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.