Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eyes Of Justice by Lis Wiehl

They called themselves the Triple Threat for their work in detecting and solving crimes.  There was Nicole, the steady, quiet FBI agent.  Cassidy, the vivacious, bouncy TV crime reporter.  Allison, the federal prosecutor.  Together, over six years, they had put away scores of criminals and the sky was the limit.  Together they had a great friendship and supported each other through life's issues.

But all that changed when Cassidy is murdered herself.  Nic and Allison are determined to find out who killed their friend, but the case is quickly solved when the police arrest Cassidy's former lover, an abusive policeman who held a grudge.  It was sad but believable, or was it?

Lis Widhl has written a heartstopping, action-drive mystery that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn't let them go.  Every clue seems to lead to a dead end and the criminal seems to be miles ahead of the women.  Can they solve the murder successfully?  This book is recommended for mystery lovers who want fast-paced action.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Serpent's Kiss by Melissa De La Cruz

Strange things are still happening in North Hampton, Long Island and the Beauchamp family is right in the middle of it.  Although the centuries-old restriction on practicing magic is gone, that doesn't mean everyone is comfortable with it or even believes in it.  The Beauchamp family, made of goddesses/witches, is determined to use their magic to help those around them but fate always seems to interrupt their plans.

The family matriarch is Joanna, who can give life back when needed and travel to Limbo.  Ingrid is the town librarian and cool and reserved.  Freya is the wild child, made for all things sensual and has found the perfect job as a bartender where she can throw in love potions.  All they want is a calm life, but fate intervenes.

First, Freddie, who is Freya's twin brother and is the sun god, has escaped from limbo where he has been languishing for five thousand years.  The guardians of limbo are searching for him to serve the rest of his punishment for destroying the bridge that separates Earth from the other worlds.  Freddie insists he is innocent, and worse, that Freya's lover, Killian, is the true culprit.  Who will she believe?

Ingrid has fallen in love for the first time with an unlikely man.  Matt Noble and Ingrid met when he was investigating her family as he is a detective on the police force.  Ingrid doesn't know anything about this love stuff, and can't seem to work it out. 

Joanna has her own issues.  Her long-long husband whom she hasn't seen in centuries, has reappeared and seems interested in reestablishing their marriage.  But, she has just started a relationship with an interesting local man.  Then there is the spirit from the other world that insists she has a message Joanna needs to hear, but can't quite make the connection.

Fans of De La Cruz's Witches of East End will be delighted to read this sequel and follow the further adventures of the Beauchamp family.  Those who missed the first book in the series can pick up here with no problem.  The characters are interesting and the problems intriguing.  This book is recommended for readers of paranormal romance.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Accidents of Providence by Stacia M. Brown

The year is 1649, the location London.  Oliver Cromwell has defeated the King, Charles I, and religion now is the ruler of England.  In this time and place, women are considered playthings of the Devil, and their wickedness must be controlled. 

One late night, Rachel Lockyer is observed by her employer burying something.  The employer goes back the next morning and discovers a dead newborn.  Rachel is arrested and the book follows her case.  If a woman has a child out of wedlock, she can be stripped and flogged.  If she names the father, he will join her in punishment.  If the child is dead, the assumption is that the mother has murdered her child to avoid punishment.  This is the assumption in Rachel's case, as she has steadfastly denied being pregnant, even when asked directly.  Her lover was a married man, and she is not willing to have him punished.

The book follows Rachel to Newgate Prison, a horrid place where prisoners must pay not to be attacked by guards and everyone is out for himself.  The main investigator puts down the facts but something about the case bothers him.  The trial is short and the outcome inevitable.  As Rachel waits for her execution date, the story shifts to follow the man who was the father of her child, the political parties that want to use the case to further their complaints against the government by making Rachel a martyr, and Rachel's friends who try to save her.

Stacia Brown has written a historical fiction novel that outlines the brutish lives of this time, and the brutish government that served to punish any perceived misconduct.  All blame went to the woman, and men could ruin them with little fear of punishment.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction as it is a real opening through which the reader can experience life in this time and age.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

The Sisters, Charlie and Eli, are killers by trade. Make no mistake, when people in the Old West hear that they are talking with the Sisters brothers, they quake in terror. Currently, they have been hired by The Commodore, a shadowy powerful man, to kill Hermann Kermit Warm. Why? The Commodore says Warm stole from him. What he stole makes no difference to the brothers, nor if he stole at all. They have been hired to kill him, and kill him they will.

