Friday, July 27, 2012

"And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon." Song lyrics

This is a gentle story that is partially a coming of age and partly about interpersonal relationships. It is the story of Elaine Risley.

Elaine is an artist who returns to Toronto for a introspective of her work. Her art work is based on her life -experiences so in learning about her life, we have an idea of what is behind her art.

The story is divided into parts with flashbacks into Elaine's childhood. Early on, she remembers growing up and constantly moving due to her father's position as a forest insect field researcher. Things stabilize when he gets a job as a college professor.

During the early days, her only companion and playmate was her older brother, Stephen. She longed for having friends of her own. Then, when the family settled in Toronto, she becomes friends with three girls.

Cordelia dominates the group. She's demanding and often cruel but the little girls accept her. Elaine is vulnerable,  too fearful of speaking her mind and goes along with whatever Cordelia demands. Eventually, Elaine takes a stand, only to fall back into Cordelia's control.

One of the other girls is Grace Smeath. Elaine is often invited to the Smeath household for playtime or dinner. They have unusual rules such as the number of tissues it is permitted to use after going to the toilet. Mrs. Smeath is one of  Elaine's favorite subjects in her art. In one of them, Mrs. Smeath is covered by tissues. In one of Elaine's shows, a woman enters the building and starts shouting about Elaine's art. Elaine thought this might be Grace Smeath but it just turned out to be a deranged woman.

Elaine becomes fascinated with women's issues and attends women only functions. She has a deep interest in the Virgin Mary and many of her art pieces are based on the Virgin Mary.

We learn of Elaine through her thoughts, her friendships, and interests. Her first art teacher also became her lover and this developed some of Elaine's feelings. Her husband Jon was a person who thought of himself first. He was also an artist but when Elaine's work surpassed his, his petty jealousy was easy to see.

This is a book that women might read and feel exhilarated in Elaine's success in coming out of her shell and becoming a success as an artist. Men might read this to understand women a little better.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'As I walk through this world-nothing can stop the Duke of Earl.


Memories of the Cold War and many Hollywood celebrities of mythical proportions are delved into in this cleverly told tale.

The cast of characters includes Joseph Stalin, Mickey Cohen, Dick Powell, Susan Hayward and others who play prominent parts in the story.

Before Stalin's sudden death, while in the midst of a sexual interlude, he expressed this idea. Since John Wayne was America's biggest hero, having him killed would be a devastating blow to his arch rival, America.

He sends a group of spies that are reminiscent of the Three Stooges, to do the job. The Russians are Zavert, Alexei Alexandra and Ivan Viznapu.

Alexei is placed in charge and in the world of spies, he sends secret codes back to his boss, Boris, who is in Russia.

Boris loves getting the coded messages from Alexei because they are so humorous. Thus, "At first I hated my haircut. Now it's growing on me." Is a code for "...plans are in the making and we are close."

The spies decide that the best manner to get close to John Wayne would be to open a movie studio. The incredulous name for the studio is The Seven Zeros. With this name, they wonder about the phone calls they receive asking if there is any intelligent or successful employees at this company.

There is quite a bit of subtle humor in the story as witnessed in the sub-plot. This deals with John Wayne being asked to play the role of a historical warrior for the movie "The Conqueror." The film was written with Marlon Brando in mind.  Dick Powell will be both the producer and director, with Howard Hughes  financing the movie.

Wayne refuses to take voice lessons so will still sound like himself in the historic film and when he speaks to Dick Powell about who will be his co-star, there is an amusing by-play of what he sees in each star.

The destinies of the Russians and John Wayne circle each other as one amusing event follows another.

This is a very amusing and entertaining story. The film was shot not far from where the United States was testing nuclear devices and the author adds facts about the people involved with the movie. He was surprised at how many of them died from cancer, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead.

