Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

Review: Want You Dead by Peter James

Monday, December 8th, 2014

want you deadWant You Dead by Peter James is a woman’s worst nightmare. You date a guy who seems terrific — he’s handsome and charming, doesn’t mind spending money on you and seems to really enjoy your company — and he turns out to be a crazy stalker. In this case a OMGCRAZYWTF stalker. The kind that breaks into your house, burns down your favorite restaurant, tries to murder your parents…you know the type.

Bryce Laurent is a charmer — on the surface. He meets Red Cameron on a dating site and is immediately smitten with her. He is convinced she’s the one and for a while, so is she. Unfortunately, things take a very dark turn and eventually Red has to involve the police, get a protection order, move to a new flat and get a new job. But that’s not enough. Bryce still finds her, and if he can’t have her, no one can.

It’s a scary situation. A recent article I read reports that one-third of women murdered in the US are killed by their male partners. Do a quick Google search on “women killed by estranged boyfriend” and the results are horrifying. Bryce Laurent is different from many of the cases you see in the news (aside from being, thankfully, fictional)- he has money, and time, and he will stop at nothing to punish Red for leaving him. He is frighteningly clever and utterly ruthless – he wants Red to suffer and he is willing to hurt a lot of people to make that happen.

One of the things I loved about Want You Dead is that first, there’s a great thriller at the heart of it – what will Bryce do next, will the police be able to protect Red, who else is going to get hurt? In addition, the secondary characters are great – there’s a little romance, there’s a little conflict, and the personalities are really interesting. A main storyline won’t keep you reading without a great cast of characters. I also love the way that the relationship between Red and Bryce is slowly revealed. In the beginning, it’s hard to believe that such an amazing guy who could be so awful but over time, as the details come out, you are gradually more and more horrified. The reveal is really handled very well.

This is a great thriller, full of surprises and suspense. My copy of Want You Dead by Peter James was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris

Monday, December 1st, 2014

deep shelterLet me start off by saying: I loved this book. Nick Belsey is a sorry excuse for a cop, probably a worse boyfriend, but he is smart and determined and he just does not quit.

Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris is a terrific story, full of twists and turns, with a lot of great characters. Belsey is trying to find a suspect that disappeared down a rabbit hole. Instead, he finds a tunnel that leads into an old wartime bunker underneath London. It has offices and dorms and workspaces, it’s fully stocked with food and medical supplies — he even finds cases of champagne. They were new went they went down into the tunnels, but they are vintage now. So, of course, Belsey does what any good cop would do: he calls his dealer and his fence and makes plans to sell the drugs and the booze. Then he invites his new girlfriend, someone he arrested a while back, on a romantic trip to the tunnels.

Belsey took the candle and walked into the dorm. Bunk cages danced in the wavering light. No sign of her. He waited for his date to jump out. That would be classic. She didn’t.

“Are you OK?” he called, and his voice sounded like the voice of someone on their own.

Incredibly creepy. And it gets even creepier when he starts getting text messages and emails, taunting him. He knows that if he reports her disappearance, he’ll be the prime suspect, so he doesn’t report it. Instead, he investigates on his own. The investigation leads into an incredibly twisted story of wartime preparations, top-secret cover-ups and a city beneath the city.

If you like complicated storylines, you’ll love this. There is so much going on, so much backstory, so many interesting twists and turns that I could not put this down. I like Belsey – he’s a crooked cop, but he’s trying to do the right thing. He’s got quite an assortment of equally bent contacts, and they make for an interesting crew. The book makes me want to go back to London — I’ve been to a few of the locations mentioned in the book, like St. Pancras Station, but not many — and look for the landmarks in the book and dream of a secret city beneath my feet.

My copy of Deep Shelter is an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

New on the Shelves…

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Here’s one that I picked up for my personal collection. You know how it goes – you’re in the airport, you already finished one book on the first leg of your flight and you don’t want to be caught with only book on a long flight, right? After all, the battery on your Kindle could give out, leaving you with only the in-flight magazine, and someone has probably already done the Sudoku. So, I’d heard great things about Flash Boys by Michael Lewis and now it’s at the top of my TBR pile.

flash boysFlash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post–financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading—source of the most intractable problems—will have no advantage whatsoever.

