Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL BY JOHN LE CARRE

The Little Drummer GirlThe Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”What would it be like really and absolutely to believe? (...) To know, really and absolutely know, that there's a Divine Being not set in time or space who reads your thoughts better than you ever did, and probably before you even have them? To believe that God sends you to war, God bends the path of bullets, decides which of his children will die, or have their legs blown off, or make a few hundred million on Wall Street, depending on today's Grand Design?”

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Joseph proved to be more than just a fan with flowers.

Charlie is an English actress who has been reasonably successful on the stage and is one good role away from becoming an established actress when she meets a man on a beach in Greece. He isn’t like any other man she has ever met before. He has scars, unusual scars, scars that denote the violence that has been done to him, and because he was still alive she could assume that he had perpetrated violence, effectively, against his enemies .

’That Joseph was Jewish she had not doubted since her abortive interrogation of him on the beach. But Israel was a confused abstraction to her, engaging both her protectiveness and her hostility. She had never supposed for one second that it would ever get up and come to face her in the flesh.”

Charlie’s head is full of half formed radical left wing ideas about politics and social issues. She is promiscuous, always needing a man in her bed, and pretty enough to never have to look far for candidates. She thinks she understands what men want, but Joseph is an enigma who runs hot and cold. He keeps her emotions rising and falling like a stock market beset by outside forces beyond her understanding.

He wants more than sex from her. He wants her life.

Joseph is an Israeli spy and his job is to reel Charlie in for his boss Martin Kurtz. Martin is known by many names. He keeps several identities carefully separated in different files in his mind. He is a sword for the cause of Israel. He will use anyone or anything to protect his country. He has hand selected Charlie for a very specific task.

”You are definitely bastards. Wouldn’t you say so?” She was still looking at her skirt, really interested in the way it filled and turned. “And you are the biggest bastard of them all actually aren’t you? Because you are the biggest bastard of them all actually, aren’t you? Because you get it both ways. One minute our bleeding heart, the next our red-toothed warrior. Whereas all you really are--when it comes down to it--is a bloodthirsty, landgrabbing little Jew.”

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Notorious with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant.

The relationship between Joseph and Charlie reminded me strongly of the Alfred Hitchcock movie from 1946…Notorious...which is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) plays a government agent who is tasked with recruiting Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) to infiltrate a Nazi organization. Alicia falls in love with Devlin and he with her, but the job takes precedence over any personal feelings he might have for her. He has difficulties fully trusting her very evident feelings for him because of her promiscuous past and he certainly doesn’t trust his own feelings for her either. There are some poignant scenes with rich, weighted dialogue where if either one would be completely honest with the other the personal would override the professional charade of their relationship. Alicia wants to be saved, but she also wants to please Devlin by doing what he wants. Joseph and Charlie find themselves in a very similar circumstances. Joseph would betray his country by saving her and Charlie would disappoint Joseph by refusing to go forward.

They interrogate Charlie, breaking down her past, her beliefs, and her personality to better weave her own life with the fabricated life they want her to assume. John Le Carre’s writing is simply brilliant in these scenes. It is painful to see Charlie having to face the reality of her own life and then having it wrenched and transfigured into a new reality that will best allow her to use her acting skills to convince an elusive Palestinian Bomber that she was once in love with his brother.

”She was holding back her tears with a courage they must surely admire. How could she take it? they must be wondering--either then or now? The silence was like a pause between screams.

Through it all she was praying that Joseph would stop them. She hoped he would be her savior, her protector, and shelter her from the violent world they were asking her to be a part of.

Like T. R. Devlin in Notorious Joseph remains silent.

”Joseph emerged…. He came to the foot of the steps and looked up at her, and at first it was like staring into her own face, because she could see exactly the same things in him that she hated in herself. So a sort of exchange of character occurred, where she assumed his role of killer and pimp, and he, presumably, hers of decoy, whore, and traitor.”

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The Master Spy Novelist, John Le Carre.

John Le Carre transcends the genre with this book. This is not just a spy book. Readers who struggle with this book are expecting a page turning thriller along the lines of a Robert Ludlum book, but this is so much more. This is literary espionage that challenges the reader with intricate details including the thoughts of the interrogator and the thoughts of the one being interrogated moment by soul wrenching moment. The book also explores the deeper human elements of what it really means to die for an idea, for a cause. As the plot advances Charlie also experiences the changing alliances that can happen as one becomes intimate with people you once perceived as enemies. Walking in the shoes of those you don’t understand blurs the lines of who is right and who is wrong and the black and white world in your head becomes a paler shade of both.

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There is a 1984 movie starring Diane Keaton where Charlie is changed from an American actress instead of an English one. I have not seen the movie, but intend to very soon.

This is not an entertainment, but a marvelous piece of literary writing along the lines of Fyodor Dostoevsky or the very best of Graham Greene. I’ve read a lot of spy novels, and intend to read many more, but I must say without any reservation this is the best espionage/spy novel I’ve ever read and among one of the best books I’ve read from any genre.



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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Americans Abroad

The Greater Journey by David McCullough
2011
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book made me wish I could travel back in time to Paris in the 1830s. The collection of artists and writers there was remarkable.

In "The Greater Journey," David McCullough tells stories of a varied group of Americans who went to Paris in the 19th century, and then returned home with new ideas, new art, new writings and even new inventions. The group included James Fenimore Cooper, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mary Cassatt, among others. One of my favorite chapters was about Samuel Morse, who studied to be a painter, but also ended up inventing the telegraph and Morse Code. 

I also liked the story of Charles Sumner, who studied at the Sorbonne. When Sumner saw black students in the class with the same desire for knowledge as white students, it profoundly changed how he thought of African-Americans. After he returned home to the States, he became a powerful spokesman for abolition.

"It would be a while before Sumner's revelation -- that attitudes about race in America were taught, not part of 'the nature of things' -- would take effect in his career, but when it did, the consequences would be profound. Indeed, of all that Americans were to 'bring home' from their time in Paris in the form of newly acquired professional skills, new ideas, and new ways of seeing things, this insight was to be as important as any."

This is the third McCullough book I've read, the others being "Truman" and "1776," and I really like his writing style. He is a gifted storyteller and weaves in interesting details from history. I listened to this on audio (read by Edward Hermann), but I was glad I had a print copy to review because it includes some great photographs and pictures, especially of the artwork that was created in Paris. 

