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. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

Lucy has been drifting through life and somehow she finds herself thirty-eight without a definite plan.  She is a professor in religion, her specialty the lives of the saints, but she doesn't yet have tenure.  She has not married or had children although she always saw herself as part of a big, happy family like the one she grew up in.  She loves her friend Harlan, but has never told him.

Then everything changes.  Harlan gets sick and dies.  In the midst of her grief, Lucy starts getting emails from Harlan; he had arranged for them to be delivered monthly after his death.  In them he tells Lucy he had loved her too and encourages her to move ahead with her life and go after the things she loves.

Lucy decides to adopt and she quickly discovers a four-year old Russian boy who needs her.  She concentrates on doing all the myriad tasks that an overseas adoption entails, avoiding work and family commitments to focus on this one task.  She is successful and Mat comes home with her.  It is a major adjustment to acclimate him to his new home, and just as she is beginning to believe it will all work out, Mat's father shows up and wants him back.  Will this be another inconclusive chapter in Lucy's life?

A Watershed Year is a thought-provoking novel that makes the reader think about what they really want from their life, and whether there is any reason not to go for broke to get it.  Lucy is an appealing character and evokes sympathy as well as an internal urging for her to be successful in her quest to carve out an independent, happy life for herself.  This book is recommended for all readers.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Small Death In The Great Glen by A.D. Scott

A young boy has been found murdered in a small town in the Scottish Highlands.  At first it appeared to be a drowning accident, but further investigation showed that the boy had been sexually assaulted before dying.  The murder shakes the town to its core, and brings out the secretiveness and mistrust of outsiders that characterizes small towns and its inhabitants.

But there are those who are determined to discover the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice.  Chief among these is the new editor of the local newspaper, McAllister.  Newly established at the paper, he is fighting to change it from a small local weekly to a newspaper worthy of the name.  But he has scarce resources.  There is Don McLeod, old-timer who knows everyone and all their secrets and who is determined to maintain the paper as it has always been.  Rob is the cub reporter, full of vigor but untrained.  Joanne Ross, is the part-time typist who is interested in moving into reporting and sees the newspaper as an escape from her abusive husband.

The case quickly seems to be over when a Polish immigrant is discovered and arrested.  Many in the town sigh in relief that all has been righted, but the story is not done.  Long-held secrets, going back years, will be brought to light before the full story is over.

A.D. Scott has created a stunning debut mystery series.  The reader is instantly transported to Scotland, but this is not the Scotland of bonny lasses and dashing Highlanders ready for a rousing reel.  This is the Scotland of long dreary winters, where tradition is held as iron-clad custom and woe befall those who dare to try to change things from the way they have always been.  The truth emerges slowly but surely and the reader turns the last page yearning for a way to return to this area to learn more.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers who also enjoy a strong sense of place.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cloyne Court by Dodie Katague

In October 1976, Dodie Katague is a freshman at Berkeley University in California.  This is the age of the hippie, free love, drugs, sex and rock 'n roll.  The problem is, Dodie is missing it all by living at home and commuting to school each day.  On his birthday, he manages to talk his parents into allowing him to live on-campus.  But where to live?  It's too late in the semester to get into a dorm and he didn't pledge a fraternity.  Then he hears about Cloyne Court, a student co-op building.

Cloyne Court is a rundown building that is inhabited and managed totally by students.  The rent is cheap, with students doing various jobs to pay part of their rent.  It is also co-ed.  Co-ed as in male and female roommates--roomies if the relationship is platonic; bunkies if it is a romantic relationship.  Showers are communal and nude sunbathing is a common occurrence.  To a man who has led a sheltered life up to now, this is a whole new world, and one that he will have to figure out how to fit into.

Cloyne Court is an interesting memoir by Dodie Katague of his years at Berkeley and his residence at the co-op.  He learns to get along with people of all persuasions, and also has his first serious love.  Katague discovers sex and all the joys and complications it can bring.  Baby boomers especially will love reading this memoir and reminiscing about their own college days.  Younger generations will read it and get an eye-opening new insight into their parents and that stodgy old guy in the next cubicle.  This book is recommended for memoir readers and those interested in the culture of the 1970's and early 80's.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guinevere, The Legend In Autumn by Persia Woolley

In this third book of her trilogy about Arthur, Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table, Persia Woolley ends the telling of her story.  It is above all the story of the triangle that King Arthur, his Champion Lancelot and his Queen, Guinevere, are tangled in.  Both men love Guinevere, but they also love each other as brothers and would do nothing to hurt each other.  Guinevere, in her turn, loves them both.  Arthur is her wedded husband, who honors her, takes her counsel and has her rule at his side.  He cannot, however, express his love easily in words, as his emotions have been trained to be hidden from others.  Lancelot is her true love, but one she is forbidden to have, for fear of hurting Arthur and tearing apart the kingdom.

But even more than the love story, this is a story steeped in historical fact that gives the reader insight into the times.  The reader learns of daily life with its proscribed tasks for each member of the royal household, the petty intrigues of court, the quest for adventures that periodically takes the Knights away.  The rise of Christianity and its gradual erosion of the pagan religions is explored.  The strength of family is evident, but betrayal for position is also common.

