Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Things were kind of slow for Alex Delaware when he gets the call from Milo Sturgis.  A child psychologist, Delaware gave up his formal practice to consult with the Los Angeles Police when they had a case that needed his special skills.  According to Milo, this was such a case.

A new home owner had arranged to have a tree removed before moving in.  When the excavation was completed, a small metal box was found, and inside the box was the skeleton of a baby.  Probably a few months old.  There was no way of determining who the baby was, as the probable age showed that it had been buried around fifty years ago.

Things went from bad to worse.  Within days, a female body was found in a nearby park, along with the bones of another baby.  Horribly, this baby's bones had been cleaned and coated with wax, making them shiny.  Again, no clue who the bodies might belong to.

As Alex and Milo try to unwind the tangled threads of these two incidences, they start to find other things.  Things like several more bodies.  Things like a connection to the power couple of Hollywood.  Things that could ruin the reputation and end the career of those running the investigation.  Can they solve the case before it hurts them?

This is the twenty-eighth Alex Delaware novel Kellerman has written.  Fans of the series will settle back in quickly to the lives of Alex and Milo and the interplay between them.  The fascination of this series is the way that traditional crime investigation and forensic psychology blend together to solve cases that might never be resolved otherwise.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.  Although it is one of a series, the reader could easily start with this one also.  Another excellent outing for Jonathan Kellerman.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Last Newspaper Man by Mark Di Lonno

Looking for a human interest story, a local newspaper journalist wanders into a retirement home, looking for a human interest story.  He finds much more than he ever expected.  He finds Freddie Haimes.  Freddie was one of the best of the tabloid reporters in the 1930's, back when newspapers were kings.  He covered all the big stories; the execution of Ruth Synder, the burning of the Morro Castle cruise ship, the explosion of the Hindenburg.  He also covered the biggest story of them all, the story that exemplified the tabloid story: the kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh baby and the subsequent investigation and trial. 

Lindbergh was America's first reality star and he was idolized by the common man.  The media made him out to be a real hero, and he was that, but he was also a man, subject to human frailties like the rest of the population.  He could be cold and distant, and that side of him was never reported.   It was unimaginable that the son of such a man could be taken, or that the story wouldn't turn out well, as heroes don't deserve pain and suffering.   Haimes was the first reporter on the scene that night and managed to worm himself into the investigation.

As the days bled into weeks, he was changed.  He admired Anne Lindbergh and the quiet dignity with which she faced this tragedy.  He fell in love himself with a local woman.  Still, he was a newspaperman, and his job was to get the story.  When he gets a huge scoop, he must decide if he will print it, or withhold it to spare Mrs. Lindbergh.  His decision has far-reaching consequences that changed his life forever.

Mark Di Lonno has written a fascinating story about the news events of the 1930's, tabloid reporting, and the men who made up the reporting profession.  A journalist himself, he is spot-on in reporting the conflicts and moral decisions that must be made between the need to inform the public and the need to help the victims retain some humanity.  He explores the dying of print journalism and discusses the rise of alternate media such as radio, television and the Internet.  More than any of this, however, Di Lonno takes the reader inside the life of a real newspaperman and shows his conflicts and pride.  This book is recommended for readers interested in great writing and a wonderful story.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

At a summer camp for the arts in 1974, a group of six teenagers come together as friends.  They are fifteen and sixteen and somehow, of all the campers that year, they gel as a group.  They call themselves The Interestings.  The core of the group are Ash and Goodman Wolf, a brother and sister duo from a wealthy family.  Ash is beautiful in a fragile way, interested in becoming an actress.  Goodman is one of those golden teenage boys, so vital that everyone is fascinated with him.  Ethan Figman is a talented illustrator, homely but witty and an obvious talent.  Jules Jacobson is the group comedic relief, not sure why she has been chosen but desperate to remain part of the group.  Cathy Kiplinger is a dancer, but with such a womanly body that she is destined for lots of love affairs.  Jonah Bay is a gorgeous boy, a talented musician who is the son of a famous folk singer.

The book follows this group of friends over the next forty years, as they grow up, find themselves in work and love, marry, divorce, and have children.  Some find success, some are lost along the way.  Some are sick and others take care of them.  There are alliances and secrets.  The group is sometimes close and sometimes distant, but they all look back fondly on the summer they spent together as they learned who they were and how their lives would be.

