Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nevada's Golden Age Of Gambling by Al W. Moe

Al W. Moe has written an interesting well-researched reference book about the start of gambling in Nevada, and the golden years of 1931-1981.  Two factors created Nevada as a gambling haven.  The first was the passage in 1931 of a state law authorizing gambling as a legal activity when done in a club licensed by the state.  The other factor was the building of the Hoover Dam nearby, with hundreds of men stuck in the desert with nothing much to do with their pay.  The clubs grew up to support them and then went nationwide with their advertising and customer draw.

Moe talks about the Mafia and underworld figures that started many of the most famous clubs.  He discusses Bugsy Siegel and other figures and documents which clubs they owned for how long.  He also devotes a chapter to Howard Hughes, who lived in Las Vegas his last years as a recluse.  Although he owned casinos, he wasn't involved enough to make sure they were profitable.

Most of the clubs and casinos changed hands many times over the years.  There was a core group of investors who owned them, but their interest in any one club was often short-lived and they would move on to another club.  Moe painstakingly researches and draws the trail of ownership of the various establishments. 

Hollywood and the entertainment world was always heavily involved, as the casino owners knew that having high calibre talent would draw customers.  Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack were fixtures, as was Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.  Many of the country's best African-American entertainment celebrities did stints in Nevada.  Along with the celebrities came famous gamblers such as Jimmy The Greek and others.

While Las Vegas is the town most people associate with gambling, Moe documents the other towns that allowed and thrived on gambling.  Lake Tahoe and Reno were two of the larger cities.  But there were many smaller towns also such as Elko, Winnrmucca, Sparks and Carson City.

This book is recommended for readers interested in the history of the gambling industry in Nevada.  Moe spent many years in the industry himself and his love for this area of the country is clear to the reader. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Phantom by Jo Nesbo

After his last case, the pursuit of the serial killer The Snowman, Harry Hole's life has changed.  He left the police force in Oslo and moved to Hong Kong to pursue a new life and try to escape the demons that pursue his dreams.  But, plans often don't work out as one plans, and Harry's plans are not working out either. 

Harry is drawn back to Oslo when news arrives that Oleg, the closest he will ever have to a son, has been arrested for murder.  The victim?  Oleg's best friend and unfortunately, his partner in crime and addiction, Gusto.  For both young men had become addicted to violin, the synthetic heroin that has overtaken the Oslo drug scene.  They soon turn to selling the drug to support their habits, and now Gusto is dead and Oleg fits the mold as the killer.  But Harry is not able to reconcile the young boy he loved and helped raise with a cold-blooded killer and drug addict. 

Harry is not a policeman anymore, but that hardly seems to matter.  His old friends on the force and in various jobs throughout the city still are willing to help him.  Soon, Harry has peeled away the skin of the setup Oleg has been fitted with, and is deep in the search for the men who have brought violin to Oslo, and those in the government and perhaps the police that have joined with them rather than stopping them.

Fans of the Nesbo series will not be disappointed, and those who are reading the series for the first time will be enthralled.  Harry is definitely not the average policeman, but there is no one better at determining the truth than this deeply flawed man.  The plot becomes increasingly tense as the book progresses, and the reader will find themselves putting the book down periodically just to take a break from the tension.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers who will be thrilled to read of another Harry Hole investigation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

The year is 1972, and Serena Frome has just graduated from Cambridge.  She hasn't exactly covered herself in academic glory and is unsure what to do with her life.  When she is recruited by M15, based on the recommendation of her tutor and lover, Tony, who worked for the service for many years she accepts.

Much to her dismay, women's liberation has not made its way through the doors of M15.  Women officers are delegated to secretarial work and expected to be grateful for the task.  After months of this, Serena is excited to be given a chance to do something worthwhile, something that will make a difference.  The service is starting a new operation; one that will support authors who seem to be fighting the liberal bent.  They will be given enough funds to allow them to concentrate on their writing without having to work at menial jobs.  In return, without the author realising it, the government's views will be out there serving as a counterpoint to the established liberal bent.   Serena, known as a reader, is given the task of signing up Tom Haley, an up and coming author.

Serena goes to meet Tom, posing as the employee of a foundation.  The foundation exists, it just doesn't advertise that its money comes from the government.  Tom is sceptical, but soon realises he can't pass up this marvelous opportunity.  Neither can he pass up Serena.  Soon they are madly in love, spending every weekend together.

The book focuses on the dilemma Serena faces.  She never expected to fall in love with Tom.  If she comes clean about how they came to meet, he will undoubtedly leave her for her deceit.  Of course, she would also lose her job.  But can she really continue to fool Tom about her part in his career?  Will he decide that he has no talent but that of echoing the sentiments the government finds most pleasing, or if so, can he ever forgive Serena?

McEwan has written an interesting story, full of plots and counterplots, ethical dilemmas and the ways we fool ourselves to get what we want.  There are layers upon layers of intricate plans and secrets, betrayals and loyalties which are tested.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for those interested in how love can work and if it can ever survive betrayal.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Malice Of Fortune by Michael Ennis

The year is 1503 and the place, Italy.  The country is caught up in a maze of intrigue as Popes and Princes and men of influence all maneuver to control the different principalities that make up the country.  Under the political maze, another fear exists.  Women are being killed and dismembered, their bodies used to play a game of influence by creating fear and wonder.

Many of the players' names are still known today.  Pope Alexander VI, who before he became pope was Rodrigo Borgia of the influential Borgia family.  Leonardo Da Vinci, who in addition to his painting, roamed the halls of influence, valued because of his architectural and scientific knowledge.  Niccolo Machiavelli, most famous now for his book, The Prince, which details the routes of power and the options for gaining it while clearly dissecting human behavior.  Duke Valentino (Cesare Borgia), who was The Prince Machiavelli wrote of.   He is the bastard son of Pope Alexander and spends his life trying to gain his approval.

As the book opens, Valentino is using his armies to try to unite Italy.  Machiavelli is serving as an emissary for Florence and follows Valentino to report his actions back to the city leaders.  He meets Damiata, the most famous courtesan of the time.  She has had relationships with Valentino and his brother, by whom she had a son.  The Pope, who mourns his son's death and suspects, Damaita of being involved in the plot, kidnaps her son and tells her that he will keep him until she learns the truth of the plot that resulted in his son's death.  Suspecting that Valentino is involved, she also ends up in the town where he has his headquarters.  She meets Machiavelli and they join forces as they attempt to unravel Valentino's intentions, find his brother Juan's murderer and discover who is killing prostitutes and witches in such a grisly fashion.

This is a wonderful book.  Lush language, court intrigue, the first serial killer, deceptions and far-reaching plans, a political observer who may be the first forensic profiler, all pull the reader in and entwine them in the plot and language. The events call on enough historical fact to make the plot seem entirely believable and the reader is fascinated by the personalities and their complex interactions.  This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction as well as for mystery fans and anyone interested in a compelling read.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Zhung is a young Chinese girl who is sent to London for a year to learn English by her parents, factory owners, so that she can fit more easily into the new Chinese economy.  She arrives with very little English, tossed into the ocean of new faces, words, meals, customs and cultures.  Her most useful possession is her Chinese-English dictionary, which she uses incessantly as she tries to learn enough to maneuver through this foreign environment.