The central theme is the trial of Guinevere for treason and adultery, her condemnation to death, and her rescue by Lancelot, aided by Arthur.  Above all, each individual in this triangle is called by a love of country and the people, and will sacrifice whatever is needed to insure that the country survives as a strong entity.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.  While it is the last in the trilogy, readers probably know enough of the story to enjoy this one as a stand-alone, but many will choose to then go back and read the first two to see how Woolley interprets the beginning of this magnificent saga.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Woman In The Fifth by Douglas Kennedy

Harry Ricks has hit rock bottom.  Two months ago, he was a popular professor teaching film criticism with a daughter he delighted in.  His marriage had grown remote, but all in all, he felt blessed.  Then tragedy.  He gets swept up in the adoration of a female student and sleeps with her.  The resulting scandal costs him his job, his marriage and his relationship with his daughter.  To add salt to the wound, he discovers his wife has had a long-standing affair with his boss, and they have made sure the scandal is as juicy and protracted as possible.

Wounded, Ricks flees to Paris.  He isn't sure what he will do, but at least he will be in the city he loves.  But, going to Paris as a well-to-do tourist and coming to Paris to live as an impoverished man is a far different proposition.  He finds himself in the roughest area of town, surrounded by people at best indifferent to his needs and at worst, actively hostile.  He finds a miserable job that is outside the official structure and settles into a mundane existence.

Then, everything changes.  Someone tells him about a salon where educated people gather to talk and mingle; best of all, admittance is just the cost of an evening's meal.  Ricks goes to the salon one Sunday evening and there he meets Margit Kadar.  She is a beautiful woman who seems as attracted to Harry as he is to her.  Older than him by a decade or more, she has an air of mystery and sophistication he can't resist.  Soon Margit and Harry have started an affair.  He goes to see her twice a week for three hours; those are the conditions she has laid down.

Just when Harry starts to believe that he might crawl out of his isolation and depression, things start to get even worse.  One by one, those who make his life miserable start to have horrific things happen to them.  Harry is amazed and soon he starts to get scared.  Can he discover who is behind everything happening to him before it manages to subsume him and take him under?

Douglas Kennedy has written a novel that is compelling, suspenseful and exciting.  Readers who start it won't want to do much else until they finish the story and discover Harry's fate.  Kennedy has a talent for making the unbelievable seem plausible and the reader is pulled into Harry's world.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy suspenseful reads.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

Camp Nine is a coming of age novel set in World War II.  The story is seen through the eyes of thirteen year old Chess Morton.  Chess is the granddaughter of the local wealthy landowner, Walter Morton, who owns most of the land there in the Delta of Arkansas and influences everything.  Far from being raised as a wealthy Southern lady, though, Chess lives in genteel poverty with her mother, Carolina Morton, known as Carrie.  Carrie was raised as the only daughter of Italian immigrants, and considered just this side of unacceptable when Walter's son, Walt, fell in love with and married her.  Walt, Chess' dad, died early, and Walter and Carrie settled into a pitched battle that would last their lives about their differing world views and their views on how to raise Chess.

It is the mid 1940's and something strange has happened in the Delta.  Walter has sold a huge parcel of land to the government and the government has quickly constructed a city there, a city of worn boards and communal kitchens and dining halls.  Who will live in this place?  The answer arrives with the first trainload of Japanese families.  These are the Japanese-American families who lived in California and were rounded up and interned during the war.

Sentiment in the town was quickly divided.  Most of the residents, already living in a defined social structure between black and white inhabitants, are against the new residents of the Delta.  Of course, these residents are not roaming the town; they are restricted to the land within the barbed wire fences guarded by American soldiers.  Carrie, however, is thrilled to see and meet the families there.  It reminds her of her time in California, when she attended college there and planned a life as an artist.  She quickly volunteers her time as an art teacher and soon has established herself as part of the camp life.  Chess accompanies her, and the two become close to many families, especially the Matsui family.

This book is recommended for historical fiction readers.  It outlines the life led by the Japanese who were interned during World War I.  It also covers the history of the Klan, the social structure of the South, the heroism of the Japanese-American soldiers who fought for their country even as their country treated their families as traitors and suspicious inhabitants.  The is Schiffer's first novel, and readers will be ready to read her next one after finishing Camp Nine; ready for more of her deft touch recreating past events.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Lavinia is born into poverty overseas.  Her parents decide to immigrate to America as indentured servants along with Lavinia and her brother.  On the trip over, the parents become ill and both die.  When the ship reaches America, the captain sells the brother's contract, but Lavinia is only seven and won't fetch much.  The captain decides to keep her contract himself and takes her to his plantation.

There Lavinia, who is white, is sent to the kitchen house to live among the slaves and learn their trades.  This is fairly scandalous, but the Captain's family is not usual.  Belle, who runs the kitchen house is the Captain's daughter from a liaison with a slave woman.  The Captain's wife spends her days drugged up on laudanum, a form of morphine.  She has been driven mad by the loss of her babies, a common occurrence in this time period.

Lavinia learns to love the slaves she grows up among.  They are the only family she knows and she calls the mother and father of the house slaves Mama and Papa the same as her playmates do.  When Lavinia is twelve, the mistress' sister comes on a family visit when the Captain dies.  She is shocked at Lavinia's situation and when the family decides to take the mistress back with them to Williamsburg, they also take Lavinia.  There she grows into a woman, beautiful and determined to return somehow to the plantation and the only family she has ever known.