Meg Woltizer has written a compelling narrative of how lives are lived, how our friends can define us and make us more than we expected to be.  The personalities of the six main characters are finely drawn, each a separate person yet tightly entwined in the group over the years.  The novel explores the themes of friendship and loyalty, of learning what one really wants and how one should relate with spouses, children and friends.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for readers struggling to make sense of their own lives. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Roots Of Betrayal by James Forrester

William Harley, known as Clarenceux, is a worried man.  It is 1564, and there are so many ways that a man can be accused of treason and lose his life.  Clarenceux is a Herald of the Queen, someone who is charged with ascertaining the family history and lineage of various individuals.  But he is also a Catholic, and that is a dangerous place to be in the court of Elizabeth. 

There is a document Clarenceux has been charged with keeping for safety.  It could be used to declare Elizabeth illegitimate, and is called The Catholic Treasure.  It is a very dangerous document, as the use of it could tear England apart once more into another bloody religious war.  Imagine Clarenceux's shock when he checks the hiding place and finds it missing.

The Roots Of Betrayal covers the quest to locate the missing document.  It involves those high in the government such as William Cecil, the Queen's chief advisor,  and his man in charge of investigating conspiracies, Francis Walsingham.  On the other side are a Catholic group who call themselves Knights of The Round Table, who are determined to use the document to restore the English crown to a Catholic.  They use Widow Machyn in their plots, aware that Clarenceux has feelings for her.  Other players include corrupt men in the administration who will stop at nothing to keep their power, and a ship of pirates, headed by the most notorious of all, Raw Carew.  Clarenceux must weave his way between all these factions to try to reclaim the treasure that only he can keep safe, preventing another round of bloody war.

James Forrester has written a fast-paced, exciting historical adventure.  Forrester is the pen name of Dr. Ian Mortimer, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and winner of the Alexander Prize for his work on social history.  His scholarship concerns this time period, and the details of the story reveal his knowledge of everyday life in this era.  Readers will thrill to the nail-biting suspense and admire the hero, Clarenceux, who is motivated by love of country and who uses his knowledge and logic to escape the various predicaments he finds himself in.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and for those readers interested in an intriguing suspense tale.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dead Peasants by Larry D. Thompson

Jackson Bryant is a very successful plaintiff's lawyer.  He made his fortune representing clients against big companies that had wronged them.  Having all the money he'd ever need, Bryant decides to retire and chooses Fort Worth as his locale.  His son is about to start playing football at TCU, and Bryant decides all he wants to do is watch J.D. run that ball.

But, after buying a mansion and having it decorated and a few weeks of playing golf and poker at the country club, Bryant is bored.  There's nothing really interesting in his life except his new friendship with Colby Stripling, the realtor/designer who sold him his house.  So Jack decides to offer his services pro bono to the folks in Fort Worth who can't afford a lawyer.

June Davis is one of those folks.  She is a recent widow; her husband of fifty years having died while fishing near their home.  She comes to Bryant when she gets a confusing letter in the mail.  It contains a check for four hundred thousand; a check made out to the company where her husband had worked for years as a porter, never making more than twenty thousand a year.  The letter says the original letter was damaged, and Mrs. Davis' name was the only one that could be made out.  She is confused, as she never knew of any life insurance on her husband, or why if there was a policy, the company is the beneficiary.

As Bryant delves into this mystery, he finds that this was a common practice at one time.  Companies would take out life insurance not only on the top earners whose loss would hurt the firm, but on regular employees such as housekeepers or secretaries.  They would continue to pay the premiums on these policies, which the employees often knew nothing about, even after an employee left the firm.  Eventually, when the ex-employee died, the firm collected on the policy.  These type of policies were known as dead peasant policies.

The dealership where Mr. Davis had worked still used these policies, even though they were outlawed in Texas years ago.  Even worse, people who worked there were now dying in accidents, or were they accidents?  With a bad economy and double indemnity in the case of accidental death, these deaths were very profitable for the company.

Thompson is a former defense attorney in Texas himself.  He has crafted a mystery that takes the reader behind the scenes of the legal profession and shows what strategies and maneuvers take place in a trial.  The concept is novel, and the execution is satisfactory.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes

Genevieve has it made, or at least that's how it appears.  Young and attractive, she has managed to buy a 70-foot barge that she is living on and renovating; taking a year off from working.  Living on a boat has long been a dream of hers and her father, and he taught her carpentry when she was younger so that she can make it a reality.

