Monday, September 27, 2010

Haiku by Andrew Vachss

A group of men have come together as a family in a large city. The world sees them as homeless, but they see the worth and talents each brings, and have banded together to take care of each other. Ho is a former martial arts instructor who walked away from fame and fortune when he decided he was losing his honor by gaining riches. Lamont is a former convict and poet, now a man who drinks to make it through the day. Michael was a high-roller; a stockbroker with all the accomplishments of wealth until he became a gambler and lost all that he had accumulated. Brewster is a high-functioning schizophrenic, rejected by his family and on and off of his medicine. Target is a damaged man that none of the others understand. Ranger is a Vietnam vet who returned physically but not mentally from those brutal fields.

This group comes together to accomplish a goal, something that is compellingly important to one of the group. Each man contributes what talents he has and they work together to accomplish their task. As they work, each also starts to let go of his demons and move toward a healthier place; helped by each other when nothing society had to offer seemed to help at all. The theme is that each man has his own truth, his 'haiku' and his life task is working toward the discovery of this inner truth and honor.

Readers will recognize Andrew Vachss as the author of the Burke series; eighteen books that have some of the same themes. That series focuses on how society ignores the helpless; children who are molested and women who are degraded and brutalized. Burke and his group of friends work together to save these victims. In this series, the theme has been twisted a bit to show that there are other victims of society; the homeless who each have a story and an event that has put them where they are. Another twist is that now the same individuals others would see as victims have the ability to save themselves as well as others. Fans of previous Vachss books will enjoy Haiku; it uses the same sparse writing and the themes of honor and protection of those less able to help themselves. This book is recommended for readers of crime and mystery books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


A brand new thriller featuring returning characters Shaw and Katie James from The Whole Truth.
Bestseller Baldacci's sequel to The Whole Truth (2008) lacks the creative plotting and masterful handling of suspense that marked his earlier thrillers. Evan Waller, outwardly a respectable Canadian businessman but secretly a human trafficker who sells children into prostitution, has expanded into arranging nuclear weapons deals with Islamic fundamentalists. Shaw, the lead of The Whole Truth, sets out to stop Evan, as does Regina “Reggie” Campion, a British femme fatale, who works for a clandestine group that tracks down and executes war criminals. Reggie and Shaw, both of whom intend to make their move while Evan is on vacation in Provence, cross paths while maintaining their cover stories. Shaw becomes attracted to Reggie, even as he fears that Evan, who's in fact a sadistic Ukrainian who served the Soviets, will abduct her.



1. The giveaway starts Saturday, September 25 and ends on Friday, October 8th at midnight.

2. There will be three winners, chosen by random number generation.

3. Winners must have street addresses (no P.O. Boxes) in either the United States or Canada.

4. For one entry, leave a comment (with your email!). You will get an extra entry for any/all of the following; being or becoming a follower, blogging to this giveaway or tweeting about it. If you blog or tweet, please include the link.
5. Winners will be emailed and must respond within three days in order to claim their prize. After three days, another winner will be chosen and notified.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In The Arms Of Mr. Darcy by Sharon Lathan

Devotees of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice will be interested to see what author Sharon Lathan has done with these characters in her sequel book, In The Arms Of Mr. Darcy.  Lathan has written several books in this series; Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One; Loving Mr. Darcy: Journey Beyond Pemberley and My Dearest Mr. Darcy.

In this edition, the reader visits the Darcy's the winter after their son and the heir to Pemberley has been born.  Both parents dote on their newborn, as do all their relatives and friends.  Although it is considered a bit strange that Elizabeth chooses to nurse her son rather than employ a wet nurse, no one dares to voice any surprise that the fond parents want to see to their son's care themselves.

In addition to the relationship between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, there are others who are entering the courts of love.  Darcy's sister Georgina is entering her debutant days, as is Kitty Bennett, Elizabeth's sister.  We see them at a splendid ball, and get a sense of the manners and norms of courting.  Darcy's good friend, Richard, home from the military, has fallen in love with a widow and asks Darcy's advice.  There are other relationships that develop, some surprising in their intensity and some remaining safely contained in the shoals of society's strictures.

The reader is transported to the start of the Industrial Revolution in England.  It is a land of titled nobles and servants and a group of professionals, but most of the power, money and influence is concentrated in a few noble hands.  The daily life in large manor houses is amazing for modern readers to contemplate, and Lathan does an excellent job of outlining what such a daily routine consisted of.  This book is recommended for readers who loved Austen's work and are interested to see the story continue.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Cure For All Diseases by Reginald Hill

Sandytown is the perfect seaside resort.  It's newest venture is advertising itself as a health resort.  There is already a world-class clinic, and a local group is bringing in alternative therapists also.  There's a plan to turn the local manor house into a luxury hotel/spa and all seems ducky.  The main partners in the venture are Lady Denham, who is the local gentry, and Tom Parker, who is interested in the alternative therapies and is the general cheerleader for the project.

All's well until a local gathering is interrupted by the discovery of the body of Lady Denham.  It seems there are a myriad of suspects.  In addition to Tom Parker, Lady Denham had several relatives who wanted to be her heirs.  There are also local characters who she has insulted or treated shabbily.  On top of this, there are secrets with some of the alternative healers.

The case falls to Peter Pascoe, who is heading up Yorkshire police in the absence of Andy Danziel.  But Daziel is on the spot---he's recuperating from a terrorist bombing at the clinic.  The entire cast of characters from this series are on the spot, along with some former villians and new intriguing characters.