Grissom has written a story of slavery from an interesting angle, that of an indentured white servant who grows up with a slave family.  It allows her to show the plight of the slaves from a different viewpoint, along with the strong sense of family they hold, and the mechanisms they create in order to survive and thrive.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blue Ocean Bob Discovers His Purpose by Brooks Olbrys

In this children's book, Brooks Olbrys uses a young boy named Blue Ocean Bob to illustrate the power of positive thinking and how to be content with what you have already.  The book is based on the teaching of Bob Proctor.  Bob Proctor has spent 40 years teaching people how to use the power of their minds to achieve success.

Bob is determined to discover his life's purpose.  He asks the creatures around him such as his best friend Alba, a bird.  When he doesn't receive an answer, he decides to take off and find someone who can tell him.  He queries a dolphin and when he doesn't get the answer there, goes further and consults, Doc.  Doc is an ancient turtle who serves as the judge and arbitrator of the ocean animals.  After talking to Doc, Bob decides that his purpose is to protect the animals of the ocean.

The book is written at about a four to eight year old level.  It is illustrated by Aleksandra Beaucher in her debut as an illustrator.  Her art is simple and powerful with bright colors and striking lines.  This book is recommended for children and for parents looking for books that emphasize positive thinking.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood

Iris Oakley arrives at her job as a zookeeper to a horrific sight.  Her boss, Ken Wallace, is in the elephant's enclosure, lying face down and still as the big animals roll him from side to side.  Iris, whose husband was killed by the big cats only months before and who is on lighter duty due to being pregnant, calls the police.

At first it is thought that the elephants have killed him, which causes dismay among the zoo personnel.  But soon an even uglier truth emerges.  Wallace was not killed by the elephants, but struck over the head and left to die in their habitat.  There is a killer loose in the zoo.

Iris is determined to help the police find the killer.  There are lots of suspects.  There are the zoo protesters, who hate the very idea of the zoo.  There is the new zoo veterinarian who seems to have secrets in her past.  New zookeepers have come to work recently and they don't seem to be fitting in well with the existing staff.  Then there are the other issues.  Animals are disappearing and zoo staff are having strange things happen to them; events that could be precursors to another murder.  Can Iris discover what is going on before someone else loses their life?

Did Not Survive is recommended for mystery lovers.  Iris is an engaging protagonist, spunky in her determination to overcome the fate life has served up to her, leaving her pregnant and widowed at an early age.  The plot is intricate enough to please puzzle solvers, with enough action to keep the pace of the book brisk.  Readers will be eager to try additional titles by Littlewood after finishing this one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Talking To Serial Killers by Christopher Berry-Dee

Henry Lucas.  Arthur Shawcross.  Carol Bundy.  Ronald DeFeo Jr. Aileen Wuornos.  Harvey Carignan.  John Scripps.  Michael Ross. Kenneth McDuff, Douglas Clark.  For those who follow the true crime genre, this list of names sends a chill down their spines as they realise the list is one of infamous serial killers from the recent past.

Christopher Berry-Dee is a criminologist, and the editor of New Criminologist magazine.  This book is a compilation of his interviews, both in person and letters or audio, with various serial killers.  The reader is given a synopsis of each criminal's crimes and a view into their early background.  The details of the crimes are interspersed with the actual quotes from the killers about the various crimes.  There are excuses, protestations of innocence.  Berry-Dee records it all, but lets the reader know that these men and women were convicted and put on Death Rows around the country for valid reasons.

This book is recommended for true crime buffs.  They will read about some killers who are new to them, as well as having the psyche of more famous killers explored.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kara, Lost by Susan Niz

Susan Niz's Kara, Lost starts with Kara climbing out the window of her bedroom to run away.  Raised in a dysfunctional family, her parents have decided that she is either on drugs or has mental issues and are trying to force her to take medication she doesn't want to take.  Being sixteen, she can see no option except to run away and try to survive on her own.

Once on the streets, Kara discovers that life is even harder there than at home.  She expects to be able to live with her sister, but her sister's boyfriend is not interested in sharing their apartment.  She moves from situation to situation, counselors, acquaintances, always moving on when they can't provide what she needs. At one point, she is injured in an accident, hospitalized and her parents come to retrieve her, only to put her into a home for troubled teens. She learns to question the motives of those willing to help her.

But there are positive moves.  Kara finds a job and over the weeks, befriends the owners of the restaurant where she is a prized employee.  She is able to rent an apartment and furnish it with small items she is able to purchase.  Finally, she finds a way to start to finish her high school education so that she can move on to a successful adult life.

Susan Niz has written a haunting story of what life is like for runaways and throwaway teens on their own.  She chronicles the pitfalls and the difficulties that have to be negotiated, exploring all the usual vehicles of help and showing why they often do not work.  This book is recommended for parents, teens, and those interested in helping this population.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

It is the mid 1820s, and Ana Cubillas is the daughter of wealthy Spanish parents.  She is assured a life of luxury in Spain, but her interest is caught by the memoirs of one of her ancestors.  He traveled to Puerto Rico with Ponce de Leon, and his account of the journey and the country he found there fires Ana's imagination.  As a woman, she has little opportunity to explore her obsession.  That is, until she meets the Argoso twins, Ramon and Inocente.  She fuels their sense of adventure and convince them that they should go manage their family's sugar plantation in Puerto Rico.  Ana marries Ramon and the three travel to their new home.

