Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Last Train To Zona Verde by Paul Theroux

If you are a fan of Paul Theroux's nonfiction travel books as I am, then you are probably familiar with the many great journeys he has taken, mostly by train, car, bus or foot.  He likes to travel not with fanfare, but as a resident of the country would travel, so that he can experience what life is like for those who live where he is visiting.

Theroux started out as a Peace Corp volunteer as a young man, teaching school for six years in Africa, so he has an affinity for it.  He has visited Africa many times over the years, but The Last Train To Zone Verde details what he expects will be his last journey to Africa, as he is now seventy. The words zona verde mean 'what is green' or as he puts it, everything that is not the city.  This is what Theroux wants to see, the landscape and population the average traveler never sees.

He travels as he has in the past, riding old buses that are on the verge of breakdowns, spending hours at border crossings as border guards decide if they will approve his documents and let him through, and enduring the constant badgering of the indigent people he encounters everywhere.  He is appalled at the poverty of the slums that surround all the cities.  The population is deserting the country where they can at least grow and gather food for the dirty, crowded slums where there is little work.  He is especially appalled that the general population is left to suffer while in many cases, such as in Angola, the government is making billions of dollars from natural resources such as oil, diamonds and other minerals.  This enormous wealth tends to get siphoned into the pockets of a few politicians and business men at the top, who live in enormous walled compounds and drive expensive vehicles.

Theroux finds some things to enjoy.  He has an acquaintance who runs a luxury safari where the guests ride on elephants; an experience that provides the money to reintroduce elephants into the wild.  While he approves of the ultimate goal, he is not a fan of anything that restricts the freedom of the native animals.  He finds good people wherever he goes, and finds hope in the schools where Africans are desperate for knowledge.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy travel writing, and especially for those readers who have followed Theroux over the years on his many adventures.  It provides a viewpoint of the state of Africa from someone who has experience with it, and has the clarity to identify the issues that create problems there.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A six year old girl loves her father, of course she does.  Even when that father is a famous magician and bonds her to a contest that will take decades and whose purpose is to prove that she is the best magician alive.  An orphan is grateful to the man who rescues him and more than willing to learn magic if that is what makes his rescuer happy.  He is also bonded to the contest; these two children who will grow into adults whose life will be consumed by the contest.

Imagine a circus more magical than any ever seen.  It shows up outside of towns unannounced.  The tents are all done in black and white as are all the costumes.  The circus is only open at night, but while it is open, those lucky enough to attend see sights that will stay with them forever.

Celia Bowen is the young girl, and she becomes the circus' main illusionist.  Marco Alidair is the boy who is her adversary.  He does not perform at the circus, but works behind the scenes keeping it organized and moving.  Both individuals know that they are bound to the competition, and that the circus is the neutral proving ground.  Each creates more and better acts and wonders as time goes by.  As they meet over the years, they fall violently in love and then discover that they are, in fact, adversaries in the game and that one must utterly defeat the other.  How will they reconcile the game with what they feel?  Is emotion allowed in those who would perform magic?

Erin Morgenstern has written an original tale destined to captivate and enchant the reader.  The details of the fabulous circus and the marvels contained within make the reader crave the experiences visitors have.  The love between the two main characters introduces a conflict that is not readily resolved, and brings up the conflict between obligation and feelings.  This book is recommended for readers ready for a wondrous tale that will leave them satisfied and sure that magic does indeed exist in this world.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Gods Of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

The year is 1845, and New York City has finally decided to follow the lead of other capitol cities such as London and Paris and establish a standing police force.  In New York, the men on this first police force are known as copper stars for the insignia they wear.

Since there is no trained cadre on which to draw, men end up as copper stars by patronage or by being burly and ready to fight.  Timothy Wilde fits in this category.  He has been a bartender, steadily saving his money so that he will be able to ask Mercy Underhill, a local preacher's daughter, to marry him.  When a fire takes him money and leaves him scarred, he puts aside his dreams and follows his brother, Valentine, into the force.

New York is exploding in size.  The Irish are immigrating in huge numbers due to the potato famine, and the city is unprepared to handle the flood of new bodies.  The clergy attempt to minister to them, but there is much prejudice as Irish men desperate to support their families take up jobs for lower wages.  The Democratic Party takes care of the immigrants in exchange for their votes, and has a stake in their success.