It was a most enjoyable blend of history and fiction,  perfect for a quick summer read.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

"I started out as an opportunistic'm respectable." Wolf-man Jack


Lt. Col. Michael Pearson is back and fans of Tom Young's novels will recall him from Young's other novels.

Afghanistan suffers from a 7.2 earthquake and U.S. Military are among the first responders. Pearson is a kind of military hero in that he wants to get the job done, make the United States look good and protect the people in his unit.

Pearson is in Afghanistan as an adviser to the Afghan Air Force. He's anxious to help the victims of the earthquake but even more anxious for his friend and associate Sgt. Major Sophia Gold to arrive. Besides her efficiency in the field, she's fluent in the Pushtu language.

When Gold finishes up some training in the United States and arrives in Afghanistan, she joins Pearson as they fly to Ghandaki, a village hard hit by the quake. With some specialized earth moving equipment, they are able to save a number of villagers who were buried in the rubble.

From the distance, members of a renegade Taliban group observe the actions of the Westerners at Ghandaki. The leader of the group is a ruthless and after the Westerners leave, the Taliban goes through the village and murders those who conspired with the Americans. They also kidnap a number of young children who they intend to brainwash into becoming Taliban members and martyrs.

The unique aspect of Young's novels is that he combines the political reasons for going after the Taliban and he discloses why so many Afghan people dislike the Americans. This is set in an action filled adventure.

The characters are an overall believable group with Pearson and Gold being familiar to Young's readers. A glossary of terms would help, since the extensive use of military abbreviations left me wondering what was being discussed. Even so, this is a most enjoyable book and an easy read.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Anybody can direct but there are only eleven good writers." Mel Brooks

Did you ever wish you had the power to change history?

In Stephen King's tour de force "11/22/63," history is changed and those changes unleash streams of action that changes many other unforeseen events.

Jake Epping is a high school teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He makes extra money teaching GED so students can return to school and earn an accredited high school diploma. Jake is particularly moved by one of his student's papers. The school janitor, a man with a limp and less than full mental ability, is taking GED classes. His paper is about "...a day that changed my life." In it, the student, Harry Dunning, details how his father murdered his mother and two brothers, hit him on the head with a hammer-causing brain damage, and sending his sister into a coma.

Jake gives the paper an "A" and goes on to other things.  Then, Jake's friend, Al Templeton, asks Jake to come to his diner. In the back, the pantry opens up into history.

Al and Jake discuss what beneficial things could happen if history could be changed and they decide that the most momentous change they could hope to evoke was to disrupt the JFK's assassination.

To try the theory out, Jake wants to go back in time, to Derry, Maine and change Harry Dunning's history.

This book is a joy. Stephen King is a master of setting the scene for the reader to feel part of the action and when we read about what old songs were playing on the radio or at a dance, see the cost of items in 1958 when Harry Dunning's father went berserk.

Jake takes on a new name and identification and makes himself a part of the community. He gives people the idea that he is looking for real estate but an interesting thing for King fans, the town talks about missing children and in King's book, "It" theses events occurred.

This part of the story ends.  Then he goes back to the Dallas area to change JFK's fate. He gets a job in a high school, directs a school play, wins friends and affects student's lives-all the while when he's planning how to stop Oswald from assassinating JFK.

The novel was a trip into history with the dance craves the teenagers had, to their hair and slang, and to the prices of items at the stores.

Along with King's classic, "The Stand," this may be his best and most memorable book. Jake is a well developed character, he's a teacher like we all remember as being the best we had. Stephen King also has earned that place, among the very best we have-don't miss this book. It will become a classic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing." Elizabeth I

The United States has many enemies and sometimes they think they can hide behind political curtains when planning ways to hurt the country. Robbie is an American Assassin.

Somehow his last target didn't fit with his usual assigned kills. This woman lives near his office and when he enters her apartment, he finds her asleep, holding her child. Robbie is talking to his handler through an ear phone and refuses the hit but the woman is killed by Robbie's handler who was monitoring Robbie's actions from an apartment across the street.

