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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Leader of the Pack

In Andy Carpenter's opinion, it's all Tara's fault that he re-opens a cold case for a client who was convicted of a double murder six years ago.  If Tara hadn't become a therapy dog, Andy never would have visited Joey Desimone's uncle Nicky Fats, a retired enforcer for the Desimone crime family.  And he never would have heard Nicky say something that leads him to believe the Family knows something about Joey's guilt or innocence.  Since Leader of the Pack (#218) is the ninth book in this series by David Rosenfelt, you know that Andy can't let this little tidbit go.

It's been six long years since Joey was convicted of the crime that Andy believes he didn't commit, and nothing has happened to change anyone else's opinion in the meantime.  That is until Andy starts poking around.  You don't want to mess with the Mafia, especially since it could cost you your life.  But the attacks only make Andy more determined to get to the bottom of things.  Andy succeeds in getting Joey's case re-opened, but will the verdict be what Andy had hoped for? 

I read a review of Leader of the Pack the day I got the library notice this book was available, and I was somewhat dismayed that the reviewer reported that Rosenfelt's trademark humor was missing from this book.  The mystery was as well plotted with unexpected twists as ever, but he warned the reader to be prepared for a more sober read. 

I'm happy to report that in my opinion, this was not the case.  Andy was still his wise-cracking self, and his usual legal team all had their moments, especially Tara, who, however briefly, highlighted the positive role animals can play in improving the physical and mental health of patients.  Maybe Andy can wait until hell freezes over before he takes on his next case, but I sure hope I don't have to wait that long!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Tropical storm Isaac gave me the perfect excuse to hunker down and devour James Rollins' latest Sigma Force thriller Bloodline (#217).  I hardly came up for breath until I had finished it.

The president's daughter has been kidnapped, and Sigma force has been assigned the task of retrieving her alive.  That sounds pretty straightforward, but in true Rollins fashion, twists abound and both the victim and the entire team face situations where logic tells you that they can't possibly survive.  The scientific twist to this plot centers around the search for immortality; through genetic engineering, technology, artificial intelligence or some combination thereof.  And, also as usual, the scariest thing about this book is the plausibility of it happening.  Mr. Rollins provides links to websites and videos which show what progress has already been made towards that goal.

Rollins introduces two new Sigma team members in Bloodline, former Marine Wayne Tucker, highly decorated  Afghan War veteran, and his partner Kane.  Kane is able to provide the team with unique tracking capabilities and intel.  Did I mention that Kane is a highly trained military war dog?  Rollins actually debuts these characters in a short story prequel available on Amazon called Tracker.  If you have the opportunity, I'd highly recommend that you read this first, just because Tucker and Kane are so appealing.

Suffice it to say that Sigma succeeds in its mission, with some minor characters stepping up to fill in some of the gaps, strengthening relationships among the team members, though not without a powerful secret being revealed.  I have a feeling that secret will play a large role in future Sigma Force books, which is a good thing because it means there will be more coming.  Yay!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Queen's Lover

The Queen's Lover (#216) by Francine du Plessix Gray is the story of Axel von Fersen, the Swedish count rumored to be the lover of Marie Antoinette, told from his viewpoint and that of his sister, Sophie.  If you're aware of him at all, you probably remember that he was the mastermind behind the failed escape of the royal family.  This book gives a broader picture of the dashing Axel von Fersen from the time of his Grand Tour of Europe and his initial meeting with the nineteen year old Marie Antoinette to his friendship with King Gustavus III of Sweden, his campaign in America as aide-de-camp to Rochambeau's French regiment, his relationship with the French royal family and his death in 1810 at the hands of a Swedish mob.