Her days are taken by attendance at the English language school; her nights are lonely since she knows no one and has no idea where she might go.  Finally, she discovers the cinema and starts going there at night.  She meets a man there and moves in with him within a week or two of their meeting date.  She lives with him for the next year, experiencing England through his eyes and how he perceives the world to work. 

Zhuang, or 'Z' as she comes to be known for convenience, finds the gap between how she has experienced the world and how her lover does to be extremely wide and difficult to bridge.  To her, moving in with her lover means they are exclusive and that he will satisfy every need she has.  To him, while he professes to love her, his need is for some space and time for him to pursue his relationships with his friends and even former lovers.  Z has a difficult time understanding this.  Their time together is marked by her attempts to get her lover to commit to only her, and to his withdrawal and anger at her attempts to restrict his life.  Throughout the time, she learns more and more about the English language, but the English outlook on life continues to elude her.

Xiao has created an interesting novel.  Each segment is started with a word from the dictionary, the definition of that word in a formal sense, and then how Z experiences what that concept means in this foreign environment.  The reader is allowed to watch her grow and learn and to see how her culture differs from the one she finds herself in.  This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and for those interested in how people relate to each other.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Carry The One by Carol Anshaw

Our lives all contain momentous minutes.  Minutes when our world changes, sometimes joyfully, sometimes tragically.  Moments when a decision made echoes down the years following.  Carry The One is about such a minute.

The book follows the lives of three siblings, Carmen, Alice and Nick.  Their momentous moment happens after Carmen's wedding to Matt.  After the reception, everyone piles into a car, too high to be driving but full of bravo and a belief in their invincibility.  As the careen through the night, suddenly there is a young girl running across the road.  They hit her and she dies at the scene. 

Over the years following, the siblings continue to live their lives.  They fall in an out of relationships, start and end careers, try to find meaning in their lives.  Regardless, that one moment has ensured that they will always be different, that they will always 'carry the one'.

Anshaw has created a stunning novel.  The story is told in brief vignettes, flashes of their lives that carry the book forward through the decades.  The story is tightly plotted but the flash of each scene hides the complexity of the skill it has taken to create this work.  I heard a lot of buzz about this book, and it is definitely well deserved.  Carry The One will be on many Best of 2012 lists.  This book is recommended for readers interested in how life works, how our decisions influence what happens afterwards.  It is an excellent book by an excellent author.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Edge Of Black by J.T. Ellison

It's happened again, this time in Washington, D.C.  Someone has released a deadly airborne toxin in the metro system as commuters are headed to work.  Those expose emerge gasping for breath, and three people have already died from the exposure.  What is this poison and more importantly, who is responsible?

Dr. Samantha Owens, Sam for short, has come to D.C. from Nashville to start over her life.  Sam, a forensic examiner, had a wonderful family and a satisfactory career with close police ties in Nashville.  The flood changed all that.  Her husband and two year old twins were lost in the flood, and Sam's life was lost along with them.  She has a new job outside the morgue, teaching her craft to students, a new home and a new love.  Xander is a former army man who now lives and works off the grid in the national forests.  He has come back from war a changed man also, and he and Sam are trying to help each other heal.

The first thought of everyone is that the attack is from terrorists.  Sam's good friend, DC Detective Fletcher, is sent to Homeland Security to try to discover the culprits.  As the day progresses, it starts to appear that this may not be foreign, but rather homegrown terrorists.  The three victims are a U.S. Senator, an anthropologist, and a student.  As odd as it seems, it appears that these three may have had a connection.  Is this the work of foreign or American terrorists?  Are the victims random or were they specifically targeted?  Can Owens, Xander and Fletcher discover the truth in time to stop any further releases?

J.T. Ellison has written a fast-paced, compelling mystery.  Fans will recognize Sam Owens from earlier books set in Nashville; this book is the first in a spin off series.  The characters are interesting, the plot satisfactorily intricate, and the reader is drawn into the chase.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tributary by Barbara K. Richardson

Claire Martin is an American hero.  She's not a politician or a cowboy or a military leader.  Instead, she is a woman in the frontier days of Utah and Idaho who does whatever it takes to carve out a life for herself.  Born with a birthmark that covers half her face, she never feels accepted in any social situation.

Claire's life starts with her as an orphan; handed from one Mormon family to the next as people needed someone to work for them.  Work is something Claire is familiar with and wherever she goes she gives a full days's work.  She finally finds solace when working for Ada, another strong Mormon woman.  Claire believes she has found a home, but when the son of a local church leader starts making advances to her, she realises that her only option is to leave and start over.

She chooses New Orleans, where she believes her mother came from before she left her as a small child.  The only work she can find is as a laundress in a hospital, a job not many people are ready to take on.  Claire works there, not caring that this is the African-American hospital, and that the patients there are considered not really worth saving.  While there, she becomes attached to a young boy, Tierre, and soon considers him her son.  When Ada's son writes Claire and asks her if she will come and help him start a sheep ranch, she leaves, taking Tierre with her.

Sheep farming is no easier than the other hard jobs Claire has worked at.  With hard work and persistence, she and Stephen and another farm hand make the ranch a going concern.  Things seem to be working out until Stephen gets religion and decides that he and Claire must marry.  Claire is determined to never be owned by any man and it causes another life crisis. 

Barbara Richardson has written a historical novel that details a life that is seldom thought worth mentioning but which created this country.  It is the life of one of the millions of hard-working women and men who carved out a living from persistence and labor; from simply refusing to give up.  Claire is a character readers will long remember; her pluck and fortitude make her the prime example of 'bloom where you are planted.'  This novel is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in how the West was won.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cold City by F. Paul Wilson

Cold City is the start of a new trilogy about F. Paul Wilson's incredibly successful character, Repairman Jack.  Wilson has written fifteen novels about Jack, and three about his childhood.  This novel picks up on Jack as a young man, out in the world deciding how to live his life.

Jack has cut ties with his past.  He has dropped out of college, become invisible to his former friends and isn't speaking with his family.  He feels at odds with himself and the world, a world where someone's unfeeling act deprived his mother of his life.  Now he has to make his way in the world.  He starts with a deadend job and when that falls through, is desperate enough to take a job that skirts legality.  A friend of a friend is looking for a driver to bring cigarettes from North Carolina to New York, where there is a major profit for counterfeit goods.

The money is good but Jack isn't sure this is what he wants to do.  He is right to be unsure; before he knows it he is mixed up with Muslim terrorists and a child sex slave ring.  In addition, his neighborhood bar is about to go under due to a loan shark with Mafia ties.  When Jack dives into the underworld, he gets a full dose.  Jack negotiates his way, trying to make moral decisions and help those who are deserving. 

