Saturday, December 31, 2011

Brightwing by Sullivan Lee

Edgar Battle is not having a good day.  Following a prison bus break, he and his brother, Mallory are on the run.  The problem is that Mallory is a sociopath and the body toll keeps rising.  Now the biggest manhunt in Florida for many years has the brothers right in its headlights.  They need to change cars and they need to do it now.

Coming up on a woman with a stranded car on a backroad, they quickly take her hostage.  Nothing they haven't done before, but this time things don't go as planned.  They have kidnapped Lucy Brightwing.  Lucy is the sole survivor of the Tequesta Indian tribe.  She is in the process of buying enough land to create her own reservation, but that kind of dream takes lots of money.  Lucy is on her way home from a jewelry heist and has millions of dollars worth of jewels hidden in her car.  She decides that the easiest thing to do is to take these two men to her home deep in the swamps where she will have the upper hand.

Lucy is right.  The Battle brothers stomp around the swamp like a bull in a china shop, totally out of their element.  Lucy quickly loses her fear of them and starts to teach Edgar how to survive using the old Indian techniques.  In the meantime, the unthinkable happens.  Captor and captive become lovers and both realise that they have found what they have been searching for their entire lives.

But life doesn't just let dreams come true, especially when lots of laws have been broken.  Can Lucy and Edgar figure out a way to be together without worrying about the long arm of the law?

Sullivan Lee has written a quirky crime novel with engaging characters.  Against all odds, readers start to have sympathy for Lucy and Edgar, and by the end of the book are hoping they can find a way to live their dreams.  Along the way, the reader learns about the Everglades ecosystem, and the techniques the Indians used to survive in this hostile environment.  This book is recommended for suspense readers.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Transformation Of Barthlomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

The Transformation Of Barthlomew Fortuno takes the reader inside the lives of the men and women who made up P.T. Barnum's 'Curiosities'.  Barthlomew is The Thinnest Man Alive; there is Martina the Fat Lady, Ricardo the Rubber Man, Emma and Alley the giants and many others.  As the book opens, a new act has arrived; Iall, a gorgeous woman with flowing red hair and a flowing beard to match.

Barthlomew is instantly entranced.  He is determined to win Iall's heart.  But there are many obstacles in his way.  Barnum is not interested in his acts falling in love, and furthermore, seems to be interested in Iall himself.  Mrs. Barnum, who controls the pursestrings, is interested in moving Iall to a new location where her husband will not be tempted.  Barthlomew must decide if he is willing to take on his employers, on whom he depends for his livelihood, in order to win his heart's desire.

This is a lovely book.  There is enough historical detail to transport the reader back to New York City in the 1860's, and it all rings true.  But the novel is about much more than just a nostalgic look backward.  It forces the reader to think about the different types of control in each person's life.  The acts are controlled by their physical characteristics and by the determination of others to make money from their differences.  Some of the acts like Barthlomew and Martina have made themselves into curiosities by controlling themselves; in Barthlomew's case by controlling the small amount he eats and in Martina's by controlling the enormous amounts she consumes.  There is the question about free will and how much an individual truly is in control of their own life.  This book is recommended for all readers.  Those who read it will ponder the questions raised long after the last page is finished.  This is Bryson's debut novel, and readers will eagerly await her next one.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster is an average man.  We read of his life growing up, and his circle of friends.  His most striking friend was Adrian, a brilliant student who the other boys never quite felt they knew.  We read of his first love, Veronica, and how that worked out.  We read how Tony felt when he and Veronica broke up and he later finds out that she and Adrian are now a couple. 

The book then skips ahead forty years.  Tony is now retired, having put in his years at an average job.  He is divorced and still sees his ex-wife for lunches, no great hate or love there.  He has one child he sees occasionally, and grandchildren he is more or less a stranger to.  Average, average, average, Tony's whole life has been about getting by without making waves.

Then a surprise bequest causes Tony to reevaluate his entire life.  He looks back at his schoolboy days, his college years and his marriage.  One piece of information after another opens the floodgates of memory, and he remembers conversations and actions that he has long forgotten, but that now reframe his life in a different light.  He tracks down old acquaintances and friends, until he uncovers a startling secret--one that makes him wonder what his life has been about and how his life has affected that of others.

The Sense Of An Ending won the 2011 Man Booker prize for literature.  It is a gem of a book, short but thought-provoking.  This is Julian Barnes at the top of his form, effortlessly shaking the snow-globe of memories to rearrange the outcome of events in myriad ways.  He forces the reader to examine what place memories play in our lives, and to question how accurate our memories are.  This thought-provoking novel is recommended for all readers interested in examining the human condition, and the ways we find to make it through life. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Blink Of An Eye by William S. Cohen

The unthinkable, unspeakable has happened.  A nuclear explosion has destroyed an American city.  Thousands of American lives are lost.  Entire blocks of the city are vaporized.

