Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bringing Adam Home by Les Standiford

The kidnapping and murder of seven-year-old Adam Walsh was one of the most notorious crimes of the last fifty years.  Adam had gone shopping at Sears with his mother, Reve, and was fifty feet from her in the store.  She was looking at lamps; he was looking at and playing with the video game display with other boys.  When they got rowdy, the Sears security guard, a seventeen year old girl, sent all the boys outside.  All went home with their parents, but Adam, disappeared that day.  His head was discovered floating in a canal two weeks later; his body never found.

Bringing Adam Home details the investigation of his murder for the long twenty-seven years that the murder went unsolved.  Although there was a viable suspect who confessed early and often, the overwhelmed police force of Hollywood, Florida, refused to believe him guilty.  The man was in jail for other murders and the police in charge felt that he was making up his confessions.  Over the years, the police left leads uninvestigated, forced facts into wrong theories, and even actively blocked other investigators from helping solve the murder. 

The parents, John and Reve Walsh, went on to dedicate their lives to fighting the crime of missing children.  John Walsh became the public face of one of TV's blockbuster shows; America's Most Wanted.  The show highlighted unsolved cases and asked the public's help in finding suspects.  It was considered one of the first reality shows.  In addition, the Walshs went to Congress several times as proponents for various laws to protect missing children.  From this emerged the national crime database for missing children.  The case also changed parental views of the world.  Many readers remember childhoods where it wasn't unusual for kids to leave the house in the morning and come home again at supper.  It is almost unimaginable today to consider leaving a child unsupervised in that way.  Parents shuddered at the Adam Walsh case and kept their children a bit closer from that point on.

The book is well-researched, and readers are taken inside a complex kidnapping-murder investigation.  One of the main contributors of the book was Detective Joe Matthews, the detective who in his retirement solved the case once and for all by going back through the case files and creating such a strong case that there could be no doubt who the killer was.   Matthews was the main investigator on America's Most Wanted after his retirement, and a personal friend of the family.  Solving Adam's case was his personal goal and obsession, his gift to the grieving family.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime, and for all parents.  Evil is out there and it will in a moment take your family and tear it apart.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles

The year is 1938 and three young people are thrown together on New Year's Eve in a jazz bar.  Eve Ross and Katy Kontent are young women who have come to Manhattan to make their way in the world.  Eve is from a rich family in Indiana while Katy is the daughter of Russian immigrants and grew up in Brighton Beach.  They met in a boardinghouse and soon become fast friends, recognizing a fellow feeling of joy and determination to take life on their own terms.

Tinker Gray is the man the girls meet.  Obviously from wealth, his every move betrays perfect manners and a sense of belonging wherever he is.  They become a trio and the book follows them throughout the year, as they form alliances, come together and move apart, and go through the changes common to the young as they make their way and choose their life paths.

Eve and Tinker are together for a while, leaving Katy behind, then the pieces are shaken up and new alliances form.  Along the way, the reader meets other people; the rich widow who takes what she wants with no regard for the opinions of others; the ultra-rich who assume the world is theirs for the taking and are distinguished by their manners; the hard-driving boss determined to make a go even if it kills his workers, the artists who portray the lives around them; the working class individuals striving to improve their lot.

Amor Towles has written a fascinating look at the moneyed class in the era coming out of the Depression and between the two great wars.  His characters are finely drawn, especially Katy, who is the mirror through which the reader experiences this world.  This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction, and those interested in a great story that transports the reader to another place and time. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Releasing Gillian's Wolves by Tara Woolpy

Nearing fifty, Gillian Sachs feels that she doesn't know what she wants.  She has been trapped in a loveless marriage for years due to her husband's multiple affairs.  She hasn't left him, though, since he is a Senator and the breakup would be front-page news and she doesn't know any other life.  She paints but has never exhibited since she wasn't sure if it would be her talent getting a show or the novelty of a political wife being an artist.

In the middle of Jack's latest reelection run, it becomes more than Gillian can bear as she watches him start an affair with a campaign intern younger than their own daughter.  Gillian agrees to stay until after the election, but moves out to a cabin on their property.  Most of the money in the marriage is hers, so that isn't an issue. 