Fans of Repairman Jack will welcome this book.  It is interesting to read this prequel and see how Jack's decisions as a young man have made him into the character so widely known.  Wilson is a master at unfolding a plot that makes the implausible seem plausible and bringing the reader into the moral compasses of his character.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Against all odds, Detective Carl Morck of the Copenhagen Police Department, has made a success of Department Q. When he returned from sick leave a year ago, the force wasn’t sure what to do with him. He was judged fit to return to service but having your partner killed in front of you and your oldest friend completely paralyzed didn’t leave the administration brimming with confidence about Monck’s abilities to work. A brilliant bureaucratic idea created Department Q for Morck. He was assigned to the basement, there to work on the coldest of cold cases and leave the administration alone. Against all odds, Morck and his Syrian assistant, a janitor named Hafez Assad, solved one of the most mysterious cold cases in the department’s history. Now, Morck is untouchable with all the public praise his work has garnered.

He is so successful that he returns from his summer vacation to find that his basement empire has been enlarged with the addition of Rose Knudsen. Her dream was to be a policewoman, but failing the driving test meant that couldn’t happen. She has now been assigned to Morck to help him and he is dismayed by the realization that just sitting and doing nothing is getting more problematic as he gets more publicity and assistants. Against his inclination, he starts another case.

The new case is a strange one. Two students, brother and sister, were killed twenty years ago. The suspects were a group of boarding students from a prestigious academy. There was no real evidence and the case was unsolved for nine years. Suddenly, after almost a decade, one of the group had come in and confessed and was currently serving time. The others in the group went their separate ways, and used their wealth and influence to become leaders in Danish businesses. Did the man in jail really commit the crime by himself as he claimed or did the group buy him off? Who put the case on Carl’s desk and why has it surfaced again after all these years? And where is the absent one, Kimmie? Kimmie was the only female in the group but opposed to the success of the men, has spent years living on the streets as a homeless vagrant. What drove Kimmie to the streets and where is she now? Was the student murder the group’s only crime or just the tip of the iceberg?

Readers who enjoyed Adler-Olsen’s first book, The Keeper Of Lost Causes, will be glad to visit again with Monck. Monck’s gritty determination to follow through and his ability to solve cases almost against his will are intriguing. The plot of the case is complicated and intricately connected as Monck attempts to determine why such successful men fear no one but the absent one. This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Untamed by Sara Humphreys

Layla has always known that she was a hybrid.  Born of a human mother and an Amoveo father, she has never felt that she belonged to either camp.  Raised by a loving foster mother with two other hybrid children, she returns to the homestead when she encounters a stalker in her dreams.  The stalker is William, and he is destined to become her mate, or at least that's what the Amoveo world would have her believe.

But Layla isn't sure she wants to agree.  When William follows her to the farm, she realises that she has a powerful attraction to him, but can't see herself meekly agreeing with some foreordained mate for life.  Still, as the days go by, her attraction to William just increases and he makes it clear that he is totally in love with her.  He is there to support her always, and helps her learn more about her Amoveo heritage.  She comes from the Cheetah clan while William is from the Falcon clan.  He teaches her how to access her Amoveo powers, and she is more torn each day.  Will she or won't she take the plunge to merge her life with William's?

Sara Humpreys has an interesting premise in her shapeshifter characters.  Untamed is the third book in the Amoveo Legend series and readers interested in paranormal romance will be entranced with the characters and the love story.  The love story is very physical at times and the reader will enjoy learning about the Amoveo clans and their conflicts.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy the paranormal genre.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson and others

In the 13th century, Europe was at a crossroads.  The Mongol hordes had captured much of the existing world and was now poised to attack Europe.  Who could stand in the way of such a powerful army?  Led by Onghwe Khan, grandson of Genghis, there seemed no way to avoid the brutality and utter devastation such an invasion would bring. 

Neal Stephenson and his co-writers have imagined this world and tell readers the story of the struggle to retain Europe.  Ancient manuscripts were given to the famous nineteenth century explorer, Richard Burton.  He started translating them but died before he could finish.  These manuscripts were found recently in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy.  The Mongoliad series is based on these manuscripts.  Stephenson is joined by some of the finest names in fantasy and swordsmanship.  They include Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E.D. deBimingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey and Cooper Moo. 

One of the groups desperately determined to stop the Khan was a group of knights of the Skjaldbraedur Shield-Brethren.  Led by Feronantus and composed of warriors from many lands, they decide on a plan that they hoped would be surprising enough to succeed.  They determined to ride forth in a small group and assassinate Onghwe.  If they could succeed, all the various branches of the Mongols would return home to determine who the next Khan would be.  Although the possibility of success was extremely low, a group of knights, led by a woman named Cnan, started on their journey to find and kill the Khan.

This is the first book in the Mongoliad Series.  The book is told in alternating chapters between the stories of the knights and the Mongol court, specifically a young warrior named Gansukh and the Chinese slave, Lian, who educates him in the ways of the Khan's court.  It is rich in historical fact and gives a compelling look at the devastation of the Mongol horde and its conquering tactics.  This book is recommended for readers who love swordsmanship, ancient rites, and global history. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Heart Broke In by James Meek

James Meek's novels are intricately plotted characterizations of people's lives intertwining and the societies they live in. His last novel, The People's Act Of Love, was about an isolated Christian sect in Siberia. This novel has been moved to the present, and outlines the lives of scientists in London as they attempt to balance work and love.

There is Harry, a famous cancer researcher, now ironically dying of cancer himself. Alex is his nephew, and will inherit the foundation Harry established. He also works with cancer and ways to cure it, but cannot cure his uncle. He is in love with Bec, the sister of his longtime friend, Ritchie. Bec works on malaria, and has found a parasite that provides protection; she has injected herself with the parasite to prove it is harmless. Her brother, Ritchie, is the exception to the scientists. He is a former rock star, now the host of a TV show that discovers and showcases teenage talent. The problem is that Ritchie, although in what he would call a happy marriage, can't resist sampling the teenage talent himself. Then there is Val. The editor of a prestigious newspaper, he was engaged to Bec and bears a grudge against the family since she broke it off.

Meek has a wonderful time showing the myriad ways this cast of characters interacts and relates to each other and their work. Work and science is a major theme. Another theme is love, how we find and sustain it. The desire to have children and the relationship to family is highlighted. The theme of how does one live an honorable life is key.   Meek is at his best here, and The Heart Broke In will make many of the Year's Best lists. It is highly recommended to readers interested in how love, family and the world work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Headstone by Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor is not your average P.I. Forced from the Garda, he has since spent years back in his native Galway, sunk in alcoholism, drugs and depression. Such is life with losses, and Jack has had more losses than his share. Fiercely loyal to his few friends, and unexpectedly kind to those suffering, he is also capable of enormous rage and violence. Taylor is the man you go to when something has to be done, and the law just doesn’t seem adequate to the task.

