Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

Review: Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Friday, July 11th, 2014

live by nightThere’s a bit of a story behind my reading of Live by Night: I picked up the audiobook from the library months ago – probably closer to a year ago. I sped through the first 9 cds and then…lost it. I brought it in from the car, set it aside, and it disappeared. I was furious! Ransacked the house, went through all my suitcases, the car, called the hotel I’d stayed at. No luck. Cut to this past week: I spent my vacation doing a thorough cleaning and decluttering of my spare bedroom, and guess what I found? Yep. I was finally able to finish!

Live by Night tells the story of Joe Coughlin, and it is a big story. Joe starts out the son of a law-and-order police captain in Boston. He abandons his father’s teachings to be an outlaw, to live outside the law, first as a petty thief, and later as a gangster. What I loved most about the novel was the range of stories: Joe as a petty thief who falls for a pretty girl he meets during a robbery; Joe as a tough guy in prison, standing up to the made guy inside; Joe as the King of Ybor City, using a lot of native smarts, cunning and ruthlessness to corner the rum trade; and Joe as a gangster, family man and gentlemen farmer in Havana, Cuba, building a baseball field for the boys who work in his tobacco fields. They are big stories and even though Joe is a very bad man, you can’t help but root for him – not to get back on the straight and narrow or give up his outlaw nature. No, you find yourself hoping that his latest criminal scheme will work out, that he can keep his employees safe, that he doesn’t end up in a pair of cement shoes.

In part, the story is propelled by Joe’s love of two different women. Emma is the pretty girl he meets during a heist, the kind of woman that men will do anything for. She makes Joe take crazy chances, chances that end badly for Joe. Later, Joe meets Graciela, a head-strong Cuban woman who helps him build an empire in Prohibition-era Florida.

When I first picked up this audiobook, I raced through the first 9 cds, before that little interruption I mentioned. When I had it back in my hands, I popped in disk 10 and I was right back in the story; I didn’t even need to go back for a refresher. Do you have any idea how unusual that is? I have stacks of books that I’ve read, reviewed, and a week later I can’t remember the name of the main character. Live by Night engaged me in a way that few books have recently. The stories and characters stayed fresh in my mind months later. I wish every book I read was so compelling.

My one complaint is that the book seemed to end very abruptly. I kept running back through the CD tracks, thinking it must have skipped a track. But looking back, the abrupt end made sense, in the context of Joe’s life.

What balances that complaint is that I can look forward to seeing the book on the big screen. Ben Affleck will directing and is apparently working on the screenplay. I’m not sure I picture Ben as Joe, but I have confidence that he can do a great job with it. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until 2016.

My copy of Live by Night came from the Kent Free Library, and I think they will be very happy to finally have it back!


Review: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

empire striketh backIf you read my review of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, then you know what to expect from William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher. They are fun little tidbits, translating Star Wars into something The Bard would have been proud of.

Luke Skywalker, on his battle with the Imperial Walkers:

A hit! A very palpable hit. Wait,
Although my shots have found their mark, their blasts
Have no effect, It is their armor, fie!
Our blasters are too weak to penetrate
The strength of their robust exteriors.
Rogue group, use thy harpoons and cables, too.
Let us go for their legs and trip them up -
Perhaps they can be bested from beneath.
Dack, art thou with me?


Leia, after Han is frozen in carbonite:

Full fathom five my lover lies
Within an icy tomb,
They say he lives, but my heart dies,
Sing wroshyr, wroshyr, wroshyr.

Fun, but to be honest, it gets tiring for me after a while.

I would love to give these to a bunch of eighth graders — I think they would make a great introduction to Shakespeare, a way of showing that Shakespeare’s language isn’t impenetrable and difficult, just different. Other than that, I think you need to be a real Star Wars geek to truly appreciate these.

My copy of William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.