After the election, Gillian slowly starts to rebuild her life.  She reunites with her daughter, their estrangement a casualty of her daughter's refusal to have anything to do with her father.  Gillian goes to Amsterdam to visit friends, and while there starts painting again.  She also meets Luke, a well-known sculptor who starts to make her feel alive again.

As she starts to heal, everything back home falls apart.  Jack is involved in scandal and this time the FBI are also involved.  Gillian is called back home by the various law enforcement agencies doing the investigation.  Will she find the strength to break away or will Gillian be pulled back into Jack's sordid world?

Tara Woolpy has created a strong, sympathetic character in Gillian.  She embodies the longing many have as they reach their middle years to find what really matters in life to them, and to take whatever chances are needed to live their lives happily.  This book is recommended to readers who are also searching for that magical something that makes lives interesting and vital.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

With Just One Click by Amanda Strong

Amanda Strong explores what happens when three women decide to join the online world of Facebook.  Chloe is a career woman, successful at her reviewer job but not at relationships.  After she joins Facebook, an old love looks her up and sends her a Friend invitation.  Will stirring up old ashes reignite a new love?

Morgan is a stay-at-home wife who uses Facebook as a social outlet, finding validation of her life choices and advice from her friends on her life as a busy young mother.  One fly emerges in the Facebook ointment; her relationship with her husband becomes strained as she gets jealous over the women who chat with him; especially a former girlfriend from high school.

Brynn has it all; two teenage children and a successful husband; a big house and no money worries.  But she is feeling left out and lonely and strikes up a friendship on Facebook that has to potential to tear her family apart.

Amanda Strong has cleverly used the microscope of this increasingly familiar social networking site to examine the way women support each other, find love and dissension, and filter their lives through the way others view them.  She examines the positive and negative sides of the site, leaving the reader with the realization that Facebook just shines a light into whatever is going on in people's lives; it can neither make nor break their relationships.  This book is recommended for romance readers and for those interested in the effect of technology on modern lives.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Arcadia Snips And The Steamworks Consortium by Robert Rodgers

Mad math and science are afoot in the 19th century in the city of Aberwick.  There are tales of mad scientists who caused the fire that never ends and flying machines and machines that can not only do calculations but talk machine to machine without human intervention.  All these inventions are centered around the Steamworks Consortium, and the populace is unsure if the Consortium is a force for good or evil.

The most maligned name in the annals of mad scientists/mathematicians are the Daffodil family.  The grandparents were mad, and the grandmother lives in an asylum still.  Their son and his wife were credited/blamed with losing an hour of time with all the tragedies that entailed.  The current generation, William Daffodil, works at the Steamworks and tries to remain under the radar and live down his family's reputation.

But something is afoot.  There are stirrings of a plot, a plot that will be worse than anything that has gone before.  The forces of evil are arrayed against the forces of good.  These include Daffodil, an intrepid feminist named Miss Primrose, a madman who runs a detective agency and Arcadia Snips.  Born into a mad scientist family, Arcadia ran away at an early age to make her way on the streets.  She is a vagabond, a thief, and perhaps the savior of all mankind.

Robert Rodgers has created a rollicking steampunk tale of high adventure.  Steampunk is defined in Wikipedia as "a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually the Victorian era Britain—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne."

Those readers who have wondered what steampunk literature is all about will be interested to explore it in such an accessible work.  Fans of high adventure will be delighted with all the action, while those interested in finding new and admirable characters will fall in love with Arcadia Snips, an unlikely heroine who is unforgettable.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Of The Bear by Bella Pollen

Nicky and Letty have it all.  Young, in love with a great marriage and three beautiful children, they are posted in Bonn with Nicky's diplomatic career and rumored to be in the running for the Ambassador's job in Rome.  Then tragedy strikes.  Nicky falls from a roof on the Embassy and is killed.  Letty, her world destroyed, takes the children back to the island in the Outer Hebrides where they spend every summer to try to put their world back together and figure out how to go on without Nicky.

