens they’ve been destined to be. However, Myst is not the only adversary they face. Renegade vampires, Geoffrey and Leo, free the Blood Oracle who has Cecily firmly in his sights. And then Leo kidnaps Rhiannon.
Night Vision is fourth in a five-book series, and Yasmine is building to an incredible ending, I can tell. But one of the things I really enjoyed about this installment is that she breaks from traditional storytelling structure. Traditionally, this would be the darkest-before-the-dawn book where everything goes completely wrong and the future looks bleakest, but refreshingly, Ms. Galenorn ignores convention and does what’s true for the story. There is, in fact, great darkness and seriously bad things happen and people die, but there are also moments of great joy and hope, and I really liked that.
As always, her characters change and grow, and often they do things I wish they wouldn’t, but they are absolutely true to their natures, and that’s part of the joy of all these books: they often go in directions that are unexpected and surprising. I can’t wait to see how the Indigo Court series ends!
Once in a while you read a book that transports you to another place and time. There's a special kind of magic when that happens, and with William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace (no idea if we'll have signed copies), that magic hits hard.
It's 1961 in New Bremen, MN, and Frank Drum is thirteen years old. The Twins were new on the scene, Hot Stuff comics were the big hit and nothing quenched your thirst like an ice cold mug filled with root beer. Frank's father is the Methodist minister, his mother is rebellious enough to smoke in public, his older sister, Ariel (born with a harelip, which has been corrected) is headed for Julliard on a music scholarship, and Jake, Frank's kid brother, tags along wherever Frank goes, and rarely speaks in public because of his stutter.
One of Frank's classmates, Bobby Cole, was killed by a train on the trestle, and not long after, Frank discovers the body of a homeless man. Both are disturbing in a small, tight-knit community, but that was just the beginning, and the events of that hot, fateful summer changed everyone in New Bremen.
I am so very fond of Krueger’s main character, Cork O’Connor, that I was a bit hesitant to pick up Ordinary Grace. It’s so very different from what he’s written in the past, and I can be intensely loyal to my characters. And the punctuation Kent used here is innovative, which should just annoy the heck out of the English teacher in me.
But oh. Oh my. Ordinary Grace is stunning! The build-up of suspense is almost Hitchcockian in its subtlty and pervasiveness. There’s nothing horrific in what happens to the good folks of New Bremen, just people being themselves. But what those people do to themselves and each other, born of their own teaching, ignorance, biases, love, faith and determination, will touch you, I’m positive. And William Kent Krueger, with his amazing writing and beautifully human people, will teach you that it’s an ordinary grace that means the most.
I'm going to say up front that I haven't finished Kat Richardson's Possession. I'm on page 176 out of 354, though, so I've got a good feel for it, and I trust Kat's ability to end a book beautifully, so I'm pretty confident in what I'm going to say.
Which is, plan on buying this one and then setting aside a few quality hours and just losing yourself in Harper Blaine's world. Pesky work, I'd be doing that right now but JB insists that I actually, y'know, work! Totally unreasonable, especially when you've got a book like Possession in hand.
Harper is asked to investigate when a comatose woman suddenly starts painting. Her eyes are vacant, she's not "there", but she's sitting up and painting furiously, even though she's never painted before. But whatever's got her doesn't want Harper involved and throws a glob of paint into Harper's eye, making her vision dicey. In fact, while her eye heals, her vision there tends to see more of the Grey than normal sights, which can make walking difficult.
As if that isn't enough to have to deal with, Quinton's father is stalking Harper, Quinton's very busy doing whatever it is he does, and there's an upset in the local vampire organization. Oh, and two other people in Persistive Vegetative States seem to be possessed as well. Harper's got quite a lot to deal with!
One of the things I'm enjoying the most about Possession is that we get to see more of Harper's sense of humor. This is a straight-up investigation, and so we get to reconnect with who Harper is, since she's not battling for her life (much, so far) but is, instead, fighting for others. And it's nice to see Chaos getting involved again!