But how does a young woman manage to raise the kind of money that purchases this dream?  In Genevieve's case, she had a good job selling software.  It paid well, but was very high-stress and she knew she couldn't do it long-term.  Always athletic and having taken dance, she turned a pole dancing class into a moonlighting second job.  She is hired at the Barclay, one of London's exclusive male clubs and is soon a favorite and a top earner there.  The money is great, and she is able to save enough between the two jobs to purchase her dream life.

But is it all she expected?  On the night that she has a boat warming party and invites her old crew of friends to come and see the boat, a body is discovered in the river.  It turns out to be her mentor and friend at the Barclay, Cassy.  Why was she killed, and is it a warning to Genevieve that the life she rejected as being too dangerous is about to catch up with her new life?

Elizabeth Haynes has written an interesting second mystery novel.  Her first, Into The Darkest Corner, was a major hit when it was released.  Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, and her firsthand knowledge about police investigations is evident.  This novel is quite different from her first, and it will be interesting to read her future novels to see how she develops her skills.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

True Believers by Kurt Andersen

As Karen Hollander enters her sixties, she contacts her publisher about writing her autobiography.  She is certain that the offer will be taken; she is a successful attorney, spent time in government and public service, was one of the best corporate lawyers, and now teaches at a prestigious university.  She was even on the shortlist to be nominated for the Supreme Court.  Karen has definitely led an interesting life, one that the publisher nor her public image would ever support.  She sees this book as her confession about a time in her life when she did something so outrageous that she has lived her life since expecting retribution. 

Karen was a teenager in the sixties.  Raised in a small town outside Chicago, she spent a normal life with school, friends, liberal parents.  Her two best friends were Chuck Levy and Alex Mcallister.  They were brought together by a shared love of all things James Bond.  They read all the books, saw the movies, and even went on pseudo-missions they made up.  But the times were changing.  The sixties brought a radical change to the United States.  Integration and civil rights were in the news.  The Vietnam War was raging, and the coverage it got led to massive disillusionment with the government.  It was the age of the hippie, and the free sex, drugs and rock and roll that accompanied that lifestyle.   

When Karen, Chuck and Alex all went East to college (Karen to Radcliffe, the guys to Harvard), they became more and more radicalized.  Chuck’s roommate, Buzz, joined their group.  As a Vietnam vet, he had plenty of information to stir up their sympathies with the antiwar protestors.  There were protests against everything, big business, big government, big society telling others how to live.  As the group moved further into the radical left, they decided on a plan to carry out an action; an action that brought tragedy and that they would spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for. 

Kurt Andersen has written a compelling history of the Sixties and the seismic changes that occurred in society.  He does an excellent job writing from Karen’s viewpoint, that of a liberal woman who has achieved everything she set out to do in life, but who is tormented by a short period in her life when the choices she made had consequences she had not anticipated.  This book is recommended for those who lived through the Sixties and those interested in reading about such an influential era. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Black Venus by James MacManus

They were an unlikely pair to even meet.  Charles Baudelaire was a French society gentleman, from a family with wealth and some social standing.  He was part of the Bohemian crowd of artists and authors who frequented the Paris nightclubs to indulge their appetites and argue about art into the night.  Men like Dumas, Balzac and Manet were his friends and acquaintances.  Jeanne Duval was a Haitian cabaret singer, the product of a liaison between a French plantation owner and one of his slaves.  She had made her way to nineteenth-century Paris to make her way in the world, using her voice and beauty to make her living.

But meet they did and started a love affair that was the talk of the city.  They loved and fought, lusted and cheated on each other, parted and reunited for years.  Beaudelaire called her his 'Black Venus', the inspiration for his poetry.  That poetry broke new ground, frank, sensual and above all scandalous.  Their affair gained even more notoriety when he was arrested and tried on obscenity charges due to the content of the poems published.  As the years went on, they fell into poverty and illness, but never were able to forget each other and the part each played in the others' lives.

James MacManus has written an arresting tale that brings nineteenth-century Paris to life.  Everything was changing.  There was political turmoil, and new ways of experiencing the world.  Breakthroughs were happening in art, in music, in the written word, and Beaudelaire occupied a large part in this new milieu.  His disdain for a society that rejected him and his poetry for its frank discussion of sexual pleasure while indulging in sexual alliances was clear, but he paid dearly for it.  Jeanne was one of the new women who were determined to make their way, regardless of what they had to do to earn a living.  Together they changed their world.  This book is recommended for those readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as for those interested in this epic change in society and the rise of the individual over the strictures of society.