Thus starts Esmeralda Santiago's new novel, Conquistadora.  The novel follows Ana's life for the next forty years.  It is a sprawling historical that explores daily plantation life, slavery and the relationship between the slaves and their owners, politics, economics, military adventures, epidemics and medicine as well as human love relationships.  The reader learns about all these topics, but it is the story of Ana that drives the book just as her indomitable will drives her and all those around her to conquer the land and create a legacy for those who follow.

Life was often short and brutish on the plantation, and death was never more than a moment's inattention away.  Children are born and if the parents are lucky, they survive to carry on the work of the family.  Civilization is built on rigid social structures, but one of the draws of the colony is the ability to escape the class one was born into and to rise to wealth through hard work and luck. 

Santiago has written a compelling novel that educates while entertaining the reader.  She has written extensively about her Puerto Rican background and is a contributor to NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.  Her book, Almost A Woman was adapted into a film to PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.  This book is recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My God, What Have We Done? by Susan Weiss

Pauline and Clifford, newlyweds, spend their honeymoon at a strange choice.  They are drawn to the Los Alamos nuclear testing ground and museum.   Pauline is drawn to Robert Oppenheimer, the man who shepherded the development of the nuclear bomb, and the men who toiled for years to create it.

In My God, What Have We Done?, Susan Weiss alternates between the lives of Clifford and Pauline and the men at Los Alamos, contrasting their lives.  The scientists are drawn together from all over the United States, chosen for their brilliance.  They work together to build the ultimate weapon, able to make the project happen even though they had divergent backgrounds and agendas. 

Weiss also follows the early marriage of Clifford and Pauline.  They settle in Boston, where Clifford is a teacher.  Pauline has worked as a homeless advocate until their marriage.  She looks for a job, then discovers that she is pregnant.  They have their first child, a son, and when he is old enough that she starts looking again, discovers that she is pregnant again, this time with a daughter.  Pauline continues as a stay-at-home mom and soon falls victim to the loneliness and disconnect that this role can have.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy stories outlining familial relationships and how they work or do not work.  The men at Los Alamos came together with a grand purpose, fought through strife and loneliness to accomplish a purpose and created a weapon that, when it exploded, changed the world.  Weiss shows the similarity to a marriage.  Two divergent personalities come together for a grand purpose; that of making a new life and family.  There are issues and differences to work through.  The family either melds into a strong unit capable of taking on all stresses or explodes, throwing the members hither and yon.  Readers will take away this analogy and be able to apply it to their own lives.  This is a strong book with an inspiring message.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

Jasmine has enough to deal with.  It's hard enough to be raised by your grandparents because your mother got pregnant at sixteen and wasn't ready to raise a baby.  It's even harder when those parents were different races, leaving you the only multi-race girl in high school.  Add in being the girl always left out, a role that Jaz had starred in after a bullying incident in fourth grade that almost resulted in her death. 

Now her mom is happy, with a new man and about to give Jaz a new baby brother or sister.  Except.  Except that Jaz saw the new man kissing another woman at a party.  If she tells her mother, her mother will be crushed and she is already having a difficult pregnancy.  If she doesn't tell, Jaz will be consumed with guilt and resentment. 

Jaz has a few tension releasers.  She is a talented musician and can always count on playing her guitar and songwriting to release pain and work through situations.  She has one good friend at school.  Then there is Jackson.  Jackson, another one the high school gossips about.  He is rumored to have dealt drugs and spent time in Juvie, but it is also one of the hottest guys in school.  Jackson seems to want to be Jaz's friend, but can she trust him, and will it just be a friendship?

Janet Gurtler has written a young adult novel that explores the intricacies of growing up different, being isolated and finding your way when you're not the All-American girl.  She explores Jaz's various relationships with sensitivity and guides Jaz and the reader through the labyrinth of emotions common to teenagers making their way in the world.  This book is recommended for young adult readers and those interested in the world teenagers face each day.

Murder In The Senior Manor by Kathryn Braund

Louise Knight lives in the Senior Manor and is content to do so.  That is, until she goes to do her laundry and discovers the body of another resident, Maddie Young.  Maddie, eighty-six, has been murdered.  Louise raises the alarm and is distraught to realise that she is the police's prime suspect.

Desperate to clear her name and find justice for Maddie, Louise and some of her friends decide to work on the case themselves.  They discover that Maddie might not have been the sweet, hapless lady they all thought.  Instead, some of her actions may well have made her enemies.  Can Louise and her crew of senior detectives discover the truth before one of them falls prey to the murderer?

Kathryn Braund has written a delightful mystery.  It falls into the cozy part of the detective story genre.  The reader learns about senior living arrangements and the friendships that emerge in this kind of residence along with discovering the clues that solve the murder.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Grand Pursuit by Sylvia Nasar

In Sylvia Nasar's Grand Pursuit, she outlines the theories of economics that have controlled the world.  The book covers the period from the time of Dickens, one of the first men to lament the lives of the poor, to the present day.  Along with the various theories that have held sway at different times, she introduces the reader to the surrounding historical events and the lives of the economists whose thoughts impact everyone around them.