Galway is suffering from a new kind of criminal. The weak and helpless; a boy with Down’s Syndrome, a homeless man, an old retired priest, are being targeted and savagely murdered on the streets. The murderers seem to be a new breed of mindless violence; young people who have everything to live for and no desire to do anything more than destroy all around them. The victims are sent miniature headstones, and Jack is an early recipient. When the gang attacks him, they mark him for life but leave him alive to watch as they carry out their plans. Finding and stopping the gang is a race against time for Jack and his friends.
Bruen is an amazing writer, and those readers who have not discovered him have a rare treat in store. Taylor is an anti-hero, but one that the reader cannot help but cheer for. To offset his violent ways, he is also a reader, a music and art appreciator and his unsparing assessment of himself is full of clarity. When one sees one’s faults but still rises to the occasion when something needs to be done, there is something heroic about them. The prose is short, choppy at times, full of insistence that the story move onward, ever onward to a stunning conclusion. Headstone is one of a series of Jack Taylor novels, and those new to this author will close the last page and rush out to find the others. This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Red Leaves And The Living Token by Benjamin Burrell

Emret, thirteen, is terminally ill.  Confined to a wheelchair and in the hospital for what will be his final care, he is hardly the archetype of a superhero.  His father, Raj, is desperate for a cure and willing for the doctors to try their best.  Emret's nurse, Moslin, has been sent away.  Raj believes she is not good for Emret as she fills his head with visions of the old stories, of magic and visions and things far beyond the ken of men.

Then the impossible happens.  Raj arrives at the hospital room to find Emret gone along with Moslin.  She has taken him from the hospital in an attempt to find the miraculous cure they believe awaits them in the land of the Red Leaves.  Of course, the Red Leaves are just a fairy tale....or are they?

Raj immediately starts his journey to find them.  Although he doesn't believe in magic, he is having dreams that seem like prophecies.  The dreams seem tied to a strange stone figurine he found right before discovering Emret's disappearance.  He doesn't know what the purpose of this figurine is, but it becomes clear that three different tribes of creatures are determined to take it from him for their own purposes.  Can Raj find Emret and Moslin?  Can Emret's belief in magic find a cure for his illness?

Ben Burrell has written an engaging first book in a new fantasy series.  The path ahead is unclear at times but more and more of the storyline becomes clear as Raj and Emret are reunited in the land where the Token and the Red Leaves exist.  There are three books planned for this series.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen

Detective Maria Kallio is facing her first murder investigation.  Only twenty-three, she is not sure yet what she wants from a career.  She started as a police officer, got bored and went to study law, then was unsure about that path and has taken a six-month job as a substitute officer when another member of the force goes out on medical leave.  Being young and a woman in a male-dominated workplace is not easy; being brought in as a lead detective makes her even less popular.

She is worried when she is assigned to a murder case.  Her concerns deepen when she realises who the victim was. Tommi Peltonen was a golden boy.  Handsome and outgoing, he always was the leader in any group, and the group he was most often with was a formal chorus at his university.  Although he had already graduated, he remained in the group and they were thrilled to have him stay.  Maria had been on the fringes of this group in her university days; one of her roommates had been in the chorus and she socialized with the group.  She had known Tommi.  She tries to beg off, but there is no one else to take the case.

At first glance, it appears that Tommi's death may have been an accident.  The chorus had gone with him to his parent's summer house, where they could rehearse for an upcoming job.  Tommi is found floating in the water.  At first it appeared he may have drowned, but further investigation reveals that he was hit on the head with an axe before entering the water. 

All the suspects are right there, and all are known to Maria.  She must overcome her hesitation to figure who in this tight-knit group would have killed their leader.  As she investigates Tommi's life, surprising facts start to emerge that form motives for several of the group.  Can Maria bring the case to a successful conclusion?

This book is recommended for mystery readers.  This is the first in Leena Lehtolainen's Maria Kallio series; a series that has been adapted as a series on Finnish television.  American readers will be interested in reading how criminal investigation varies in other countries.  The whole ambiance of the culture and how crime is viewed is different from the American police culture and it is fascinating to see another way of working through a criminal investigation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Galore by Michael Crummey

Life is difficult in the small fishing settlement of Paradise Deep in Newfoundland.  The people are tied to the sea, suffering if the catch isn't good and making it through the winter with the help of their families and friends.  When a whale is beached, it is a major event, and the entire town turns out to butcher it and save the meat to make it through the long cold days ahead.  The whale is miraculous enough but no one expects what is found in its stomach.  Hacked open, out rolls an albino man, somehow alive, although barely so. 

In the days that follow, he regains his health, but is a mute.  The townsfolk name him Judah, a variation on the Biblical tale of Jonah and the whale; life is so hard there that the only Bible is a partial one rescued from a wreck, leaving the people to create their own tales to fill in the blanks.

There are two main families in Paradise Deep.  The Sellers are the merchants of the town, rich and powerful; their patriarch named King-Me Sellers.  The Devines are the guardians of the town's folklore and superstition; some would say its magic.  The family is headed by Devine's Widow, often called a witch but also the person everyone turned to for cures and predictions of what would come next.  The two families are caught in a decades-old feud. 

Sellers wants to get rid of Judah.  Devine's Widow binds him to the settlement and her family.  His presence adds more fuel to the fire of the feud.  The reader is swept into the lives of these people for generations as they fight to survive.  We see the marriages, the separations, the religion that binds folks, the stirring of a union to fight the rich and powerful.  Judah remains an enigmatic figure in the lives of both families as they fight and love over the years.

This book is highly recommended for readers interested in history, in folklore, in how societies grow and survive.  The characters are finely drawn, each one in the myriad of folk given their own personalities that distinguish them.  There is an undercurrent of magical realism, but the miraculous things that occur arise out of the beliefs of the townspeople.  Galore won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction.  Readers who plunge into this novel will emerge stunned and glad for the experience.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In The Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

Fabio Geda is an Italian novelist who works with children in trouble.  In The Sea There Are Crocodiles is his book detailing the memoir of Enaiatollah Akbari, an Afhganistian young man who, after years of being on his own and facing obstacles many people never encounter, became an immigrant in Italy.

When Enaiatollah was about ten (he is not sure of his birthday or exact age), his mother took him on a trip to Pakistan.  After a few days he awoke one morning to find her gone.  She had gone back home, leaving him to make his way in a foreign land where he didn't speak the language or have anyone to look out for him.  He spent a year in Pakistan, working wherever he could find a job and sleeping anywhere he could. 

The next three years Enaiatollah spent in Iran.  There he worked construction.  The work was brutal and the hours long.  Periodically, the police raided the sites and sent all the illegal workers back to their countries.  The workers had to pay the costs of this repatriation, so it was difficult to save any money.  Enaiatillah made friends there among the other workers, but one lesson he learned early was not to get attached to anyone else.  After three years, he tired of the constant stress and work and decided to go with a group of friends to Turkey.