For more information, there is an interview with the author here

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French

When a social worker goes on a routine home visit to check on a client, she receives a massive shock.  The client, Michelle Doyle, offers her tea and shows her to the sitting room where the social worker discovers the body of a man, obviously dead for a while.  Michelle seems to think nothing is wrong.

Put into a hospital, the police are baffled about Michelle.  The man was murdered.  Did Michelle do that, or was this body just another symptom of the obvious hoarding disorder Michelle's home gives evidence of?  There is trash collected everywhere, carefully put into categories, including bird corpses.  Was this just another body?

Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson calls on his expert, Dr. Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist who has worked with the police before.  That case resulted in the recovery of a kidnapped child, and the uncovering of another kidnapping that had taken place over years.  Klein agrees to work with the police.

They soon discover the body was of a charming con man, Robert Poole.  He was involved in a series of scams with different people as his skill was discovering and exploiting people's weaknesses.  His method changed with the situation.  An elderly woman might be bilked of her savings, while a woman trapped in a loveless marriage would be wooed into an affair and then asked for money.  The police have a long list of suspects and need Klein's help in determining the truth.  Can they discover who murdered Robert Poole?

This is the second mystery in the Frieda Klein series, and readers of the first will eagerly read this one and clamor for more.  Following Klein's unraveling of the secrets of the human mind is fascinating, and the steady suspense underlying the case mounts until the surprising resolution.  This book is recommended highly for mystery fans.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Virgin Soul by Judy Juanita

Eighteen year old Geniece didn't know what she wanted, except that she wanted out.  Out of Oakland, California, where she had known up with extended family when her parents weren't around.  Out of being ignorant and not having a future.  Out of being a virgin, and not being in the groove of the Sixties sexual revolution.

So, Geniece heads across the bridge to San Francisco where she starts pursuing her education.  She does two years at a community college, then transfers to a four year college, just in time to be in at the beginning of the Black Pride movement.  She makes friends with those in the movement, and the speeches she hears about black empowerment starts to radicalize her.  Her friends and she begin to live as the movement wanted, black friends, black lovers, black literature, helping other black families to make it through life.

Geniece and her friends end up joining the Black Panther Party.  They know the party leaders such as Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, and Bobby Ethridge.  Geniece becomes the editor of the BPP newspaper, while continuing her education.  She also becomes involved in tutoring and programs such as feeding breakfast to young children.  As the movement becomes more radical, she must decide if this is still the place for her to make her dreams come true.

Judy Juanita has written a stirring novel that transports the reader back to the Sixties.  San Francisco was the hub of much of the social turmoil that ended up changing the country; the Black Power movement, the hippie movement, and others.  She effectively outlines the impetus that drove young people to join the movements and how this decision affected their lives.  This book is recommended for readers who are interested in the time period or in black history.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Victorian lady should follow very strict rules.  She should concern herself with dress, hand sewing, flower arrangements, and music.  She should arrange her life so that she can win a husband with means, and then spend her life running a household and the lives of her family.

But Isabella, Lady Trent, did not fit the mold.  From a child, she thirsted for knowledge and was often found in her father's library reading his scientific books.  She especially loved anything having to do with dragons.  He indulged her curiosity and let her read as she would. 

When it came time for her debut season, Isabella found herself one day at an exhibition of three dragons that had been captured.  Rather than fainting and acting scared, she engaged a young man who was also visiting in a spirited conversation about dragons and their habits.  The young man was Jacob, one of the catches of the season but his mother's despair, as he seemed to have no interest in marrying.  Jacob was entranced with Isabella, though, and soon the pair were married.

When Jacob is invited to make up a party going forth to study dragons, he makes a surprising decision.  He takes Isabella with him.  Together with the other members of the party, they fight privation, dragon attacks, local superstitions, smugglers and danger to provide more scientific knowledge of these creatures that have captivated them both.  The dragons are attacking the villagers and the company needs to determine what is happening.

Marie Brennan has written a charming fantasy in the form of Isabella's memoirs.  Isabella is strong-willed, intelligent and absolutely irritating to try to control.   The book is written so seamlessly that the belief that there are dragons and that they can be studied seems an everyday occurrence.  This book is written for fantasy readers.