Missing You by Harlan Coben

October 24, 2014

Missing YouSince Harlan Coben is one of my favorite authors, I was a little sad when I found the pace of this book to be much slower than his previous efforts, and yet something kept pulling me back to the book. But after crossing the midpoint of the book, the pace picked up and it became much more interesting.

Two stories are intertwined in the narrative: Kat Donovan, a third-generation Manhattan detective, finds herself in the middle of two cases. One is the unsolved case of her father’s murder, and the second is the mysterious disappearance of Dana Phelps. The man convicted of her father’s murder has just died in prison with some unanswered questions as to whether he was the actual killer. Dana’s disappearance is a little more complicated.

To make matters worse, when Kat’s friend Stacy enrolls her on an online dating site, things start to break open. Kat finds a picture on the website of a man who looks exactly like Jeff, her past significant other from 18 years ago. It doesn’t make any sense.

Meanwhile Brandon Phelps, Dana’s son, is a bright computer student at the University of Connecticut who finds out about Kat through that same online dating website. Although Brandon is concerned about his mother, maybe it is just true that she went away to South America with someone she met on the dating website–but is that man Jeff? It certainly looks like the same man in the pictures.

There is almost too much in play in this novel but it all starts to come together for Kat. However, I will alert you that this may be one of Harlan Coben’s most violent novels.

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The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich

October 23, 2014

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love StoriesThis is not your traditional book of short love stories. Is there a traditional one of those? I don’t know, but this definitely isn’t it.

Simon Rich is a very funny man. I was first introduced to his writing through Elliot Allagash, his first novel, back in 2010. I did a lot of giggling. So when I saw this collection of short stories on the shelf, I wanted to give it a go.

I tend to like a short story collection, which I know not everyone does. I generally prefer to space out my consumption of the stories — I have trouble staying engaged reading an entire book of short stories at once. For The Last Girlfriend on Earth, though, this was not the case. Some stories are as short as a page and a half, others are somewhat longer, but each is a quick read that will have you wanting to move right on to the next.

The stories are broken into three thematic segments; Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl, and Boy Loses Girl. Classic tales of love and heartbreak, you might be thinking. But you are incorrect, dear friend. Rich’s plots and characters vary wildly, from the “girl” in question being your basic under-the-bridge troll (think: short, hairy, speaks in grunts) to the “boy” being Hitler, now aged 124, wheel-chair ridden, and hitting the party scene with his new gal in New York.

It’s all really very silly, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

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Dog on It by Spencer Quinn

October 22, 2014

Dog On ItIf there is anything better than finding out one of your favorite authors has just written a new book, it must be finding out that one of your favorite authors has actually already published a whole series of books under another name. I enjoyed Peter Abrahams Echo Falls mystery series for teens, and his stand-alone thriller Oblivion is one of my favorites, so I felt really lucky when I recently learned that he has also published the Chet and Bernie mystery series under the pen name Spencer Quinn.

Bernie is an ex-military, ex-police, private investigator. He drives a “classic” (i.e. old and beat up) Porsche and is usually the smartest person in the room, according to his partner Chet. Chet is always ready to jump into the shotgun seat of the Porsche or sniff out a clue. Did I mention that Chet is a dog? He is highly trained – would have graduated from the police K-9 dog training school if it wasn’t for a minor incident involving a cat that occurred on his last day.

The series begins with Dog on It, where a distraught mother hires Chet and Bernie to find her missing teenage daughter. Madison Chambliss is a normal high school student, with no apparent reason to run away and there are no signs of foul play. Within a day she returns home on her own and Chet and Bernie are off the case. But when Madison soon disappears a second time and no one thinks it is a problem because she has done this before, Chet and Bernie feel obligated to find the truth about what happened to her.

I like the Chet and Bernie series because it is well plotted, with smart characters and dialog, and a healthy dose of humor. I especially like the fact that Chet narrates! He notices smells and sees really well in the dark, never passes up a bit of food, and falls asleep if the conversation gets too intellectual, just like a dog actually would. His observations are at once innocently simple-minded and astute.

The Chet and Bernie books are also especially good on audio.

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Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

October 21, 2014

RoguesThis collection includes 21 Fantasy short stories from authors such as Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Joe Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, and Patrick Rothfuss. As my coworker Keith mentioned in his review of this book for LibraryReads,

“This anthology is worth reading for the Rothfuss story alone! ‘The Lightning Tree’ follows Bast spending a day outside the tavern, which left me anxious for Kingkiller Book 3 to come out.”

I couldn’t agree more! Some of the other stories are also set in worlds we know and feature characters we love – such as Neil Gaiman’s follow up to his popular novel Neverwhere, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.” So there you go, read this book and get a couple of very amazing stories from two of the masters of modern fantasy, Rothfuss and Gaiman. What’s that? You want more? Okay, how about these:

Joe Abercrombie’s story “Tough Times All Over” in which a package is stolen from a courier, only to be re-stolen and appropriated over and over as it changes hands multiple times during its journey across the city. We’re treated to multiple viewpoint shifts of the colorful cast of ne’er-do-wells and blackguards as the package shifts from one person to the next. Action, world-building, and witty dialogue are among Ambercrombie’s trademarks demonstrated here.