This was by far the most difficult journey he undertook.  What he was told was a three day walk turned into almost four weeks climbing into the mountains and fighting the cold and hunger.  At the end of that journey, was a three day trip stuffed into a false bottom in a truck. 

After time spent in Turkey, he and four acquaintances struck out for Greece.  They had to row a dinghy across the ocean between the two countries; five boys who had never seen the ocean, who had never rowed a bow or known how to swim.  Eventually, Enaiatollah left Greece in a ship container, bound for who knew where.  He ended up in Italy and was lucky enough to find people there who helped him and a government that granted him asylum. 

Readers will not be able to stop reading this mesmerizing tale of this young boy's struggles and travels.  Parents will be heartbroken to think of a life so barren that the best one can do for your child is to abandon him in a foreign country with no way to monitor his safety or even his survival.  All you can give him is a chance. Enaiatollah's courage is admirable, but there are repercussions.  The story is told in a very flat affect and it is obvious that he has walled off his emotions in order to survive the brutal life he was handed.  This book is recommended for all readers; a compelling and ultimately satisfying read.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Injustice For All by Robin Caroll

Remington has just survived a nightmare.  She was in the house, unknown, when assassins broke in and killed her godfather, a powerful federal judge.  Even worse, she can identify the killers and they are men she thought she could trust.  Now she realises that her only hope of survival is to run.  Luckily, her work as a forensic psychologist has prepared her to do this efficiently.

Three years later, Bella, as she is now known, has found some peace.  She has run hundreds of miles and reinvented herself.  She is living in a small rural town where she has found friends and contentment.  That is about to change.

Rafe is an FBI agent, newly transferred to another office.  As the new guy, he is given the task of trying to find some way forward on cold cases.  He hits on the judge's murder and as he reads through the case file, finds a clue that brings him to the little town where Bella now lives.  Even worse, his clue involves her best friend, the sheriff.  His interest in the case gets back to the killers who now know exactly where to go to finish the job of killing off the only witness to their crime.  Can Bella find a way to survive this new threat?

Robin Carroll has written an interesting mystery.  The pace is fast enough to keep the reader's interest, without being so breakneck that it is tiring to read.  The characters are portrayed realistically enough that a connection is made to them.  The resolution is satisfying while not feeling overly packaged.  Carroll has written eleven previous books and writes in the Christian fiction genre.  While this book is recommended for readers of that genre, any mystery reader will enjoy this one.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

At The Queen's Command by Michael Stackpole

Put your literary boots on.  Michael Stackpole is ready to take readers on an amazing journey.  Imagine a retelling of the settling of the North American continent by the British, jerked slightly askew.  Yes, there are touchpoints that the reader will recognize from their history classes, but Stackpole's version is infinitely more entertaining.

Captain Owen Strake has come to the Mysterian colony to make his mark.  Shunned by Norillian society and his extended family due to a Mysterian birth father, he has little chance to rise in traditional ways.  A successful mission will secure enough of a future that he can retire with his wife to the countryside and move away from the artificial society he chafes under.  He has been charged with surveying the uncharted lands of the Queen's colony, Mystria, and giving a report of any possible enemies such as rival Tharyngians and the Twilight People who were the original inhabitants of the land. 

When he arrives, he realises that this land is nothing like anything he has seen.  There are new animals, and magick is not something that is feared and scorned as it is at home.  As an individual who has some magick ability, this is a new idea, that his abilities could be honored rather than feared.  The people are warmer and more welcoming to strangers, and as he becomes more acclimated, he realises that this land suits him much better; a land where a man is evaluated for his character rather than his wealth or position.

But all is not well.  There is an undercurrent of unrest, as the plans of the Tharyngians to attack Mysteria and gain control of all the land become clearer.  There are those who wish for Myteria to break free of the Queen's control.  As Owen works on the surveying, he discovers that a Tharyngian commander he had faced on the battlefields of Europe has taken command here.  He is determined to rule the entire land, by force if he must.  He has built a huge fort that is manned by creatures raised from the dead by sorcery, along with an overwhelming force of highly trained soldiers used to winning every battle. 

Owen, along with those who love Mysteria, are determined to defeat the Tharyngians for the Queen.  There is Nathaniel Woods, a huntsman and guide, highly skilled in the survival skills of this new land.  Kamiskwa is one of the Native people, and he and Nathaniel open this society to Owen.  There is Prince Vlad, the Queen's nephew.  Vlad is a scientist first and foremost, and he loves this new land that he has been given to rule.  Together these men create a ragtag army of colonists who will stop at nothing to win their freedom to live as they like.

This book is highly recommended.  The minute I finished the last page, I rushed online to buy the second volume.  There is humor, magic, strange rituals.  The book is a rousing history with battles and the story of a land forming a society, but then thrown in are items such as men raised from the dead, giant wurms (wingless dragons), who fight along with their owners, guns that are fired by men with their fingers serving as the firing power to send bullets on their way.  There is intrigue, strategy and military battles.  This is a rousing history that is both whimsical and rousing and is recommended for a wide genre of readers.  Those who love history will enjoy this twist on reality.  Those who like fantasy will also find it an excellent read. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Excerpt from Heaven Should Fall by Rebecca Coleman

“What in the hell is that?” asked Elias.
“That’s Stan,” Cade explained. “The guy you’ve heard me
talk about a million times. This is his place. He’s dressed up
like Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
That’s Stan?” He walked over and peered closely at the
photo. Then he looked over his shoulder at Cade, his upper lip curled in the first grin I’d seen out of him.
Interested?  Check out the blog tour for this exciting book at this location. 
Amazon writes:
Alone since her mother's death, Jill Wagner wants to eat, sleep and breathe Cade Olmstead when he bursts upon her life—golden, handsome and ambitious. Even putting college on hold feels like a minor sacrifice when she discovers she's pregnant with Cade's baby. But it won't be the last sacrifice she'll have to make.

Retreating to the Olmsteads' New England farm seems sensible, if not ideal—they'll regroup and welcome the baby, surrounded by Cade's family. But the remote, ramshackle place already feels crowded. Cade's mother tends to his ailing father, while Cade's pious sister, her bigoted husband and their rowdy sons overrun the house. Only Cade's brother, Elias, a combat veteran with a damaged spirit, gives Jill an ally amidst the chaos, along with a glimpse into his disturbing childhood. But his burden is heavy, and she alone cannot kindle his will to live.

The tragedy of Elias is like a killing frost, withering Cade in particular, transforming his idealism into bitterness and paranoia. Taking solace in caring for her newborn son, Jill looks up to find her golden boy is gone. In Cade's place is a desperate man willing to endanger them all in the name of vengeance…unless Jill can find a way out.