Robbie thinks he's been set-up and has to escape from his own people. He's unsure of who to trust so has to make an unusual departure. He gets on a bus and comes into contact with a fourteen-year-old girl. He doesn't pay too much attention but then his instinct makes him notice and a man following her makes a move to kill her. Robbie intercedes and he and the girl get off the bus. Moments later, the bus is blown up - only Robbie and the teenager survive.

In an action packed story, Robbie learns that the teenager, Julie Getty, was trying to escape from an intolerable foster care situation and that her parents were recently murdered.

The story of Robbie's betrayal and Julie's parent's murder, come together with excellent drama. While Robbie usually works by himself, he finds that it's unsafe to leave Julie on her own so he acts outside of his normal mode of operation.

David Baldacci has written a finely crafted and provoking book about the intelligence operation in the United States. It will leave the reader breathless. Both Robbie and Julie are excellently drawn and fully developed characters with Julie being in the mode of the wonderful Lisbeth Sandler from Steig Larsson's novels.

Highly recommended.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Truth...suffers more by the heat of its defenders than from the arguments of its opposers." Wm Penn

It's 1992 and the decision on the Rodney King case is about to become public.

In this noir novel, P.I. Duke Rogers is asked to find a classmate for a new client. Duke gets the woman's address and gives it to the client, only to learn that the so called classmate was a TV star and the "client" was a crazed fan who killed her.

Morally, Duke feels he must find the man who murdered the actress, Teddie Matson, who is a black woman.  Duke starts to ask questions but becomes involved in the heated racial tensions of East Los Angeles.

When Duke gets to the business where the brother of the actress worked, the Rodney King decision had come down and the riots began.  In a very descriptive part of the story, we witness the racial hatred toward whites, Koreans and for any form of authority.  People are looting and burning homes, businesses and anything that will catch fire. Duke becomes threatened because he is white but is protected by a large black man, nicknamed Tiny.

The story progresses with Duke going to the dead woman's home and trying to convince the woman's mother and brother to tell him about Teddie so he can try to find the killer.

There is a secondary story about a woman named Laurie Hamilton who is being bothered by a stalker. In her case, the bothersome man is becoming more and more brazen and with the riots, the police have their hands full. Laurie doesn't know what to do so turns to Duke for help.

While the author tells an interesting story, I felt that there could be more character development. I never got to know Teddie or Laurie in order to develop a sense of sympathy for their situation.  In addition, Duke is doing all of this work without being paid. I wonder where his money comes from for his expenses and everything else.

The dialogue was well done but with the racial tension at such a central part of the story, I would have liked to learn more of what some of the black characters went through to feel this hatred.

Nevertheless, I did find the novel entertaining. I think that fans of Lawrence Block and Elmore Leonard will enjoy this and I look forward to reading more from Paul D. Marks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"A man's dying is more his survivor's affair than his own." Thomas Mann

Not an author to shy away from difficult subjects, Gregg Hurwitz's latest thriller has heroism and suicide colliding in a revenge filled novel centered on the love of two men, for their families.

Nate Overbay is afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease. He's been told that he has about six months of good health before his body begins breaking down. Feeling despondent, he goes to a downtown L.A. building to commit suicide.

The building is occupied by a bank and Nate sees a robbery taking place. The robbers are in a frenzy and shoot anyone not instantly obeying them. Nate is a type person who likes to help others and he spots a gun on the floor. He sneaks into the bank and not caring if he's shot or not, begins shooting the robbers. He kills all but one. Before the last survivor runs from the bank, he tells Nate that "He will make you pay in ways you can't imagine."

Nate becomes an overnight hero. He has one wound and after he's treated at the hospital and returns home, the man who escaped and three others are waiting for him.  The leader of this group is named Pavlo, he and his men are Ukrainians. Now that their plot to get into bank's safety deposits was ruined by Nate, unless he does what they say, it's Nate's daughter who will suffer. Nate is ordered to go back to the bank and retrieve something from the safety deposit box of a man named Danny Urban.