Review: The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray by Mitzi Szereto

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

dorian grayWilde Passions of Dorian Gray by Mitzi Szereto is purported to follow the adventures of an iconic character, but I think this novel suffered from a bit of misrepresentation. It was presented as a follow-up to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, so cleverly alluded to in the title, and that’s a workable idea for a novel. I would be interested in what happened to Dorian – what happened to Dorian? What happened to the portrait? What would you do if you were assured that you would never grow old and never have to pay for those sins? But this is really soft-core porn. Not that there is anything wrong with that – I like a bit of raunch now and then. It just wasn’t what I was expecting when I agreed to review it.

Basically, this book follows Dorian Gray as he leaves England in search of new “sensations.” First, he goes to Paris where he frequents brothels and stages elaborate orgies in his apartments. But Paris is a little too close to England and he begins to run into reminders of his past. He travels to Marrakesh and dabbles in a bit of brutality – on the receiving end. Eventually, he has to dispose of his lover and find a new playground.

That’s really the gist of the book – Dorian travels from city to city, fucking and killing people. (More of the former than the latter.) Eventually, he lands in New Orleans and takes up with some vampire wannabes. It’s a pleasant enough erotic romp, but it doesn’t really work for me. This kind of novel, with its Victorian language, is not explicit enough to really be erotic for me, but isn’t meaty enough from a literature standpoint to really satisfy my reading appetite. An amuse-bouche, perhaps, but definitely not a main course.

My copy of Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. If this sounds like your sort of book, I suggest you check out the author’s website for similar works – she’s got quite a variety!

Review: Face Off, edited by David Baldacci

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

faceoffNow, this is a book that had me hooked from the very first pitch!

Ever wonder who would win in a fight if the most popular thriller characters were paired against their most worthy opponents? Would you bet on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller, or even Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie over Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch?

Oh yeah! If you love your detectives the way I do, I know that you have daydreamed about pairing them up. FaceOff is less about these characters fighting it out, it’s more about them teaming up and working together. And that is worth the price of admission.

It certainly says something about the quality of work that Simon & Schuster puts out that they have so many great characters to pair up. And I will warn you, Readers: you are going to get hooked on new series. You might as well know that going in. Unless you have a lot more spare time than I do, there are going to be characters here that are unfamiliar to you, and I guarantee these stories are going to make you want to run right out and pick up a few of their adventures. (You know the great thing about a Kindle Fire? No matter how many books you put on it, it never gets any heavier.) Smart thinking, S&S.

Now, the stories! I don’t even know where to begin. The weirdest and creepiest of the bunch was Special Agent Pendergast (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) vs. Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy (R.L. Stine) – it sounds bizarre, but it works. Now, I am not a Pendergast fan – on paper, it seems like the sort of thing I should love, but I don’t) and I haven’t read any of Slappy’s…adventures, but that didn’t matter. The story is great and I can’t think of a better way to pair up this odd couple.

The first of my absolute favorites was Lincoln Rhyme (Jeffery Deaver) vs. Lucas Davenport (John Sanford). I have many of the Prey novels (several of them autographed, after meeting Sanford several years ago at a book signing) and I’ve read several of the Lincoln Rhyme novels, so I knew this was going to be good. The characters are so different and they butt heads ion such interesting ways. In addition, you’ve got their trusty sidekicks – Amelia Sachs and Lily Rothenburg – to spice things up. Really fabulous – I would love a full-length novel of this pairing!

But really: Nick Heller (Joseph Finder) and Jack Reacher (Lee Child). I can’t say “versus” there, because they really end up working together. I’m familiar with Jack Reacher, read a few of the books, and I’ve already ordered a couple of Heller novels. This one was so much fun – from the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, to the fact that some poor Boston accountant got more help, for free, than he could have possibly paid for and he didn’t even know it! Great, great story.

So, thanks to my friends at Simon & Schuster and Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for providing this free Advanced Reader Copy of FaceOff. The rest of you – hit your local bookstores and libraries for it. And start saving your pennies, because I guarantee this book will spawn a shopping spree!