Nothing seems to be working.  Georgie, the oldest girl, tries to fill in mothering her younger siblings as Letty is barely coping.  But Georgie is ready for University and starting to discover men.  Alba, the middle child, has developed a cruel streak that she takes out on everyone, especially her little brother, Jamie.  Jamie, the only boy and eight years old, is more lost than the others.  No one has told him his father is dead; just that he is "lost".  Jamie obsesses about finding him and about a circus bear that has escaped and is loose somewhere on the island.  He is an unsophisticated, innocent child who just wants to make everything right again.

Bella Pollen has created a magical book about families coming together and building their lives on the treasure they have in each other.  The book is told through alternating views of each character, allowing the reader to slowly piece together the puzzle of what happened in Bonn and how to move on in their lives.  The people and culture of the little-known Outer Hebrides Islands is lovingly portrayed.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Savage City by T.J. English

The Savage City is the exploration by T.J. English of the forces driving the dynamics of New York City in the sixties and early seventies.  This was the time of hippies, peace and love, protests against Vietnam.  It was the peak of the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King, Jr. as the Afro-American spokesman.  There was also an underside; racial discrimination, the rise of the black liberation groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army to combat racisim, and the police that often were more interested in the graft they got than any kind of even-handed dispirsement of justice.

On the day Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., two white girls were murdered in their apartment. Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie were exemplars of rich young women working on careers and their deaths were shouted from the front pages of newspapers for weeks on end. 

English uses this case as the filter through which he follows the lives of three men:

1.  George Whitmore was a young, unsophisticated black man who had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was swept up by the police in another borough and before he managed to win his freedom ten years later, had been charged with the Wylie-Hoffert murders and those of two other women.  His treatment by the police was one of the key cases that led to the establishment of the Miranda warning.

2.  Bill Phillips was a New York City policeman and part of the "blue wall".  He spent as much time finding ways to make money on his beat as he did solving crimes and was part of the corruption in the police force that became evident. 

3.  Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a black man hardened by his time in prison, was an influential member of the NYC Black Panther party.  His views on the white police and power structure led him to a series of crimes that controlled his life.

T.J. English has done a masterful job of research these divergent lives and bringing them together into a cohesive whole to explain the environment of these times and the factors that influenced everyday life.  This book is recommended to those interested in reading how social mores influence our lives, as well as those who lived through these turbulent times.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

The newspapers are full of a shocking story.  The artist, Robert Oliver, one of art's modern up-and-rising figures, is arrested in a museum where he has attacked a painting; the painting that is the image of Leda and the swan.  He gives no explanation, in fact, he refuses to talk at all.

Andrew Marlow is the psychiatrist in charge of the mental hospital where Oliver is confined.  He takes Oliver's case himself as Marlowe is also a painter and thinks it may help unravel the mystery surrounding Oliver.  For Oliver is mute, and refuses to talk to anyone.  As the weeks go by, Dr. Marlow becomes more and more intrigued by Oliver.  Desperate to understand Oliver, he begins to research his life.

Marlow takes a trip to the mountains of North Carolina where he spends time with Oliver's ex-wife.  She tells of their lives together, first in New York and then later at the college in NC where Oliver is put on staff.  The ex-wife talks about the early signs of Oliver's mental illness, but also about her growing suspicion that there is another woman.

Marlow also finds this woman and learns more of Oliver's life.  Oliver paints one woman over and over and Marlow finds clues about her and the importance to Oliver's life, but there is no definite knowledge to be found.  He makes trips to Mexico and later to France where he finally discovers the secret to unlock the bars of the mental prison Olivier is caught in.

Elizabeth Kostova has written a complex, intriguing tale.  The plot unfolds slowly and the reader learns about the characters a bit at a time, like a stripteaser slowly revealing her charms.  Along with the plot, the reader is exposed to the art world and how painters relate to the world around them.  This book is recommended for readers of modern literature and those interested in love stories that change lives.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

Fans of Peter Robinson's series featuring Inspector Alan Banks will be interested to know he has written another.

