Thursday, January 29, 2015

Descent by Tim Johnston

Descent by Tim Johnston

The Courtland family takes their annual family vacation in the Rocky Mountains at their 18-year-old daughter Caitlin’s suggestion.  She is an avid runner and wants to train in the high altitude.  One morning she and her brother Sean leave early in the morning: Caitlin in her running shoes, Sean on his bike.  Disaster strikes.  While on a backwoods road (more like a dirt track) a vehicle comes hurtling out of the woods and strikes Sean on his bike. Sean is very badly injured.  The driver of the vehicle offers Caitlin a ride down the mountain to get help since their cell phones don’t work up there.  Caitlin accepts the ride and disappears.

This is a thriller told in many parts following the four members of the family as we learn about family dynamics, the abduction and the aftermath.  It is slow in starting but the build is needed, you really get to know and care for these broken people.  And the ending!  Wow.  It is heartbreaking, gruesome, cheer-worthy and believable all at once.

This book has been compared to TheLovely Bones, but I don’t know why.  We do get Caitlin’s point of view a little over mid-way through the book but she isn’t looking down at her family and how their lives are going on without her.  Yes, we do see how her disappearance destroys the lives of her mother (addiction and separation from reality), her brother (his guilt and physical injuries) and her father (who stays behind in Colorado, refusing to stop searching) but the element that is at the forefront of my mind when someone compares a book to The Lovely Bones is absent.

One more thing, this is the first thriller I would not recommend on audiobook.  I don’t know if it was the pacing of one of the narrator’s voice or if I just didn’t like the voice, but I listened to two discs and found my mind wandering.  Thankfully I had the print book out as well and switched over to it and found myself devouring the book wanting to know what happened next.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion


The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion

At the end of The Rosie Project Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman were married and moved to Manhattan from Australia.  The couple is happily living in the Big Apple until numerous things start disrupting Don’s universe.  The most important of all: Rosie is pregnant.  How will the man with a plan for everything, who now feels like he doesn’t have a plan for anything, deal with fatherhood?  Not normally, but definitely in a funny way.


Fans of the first book in the series and The Big Bang Theory will thoroughly enjoy this book.  Only Don Tillman can create a perfectly functional office in a bathroom and make friends with a famous rockstar in the course of an evening.  Great fun.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Her by Harriet Lane

Her by Harriet Lane

Emma and Nina seem to have nothing in common.  Emma is a harried mother who has put her career in television on hold for motherhood.  Nina’s one child is a teenager and she has a successful career as a painter.  One day Nina finds Emma’s wallet and returns it to her in her home and an unlikely friendship blossoms.  Or does it?

The book is told in alternating chapters from each of the two main characters point of view.  From the beginning you know that Nina knows Emma, remembers her from her teen years, but that Emma does not recognize Nina.  You also know that Nina loathes Emma and wants to get back at her for something that happened between them as teenagers, but you don’t know what happened until almost the end of the book.  A frightening look at how one person’s actions, even in ignorance, can upend the life of another and how hatred can build into something irrational and evil over time.

Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

Roland Nair, who has worked (is possibly still working for?), NATO intelligence returns to Africa to meet his well-connected (at least in his own mind) friend Michael Adriko. Sierra Leone hasn’t changed much since his last visit, but Nair has changed.  Nair comes to Africa with an agenda that he keeps hidden from his friend Michael, and it looks like Michael may have a hidden agenda of his own.

If you need to be reminded of how corrupt and alien the workings of Africa are compared to the law and order we are used to this book brings it all right to the fore.  Between illegal border crossings easily come by for a fee, backroom dealings for goods of any kind, the sporadic available electricity, not to mention the colorful characters, the world Nair and Adriko inhabit comes vividly to life.  This is a spy thriller where the goals of each character are revealed in small doses and we don’t know the full extent of the wishes of anyone. 

The reader does a wonderful job with the accents, dialects and characterizations for this story.  I may not have enjoyed the book reading it, I’m not completely sure, but I sure loved listening to it.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron


Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron

Ruddy McCann is a repo man in Kalkaska, Michigan.  It’s heading into Spring so it’s still freezing and business isn’t so good.  But not having cars to repossess is the least of Ruddy’s worries.  One day he suddenly starts hearing a voice in his head.  Others blame repo madness but Ruddy is beginning to think that the voice in his head isn’t a sign of mental illness; he thinks the voice, which calls itself Alan, is a ghost seeking justice.  Can Ruddy help Alan, save his sister’s bar from bankruptcy and get the girl? 

Ruddy can hear Alan whenever he speaks but Ruddy has to speak out loud for Alan to hear him which plays to good humor.  There are a lot of quirky secondary characters – a scheming couple always wanting to get rich quick; a man with an extensively misused vocabulary; and Jake, Ruddy’s faithful dog to name a few – that really round out the story and bring out the humor.  The story of Alan’s death is serious as are some of the circumstances surrounding his murder, but Ruddy’s day to day is extremely entertaining.  The storyline to watch for is the repossession of a man named Einstein’s truck.  The book starts with Ruddy being tasked with getting the truck away from Einstein and Doris (a cranky goose) and it runs throughout the book.  Great ending to that particular thread!