The book is separated into three parts.  The first part covers the rise of the Socialist theories that sought to understand the plight of the poor and determine methods to improve the life of the everyday man.  Individuals covered include Charles Dickens, Engels and Marx, Beatrice Webb and Sidney Fisher.

The second part covers the period leading up to WW I and continues through the end of WW II.  This period also covers The Great Depression.   The reader is introduced to economists such as Schumpeter, Hayek and the early days of Keynes.  Fisher and Webb were still working at this time but new theories were advanced by men such as Robinson and Milton Friedman.  The economists struggled to understand the causes of the Depression, the best method to assuage the cracks in the economy, and the best way for the world to recover from a world war.

The final part covers the period from the end of WW II to the present.  This was the heyday of Keynes, and his disciples were at the forefront of the recovery and the decision not to impoverish the European nations who went into such debt for the war.  Economists from this time period who were just emerging include Samuelson, another woman, Joan Robinson, and an Indian economist, Sen.  This was the time of the rise of Communism in Russia and China, and Nasar is unsparing in her depiction of the millions killed or starved, and the failure of many economists such as Robinson to see the truth, blinded by their own beliefs and unwillingness to face the truth.

This book is recommended for all readers who wish they understood economics better so that they can make better decisions.  Nasar has a real talent for taking complex ideas and writing about them in such a way that the reader is not intimidated by the subject matter.  There is exactly the right mix of theory and biography and the book never lags.  Grand Pursuit is a major accomplishment in its depiction of this difficult topic and its narrative of a century and a half of history told from an economic standpoint.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Love In A Dish by M.F.K. Fisher

One of the preeminent food writers of the 1930’s to the 1990’s, M.F.K. Fisher redefined how those who loved fine cuisine talked and wrote about it. She wrote twenty-six books, most of them in the food appreciation genre. She was a lifetime achievement award recipient from the James Beard Foundation and the American Institute of Wine and Food.

In Love In A Dish, readers are given a series of her short essays about food and cooking. She talks about her time in Provence and her rudimentary kitchens and simple fare there which inspired her to make wonderful meals from whatever was available. Another piece discusses the relationship between food and love; how feeding your lover defines the caring and importance one attaches to another. There are pieces that discuss her culinary education as she grew up. Her father introduced her to the delights of seafood and good wine; while her grandmother was a disciplinarian who insisted on strict standards at the table as well as other areas of life. There are entire essays about specific food; the oyster and how it should be eaten (cooked or raw?), the potato and all the myriad methods of cooking it and how to choose and enjoy wine.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy food and cooking and reading about them. Outside of the field of interest, the writing itself is delicious; her prose clear and lyrical. The book, like most anthologies, is best read a bit at a time when one has a quiet moment to appreciate the writing. Readers who finish Love In A Dish will be moved to find other M.F.K. volumes to read more about this author’s entrancing love affair with food.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Telling Lies by Cathi Stoler

Laurel Imperiole, a magazine editor from New York, is vacationing in Italy with her new boyfriend, Detective Aaron Gerrard.  As they are leaving the art museum she bumps into a businessman.  As she and the man go their separate ways, she is bothered by a strange feeling that something is not right.  Then it hits her.  This businessman is her good friend's husband, Jeff Sargasso.  But that can't be right; Jeff died in the Towers during the 9-11 attacks.

Still, she is convinced she is right.  Jeff had gone to the towers that morning to make an art deal that would rock the world.  A Japanese tycoon was interested in selling a painting for one hundred and fifty million.  To insure the sale went smoothly, the buyers had to put up fifteen million dollars.  That was Jeff's part; to insure the transfer of the fifteen million once everything was on schedule.  Instead, he was killed and the fifteen million dollars went into limbo along with his body; he was identified as one of the more than a thousand individuals whose bodies could not be recovered.

Laurel believes that instead Jeff has taken the money and reinvented himself as an Italian art dealer.  She recruits her good friend Helen to help her discover the truth; Helen is a private investigator.  Detective Gerrard starts an investigation from the police side of things, and soon the FBI is also involved.  Then there are the Israeli undercover agents that seem to have an interest also.  Who will discover the truth first?

Kathi Stoler's debut novel shows promise of an entertaining new voice in female detective stories.  The characters are crisp and intriguing, and the plot twists come fast and furious.  The audience is transported to Italy and New York, learning about the byzantine world of high-end art transactions.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Man Of Parts by David Lodge

David Lodge's latest novel is a sympathetic portrayal of the life of H.G. Wells, the novelist who gave us such books as War Of The Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Time Machine.  Desirious of a world more equal and supporting of all men, Wells used his novels to show his vision of a utopian existence where men and women were equal and science made life better for all.

But Wells did not start out as a cornerstone of society.  He was born into a poor family, his father a shop keeper and cricket player while his mother was in service as a housekeeper for a wealthy family.  For many years, his parents lived apart as she had to be available at all hours in the manor she worked in.  Wells grew up "downstairs", education being his saving grace.  He fought for an education and his brilliant mind was recognized, winning him scholarships that allowed him to move into the wealthy class.

