Thursday, February 26, 2015

Night is the Hunter (Book Review)

Title: Night is the Hunter (third is a series featuring Harlan Donnally)
Author: Steven Gore
Publication Information: William Morrow trade paperback, 2015
Genre: Suspense
Plot: When San Francisco Police Detective Harlan Donnally got caught in a rival gang confrontation and took a bullet, the injury forced him into retirement and he now runs a small cafe in Northern California. But when Judge Ray McMullin asks him to look into a 20 year-old case in which the defendant is facing the death penalty, Donnally soon realizes the case is related to the incident in which he got shot.  While he explores the recollections of those involved and learns that the underlying investigation was flawed, he also becomes consumed with a family issue: whether his father, a well known movie producer, has Alzheimer’s.  As Donnally gets closer to the truth, he becomes afraid that Judge McMullin may similarly be suffering from ominous memory lapses, and wonders whether his current quest for the truth is legitimate and worth pursuing. 

Audience: Fans of suspense, legal thrillers. 

What I liked: This was a fast paced and unusual story with a vast array of characters from judges, police, lawyers, gang members, and long-suffering family members. It explored a little-considered concept: whether judges and lawyers are haunted by the death-row cases they preside over/litigate and what options, if any, are available if they have misgivings about the course of justice. These issues are relevant to everyone affected by the justice system although (unsurprisingly) those who favor the death penalty will likely be unswayed by the varying elements of murder and to what degree a defendant’s actions were deliberate.

Author Steven Gore is a private investigator and his knowledge of the process adds dimension to the story, although Donnally gets a lot more cooperation than I would have expected for someone with no authority to conduct an investigation.  You can visit Gore on Facebook or on his website.

What I disliked: I am a big fan of suspense and even before I was a lawyer, I enjoyed legal thrillers, but I had a hard time keeping the characters and gang members straight.  Donnally himself wasn’t the most engaging of characters. I didn’t care for the sub-plot involving Donnally’s father which seemed very heavy handed. However, maybe it would have made sense or seemed more convincing if I had read the first two books in the series, so I will now go back and try Act of Deceit.

Source: I received Night is the Hunter from the TLC Book Tours and invite you to visit other stops on the tour to read other reviews of this entertaining book.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Woes

Why one should not make a TBR pile on the floor with one's new Robert Goddard books, ordered specially from England:
because when the pipe breaks due to frigid temperatures, those are the first casualties!   I am hoping they will still be readable once they dry out...   Happily, this one is bouncing back after a day on the radiator.  The old laptop from law school that was stored in that bench was not so lucky but can still be recycled.
The room is recovering but I am still traumatized.   I had that "what do you save first when the house is on fire" moment and grabbed the lower shelf of Elswyth Thanes, figuring that long before the time the water rose to the Lovelace or Weber shelves the plumber would arrive (which turned out to be the case).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Swimmer (Book Review)

Title: The Swimmer
Author: Joakim Zander,
Publication Information: Harper Collins, 2015 (originally published in 2013 in Sweden)
Genre: Suspense
Setting:  Sweden, Syria, Brussels, United States 
Plot: Klara Walld√©en, raised in a remote part of Sweden by loving grandparents, studied law at the university in Uppsala, where she fell in love with Mammoud Shammosh, a student with a dark past unknown to her.   He ends their romance when Klara is offered the chance to study at the London School of Economics, and when the story begins Klara is working as a legislative aide in Brussels for the EU Parliament.  When Mammoud comes to Brussels as a successful Ph.D. student to give a lecture, an old acquaintance reveals long-held secret that puts Mammoud in immediate danger.  Once he contacts Klara for help, she is also in risk of her life.   The only person who can help Klara is the American father she never knew.  He gave up all claim to her as a baby but has never stopped checking on her safety from afar.  When the past catches up to the present and he realizes she is in danger, he leaves his long-cherished anonymity to race across the word to her side but will he be in time to save her?

Audience: Fans of suspense; Swedish crime fiction

What I liked: I have not read any Swedish fiction since my childhood devotion to Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and The Mysterious Schoolmaster books by Karin Anckarsv√§rd (both of which I recommend), and may be one of the few who never got around to reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I think that was one of the reasons I was interested in reading this book.   After a very slow start and initial difficulty in keeping the characters’ back stories straight, I found the plot unusual and compelling, although I still had some questions after it ended and thought there were a few too many coincidences.  