The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think “Wall Street guy.” Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world’s stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.

The light that Lewis shines into the darkest corners of the financial world may not be good for your blood pressure, because if you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you. But in the end, Flash Boys is an uplifting read. Here are people who have somehow preserved a moral sense in an environment where you don’t get paid for that; they have perceived an institutionalized injustice and are willing to go to war to fix it.

 

Review: Ice Shear by M. P. Cooley

Monday, October 13th, 2014

ice shearThis is the start of a great new detective series! At least, I hope it is; I haven’t seen any indication that M.P. Cooley is planning a follow-up to Ice Shear, but I certainly hope she is working on it right now. Ice Shear combined a great mystery, some good twists and turns, interesting characters and a likable lead detective with a great back story – one that holds a lot of promise for future novels.

Officer June Lyons is nearing the end of her overnight shift in the small town of Hope Falls when she makes a gruesome discovery: a young woman, impaled on a spike of ice in the Mohawk River. Instead of heading home for breakfast with her young daughter, Lyons will be dealing with frigid temperatures and a hostile Assistant District Attorney, with even more surprises in store. The dead girl is the daughter of a powerful Congresswoman and her sketchy past is going to make this a tough case for everyone involved.

Lyons returned to her hometown during a particularly rough patch in her life. She has family here, but she isn’t totally accepted by some of her colleagues on the police force. When the FBI is called in, it gets even more difficult – now she’s also dealing with hostile former colleagues. Her interactions with the locals and the outsiders really drew me into the story – a single mom, pressure from all sides, trying to do a really difficult job – she’s a great character and there is a lot of potential for future stories.

Really, this is a great mystery from cover to cover. If you can imagine a Senator’s daughter married to the head of a motorcycle gang, that’s all the suspension of disbelief you;ll need (and certainly not the craziest thing we’ve ever seen from a Senator’s kid). Lyons’ backstory is great and there is a lot to uncover there. It will be interesting to see where her personal story goes in the next book.

My copy of Ice Shear is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: The Drop by Dennis Lehane

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

dropI am fast becoming a big Dennis Lehane fan. I read Shutter Island and loved it. I recently reviewed Live By Night and loved it. Even more recently, I devoured The Drop in one bite (on a flight between Cleveland and New York/JFK) and loved it. That’s a pretty good track record!

Bob is a loner, a bit of a social misfit, a man with secrets that come between him and the world — and Bob is desperately lonely. When he finds a battered puppy stuffed in a garbage can, he seems to have finally found a friend – not only the puppy, but a woman he meets nearby who encourages him to take in the dog. It would not be wise to step between the man and his new friends.

That’s only part of the story. Bob works for his Cousin Marv at the bar everyone thinks Marv owns, but is really a front for the Chechen mob. Cousin Marv used to be somebody, be a tough guy, but in the end, he wasn’t tough enough. The Chechens treat him like an errand boy and it galls him, maybe enough to do something stupid.

I think everyone reading The Drop sees the end coming. Cousin Marv’s bar is going to be “the drop” on one of the biggest nights of the year and that makes them a target. We all know that something bad is going to happen – the question is who will it happen to and how will they react. You can’t help but root for Bob, I think, and his poor puppy and his friend, Nadia. You want things to work out for them and there are so many ways this could all go wrong. I kept expecting one more twist, one more complication, and that’s the tension that kept me turning pages, rushing towards the end.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie, although I had a hard time imagining Tom Hardy as a misfit loner…until I saw the stills from the movie. You can see it in the hunch of his shoulders and the set of his mouth. It’s going to be interesting to watch. In the meantime, I strongly recommend the book. It’s a quick read and very enjoyable. It looks like I’ll be working my way through Lehane’s back catalog, while I wait for the next novel.

My copy of The Drop was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

New on the Shelves…

Friday, September 19th, 2014

I have heard a lot of great things about Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, so  I picked it up at the airport in New York (a little insurance policy, since Id already finished one book on the flight). Surprised one of my coworkers (he never did explain why he thought I wouldn’t be reading it), but I am looking forward to it.

flash boysFlash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post–financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading—source of the most intractable problems—will have no advantage whatsoever.