From everything else I've ever read about him, I really expected that I would like and admire Count von Fersen, but after reading The Queen's Lover, I've come to the opposite conclusion, probably because I wasn't crazy about the book itself.  Ms. du Plessix Gray has certainly done her homework and uncovered any number of interesting and salacious tidbits about the French Court, and with Axel writing his memoirs, the first section of this novel is a bit like reading a celebrity tell-all; gossipy with a bite of malice.  But when he turns to the supposed affair he has with Marie Antoinette, he is curiously uncommunicative, despite his protestations of love and devotion.  I was never convinced that there was ever any emotional connection between these two as the narrative descends into yet another pedantic retelling of the events surrounding the escape of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as far as Varennes, where they are recognized and brought back to Paris.  Von Fersen flees to Belgium as he was instructed as soon as he learns of this, but any history book will tell you the dry details of what happens to the family in Paris right up until the moment of Marie Antoinette's execution.  As soonsas he hears the news, Fersen promptly jumps in a couch to drive himself to the home of Eleanore Sullivan where he consoles himself in her arms.  He begs the reader not to misunderstand, but he does have his needs. Ugh.  The narrative becomes a little livelier at that point as he philanders his way back to Sweden and several high offices there, but his attitudes have become so reactionary and snobbish that by the time he is attacked during the funeral cortege of the Crown Prince of Sweden, whom he's accused of poisoning, I didn't have much sympathy for him.

If the author had stuck to the same tell-all style throughout the book, it would have made it much more interesting.   But as for the actual affair, I've read other sources on the subject, for example Antonia Frasier's excellent biography of Marie Antoinette, which doubt the affair was ever physically consummated.  Even the author admits in the Notes at the end of The Queen's Lover that the Dauphin's heart tissue was recently tested and the DNA conclusively proved that the boy was Louis's son, not Fersen's.  If you've ever read a supermarket tabloid while standing in line at the checkout counter, you know that these kind of stories sell newspapers, but there isn't a whole lot of truth behind them.  Color me unconvinced, and not even wishing that it could have been so...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What in God's Name

I zipped right through Simon Rich's new novel What in God's Name (#215) in just a few hours.   I had received the book as a Good Reads First Reads giveaway, and I was anxious to see what would happen when God decides to retire as CEO of Heaven, Inc. and get rid of those pesky humans. 

Craig, an Angel working in the Miracles Department, is proud of what he does and goes upstairs to confront God about his decision when he gets the memo.  Even though he winds up becoming an investor in the new restaurant God is planning to open the day after He destroys the Earth, he manages to talk God into accepting a bet to save the human race.  With the help of Eliza, the newest Angel recruit to Miracles, Craig has thirty days to answer just one of the mountain of prayers God has gotten over the past few years. 

What seems like a slam dunk petition from two different humans who both want to be together turns into a challenge they might not be able to meet as Craig and Eliza try to match up two of the most socially awkward young people in New York.

An amusing story, but one that does give you pause to think; why should God care about us, if He does exist?  Since I do happen to believe in Him, I know this story will stay with me for awhile.  Thanks, Mr. Rich, for providing more than I expected with this little book.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Winter Queen (Different novel, different author from 6/30/12 post)

Brush up on your Latin if you read Jane Stevenson's novel about Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, sometimes called The Winter Queen (#214) due to the brevity of her reign with her husband, the Elector of Palatine.  Ms. Stevenson quotes extensively in Latin, Dutch and Yoruba without condescending to translate.

In this novel, the first of a trilogy, the book follows the fortunes of Dr. Pelagius van Overmeer, a former prince of Africa (He would have to be.) overthrown in a palace coup and sold to the "Portugals" as a slave.  He is sold on to the Dutch spice market in Batavia in the East Indies, where he becomes the property of the curmudgeonly Dutchman Comrij.  Comrij is obsessed with composing the definitive book on plants of the East Indies.  In service to writing this book, he converts Pelagius to Christianity, and educates him to be his assistant.  After twenty years, he frees Pelagius and allows him to travel to Holland to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor of theology, and returning as a missionary to Batavia.  When Comrij returns to Holland to prepare his book for publication, he has no compunction about yanking Pelagius back to become his unpaid servant again.

