Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Cradle In The Grave by Sophie Hannah

A killer is on the loose in England and he has very specific targets. He is obsessed with the topic of women accused of killing their babies. Some of these women have been convicted, some found not guilty. Some have been released on appeal to a general consensus that they were innocent, while others have been released but may well have done the crime. The obsession spreads further to doctors who testified either for the prosecution or the defense, especially one doctor, who is about to have her license revoked due to her testimony in scores of these cases.

Fliss Benson becomes entangled in this web due to her work. She works in television documentary production and is an assistant producer at a company whose star is determined to tell the story of these women. He perceives them all as innocent, and is instrumental in getting several released on appeal and in hounding the doctor who was instrumental in putting them behind bars with her expert testimony. Suddenly, the star decides to leave for another company and the documentary is dumped in Fliss’ lap.

One of the released women is terrorized on the street and then another one is killed. The killer leaves a card with four rows of what appear to be random numbers on each of their bodies. Fliss is pulled even further into the mystery when she begins to receive the same cards with the same numbers. Can she solve the mystery before the killer targets her?
Sophie Hannah has written a series of taut, engaging mysteries. The characterizations are fresh and striking. The interplay and politics in the police department are worth reading the book for, with the interesting character of DC Simon Waterhouse, a detective who can figure out the most complex motivations. This book was originally published in England as A Room Swept White. Readers of mysteries will be captivated and rush to read more of Hannah’s work.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

In Berlin, between World War I and II, jazz was the thing. Black musicians flocked there and to Paris, fleeing the discrimination at home. One group formed then had members from all over. There were Sid and Chip, the bass player and drummer, childhood friends who came over from Baltimore. Ernst was a German, son of a rich and powerful industrialist. Big Fritz was also German, as was Paul, the group's only Jewish member.

Then there was Hieronymus, or Hiero Falk, the band's trumpeter. Hiero is young, barely twenty, a decade or so younger than the rest of the band. He is also German, but most people would be surprised to learn this. Born of a German mother and a Senegalese father, he is one of a handful of 'half-bloods' born in a region where Senegalese troops had been stationed. These children were not accepted but shunned and singled out for unfair treatment. But Hiero has a gift; he plays the trumpet in a manner that rivals the king of all trumpeters, Louis Armstrong.

By 1939, things had gotten bad in Berlin. The SS were everywhere, targeting Jews first, but also blacks and other minorities. Jazz was denounced as savage music not worthy of a true German's attention. As tensions mount and the men start to fear for their lives, a woman appears. She is Deliliah Brown, the singer in Louis Armstrong's band, and she wants them to come to Paris and play with Louis. After Paul is captured on the streets one day, the men decide to go there.

Once there, things are better for a time, but not for long. Dissension starts to strain the band as members vie for Deliliah's attention and time to record. The group falls apart when Hiero is swept up and sent to a camp, but Sid manages to sneak out one precious recording, 'Half-Blood Blues' when he and Chip go back to America that makes the group's reputation. Hiero survives the war, but dies soon afterward.
As the book opens, Chip and Sid are on their way to a Hiero Falk Festival in Berlin, put together by a German documentary maker who wants to reestablish the glory of those days when jazz ruled the music scene. This is surprising enough, but Chip has a shock in his pocket. It turns out that Hiero did not die, but has been living in obscurity for forty years. The men are reunited and all the old disagreements and tensions are resolved.
Esi Edugyan has written a glorious book. The reader is transported into the world of jazz musicians, where the music is the thing, the only thing that matters. The tension and danger of the Nazi government is strikingly portrayed, and how it swept apart friends and families and whole generations of people. There is friendship and betrayal, sacrifice and pain along with a determination to survive and make the music survival. This book was long-listed for the Mann Booker Prize and is recommended for all readers.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Scarlet Rose by Julia Madeleine

In her day, Sylvia had it all.  Men adored her and flocked to see her dance.  She was a stripper known as Scarlet Rose and she basked in the admiration.  After all, it was no more than her due; she was made to be rich and adored.

But life doesn't always turn out the way a young girl dreams of.  Now, Sylvia is middle-aged, fat and dumpy, living on handouts from her daughter, Fiona.  She was dragged down by motherhood, kept from what she knew was her rightful place by the demands of three kids.  Now that they were grown, they owed her.  She put Fiona out as a stripper and prostitute at age sixteen.  Suzanne escaped to the streets and drug addiction while her son is in prison.  There there was her angel, her baby, another son who was kidnapped when he was four, perhaps by a former lover, perhaps by a stranger.  He is now back in town, ready to be reunited with his vision of a perfect mother and willing to do Sylvia's bidding.