The Dalziel-Pascoe series in one of my absolute favorites.  Hill writes breezily and humour comes through in the speeches of his characters.  The mysteries are densely plotted, and the reader is usually surprised by the ending.  This book is highly recommended for all mystery lovers, and if you haven't read any of the series, you'll want to go back and read them all!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fat Chick by Lorraine Duffy Merkl

We meet Trish Collins as she is on top of her world.  Finally, a perfect size zero, she has a great job at an ad agency representing TREND, the most sought-after fashion magazine.  She has a great relationship with her boyfriend, who is also the personal trainer who helped her get a toned and muscular body.  She isn't hurting for anything....

The book then goes back and portrays Trish's life when she was fat.  Losing her father early, she stuffed her pain with food.  She continues to eat until she is large, every taunt and male rejection just fueling her appetite as she turns again and again to the friend that never rejects, food.

Finally, she has had enough and decides this is the time she will make a real difference.  She joins a program, joins a gym, and over months, gets thin and thinner and thinner.  Her life is now perfect, or is it?

Lorraine Duffy Merkl has created a woman that will find a touchpoint with most women.  Most of us have wished for thinner bodies or wished we were even thinner, typing our self-worth to how many pounds show on the scale and what size we can buy in the department store.  She shows Trish's struggles with sterotypical rejections and then flips the mirror and shows the pros and cons of being super-thin.  The writing is breezy and the characters sometimes shallow, but this is intentional on the author's part as she shows the archtypes that rule women's places in society.   This book is recommended for women readers and males that want to understand the enormous part weight and self-image play in almost every woman's life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen

Has there ever been a more satisfactory villian than Jack the Ripper?  His identity as the first publicized serial killer, the depravity of his acts, and the fact that he was never conclusively identified has made his fame more eternal, as each person can configure the facts to fit their own ideas of who he must have been.

In What Alice Knew, Paula Marantz Cohen has contrucked an interesting premise in which the James siblings, Henry, William and Alice, come together to identify Jack the Ripper.  William has been asked by Scotland Yard to come over from America to lend his psychological expertise.  Henry is a member in good standing of London society, and his talent as a novelist often leads him to notice relationships that others are oblivious to.  Alice, their invalid sister, has necessarily concentrated her powers to delve into others' minds and thoughts.  Together they make a formidable team.

The facts of the Ripper's crimes are all here, but don't overwhelm the reader.  Other famous people make appearances, including Oscar Wilde, John Singer Sargent, Samuel Clemens and James Whistler.  Each familiar name and the portrayal of their world helps the reader understand how shocking these crimes were and how they were the talk of every table and meetingplace in London.  Can William, James and Alice find a way to uncover the identity of this man before he kills again?

Cohen has created an intriguing world.  A Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University, she has the necessary knowledge of the period to make a very believable world, from the cream of society to the servants who organize the lives of these men and women, to those unfortunates mired in poverty and brutish lives.  In addition, she knows the worlds of art, literature and education that give the book its realistic feel.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers and those interested in the James family and their social strata. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is a set of vignettes told from the male viewpoint.  Some are quite short, while others are much more lengthy.  Not for the faint-hearted, there is lots of talk about sex and some raunchy language.

My favorite tale was told by a man who picked up a woman for casual sex and ended up being moved by her life story.  Hitchhiking, she was picked up by a serial sex offender/murderer, and managed to save her own life by talking the man out of his need to kill her by empathizing with him.  The man starts out by regarding the woman lightly, just another plaything, but her story makes him realise that she has depth and is someone to be taken seriously.

Another favorite is the retelling of that first time on the high diving board (not that many pools still have these due to insurance concerns).  Wallace captures the moment completely, using every sense to vividly place the reader out there on the board as they smell, see, hear everything the diver does.  No detail is too small for Wallace to remember and comment on.

The writing is gorgeous even when the topics are disturbing.  I can't think of an author who writes more concretely about the details of an event.  This is definately not a book that feminists will applaud; the men here are brazen, outspoken and often churlish.  But the reader will not soon forget these stories.  This book is recommended for readers who like to dip into books and read one or two stories at a time.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Last War by Ana Menendez

They had the perfect marriage.  Brando was a journalist, Flash was a photographer.  Together they roamed the world, documenting wars for audiences safely at home.  Now Brando is in Iraq in the early days of the war, embedded with the troops, while Flash waits in Istanbul for her visa.  At first, she misses him immensely, but as the days pass, she wonders if she wants to follow him one more time, if this war will be any different from all the others.

Then the letter comes.  A sly, smug letter, informing her that Brando is living with another woman.  She doesn't recognize the name of the letter writer, although the author writes as if she knows the couple well.  Flash is torn.  Fiercely rejecting the news one minute, down in the depths of depression and validating it the next, she doesn't know what to believe.  Days go by.  Brando continues to call most days but she doesn't mention the letter to him.  She wants to see his face when she asks.

As she wanders Istanbul, she keeps seeing a mysterious woman in Muslim garb, who seems to be following her.  After several encounters, she confronts the woman and discovers that it is a former acquaintance, Alexandra.  Alexandra is a writer, fixer, mover, who floats from culture to culture, always in demand but never that close to anyone.  Flash and Brando met her and her young Arab lover years before in a convoy in Afghanistan, and have run into her over the years since.

In the next weeks, Alexandra seems to take Flash on as a project.  She forces her to get out and about, telling her there is no truth to the letter.  Kind and sympathetic one day, she is cruel and dismissive the next.   This leaves Flash in more disarray than ever, never knowing from one moment what is true and what is false, who can be believed and who will betray her.

I. Loved. This. Book.  It engages the reader on the first page and never lets go.  Everyone has had the experience of loving someone, and reading about the agony of wondering if that love has been betrayed struck to the heart.  As the author reveals layer upon layer of the characters, showing past events that have led to the current stages and hinting at causes, the reader is entranced.  The mood is languorous with an undertone of menace.  As the best books do, it makes the reader question what they know about life and love.  This book is recommended for all readers.