About a third of the way through this philosophical discussion of religion and botany, Pelagius finally meets Elizabeth, the exiled Queen of Bohemia.  She has been widowed for many years now, and lives to further the Protestant cause in Europe through the careers of her oldest sons on a barely adequate pension from her brother, Charles I of England.  Pelagius has been supporting himself since the death of Comrij through interpretations of the Ifa, an African form of consulting the Sibyl, on  which his thesis is based.  Elizabeth sends for him, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Only it's not, of course.  One review called this a "fairy tale romance"  and this is definitely spun out of whole cloth.  To believe  Elizabeth and Pelagius would enter into a clandestine marriage on the advice of her chaplain strains credulity.  The pair have long and heartfelt discussions about the state of religion as they snatch nights together locked away in Elizabeth's room, hardly the pillow talk of romance.  They do however, manage to produce a child, Balthazar, promptly smuggled out of the palace to be raised by a poor couple far to the south who need the money from fostering this child, no questions asked. 

I understand Balthazar becomes a central figure in the rest of the trilogy, but I'll have to take that as a given, since I won't be reading the rest.  If The Winter Queen is any indication, I don't need to read any more of this insufferably tedious tale.  Disappointing, because the premise had such appeal...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Year Zero

I'm not usually a science fiction fan, although I absolutely loved Douglas Adams" A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, so when I heard Rod Reid being interviewed on NPR about his new book Year Zero (#213), I knew I had to read it.

Imagine that there is intelligent life on trillions of other planets out there, and just like us, they're constantly searching for life on other planets.  One day they pick up a broadcast out of New York City, and for the first time they hear music from planet Earth.  It's so glorious to them that the initial listeners' brains hemorrhage from sheer ecstasy.  Soon they're copying all of Earth's songs to every planet in the Refined League, and every inhabitant of those planets and blissing out on their own personal playlists.  Until they accidentally discover a small fly in the ointment: American music copyright laws.  Every being on every planet now owes every human on Earth (except the North Koreans) $150,000 per song they have downloaded.  Payment of those copyright violations will bankrupt the entire rest of the Universe, and then some.  Unless Nick Carter, a low level associate attorney at Carter, Geller & Marks, the premier law firm dealing with music copyright issues, can find a way to head off the coming cataclysm with help from Carly and Frampton, the aliens who first bring the problem to Nick's attention.

As absurd, preposterous and wildly entertaining as this story is, the scary part of this tale is that everything in Year Zero about U.S. copyright law as it pertains to music is accurate.*  If I were an alien, I'd be tempted to take out our puny planet if it wouldn't also mean the end of sublime music!  I couldn't help but think as I was reading this, that it would make a terrific movie.  Hands down, I'd cast Sigourney Weaver as Judy Sherman, Nick Carter's scary, scary boss...

*The footnotes are especially hilarious.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wicked Autumn

The remote English village of Nether Monkslip is the setting for G. M. Mallliet's Wicked Autumn (#212), a quaint yet artsy community where everyone assiduously minds everyone else's business.  At the center of this community and a source of much speculation is relative newcomer Max Tudor, the vicar of St. Edwold's and former MI5 intelligence officer.  He hopes to find peace and tranquility is this rural setting.

Alas, that is not to be with the frenzy leading up to the annual Harvest Fayre, organized with military precision by the indomitable Wanda Batton-Smythe, president of the Women's Institute and self-anointed queen of Nether Monkslip.  She has stepped on so many toes that at the height of the Harvest Fayre, no one is surprised when she is found dead in the Village Hall.  It appears that Wanda has accidentally eaten something containing peanuts and didn't get to her epinephrine pen in time to counteract it.  Father Max was there when her body was discovered, and something doesn't seem quite right to him.  With his background and training, DCI Cotton from nearby Monkslip-super-Mare promptly enlists Max to help him with his investigation, knowing that the villagers will reveal more to Max than to the police.  There are many colorful characters to interview, most of whom heartily disliked Wanda and her imperious ways, but do any of them have a strong enough reason to have acted upon their feelings?  Max certainly hopes not, as he moves towards putting the final clues together and unmasking the murderer and the motive, but wickedness is certainly abroad in Nether Monkslip as he discovers.