Possession is also quite a timely book. With the big-bore tunnel excavations going on along the seawall here, having things stirred up in Harper's world makes perfect sense to those of us who are experiencing similar disruptions. And Kat uses Seattle landmarks to great effect: you'll never look at Pike Place Market the same way again!
Anyone who’s read John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series has met Louis and Angel, so I was intrigued to find out that his new book, The Reapers revolved around the two, I was excited. In addition to being excellent back-up for Parker, Louis and Angel, in their own deadly way, add moments of comic relief. I wondered if Connolly was going to try his hand at humor.
And there are funny moments; it’s Louis and Angel so there have to be. But in The Reapers, Connolly introduces us to the genesis of Louis, what helped shape him into the man he is now. And those events are brutal and dark and horrifying, and Connolly handles them deftly, almost lyrically and with compassion.
Louis is one of the last of the Reapers, a group of killers gathered, mentored and utilized by the enigmatic Gabriel. Louis has walked away from it, which very few have done successfully, but his past is still following him in the form of a fellow Reaper, Bliss, who has his own plans for Louis. It’s personal. And Bliss knows that he’ll have to take on both of them, for Angel is Louis’ partner in all things, business and life.
But when someone threatens not only Louis and Angel but people they have protected over the years, they know that there’s something dangerous afoot, and soon they find themselves in danger on several sides and in need of back up themselves if they are to survive.
John Connolly is a master at creating characters you care about. They’re complicated and multi-layered, with moments of shining honor and equal moments of intense cruelty. I find myself drawn into his world, caring about the people in it, and this is no exception. I’ve always been fond of Louis and Angel, but here he introduces us to the mechanic, Willie Brew – who refers to Charlie Parker respectfully as “The Detective”, to the delightful and resourceful Mrs. Bondarchuk, the violent and brutal Deber, and a host of others who will haunt my dreams for a long time to come.
This one could be read by itself, without having read the Parker novels that came before. Of course, I firmly believe that you should read them all, but if you haven’t read any of Connolly’s work before, this is a fabulous introduction to his characters and his style of writing.
All teenagers believe they’re different, but in Claire Forrester’s case, it’s true. In Benjamin Percy’s new novel, Red Moon, there’s a group of people living among us who are definitely different, even though they’re trying to fit in. They’re lycans, werewolves living as if they’re human. For those who don’t want to try to fit in, there’s the Lupine Republic, but that’s heavily guarded, really nothing more than a containment camp, and life there is incredibly hard. But with the proper medication, lycans have been living among us, mostly peacefully. However, when a lycan explodes into deadly fury on an airplane, leaving human Patrick Gamble the only survivor, the tenuous balance is shifted, and containing lycans becomes a political juggernaut. In this atmosphere, Claire’s family is slaughtered by the government, and she alone escapes.
Red Moon is the beginning of what may be a series, is certainly headed for a trilogy (because I don’t see how he’ll wrap up everything he started here in a single follow-up book!), and Benjamin Percy has created a grim and powerful world where discrimination is expected, where political manipulation is expected, and where moments of joy and love stand out all the more for their passion and desperation. Percy has created some fabulous, dynamic people and put them in a struggle that is nothing less than epic. His bad guy has an air of evil masked in smiles that is decidedly creepy. I liked not only his main characters, but some of his secondary characters are equally vibrant. I know I want to see more of Miriam! My only whine -- and it is just that – is that it’s becoming more and more difficult for me to read present-tense novels, so it took me a while to get into it because I had to twist my head into a space that can read and enjoy that style. But that’s just my own quirk, and I’m more than willing to tackle it for the sequel!