Wells was a contradiction.  Socialist by nature, he made no bones about enjoying his wealth.  A feminist by nature, he indulged himself with numurous affairs and dalliances.  He was married twice and had several long-term relationships.  Several of these were with women barely out of their teens when he was middle-aged and beyond.  His private life always threatened to disrupt his public life.  While his novels were not considered literary triumphs, he was a very successful writer, influential in the way that a successful novelist can be in shaping public opinion. 

This book is a departure for Lodge, and it is a success.  His tone is light, and he moves quickly but throughly through Well's life, showing his work and love interests as well as his desire to affect lives around him.  His friends, novelists such as Shaw and Henry James, are also highlighted, giving the reader a complete feel for this strata of society in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  Wells survived through WW II.  Lodge's novel is a fitting tribute and an interesting exploration of a complicated man's life.  This book is recommended for all readers who have heard of Wells but don't know much about him and his life. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

In A Small Hotel, Robert Olen Butler traces one night in a marriage; the night it was to have been dissolved.  Kelly Hayes was to go to the courthouse to sign the final divorce papers.  Instead she flees to New Orleans and signs into the hotel where she and her husband Michael met twenty years ago.  Michael Hayes has tried to move on and is at a weekend away with his new love, a woman twenty years his junior.

As the night progresses, the couple's marriage and where it has strained and fallen apart is explored.  The words that might have been said but were left unspoken, the assumptions that were made in error, all the small items that lead to separation and disillusionment.  The novel moves back and forth between Kelly and Michael, often showing an event from each one's viewpoint, and the reader can see the miles of space between their interpretation of what occurred.

Readers will be touched by the careful exploration Butler performs as well as his lyrical, haunting writing.  His insight into what women want from men, what men want from women and how each is shaped by their past familial relationships will make the reader reevaluate their own relationships.  This book is recommended for all readers interested in understanding the human condition and how we relate to each other.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

A serial rapist is stalking the women of Copenhagen.  Detective Louise Rick is assigned to the case of the first known victim.  The rapist finds his victims online and spends several weeks emailing them, creating an illusion that they know him.  He is charming on the first date, protective of the woman and hesitant to move too quickly.  When the woman finally invites him to her home, he makes his move, binding her before brutally raping her and leaving her for others to find.

The police know that it is unlikely that someone with such a developed plan of attack is a first-timer and they start to look for more victims.  It doesn't take long to find them.  There are also indications that even with the story becoming public, the rapist is continuing his hunt for new victims. 

Sara Blaedel has written an interesting police procedural.  Readers are taken behind the scenes of the investigation, where they see all the details and red tape that characterize a major case.  Blaedel has also created a fully-imagined character in Detective Louise Rick.  The reader not only has a first-hand look at her working methods and her reactions to various events in the case, but a chance to see how her working life and daily life intertwine.  This is Blaedel's first book to be available in the United States, and readers will be clamouring for others as they discover this major talent from Denmark.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Love At Absolute Zero by Christopher Meeks

Gunnar Gunderson has spent his life in the lab.  He is a rising star in physics, working on what happens to matter if it reaches absolute zero.  At work he is a star, getting tenure at age 32.  In life, he realises that he is near the bottom, no love interest, no chance of a wife and family unless he changes his way.

Always the scientist, Gunnar decides to approach the problem of finding a wife scientifically.  He starts making lists of desirable traits and hypotheses of what women are looking for in a mate.  This should be easy if he just applies the scientific method, right?  Just to make things more interesting, due to work pressures he determines that he needs to find his soulmate in the time he has available while his lab is being moved--three days.

Readers will enjoy reading about Gunnar and his quest.  He is an endearing sort, focused in his work but bumbling like an amateur through life.  The question of whether he can make his love life work as well as his academic one will keep readers turning the pages to the end.  This book is recommended for readers interested in true love, or at least how men may approach it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Last Seal by Richard Denning

Benjamin Silver has decided to cut classes.  Adrift after the death of his parents, he is having a difficult time fitting in at this new London boarding school.  But his decision to cut classes today will have far-reaching consequences.  He will be called on to activate the powers he has inherited from his ancestors; powers he has no idea he possesses.

In 1380, a demon named Dantelion almost broke free.  His only desire is to break the world and become its master.  He was instead trapped in the netherworld by a warlock, Cornelius Silver.  Silver sealed the entrance to that world with six seals and a final one that required someone with enormous magic to unseal.  Those seals have held for almost three hundred years, but are now under attack.

Arrayed against those who would free Dantelion are an unlikely crew.  Ben Silver is a schoolboy.  He meets an unlikely ally who lives her life as a thief, making her way on her own in London though she is as young as Ben.  They team up with a bookseller who is the head of the group that through the ages has worked to keep London safe from the demon.  A fourth member is a doctor whose father was recently killed in the fight between those who seek to imprison the demon and those who want to release him for their own gain.

Can this unlikely team defeat the forces aligned against them?  Their enemies have wealth and high places in the government.  They are unlikely heroes, yet the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. 