There were so many fascinating people and great stories in this book, and I would highly recommend it to fans of history.

The Cry of the Owl

The Cry of the OwlThe Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a girl living in an isolated house spurns her fiancee for the peeping Tom that's been spying on her, things quickly circle the drain, lives destroyed in a maelstrom of hatred, jealousy, lies, and death...

I read The Talented Mr. Ripley in the fairly recent past and have been on the lookout for more of Patricia Highsmith and her twisted protagonists ever since. This one was only $1.99 on the kindle.

Robert Forrester is a soon-to-be divorced man working at an engineering firm in a small town when he chances upon Jenny alone in her home. Jenny soon gives her fiancee and decides she's in love with Robert. Robert decides he's not in love with her but not until after her ex-fiancee decides to ruin Robert's life with the help of Robert's crazy ass ex-wife Nickie. This is some twisted shit.

I have to think that Gillian Flynn is a big Patricia Highsmith fan since this thing has Gone Girl written all over it. I guess it's like what might have happened if Amy and Nick had gotten divorced but still remained a cancerous part of one anothers' lives.

I don't want to give away any more than I already have. Suffice to say, people lie, people cry, and people die.

I would have rated this much higher but Robert seems to be taking stupid pills throughout the book, every time his ex-wife appears, in fact. The ending is the worst offender.

However, the book is still a crazy read. There's not a person without a few screws loose among the main cast. Highsmith's writing is like a mannerly Jim Thompson. You get the feeling she knew first hand about the crazy shit she was writing about, much like old Jim.

3.5 out of five stars. It was a good read but not as good as Ripley.

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Monday, December 29, 2014






















Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

In any long-running series, even one as good as this one surely is, inevitably some books have to be better and some weaker than others, and although I certainly enjoyed reading Invisible Prey, it's not among the best books in John Sandford's Prey series.

In every one of the books, at least thus far, the lead character, Lucas Davenport, and his supporting cast have always been consistently excellent--witty, intelligent, and always a lot of fun to hang out with, even if only vicariously. Given that, these books always tend to rise or fall depending on the quality of the villains involved, and through the years, Sandford has created some truly unique, creepy and compelling bad guys. Unhappily, that's not the case here. The crimes at the heart of the book are fairly pedestrian and the villains are sort of ho-hum, not nearly as capable of engaging the reader or of scaring the living bejeesus out of him or her as is often the case with a Sandford antagonist.

As the book opens, an elderly and very wealthy woman in St. Paul is murdered in her home, along with her maid. The house is chock full of paintings, antiques and other such things, some of which are very valuable and some of which are not. The problem is that there's so much of the stuff that no one knows for sure whether anything valuable is missing. It's possible that some junkie broke in and killed the women, simply looking to score enough loot to finance his next fix, especially since there's a half-way house, filled with offenders, right across the street. Or, of course, there could be something more involved.

As the chief investigator of the Minnesota BCA, Lucas Davenport would not normally be involved in an investigation of this type, but the wealthy victim was politically connected and so the governor puts Lucas on the job. At the same time, Lucas, along with that f***ing Virgil Flowers is involved in the investigation of a state official who may have been having hot, kinky sex with an underage girl. This is a very sensitive investigation politically, and it's a lot more interesting than the murder case.

The plot of the book is somewhat convoluted and involves antiques, quilts, frauds perpetrated against museums, and other such things. The villains are revealed early on and part of the story is told from their point of view. But they aren't all that interesting and they're not all that much fun to watch. The book flags a bit whenever the scene switches away from Davenport to them. Certainly these people don't hold a candle to Clara Rinker or to most of the other Sandford villains.

Again, that's certainly not to say that this is a bad book; it isn't. And even a mediocre book by John Sandford is a lot more fun to read than a lot of other books that one might pick up. I enjoyed the book, but it certainly won't rank among my favorites in the series.

Glorious Viking Gore

The Burning Land (The Saxon Stories, #5)The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If reading this series doesn't make you wanna scream like this... http://ledzeppelin.alexreisner.com/so... ...then I just don't know what will!

The Burning Land continues Bernard Cornwell's bloodthirsty, battle-heavy and viciously violent viking saga.

England is still broken up into pieces. The Danes are threatening to overrun the land. Saxon King Alfred (later known as Alfred the Great) was holding on to Wessex and holding out hope of one day uniting the entire country under his banner. But needs the help of fighting men like our anti-hero hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Though he's a pagan and acts like a Dane, Uhtred is actually a Saxon, who was raised by those viking Danes. He reluctantly works for Alfred, even if the piously Christian king and all his self-righteous priests get up Uhtred's nose. He's a fierce, skilled fighter who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and his nose bloodied. It's what he's good at. However, he doesn't like to be anyone's lapdog, so any chance he gets, he heads north to threaten the impregnable fortress at Bebbanburg, his rightful seat of power, currently held by his usurping uncle.

Cornwell is a dab hand at crafting this particular character. You'll find him in the long-running Sharpe series as the titular main character. Cornwell is also quite adept at writing very exciting and highly realistic historical fiction. You're in capable hands on both counts. I especially like that he includes afterwards of real history information at the end of these books to let you know the true story behind the fiction. In this one he admits to falsifying the character of a historical figure to fit his novel and goes on to give a recommendation for further and more correct reading on said figure. That's a conscientious writer for you!

The Burning Lands is a particularly tight volume in this series. Each scene is meaningful and the action feels fast. Any lapse in the forward progress is a joy to read as Cornwell does his best to paint vivid settings and to portray all, from Saxon to Dane, man to woman and peasant to King.

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A Hunger For Lawrence

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WARNING: Jennifer Lawrence is NOT in this book!

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....Yah, I know, right?! What a rip-off! That delightfully precocious pixie of a full-grown girl who may not be the beauty of the world, but whose offbeat charm has vaulted her into the goddess stratosphere is missing and that's a crying shame.

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"Pretty" is always nice, but give me the goofy girl every time!


Okay, let's move on from that barely-serious diatribe...


All the hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games had me expecting a reading experience so enthralling that it would whip my nipples off. Well, I've still got me nips. So, was this exciting at all? Yes. As exciting as the build up made it out to be? No, of course not. Is it ever? By now I should know better than to get too excited about reading a book said to be OMG!!!-good.