Once again, judging a book by its cover will lead people astray. Silly art departments. Looking at British Columbia author Wendy Roberts’ debut, The Remains of the Dead, it seems like a fluffy ghost story, especially with the cheerful little banner across the bottom announcing “A Ghost Dusters Mystery”. Cute and fluffy. Our protagonist, Sadie Novak, owns Scene 2 Clean, a Seattle based cleaning service specializing in cleaning up crime scenes, and she sees and speaks with the ghosts of the dead. Sadie is matter-of-fact about what is necessary to clean up - skull fragments in candles, goo in the carpet, drywall to be replaced. And while it has taken time to adapt to seeing the ghosts, she takes a certain amount of pride in helping them transition. But when Sadie’s hired to clean a murder-suicide, she runs into more trouble than she’s ever had before. The police have closed the case, but the murder victim maintains her husband didn’t kill her, although it’s difficult for her to communicate with Sadie since the ghost, who was deaf in life continues to be deaf in death. And Sadie can’t clear it up by talking to the victim’s husband, since the only ghosts she can’t see are suicides. When Sadie is accused of stealing from the victims’ house, she becomes adamant about solving the case and clearing her name.
There are some truly humorous moments in the book, it’s true. I especially liked the fact that she named her pet rabbit “Hairy”, and one of the crime scenes Sadie and her partner, Zack, have to clean up will make you grin. But this story isn’t all sweetness and light. Aside from the bits of grue, Sadie is a likeable and believable character, with blind spots and set opinions that often hinder her progress. She hasn’t been able to get past her own brother’s suicide, and it colors everything she does, every relationship she sees. Remains of the Dead is edgy and suspenseful as well as being funny at times and having moments of tenderness and poignancy that make for a rich and satisfying read.
We're all told not to judge a book by its cover, and I hope you'll keep that in mind when you pick up Michael Gruber's latest book, The Return. The cover gives the impression that The Return is a war novel, and to a certain extent that's true, but it's so much more than that!
Rick Marder has been living a quiet life in New York. But when he receives some life-changing news, he decides the time has come to complete something he's planned on doing for quite some time now down in Mexico. So he packs up and heads down to the Michoacán town of Playa Diamante where he has purchased a retirement home. His old Vietnam army buddy, Patrick Francis Skelly, decides to tag along, which is a good thing since Marder finds himself unexpectedly embroiled in a drug cartel war, and if anyone can cover his back, it's Skelly.
One major complication is that Marder's daughter, Carmel, worried that her dad is going through some crazed mid-life crisis, abandons her MIT career and heads after him, trying to forestall any foolishness he may have gotten himself into. Thanks to her deceased Mexican mother, Carmel is bi-national, and her journey to her mother's hometown goes a long way toward helping her understand what her father is up to.
And he's up to a lot. Rick Marder has secrets he's been keeping from everyone, but he won't be able to keep them for much longer.
Michael Gruber has the uncanny ability to create ferociously human characters, and he has the ability to convey a sense of place and culture that can transport his readers into these places. I didn't think he could harness lightning again -- his book The Good Son remains one of my all-time favorites (Stephen King advised President Obama to read it), and his novel, The Book of Air and Shadows, remains a tour-de-force of literary prowess -- but the people and situations in The Return prove that Michael Gruber is the real deal. He's a master at his craft, and it shows.
Back to the cover, though. The weaponry makes perfect sense; not only is Marder caught in the dealings of two drug cartels and the various law enforcement agencies, but he and Skelly are dangerous in their own rights, due in no small part to their time in Vietnam. And the sugar skull symbolizing The Day of the Dead is completely perfect. But what the cover doesn't convey is the deep connections and importance of family that run through The Return. Even as the cartels provide their own sense of familia, the relationships forged by the people who are affected by Marder's presence in Playa Diamante echo and reinforce a stronger, broader theme: family matters.