They set out to find him where he was last reported to be, California. This is California in the Gold Rush days, and the fever has every man desperate to hide what he’s found or to take another man’s stash. That means it is a shoot first, ask questions later environment, and that suits the Sisters brothers just fine. The book follows them on their journey to find their prey, telling of their adventures along the way.

Charlie is the leader. He has the confidence of the Commodore and is a stone cold killer. Eli will also kill in a second, but has more emotions. He longs to make a human connection and is capable of surprising kindnesses. The brothers fight among themselves but there is never any doubt that they are a cohesive team.

Once they get to California, they discover what it is that the Commodore believes was stolen from him. Warm is an engineer and has developed a method to make finding gold easier. His crime? He refused to cut the Commodore in on the formula or the profits. Will the brothers cut him down or will they hesitate when they discover Warm is not a thief?

Patrick DeWitt has written an unsentimental look at the gunslingers, card sharps, prostitutes and prospectors of the California Gold Rush. The reader is immediately transported back to that time, and begins to see how the brothers view the world, even having a sneaking sympathy for them.  Although the subject is a bit gruesome, DeWitt actually writes in a humorous fashion, making the horrific seem matter of fact.   It was longlisted in 2011 for the Mann Booker prize. This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and those interested in a fascinating tale.

A Lighter Shade Of Gray by Devon Pearse

Devon is caught in the past.  A past before her mother slipped away into the gray mists of mental illness that has kept her hospitalized for over a decade.  A past where three little girls ran and laughed and played, before one of them was killed before her sixteenth birthday.  A past where Drew was always there waiting for her; the love she'd always imagined.

But the past's tendrils can't stand up to the forces of the present.  The present where Devon has lived for over a decade without Drew, who she sent away due to her fear of ending up like her mother.  Now things are breaking and changing and Devon must adjust.

For one thing, Drew is back in town.  Can Devon and Drew pick up where they left off, or is their love forever in the past?  Next, her mother shows signs of emerging from her illness, but is this because of the teenage girl who is now her roommate and who seems determined to take Devon's place in her mother's life?  Finally, the abusive boyfriend of her best friend's sister has been brutally murdered, and suspicion falls on Cass, Devon's best friend.  Can Cass untangle the mystery and save everyone's life?

Devon Pearse has written a haunting novel, although the fact that her main character is also named Devon Pearse may be confusing at first to the reader.  She has created characters that seem strong one minute, then shadowy the next, echoing the way mental illness recedes and then reconquers the sick mind.  The values of love, friendship and family are strong propellers of the action, and the reader will want to finish to find out what happens to the people met between the pages.  This book is recommended for readers of family relationship novels and those interested in characters who grow within the confines of a book.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope

Alexa Riley is home, alone, waiting.  Today is the day Dan returns home from his military tour in Afghanistan; six months away from home, the marriage, the children, everyday life.  How will it go?  The books all say there will be a period of adjustment, but that doesn't apply to them and their storybook marriage.  Does it?

But once Dan is home, things are different.  Alexa has changed and so has Dan and there are many other factors to consider.  Alexa is offered a great job, but one she knows she cannot accept since Dan could get orders to move them any time.  Their oldest daughter is desperately miserable at boarding school.  Their parents are worried, as are their friends.  One of their oldest military friends' marriage seems to be totally falling apart.  Dan and Alexa are talking at each other, not to each other, and the strain and distance grows daily.  Can they find their way back to each other before all is lost?

Joanna Trollope has written a convincing book about the rigors of military life and how it affects not only the soldier but all of their family and friends as well.  She outlines the routines of military life, the commitment that can leave families feeling like a second choice, the demands it places on the soldier.  Some can handle it, some cannot, but all must carefully find their way through the debris of everyday life to a place where family is primary.  This book is recommended for readers interested in current family relationships and how they go awry and can be healed.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The NEW New Rules by Bill Maher

Feeling a lack of snarkiness in your life?  Have no fear, Bill Maher is here.  The NEW New Rules is a compilation of Maher's observations on politics, education, American culture, food, sex, sports, the economy, history--you name it, Bill's got an opinion on it and it will probably make you laugh.

The book is arranged alphabetically.  In each chapter, observations having to do with a subject starting with that letter are arrayed.  Photographs are used to illustrate various points.  Most of the material comes from various prior writings but some material is written new for this book and each new observation is marked as such.

