Thursday, February 25, 2010

Left to Die by Lisa Jackson

A serial killer is hunting his prey on the remote back roads of Montana. He shoots out the tire of a vehicle driven by a woman alone so they lose control of their cars and crash into the ditches and woods off the road. Then, he "rescues" them from their mangled vehicles and nurses them back to health in a remote cabin claiming that he cannot get them to a hospital because of the weather and downed trees on the roads. While nursing their injuries he gets these women to trust him, to even start falling in love with him, and then he marches them unclothed into the frigid Montana woods, ties them to a tree, and leaves them to die.

We follow the lives of two detectives searching for the killer and Jillian, a woman who has just been rescued from a car wreck. Will the detective's find the killer before another life is claimed by the elements? Is Juillian in the hands of a good samaritan, or a devious killer? This book has one of the best cliffhanger endings ever. Be sure to have Chosen to Die on hand so you can start it as soon as you finish this edge-of-your-seat tale!

Smash Cut by Sandra Brown

I think Sandra Brown is the queen of dark romantic suspense. I'm sitting here trying to decide how to talk about this one without giving any of the good bits away... I'll just give you a list of things from the book; you can read the book to see how they fit together: spoiled, rich man-child; Strangers on a Train; gorgeous art dealer; determined, handsome criminal lawyer; a man shot to death in a robbery gone wrong; hidden pasts; The Godfather; and a sizable inheritance.

I recommend listening to this one on audiobook. The reader does a great job with the different character voices and accents. The voice he uses for the villain is extremely creepy – really adds to the whole story!

Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

Adam Kindred, climatologist, is looking for a fresh start. He leaves the United States for London and has just had a very successful job interview. He decides to have dinner at a small Italian restaurant where he strikes up a conversation with a fellow solo diner, Philip Wang, who accidentally leaves a folder behind when he goes. Conveniently Philip's contact information is inside the folder and Adam calls and decides to return it on his way back to his lodgings since the flat is on his way. When Adam arrives at Philip's apartment the door is open and a groan is heard from inside. He enters the apartment to investigate and sees Philip sprawled out across his bed with a bread knife in his gut.

There you have the first seven or so pages of the book. What follows is the story of an ordinary man enveloped in extraordinary circumstances trying to discover who killed Philip while trying to remain anonymous in a city of millions – a task that we find out is harder than you'd think. If you like thrillers with multiple plots intersecting, this may be a book for you.

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Alice Hayward is baptized by Reverend Stephen Drew on a Sunday morning. Hours later she is dead. She was strangled by her abusive husband who then shot himself to end his own life. Is the crime as obvious as it appears? Or did something else happen that fateful night?

I really like books told from multiple perspectives and Chris Bohjalian puts it to great effect in his latest. Instead of alternating chapters being told from different character's viewpoints, he uses only four characters and has a section of the story told by each. Since each character builds part of the story in their unique way the format really works.

Blame by Michelle Huneven

Patsy MacLemoore awakens from yet another alcohol induced blackout in the county lockup. It's not the first time, but hopefully it's the last. She laughs it off and jokes with her jailers, as usual, but this time no one if laughing back. The previous night, while driving home from the local bar, she pulled into her driveway and struck and killed two Jehovah's Witnesses – a mother and daughter. We follow Patsy through her conviction, prison term, AA meetings and the slow return to her life. How do you live with all the guilt? Can you ever stop blaming yourself?

Michelle Huneven creates a realistic character in Patsy and her portrayals of life in prison and the return after her release to the normal every day are gripping. Her secondary characters are also very well crafted and you feel like you know these people by the book's end. A wonderful study of how one tragic event can shape, and change, a person for life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

It's that time of year again. Love is in the air! Enjoy a romance this month to celebrate Valentine's Day and Love Your Library Month.

Boilet, Frederic (w) and Benoit Peeters (ill) –Tokyo Is My Garden
Blurbed by Chris

David is an account executive for a French cognac company, trying to get the brand to catch on in Japan. At a party, to which he has been sent in order to try and sell his cognac, he impresses several of the ladies with his knowledge of kanji, and catches the eye of one in particular, Kimie (who does PR for Gaultier and is as dedicated to her job as any salaryman.) However, even after two years in Japan, he has not managed to sell any of his product, and the head of the company is coming out to see why. If he cannot prove his worth, he will lose his job, his Japanese visa, and, very likely, Kimie.

The book was originally in French and Japanese; the Japanese is kept, but the French has all been translated into English (the Japanese is subtitled). The story is well told, although the art is occasionally difficult to follow. It does get very explicit, so people not ready for that sort of thing are duly warned. The apparently requisite deus ex machina comes when David's boss runs into him in a restaurant where he (David) is meeting Kimie's parents; the boss is charmed by the parents, and everything works out.