However, relative to other books, The Hunger Games had maybe a few more moments that kept me chained to it and reading on when I might have stopped, but in no way did I get irretrievably wrapped up in it. And that's probably because the story of a young girl fighting for her life and falling in love wasn't written with me in mind. Its appeal is not intended for a middle-aged grump.

This is a YA novel. I had to keep reminding myself of that and excuse its immature voice and some of the writing...although describing inanimate objects as being "heartless" gave me a chuckle, while the somewhat common use of adverb shortcuts couldn't help but annoy. I can see why The Hunger Games has become popular with teens. It's a coming of age tale in which the revelation that the real world and the people in it are not always black and white, good and evil, dawns upon the main character as it eventually does for teens.

Word of warning. I listened to the audiobook version of this as narrated by veteran television actress Carolyn McCormick. You may have seen her on Law and Order or One Life To Live. If you ever come across a book narrated by her, avoid it like the muthafncking plague! McCormick laid on the melodrama thick, stressing the last word in what seemed like every sentence. Go back to the start of this paragraph and lay on a heavy dose of languishing drama and epic intensity to the last word in each sentence and you can see how hit or miss the technique (if you can call that technique) works and how utterly annoying it is. It made me shout "Your speech pattern sucks!" for the first time in my life. Not to beat down on the woman, but she also has a baby-talk lisp that comes out when she pronounces "s", "th" and "oo" sounds. Listening to her pronounce "juice" is pretty funny. Listening to her for nine hours is not.

NOTE: I made sure to separate my negative feelings over the audiobook narration from my feelings on the book itself and my 3-star rating reflects that.


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Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke


The Neon Rain
James Lee Burke
1987
First in the Dave Robicheaux series

Reviewed by Carol
★  ★  ★  ★




One of the movies on endless repeat with my best high school friend and I was The Big Easy with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. That and a couple trips to New Orleans are the sum of my Louisiana experience, and yet, when I read Neon Rain I feel as if I’m there, ghosting alongside Dave Robicheaux as he investigates. Burke’s writing is extremely evocative, in the very best way for the detective-centered mystery. A strong since of place, of the cultural gumbo of New Orleans and the surrounding rural area clinging to its heritage by fingertips.


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It also has an equally strong sense of a narrator in turmoil. It’s a powerful book that begins with a New Orleans Police Department detective, Dave Robicheaux, visiting an former informant on death row, only to learn about a death threat against himself. Coincidentally, he recently discovered the body of a young black woman while he was fishing in the swamp. Something about the needle-tracks down her arm and her death doesn’t feel right to his instincts, and he starts hounding the rural sheriff’s department to follow through with investigating the death.

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Characterization in this book is riveting. Robicheaux is the cop with his own code who slowly learns no one else shares, that he’s holding to values from another time. It’s interesting to watch his gradual realization; he believes he’s so cynical, so dialed in in the beginning, and he’s a bit right. Early on, when he meets with the parish sheriff to request an autopsy for the drowned girl, he ends up in a contest of wills that nearly becomes disastrous. Back in New Orleans, he harasses a porno theater owner, looking for the word on who wants to kill him. Both times, he’s so sure of his stance and the way to manipulate the situation for results–but then is surprised when it comes back at him. Slowly, it dawns that everyone is working their own angle. He suspects that, he halfway knows it, but he can’t quite conceive the absolute depth of the dishonesty.

Robicheaux also struggles with memories from the Vietnam war, and many of his coping strategies seem to stem from wartime experience. Its interesting being reminded of the psychological impact of a war that hasn’t been on our cultural consciousness for twenty-five years, overshadowed by more recent ones in sand and desert. My dad was in Vietnam, and I remember that period in the 1980s when I kept bugging him to talk about his experiences, first because of Platoon and then later Born on the Fourth of July. That’s the kind of book Burke has written, far-ranging and capable of recapturing a lost cultural time, and conjuring up memories of one’s own.

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The lush descriptions of the setting are beautiful, and Burke does more with light and smells than any other mystery writer I can think of, immersing the reader in the scene. Yet when the action comes, it’s powerful and direct, even if it takes place in flashbacks. His first sentence guaranteed I would keep reading: “The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary.”

The ultimate connections between the unknown woman’s drowning, [spoiler follows break]

Friday, December 26, 2014

Punkzilla

Adam Rapp
Candlewick Press
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Summary


For a runaway boy who goes by the name "Punkzilla," kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all — from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla’s journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.


My Review



I really enjoyed this story about 14-year-old Jamie’s journey from Oregon to Tennessee to see his dying older brother. Jamie’s story is told in letters – long, honest and revealing letters, mostly to and from his brother Peter. Jamie keeps his letters in a notebook that never leaves his sight, many of which are not mailed. These letters tell of his brief experience in a military academy, his demanding father and unhappy mother, his strait-laced brother, Edward, his petty thievery, drug use, ADD, and the sad, violent, desperate and lonely characters he meets on the way. Peter’s letters tell of his career as a playwright, his artist lover, Jorge, and the disease that is ravaging his body.

This story was kind of sad, darkly humorous, and raw. I wanted to strangle Jamie at times. It drove me nuts that he referred to every woman as a “skeezer”, but I couldn’t help caring about this very troubled young man who was often mistaken for a girl and digs the Dropkick Murphys and wanting him to get to his brother in time.


“P it’s not like I WANT to look like I do. I wish I could grow some whiskers or have a scar over my eye. I’ve even thought about cutting myself I really have just like an inch-long slit over my right eye or across my cheek because that might help me look more manly or less soft or whatever.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Midwestern History

Flyover Lives by Diane Johnson
2014
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 3.5 stars rounded up to 4


This was a charming memoir, even though it rambled in parts. But even the rambling parts were rather interesting.

Diane Johnson grew up in Moline, Illinois, which is part of the Midwest, which has been derisively called "flyover country" by those who live in big cities on the coasts. I was keen to read this book because I grew up in Iowa, which is next door to Illinois, and indeed, many of Diane's stories were similar to my experiences there, even though there is a 40-year difference in our ages. Much of the Midwest is not very changeable, you see.