Review: The Abduction by Jonathan Holt

Friday, June 27th, 2014

abductionI was thrilled to receive a copy of The Abduction by Jonathan Holt, the second book in the Carnivia trilogy. It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed The Abomination, which I thought was a terrific mystery, so I was eager to see where the story went next.

The Abduction focuses again on the unlikely trio of detectives: Venetian police captain Kat Tapo, Second Lieutenant Holly Boland, and reclusive genius Daniele Barbo. Tapo has filed a sexual harassment suite against her former lover, Colonel Aldo Piola – and good for her, because the resolution of their affair was really unfair for her. There is tension between Tapo and Boland, as well as an entirely different sort of tension between Boland and Barbo. These characters are so very different and it is really interesting to see the way they interact.

The novel starts with an erotic swingers event at an upscale nightclub, which is a great way to begin a story! A young woman is abducted – a teenager who should definitely not have been at this party. Her name is Mia and she is the daughter of a US Army officer. There is no ransom demand, but there is a video – a very strange video – and eventually, the kidnappers’ plans become clear. It’s a chilling plan and since the kidnappers are online, it is going viral all over the globe.

And then, just like the storyline in The Abomination, the story veers off into entirely new territory. There are interesting tendrils – a secret society, hacked email, disturbing documents found in the Vatican archives. This is what I love the most about this series! No matter where the story starts, it take you places you had no idea were even on the map. It’s such a refreshing change from plodding procedurals and predictable detective stories and I have been recommending this one to everyone. I am really looking forward to reading the third book in the trilogy – but I am not looking forward to the end of their stories!

My copy of  The Abduction is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Not really a review…

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

wonder bread summerEver start a book – even a book you were really interested in – and find that you just can’t get into it? I really tried to get into The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau, but I gave up about 30 pages in. That’s really early, even for me. We start off with Allie, working her job at the dress shop. Well, working might be a stretch. She’s in the fitting room with her boss, snorting coke and showing him her tits. You see, she hasn’t gotten a paycheck yet, and her boss really wants to see her naked, so maybe? In another 10 or 12 pages she still hasn’t gotten her paycheck, but she has absconded with the Wonder Bread bag full of cocaine that her boss had stashed in the fitting room, and she’s trying to use some of it to pay for gas to fill up her car.

I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but just a few pages in and I already hated Allie. At my worst, I can’t imagine behaving the way Allie did, and I don’t really want to read a book about a character I think is an idiot. Maybe this would speak to someone of a younger generation, but it really didn’t do much for me.


Review: The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

At the intersection of Blue Velvet and Basic Instinct lies The Neighbors.

theneighborsAnd that about covers it. What a fun (fluffy) summer read, for those of us who like a little blood and guts with our romance and thrills. There is absolutely nothing believable about this book, but I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Drew Morrison thinks he’s been saved by his old friend, Mickey. Just as Drew had had enough of his alcoholic mother, of his miserable existence taking care of her, Mickey steps in and offers him a place to stay. Drew leaves his mother to fend for herself, quits his job, plans to start with a clean slate. Unfortunately, Mickey’s place is more hovel than home; dark, dreary and dirty. But next door! Next door is nirvana:

“Easing his truck along the curb, he stared at the house just outside his window. It was gorgeous, a gingerbread house pulled straight from a fairy tale. This one had a white picket fence as well, rosebushes bursting with bright red blooms. Matching hydrangeas, heavy with blossoms, dangled from pots that hung beneath the eaves of the porch. A wind chime shivered in the breeze, small rounds of capiz shell sparkling in the sun. A hammock stretched across the right side of the patio.”

The gingerbread house belongs to Red and Harlow Ward, Drew’s new, too-perfect neighbors. Whether it’s a plate of cookies or a job offer, they are right there to offer Drew everything he needs. With Mickey sulking in his room and acting strangely, Drew can’t resist the offer of a home-cooked meal, especially when it’s served up by the luscious Harlow Ward. But are these neighbors too good to be true? Why is Mickey acting so strangely – and what is behind the locked door at the end of the hallway? What secrets are hiding behind the pleasant facade of 668 Magnolia Lane?