Who could have done such an act?  Further, how will America respond to such an egregious act of terrorism?  The shock and horror quickly turn to demands for revenge and war, even before responsibility for the act is known.  Will the President declare war, and will he do it because it is the right thing to do, or because he is pushed into it politically by rival factions determined to steer the course of the country?

Iran is the first suspect and the one most people instinctively believe is behind the horror.  Other nations start to line up on either the side of America retaliating against Iran or against such action.  Israel has been poised to take action against Iran itself; where will it come down in the balance?  Will the other countries with nuclear weapons stay on the sidelines or use whatever happens as entry for settling old feuds?  Is Iran the true answer or is another country responsible and using Iran as a smokescreen?  What about the domestic groups determined to steer the country towards their vision of how the future should unfold?  Are any of these groups involved?

William S. Cohen has written a heartstopping novel of terror and intrigue. Cohen is a former Secretary of State, serving under President Clinton.  His background and expertise gives the book the immediacy and weight of details known only to a select few; those who daily balance what is best for the country and how America must relate to the myriad needs and desires of other countries, both friends and foes.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy spy and suspense novels; it is indeed a must-read.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Customers Clients Patrons and Morons by Jim Schulte

In Customers Clients, Patrons and Morons, Jim Schulte narrates his experiences over his working life.  His resume includes working at a sheltered workshop and in various hardware shops.  He covers the range of customer mishaps; misinformation, insistence that they are correct when they are clearly wrong, misusing products in such a way that the product is ruined.  He covers out-of-control children who create chaos, and those customers who are dishonest or out and out unintelligent.

In the second half of this short book, Schulte then flips the tables and discusses his own experiences as a shopper with customer experience.  He discusses both bad experiences and those where the service was superb. 

Readers looking for a quick read that will bring a smile to their face will be pleased with this book.  It details the shopping experience from all sides and may make the reader cringe in acknowledgement as they recognize some of their own characteristics. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Secrets Of A Christmas Box by Steven Hornby

It's Christmas and the tree is up and decorated.  But once the family goes to sleep, something magical happens.  The ornaments all wake up and welcome each other after a year sleeping in the Christmas Box.  They promenade around the tree, greeting old friends and welcoming new ones.

Larry the Snowman and his girlfriend, Debbie, a reindeer, are two of the mainstays in the ornament family.  This year, a wooden toy soldier named Splint is a newcomer, talking to Larry and Debbie to determine the rules of this new world. 

But Larry is worried.  He can't find his brother anywhere.  Not content to just accept that he hasn't made it this year, Larry is eager to do anything to find him.  Being new and less tied to the Christmas tree traditions, Splint proposes that they leave the tree, find the Christmas Box and see if his brother got overlooked.

Thus begins a grand adventure.  Children will thrill at the excitement and dangers the three overcome as they set off on their grand adventure.  This book is recommended for families with children and can become another holiday tradition, as children may want to hear the story over and over.  Hornby has created a unique world and one that those full of the magic of Christmas may eagerly inhabit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Black And Orange by Benjamin Ethridge

It is almost October 31st, the high holy day of the Church Of Morning and The Church Of Midnight.  Separated for eons by the gateway between two worlds, this day is the sole chance each year to push the gateway open and reunite the churches into an one entity that can control all universes.

In order to force the gateway open and have it remain so, each year a Heart is chosen.  The sacrifice of the Heart makes the gateway easier to open; October 31st is the day of the Hunt.  But there are opposing forces that do not want to see the churches united in their evil purposes.  The Nomads are charged with protecting the Heart each year.  Nomads live off the grid, endlessly traveling to escape detection so that can perform their sacred duty each year.

There are also power plays within the churches.  Bishops plot against bishops while Archbishops plot the overthrow of their peers on the other side.  There are constantly shifting alliances, deception and subterfuge as each individual jockeys for power and position.

Benjamin Ethridge is a new name in horror, but Black and Orange indicates that he will be one of the masters.  There is a fine line in horror, to be suspenseful and ratchet up the tension to a fever pitch while not going over the top.  Etheridge balances on this line and never strays to one side or the other, creating a perfect pitch that leaves the reader breathless and eager to experience more.  He also avoids the pitfall of making all the characters so obnoxious that the reader can't care much about what happens to any of them.  Black and Orange is a great new entry into the world of horror, and highly recommended to readers who love this genre.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Luka And The Fire Of Life by Salman Rushdie

Luka is a twelve year old boy who lives in India with his family. He has a big brother, Haroun, and his parents, Rashid and Soraya. He was a perfectly normal boy, except. Except that his big brother had gone on a magical adventure. Except that his father was a famous storyteller, known as the Shah of Blab. Except that Luka had been born when his parents were in their forties, and had the magical ability to make them younger instead of their real age. Except that Luka was left-handed, with all the magical and sinister facets that fact opened up. Except that Luka had the power of the curse. He had cursed the local circus which treated its animals horribly and had thus acquired his two best friends, Dog and Bear. Dog was a famous dancing bear, while Bear, the dog, could sing any song.