Rebecca Coleman is the author of "The Kingdom of Childhood," an ABNA 2010 semifinalist. She received her B.A. in English literature from the University of Maryland at College Park and speaks to writers' groups on the subjects of creative writing and publishing. A native New Yorker, she now lives and works near Washington, D.C. Visit her at

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Revised Fundamentals Of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

Benjamin Benjamin is stuck.  He has drifted ever since his family life imploded, leaving him without anyone to share his life with.  Since he has spent years as a stay-at-home dad, his career prospects are dim.  Benjamin takes a class for caregivers, where he learns the technical aspects of home care along with the ability to be helpful without crossing the boundaries that separate a caregiver from his patient.

Then he meets Trav.  Trav is nineteen years old, a young man with MD, whose life expectancy is limited.  Each year the disease takes more and more from him, leaving him more dependant on his mother and his caregivers.  Against his will and knowledge, Ben finds himself becoming involved in Trav's life, pushing him to do and want more than what life has on offer.

As the book progresses, Ben and Trav take off on a cross-country trip.  Along the way, they encounter several lost souls and along with seeing the sights, take the time to create a space of helpfulness for the various people they encounter.  Will Ben learn to move on and take charge of his life, or will he remain a detached, uninvolved man barely making it through his days?

Jonathan Evison has written a compellingly readable book.  The reader quickly learns to care about Ben, and pulls for him to get past the tragedy of his life.  Ben is a man many of us know; someone whose life doesn't work out the way he plans, but who can still take the time to care for others as he learns what his purpose is.  This book is recommended for all readers interested in individuals evolving and building successful lives when faced with difficulties.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Edgar Kellogg must have been insane.  He threw over a promising career as a corporate lawyer to try his luck at being a journalist.  Of course, people with actual journalistic experience are having difficulties finding work in the changing newspaper environment, but that doesn't deter Edgar.  He uses some old connections to wrest an interview and emerges from that experience with an assignment as a stringer in Barba, Portugal.  The paper needs a stringer as their assigned reporter to the area has gone missing.

Barba?  Haven't heard of it?  You're not alone, no one would have except for the terrorist actions going on there.  Barba is a remotely settled, backwards region that has one claim to fame; a rebel terrorist organziation that is willing to bomb regardless of loss of life in their quest to gain Barba's independance from Portugal.

Edgar arrives in town ready to take up where the missing reporter, Barrington Saddler, has left off.  He has keys to Saddler's house and car, his office and former work.  He finds Saddler's favorite bar and meets the other journalists covering the independance group.  He forms relationships with them and interviews those Barbaians willing to go on record.  In short, he is primed for the story of his life. 

But nothing is happening.  The terrorists seem to have gone into hibernation.  Is this just Edgar's bad luck, or is something more going on?  Edgar's determination to discover what happened to Saddler and why the bombings have stopped leads him to the story of his life; a story sure to make any journalist's career.

Lionel Shriver has written an entertaining, dark comedy about the entire topic of terrorism, and particularly how it is covered by journalists.  There is a symbiotic relationship between the two groups as neither can exist without the other.  Shriver is known for novels that touch on relevant topics and The New Republic is no different.  This book is recommended for readers interested in how news is reported and even shaped by the men and women who devote their lives to explaining the world to the rest of us. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Age Of Desire by Jennie Fields

The Age Of Desire opens in Paris.  Edith Wharton, who has just written The House Of Mirth, is attending a literary salon.  Her eyes are drawn to a newcomer, a man named Morton Fullerton.  He is charismatic, compelling, and draws the attention of men and women alike.  For some reason, he seems attracted to Edith, a position a married woman in her forties is not used to.  Especially one such as Edith, who has lived her life married to a man whom she has, at best, a friendship with, no love or passion. 

The book follows the unfolding of several related tales.  There is the lifelong friendship between Edith and her governess, Anna, who stayed on with her for life, serving as her secretary and first reader.  There is the thread of Teddy Wharton, who becomes mentally ill as the book progresses, leading to constant worry.  Then there is the love affair that blossoms between Wharton and Fullerton, where Edith learns to love and the joy of sexual bliss for the first time in her life.

Jennie Fields has written a compelling book about Wharton, who is a familiar figure in American literature, one of the first successful American women authors.  It is a portrait of the life of an upper class woman, who winters in Paris and spends the summer on a palatial American estate, who is friends with Henry James and other famous individuals of her time.  The book follows the facts of Wharton's life faithfully, and as Fullerton refused to destroy Edith's letters, even has the validity of including those private thoughts from her.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, and those interested in life in the upper echelons of American society, the American Downton Abbey. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Ghost Of Greenwich Village by Lorna Graham

Eve Weldon is living her fantasy life. Growing up in the Midwest, her mother dying early, left Eve lonely and longing for more. She has worked in her father’s law office for several years but now she has decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her mother had a mysterious past that centered around the time she lived in Greenwich Village as a young woman before she married and had a family. Eve’s fondest memories of her mother center around the stories she told of her time there, and the wonderful writing community she was a part of.

Gathering her courage, Eve takes off for New York. She is lucky enough to find an apartment she can afford, and soon she worms her way into a writing job. The apartment, unfortunately, is haunted by the ghost of a Beat writer, but Eve tries to ignore the downside and takes pride in being the only one who can experience Donald’s existence. He is full of stories about the same group that Eve’s mother was a part of, and she delves into his life to discover more about her mother. The job is also an issue. Eve tries several things to shine, but each seems to backfire. Can she make a secure life in this new environment, or will it prove to be too much for her, leaving her to head back home to a more routine existence?

Lorna Graham has written a charming, inspiring tale that will delight the reader’s heart. Eve is a character it is hard not to love. Her ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination to make her dreams a reality draw the reader into her world. Along the way, the Greenwich Village lifestyle of the 1960’s is lovingly portrayed. This book is recommended for readers ready to be entertained and left cheerful and inspired.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Flesh by Khanh Ha

Flesh starts with a memorable opening scene.  The novel's protagonist, Tai, a young man of sixteen, stands numbed as he watches his bandit father undergo his punishment.  He is decapitated by the uncle who raised him but who is the royal executioner.  Tai, his mother and little brother, are there to bear witness and to take his father's body away for burial.

Thus begins Tai's journey to bring honor back to his family.  Before the book ends, this journey takes him to new cities to live among strangers, to a love that will define his life, and to violence as he strives to protect those he loves.  Tai and his mother are desperate to find an honorable burial site for his father and little brother.  In order to do so, Tai indentures his service for two years.

His new master takes him away to a city.  There is much to be learned there, about opium dens, about service, about those whose lives are lived in both Vietnam and China.  He meets another indentured servant, Xiaoli, a beautiful girl who befriends him and who he will protect with his life.