Brockmann, Suzanne – Hot Pursuit
Blurbed by Yvonne

Troubleshooters, Inc. (a squad of moonlighting and retired Navy SEALs) helps when help is needed. In this case the travel to New York City to help out a politician that is receiving death threats by mail, and unpleasant “gifts” at her office. Troubleshooters is called in to improve security, but the crew gets pulled in deeper and deeper as things get stranger and stranger... Could a serial killer be setting up one of their own as his next victim?

There is a LOT of romance in this book. Some is sweet, like the flirting between long time gay partners (one an actor, the other an FBI agent); some is sexy, like between the married SEAL and the female boss of Troubleshooters; and some is downright steamy, like the escapades between one of the SEALs and the politician’s right hand lady. Wow. VERY steamy, especially on audio. The love stories were as important as the suspense, so overall a good romantic suspense listen.

Denson, Abby (w/ill) – Tough Love: High School Confidential
Blurbed by Chris

Brian is a shy boy, who has never had a date -- he just never met any girl in whom he had any interest. On his first day at a new school, he joins the Martial Arts club and meets the instructor, Chris, and feels the first stirrings of romance in his heart. But what will he do about Julie, the girl with a crush on him? And what is the story with Chris' ex-boyfriend Li?

The book deals with the subject in a rather lighthearted manner. Brian's coming out to his parents is fairly painless (despite his fears); while he is attacked later in the book for his sexuality, and there is an instance with a homophobic private school kid to whom Julie was attracted, Chris is pretty much openly accepted, as is, eventually, Brian; it is a pleasantly open-minded suburb, wherever it is. The book is a quick read, fun, everyone lives happily ever after.

Garwood, Julie – Fire and Ice
Blurbed by Kay

Sophie Rose is a young and beautiful reporter working for a small newspaper near city of Chicago. Her job covering a simple story about a 5K runner develops into a complex mystery involving the runner’s death by Alaskan polar bear. There are hints of strange scientific research being conducted in Alaska with mystery men attempting to stop the reporter from unearthing the truth. The novel has murder, mayhem and of course a love story between the young reporter and the handsome FBI man who accompanies her to Alaska.

The book is a fast paced thriller with a “science gone wrong” theme. The love story is an expected outcome of the two characters working the mystery together. The characters are a bit one-dimensional, but the novel is a fun read with the bad guys getting caught and the young lovers finding true love.

Howard, Linda – Ice
Blurbed by Yvonne

Gabriel is visiting his parents and son in backwoods Maine when an ice storm blows in. Lolly, the really annoying girl Gabe remembers not so fondly from high school, is at her family home readying it for sale with no means of communication with the outside world. Gabe is asked by his dad, the police chief, to go get her. Reluctantly he goes. Good thing because two meth addicts followed her home from the grocery store and are holding her hostage…

Kleypas, Lisa – Seduce Me at Sunrise
Blurbed by Yvonne

Winnifred almost died of scarlet fever as a teen and has suffered from a weak constitution ever since. Kev Merripen is the hunky gypsy her family took in years ago that helps her through her illness. She loves him, but can’t be his lover because of her weakened state. So she goes to France to a radical new doctor who will make her a whole woman again. Winnifred returns feeling rather spunky and declares her love for Merripen who makes out with her repeatedly but refuses her because he feels he isn’t good enough to marry her. But why do he and the son of an Irish lord have the same tattoo?

Lindsay, Johanna – The Devil Who Tamed Her
Blurbed by Carolyn

Ophelia Reid is a beautiful but headstrong young woman who has earned herself a reputation for lying and starting rumors. After her engagement to Duncan MacTavish ends badly Raphael Locke decides that for her own good he will teach Ophelia how to change her ways.

This Regency romance is fast paced and the tone is light.

Wiggs, Susan – Lakeshore Christmas
Blurbed by Jane

Lakeshore Christmas is a fairly predictable, but very enjoyable, romance with a touch of magic. Although it is set at Christmas, it could be read at any time of the year.

The story involves Maureen, the prim and proper town librarian, and Eddy, former child star and musician, who must work on the town Christmas pageant together. Conflict arises almost immediately because they have very different ideas about how the program should be presented, as well as just about everything else. Despite these differences, they are attracted to each other.

In addition to the pageant, Maureen has other worries. Due to budget cuts, the library is threatened with closing. The people of the town rally in a last-minute attempt to save the library. As expected, everything is happily resolved in the end.

Travel Writing Picks

Back in November a bunch of the librarians at Bridgewater decided to do a little armchair travel and read about the various adventures people have had around the globe.

Allison, Peter -- Don't Look Behind You
Blurbed by Jane

This book is a memoir about Peter Allison's life as a safari guide in different parts of Africa. Allison is a wonderful story teller, and the book is full of adventure and suspense with a generous dose of humor mixed in. He provides vivid descriptions of the beauty of Africa and shows great respect for the wildlife he loves so much.