As Timothy patrols his beat one night, he is startled to have a young child barrel into him.  On closer inspection, he is even more startled as she is covered in blood.  Scared witless, she cannot speak and he takes her to his lodging and with his landlady finds out that she has witnessed the murder of one of her friends.  She, like many other poor children, works in a bawdy house, forced into the sex trade at a tender age.  As Timothy investigates Bird's story, he discovers a grisly truth.  There are many more child 'stargazers' who have died, and he uncovers a graveyard where scores are buried.  As he starts to bring this scandal to light, the murderer starts to send letters to those on the police force and to the papers, claiming credit for the murders and signing off as 'The God Of Gotham'. Many immediately blame Irish immigrants, as most of the children are Irish.   Can Timothy and the police find out who is responsible before the city explodes?

Readers of historical fiction should rush out to get this book.  Faye has meticulously researched the era and history, using real characters such as the man credited with creating the first police force and real murder cases.  Timothy is a compelling hero who the reader will cheer on as he attempts to solve a series of murders with no experience in such work.  The book ends satisfactorily with enough of a twist at the end to make readers ready for Faye's next novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers as well as those interested in the early history of New York.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Blood Money by Doug Richardson

Greg Beem has a foolproof plan to strike it rich.  He has stolen a tractor-trailer load worth of frozen blood supplies, which he can sell overseas for a cool million.  All he has to do is get from the robbery site to the Los Angles port where he can offload.  It seems like an easy gig, but Murphy's Law reigns supreme.

In the desert, Beem comes on a deputy investigating an accident.  Not wanting witnesses, he kills both the deputy and the accident victims.  Little does he know the trouble he has just unleashed.  Now forces are trained on him and there are suddenly lots of people who want to stop him before he can make delivery.

Lucky Dey is the Kern County deputy whose brother Beem has just killed.  He tracks him to LA, determined to get justice.  Lydia Gonzalez is a six-foot LAPD officer, a single mom assigned to babysit Dey.  Rey Palamino is the contact in LA who is supposed to arrange the shipment overseas, but decides instead to turn in Beem to the FBI when things get hairy.  There is Lilly Zoller, a federal prosecutor who sees a chance at making a name for herself.  There is Conrad Ellis, the father of the accident victim, who turns out is famous herself, and famous for being Conrad's daughter, as he is a billionaire in the film industry.

Everyone converges in Los Angeles in a climax of stunning violence and terror.  Some are lucky, some are not.  Who wins and who loses is a matter of who wants it most and who has planned the best.

Doug Richardson has written a compelling, gritty novel that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn't let go until the heart stopping end.  Richardson is known as a screenplay writer on films such as Money Train and Die Hard 2, Die Harder.  Readers who were fascinated by the action in these films will also love Blood Money and its fast-paced action.  This book is recommended for readers in the thriller/suspense genre.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The End Of The Point by Elizabeth Graver

The year is 1942, the place Ashaunt Point, Massachusetts.  The reader is introduced to this place where well-to-do families summer, and to the Porter family.  In this first section, the Point has new residents.  The Army has built a compound where soldiers train and watch for spies or enemies trying to land.  The Porter family is there, as always.  The two oldest girls, Helen and Dossy, run wild.  The son is in the military and posted overseas.  The littlest Porter, Janie, is coddled and raised by the Scottish nurse, Bea, who has been with the Porter family for years.  This is the summer that Bea falls in love and must decide between her life with the Porters and building one on her own elsewhere.

The next section takes place a generation later.  Helen is now grown and married, as are Dossy and Jane.  They all have children of their own, who still have summers as they did themselves.  Helen is obsessed with her academic career, and sets high standards for her children. 

The 1970's are represented by Helen's son, Charlie's story.  Caught up in the hippie phase, he must decide whether to drop out of society or let his love for Ashaunt Point define his life forward.  He strays from the straight and narrow, and it is unclear what life will hold for him.

The book ends in the present, when all the children are grown with children of their own.  Yet the Porter family attachment to the land they have all shared is intact, no matter how short a time they can actually spend there each year.