"I had always wondered how the first settlers in Illinois, in the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, survived the ruthless climate and isolation, how they managed to clear the tough woodlands to make their farms, how they taught their kids something about Shakespeare and Mozart, and eventually pitched in for a war like the Civil War though they'd barely seen a black person or encountered a slave. No one writes much about the center part of our country, sometimes called the Flyover, or about the modest pioneers who cleared and peopled this region. Yet their midwestern stories tell us a lot about American history. Migration patterns, wars, the larger movements, are after all made up of individual human beings experiencing and sometimes recording their lives."

Diane was one of those restless kids who dreamed of traveling and moving away from her small town, and eventually she did. At the beginning of the book she is living in France, and while at a house party, a French friend tells her that "Americans are naive and indifferent to history."

This quote bothers Diane to the point where she spends months researching her ancestors, going through family heirlooms and diaries, and ends up writing a book about them. (So take that, you obnoxious woman!)

"I became especially interested in some testimonies by long-departed great-grandmothers, simple stories but all the rarer because the lives of prairie women have usually been lost. Perhaps prairie women at the end of the eighteenth century didn't have the leisure to pick up their pens, or maybe they didn't think their lives were of interest."

Most of the history Diane dug up involves her great-great-great grandmother Catharine Martin (born in 1800), who took time to write a hundred pages about her life when she was in her 70s.

The prose in Diane's memoir is lovely, and I flagged numerous passages while I was reading. My only complaint was that some of the chapters jumped around in time and perspective, which was a bit jarring. Some pieces felt like they should have been magazine articles or essays, but got shoved in this book wily-nily. For example, there is an interesting section about Diane's experiences with writing screenplays and working with movie directors, including Stanley Kubrick, Merchant Ivory and Mike Nichols, but the placement seemed random. And some of the chapters were so short that they felt like afterthoughts.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read, and I appreciated the historical details about Midwestern life in the 1800s, and also Diane's stories about growing up in the 1940s. Before this memoir, I had only read one of Diane's novels (Le Divorce), but I liked this so much that I think I'll look up her other books. 

Favorite Quote:
"As a little girl in Moline, I didn't expect to be a writer, because I didn't know a writer was something you could be; I had no sense that books were still being written."

The Getaway Car

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction MiscellanyThe Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany by Donald E. Westlake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Getaway Car is a collection of Donald Westlake's nonfiction work.

I arrived really late to the Westlake party. In fact, when he died, I think I'd only read a handful of his books. Since then, however, I've probably read 25-30 more and thus I was interested in this collection.

The Getaway Car offers up letters, introductions, and essays Donald Westlake wrote during his lifetime. He covers a wide range of topics, like how he wasn't able to support himself writing science fiction in a scathing letter to Xero, a sf fanzine, to his trials and tribulations involving Hollywood. Along the way, he covers such diverse subjects as Lawrence Block, Rex Stout, Peter Rabe, and his wife's tuna casserole recipe.

I liked this book as it shows Westlake was a clever guy no matter what he was writing. There wasn't a lot of meat to it, however. It was kind of thin and some of the selections seemed included to pad the page count.

That being said, I did enjoy a lot of it. It makes me want to read more Peter Rabe, for instance. It also drives home the point of how unknown and unappreciated Westlake was by the general public. With 90 novels under his belt, he was the James Patterson of his era, with the added bonus of actually being a good writer.

Three out of five stars. Maybe 2015 will be the year of the great Parker re-read.

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In the Woods

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)In the Woods by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a twelve year old girl is found murdered at an archaeological dig, Detective Ryan and Maddox are on the case. But what does this case have to do with a similar case twenty years earlier, a case that saw an adolescent Ryan as the only survivor?

As a veteran of detective fiction, riddles, and brain teasers, I'm a big fan of mysteries that keep me guessing. In the Woods was one of those sorts of mysteries.

In the Woods is the story of two detectives looking for answers, both on the case they're working and inside themselves. Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are partners and best friends on the Dublin Murder Squad, detectives who catch all the murders that come down the pipe. When Katy Devlin is found murdered and sexually assaulted, they find themselves in the soup pretty quickly. Complicating things is the fact that Rob Ryan used to be Adam Ryan, a lad whose friends disappeared one afternoon, their bodies never found.

In the Woods is very well written and it could be read as simply a police procedural, and it would have been a very good one. The thing that sets it apart from most run of the mill books of this type are the main characters. Rob and Cassie are very well written, real to the point that I wanted to shout at them a few times. Even though it took place in Dublin, it kind of reminded me of The Wire in that there was no happily ever after ending and no action. It was all gritty police work and even grittier interpersonal stuff.

The mystery itself was solveable. Hell, the clues were even pointed out but I was too busy getting misdirected by French's skills. When the truth behind Katy's death was revealed, it was even more chilling than I'd imagined.

French really saw me coming when the Ryan-Maddox relationship took a turn. I wanted them to get together and have detective babies, not have their world come crashing down! Why do you have to be so mean, French? Why?

Great, great book. I wouldn't say it was the best book I read in 2014 but it's definitely in the top ten. Tana French can lead me In The Woods any day. 4.5 out of 5.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Patrick Hoffman Delivers a Huge Load of Trouble in The White Van























Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars


This is a very dark debut novel featuring druggies, loan sharks, Russian gangsters, bank robbers and crooked cops, all fighting desperately for turf on the very mean streets of contemporary San Francisco.

Emily Rosario is a lost soul who relies on booze and drugs to make it from one day to the next. One evening, she meets a Russian man in a seedy bar called the Kum Bak Club. After a few drinks, she accompanies him to a hotel for more booze and drugs, but once there, the Russian and his accomplices keep her drugged to the point of incoherence, paying her two hundred dollars a day for her help in what they insist will be an identity theft scheme.

Emily is so totally blitzed that she goes along for the ride, thinking of what she might do with her promised end of the money. Then one day she's loaded into a white van and sent into a bank, only to discover that she's been conned into what is really a bank robbery.

At that point, as it usually does in a noir novel like this, the excrement hits the proverbial fan and Emily finds herself on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the Russians and the cops all of whom are searching for her desperately. In particular, a troubled cop who's deeply in debt named Leo Elias, sees a chance to grab the money from the bank for himself and solve all of his financial problems.