Oh, but his people! Rick Marder is quietly unassuming, but he moves mountains as if they're nothing, and he does it in a way that is absolutely believable. Skelly is the bad guy you always want on your side, the loyal killer. Carmel is intellectually brilliant but her relationships are almost impersonal, and her journey to figure out who she really is may be one of the best developments in the book. The other people -- the journalist Pepa Espinoza, the wilful teenager Lourdes, both the heads of the cartels, even minor characters like the housekeeper and the tenant who sublets Marder's New York apartment -- are all uniquely crafted, complete human beings with flaws and passions and moments of greatness. Even Marder's deceased wife becomes a fully formed person before the book is done. I'd go so far as to say the entire Michoacán area is a character, and a well developed one at that!
Gruber captures the passion, the spirit, the strength, and the power of the Mexican people in The Return. Well, and the food. I have to admit I spent a lot of time craving authentic Mexican cuisine! But his fierce and dynamic portrayal of the inhabitants of Playa Diamante is an authentic tribute to a culture steeped in history, weaving threads of an ancient and varied past with modern conflicts. What may be the best thing about Michael Gruber's writing is that you are compelled to care. These people, these situations matter. They're important.
This is truly a book not to be missed, and is absolutely one of my top picks for this year, possibly any year!
One of the things I like best about Gary Corby’s novels about Nicolaos, investigator for Pericles in ancient Greece (aside from the humor!) is how he weaves actual history and real-life people into his stories and makes them believeable. And in Sacred Games, he takes Nico to the 460 BC Olympics.
One of Nico’s good friends, Timodemus, is the odds-on favorite to win the pankration, the deadliest of all the Olympic games. His only real competition is the Spartan, Arakos, and when Arakos is found beaten to death, Timo is the top suspect. Relations are strained between Athens and Sparta as it is; if an Athenian is convicted of murdering a Spartan, more will be at stake than a medal. War will break out, a war that could engulf all of Greece.
Can Nico clear his friend and find the real killer? But what if Timodemus really did it?
And, in what may be an even more serious situation, Nico and Diotima’s relationship has been vetoed by both their fathers. So in addition to clearing Timo’s name, Nico has to find a way to convince both fathers that he and Diotima should be allowed to marry, especially since they already are!
I learned so much about the original Olympic games, which truly were sacred. Oaths were taken by all the competitors before Zeus, and those oaths were binding beyond death. And it was great to see Nico’s kid brother, Socrates, playing an important role in the investigation!
There were twists I didn’t see coming, the pace was non-stop, and some of the new characters will be with me for a long, long time, especially dowager Queen Gorgo. Man, I liked her! All three books in the series are brilliant, and Gary Corby just keeps the quality going.
If you haven’t read this series, you should start with The Pericles Commission. Each story stands on its own, but the back stories grow with each subsequent book, and your enjoyment will be richer for reading them in order.
In Second Skin things should be looking up for Luna. Granted, she’s no longer a detective in Nocturne City, but she gets plenty of police action being on the SWAT team, who minds less that she’s a werewolf than she’s a girl. Her lover, Dmitri, has moved in with her to the annoyance of his family, so all should be right with the world.
But when David Bryson, the detective who antagonized her the most when she was stationed at the 24th Precinct, comes to her asking for her help, thereby escalating the ongoing fights she’s started having with Dmitri, Luna discovers that she misses the chase, the hunt for evil-doers, especially since this particular killer is after werewolves.
One of the things that makes Caitlin’s “Nocturne City” novels stand out is how very dark they are, the edge of violence and anger that laces through each one. No cutesy urban fantasy here, Caitlin’s books are fast-paced and strong, with a protagonist who is driven by her past to stand on her own, rejecting help from others, especially the men in her life. She’ll do things by herself or she’ll quite literally die trying.
At first, this bleak and unrelenting need to stand on her own seemed to me to be almost over the top, but in one scene in Second Skin, I realized that Luna reacts as many abused women will, needing to prove her worth not to her friends and family, but to herself. And that adds a depth and meaning to this series that makes it more than just a fun novel and takes it to the level of a great read.
I picked up Jasper Fforde’s novel, the first in a trilogy, looking for something humorous and whimsical after having read the second Steig Larsson. And Shades of Grey certainly has humor and whimsy, there’s no doubt.