Love him or hate him, Maher will make you laugh.  The material is R-rated so this book is not recommended for children, but adults will be hard-pressed not to find something to make them smile, if not outright chortle.  This book is recommended for adult readers ready for some fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Big Bottom Blessing by Teasi Cannon

If one thing is sure, it is that most women dislike something about their body.  Some don't like their noses, others their hair.  But overwhelmingly, women are obsessed about their weight and peg their self-worth to the numbers on the scale.

Teasi Cannon was one of those women.  She has struggled with her weight all her life, and fought constantly with the negative, self-hating thoughts she had about her body.  How could anyone like her?  How could she possibly go have fun on the beach or in a hot tub?  Did her husband really love her, or was that just pity that made him stay with her?  Did her friends constantly talk about her behind her back?

My Big Bottom Blessing is not a diet and exercise book.  Rather it is a book about learning to accept that God loves each individual, no matter what their size or shape.  God doesn't judge on external appearances.  Once someone truly accepts that fact, size loses its focus.  Cannon discusses her life journey to get to that point, pointing out with humor and honesty her mistakes along the way. 

This book is recommended for readers of Christian literature, and for women struggling with body acceptance issues.  Each chapter outlines an issue, gives Cannon's experience with it, then talks about what the Bible says about it.  The chapter ends with discussion questions and motivating thoughts.  This book can be a help in changing self-images and thus worth the read, especially for those who are religious.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Cathy Bailey is a single professional woman living in London.  But she is far from a happy-go-lucky woman.  Instead, she is a former victim of domestic violence who is trying to put her life back together.  The victim of a horrendous attack that sent her to the hospital and then to the psychiatric ward as she tried to deal with what happened, she is now desperately trying to put her life back together.

Cathy's attacker was sent to jail, but for only three years.  That three years is now up and Cathy is sure that he is coming back to look for her.  Didn't he always say that she was his no matter what?  Didn't he say that he couldn't live without her and that no one else would have her if he couldn't? 

Cathy is trying to get stronger, but she is petrified by her fears.  She spends hours checking doors and windows, refusing to go out except to work. She trusts no one.  She has panic attacks that cripple her for hours.  She dresses in frumpy clothes that she hopes disguises her body and makes her unnoticable in a crowd.

Things start to change when the upstairs flat in her building is rented to a doctor, Stuart.  Stuart and Cathy become friends, and with his encouragement, Cathy starts to deal with her OCD and PTSD.  Then, it all starts again.  Little things are different in her apartment.  She thinks she sees her attacker several times.  Is he coming back for her or is she just imagining the danger?

Into The Darkest Corner is Elizabeth Haynes debut novel.  It was Amazon UK's Best Book Of The Year.  Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, and her work allows her to chart the progression of this terror with heart stopping details.   The book is compelling and almost impossible to put down; the reader needs to determine what will happen to Cathy.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

The Mango Orchard by Robin Bayley

Robin Bayley grew up in England hearing stories from his grandmother.  Most of these stories centered around his heroic great-grandfather, her father.  Arthur Greenhalgh had journeyed to Mexico a hundred years ago to seek his fortune.  He established himself, sent for Robin's great-grandmother and married her.  They had one child but as the political climate became more dangerous, Arthur sent her back to England.  They lived apart for several years, and Robin's grandmother was born and was past her toddler years before she ever saw her father.  Arthur finally left Mexico for good as the bloody Mexican Revolution erupted.

Somehow Robin always felt there was more to the story, some unfinished business of his great-grandfathers that only he could resolve.  At loose ends in England, he decided to retrace Arthur's footsteps and see if he could recreate his life.  He went to America, then on to South America.  He stopped for a month to learn more Spanish, then continued his journey.  Along the way he met witches, drug dealers, military bureaucrats who tried to make travel difficult, and everywhere, warm loving people.  The people were poor, but what they had they were willing to share.  Robin was able to locate the village his great-grandfather lived in, and it and it's people made their way into his heart.  There were surprises everywhere, but at the end of his journey, he knew his family history and all that went on.