What results is a wild ride where anything can happen to anyone and everyone. Patrick Hoffman has created a number of interesting characters and placed them into motion against a very well-rendered depiction of San Francisco. There are any number of twists and turns that the reader will not see coming and in the end, it's a very satisfying book that fits brilliantly into the noir tradition.

Hatin' On Harry? Nah

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why won't I let myself give this more than 3 stars?! I want to, I really do, but my cursor-moving finger won't budge! Let's investigate the whys!

Length - This is the longest book in the series. I love the Harry Potter series, so I should want more of it, right? I don't know, sometimes a lot is too much. Rowling did her best to pack a lot into this one and it feels too bulgy. If this was carry-on luggage, TSA would make her check it for going over the size limit.

Dolores Umbridge - What a great evil character she is, isn't she? Quite the bitch. And the kicker is she's supposed to be on the good side! I like a well-crafted, dual-natured character as much as the next reader, but I do not like when characters are made to be so blind to what's going on that it's beyond belief. Umbridge's absolute unwillingness to believe in the return of Voldemort is trying to say the least. She's Hitler-esque at times. That's fine, a little over the top, but fine. But she cares sooo very much for the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts, or at least in her position there, that one would expect her to do her due diligence in investigating any threat to her own power and interests.

Sirius Black - Now, this one's on me. I LOVE Sirius Black and I really wanted to see the development of a strong bond between he and Harry. Since book three I'd been waiting for some Black/Potter tag team action. I wanted to see them hanging out, doing Uncle/Nephew kind of things. That's not quite how it played out. Oh well... It's nobody's fault but mine that I let this missing aspect get me down. Still, a book review is subjective and so I must admit a personal bias that affected my overall enjoyment.

Harry's Yellow Fever - That's so racist! Okay, now that I've got that out of the way... I was disappointed when Harry's love affair with Cho Chang went south. I liked the relationship. It was complicated. It was difficult for him. It could have made for a fine romance. But no, Rowling had other ideas - very British ideas, like "keeping it in the family". Frankly, Harry's eventual attachment to Ginny Weasley felt too close. I mean, Harry and her feel almost like brother and sister. Plus she's a ginger. Eeeewww.

I could give Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix four or even five stars and there are reasons I might drop it as low as two. So, let's give it a very strong three and be done with it!

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Audiobook Virgin No More

So Far...So Far... by Kelsey Grammer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audiobooks have been a fantastic way for me to pass the time when stuck doing housework, yardwork and any other sort of long, dreary thing involving the word "work." They make it possible to muscle through a dry read and, because I'm able to get through so many more books than I otherwise would, audiobooks occasionally get me reading something outside of my comfort zone and I think that's a good thing.

The first audiobook I ever listened to was Kelsey Grammer's confessional So Far.... It was mom's and this was back in the mid '90s. It would be about 15 years before I picked up another audiobook, but that's on me, not this book's fault. Grammer's fans from his "Cheers" and "Fraiser" days who clamor for behind-the-scenes, personal details will find plenty. The man had drug problems. It wasn't pretty. But now you can read all about it!

In this, the Age of Rehab, So Far offers nothing new that hasn't been written a thousand times since. I gave it a good rating mainly because anyone willing to bare their faults to the world in such a revealing manner deserves a pat on the back, even if only out of pity.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Foxglove Summer. Read even if its winter.

Foxglove Summer
Ben Aaronovitch
2014 Gollancz

Reviewed by Carol
Recommended for fans of supernatural mysteries
 ★    ★    ★    ★    1/2
 



I haven’t yet been able to review a Peter Grant book immediately after finishing. I suppose I’m basking in book afterglow. Once again, Aaronovitch writes an engrossing, unpredictable urban fantasy, perhaps his best yet. A good story, a generous sprinkling of dark police humor, decent police procedural all combine for a read that fully occupied my Sunday afternoon. 
 
Chuckles as I started:

Sarcasm about family:
“I sighed–policing would be so much easier if people didn’t have concerned relatives. The murder rate would be much lower, for one thing.”

About procedure:
‘I’m fairly certain you’re violating our human rights here,’ she said.
‘No,’ I said with the absolute certainty of a man who’d taken a moment to look up the relevant legislation before leaving home.”


About official-speak:
“I made a mental note to wheedle the list of old codgers out of Nightengale and get it properly sorted into a database. Hugh’s ‘grapevine’ might be a useful source of information. If I’d been about four ranks higher up the heirarchy I’d have regarded it as an opportunity to realise additional intelligence assets through enhanced stakeholder engagement. But I’m just a constable so I didn’t.”

Okay, maybe that’s not that funny. I thought so, but then I’m the sort to read the corporate bulletins, marveling at the abuse of language and meaning.

What I really love about Aaronovich–srsly, now–is that he brings a much looked for but seldom found level of social commentary to his urban fantasy. Grant has dark skin, and is painfully obvious out in the posh suburbs. At one point, there’s a nice little aside when he notes the casual joking racism from an officer he’s just met. He considers his normal snide comment, half laughing, half calling it out but then decides to let it go with the assumption that the officer wouldn’t even recognize the rebuke. I’m always impressed the way Aaronovich weaves multiculturalism into his tales, in the most ideal of ways: acknowledging a different cultural experience, but not fetishizing it or diminutizing the truth of the experience. Grant understands the because he is a dark-skinned copper he will end up being ‘poster boy’ for the investigation. There’s a world of cynicism, weariness and acceptance in the role he plays for the suburban police. 

Grant has his own prejudices about the country, partly because he feels so out of his element, only going into the country when required on school trips.
The air was still fresh but the sun was already sucking up the moisture from the fields and you didn’t need to be chewing on a straw to know it was going to be another hot day.”

There’s also writing that is nicely balanced between description and action, occasionally even making a foray into lyricism:
The pack [of reporters] has swept back into the village less than ten minutes after they’d left, and come boiling up the cul-de-sac like the return of a tide, licking at my heels as I ran up the path and only stopping at the hedge line because it was held by a special constable called Sally Donnahyde who was a primary school teacher in her other job and so wasn’t going to take any lip from a bunch of journalists. The kitchen was at the back of the house, but I could still here them as a restless murmur, like surf on a pebble beach.”

Oh yes, I liked the mystery, one of the most coherent storylines yet. The supernatural take is interesting, even if it comes to a somewhat familiar ending, but I appreciate the modern twist. It did trouble me somewhat that this might be a plot point that comes back to bite Peter in the butt, which led to unpleasant echoes of Dresden. But again, that’s what fairy tales and mythology is about, putting the storyteller’s spin on a cultural archetype. 