One day the unimaginable happened. Luka’s father, Rashid, fell ill. He went to sleep and wouldn’t wake up and as time went by, started to disappear a bit at a time. What could be done? The doctors held out no hope and everyone else seemed willing to give up. Luka could not accept that. Out for a walk, he met a strange man, a man who looked like his father named Nobodaddy, and he told Luka what could save Rashid. Luka would need to enter the world of magic and steal the Fire of Life. The Fire of Life could revive his father. The man agreed to go with Luka and be his guide through all the dangers such a trip would entail.

Thus the journey began. Luka, Dog, Bear and Nobodaddy had many adventures and encountered magical beings. Some were friends who helped on the mission, others were deadly enemies. There were the elephant-ducks, who remembered all things. The Respectorate of Rats was populated by politically correct rats, who were determined to jail Luka and his friends, but they were saved by the sudden appearance of The Insultana of Ott, a vibrant, exultant, insulting female ruler. There were magical beings galore, and all the ancient gods and goddesses of all cultures and countries were encountered, some to help, some trying their best to stop the band of travelers. Could Luka overcome the obstacles and capture the Fire of Life, the fire that no one in history had been able to steal, in time to save his father?

Salman Rushdie has created a magical place in which the reader can frolic for a time. The language is glorious, painting marvelous images and full of inventive word-play. This is Rushdie at his best yet more accessible so that even children can delight in his inventive mind. This book is recommended for all readers who remain young at heart, ready to be amazed and uplifted.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Haunted by Douglas Misquita

FBI Special Agent Kirk Ingram has lived through a nightmare.  On the verge of taking a desk job so that he could spend more time with his family, he instead is targeted and watches as his family is massacred in front of him.  He is the only survivor and when he recuperates, he returns to work, more determined than ever to put an end to the criminal activity around him.

There are plenty of candidates for his expertise, but he is assigned to uncovering and stopping a vicious network of Balkan terrorists.  This network is used by a cabal of deposed leaders from other countries and greedy industrialists.  They have combined to capture the sole cache of a deadly nerve gas which they intend to use as leverage to extract billions from governments around the world. Ingram's assignment is to stop them before they can succeed.

Douglas Misquita has written a heartstopping action novel.  The reader is swept up in the very visual language that Misquita uses.  This language allows the reader to visualize the scenes he is describing as if they were watching a suspense movie; in fact, this book would be an excellent source for such a movie.  This book is recommended for readers who love fast-paced books with tons of action.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

Vanessa Michael Munroe is contacted by her best friend.  He tells her of a girl who was snatched from her parents and hidden deep in a cult--the same cult that he grew up in.  He knows well the abuses that children are subjected to, and as a friend of the mother, wants Munroe to bring the girl out.  Heather has been in the cult for eight years, moved from place to place, given new names and almost impossible to trace.  But now there is word that she is in South America and the time is right to try a rescue attempt.

Munroe is torn.  This is the work she does, but the work is slowly killing her.  Raised in an abusive environment herself, she has trained to be a killing machine, able to take out most individuals she encounters.  She is a powerhouse of destruction and cunning, but each kill takes a bit of her soul.  Still, she owes her friend with years of ties and agrees to take on the mission.  Raising a team, the group gathers intelligence and plans their attack.  Can they be successful, or will the cult manage to spirit Hannah away once again?

This is the second novel in Taylor Stevens Munroe series.  Munroe is a complex character, at once determined to do right but doing right by doing wrong.  The intricacies of planning a successful raid is fascinating, but the book's main focus is always, always on this amazing, powerful yet vulnerable woman.  This book is recommended for suspense readers and will transport them away until the last page is turned.  This is a powerhouse novel.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley

If you are a birder or know someone interested in birds, this is a bird you must have for your collection.  The author is a renowned birder and photographer and has combined these interests into a stunning book that will be the premiere reference guide for those who love birds. 

The most striking feature of the book are the 640 scenes of birds in their native habitats.  These scenes were created from over ten thousand photographs the author has taken and show the birds from near and far.  There is a companion website, with expanded captions for the plates and species updates.

The book is organized into two major sections; water birds and land birds.  Within the water birds there are chapters on swimming, flying and walking waterbirds.  The land birds are organized into chapters on upland gamebirds, raptors, miscellaneous larger landbirds, aerial landbirds and songbirds.

Each scene is stunningly illustrated with large depictions of the birds in their native habitats.  Each bird featured has a description of their plumage, common behaviors, a map showing the bird's range and their species rarity.  This book will quickly become the favorite reference book for birders and an interesting resource to the person who doesn't know much about birds but would like to identify those they encounter daily.  This book is highly recommended and is a unique resource.