Klara is an interesting heroine, raised to hunt and fish (not that such skills better equip someone to flee from masked killers but I suppose it makes one more intrepid) but able to excel in the classroom and appreciative of vintage fashion and obscure music.   I especially liked her loyal friend from law school, Gabriella, about to make partner at a Swedish law firm who has a lot to lose by getting involved in an international scandal, yet doesn’t hesitate to come to Klara’s aid.  Although Klara gets drawn into the intrigue by accident, it is her involvement that makes the book compelling.  The reader might not care about the other figures in this drama.
Source: I received The Swimmer from the TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review, and invite you to visit other stops on the tour to read what others thought of this entertaining book.

Here's the tour schedule:

Tuesday, February 10th: Bibiotica
Wednesday, February 11th: Man of La Book
Friday, February 13th: Dreams, Etc.
Monday, February 16th: My Bookish Ways
Wednesday, February 18th: Jorie Loves a Story
Thursday, February 19th: Annabel & Alice
Friday, February 20th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, February 23rd: Stephany Writes
Tuesday, February 24th: A Dream Within a Dream
Wednesday, February 25th: Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
Thursday, February 26th: Ace and Hoser Blook
Monday, March 2nd: The Discerning Reader
Tuesday, March 3rd: Novel Escapes
Thursday, March 5th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, March 6th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Wednesday, March 11th: Many Hats

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

City of Liars and Thieves (Book Review)

Title: City of Liars and Thieves: Love, death and Manhattan's first great murder mystery
Author: Eve Karlin
Publication Information: Alibi ebook, Random House, January 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, settling 1799 New York
Plot: A crime that rocked a city.  A case that sunned a nation.  Based on the United States' first recorded murder trial, Eve Karlin's debut novel recreates early New York City, where a love affair ends in a brutal murder, told by the victim's cousin, and a conspiracy involving Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr erupts in shattering violence.

It is high time to tell the truth. Time for justice. . . . How she was murdered and why she haunts me. It is not only Elma’s story, it’s mine.

What I liked:  Having attended the Alexander Hamilton elementary school in Boston, I have always been interested in him so was eager to review this novel.   Karlin does a wonderful job capturing an era of New York that is unfamiliar to me.  Her work is well researched and works as a historical murder mystery as well as a depiction of famous men and their intrigue.  Those interested in realistic history will enjoy this - and you will appreciate clean water much more after you finish!

The famous duel between Burr and Hamilton took place in Weehawken, NJ where I used to go for work conferences.  I can't recall if the location of the duel is marked in some way but I often thought about it!

Other Recommendations:  My Theodosia by Anya Seton, about Burr's (much nicer than he) daughter. It is dated but enjoyable.  For a duel with as much drama but a more satisfying ending, try Savannah Purchase by Jane Aiken Hodge, one of my all time favorites.

What I disliked: I did not really care for any of the characters, even Catherine Ring, the heroine and only person who cares about her flighty cousin.  However, it bothered me that neither she nor her husband behaved like Friends, although that was one of the first things we learned about them.  
Source:  I received this book from TLC Book Tours as part of Eve Karlin's Blog Tour.  This tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 gift card to the eBook retailer of the winner's choice plus a copy of the book!  The giveaway only lasts until January 30, 2015 so enter quickly!

Eve Karlin’s TLC Book Tour Stops:

Tuesday, January 6th: Mystery Playground
Wednesday, January 7th: Bibliophilia, Please
Friday, January 9th: Fiction Zeal
Monday, January 12th: History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, January 12th: Omnimystery News – author guest post
Tuesday, January 13th: Dwell in Possibility
Tuessday, January 13th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, January 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, January 15th: Back Porchervations
Friday, January 16th: Reading Reality
Monday, January 19th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, January 20th: Sarah’s Book Shelves
Wednesday, January 21st: A Fantastical Librarian
Thursday, January 22nd: Chew & Digest Books
Friday, January 23rd: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, January 26th: Brooke Blogs
Tuesday, January 27th: Tales of a Book Addict

Thursday, January 29th: 100 Pages a Day and Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Friday, January 30thBooks in the Burbs

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart (Book Review)

Title: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Author: Peter Swanson

Publication Information: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2014
Genre:  Suspense, set in the US     
Plot: George Foss leads a dull life in Boston and friend-with-benefits-Irene is his only social outlet until Liana Decter reappears in his life unexpectedly.  During his freshman year in college, he fell magically in love with a beautiful young woman who didn’t return after Christmas vacation.  George traveled to her small home town in Florida to find out what had happened and learned she was involved in a murder.  Following his disastrous trip, George returned to college and tried to forget Liana.