Richard Denning has created a historical fantasy sure to attract readers interested in this genre.  The plot successfully twists and turns, ratcheting up the suspense on each page.  He also uses historical events such as the plague years and the Great Fire of London to ground the story and make it more realistic.  Denning is a British author but will gain new fans in America with this book.  The Last Seal is recommended for fantasy lovers of all ages, from young adult to adult readers.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where You Left Me by Jennifer Gardner Trulson

On September 11th, 2001, Jennifer Gardner had it all.  A marriage with a man she adored and who treasured her, two lovely children, an apartment on Central Park in New York City and a house in the Hamptons, and no money problems.  By the end of the day, her world had collapsed.  Her husband, Doug, worked in the Twin Towers and was at work when the planes hit that day.  He never made it out.

Where You Left Me is the memoir of the Gardner's life after the 9-11 tragedy.  Jennifer's world had irretrievably changed, and she could not find her footing.  Friends and family rallied around and she had a therapist.  But everywhere she looked she found something that reminded her of all that had been lost.  She grieved not only for the present, but for all the future that Doug had been cheated of.  No first youth basketball games, no Bar Mitzvah, no weddings where he gave away his daughter.  She endured the curiosity of acquaintances, and chance remarks that cut her to the quick.  Somehow the days passed until a year had rolled by. 

As time went on, she started to cautiously make her way back to the world.  One of the biggest helps was meeting a man who had no connection to the tragedy.  Derek Trulson had just moved to New York City from Seattle.  His entire life and background was utterly different from what Jennifer was used to, and his zest for life and insistence that adventures still awaited her slowly but surely brought her back from the chaos she was living in.

As the ten-year anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy approaches, readers will be given the opportunity to read many books about it.  Where You Left Me  is a heartfelt memoir that explores the effect the events that day had on one family, and demonstrates how resilient the human spirit is after tragedy.  This book is recommended for those interested in American history and for memoir readers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Most people have heard of Doc Holliday, the gambling sharpshooter.  Far fewer have heard of Doctor John Henry Holliday, the skilled dentist and Southern aristocrat who was forced out west by his health.  Mary Doria Russell introduces readers to both and the combined man who was more than any of the legends that rose about him in her novel, Doc.

Holliday was born in the South and learned much of what he knew from his mother.  He adored her and she introduced him to classical music and the classic authors he loved so much.  Tragically, she died early from what was called consumption in those days and tuberculosis in ours.  Even more tragically, she was probably the source from which Holliday also contracted TB. 

Holliday, after her death, had moved in with relatives.  His uncle, a prominent physician, convinced Holliday to study dentistry, which he considered a superior skill.  Holliday planned to open a practice with his cousin, but the early signs of TB put a stop to that.  Living in the hot, humid South would be a death sentence, so he moved out West.  Unfortunately, the economy there did not support dentistry, and Doc soon began to take advantage of his other skills.  He could ride a horse as if born in the saddle, draw a gun so fast it seemed to just appear in his hand, and use his intellect and skill to support himself at the poker and faro tables.

Russell introduces the reader to the real Doc Holliday.  She also writes of those who surrounded Doc; his lover, Kate, the Earp brothers Wyatt, James and Morgan, Bat Masterson and a host of others.  Doc was defined by his illness, which took his life by inches.  He became an alcoholic who drank all day to quiet his cough.  Some regarded him as a criminal, but underneath, he remained the man he grew up as with a strong ethical sense and a determination to live life on his terms.

This book is recommended for all readers, especially those who love historical fiction.  The reader is transported to the Old West with its legends and shown the true stories around which the legends grew up.  Russell treats her characters kindly, showing their reasoning as well as their human frailties.  The reader will turn the last page more knowledgeable about this part of American history and the men who carved out civilization out West. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Keeper Of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Detective Carl Morck is back at work in Denmark after the crime that took one partner's life, left another paralyzed and Carl in the hospital for an extended time.  Instead of being welcomed back with open arms, the police department is unsure what to do with him.  Yes, he was one of the best detectives, but the crime has left him even more surly and uncooperative than before.

Then a brilliant plan is hatched.  The Danish legislature has just appropriated money to solve old crimes.  Morck is given a promotion and put in charge of the Q Unit; set up to investigate cold cases.  It sounds more important than it is; Carl is sent to a dingy basement office and given one staff member, an immigrant who is hired as a cleaner and administrative assistant rather than an investigator.  No one expects much of Carl including himself.

But the traits that made him a great detective could not be quenched.  The cases piled up on his desk start to make him curious and finally he picks one up to start on. Five years before, a female legislator, Merete Lynggaard, disappeared from a ferry.  It was assumed she fell overboard and drowned, but the more Carl looks into the case, the more it starts to look like something else happened.  Can Carl find out the secrets surrounding the Lynggaard case?

Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of the preeminent Danish crime writers.  The Keeper Of Lost Causes is the first in his Q series, and readers will fall in love with his writing and with Carl and his assistant.  The book won the Glass key Award issued by the Crime Writers of Scandinavia and well as the Golden Laurels award, the most prestigious Danish literary award.  Fans of Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Peter Hoeg will be excited to add Jussi Adler-Olsen to their reading lists.  This book is recommended for mystery fans.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Malice, Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder

Tristan Mourault decides he must have Karen Miller the first time he sees her on the street in San Franscisco.  The problem is that Karen is fifteen.  But, Tristan befriends her, and when he discovers that her home life is problematic, convinces her to run away with him.  They fake her murder, and leave for New York, where Karen poses as Tristan's daughter, Gisele.  In reality, they are lovers.