One of my friends recommended G. M. Mallliet's Wicked Autumn, (at church, of course!) and I'm glad she did, as both my husband and I enjoyed this English cozy. The author is new to me although she has won an Agatha for her previous work.  We'll both be looking forward to further tales of Nether Monkslip.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Proposal

I used to really love reading Regency romances.  Maybe I'm too old for them now, or maybe I used to like them because they only implied sex, and didn't spell it out for you as though you didn't have any imagination of your own.  That's undoubtedly why I didn't care much for Mary Balogh's latest, The Proposal (#211).

Lady Gwendoline Muir is just that; a lady.  When Lord Hugo Trentham rescues her from a rocky beach slope after she has severely sprained her ankle and carries her to the nearest residence where he is a house guest, she finds him large, intimidating, morose and scowling.  He is a middle class, mentally wounded war veteran of the Peninsular War who earned his title through singular valor.  Of course, his father was a highly successful businessman who left his fortune and his business interests to his only son, so Trentham is filthy rich.  He has decided to marry, since his father wanted him to pass the business empire along to his own son.  Besides, he has to find a suitable husband for his half sister and has no idea how to go about it.  He also wants sex on a regular basis. Gwen and Hugo come from totally different worlds, they don't appear to like each other very much, yet they have steamy sex on the beach two days after they meet (!).  You've known how this one was going to end from the first page...

Frankly, I think this book at over three hundred pages was way too long.  Even at two hundred, the story would still have been stretched so thin it would have been pushing it.  The dialogue between Gwen and Hugo was preposterous.  If you want to read something steamy, I would definitely want the pillow talk to be romantic and/or imaginative.  It falls flat here, and doesn't get any better.  Guess I won't be putting a Hold on any of Ms. Balogh's future offerings.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Master & God

I've long been a fan of Lindsey Davis' Marco Didius Falco mystery series, set in Ancient Rome during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian.  In Master & God (#210), she has produced a stand alone novel about the 15 year reign of the Emperor Domitian, the second of Vespasian's sons who presided over his own Reign of Terror.

Though the subject matter is grim, Davis makes the period come alive when told through the stories of Flavia Lucilla, an imperial freedwoman and successful court hairdresser, and Gaius Vinius Clodianus, a former legionnaire medically discharged to a home posting in the vigiles, Rome's fire/police department.  These two unlikely characters meet when the skinny fifteen year old Lucilla's mother is robbed of her jewelry and Vinius investigates (or so he promises!).  Shortly afterwards, Vinius catches the eye of the young Domitian while his popular brother Titus (he of Masada fame) is Emperor, and reluctantly accepts a promotion to the elite Praetorian Guard, the Emperor's personal bodyguard.

A number of years go by before these two meet again when they find themselves co-owners of the lease of a spacious Roman apartment.  Each has been promised by the shifty landlord that the other tenant will never be there.  Lucilla has inherited her mother and sister's talent at hairdressing and the imperial customers, too, that give her entry to the doings of the court. (For a look at the fashion-forward hairstyle of the time mentioned in the book, see the photo in the Wikipedia entry on Domitian: How Lucilla styled the Empress' hair )  Vinius in the meantime is rising through the ranks of the Praetorian Guard, so they naturally keep crossing paths both at home and at work.  The tension of "will they, or won't they?" and "what else could possibly happen to keep these two apart?" persists right up until Domitian's death and the end of this absorbing tale.

Davis has a deft hand with her trademark humor and wit.  Who else could paint such a vivid character portrait of the paranoid Domitian using Musca, the fly, to make the point? Both my husband and I spent several pleasurable hours immersed in Master & God.