Carrie Vaughn‘s story “Roaring Twenties” is set in a hidden watering hole and gambling den frequented by villains and scoundrels. In this magical speak-easy one old practitioner of nefarious magic has come to confront a rival and hopefully reach an understanding. However, as with any gathering of rascals, magical or otherwise, everyone is looking out for themselves and watching their own backs, and when the fur starts flying, understandings are hard to come by.

Garth Nix‘s story “A Cargo of Ivories” features his knight and sorcerer duo Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. In this entertaining story, the pair are sent to recover ivory figurines which contain energy anchors for minor gods. When we meet them here, Sir Hereward and his former teacher Mister Fitz – who happens to be an enchanted puppet – are doing a bit of burglary to recover the figurines from the magically protected home of a rich collector. Naturally, their plans go awry. They meet another thief ransacking the house and the trio pair up to pursue one of the escaped godlets before it can wreak havoc.

One of the best things about short story collections is that they expose you to newer authors or authors you just haven’t gotten around to reading yet. After reading Scott Lynch‘s story “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” I decided to bump his novel The Lies of Locke Lamora higher on my “to-read” list. If you like short stories by Fantasy authors, also check out the Martin & Dozois edited Dangerous Women, released last year.

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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

October 20, 2014

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherThis is an amazing account of the life of photographer Edward Curtis. It begins in 1866 in Seattle, where Princess Angeline is living in a 2 room damp shack down among the piers. She is the oldest and last surviving child of the chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, and also the most famous person in Seattle, her image on china plates and other knickknacks sold to tourists of Puget Sound.

Seattle is also where Edward Sheriff Curtis runs a successful photography business. Curtis is sought out by politicians and wealthy patrons, but also trolley car drivers and sailors who have saved for a session in front of the camera.

Curtis eventually photographs Princess Angeline, first in a studio portrait, and then in Shantytown, where he captures her in her daily chores of digging clams and gathering mussels. Angeline tells of other Duwamish and Suquamish people living on the edge of the city and the Tulalip reservation to the north. He visits, even pays for access, and photographs them. This is the beginning of what becomes a lifelong endeavor of photographing all intact Indian communities left in North American before their way of life disappears.

This plan entails traveling the Southwest, the plains, the Rockies, the fjords of British Columbia and Washington State, northern California mountains and southern California desert, and the Arctic. Curtis gives up a successful photography studio in Seattle for this pursuit.

He is constantly broke and struggles to obtain backers as he continues documenting Native Americans as their numbers are plummeting. While America is laying down railroad lines and paving roads for automobiles, the Indians who wish to continue living as they always have, end up hiding from dominant ever encroaching culture (the government has banned many ceremonies and children are sent to boarding schools).

Even when Curtis presents his picture opera–Indians in hand-colored slides and film, accompanied by music–to sold out crowds at Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Belasco Theater, he still faces bankruptcy: a penniless state that follows him through the rest of his life.

When he completes Volume XX of The North American Indian in 1930, thirty years have passed since the onset of the project, and Curtis is sixty-one years old. Sadly, his book goes unnoticed after his death in 1952, but resurfaces in the 1970’s to great acclaim. The Curtis family set goes to the Rare Books Library at the University of Oregon, and a gallery devoted to the work of Curtis is in Seattle.

Thankfully, because of Edward Curtis’ steadfast dedication to record the Native American tribes’ way of life before its tragic demise, we have an immense photographic and written historical record. And because of Timothy Egan’s exhaustive research, we have a sense of what Edward Curtis went through to accomplish this great feat.

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Grown Folks Business by Victoria Christopher Murray

October 17, 2014

Grown Folks BusinessSheridan meets Quentin while serving as an intern at her doctor’s office; it’s love at first sight. Sheridan marries Quentin right out of college despite her parents’ objection. They have two beautiful children, Tori, nine years old and Chris, sixteen, and live a perfect life as a family.

But Sheridan and Quentin’s seventeen years of marital bliss collapse all of a sudden when Quentin gives a shocking announcement that he is in love with someone else, and that someone else is a man, a close family friend named Jett.

Quentin moves in with Jett. Sheridan now deals with how to inform their kids about their father’s new lifestyle, but Chris finds out anyway, and that begins a new drama in Sheridan’s household. Chris changes his name to Christopher fearing that Chris could be a girl’s name. He makes several changes in his life just to prove he is nothing like his father. Tori and a few family members accept Quentin’s new life while others find it unforgivable.

Sheridan receives emotional and spiritual support from her close friend, her parents, and her church pastor. At her pastor’s office, she accidentally runs into a UPS driver, Brock, when she is not ready for love but Brock will not let her rest until she finally falls for him.