When her use of her son goes awry, Sylvia flees town, forced once again by a cruel world to figure out how to survive.  Never mind that she tried to force her son to kill her daughters, ingrates that resented supporting her lavish ways.  She should have been able to get enough money from her schemes to live as she wanted.  Now, she will have to figure out a new way to get her dreams, and in Sylvia's world, if you stand between her and what she wants, your life has a short shelf life.

Julia Madeleine has created a woman in Sylvia who the reader will not soon forget.  Totally self-absorbed, the picture of narcissism, she blunders from situation to situation, using others to meet her goals and fulfill her self-image of what life owes her.  This book is recommended for readers of suspense novels.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Fan's of FX TV channel's hit show, Justified, will be excited to read Elmore Leonard's new book, Raylan.  Justified is based on a short story by Leonard where the characters in the show were introduced.  Raylan Givens is a U.S. Marshall who grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky.  He worked in the coal mines as most men did, but got out as soon as he could and ended up in law enforcement.  After a showdown in Florida where he shot and killed a fugitive, he is transferred back to Kentucky.

Raylan is back with the folks he grew up with; his family and former friends, but things are not the same.  Many of those he knew break the law routinely, and he is now responsible for bringing them in when they do so.  The book is full of shady characters, from pot-growing and Oxcy selling drug dealers to a female coal-mine owner's thug, from poker players to men who will do anything for a buck.  One of the more interesting characters is Boyd Crowder, a former miner who is now The Head of Disagreements for the coal mine owners.  There are female bank robbers and a kidney-stealing ring who steals kidneys from the owners and then ransoms them back.

Raylan is a laconic Marshall who speaks little but what he says others need to listen to.  He is known for his ability to outdraw and shoot to kill when needed.  The violence is casual but deadly, and the stories in the book contain betrayal and loyalty, shifting alliances and an underworld of criminals who are determined to rule the area.  This book is recommended for crime novel readers. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Not Untrue And Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin

Owen Simmons has a comfortable life these days.  His work as a foreign correspondent over, he potters around in the newspaper's home office, doing little real work but a fixture nonetheless.  The death of an office mate and the discovery of an old file of Simmons' stories from his time in Africa leads him to wonder why his colleague was interested in his time there and forces him back in his mind to relive those days.

Owen went to Africa as a stringer, a journalist who wrote articles hoping to sell them afterwards to someone.  He falls in with the journalist circle there, those with full-time jobs, photographers, TV journalists, print journalists.  Although they are all after the same story, they become a society, helping each other and making friends and lovers within the group.  Owen travels and befriends various members of the group, including a woman journalist he loves but feels he knows little about.

Owen spends several years there in the 1990's, covering the Rwandan genocide and the various national uprisings.  The group becomes hardened to violence and death as they move from one hot spot to another, seeing how little any one death meant in the grand scheme of things.  Owen leaves when he is caught in an ambush and gravely wounded.  Several of his friends are also in the ambush, and what happened that day and their various fates are the mainspring of the book. There is also a secret associated with the ambush that serves as a focal point of the novel.

Ed O'Loughlin writes from first-hand experience, as he himself spent time in Africa as a correspondent for the Irish Times.  Readers will be interested in this subset of war, those who document it so that most of us can experience it comfortably in an armchair.  He accurately portrays the suddenness of violence and death in a war zone, and how banal it all becomes when it is an everyday occurrence. Not Untrue And Not Unkind was a Mann Booker Prize nominee in 2009.  This book is recommended for adult readers interested in how world events are reported and the lives of journalists.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Over 55? Check out Novel Seniors!

Indie Book Collective, a grand group of folks, has started a website and giveaway program for seniors; anyone over fifty-five.  Each month you can choose an e-book as a free gift; to keep and read at your leisure. 

The books are in the categories of mystery/thrillers, science fiction/fantasy, fiction, paranormal romance, historical romance and romance.  Each categories has subsets, so there are a ton of books!

Don't have a Kindle?  Don't worry.  If you have any kind of electronic device (computer, IPad, smartphone, etc), you can download the Kindle reading application to it and take advantage of this great offer.  There are directions on how to do this on Amazon's Kindle page. 

Interested?  Go to the website,  to sign up on the right hand side.  You can view this month's books, get your questions answered, and find out all about this marvelous opportunity.  Thanks to IBC, what a grand idea.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Blue Eyes by Jerome Charyn

Detective Manfred Coen is a product of the streets.  Raised in the '40's in New York City in the Bronx, he grows up with Jewish gangsters, con men, policemen and politicians.  Most guys gravitated either to the police or the gangs, and Coen ends up in the police.  He is the protege of Captain Issac Sidel and is disliked by the rank and file both for his mentor and for his blond hair, blue-eyed Hollywood handsome good looks.