Okay, there is nothing remotely plausible about this story, but the over-the-top quality is what makes it so much fun. The story just gets crazier and crazier and crazier! There’s no deep meaning here, just a fun story, a few sympathetic characters, and a vampy villain you have to read to believe. It’s exactly my idea of a summertime beach read.

My copy of The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn is from my private Kindle library.


Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

bellman and blackIn Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield, we start with a group of boys, playing in the woods. One boy, William Bellman, kills a rook with his slingshot. Even as a child, he recognizes the moment as significant, but he can have no idea then how this single childhood moment will influence his life.

The Bellman family is a prosperous one, but William and his mother have their difficulties. His uncle, Paul Bellman, takes him under his wing, into the family business, and soon comes to appreciate William’s work ethic and his unique abilities. The mill prospers, Paul is pleased with his protege, and William seems unstoppable. Success after success seems to follow William – at the mill, in his marriage, with his children. But still, there’s the rook…

Have you ever finished a book and felt as though there were nuances you did not quite grasp? I felt that way with Bellman & Black. There seemed to be a moral to the story that eluded me. Was William really haunted by the rook? I thought so, but I’m not sure. How much of Mr. Black was real and how much was William’s imagination? Again, it’s hard to say. But the uncertainty, the feeling that there is more going on than meets the eye, made this a particularly good read.

It’s hard not to like William. He is cheerful in the face of his grandfather’s malice. He is an industrious young man who wants to make a success of himself, and you find yourself rooting for him. Even as he is building the complex enterprise that will become Belmont & Black, I was impressed by his daring and the dogged way he pursued his goals. But as the enterprise unfolds, you begin to worry about him. There is definitely something off-kilter in his thinking, and the reader can see trouble on the horizon.

The chapter breaks about rooks, crows and ravens were fascinating. I had never thought of a rook as a particularly mystical bird, but the author has given a great deal of thought to what rooks think about:

What does the rook do with this leisure time?

1) he tells jokes and gossips

2) he engineers handy, throw-away tools

3) he learns to speak foreign languages. The rook can imitate the human voice, a logger’s crane, the crash of broken glass. And if he wants to really make fun, he can call your dog to him – with your own whistle.

4) he enjoys poetry and philosophy

5) he is an expert in rook history

These asides make the rooks real characters and give them an important part in the story. Just how important, I’m still not sure I know – and I find I enjoy the uncertainty.

My copy of Bellman & Black was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge by Atria Books.

Review: Only the Innocent by Rachel Abbott

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

only the innocentRachel Abbott was “the epublishing sensation of 2012″ and Only The Innocent was her first novel. This is the sort of author story I love to read – I love the variety that epublishing brings us, and I hope that the trend continues. I only wish that I had enjoyed the book more.

Only The Innocent has some major issues and plot holes, in my opinion. There is still an entertaining mystery here, if you can suspend enough disbelief. The writing (aside from the plot issues) was pretty good and I would definitely give another story of Abbott’s a try, even if it wouldn’t be at the top of my TBR pile. That said, I had some serious issues with this novel.

There will be some spoilers below, so you may want to skip to the end if you don’t want to be clued in!

Laura Kennedy is a modern young career woman, working for a film company, when she meets Sir Hugo Fletcher. Hugo is older, very rich, very married, so of course she immediately starts dating him. The hilarious thing is that Laura has just won an award for a documentary film on abusive relationships, and yet she falls into every cliche – he cuts her off from friends and family, makes her quit her job, demeans her and criticizes her at every turn. He refuses to meet any of her family until the wedding – won’t even let her see his house until after the wedding, every detail of which he plans right down to her dress and flowers. No way a woman like the Laura they describe would fall for it – and if she would, she wouldn’t make a very likable or sympathetic character.