Nate wouldn't care what they did to him but can't allow his daughter to be harmed. He has to figure a way to get into the bank's safety deposit boxes, find what these killers want and stop them in a manner that will still save his daughter from harm.

Hurwitz brings out Nate's plight with such clarity it is as if we're part of the action. How can Nate do this when he only has a short time to live and his body is already starting to fail him with the early signs of ALS.

The Ukrainian leader has his own set of laws and revenge and torture are two of his guiding principles.

With Nate's terminal illness, the novel is packed with the meaning of life as we watch Nate trying to accomplish so much with his days of having his body respond become shorter and shorter.

Yes, the story is a thriller but it also conveys strong messages to the reader, told by a number of well described and memorable characters.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Grids do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in relation to their content." Linda Van Derusen

The mother-daughter writing team of P.J. Tracy brings us the latest installment of Grace MacBride and Monkeewrench Software.

Grace was attracted to the idea of going sailing with her friend, retired FBI agent John Smith. Grace is a partner in Monkeewrench Software and John has used their software so they became friends. However, she didn't anticipate being awakened by someone sneaking onto John's boat.

She grabbed her Sig Sauer and observed one of the intruders have a knife to John's throat and was about to kill him. After Grace killed the two invaders, she and John discover a photo of John in one of them men's belongings and realize that it wasn't a chance robbery. This was an assassination attempt.

Looking for answers, John admits to Grace that he was using the Monkeewrench software to monitor terrorist communications.

We follow the story as five young Native American girls are kidnapped by Somali gangs with the purpose of selling them as sex slaves. In this revelation, we also learn that there are antagonistic feelings between the Native Americans and Somali residents around the Minneapolis dockside.

There is quite a bit of patriotism in this story and through John's efforts it is learned that there is a massive terrorist plan to strike at different United States locations to have a major effect on the United States morale.

In the taut chaser to the finish, the Somalia's have place a Jihad on John and a large group of them chase John and the Monkeewrench employees to an American Indian reservation.

This is a successful thriller and the characters are unique and memorable. I had difficulty with the plot and felt that the ending was a bit too fortuitous.

The sub-plot of kidnapping the American Indian girls to be sold into sex slavery was a good message for the authors to bring out and made the American Indians more empathetic. I wish there was more detail about this part of the story.

Overall 3 1/2 stars moving to 4 for an action packed story that was exciting to read.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"There's a place for us...somewhere" Song lyrics

This story begins in 1963.  In the normally quiet English countryside, a police constable gets a call from a frantic mother announcing that her thirteen-year-old daughter is missing and asking for help.

Since there have been two other young people gone missing recently, police don't waste any time in getting a search party together.

Alison Carter lived with her mother and step-father in a small hamlet of Scardale, England where the population was made up of only about three families who were very closely bound.

The investigation, led by Detective Inspector George Bennett, is very thorough but stalls until one of the old time residents remembers an old mine. At that scene, items are discovered but still no body. The evidence points to one person and officials must decide if there is sufficient evidence to arrest that person for murder.

The setting of the small hamlet is well described. We witness the confidence of the members that the girl will be found and then the gradual realization that she can't be found. The residents have difficulty that anyone would come to harm in their community would be guilty of a crime like this, in particular to an innocent teenage girl.

Then the story moves to 1998 when Det. Inspector Bennett is retired. His son meets a young woman who wants to return to Scardale and write about the crime. New events come to life that will shock the reader.

Val McDermid is a superb entertainer. The plotting is masterful, the characters believable and this excellent book deserves the many allocates it received when it was published.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Discretion is the better part of valor." Shakespeare


When I received the thriller, "Discretion," for review, I was unsure of what to expect.