The Mango Orchard is a fascinating look at both the region, its people and Bayley's journey.  His discoveries and travels are compelling enough to make this book a page-turner, and his optimism and enthusiasm are catching.  This book is recommended for readers of travel writing and anyone interested in tracing their heritage.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan

On July 6, 1944, nine thousand people, mostly women and children, attended the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, Connecticut.  It was the matinee show and started at around 2:00 p.m.  Moments later, the circus tent caught fire and in minutes was completely consumed.  Pandemonium reigned as petrified patrons fought and clawed to escape the inferno.  One hundred and sixty-seven people died that day.

Stewart O'Nan has painstakingly recreated this horrific event.  He covers the individual stories of various victims and survivors.  The history of the circus is covered, along with the war factory environment of Hartford in 1944.  Possible causes of the fire are considered.  Was it an act of arson?  Or was the fact that the tent was waterproofed with a mixture of gasoline and paraffin the main culprit?  The survivors are followed through their months of hospitalization and the various legal issues and court cases are covered.  The lives of various circus performers are told, as well as the stories of the men who investigated the fire and its causes for years.  The later lives of those involved are covered, especially the struggle to identify one little girl that stretched for decades.

Although a horrific event, the painstaking research O'Nan has performed makes this a fascinating subject.  The changes that took place due to the fire and the general change in the country as it moved to new entertainment venues such as television made the circus under the big tent a thing of the past.  O'Nan takes the reader inside the tent and shows them a world that no longer exists.  This book is recommended for readers of nonfiction and circus fans, as well as those who enjoy tales of heroism.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

The local celebrity in Milledgeville, Georgia, is Flannery O’Connor. Raised in the town, Flannery moved to New York to pursue a writing career. She is making headway when she receives the same diagnosis of lupus that killed her father. Flannery’s disease moves quickly and at the age of twenty-five, she is back home in Milledgeville at the family farm, Andalusia. She spends her time writing and raising peacocks; the fierce, proud birds touching a chord in her. She is the local star, yet feared by many of the town for her ability to see through the artifice with which most of us surround our lives. As O’Connor was known to say: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
While Flannery is the most famous inhabitant, she is not necessarily the most influential. That would be the power couple of Cookie and Melvin Whiteson. Cookie grew up in town, the ‘it’ girl who was the most popular in high school and who won all the trophies and prizes. She went North after school and returned with Melvin, an extremely wealthy man who wants to marry her. Their wedding is the year’s most talked about event, and also the place where Melvin and Flannery meet. They strike up a friendship that Cookie is unaware of and would never approve of. Cookie spends her time organizing everything worth organizing in town and is recognized as the woman who makes things happen.

Lona Waters is as far in character from Cookie as it is possible to be. Lona has drifted through life, married to Bill Waters, an ambitious policeman. She has a drapery business and spends her time making window treatments for the wealthy of the town. Yet, Cookie, Flannery and Lona all are brought together in an afternoon of tragedy. Afterwards, none of the women or the men in their lives are the same.

Ann Napolitano has created a masterful portrayal of Southern life and more, the portrayal of how most of us move through life, living it but never really experiencing it to the fullest. The characters are compellingly drawn, while the tragedy that defines the book is foreshadowed in such a way that when it occurs, it seems inevitable. Yet, the characters and their lives also have hope, leaving the reader shaken and better for having read it. This book is highly recommended for all readers; a powerful novel that redefines how individuals can face life and its hardships.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton

It's 1963, and things are changing in the South, even in small North Carolina towns.  The Greensboro sit-in is in the news, Dr. Martin Luther King is on his crusade, and everyone is starting to realise that things will be different.

In one small town, Dwayne Hallston and Larry Lime Nolan become friends as each is interested in the new music starting to break through; the music of James Brown and the Apollo Theatre.  Larry Lime wants to be a pianist like his idol, Thelonious Monk, while Dwayne has just started a band with his buddies.  Larry Lime isn't in the band, since he and Dwayne aren't even supposed to be friends.  Larry is African-American while Dwayne is white and their friendship is something new in their town.

Edgerton has captured the feel of rural small towns in this era, when the races were segregrated but depended on each other in ways no one talked about.  It was a time of hope and dread, a subterranean stirring that no one had an ending for, a time of change with all the passions that change always stirs.  This book is recommended for readers interested in knowing what life was life in this place and time, and for those who want to be entertained by a master at his best.

Clyde Edgerton is a North Carolina treasure.  Born in Durham, he has written nine previous novels.  His forte is telling stories; stories that make serious points while being humourous and readable.  He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, five of his novels have been New York Times Notable Books and he is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  Edgerton currently teaches creative writing at UNC-Wilmington.