Elizabeth Graver has written a luminous, generational saga that covers the life of one family.  Family secrets and arguments are covered, as well as the family loyalty and love of the land that defines them.  The children and parents strive against each other but the love and time they spend together keeps them from separating.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

Evie Ferrante is not surprised when she gets a call that her mother has been taken to the hospital.  Her mother is an alcoholic and trips to the hospital, followed by a trip to recovery then months of sobriety before the cycle repeated were common.

But Evie is shocked when she arrives t her mother's house and sees the condition.  The house is full of trash and rotting food.  Roaches abound and the mail and unpaid bills are heaped in unattended mountains.  There is a big new TV and Evie discovers envelopes stuffed full of money.  What is going on?

As Evie starts to clean tings up, she renews her acquaintance with Mrs. Yetner, their neighbor across the street.  Mina Yetner is now ninety, but a competent ninety.  She takes daily long walks and spends time helping to keep the marsh that borders the neighborhood safe from development.  Evie hasn't seen Mina in years, but quickly forms an attachment to her.

Mina has her own mysteries, or are they just signs of aging?  Possessions show up in unexplained places, other items are lost, and her nephew, Brian, insists that it is time for Mina to head to a nursing home.  Is the condition of Evie's mom and Mrs. Yetner inevitable signs of age, or is something going on in the neighbor Evie grew up in?

Hallie Ephron has written a compelling page turner about preserving the past and how old age can make that difficult.  The reader learns about old New York history such as an earlier plane that flew into the Empire State Building decades ago.  The plot is satisfactorily intriguing and the reader is drawn into sympathy with the protagonists.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bristol House by Beverly Swerling

Dr. Annie Kendall has come to London on a research project she hopes will reestablish her academic career.  That career had been promising until alcoholism wrecked it and her personal life.  Now sober for four years, Annie is given a chance to make a contribution to history.  A Jewish billionaire named Weinraub has offered to support Annie's research into the Tudor era in England and establish the historical reality of a silversmith known as the Jew Of Holbern.

Annie rents a flat near the Holbern section of London and starts her research.  She is disturbed when she senses a ghostly presence in the flat's back bedroom; a monk from the same Tudor period.  Annie meets a reporter, Geoff Harris, who becomes involved in her quest.  Geoff is not a fan of Weinraub, and suspects him of using his wealth and Annie's research to support an agenda that could destabilize the entire Middle East.  Can Annie and Geoff uncover the mysteries associated with the Jew Of Holbern or will it be co opted by forces determined to use the knowledge for their own ends.

Beverly Swerling has written a historical mystery that will appeal to readers.  As with her wonderful series about New York, there are a wealth of characters, all richly imagined.  The research behind the many topics covered in the book is evident, and the mystery compelling enough to keep the reader turning pages.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction, those interested in Jewish history, and those interested in groups such as the Templars.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Untold Damage by Robert K. Lewis

Mark Mallen has hit rock bottom.  Four years ago he had a glowing future.  He was a policeman, one of the best and rising fast.  He had a beautiful wife and a daughter he adored.  All that disappeared due to his own bravado.  Working undercover to bring down a drug ring, he decided that he couldn't play the part without using heroin himself.  He quickly became addicted, losing his job, his marriage and his child.

Now Mark just marks time from score to score.  He lives quietly, his police pension just enough to keep him going.  He expects nothing and has nothing to live for.  That is, until he hears the news about Eric.  Eric was his best friend on the force.  Like Mark, he left the police, got addicted, and even spent some time in prison.  But Eric had turned his life around after prison.  Mark can't believe he is dead.

Mark decided to try to kick his habit and find out what happened to Eric.  He has some help.  Detective Kane remembers Mark from his police days and gives him some help.  He also gets help from a new friend and some old ones.  Other bodies start showing up and Mark realizes he is also targeted.  Can he solve Eric's murder before he is killed himself?

Untold Damage is Robert K/ Lewis's debut novel.  Mark is a flawed character, but the reader can see through his addiction to the good that still exists inside.  The action is fast and furious, and the denouement is satisfying.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Latent Lives by Larry Parr

The most sensational murder in decades has hit Duluth.  The mayor, her husband and her son have been killed, each dispatched with a single knife thrust to their heart.  They were having a quiet evening at home, watching old home movies.  The only survivor is Linda Lavaque, the daughter and now heir to the family fortune.  The police are stumped as to motive or any viable suspects.