Geist, Bill -- Way Off the Road: Discovering the Peculiar Charms of Small-Town America
Blurbed by Yvonne

CBS News reporter Bill Geist writes about some of his funniest adventures and found that most of them happen in small towns. He tells of Frozen Dead Guy Day in a small town in Colorado where tourists can pay to see a hunk of ice in a shed that is apparently the frozen dead guy himself. A geographically challenged town in Minnesota that wanted very badly to have a parade yet the main street was only two blocks long. Viola! It’s the stand still parade and viewers get up and walk around it. Figure eight school bus racing in Florida. Mike the Headless Chicken festival where a bird that lived for two years without a head back at the turn of the last century is still celebrated. There are even towns so small the population stands at just one or two. This is a great laugh-out-loud book and on audio it’s hilarious, especially since the author reads his own book. In what other book will you learn all about the cow pie Mecca of the world! Yes, in serious cow pie throwing contests they actually import the cow pies… (From Oklahoma in case you were curious…)

Gilman, Susan Jane -- Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Blurbed by Yvonne

Wow. I couldn’t stop listening to this one. It’s so unbelievable, funny, scary and heartbreaking it has to be true. It’s 1986 and the People’s Republic of China has been open to tourists for what seems to be minutes. The only guidebook was written by a bunch of hippies that started a thing called Lonely Planet. So of course, armed with this publication, two recent Brown grads decide they have to go and that is where they will start their one year trip around the world. Woefully unprepared (they don’t speak the language, hardly know where they are going) Susan and Clare set off into the unknown world that is China. As if things weren’t bad enough, Clare starts talking about her world curriculum she needs to write. And how the Mossaud and the CIA are after her. And how she will die if she doesn’t get a proper toilet. It’s the story of how Susan slowly realizes that Clare isn’t just being a spoiled rich brat and how she helps her friend and tries to keep her own sanity and escape a land of rules and the unknown. The most wonderful things about this book are the helpful and kind people that they meet along the way including a Canadian nurse that accompanies the girls from the hinterlands all the way back to New York City. It makes you laugh because the author has such a light tone, but you’re on the edge of your seat for most of the book wondering what international incident they are about to become a part of.

Neufeld, Josh -- A Few Perfect Hours
Blurbed by Chris

Josh Neufeld and his then-girlfriend/now-wife Sari Wilson, both just out of college, decided to see the world together. Over the course of a year and a half, the pair travelled from Hong Kong to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Turkey, and finally to Prague, where they stayed for a year.

Over the intervening decade, Josh took stories of their travels and put them into comic format. The couple escape death in a cave, work on a farm in Penang, work as extras in a Singaporean soap opera, and get searched on a Serbian train.

The format is very suited to this particular type of storytelling: the pictures tell stories that words alone cannot; the chosen drawings evoke a sense of both the reality of the situation and the internal, emotional meaning that would be lost in a photograph; and the juxtaposition of the words and the images form a more complete story than a much longer book could.

Each chapter is a few pages long, a slice of their lives from that particular period, and it is interspersed with travel tips from the two, often learned the hard way.

Steinbeck, John -- Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Blurbed by Brendan

John Steinbeck takes to the highway in 1960 with his companion, a standard poodle named Charley. His aim is to find the America that he has spent his life writing about, telling the stories of the people he meets along the way but refusing to generalize about them. His trip begins in New England, moving through the Midwest, from Montana on to Seattle, and then his birthplace, California, where he finds that you can’t go home again because memories of long ago do not match the reality of the place. He then heads back east through the desert Southwest into Texas. He is repulsed by racial hatred in the South and then finds his way back to his starting point, New York.

It’s interesting to see the parallels to today. He talks about the amount of packaging that we use and throw away. He says that Texans like to talk about secession. He fears the loss of regional dialect brought about by national television stations and the loss of regional cuisine. Most memorable, however, are his conversations with the people he meets. There is no pat answer to his question “What is America like today?” Some things may change, but some things stay the same.

Wisner, Franz -- How the World Makes Love: And What it taught a Jilted Groom
Blurbed by Kay

The novel takes the reader on a humorous and eye-opening journey to numerous countries (Brazil, India, Nicaragua, Czech Republic, Egypt). The author is a 42 year old single man (jilted at the altar), who decides to write a book about his travels and lessons learned about love and dating rituals in other countries.

He shares with the reader his doubts on love and the lack of commitment he sees in relationships. Still he continues to interview persons from around the world who tell us the ins and outs of dating in their culture. His adventures and travel log make for an interesting read. But his true life saga about meeting and falling in love with a Los Angeles actress during the writing of his book makes for an appealing and sweet love story.