After her husband’s murder, Laura “reconnects” with her former best friend, Imogen. They haven’t spoken in years and there is a lot Imogen doesn’t know about Laura’s marriage and their estrangement (entirely due to Hugo, of course). Over the years, Laura has written letters to Imogen, letters that she has kept hidden and never mailed, explaining the bizarre circumstances of her marriage. When Imogen shows up after Hugo’s death to comfort Laura, Laura gives her the letters to read.

Okay, some of that is plausible – except for the fact that first, we learn that Laura was writing these letters to Imogen, undetected, while she was forcibly confined in a mental hospital, drugged and keenly observed. How could she have written them and where would she have hidden them? Makes no sense. And we later learn Laura and Imogen have been back in contact for quite some time. In fact, Laura has drafted Imogen to assist in her plan to blackmail her husband. And she did this without telling her about the sham of  a marriage and her reasons for needing protection? That also makes no sense.

There are a number of mysterious, italicized asides from a mystery woman. We glean that she is locked up, chained actually, in a remote room somewhere, without food or water, waiting for her mysterious benefactor to return. As soon as we learn that Hugo’s family charity dealt with helping young prostitutes, we know who she is and who her captor must be. The book would have been considerably better without those snippets; they gave way too much away.

In the end, I kept reading just to see how Abbott would finally resolve the story. It was pretty much what I suspected, and not terribly satisfying. For someone who was under constant observation by a husband who had threatened to kill her, Laura had a lot of leeway, it seems. The explanation for Hugo’s sexual proclivities was pretty ridiculous. It just wasn’t satisfying for me. I could see the glimmers of a great story here – the writing was quite good, there were some interesting characters, and Abbott created a pretty intricate plot – but in key ways, it fell apart for me.

My copy of Only The Innocent by Rachel Abbott came from my personal Kindle library.

Review: Cadaver Blues by J. E. Fishman

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

cadaver_20blues_20cover_20finalCadaver Blues is an interesting idea for a series. Phuoc Goldberg (what an awesome name!) is not your typical private detective – in fact, he’s not a private detective at all. He’s a financial advisor to the down-and-out, the guy you call when the collection agencies are knocking down your doors. He helps people who are over-extended and under-financed keep a roof over their heads – doesn’t seem like a lot of opportunities for solving mysteries. Until he meets Mindy.

Mindy Eider is smoking hot, kind-hearted, and a little gullible. Her Uncle Gunnar, more of an honorary uncle, is off on one of his annual retreats – Mindy doesn’t know where he goes or how to reach him – and Mindy is looking after things in his absence. She has come to Phuoc because someone is trying to foreclose on Uncle Gunnar’s house and she doesn’t know why. There has never been a problem with the bills during these little walk-abouts before, and since it isn’t her account, she can’t speak with anyone at the mortgage company. She hopes that Phuoc can help.

The book is a reminder that the world tends to bow before a beautiful woman. If Mindy had been an ordinary-looking schoolteacher, there is no way that Phuoc would have ended up risking his life for her. Maybe I’m a little cynical. Anyway, what follows is a pretty entertaining mystery. Part of what makes it entertaining is that Phuoc is clearly not a detective – he’s doing all this for a beautiful woman in distress. The situations he gets himself into are pretty funny, even if I found the mystery itself a little implausible. (Okay, more than a little.) They start out in Wilmington, Delaware, spend a weekend snowed in at a resort in the Poconos and end up skulking around mysterious mushroom farms in the dark of night. Throw in some cool friends, a few decadent chocolates and perhaps some magic mushrooms and you’ve got a fun story that kept me turning the virtual pages.

Now, I don’t know where the series will go from here. How many mysteries can a debt consolidation specialist in Wilmington, Delaware run into? Still, you can get me to suspend a lot of disbelief if you have good characters and a snappy storyline, and this had both. I enjoyed this one (a bargain on Amazon) and I would definitely give the next in the series a try.

My copy of Cadaver Blues by J. E. Fishman came from my personal Kindle library.