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.