Linda remembers how her mother used to talk about the policeman she found most impressive, John Stauber.  John is no longer on the police force, having suffered a breakdown after the deaths of his wife and infant daughter.  Linda reaches out to him to help her solve the murders but he is reluctant.  He is not on good terms with the police after his separation from the force, especially the man in charge, Mike Johanson.  John had rubbed Mike the wrong way while on the force and Mike wants no part of him.

But Linda is persuasive, and the murders keep happening.  The Lavaque's cook is killed, as is the mayor's main researcher.  The murders also hit John personally.  His sister, Jamie, has just invented a laser device that can locate evidence such as fingerprints that have eluded detection.  Her supervisor is murdered as he discusses the invention and the device is destroyed.  How does this tie in with the Lavaque family murders?  John, Linda and Jamie join forces to try and determine what is going on and who is responsible.  They are soon targets themselves and they race to solve the crimes before they are also killed.

Latent Lives is the first in the Stauber-Levaque mystery series.  There are currently three books in this series.  Mystery readers who enjoy fast-paced plots with lots of action will be glad to discover the author and his Midwestern mysteries.  The relationship between John and Linda propels the plot forward.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stay Close by Harlan Coben

You can't go home again.  Megan Pierce is starting to realise that cliches stick around because they are based on truth.  Seventeen years ago she was living as Cassie, making a living as an exotic dancer and dating dangerous men.  When one of those men got increasingly violent and started hurting her, she decided she might need to make a new life.  Then came the night when Cassie found his blood-soaked body in the woods and decided that the police would decide she was the killer.  That's the night she disappeared.

Now she is Megan Pierce, living the typical suburban stay at home mom life.  She found and married a good man who loves her and together they had two wonderful children.  Megan should be happy, but something keeps pulling her back to her former life.

Detective Broome is a policeman nearing retirement who remembers the violent boyfriend who tormented Cassie.  The guy was married, and his wife still keeps their home as it was when her husband was killed, unaware of his violent side.  This is the case Broome just can't let go.

Ray is another person caught up in the past.  Seventeen years ago he was a rising star as a documentary photographer and madly in love with Cassie.  Now he is a washout who makes a marginal living and spends his days drinking.  He can't move beyond that night in the woods either; all the blood and the disappearance of his love.

When Megan gives in to her curiosity and revisits the club where she used to dance, those years between fade away.  The old murder case seems to reactivate and more bodies are found.  Someone is after Megan again, and she can't believe she has jeopardized her life for a glimpse of her past.

Harlan Coben fans will welcome a new novel by him.  Coben's forte is inticate plotting along with crisp writing and twists that make his books page-turners, and Stay Close is another success.  This book is recommended for mystery and suspense fans.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Holder's Dominion by Genese Davis

Kaylie Ames is at loose ends in her life when she runs into Elliott in the grocery one day.  She is attending college in Texas, far from her mountain home that claimed her father's life when he tried to rescue a climber in a winter storm.  Her younger brother isn't dealing well with the father's death, and her mother just pretends he never existed.
Kaylie is pretending also, that all is well.  When she runs into Elliott, she is engaged as he seems terrified and she instinctively reaches out to him to help.  She discovers that Elliott's issues lead back to a computer game; he is o an elite group of gamers and his terror arose from a mission he was given in real life to impact his status in the
What kind of game thrived on its' participant's difficulties?  Kaylie is intrigued and starts playing also.  She is surprised to find that she is a natural and is soon one of the few girls chosen to progress.  The elite team is headed by a mysterious figure called The Holder, who seems to delight in creating chaos in his team's lives.  Kaylie joins with several other team players who make a pact to bring down The Holder and end his dominance.  Can they succeed before he realises what they are doing and destroys them?
Genese Davis has written an interesting book about the gaming world, and the reasons players find it so intriguing.  This tends to be a more male-dominated activity and it is interesting to see it from a more feminine viewpoint.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.