But times change.  Sidel is now out of the force, disgraced in a bribery scandal.  Coen floats from precinct to precinct, never finding a home but still the most effective cop the force has on the streets.  His world is full of Chinese Hispanic gunman, a clubfooted confidential informer, a gangster's son who is a man with the mind of a child, a rich girl who ends up as a porn star and stripper, an ex-wife who married a dentist the second time around, a ping-pong club owner.  All have roots in Coen's past and he moves among them, taking what he needs from each to solve the case while protecting them all the best he can.

There are hints of a white slavery ring operating out of New York and sending girls to Mexico to become brides.  There are currents and cross-currents of shakeups and realignments in the gang structure that has held true for decades.  Coen seems to be the one who can solve the cases; but is he also being manipulated behind the scenes?

Jerome Charyn is an important figure in American literature.  Two of his thirty books have been New York Times Notable Books.  Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”  Blue Eyes was released in 1974 and is a gritty representation of the world Charyn grew up in.  The language can be jarring with street talk and name-calling, but the sense of place is done superbly.  There are picturesque characters, loyalties and betrayals that stretch across decades, plots and counterplots.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and for those interested in reading about the streets of New York City in the '60's and '70's.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen

Darya Borodina is one hundred and four years old, living in the old Russian Entertainment Palace among the ruins, haunted by her life and her time with the Romanovs.  Born of royal parents who were close friends with the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, Darya lost her parents as a teen and was brought to live in the royal household.  There she became a companion to the royal children, the four Duchesses and the heir apparent.  Darya had healing powers which were important since the heir had hemophilia and could die at any moment.

We watch royal life through Darya's eyes.  Drawn to the arts, she and the Empress create an artistic salon to showcase the talents of Russia's sculptors, artists and ballet masters.  We see the strife and pain that comes as Russia starts to awake and decide that being ruled by the royal aristocracy will not work.  Darya is torn between these two worlds.  She is loyal to the royal family, but madly in love with one of the artists, a Jewish painter she knows she can never acknowledge publicly.  Through him, she starts to see the turmoil that will soon tear the country apart.

After the Revolution and the assassination of the Royal Family, what keeps Darya alive is her belief that the heir was not killed that horrible day with the rest of the family; that her magic portions kept him alive.  She spends decades searching for him, and now she receives word that 'the last Romanov' has been found.  This starts her final journey to determine the truth once and for all.

The Last Romanov is a marvelous book.  Steeped in history and full of the haunting brooding history of the Russian Empire, the reader is transported to another time and place.  Mossanen has created an interesting heroine in Darya to portray both sides of the Revolution and the pain that the conflict between the sides brought to both.  This book is recommended to historical fiction readers and those interested in the strong women or Russian history.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

True Love Way by Nancy Scrofano

Marlo Spencer's dreams are about to come true.  Twelve years ago, the love of her life, Josh, abandoned her to attend chef school in Paris and stayed in France since.  While Marlo has dated, there's been no one serious as she can't get over Josh.  She spends her time with her best friend, Savannah and her daughter.  Savannah was also abandoned by a high school sweetheart and has been a single parent for eleven years.  Marlo's other mainstay is Savannah's brother, Nik.  Nik was too much older to hang with the girls in high school but now that he and Marlo are living in the same city away from their families, they have formed a close friendship.

But now Marlo has a decision to make.  She receives an email after twelve years from Josh.  Josh says he is back in town and has never forgotten Marlo.  He reminds her of the pact they made in high school to get married to each other if neither was married at age thirty, and asks her to come back to town to visit and get reacquainted.  Marlo is overjoyed and nervous all at once.  Will things be the same?  Will Josh explain why he left her alone?

She goes back home, accompanied by Nik who is ready for a family visit.  Once there, she meets up with Josh, but things seem a bit off.  As the week goes on, secrets her friends have been keeping from her start to emerge, along with a sense that she may need to reevaluate her true feelings.  Will true love's way make the decision for Marlo?

Nancy Scrofano has written a breezy, interesting romance that keeps the reader turning the pages to see what choices Marlo will make.  Marlo is a quirky character, loyal to a fault, but determined not to change.  Her favorite things are from the past; old TV shows from the 1960's and 1970's, when life was simpler and every issue could be solved during a half hour sitcom.  Will her life follow the same path, or will Marlo discover that real life is more complicated and more rewarding?  This book is recommended for readers who like romance and modern day relationships.