But it has much, much more than that.
In a nutshell, the world has changed since the Something That Happened all those years ago that irrevocably changed the world, and now people can only see specific colors. Depending on the color you can see, and the percentage at which you can see it, your life is set out for you. Everyone is expected to follow Munsell’s Rules, and everyone is to work for the good of the Collective.
Edward Russett and his father are sent from their home city of Jade-under-Lime to East Carmine, where Eddie’s father, a swatchman (which is the Colortocracy’s version of a doctor), is to temporarily replace the recently deceased swatchman. Eddie has to go along to learn Humility, and to count the chairs. However, upon his return and after taking his color perception test, Eddie fully plans to marry Constance Oxblood, which is a step up in social standing for him, and because of his better-than-average red perception, a good match for her.
But the Rules are a bit more flexible out on the Fringes, and Eddie soon learns that his complacent understanding of how things work is to be challenged. If only he can survive being eaten by the yateveo tree.
Then too, there’s Jane Grey of the retrousse’ nose and casual violence (which is totally against the Rules!) who has captured Eddie’s imagination, which is also against the Rules.
Shades of Grey is complex and detailed and not the light romp I was expecting. Fforde has created a world with depth and dark sociological observations. I was surprised, and at first rather miffed to find that instead of something fluffy and fun, I was embroiled in a fairly serious novel exploring the importance of rules in society, and sometimes the importance of breaking them.
Shades of Grey has all the earmarks of a book that is going to stick with me long after I’ve read it, and while that wasn’t what I had anticipated when I started it, I have to say that I can’t wait to read the next two! (the next installment should be out in the next year or two according to the author!)
The heart of any story by Joshilyn Jackson revolves around her people. Their situations are sometimes outside of things we might have experienced -- although never outside the realm of awful possibility -- but these are folks we know and can relate to. This is never more evident than in her latest work, Someone Else's Love Story.
Shandi Pierce is twenty-one, the ongoing focus of the messy divorce of her Christian mother and Jewish father, and single mom to Natty, a three year old with the promise of alarming and wonderful genius. Her life changes irrevocably in a Circle K one summer day.
"I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K. It was on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had all been boiled red. We were both staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun could.
"I thought then that I had landed in my own worst dream, not a love story. Love stories start with a kiss or a meet-cute, not with someone getting shot in a gas station minimart. Well, no, two people, because that lady cop took a bullet first."
The story alternates chapters, first with Shandi's first-person, then William's third, and while that should make the story choppy and hard to read, it really works. You see, William has Asperger's Syndrome. His version leaves him with high functioning science skills while being deeply puzzled at human emotions, which he has tried diligently to learn.
"When William was little, he had a book called 'How are You Feeling?' It was full of pictures of vegetables with faces. The radish is happy. The eggplant is sad. His therapist wanted him to learn to recognize the same looks on the faces of his classmates or his parents. He'd outgrown the book, but he was still supposed to do the exercise. Right now, he should ask himself, 'What is she feeling, if Paula raises one eyebrow up and not the other?' But Paula generally said exactly what she meant with him. It was one of his favorite things about her. He was free to take the question at face value alone."
The secondary characters are equally strong and engaging. Paula, William's best friend, who helps him navigate his thought process and stay grounded, has her own bitterly dark streak. Walcott, Shandi's best friend from forever, always has her back, even breaking the news, with the help of his momses, of Shandi's virgin pregnancy to her Southern belle mother. Mimmy, Shandi's mother, and Bethany, Shandi's step-mother are finely drawn, and their relentless loathing of each other infuses the whole book.
There are definitely crimes in this book, and while there's no traditional mystery, finding out how these people navigate their lives in the aftermath of what is, sadly, a fairly routine crime, makes Someone Else's Love Story beautiful and compelling and one of Joshilyn Jackson's best works. And I love her use of language; it’s non-traditional and whimsical at times, but always adds to the humor and personality of her people. It’s no secret I’ve been a huge fan of Joshilyn’s from the beginning, and every book by her is always a treat!