Khanh Ha was born in Vietnam.  This is his debut novel.  Although the events are violent and disturbing, the writing itself is lyrical and haunting.  The events seem to unfold in a dream, slowly revealing the stories that make up the intertwined lives of the characters.  This book is recommended for readers interested in other cultures, and what family honor will drive men to do. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists. They live to create their performance pieces; nothing in their lives is more important. Their two children, Annie and Buster Fang, seem to be nothing more to them than pieces on a chessboard to be moved around and manipulated to create the most shocking effects. They even identify the children as nothing more than Child A and Child B. The Fang artistic touchstone is controlled chaos. They go into a setting such as a mall, create a chaotic situation, then record the reactions of the bystanders.
But children grow up. Buster and Annie are now grown and both feel damaged by their upbringing. Annie is an up-and-coming actress with a couple of movies to her credit. Buster has written two novels. But both are self-destructive in varying ways and can’t seem to put together a constructive life or relationships that are meaningful. The only lasting relationship they have is with each other, as they basically raised themselves and always felt that only their sibling was in their corner to rely on.

As the book opens, both Annie and Buster have moved back home. Buster has been injured while writing a freelance magazine article while Annie has fled several destructive relationships and bad choices. Home feels familiar, but soon Caleb and Camille start trying to draw them back into performing their latest ideas. Both children resist, fighting against the ties they can’t help but feel for their parents, but knowing that giving in will only damage their self-esteem more deeply.

Kevin Wilson has created a dark, offbeat family comedy that outlines the damage that parents can do to their children when they don’t place them as a priority. Early ties are almost impossible to overcome, and damage done early is long-lasting. The characters are well-drawn; the madness of the parents outlined and then fleshed out. The reader can’t help but cheer on Buster and Annie as they attempt to break free and find happiness in their own lives. This book is recommended for readers looking for a great read. The story is compelling and it is difficult to put down the story without determining what will happen to the characters. This is a debut novel and Kevin Wilson is a new literature superstar.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

Bad Intentions starts with a death.  Three friends, Jon, Axel and Reilly, have gone on a weekend visit to a lake.  Jon has been hospitalized with depression, and his friends think a change of scenery might be helpful.  They take Jon out on a boat ride, but he takes the opportunity to step over the side and drown himself.  Worried about what the police will think, the two remaining friends hide what has happened and pretend that they woke up to find Jon missing.

As the story unfolds, the reader starts to piece together what lies behind Jon's actions.  Jon leaves enough clues behind that his mother, his doctor and his new girlfriend all inform the police that his depression came from a feeling that he had committed a heinous crime.  Inspector Sejer, assigned to the case, realises that without any forensic evidence of wrongdoing that it is unlikely he will be able to prove the men's collusion in what has happened to Jon.  Then the next body shows up....

Karin Fossum is one of Nordic noir's shining stars.  Bad Intentions is the seventh in her series of Inspector Sejer cases.  The action is more psychological than grisly or action-driven, and the clues mount up as the truth is slowly revealed.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Woods

Oscar is content with his life.  Born into a impoverished neighborhood where books were considered just a luxury, he has managed to escape and now lives in Oxford.  Oscar is incredibly bright, but of course, has no funds to attend school.  He works in a nursing home where he has befriended a former professor and is educating himself from the professor's library. 

One evening he is walking past a chapel when he hears the most beautiful music he has ever experienced.  Slipping into the chapel, he revels in the organ music and the mastery of the artist playing it.  Afterwards, he meets a girl, Iris, waiting outside.  She is the sister of the musician who just played, Eden. 

So it begins.  Before he knows it, Oscar is drawn into Iris and Eden's lives.  He is accepted into their circle of friends and spends weekends in luxury at their ancestral home.  He has never loved anyone as he does Iris.  Eden, who has an exalted opinion of himself, he can take or leave, but Eden is the focus of the circle's life; his high opinion echoed by the others.

As time progresses, Iris starts to share her concerns about her brother.  Eden is not just conceited; he truly believes that he is so special that he can work his will on anything.  He is insistent that he can cure physical ailments by music therapy, and at first his ideas seem to be borne out.  However, as time goes on, cracks in his facade of superiority and invincibleness start to emerge, and he spins further and further out of control.

Benjamin Woods has written an incredible debut novel.  He has recreated the brooding, haunting air of Gothic mysteries while updating the environment to that of modern day England.  His slow revealing of the mystery surrounding the Bellwether family and Eden's unraveling is masterful.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy dark, suspenseful novels.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift

Jack Luxton is a farmer. He has grown up on a farm in England that has been in his family for generations. He looks and moves like a farmer; built large and solid and moving deliberately. He has the farmer ethical mindset; he is there to care for others and do his duty by all. It is even more surprising, then, to find that Jack moved from the farm over a decade ago. He is on his final trip back and reviewing his life.

Life was not easy growing up. His father is remote and withholding, setting high expectations for his sons. His mother is warm and supportive, but dies early. Jack and his brother Tom are raised in a bleak emotional landscape with only each other for support. Tom leaves the night of his eighteenth birthday and joins the Army, never contacting the family again. After that Jack stays on the farm until his father dies. Then he marries his longtime love, Ellie, from the neighboring farm. As things change in the farm environment, Jack and Ellie sell both their farms and move to the Isle of Wight where they become the managers of a seaside resort.

Now news has come that Tom has been killed in combat, and Jack must return to the old life to take Tom home and bury him. It brings all the past up and leaves Jack questioning all his life choices, unsure if he has done the right thing, the honorable thing, in all cases.

Graham Swift has written an intricate family drama that outlines the emotional battleground of one good man. Even a man with honor has regrets and questions about how he has chosen to live his life. It leads the reader to make the same sort of evaluation of their own life and choices. Readers will end up liking Jack Luxton and wishing him the best. This book is recommended for modern fiction readers who are interested in how we each must determine for ourselves if our life choices have been ones that had value, and what we owe to those around us.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rip-Off by Mar Preston

The case looks simple to Detective Dave Mason.  A body is found at the scene of a robbery, and it looks like a case of burglars falling out and one shooting the other.  Newly promoted in the Santa Monica Police Department to being a supervisor, Mason can use an easy one to make him look good.

But the case gets more and more complicated the more it unravels.  This appears to be a highly structured burglary team who perhaps have inside knowledge.  There have been a string of break-ins at expensive residences, and someone has to be giving them ideas of where to rob next.  The latest victims seem to have more to hide than the burglars.  The lady of the house, a beautiful Eastern European named Irina, seems very unconcerned about her losses.  Her husband, the condo manager, seems edgy and preoccupied.  Then there are the Chechens.  Mason doesn't know much about this group, but they have been moving in lately and setting up a sophisticated criminal gang that is threatening to overtake the city.

Mason has enough problems without a complicated case.  He is still feeling his way as a supervisor, his former friends and colleagues now reporting to him in a new relationship.  His superiors are not exactly warm and supportive; they expect results and they expect them now.  His personal life is also unsettled; he is interested in Ginger but it's unclear where this romance is going and if she can adjust to life with a cop.

Mar Preston has written an interesting police procedural.  This is the second in the Dave Mason series, and readers will identify with his struggles. The plotting has an excellent feel for police work, the tedium and paperwork, the putting  together of minute clues to discern the true picture, and the sudden bursts of action that can take a life.   This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dead Ringer by Lisa Scottoline

Bennie Rosato couldn't be better.   Although her law office is struggling a bit financially, she just landed a new client that could end her money worries for years.  She is making a respected name for herself in the Philadelphia courts.  She has great friends and a great life.