The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think “Wall Street guy.” Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world’s stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.

The light that Lewis shines into the darkest corners of the financial world may not be good for your blood pressure, because if you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you. But in the end, Flash Boys is an uplifting read. Here are people who have somehow preserved a moral sense in an environment where you don’t get paid for that; they have perceived an institutionalized injustice and are willing to go to war to fix it.

Review: Lost Girls, an Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker

Monday, September 15th, 2014

lost girlsFirst off, let me say that Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker was not exactly the book I was expecting. I enjoy true crime novels and I have always been fascinated by the procedural part of the story – how the authorities track down their killer. In this case, the killer was never caught and it looks like the police threw the procedures out the window. This book is truly about the victims and while it is not what I normally look for in a true crime story, it was all the more fascinating for putting the crime on the back burner.

“Over the course of three years, each of these young women vanished without a trace: Maureen in 2007, Melissa and Megan in 2009, and Amber and Shannon in 2010. All but one of their bodies were discovered on Gilgo Beach, Long Island, an unsettled, overgrown, seven-mile stretch of shoreline on the string of barrier islands along South Oyster Bay.”

These young women are the center of this story. Some of them came from pretty troubled backgrounds. They had children, family and friends. They had pretty serious addiction problems. And they were all working as prostitutes, advertising on Craigslist.

What impressed me about the book is that these young women do not become stereotypes. They are not woman battered by a pimp or empowered feminists taking control of their bodies. They are young women who need money, who don’t have any great job prospects, and who find prostitution an easy way to make a lot of money in a short period of time. These women don’t deal with pimps. They advertise for themselves. They decide where and when to work (and the amount of work they can find with a simple Craigslist ad is astonishing), and while they make some provisions for their own safety, desperation can make people careless.

What infuriated me about the story is the way that authorities treated the disappearances: they didn’t care. A hooker disappeared – big deal. In some cases their families were unable to file missing person reports and it was clear that authorities did not consider these women to be worth looking for, at least not until the bodies started piling up. There were so many bureaucratic errors in these investigations, so many oddities, so many times where the police were clearly looking out for themselves and not really pushing these investigations that you can’t help but be frustrated for these women and their families. In the end, they still have no closure; they have lots of suspicions, but no definitive answers.

It takes a skilled author to write a compelling book without an ending, and I think Kolker did an excellent job. I certainly kept turning pages, alternately absorbed and furious, and I found myself very much engaged with these women and wanting justice for them. He doesn’t whitewash their stories, so you still get angry at them for putting themselves in so much danger for a few bucks, but you still wish for a better ending for them.

My copy of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

season of dragonfliesSeason of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech was a great end-of-summer read. It leans more toward chick-lit than my usual choices. There are some interesting plot twists and a good build-up, but the big finish fell flat for me.

This is the story of the Lenore women – ever since their matriarch made a bold decision and ran off an amazing adventure, they have nurtured a secret business, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They cultivate a unique flower, a gardenia brought back from the Amazonian jungle, and turn it into the most expensive perfume on Earth. It is sold only to a carefully selected female clientele and it brings them wealth and power and success. Actresses, politicians, artists, CEOs – they have made their mark on the world with the help of the Lenore women and their secret elixir.

But now, their empire is in jeopardy. Youngest daughter Lucia is home from New York, mourning her failed marriage and failing career. Elder daughter Mya, groomed to take over the business, is plotting behind her mother’s back and making rash decisions. Their mother, Willow, can feel it all slipping away from her, and the news gets worse: the flowers are dying.

For me, the most interesting part of the story was the interaction with the two young actresses receiving the perfume. There’s real trouble brewing and the women are making some bad choices. The romances seem a little too convenient and the big climax a little contrived. While these women have managed their business for decades, suddenly things will grind to a halt without men in their lives – I really find that hard to swallow. I’m all in favor of romance, but this isn’t really what I was looking for.