There is great turmoil at Buckshaw Manor, and this time, Flavia isn’t certain that she can fix it. In Alan Bradley’s fifth “Flavia de Luce” novel, Speaking from Among the Bones, there is much consternation at the prospect of digging up the bones of the resident saint, Saint Tancred. And while Flavia is fascinated with the chemistry of decomposition – provided saints decompose! – her more immediate investigation revolves around the death of the organist.
Add to the mix the fact that Feely might be thinking about marriage, Flavia finds out more about her mother, and the possibility that Buckhaw might have to be sold, and it’s no wonder that things are topsy-turvey in Flavia’s world!
Of course, Speaking from Among the Bones is charming, and the characters are just as delightful as ever. But I’m even more impressed with Alan Bradley’s handling of a pre-teen girl in this latest installment. The changes that Flavia is experiencing are not all external, and I’m always impressed when authors allow their characters to grow. Mind you, I’m not ready for Flavia to grow up!
And oh, the twist at the end! Such a beautiful cliff-hanger!
Spoiler alert: The cover is a total red herring. Gladys is just fine.
Craig Johnson and Charles Dickens, the perfect combination, if you ask me. Craig's book, Spirit of Steamboat is a Christmas tale, interweaving snippets of A Christmas Carol into a beautiful and poignant tale of long ago and how it spins into now.
Walt's reading the Dickens classic in his office on the Tuesday before Christmas, the snow falling softly and Dog asleep by his side, when Ruby tells him there's a young lady who wants to talk to him.
"A dark-haired woman dressed in jeans and a long, elegant black wool coat stood in the doorway -- she was clutching a garment bag and smiling a nervous smile, and was small and delicately boned with pale skin and what looked like a hairline crack in the porcelain of her forehead, almost as if she'd been made of china and at one point dropped."
She refuses to give her name, but is really searching for Lucian Connally; she has something to give him. Walt takes her to see Lucian, and the story that is revealed is filled with typical Johnson heart, compassion and some seriously seat-edge action.
This is a beautiful, little book, and fans of Craig Johnson are going to want a copy of Spirit of Steamboat. It is signed on a tipped-in page, but we're positive Craig will be back in at some point -- probably next year (right, Craig?), and you can get it signed on the title page, if that's your style. But the heart of the book is one that will touch every Scrooge, and is perfect for the upcoming season of kindness and remembrance.
At first glance, the prologue in Daniel Palmer's new thriller, Stolen may not seem to have much to do with the actual story. Stolen begins with three men climbing a mountain, and events there result in a life-or-death decision made by one of them. This decision resonates throughout the rest of the book.
John Bodine and his wife, Ruby, are an up-and-coming young couple. He's got an online gaming business that's about to take off, and she's studying holistic health and acupuncture. They're right on the edge of having it all, and they are head-over-heels in love.
But then Ruby is diagnosed with a metastatic cancer, and their insurance, which is cut-rate and the only type they can afford at this point, will only cover generic drugs. Unfortunately, the generic brand of the medicine that Ruby needs is so popular that it is out of stock indefinitely, and the insurance company refuses to cover the name brand, since technically there is a generic available.
John will do anything to save Ruby, so by using his online connections, he figures out how to steal someone's identity, someone with the top-of-the-line insurance that will pay for Ruby's treatment. Neither of them is happy about what they're doing, but it's the only solution John can see.
What happens, though, when you steal the identity of a psychopath? That's where John and Ruby find themselves, once the man whose identity they've stolen contacts them, and tells them that he doesn't want to turn them in to the police. Instead, he wants to play a game. And the stakes are deadly.
Stolen is a book you'll want to read in one sitting, so be sure you've got time and plenty of your favorite libation and snacks, because once you enter John and Ruby's world, you aren't going to want to leave. This is a situation that all too many of us can relate with, and Palmer handles it well. I might have wanted him to build the tension a bit more, start the game with lower stakes and gradually build it, but even so, Stolen is a compelling read.