Then everything seems to go wrong at once.  Her new account, which had the potential to bring in millions in fees, seems in trouble.  Judges and lawyers who respected her are starting to avoid her.  Her house is broken into and her dog's life endangered.  Then her best client is murdered.

Who could be behind all of these misfortunes?  Could it be Alice, Bennie's twin sister who was given away at birth and who resents Bennie?  She has caused trouble before and Bennie knows the scandalous behavior that has her peers turning away from her has to be Alice pretending to be her.  Is it the most prominent lawyer in town, who is threatened by Bennie's professional success  and who has a reputation for playing hardball?  Or is it David, a gorgeous guy who turned up out of nowhere and worked his way into Bennie's life.

Scottoline has written an engaging mystery.  Readers not only get a puzzle to solve but a look into the internal workings of an independent business, and how lawsuits make their way through the courts from start to finish.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Visiting Tom by Michael Perry

Visiting Tom, Michael Perry's latest memoir, gives readers another view into Perry's rural farm life in Wisconsin.  Perry was a bachelor into his forties, when he met and married Anneliese.  Anneliese had a daughter and they soon had another daughter together.  They have lived on a farm for the past five years surrounded by chickens and pigs, performing the familiar chores that have sustained farmers and their families for generations.  Perry was trained as a nurse, and still goes on EMT runs and works with the firefighters.  He is also often on the road, lecturing about his life and the glories of family and farm life.  But his life and his love is his family and the land they occupy and which sustains them.

This book is organized around two themes.  The main theme is Perry's neighbor, Tom, an octogenarian who farms, welds, keeps bees and in general is one of the handiest men Perry knows.  He and his wife spend a lot of time with Tom and his wife Arlene, soaking up their wisdom and the stories of their life. 

The second theme is Perry's ongoing argument with the local road commissioners, who after years have decided to make a road change.  While it makes an intersection safer according to regulations, it makes the trip up the hill to the Perry farm difficult and sometimes impossible in the winter.  Perry spends over a year protesting the decision and its effects.

Those readers who have encountered Perry below will sink into this book as into a warm comfortable, familiar bed; full of comfort and good cheer.  Those new to his work have a real treat in store as they read of a family that dares to slow down and value the way things used to be, when a family depended on each other and the neighbors that surrounded them.  It is a quintessential feel-good book and readers will enjoy their time visiting with the Perry family.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Skios by Michael Frayn

It's the annual event everyone's been waiting for on the private Greek island of Skios. Nikki, the manager of the prestigious Fred Toppler, has scored a major coup, one that should cement her position as the next Director of the foundation. For the guest lecturer, she has obtained the services of the renowned science management guru, Dr. Norman Wilfred. Rich and famous people are flying in from all over the world, eager to hear the latest nuggets of wisdom from Dr. Wilfred. This will be a major triumph. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, almost everything. A mixup at the airport has a charming imposter, Oliver Fox, taking Dr. Wilfred's place. He knows nothing about the subject, but his good looks and ingraiting ways disguise that fact. The real Dr. Wilfred is stuck at the villa Fox was to stay at; no suitcase, no phone, no way to remedy his situation. Oh, and there is a naked woman sunning at the pool. Georgia is Nikki's best friend and as it turns out, Oliver's weekend fling. She has no idea what is going on, or where Fox has gone.

Michael Frayn has written a comedic tour-de-force. The plotting on a comedy is so difficult. It must be very tight, moving the reader forward on a froth of laughter before they can stop and apply the logic to the situation that makes it unbelievable. Frayn is a master, and the reader is thoroughly entertained, eagerly reading to see what happens next and how the entire situation is resolved. Skios is longlisted this year for the Mann Booker prize and it is easy to see why. This book is recommended for readers ready for an entertaining read that skewers the upper class and academia.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Broken Harbor by Tana French

This is a big case.  A huge case.  Patrick Spain and his two small children, Emma and Jack, are dead, butchered in their home.  Jenny Spain, the mother, is clinging to life in the hospital.  Who could have murdered this family who seemed to be the golden family who had it all?

The case is assigned to Mick 'Scorcher' Kennedy and his rookie partner, Rich Curran.  It's no surprise that Mick gets the case.  He is the top detective on the squad with the highest solve rate.  He is the consummate professional and Rich can't believe his luck in drawing him as his first partner.

As they investigate, it hardly seems possible.  The perfect family.  Childhood sweethearts who married and had two gorgeous children.  A brand-new house the couple had saved for.  The good life.  But as the surface is scratched, it soon becomes apparent that the good life was in jeopardy.  Pat had lost his job and didn't seem to be able to find another in this recession.  The housing development was dying on the vine, unable to sell the completed houses.  The family had withdrawn from their friends and family.  Pat was on the Internet posting on advice blogs.  Jenny had her defenses firmly in place; a smile that said everything was still perfect.

Even Kennedy is affected by this case.  Before the development, this was a coastside town.  It happened to be the town where his family went each summer for a happy vacation; that is, until the summer that his family's tragedy happened and there were no more happy times.  Can he push aside the past to find justice for the Spain family?

This is Tana French's fourth book in her Dublin Squad series.  Each book focuses not only on a crime but on one of the detectives who solve crime in this location.  The plotting is tight and the reader learns about police procedures.  The psychological characterization rings true, racketing up the suspense in a believable fashion and making this a page-turner.  This book is highly recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Attorney by Steve Martini

In this, the fifth book of Martini's Paul Madriani series, Paul has moved to San Diego to be near his new love, Susan McKay.  Susan is the head of the county's Child Protective Services agency, and they met at a conference about children's rights.  Now they are pitted together in a case that will strain their relationship.

One of Paul's old clients, Jonah Hale, comes to him for help.  Since the first time Paul helped him, Jonah has won a lottery and is now newly rich.  He and his wife continue to live modestly, however, their main focus raising their granddaughter, Amanda.  Amanda's mother has had trouble with drugs for years and the petty crime that surrounds that has landed her in prison so the grandparents have custody.

Now Jessica, the mother, is out of prison and demanding money or she will take her daughter away from the loving grandparents.  Jonah comes to Paul when Amanda is kidnapped.  They are sure Jessica has taken her away, aided by a fiery feminist who makes it her life work to help mothers in custody battles.  Her name is Zo Suade, and she is notorious for using any tactics imaginable to win.

Jonah hires Paul to find Amanda and bring her home.  The stakes are raised when Zo is found murdered, Jonah the top suspect.  The battle shifts to the courtroom where Jonah is charged with first degree murder.  Can Paul free Jonah?  Will the conflict between Jonah's case and Susan's career affect their relationship?

Readers of the Paul Madriani series will welcome this new one.  Those, like this reviewer, who come to the series cold will find that prior knowledge of the characters is not necessary.  This is a satisfying, courtroom and behind the scenes look at the legal profession.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.