This was an extremely entertaining audiobook.  The reader has such distinct voices for Ruddy and Alan that fit the characters perfectly. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne

Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne

Jay Johnson is enjoying his boring life when he is kidnapped on his way home from work and forced into the Witness Protection Program.  The Marshalls who are detaining him are convinced that all of this is for his own good.  He should be thrilled to have a new identity and to leave his old life behind for a new life (complete with a new family) on Catalina Island.  There is one big problem.  Jay doesn’t know why he’s in the program.  As far as he knows he didn’t see anything important and no one will give him a clue about what they think he may have seen. 

The book starts out as a study in absurdity and evolves into a thriller as well as a psychological study.  We see the world through Jay’s eyes, and reside in his brain, and only know what he knows at the moment.  It really makes you wonder how, put in a similar situation, you would convince people that you didn’t know what they thought you know.  Sort of like those institutionalized my family members in the Victorian era – how do you convince others that you are not insane?

A different kind of thriller with a surprising twist ending.

Malice by Keigo Higashino

Malice by Keigo Higashino

A best-selling novelist is found dead inside a locked room in a locked house.  One suspect comes to the forefront in Detective Kaga’s mind, but things aren’t adding up.  The mental acrobatics he performs will finally bring justice to the murdered man and his memory.

This book was translated from Japanese but aside from the names being unfamiliar to an American audience it reads like the best complex mysteries of the noir period.  The book is arranged in chunks, some from the point of view of our detective and some written recollections by the prime suspect.  What I found most interesting was knowing the who, what, where and how early on in the book but being completely baffled by the why. 

Mystery fans looking for a new fresh voice with the devious plotting of the old masters will find something to like here.

The Splintered Kingdom by James Aitcheson

 
The Splintered Kingdom by James Aitcheson
Reviewed by W. Keith McCoy, Somerset County Library System

The second volume of this trilogy of the aftermath of the Norman Conquest finds its hero, Tancred a Dinant, as lord of a small manor town nearWales.  Crops come in, his consort is expecting, and life is good.  But barely three years after Hastings, the English are rising up, this time in cooperation with the Welsh and the Danes, to threaten King William from several directions.  Tancred is commissioned to lead a raiding party into Wales to distract one rebel leader, but through his own bullheadedness and some deceit, his soldiers are killed or scattered, while he is captured for the price on his head.  Tancred escapes only to find his lands desolated, and his lord and love interest both hostages.  Tancred heads off to find them and the king in the east, as a great battle for supremacy looms.  The finale to this segment ends with more fire, slaughter, and surprises.  Verdict:  There are enough swordplay and chases amidst the detail to warrant returning to this series, or even starting it, by aficionados of tales of England’s historic warriors.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

It is after the war (that would be WWI) and the Wrays (widowed Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter Frances) are having difficulty making ends meet.  Left on the verge of destitution by the bad investments of the late Mr. Wray the ladies are forced to let out rooms in their large home, situated in a desirable London neighborhood.  Lodgers are called paying guests among the well-heeled, or in this case formerly well-heeled, hence the title.  The Barbers, a young lower-class married couple, move into the upstairs rooms.  A friendship slowly forms between Mrs. Barber and Frances which blossoms into love.  Will love prevail?

I figured I was in for a family drama of some kind based on the little I knew of the book.  Turns out it was a romance complete with a murder trial at its center.  It is an unsettling look at the lengths people will go for love as well as the frightening position love puts us in: does that person love me as much as I love them?  Or are they just saying they love me?  This book constantly reminds the reader that we only know the thoughts of one character and how unsettling not knowing another’s mind actually is.

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
Reviewed by W. Keith McCoy, Somerset County Library System

The start of another historical series for Iggulden features not a famous person, but the array of kings and power-brokers who afflicted England in the 15th Century.  Henry VI is weak minded and willed, and is manipulated into trading the English territories of Maine and Anjou for a French bride. The landowners there resist, as back home Richard of York maneuvers to be the power behind the throne.  Protecting the unsuspicious king are his new wife, a few other lords of the realm, and Derihew Brewer, the king’s spymaster.  On top of this, a peasant revolt gushes out of Kent towards London, threatening the monarchy itself.  Several of the characters stand out to carry the narrative, especially the dashing, totally fictional Brewer.  The action swings back and forth between political intrigue and the brutal clashes of armies and mobs.  And this is just the beginning, fortunately for the reader. Verdict: Iggulden’s simplified version of the start of this fifty year political melee will keep followers of the old English royals completely engrossed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

A young man returns his library books (on time) and when he asks the lady at the circulation desk for more books she directs him to the librarian in room 107.  The old male librarian there bullies the boy into reading the tomes he put the effort into locating, ancient books that are “for internal use only.”  The boy is then led down twisting labyrinthine corridors to the reading room.  What lurks there?  You’ll have to read to find out.  I do leave you with this quote about libraries and librarians to ponder: if all they did was lend out knowledge for free, what would the payoff be for them?

