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.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stories for Nighttime And Some For The Day by Ben Loory

The stories in Ben Loory's Stories for Nighttime And Some For The Day are reminiscent of bedtime stories.  But, not stories told by loving parents tucking in their child for the night.  Instead, these are stories told by the offbeat uncle, the one who when the kids tell their parents what he has said, are told, "Oh that's just your uncle; he likes to make up adventures."  Then the parents huddle together in another room and make vows that this is the last time ever the uncle will be given the job of bedtime story teller to THEIR kids.

The stories are short, often just a page or two.  The words are also short and the stories seem deceptively simple at first.  Then at the end there is a twist that sets a hook in the reader's mind, insuring that they will return to the story again and again trying to figure out exactly where they were fooled.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy short stories.  The stories are reminiscent of O'Henry in the twist at the end, but are not as complex as his.  These are simple tales, simple enough that they can easily creep into the mind and take up residence. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler

Karen Wheeler had it all.  She was a fashion writer and spent her days at glamorous design parties, the top restaurants and in association with the top names in fashion.  She had more handbags and shoes than most small villages could muster with all the households combined.  She spent her days in a whirl of shopping, parties, and the best that the fashion world could offer.

But something was missing.  She was tiring of the hustle and bustle and the emptiness of a life without someone to share it with.  The man of her dreams had abruptly left, and she couldn't seem to move on.  Karen started to take classes to fill her weekends and at one, met a man who was creating a French bed and breakfast place.  He invited her to France to see what he was doing, and she accepted.  While there, in idle conversation, the fact that a house in the village was available came up and before she knew it, she had viewed it and bought it in one day!

Tout Sweet is the story of the first year of Karen's life in her new surroundings, and the change from a luxury flat in London to a house in rural France that had been neglected.  When she moved in, there was no running water, no modern bathroom, no kitchen facilities or even a kitchen floor!  The reader goes through the renovation with Karen, lovingly creating a house that was warm and inviting.

It is also the story of how she learned to slow her life and love it in the present instead of always waiting for the future.  Most of the village inhabitants were older, retirees from England along with the native French.  Karen made good friends here, friends that she had time to involve in her life.  She learned to enjoy the simple pleasures of long country walks, fresh baked croissants in the morning, and sitting in her courtyard at the end of a long day enjoying a glass of wine.  Along the way, there were several men who were interested in her and the reader gets the story of how each of these relationships progressed.

This book is recommended for those who enjoy travel writing and those who enjoy reading about how it is possible to change one's life.  Wheeler's writing style is light and breezy and the reader closes the last page sure that their life would be enriched if they could count her among their friends.  An enjoyable read, Tout Sweet is a life lesson on how to transform a life that doesn't satisfy into one that makes each day a new adventure.

That Day In September by Artie Van Why

Artie Van Why came to New York City to pursue an acting career.  A decade later, he instead was working at a career as a word processor at a New York City law firm, which happened to be located in the World Trade Center. 

Artie was there on September 11th, 2001 when the planes hit and America woke up to a new reality.  His memoir takes the reader through the terror and pain of that day as he saw the people jump, helped those he could and finally staggered home.  Van Why takes the reader through the following weeks and months of confusion and pain, the reality of how many were lost, and the guilt of wondering why some survived and some did not.

This book is recommended for all readers who still need to process their feelings about September 11th.  This birds eye view of what occurred that day and how it changed us all forever helps to provide a perspective from which the reader can hopefully start to make sense of such a horrendous act.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Ten Thousand Saints revolves around the life of Jude, a sixteen year old coming of age in the late 1980's. Jude was adopted at birth by parents who proudly called themselves hippies. Now, as he tries to determine who he is, they have split; his mother a glassblower in Vermont and his father a drug dealer in New York City. Jude doesn't do well at school; he doesn't have many friends, and he's not sure why his life isn't working out. His one true friend is Teddy, who is also from a broken home.

On New Year's Eve of 1987, several events happen. Jude's father's girlfriend's daughter, Eliza, comes to town for a few hours to meet Jude and his sister, a suggestion by Les, the father. Jude and Teddy take Eliza to a party where Teddy and Eliza end up together and Jude ends up being beat up by the local football hero and the local drug dealer. Finally, as the year ends, Jude and Teddy get high and Teddy dies.

As the battle between Jude and the local toughs intensifies, his parents decide that he should move to New York for a while to live with Les. Once there, Jude meets up with Johnny, Teddy's big brother who moved to the city several years ago. Johnny introduces Jude to Straight Edge, a militant group that worships music and bans drugs, alcohol, sex and eating meat. Jude falls in with this group, joining Johnny's band and then eventually starting one of his own.

The book follows Jude's life for a year as he moves from group to group, cleaving to friends then breaking apart, always searching for what will make sense of his life. The adults in his world don't seem to have made any more sense of their lives than he has, and Jude must determine what will work for him to move forward.

This book is recommended for all readers interested in determining life paths. For many, it will be nostalgic of the time period, while others may read and wonder how all of this occurred. The book covers other topics; unplanned pregnancies, the birth of gay liberation and the AIDS epidemic, the band scene, the gentrification of New York City and the sense that life happens whether or not one is ready for it. This is a debut novel by Eleanor Henderson and readers will be waiting eagerly for her next book, ready to see what new topics she will tackle.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

The thirteen stories in Stephen King’s Just After Sunset confirm him as the master of the thriller and horror genres for this generation. These are not necessarily short stories; King likes enough room to maneuver around as he unveils his story. The reader is reminded once again what makes Stephen King a master; taking everyday situations and characters each of us encounter in our own lives and twisting them just enough awry to make the horror that ensues believable.