I was optimistic when I noted that the "Providence Journal hailed the author as the "female John Grisham." My anticipation was justly rewarded as I began this compulsively engaging story with many layers.

Consider the thrill of a young woman entering the U.S. Capital for an important appointment. Then, try to imagine what must have transpired in the few moments after she arrived at a U.S. Congressman's office and her falling to death from the balcony.

Assistant U.S. attorney Anna Curtis arrives at the scene and contemplates the difficulties she will have investigating a U.S. Congressman and information in his office.

Not only must she have a judge permit investigators to have access to the legislative office but she must put a hold on a relationship with a leading homicide investigator. The Congressman is undergoing a re-election campaign and his opponent is said to favor making an appointment which would affect Anna's lover. She must look at the whole picture and ask her lover to step away because of the fear of being inappropriate.

There is also a strong message in the story about the escort business and the effects on women's lives.
Anna was shocked when she found that the woman who fell from the Congressman's office was one of Washington's top escorts. This might make the reader think of the woman as just a glorified call girl while in fact, she was a good person, kind to her roommate and paying her own way through Georgetown University.

At the other realm of the escort business, there is a character who develops a dependency on drugs and it almost destroys her.

The pacing and dialogue are to perfection as the author has been a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. for 12 years.

All totaled, this is a heck of a read, don't miss it.

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"Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead." Oscar Wilde

I picked up this novel that had been on my shelf for ages and found it to be entertaining, just the kind of book that the mystery fan might enjoy reading during vacation.

Desmond Winter's wife, Connie,  has been missing for six years. She left a note that she was leaving for a while but would be back and to give her time.

He wants to honor that but he recently had an issue with his heart and Connie is the beneficiary of his estate. If he died and she was missing, it would leave his two children in a complicated legal position.

Brady Coyne had made inquiries into Connie's disappearance without success. Now he's called again because someone killed Des's son, Marcus's wife, Maggie. Marcus had spent time in jail for drugs and he assumes he'll be a suspect.

Brady tries to help his friend and find what happened.  However, the local police are aloof from any interference by Brady. Marc isn't much help. He's eccentric and doesn't let anything bother him. He tells Brady that he and his wife had an agreement that they could each do their own thing and on the night she was killed, Marc was with a married woman but doesn't want to tell the police because the woman's husband is abusive.

The setting is New England. The town Newburyport, sounds like Newport and has a vacation view with summer tourists and boat docks. Brady is an enjoyable character, as an attorney, he keeps a store of alcohol at his desk so he can enjoy a drink when he wants, he's also a fishing fan and likes to trade jokes with his buddies.  However, he is like a bulldog and keeps looking for answers until he finds them.

William G. Tapply does a credible job in making the novel realistic and there are a number of surprises that add to the enjoyment of this novel.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"An idea like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it explains itself." Charles Dickens

Fr. John O'Malley, a Jesuit priest, formerly from Boston, is pastor at St. Francis Mission in Wyoming. This had been the parish and school for the Arapaho Indian Tribe.

He's on his way to a meeting with the bishop's representative when his car breaks down. When he begins walking, he finds a body partly hidden in the snow.

After calling the police, officials return to the location where the body was found but the body had been removed.

Soon after, Fr. John is informed that St. Francis Mission will close and a community center will be built in its place. He's told that the Arapahos have requested that they build the center on the site of St. Francis.

The setting is the Wind River Indian Reservation with unemployment, people who have endured lifetimes filled with alcohol and drugs and a spirituality that binds the people together.

Fr. John is an enjoyable character and, once again, Margaret Cole has done a good job in describing life on the Indian reservation. There is a well done reference to those who consider themselves enlightened and want the riches and employment opportunities of a casino built on Indian land. However, there are also the elders who want to continue the Indian traditions.

This is a well written, smoothly plotted mystery with excellent insights into the American Indian way of life. Seeing Fr. John meet the challenges of being a pastor in this setting is an interesting bonus.

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