I’m looking forward to meeting Timothy Jay Smith on Thursday, July 25th at noon, to discuss his novel, A Vision of Angels. Four individuals from vastly different worlds will interact in this thriller about a terrorist bombing planned for Jerusalem on Easter Sunday. The lives of a Palestinian farmer, Christian grocer, Israeli war hero and US reporter are profoundly changed in the race to find the bomb and stop it.
Mr. Smith has lived in the Middle East, and his knowledge of the area gives his writing that ring of truth that only someone immersed in the culture can bring. While he and his partner now live in France, it’s obvious that his time in the region about which he writes has had a profound impact on his life.
As someone who is not intimately familiar with the region, I must admit I would have liked a map of the area, simply because I like being able to see the relationships of places and people, but I’m a visual learner that way. And keep in mind, that’s just me; probably most of you won’t even think twice about it.
Timothy Jay Smith has created some powerful characters and their day-to-day lives are, perhaps, a wake-up call to those of us who don’t live with violence as an everyday occurrence. As I say, I’m looking forward very much to meeting him.
While I'm still grumpy about the first book in Ian Hamilton's "Ava Lee" series still not being available in the US, that did not stop me from diving right into The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, which follows immediately after The Disciple of Las Vegas.
Ava Lee is on a Caribbean cruise with her unusual family, and things are tense. What seemed like a good idea has resulted in building family tension, so when Ava gets a call from Uncle, asking her to meet with Wong Changxing, known as the Emperor of Hubei, she's more than willing to ditch the cruise, provided her father agrees, which he does. It turns out that Wong has purchased some Fauvist art (and I had no idea what it was, but that's where you get the "wild beast" moniker), and has just discovered that much of it may be forgeries, to the tune of $73 million. Wong wants vengeance for this betrayal, but neither Ava nor Uncle are willing to participate.
However, Ava agrees -- provisionally -- to look into retrieving the money. She's not optimistic; the paintings were purchased over the span of a decade, and the dealer who brokered the sales has died, and all of his paperwork has been destroyed. Still, she's willing to do her best, if Wong's second wife, May Ling, can talk him out of revenge.
Once again, Ava ends up trotting the globe, searching for bits and pieces of information that might lead her to the forger or forgers, and possibly to the people behind the fraud. But she also has to face the fact that she might be hiding from her personal life by pursuing this job. Her new girlfriend, Maria, is pushing for a deeper commitment, her best friend Mimi is thinking of moving in with her boyfriend Derek, and Ava's half-brother wants to get to know her better. No wonder Ava is concentrating on tracking down art forgers!
Ian Hamilton helps those of us who are Westerners navigate the complexities of Asian culture with a deft hand and a matter-of-fact presentation that makes the strangest concepts understandable. I'm thinking of the marriage structure he presents in his books, specifically, but there are other, more subtle concepts that he manages with ease. And I'm completely hooked on Ava. Her attitudes, her weaknesses and strengths, her understated ruthlessness all keep me on the edge of my seat, and I can't wait for the next in the series (even while I still want to track down a copy of The Water Rat of Wanchai). The Wild Beasts of Wuhan is a fast, easy and intriguing book, and I was pleased to jump into Ava Lee's world again.
A couple of things.
First, it’s no secret I love post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels. I’m sure there’s a deep psychological reason for it, but I’d rather read the books than figure it out. That’s how I roll.
Second, I really do listen when people recommend books to me. I do! But there are so many and there’s just one of me, and….I know, whine whine whine. But I do listen.
So, when several people told me last year that I absolutely HAD to read Hugh Howey’s novel Wool, I really did pay attention, and it finally floated to the top of the Not-For-A-Signing reading pile, so in I jumped.