This very slim volume (you can read it in less than an hour) is a treat for all lovers of libraries (and if you are reading this blog I hope you are).  Know that it is dark, and quite bizarre; not just the story but the illustrations as well.  It is also a thinking book.  You’ll be thinking about it long after you finish wondering what exactly the author was trying to say about loneliness, knowledge and life.

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson
Reviewed by W. Keith McCoy, Somerset County Library System

The ne’er-do-well son of a country parson is thrown into the alternative world that is debtors’ prison of London in 1727.  Owned by a noble, run by an SOB, and inhabited by the unfortunate as well as the conniving, Marshalsea Gaol is a festering pot of deception, treachery and brutality.  When a man of means is murdered inside it, everyone seems to have an interest in finding the killer, as well as a motive.  New arrival Tom Hawkins not only needs to pay off his debts, he needs to find out who murdered the man who slept in his bed two days before.  The scenes are Hogarthian, and the pace is Pattersonian.  The author has a gift for action and characters, using the historical prison as the main stage, and real people as supporting actors.  She manages to keep the reader guessing as to who might be the murderer, and when (and whom) he might strike next.

Verdict:  History and mystery fans will both enjoy the roller coaster twists and turns of this atmospheric thriller.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

The Amazing Arden is an illusionist, one of the best in the field, and unlike other illusionists working the circuit she is a woman.  The road that led her to a life on the stage doing fire dances and cutting people in half is a strange one that she recounts while being held on suspicion of murder.  Someone killed her husband.  He was found hacked in his midsection by an axe in a prop box below the stage.  It looks just like the illusion of the Halved Man she performed that evening in front of a sellout crowd.  Officer Holt apprehends her as she flees and takes her to his small town jail/police station for questioning.  There, over the course of the evening, she tells her story in hopes that Holt will see the truth in her words and set her free.

Best part of the book?  The title.  The entire book I wondered if Arden was to be believed.  The book is two stories in one: Arden telling the story of her life to Holt from her childhood up until earlier that evening and the conversations Arden and Holt have in the jail as she tells her tale.  Since the past is recounted vividly in prose it’s hard to remember that we are only getting Arden’s remembrances, so the sections of Holt and Arden talking are helpful.  It’s a reminder that we’re only getting her version of events and you can’t help but wonder what is real and what is a lie.

This book is released on January 13th so get your holds placed now!

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (YA)
Reviewed by Cassandra, Teen Librarian at Mary Jacobs

During the cold, dark winter months there is nothing like a guilty pleasure read! This young adult novel is the first in the Dark Caravan series. The initial draw for this title is that it reminded me of two series that I absolutely love: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. If you loved those books you will devour Exquisite Captive.

The book follows the story of Nalia, a jinni who can grant wishes. She is the only survivor of a coup d’├ętat that killed almost everyone from her caste. Now back on Earth she is sold into slavery. She is bound by the golden shackles to the rich and handsome Malek, her human master. She is forced to obey his every command or else suffer the consequences. Malek is cruel yet on top of that all, he is also very emotionally manipulative. Nalia, having been mistreated for so long, living only on the hope of seeing her brother and freeing him, is immediately drawn by his ‘gentle’ side and falls for his lies. I say lies because no matter how much he claims to love her, he will never see her as anything but a possession. It will break your heart to see her go through all these ordeals and when Raif comes into the picture, you cheer; you cheer like crazy and hope for Nalia to snap out of it and realize how unhealthy her relationship with Malek is.

So, yes, this is a kissing book but the world building and plot are both amazing and make for a fun, fast paced read. I eagerly await book 2!

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean

Chase is the elusive primary owner of the famous gaming hell The Fallen Angel.  No one knows his identity yet all fear him.  Anna is the lady in charge of the female employees of The Fallen Angel; this madam is rumored to be extremely talented in the boudoir.  Lady Georgiana is the daughter of a Duke, and the sister of one, but she has a nine year old daughter out of wedlock.  She has never named the father and never will.  Now that her daughter Caroline is getting older she is on the hunt for a husband with a title so her daughter will be accepted, not shunned, by society as she is.  The problem: Lady Georgiana is developing feelings for a man that is not titled and therefore cannot provide her daughter with the protection she needs.  That man is also dead set on unmasking Chase and freeing Anna from his grip.  What makes it an impossible problem: Chase, Anna and Georgiana are all the same person.

This is the fourth book in the School for Scoundrel series but don’t despair!  You don’t have to be familiar with the series to enjoy this entry.  This is a fast paced, well-plotted, steamy read.