Characterization is decent, with the majority of time spent on Peter. I don’t mind; he’s an interesting, thoughtful lead. I came to like his country partner. This time, Beverly Brook’s role seemed appropriate and a little more fleshed out, if still slightly incoherent (must she always speak in riddles? must we have weird watery dalliances?) 

In a rare moment for me, I would have liked a little more punctuation; at times it takes a minute to figure out the inflection (see above quote). But that’s a stylistic quibble.

The ending, perhaps, was almost the least satisfying part of the story. Oh, don’t worry; everything wraps up nicely with no nasty cliffhangers, except that giant multi-book arc that’s going on. No, it is that the ending seemed a little too cinematic, and meant to appeal to the current UF reader, instead of being more character consistent. But that’s me, and I’d be happy to discuss below with spoiler tags.
Still, Peter Grant remains one of the most consistently satisfying UF series out there, and I remain committed to reading whatever Aaronovitch releases.

Four and a half country stars

 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Black Girl in Paris


Shay Youngblood
Riverhead Trade
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars



Overview



Shay Youngblood's debut novel, Soul Kiss, received accolades from reviewers and writers alike. The Washington Post hailed it as "intelligent and erotic ... immensely engrossing and satisfying," while The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it "exquisite." Tina McElroy Ansa described it as "extraordinary ... lyrical, intimate, funny, unsettling, enthralling." Now, in her second novel, Youngblood explores the endeavor of a creative coming-of-age, and infuses her story with the same mesmerizing, lush language and impressionistic style that won her so many fans the first time around.

Black Girl in Paris wends its way around the mythology of Paris as a city that has called out to African-American artists. Like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Josephine Baker before her, Youngblood's heroine leaves her home, in the American South, nurturing a dream of finding artistic emancipation in the City of Light. She experiments freely, inhabiting different incarnations--artist's model, poet's helper, au pair, teacher, thief, and lover--to keep body and soul together, to stay afloat, heal the wounds of her broken heart, discover her sexual self, and, finally, to wrestle her dreams of becoming a writer into reality.

Youngblood's lyricism, as effortless as an inspired improvisation, and her respect for the tradition she depicts create a natural tension between old and new, reverence and innovation, and tell a story at once timeless and immediate.




My Review


I love Paris, its grandeur, its palaces, museums, monuments, breathtaking views, restaurants, cafes, its rich culture and history. It is a dynamic, international and happening place.

It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been there last, so I was really looking forward to taking a literary trip to Paris.

Eden, a 26-year-old Black woman from Alabama and an aspiring writer, journeys to Paris with just $200 in her pocket to follow in the footsteps of her literary heroes – James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes.

This could have been a fascinating story, but I found the descriptions of Paris vague, the main character too naïve for her age, and far too much of the story focused on her menial jobs. I wanted a little glimpse of the past, some insight into her heroes who were just names dropped on the pages. I also wanted to know more about France’s troubles – the racism, the struggles of the poor and working class, the problems of immigrants.

I wanted a more serious story and less whimsy. I could have done without the recipes and the silly musings about art and love. There were interesting secondary characters I would have liked to know more about – Eden’s androgynous boyfriend, Ving, and his friend Olu-Christophe, a Haitian living in Paris without papers, and Luce, Eden’s friend/lover who taught her how to take what she needed in order to survive.

The story was pleasant enough reading, but lacked passion and spirit, making my literary trip to Paris rather disappointing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mr. Shivers

Mr. ShiversMr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his daughter is killed senselessly by a disfigured drifter named Mr. Shivers, Marcus Connelly travels across the Despression-stricken country for vengeance in the company of several hobos, each with a reason for wanting Mr. Shivers dead...

This tale of death in the Dustbowl was an odd animal to pin down. The pursuit of a mysterious man in gray echoed the beginning of The Gunslinger. Much like the first volume in the epic Dark Tower series, Mr. Shivers is a novel of obsession and relentlessness. How far would you be willing to go to achieve your goals?

The writing reminds me of Joe Lansdale's more literary works like The Bottoms. The subject matter, however, has echoes of Steppenwolf, The Man Who Was Thursday, and Cormac McCarthy. When you track down great evil, you have to fight hard to avoid getting swept up by it. The metaphysical questions the book raises make this more than a Depression-era horror novel.

For a book that's less than 350 pages, it's fairly powerful. It might be overly ambitious for a first novel, though. The concepts were great and Mr. Shivers was suitably creepy but I didn't think Connelly or his hobo compatriots were very fleshed out. The book also seemed really linear and could have made more use of the hobo culture of the Great Depression.

At the end of the day, I'm not even really sure how I felt about it. I loved some of the ideas presented but the story itself was lacking. I guess we'll call it a three out of five.

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A PASSAGE TO INDIA BY E. M. FORSTER

A Passage To IndiaA Passage To India by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Adventures do occur, but not punctually. Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.”

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Illustrations from the Folio Edition by Ian Ribbons.

Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore have journeyed to India with the intention of arranging a marriage between Adela and Mrs. Moore’s son Ronny Heaslop. He is the British magistrate of the city of Chandrapore. He is imperial, much more so than when Adela knew him in England.

”India had developed sides of his character that she had never admired. His self-complacency, his censoriousness, his lack of subtlety, all grew vivid beneath a tropic sky; he seemed more indifferent than of old to what was passing in the minds of his fellows, more certain that he was right about them or that if he was wrong it didn’t matter.”

My impression is that Heaslop may have been elevated rather quickly and had no time to develop his own ideas of the way things were in India, but simply borrowed the established views of the more senior British officials in India. In this new role he was required to play he is a very different person than the young lad that Adela knew in England.

She had decided to break off the engagement and then fate intercedes with a near death experience that allows her to see Heaslop in a different light.

The engagement is back on.

“Sometimes I think too much fuss is made about marriage. Century after century of carnal embracement and we're still no nearer to understanding one another.”