Oh wow. Just…wow. There’s a reason people have recommended this book and that it’s blurbed by Justin Cronin and Ernest Cline, Rick Riordan and Douglas Preston, Jonathan Hayes and Kathy Reichs. I understand it’s been optioned for a movie, and properly done, it’ll be a blockbuster.
The plot is twisty and complex and multi-layered, but basically, the air outside is toxic so everyone’s living in a silo, three groupings of 48 levels each, the up above, the mids, the down deep. Having children is selected by a time-specific lottery – if you don’t get pregnant in your lottery year, that’s it – and a couple may have only two children, to replace their parents. Everything is strictly regulated to prevent uprisings, which have occurred in the past.
People who commit crimes greater than the very minor stuff are sent to “clean”; they must go outside into the toxic air and clean the monitors so people who choose to come to the top of the silo and the folks in IT can keep tabs on the weather outside. This is a death sentence; the protective suits always fail.
The current sheriff, Holston, chooses to clean. He has his reasons, and he goes out. His second in command doesn’t want to be sheriff, so he and the Mayor choose someone to be the new sheriff, a lady named Juliette (who prefers to be called “Jules”) who is one of the top Mechanics in the down deep. Jules reluctantly accepts, after some shrewd bargaining, but what she learns as sheriff will change her fate and the future of the silo forever.
Wool has vaulted into my Top Ten of this year. The characters Hugh Howey has created are so dynamic, so filled with flaws and passion and hope and love and fear, the social situation so believeable in its setting, that I was quite literally up at 3:00 in the morning finishing it, and I fully imagine re-reading it at some point because I know I was blasting through to find out what happened so I missed nuances. The politics of maintaining a society already in shaky equilibrium have real-world implications, and the uses and abuses of power in the face of individual heroism are both daunting and inspiring.
So I’m sorry it took me so long to get to Wool, but man, am I ever glad I finally did!
Nowadays I tend to read grittier novels and urban fantasy, but there was a time when I read everything by Mary Higgens Clark. While reading Hank Phillippi Ryan's latest, The Wrong Girl, I was reminded of Clark's style, but with perhaps a bit more complexity, which I really enjoyed.
Jane Ryland now works for a Boston newspaper, having lost her TV reporting gig for refusing to disclose a source. Her investigative instincts are triggered when a friend of hers, Tuck Cameron, believes that the agency responsible for reuniting Tuck with her birth mother, the Brannigan Agency, may have sent her to the wrong woman. Jane wonders, if that's true, could it have happened to other families? Or is Tuck simply unwilling to believe the truth?
Detective Jake Brogan is investigating the death of a woman that looks like domestic violence, with the added horror of two toddlers having been left with the dead woman. If it hadn't been for that anonymous 911 call, who knows how long they would have been there? But Brogan notices something unsettling: in addition to the beds for the toddlers, there's an empty crib that looks like it's been used. If so, where's the baby?
In addition to following their own stories, and discovering how they overlap, Jane and Jake have their own personal issues to resolve, making both their investigations even more difficult.
The Wrong Girl is the sequel to The Other Woman, for which Ms. Ryan won the Mary Higgens Clark Award this past May. While I'm an advocate of reading series books in order, I can promise that The Wrong Girl does stand on its own, although if you read it first, you'll want to go back and read The Other Woman as well, I guarantee it!
Hank Phillippi Ryan is, in addition to being an award-winning author, an investigative reporter for 7News in Boston, and she's very good at what she does there, having won an impressive 28 Emmys and 12 Edward R. Murrow awards for her work, so when she writes about the journalistic world, you know you're getting the real deal.
The Wrong Girl is fast paced, complex, and very, very human. At the end, even though you know what has happened, whodunnit and why, Ryan doesn't tie everything up with a neat little bow. You're left with the knowledge that there are lives out there ready to be shattered, and not everyone is going to have a happy ending. Honestly, I very much liked the reality of it, getting the satisfaction of closure with the story without the cloying sweetness of everybody living happily ever after. This is a great book for people who like excellent writing and deeply human characters.