Twenty years later Liana appears at George’s neighborhood bar and asks him for a favor.  She says she’s made some bad choices and needs a reliable intermediary to return stolen property.  She promises there is no danger to George, and he is so mesmerized at being near her again, he fails to exercise any form of common sense.  His seemingly simple errand for Liana plunges him into danger in a fast paced-thriller that is hard to put down.   

Audience: Suspense and mystery readers; fans of authors such as Harlan Coben, Stuart Woods, and James Grippando

What I liked: Although this started slowly and the flashback that opened the story was distracting, once the action began it was like a roller coaster of twists and turns – some of which might have been predictable if I had stopped for breath while reading (or if George had looked before he leaped). It was a fast, fun read, as well as being a good variation on the predictable reunions of long-separated lovers.

And how can Liana be all bad (rhetorical question – she is) if Rebecca is her favorite book (although it seems improbable she would have come across it by 18 but maybe she had a good librarian)?

What I disliked: None of the characters was very likeable; even the hero lost my sympathy by walking into danger repeatedly.  Could a woman really exercise that sort of power over someone who hadn’t seen her for twenty years?
Source: I received The Girl with a Clock for Her Heart from TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about Peter Swanson and his new hardcover, The Kind Worth Killing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Betsy-Tacy Annual Ornament Exchange

For about 20 years, members of the Betsy-Tacy listserv have participated in a sort of Secret Santa ornament exchange, inspired by Betsy, Tacy and Tib's historic (so to speak) shopping expedition in Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown.  It is always a special moment when the mail arrives with that box, often addressed to a character from the famous tomes.  This year's ornament exchange brought a note from Betsy Ray:

Dear Tib, Do you think Gaston would have appreciated
our herbariums more if our specimens has been a little sparklier?
I'm sure we'll never do anything like that again - but it was fun,
just this once!   Merry Christmas!
Love, Betsy

I love this leaf ornament that looks as if it had been dipped in silver!  If you don't remember Betsy, Tacy and Tib's herbarium adventure, you can read about it here.

I have decided next year I will move the tree to a window that is not obscured by shrubbery - I like the way it looks in front of the fireplace but I also want people walking or driving past to be able to see the lights.  Where do you put your tree?

Thank you, kind sender, and thanks to all the elves who manage the ornament exchange!  My nieces and I always have fun participating.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing (Book Review)

Publication Information: HarperCollins hardcover, 2014
Genre: Contemporary fiction, set in England
Plot: Maud is an elderly woman losing her memory, devoted to her friend Elizabeth. Although confused by much of her daily life, she knows she hasn’t seen Elizabeth lately.  Convinced Elizabeth is missing, Maud is determined to find her. Memories in the distant past are more reliable than those in the present and as Maud becomes more and more disturbed about Elizabeth, she remembers the tragic disappearance of her sister Sukey during World War II, a mystery that was never solved, and the two disappearances become confused in her mind, with surprising results.

Audience: Although billed as a psychological mystery, I think the real audience is fiction readers, rather than suspense fans. The flashbacks to WWII reminded me a little of The Secret Keeper, although Maud’s adolescent cluelessness is very different from the energy and will to survive exhibited by characters in that book.   A better comparison is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
The UK cover is much more intriguing
What I liked: I delayed reading this because wasn’t sure about the topic but once I began, I couldn’t put it down and finished in a couple hours.  The depiction of Maud’s descent into dementia is heartbreaking as is the demeaning way she is treated by those around her (the condescension exhibited by the policeman to whom Maud keeps reporting Elizabeth’s disappearance is particularly distressing).  Healey’s ability to convey Maud’s memory loss and then switch convincingly from her point of view to that of Maud’s daughter and granddaughter is what makes the book so effective. Also very effective is Helen’s annoyance at the brother in Germany who is never there to assist with Maud and is more than useless on his rare visits.

“I’m not allowed to eat,” I say, picking up the phone. “That woman told me.”
“What woman?”
“The woman.” I say. God, I’m sick of explaining myself all the time.  “That woman who works here.” Is that right?  “She works here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know the one ... Yes you do.  She works here.  Always busy.  Always cross.  Always in a rush.”
“I think you mean me, Mum.”
“No,” I say.  “No.”  By maybe I do mean her.  “What’s your name?”
She makes a face at her pile of washing.  “I’m Helen,” she says.

What I disliked: This book made me feel so guilty for every time I ever snapped at my grandmother or fail to be sufficiently understanding when she loses her train of thought or exhibits signs of dementia. At 99, she has every right to be forgetful or confused.

Source: I received an advance reading copy from HarperCollins in return for an honest review.   I was captivated by this book and recommend it.