It is always interesting to listen to people talk about marriage. Sometimes people can be too cerebral and talk themselves out of a perfectly acceptable relationship. Others give the commitment of marriage the same amount of thought as they do to deciding what they want for lunch. Arranged marriages used to work perfectly well simply because they were an alliance usually involving money and future offspring. We decided, at some point, that romance was the elixir that we must desire the most in a relationship. Divorce rates have skyrocketed and most people are not any happier than when marriages were arranged for them by their relatives, but free will has given people the idea that happiness can be achieved if they can just find that right person. It is always better to own your unhappiness or happiness instead of having it decided for you.

Adela is not very pretty, but she does have some money. Heaslop seems rather indifferent about the whole arrangement. Yes, he wants the marriage, but more for fulfilling a necessary obligation. The sooner it is settled the sooner he can move on to other things of more importance. Adela is trying to decide whether to accept this situation or wait to see if their is a better one on the horizon.

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Dr. Aziz meets Mrs. Moore by chance in a mosque and though their meeting is rocky in the beginning a friendship quickly blossoms. Adela wants to see the real India, by, well, interacting with real Indians. A meeting is arranged with Dr. Aziz and in the course of their conversations with one another Aziz extends an invitation to take them on a journey to see the Marabar Caves. This is one of those invitations that are extended as a courtesy during a party that are never expected to be fulfilled. To his horror, he discovers, a few days later through an intermediary that the women fully expect him to take them to the caves. At great expense to himself he arranges this outing.

Aziz has always been a friend of the British, in fact, one of his best friends is a British teacher named Cyril Fielding. He had arranged for Fielding and another friend to go with them on this journey to provide the much needed cultural bridge between him and the ladies.

His friends miss the train.

Disaster looms.

Aziz is accused of physically assaulting Adela in one of the caves.

Ridiculous Fielding says.

Of course he attacked her the British community insists. All these brutes desire our women.

As events unfold it becomes more and more unclear as to what really happened, but even as doubt is raised the Colonialists continue to believe that Aziz is guilty.

He must be guilty.

This is considered E. M. Forster’s masterpiece and lands on most top 100 books of all time lists. I personally did not enjoy this book as much as I have some of his other books, but because of the subject matter of this book and when it was published, I fully understand why people look on this novel as his most significant book. He was poking a finger in the eye of his own government and their insistence on continuing to try to rule the world with brutality laced with blatant racism. I can see the men, who returned triumphantly from their postings abroad, sitting around their clubs back in London angrily discussing this book.

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I won’t tell you what happened to Adela or what happened to Aziz, but tragically there was a realignment of thought for both of them. Adela never wanted to see India again. Aziz never wanted to see an Englishman/woman again. In fact, for the first time he feels at peace with who he is…”I am an Indian at last.”


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Angry Woman

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
2013
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Did I find this book or did this book find me?

Either way, this novel was so powerful and jarring that it jumbled my thoughts and disrupted my sleep. The book has been on my radar for more than a year, but I had put it off because I had mistakenly thought it was focused on the relationships between Muslims and Americans, which would have been fine, but that theme has been used a lot since the Sept. 11 attacks. (There is some of that in the book, but it is a minor plot point.)

Instead, the story is focused on the anger and anxiety — hell, let's just call it a mid-life crisis — of Nora Eldridge, a single woman who teaches elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and who wishes she had more time to be an artist. One day, she meets a boy named Reza, and she becomes so attached to him and his parents that she feels like she's falling in love with the family. Sirena, the boy's mother, is also an artist, and the two women share an art studio for the year. Skandar, the boy's father, is a visiting scholar at Harvard, and Nora enjoys long discussions with him. Reza is a charming little boy, and Nora enjoys babysitting him when his parents are busy.

When we meet Nora, she admits she is very angry, but we don't really know what she is upset about. At first I thought it was at being single, at being undervalued as a woman in a patriarchal society, at being forced to be a school teacher when she really wanted to create art, etc. It is some of that, but I didn't fully understand the reasons for her anger until the end of the book, which brought a surprising and enlightening conclusion to the story.

I could relate to Nora's dreams and fears and anxieties and anger, and I saw shades of women I know in her. She was veryreal, very well-drawn. Nora calls herself the Woman Upstairs because she feels invisible, she feels like a good girl who is overlooked and taken for granted. Nora felt more connected to the world when she was sharing part of her life with Sirena and Reza and Skandar. Early on, we sense the relationship was temporary because she called it "the year with Sirena," so at some point, she is abandoned and alone again.

My only criticisms of the book were the references to real-world events. Most of the story takes place in 2004, and I found those newsy intrusions annoying. Also, Reza was described as so cherubic and sweet that it was unbelievable. In the book, the women were more realized characters than the men and boys, and I never really understood Skandar. But overall, this book is well-written and a compelling story, and I would highly recommend it.

Favorite Quotes:

"I always understood that the great dilemma of my mother's life had been to glimpse freedom too late, at too high a price. She was of the generation for which the rules changed halfway, born into a world of pressed linens and three-course dinners and hairsprayed updos, in which women were educated and then deployed for domestic purposes — rather like using an elaborately embroidered tablecloth on which to serve messy children their breakfast."

"I always thought I'd get farther. I'd like to blame the world for what I've failed to do, but the failure — the failure that sometimes washes over me as anger, makes me so angry I could spit — is all mine, in the end. What made my obstacles insurmountable, what consigned me to mediocrity, is me, just me. I thought for so long, forever, that I was strong enough — or I misunderstood what strength was. I thought I could get to greatness, to my greatness, by plugging on, cleaning up each mess as it came, the way you're taught to eat your greens before you have dessert. But it turns out that's a rule for girls and sissies, because the mountain of greens is of Everest proportions, and the bowl of ice cream at the far end of the table is melting a little more with each passing second. There will be ants on it soon. And then they'll come and clear it away altogether. The hubris of it, thinking I could be a decent human being and a valuable member of family and society, and still create! Absurd. How strong did I think I was?"

"When you're the Woman Upstairs, nobody thinks of you first. Nobody calls you before anyone else, or sends you the first postcard. Once your mother dies, nobody loves you best of all."

"You know those moments, at school or college, when suddenly the cosmos seems like one vast plan after all, patterned in such a way that the novel you're reading at bedtime connects to your astronomy lecture, connects to what you heard on NPR, connects to what your friend discusses in the cafeteria at lunch — and then briefly it's as if the lid has come off the world, as if the world were a dollhouse, and you can glimpse what it would be like to see it whole, from above — a vertiginous magnificence. And then the lid falls and you fall and the reign of the ordinary resumes."