Fast forward fifteen years.  Tristan and Gisele have moved back to California, to an artist's colony high in the mountains.  Over the years, Gisele married Luke, not for love, but to be a father to  daughter, Nicola.  That daughter is now twelve, and starting to wonder about her family life.  Luke has moved on to other women due to Gisele's indifference, and the latest is Amanda Miller, Karen's sister who was scarred for life by her sister's murder. 

Coincidence?  Not really.  Tristan and Gisele are surrounded by artists and art collectors, who have their own agendas and some of whom seem determined to rip apart the facade that has been in place for fifteen years.  Things come to a head when a series of arresting paintings of Gisele are discovered, nudes that are stunning and revealing in a way that will focus attention on the family and knock down the walls they have hidden behind so many years.

Brandi Lynn Ryder has created a compelling book, full of memorable characters and a plotline that has the reader turning the pages to determine what will happen to them all.  The setting is interesting with insight into the art world and the collectors and artists that make it up.  This book is recommended for suspense readers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson

Blessing and Ezikiel are lucky children. They are one of the few Nigerian families to live comfortably due to their parents’ professional jobs. They live in a comfortable apartment and go to an excellent private school. Ezikiel plans to become a doctor and they both study hard. They are isolated from the poverty and strife most Nigerian families face each day.

All that changes when their parents’ marriage breaks up. They are forced to leave their apartment, school and city and move out to the rural area with their mother, who has to move back in with her parents in order to survive. It is a huge culture shock for Blessing and Ezikiel. Instead of special foods meant to alleviate Ezikiel’s allergies and asthma, they eat a country fare, much simpler and full of foods they have never eaten. There is no electricity, no air-conditioning, no plumbing or running water. There is no money for new clothes and books. The only school is a primitive one where the children are beaten regularly. Ezikiel is determined to make the best of it all, but Blessing is lost and confused.

Their relatives, who they did not know before, are now the most important people in their lives. Their grandparents had not spoken for years to their mother, as they did not approve of her marriage. The grandfather is a proud Muslim man, an oil engineer by training who has never been able to work at a job that uses his training. The grandmother is the midwife for the area and delivers the babies. Soon after they arrive, the grandfather takes a second wife, Celestine, who is a loud, brash woman who is na├»ve and ignorant but who quickly starts having babies. These strangers are now people it is important to form relationships with. Blessing becomes a midwife’s assistant and helps her grandmother deliver babies, the one positive in this strange new life. She loves the job and the way she is able to help form new families.

The mother has to work long hours and rarely sees the children. She is now a waitress and works for the white men employed by the oil company. The oil company is the force behind everything. It takes the oil and energy resources, but the people of Nigeria get none of the benefit. The government gets payments but none is used to improve rural life. There are energy spills and environmental disasters which foul the water and air and make growing crops difficult. Few of the Nigerian men are employed as the workers are all white men who are brought in from overseas and who live segregated lives in gated communities guarded by security forces.

Things get worse when the mother falls in love with one of the oil workers. At first, the children believe it is just a monetary arrangement, as he provides money to make their lives easier. But it also brings strife. Ezikiel quits school and becomes estranged from his family, making friends with the gangs that call themselves freedom fighters. As it becomes apparent that the man and their mother are in love, Ezikiel’s behavior becomes more belligerent as he refuses to admit another man into his family.

Christie Watson has written a stunning debut novel. The characters are bold and full of life, and the coming of age dilemmas the children face are exquisitely portrayed. The part the oil company plays in everyday family life and the Nigerian country with its strife and poverty is explained convincingly. This book is recommended for readers of family sagas and for those interested in how families can overcome difficulties to remain close.

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Twenty-four years ago Jason Jessup killed a twelve-year-old girl.  He has been in prison since then, but now due to DNA testing of a stain on the girl's dress, his conviction has been reversed.  But LA County is not ready to release him; they firmly believe he committed the crime.They decide to retry Jessup, a move that hold the potential for big political payoff or blame.

To shield the DA's office, he recruits a strange choice as Special Prosecutor.  Micky Haller is one of the premier defense attorneys in the area.  The DA asks him to take over the case, and explains why the DA's office believes the DNA results make no difference to the truth of the case; that Jessup snuffed out the life of an innocent girl twenty-four years before and needs to stay in prison to protect others. 

Haller decides to take on the case, both as a curiosity and because, as a father of a daughter the same age as the victim, he believes in what the prosecution is attempting to do.  To make up his team, he recruits his ex-wife, an assistant DA, and his half-brother, Harry Bosch.  Bosch is an LA police detective, assigned to homicide for years and one of the very best.  Together the team works to accomplish the impossible--reversing the reversal.

Fans of Michael Connolly will be delighted to see two of his most memorable characters, Haller and Bosch, brought together in a case.  The reader gets an inside look at how prosecutions happen, and the police work behind them that support the evidence.  The plot is fast-paced, and the reader cares about the characters.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.