Sheridan and Quentin come together in order to help their son, Chris, out of his own life crisis that leads to a rebirth in the life of Deja, his girlfriend.

I enjoyed this book because it’s an easy read, it’s full of love and support, disagree to agree, and friendship.

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Baptism by Max Kinnings

October 16, 2014

BaptismA heart-pounding thriller taking place in the London Underground.

Religious fanatics commandeer a subway train and stop it between two major stations. Nobody knows what they want but they are prepared to kill without hesitation if anyone gets in their way. They may be religious fanatics wanting to make a statement. Bodies are falling right and left as ace negotiator Ed Mallory leads a team desperately attempting to head off this potential catastrophe. Caught in the middle is George Wakeham, the driver of the train. His family is being held hostage so that George will do whatever the leader of the fanatics, Tommy Denning, tells him to do.

But there is something more involved in this: somehow MI5 is entangled with the impending tragedy and they have kept important “intel” from Mallory. As the situation worsens, the London police must do anything and everything possible to stop this situation before hundreds perish.

This fast-paced thriller will keep you awake at night. Kinnings has written one heck of a page turner. I expect we will hear more from him in the future.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

October 15, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderAva spins a tale of how she, who was “just a girl,” happened to be born with a huge set of wings. To truly tell the story, she has to go back three generations to her great-grandmother, Maman, who moved from France to “Manhatine” to follow her husband’s dream, and then to the story of her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Vivianne. All of these women were cursed in romance. It seemed that they fell in love quite often, but rarely with the right man, and even then, once they had a child, their lover would either die or run away. So the women depended on one another and raised their children alone—at least on this plane of existence.

Ava and her foremothers eke out a living, running a bakery and living together in a lonely house with a bizarre history. Ava stays indoors almost all the time, just so that she can avoid other people’s sometimes startling reaction to her wings. While she is afraid that some people may hurt her because of her difference, others may be obsessed with her for more sinister reasons. All she wants to be is a regular girl.

Walton writes a story filled with magical realism. One of Emilienne’s sisters was utterly besotted with a musician who barely knew that she existed. Her love transformed her into a canary, hopeful that her beloved would be enraptured by her music, but now he noticed her even less. Relatives who have died tend to return in strange forms, and the living often have powers that most people would call superstition. The lines between living and dead, reality and illusion, are gossamer-thin. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, but some of the situations are too mature for most teenagers. However, adults and older teens who love Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits will be enthralled with Ava Lavender. Highly recommended.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

October 14, 2014

The AlchemistThis book is about a shepherd boy who takes risks and endures hardship to pursue his dream. At first, it reads like a simple fable written for a child, and the pace of the story developed ever so slowly. I had to read it for a book discussion so I stuck to it. Oh, how it has paid off! What a beautiful and purposeful book, just when I needed it: be patient and focus!

The Alchemist offers inspiration in such a way as if it has awakened the deep sleep of a hibernating bear that has finally felt hunger for food (spiritual food) and wanted to roar (come alive) again. It connects one back to an earlier life of an innocent age. Of a questing soul of a brave and pure spirit. Coelho knows I am not the only one who feels this way, even he is from Brazil, half the world away.

The Alchemist is a brilliantly crafted book with vivid descriptions of culture, people, and scenery to fill the imagination of any reader. It has been translated into 80 languages. We may be distracted with earthly desires or duties; it is never too late to feel young and ambitious again.

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

October 13, 2014

The Valley of AmazementAmy Tan has written another sweeping historical novel about Chinese relationships and culture. In The Valley of Amazement, Tan invites us into a world of courtesan life from early years to retirement during a politically charged China in the early twentieth century. With lyrical beauty and harsh reality, Tan traces the lives of American-born mother, Lulu Minturn, and her half Chinese daughter, Violet. And, because it is Amy Tan, it is really a story of the mother daughter relationships and their struggle to understand each other.

The book tells its tale through the many voices of its strong women characters. In the beginning we are introduced to young Violet, our main protagonist, as she watches her mother’s life, being the owner of a respectable courtesan establishment, implode. With unforeseen circumstances, she leaves Violet standing at the boat docks as she disappears from Violet’s life, presumably on her way to the United States without her, as Violet sees it. Violet is alone and must make her way using only her wits and her mother’s teachings, and unfortunately her body, to live. Courtesan Violet falls in love, has a child, and just as her mother was ripped from her life, her daughter is ripped away when Violet’s lover dies and his vindictive family kidnaps the baby girl. Everything now is taken from her: her baby, her money, her house, her freedom. So when she finds love again she believes that this man will save her and care for her. After all, he wants to make her his wife. He isn’t truthful, and probably crazy, and she finds herself in a remote village, tortured by the man’s number one wife. In this second part of the book, Violet tries to escape so she can find her daughter and eventually, her mother.

It is a journey of pain, murder, jealousy, misunderstandings, friendship, family, but finally love, the love of mothers and daughters.

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