Banks has gone on a vacation to the United States.  In his absence, horrors take place.  Bank's daughter, Tracy, gets involved with a local charmer.  Jaff is the son of the local bookie and a gorgeous Bollywood Indian actress.  He dabbles at the fringes of mob activity; a little money laundering, a little drug dealing.  He is charming and good-looking and the boyfriend of Tracy's best friend, Erin.  When Erin gets into police trouble by taking Jaff's gun, Tracy goes to warn him and ends up going off with him.

What seems like a lark at first and a chance to get to know Jaff better turns into a nightmare as she does just that, gets to know him better.  For Jaff is a true bad boy; narcissistic, ready to harm anyone who gets between him and anything he desires.  Tracy goes from a willing participant to a hostage as the situation gets more and more serious.  Inspector Banks returns home to find a crisis with his daughter in danger.  Can he resolve things and save her life?

Peter Robinson and his Inspector Banks series are well-known and respected.  He has been a finalist for the Los Angles Times Book Prize, a "Best Book of the Year" recipient by Publisher's Weekly, a "Notable Book" winner by the New York Times and a "Page Turner Of The Week" winner by People magazine.  Robinson has won numerous prizes including the Edgar Award, the Anthony Award and the Grand Prix de litterature Policiere.  This book, although the latest in a series, stands alone, as it was the first of Robinson's books that I'd read.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers who enjoy police procedurals and an inside look at how police forces really work.

Birdie's Book by Jan Bozarth

Birdie is excited and scared.  She is off to visit her grandmother, who she doesn't remember at all.  Her mother and grandmother have been estranged for years.  Birdie doesn't know why as her mother refuses to discuss it.  But her father thinks Birdie should know her family so he has sent her to visit while her mom is traveling on business.

Birdie has one overriding interest, plants.  She knows them all, their characteristics, how to grow them, their Latin names.  Imagine her joy when she discovers her grandmother lives on a large piece of land with hundreds of varieties of plants, and a greenhouse.  She makes her living selling various plants.  Her land has large gardens, with mazes and some of the largest trees Birdie has ever seen.  While exploring, she discovers the tree that is the heart of the land, but also discovers that it is dying.

This discovery leads her grandmother to tell her of her family history.  They are the guardians of the plants, but the plants are slowly dying.  The trouble started when the Singing Stone was broken in half.  That night, Birdie has a dream that takes her to another land, Aventurine.

She is confused about why she is there, but meets friends along the way.  There is Kerka, another girl who is there to help Birdie in her mission.  The girls meet river maidens (known as mermaids elsewhere) and fairies.  Each reveals another piece of Birdie's mission and how she can achieve it.  She must heal the land, and to do so, she must heal the Singing Stone and the heartland tree.  Can Birdie heal the land, and her family at the same time?

This is the first book in Jan Bozarth's Fairy Grandmother Academy series.  Elementary and middle-school girls will be entranced with this story.  There is a related website with games, places to write dreams, meet friends, etc.  At this point, four books have been written in the series.  This book is recommended for young readers, and for parents and grandparents looking for books to buy for their daughters or granddaughters that are exciting and provide a good message about what we are sent to do in the world.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Phone Kitten by Marika Christian

Emily Winters has a problem.  Well, several problems, but they really aren't her fault and anyhow, she can explain it all.  Emily has always hid her light under a basket, it's safer to be ignored.  But after being fired from her newspaper job unfairly, she starts to take control of her life.  She's losing weight, working out, going back to school and has even met the man of her dreams.  Is it fair that things don't work out for like she planned?

Since she lost her job, she had to have money, right?  Being a phone sex talker isn't a job you write home to mother about, but it's money and you never have to see your clients.  It couldn't possibly be her fault if one of her customers gets himself killed and she just happened to be in the restaurant he was dining at his last night, could it?  What can a girl do?  Why, obviously, she should take up detecting and solve the murder herself!

Marika Christian has written a light, frothy detective story with an engaging heroine, a believable cast of characters, and laugh out loud situations.  Emily is a can-do kind of gal, never at a loss for an idea of what to do next and brave enough (or naive enough) to follow through on her plans.  Readers will laugh out loud and immediately look for  more of Marika Christian's work when the last page is read.  This book is recommended for mystery and chick-lit readers.