The stories range across a variety of situations. There is the man who takes up stationary bike riding to lose weight; nothing can go wrong there, can it? The psychiatrist who “catches” his patient’s sick obsessions. A high school graduation party that will be remembered not for the occasion but for what went wrong that day with the world. A man haunted by survivor’s guilt when he uncharacteristically skipped work and the date happened to be September 11th and his workplace an office in the Twin Towers. From these situations, King weaves stories that will remain in the reader’s mind long after the book is closed.

This book is recommended for horror and thriller lovers. King’s genius is his believability; the conversations his characters have are conversations you could overhear in any diner  or gathering place in America. The situations start out as everyday occurrences until there is a kink in time, something that twists the everyday sideways into horror; a glimpse into another world that seems impossible to exist; a glance into the hidden horrors in a friend or neighbor’s mind. King has stated that he writes his short stories about situations that scare him; if so, his mind must be a very frightening place.  Readers will be pleasurably entertained and ready for the next round of King’s stories when they finish this one.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Running From Secrets by Stephanie Void

Bethany is confused.  Her family has just moved to town, fleeing a family tragedy.  She has no friends and roams the forest beside their house, searching for something, anything, to make her life feel right again.  Bethany starts to write a journal, all about another land call New Velerthland.  She spends hours constructing the land and its inhabitants.

Imagine her surprise when she is drawn through time and space to this land.  She wakes up in New Velerthland, knowing that there is evil loose in the land and that only she can save it.  Queen Numuriu has been possessed by demon spirits and has turned against the land and especially her childhood friend and cousin, Chime.  Bethany joins forces with Chime to try to defeat the evil before it can bring down the land and everything in it.
They must defeat evil wizards, sirens and ancient spells to break the hold that magic has on New Velerthland and its inhabitants.

Stephanie Void has written an interesting YA fantasy novel with supernatural elements, love stories and the conflict between evil and right.  The book is told in first person, and moves between Bethany's new home and the home she has created in New Velerthland.  Young adult readers will be interested to read to the end to discover what happens to Chime, Bethany and Queen Numuria, and will be ready to read more about the land in later books.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Passeggiata by G. G. Husak

“Passeggiata” in Italian means a kind of walk, a stroll arm-in-arm. That is exactly what G. G. Husak does for the reader; takes them on a stroll through various parts of Italy. She and her husband have made an annual tradition of visiting Italy, and in this book, she takes the reader with them on various adventures. The reader learns the tips that make Italian travel more pleasurable, as well as various pitfalls that can mar a journey. Small items such as which side of the road a bus stops on can make a huge difference if you are on the wrong side and it is the last or only bus of the day.

The Husaks visited all the major cities; Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan and Florence. They also traveled to the smaller cities that many travelers have not heard of and the less traveled places such as the walled cities built on top of hills and the Italian Rivera. Along the way, Husak points out the differences in the food, the art and the local customs.

One of the main points of the book is the couple’s realization that it is imperative to put aside the rushed scheduled life they lead in the United States and adopt a more leisurely way of handling the day and the stops along the way. If a bus doesn’t come on time, it will come a bit later. Hotels may be smaller than American ones, but have their own charms. Tourists can eat cheaply and well by avoiding the more heavily patronized restaurants and looking for smaller, family-oriented ones.

This book is recommended for those readers who either plan to visit Italy, or just love to read about other cultures and ways of life. There are numerous tips that the traveler can take advantage of, and the armchair traveler can revel in the stories of art, food and the Italian way of life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One Flight Up by Susan Fales-Hill

One Flight Up follows four friends as they hit their late thirties and start to question their choices in love.  India is a divorce lawyer who is very successful in her career but has never married.  Her heart was broken when she caught her fiance cheating on her weeks before the wedding.  She has finally started a new relationship with a safe, caring man when her dynamic ex-fiance comes back into the picture, determined to win her back.  Will she choose stability or excitement?

Abby married young and has three children.  She gave up her dreams of being a professor to work in and then run the family art gallery so that her husband can continue his dreams of being a sculptor.  None of her friends like him, regarding him as controlling, but Abby knows nothing else.  She expects her marriage will bump along forever until she picks up a phone message for him that tells her he is cheating.  Now a young teacher is interested in her.  What will she do?

Monique has it all.  A successful ob-gyn, she is married to a very rich and successful businessman.  They live in a mansion and have two gorgeous children.  The only problem?  Her husband ignores her and hasn't slept with her in months.  Will the new guy at work solve her longings?

Esme is a fireball, who explodes into every social situation, taking what she wants with no apologies.  Raised in a wealthy family and the kind of good looks that have men drooling, she has it all, but she's totally bored with her life as a suburban housewife.  She's ready to have some flings just for fun, sure that her husband will never know or leave her.  Is she right?

Susan Fales-Hill has created an interesting mix of characters and situations.  She lays out the constant battle women face between career and love, between safety and excitement, and how different women solve the dilemma.  The reader is swept along in the story, anxiously waiting to see how each women ends up.  This book is recommended for women readers.