"What does it mean that the first thing every American child knows about Germany is Hitler? What if the first thing you knew was something else? And maybe some people would say that now it's important, after the Second World War, it's ethical and vital that Hitler is the first thing a child knows. But someone else can argue the opposite. And what would it do, how would it change things, if nobody were allowed to know anything about Hitler, about the war, about any of it, until first they learned about Brahms, Beethoven and Bach, about Hegel and Lessing and Fichte, about Schopenhauer, about Rilke ... one of those things you had to know and appreciate because you learned about the Nazis."

"The Woman Upstairs is like that. We keep it together. You don't make a mess and you don't make mistakes and you don't call people weeping at four in the morning. You don't reveal secrets it would be unseemly for you to have. You turn forty and you laugh about it, and make jokes about needing martinis and how forty is the new thirty, and you don't say aloud and nobody else says aloud what all of you are thinking, which is 'Well, I guess she's never going to have kids now!'"

Bay's End

Bay's EndBay's End by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Trey and Eddie put cherry bombs in the back of the sheriff's car, they blast away the outer layer of the sleepy town of Bay's End and get a look at the sickening underbelly that lies beneath...

I've made no secret that I think Edward Lorn is the best example of self-publishing done right. Not only has he never stalked me to my house and hit me with a brick, he's also given me my money's worth on every occasion. When Bay's End became free on the kindle, it seemed like a slam dunk. It was.

Bay's End is a coming of age tale, akin to Stephen King's The Body or Robert McCammon's Boy's Life. When Eddy moves in across the street, Trey suddenly has a new best friend. Together, they unwittingly uncover a lot of nastiness that lurks beneath the surface of small town life.

Lorn wears his influences on his sleeve but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Bay's End reads like an early Stephen King tale, where the horror comes from ordinary people, not spider clowns that feed on fear. Ever get chased by a vicious dog or threatened by an adult when you were a kid? Scary stuff.

The characters are like people from the neighborhood I grew up in. Eddie's the smart mouth, Candy's the girl next door with dark secrets, and Trey is the everyman the audience can relate to, though I have to think there's more than a little Edward Lorn in Trey.

Bay's End is a pretty brutal book. Nothing that comes to light is pretty. It's a short novel but at the same time, it's the perfect length. If you're looking for a scary trip to nostalgiaville, let Edward Lorn be your driver. Four out of five stars.

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Wyatt

Wyatt (Wyatt, #7)Wyatt by Garry Disher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When an old accomplice named Eddie Oberlin offers Wyatt piece of a job, he's hesitant but needs the money. As these things usually go, there is a double cross and Wyatt and Eddie's ex-wife Lydia Stark are left for dead. Can Wyatt get his money and teach Eddie Oberlin what happens when someone double crosses Wyatt?

I first learned about Garry Disher's Wyatt series while spending hours pouring over The Violent World of Parker. When this one, the seventh book, popped up in one of my cheapo ebook emails, I snapped it up.

"Parker down under" is kind of a lazy way to describe Wyatt but that's pretty much the premise. Wyatt is an Australian version of Richard Stark's Parker, a planner who is relentless when it comes to getting what he wants. He has more of a heart than the criminal force of nature that is Parker but is still one tough cookie.

Wyatt, despite being the seventh book in the series, is a very accessible book. While the past was alluded to, I didn't feel as if I missed anything by not reading the previous six books. The caper is the tried and true snatch and grab, complete with an unforeseen double cross and some equally unforeseen bad information about the take.

I think Garry Disher did a good job of crafting an homage to Parker without making Wyatt seem like a complete ripoff. That being said, there were a ton of Easter eggs for Parker fans, like an apartment building called The Westlake Towers and Wyatt switching clothes with a drunk named Parker in the police station. Also, there was a police officer named Grofield. Another thing I really liked is that Disher didn't seem to be trying to ape Stark's style but still captured the overall flavor of the Parker books.

While I didn't find Wyatt overly original, it was a fun and engaging read. I'm giving it a three since I enjoyed it but someone who didn't have 20-something Richard Stark books to compare it to might rate it higher.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Grace Humiston On the Case





















Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars


This is a very engaging and entertaining novel based on the life of Grace Humiston, a crusading attorney in the early Twentieth century. The real Mrs. Humiston earned a law degree at New York University and later became the first woman ever appointed as a United States Attorney. Humiston, who used her legal skills principally on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, was also known as a brilliant detective, particularly after she solved the case of a missing New York girl in 1917.

In Grace Humiston and the Vanishing, Charles Kelly has used the facts of that case to create a fictional investigation in which Humiston is persuaded to look into the disappearance of a young girl named Ruth Cruger. Grace's husband, who is also an attorney, worries about her safety and has urged her to focus her attention on the law and to forego the detective work. But Grace feels that she must take this case, in spite of her husband's objections, and she promises him that there will be little or no danger involved.

Famous last words.

Mrs. Huniston's principal assistant is a Transylvanian investigator named Julius Kron. Kron know his way around the mean streets of 1917 New York, and he is the principal narrator of the story. Through his eyes we watch the case unfold and we realize what a talented and determined investigator Grace Humiston can be.

Ruth Cruger was last seen near the shop of a mechanic named Alfredo Cocchi, where she was going to have her ice skates sharpened. But Grace's attention is drawn almost immediately to the jewelry shop next door, which seems to attract a significant number of attractive young women like Ruth Cruger who come from wealthy families.

Grace discovers that several other young women have disappeared in recent months and she becomes convinced that the two men who are principles in the jewelry story are running a con called the Uncle Game, in which the younger and more attractive partner seduces wealthy young women into eloping with him to his native Argentina. There he and his partner sell the women into sexual servitude.

The police are of no help at all, and so Grace, accompanied by Kron, must take matters into her own hands and solve the mystery of the missing women. It's a difficult and dangerous mission, but it's also a very gripping story. In Grace and Tron, Charles Kelly has created two very well-drawn and engaging characters. He has also expertly set the stage on which the drama plays out, principally in the New York City of 1917, at a time when the nation was gearing up to enter the First World War. This is a book that will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans, even to those who do not generally read historical mysteries. A very entertaining and satisfying story.