My copy of Season of the Dragonflies was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: The Wicked by Douglas Nicholas

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

the wickedI am not normally a big fantasy reader, but I enjoy a little something fanciful now and then. I enjoyed Douglas Nicholas’ previous novel, Something Red, and I was not disappointed in The Wicked. Thirteenth-century England is the perfect setting for this sort of adventure, with elements of historical fiction, mystery and magic.

Once again, exiled Irish queen Molly is traveling the countryside with her granddaughter, Nemain, her young apprentice, Hob, and her lover, Jack Brown. They have come to the castle of Sir Jehan, who they saved in Something Red, to discuss a creeping danger that is facing his long-time friend, Sir Odinell. Something is preying on the people in the surrounding lands – draining their life force, leaving wizened corpses. Knights sent out to battle this evil do not return or return in a daze, a shadow of their former selves. With good reason, Sir Odinell suspects Sir Tarquin and his wife; they have a malevolent air about them and their behavior is suspicious. But how does one battle an ancient evil?

Of course, Molly and Nemain recognize the evil and have a plan for fighting it. Their particular variety of Irish magic fits so beautifully into the Olde English setting. However, for me, the star of this series is Hob. He has grown so much – he started out as such an innocent, raised by a parish priest, and he has become a vital part of this traveling band. While he may not understand the magic that they practice, he is bright and observant, often noticing details the others have missed. He struggles with their practices – he was raised by a priest, after all, and he is traveling with pagans – but he clearly loves his new family and it is interesting to see them all through his eyes.

I am really looking forward to the next book in this series. I enjoy the portrayal of life in that time period, the mysticism and the characters. Before writing novels, Nicholas was a poet and that shows in his writing. It’s a real pleasure to read.

My copy of The Wicked was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

 

Review: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

children actI’ve read two novels by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beachand Saturday and loved them both, so I was thrilled to get an early copy of The Children Act. Like the others I mentioned, it’s understated and quiet; much of the action in the book happens inside the main character’s head. However, I was so caught up in the story, so engaged by her struggle, that I read nearly straight through. Thank heavens McEwan doesn’t feel the need for 800 pages to tell a story.

Fiona Maye is 59, a High Court judge who presides over family court cases. She thought she was happily married until her husband came to her with a proposition: he wants to have an affair. He tells her that he loves her, but they have become more like brother and sister and he wants to have one final, grand, passionate affair before he moves into his later years. Fiona is horrified, deeply wounded, and eventually her husband packs a suitcase and leaves Fiona alone and betrayed.

In a way, the rest of the book is about their marriage and how/whether they will come back to each other. It’s also a window into how Fiona’s cases affect her: a case involving conjoined twins leaves her squeamish about touch and her body. The bitterness and acrimony of divorcing couples makes it difficult to see her own marriage in any other light. But it is the case of Adam Henry, a teenager suffering from leukemia and refusing treatment, that will have the greatest impact, spilling out of the courtroom and into her personal life.

Adam and his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and are refusing blood transfusions for religious reasons. He is seventeen, nearly an adult, but without treatment he won’t see his eighteenth birthday. Fiona’s decision changes everything in his life and leaves him without an anchor, a little lost and at odds with everything he has known. He looks to Fiona, hoping for a touchstone, some guidance, but she pulls away from him.

The Children Act refers to British legislation that makes the welfare and well-being of children “the paramount concern to the courts.” On the bench, Fiona can apply that standard easily; she can cut through the warring concerns of parents, social workers, and doctors, focusing on the child at the center of the conflict. Off the bench, she falters. Although Adam reaches out to her, she can’t take action to help him and her inaction will also have a price.

Adam’s story is heartbreaking and Fiona’s is frustrating. Over and over I wanted to shake her, or I wanted something to jolt her out of her structured, restrictive view of the world. I could easily imagine her losing everything in her life that was important to her because she couldn’t do something. Then, once Adam’s story started, I found the book impossible to put down and finished up about 2 am, both relieved and troubled. It was a fabulous read and I am already imagining the movie that someone is sure to make of it.

My copy of The Children Act was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. It is scheduled for release on September 9th, but I recommend pre-ordering it.