Total Pageviews

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Big Bamboo

It's always a treat to find yet another book in a series you enjoy, but have somehow managed to miss.  That's the case with author Tim Dorsey's The Big Bamboo (#326), an older book in his popular Serge A. Storms series.  (See also my posts of 2/12/13, 4/25/12, 12/12/11, 10/21/11, 6/9/11, 5/26/11, & 3/22/11.)

Serge usually careens all around Florida with his stoned out sidekick Coleman seeking out all those hidden historical and cultural sites.  (And incidentally meting out rough yet weirdly inventive and satisfying ways of offing those whose actions may be strictly legal, but are so, so morally and ethically wrong.)  Serge is on the hunt in The Big Bamboo for locations where movies have been shot in Florida.  He's even brought along his own portable DVD so he can play the appropriate movies in their proper locations. 

But in this caper, Serge and Coleman venture a little further afield to Hollywood, California at the behest of his grandfather.  Something funny is going on at Vistamax studios whose films may not be critically acclaimed, but reliably churn out the money for the Japanese owners under the guidance of identical twin brothers, the Glicks, them of unsavory reputation.  Of course Serge and Coleman get tangled up in things!

I must admit, I do like it better when Serge and Coleman stick to Florida, but this was still an amusing outing.  I think my favorite part was when Serge makes fun of the spokespersons who pronounce the car name "Jag-you-are" in those snootier-than-thou ads.  Regrettably, Serge does not have an opportunity to kill that spokesperson here in an inventive and original way.  (Though, to be fair, Serge should probably include the ad copy writers for that obnoxious campaign if that little tryst should ever come about!)  Ah, well, there's always hope for a future book; Lord knows there are plenty of Jaguars driven in Florida!

Monday, August 26, 2013

They Eat Puppies, Don't They?

Ah, those frisky Washington lobbyists.  They'll float any rumors to further their ends, won't they?  In Christopher Buckley's latest political satire, They Eat Puppies, Don't They? (#325), the failure of a Senate Select Committee to authorize the purchase of a super-sized drone by one of America's largest defense contractors leads to a war of words on China.  They need the leverage of public anti-Chinese feelings to change the Committee's decision in favor of their multi-billion dollar contract.  (But if some of the characters involved have their way, there might actually be some real fighting!)

As absurd as some of the situations are in They Eat Puppies, Don't They? I still seemed to hear Dave Barry whispering over my shoulder as I was reading "They are not making this up!"  And if you've ever watched any of the numerous political talk shows on TV, regardless of their persuasion, you'll soon be chanting that mantra, as well.  And speaking of mantras, one of major plot points involves assassinating the Dalai Lama.  The only question is, which side will succeed first?  The Americans or the Chinese?  Or will the Dalai Lama have the last laugh and die a natural death?  Not if it can be helped by either side if they can play it to their own advantage.

Looking for a little truthiness served up with your politics?  Mr. Buckley's book should provide you with a generous sampling*.

* Puppies not included.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Six Years

The worst day of Jake Fisher's life was the day he watched Natalie Avery, the love of  his life, marry another man.  In the six years since, he's adjusted to life as a political science professor at a small Massachusetts college.  That is until the afternoon as he's in the middle of office hours, he glimpses an alumni obituary scroll across the college website up on his computer.  Todd Sanderson; why is that name familiar?   Thus Harlan Coben sets the stage for the roller coaster that is Six Years (#324).

Jake's just hoping for a chance to rekindle his old romance when he attends the funeral for Natalie's husband, Todd.  The only problem is, Natalie isn't Todd's widow.  And Jake's life will never be the same again.  Jake is just an ordinary decent guy, which is what makes what follows in this novel so very effective.

Without giving too much away, all I can say is every time I thought I had a handle on where this story might be going, it took an unpredictable turn.  You've got to love the book that keeps you guessing right up until the last pages, yet manages to ultimately make sense of all the puzzles.  It seemed to take me no time at all to read Six Years because I was so caught up in Jake's story.

In fact, the only quibble I have with Six Years is the cover art.  I couldn't figure out any earthly reason why the cover photograph of an outdoor bench (?) was chosen.  It had nothing to do with any arc of the story as far as I could tell.  Had I just seen this book on a display, there was nothing about it to induce me to pick up a copy of the book to even read the cover copy.  Just another example of cover art doing a disservice to the contents.  Just my opinion.  Don't let it stop you from reading a story so gripping it will have you up all night.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Heist

Janet Evanovich pairs up with former Monk script writer Lee Goldberg for The Heist (#323), an entertaining caper book.  It seems to be tailor-made for a future feature film.  Maybe that's because I kept channeling Sandra Bullock in The Heat playing the role of FBI agent Kate O'Hare.  Except Kate is also a former Navy Seal (and yes, the authors state right up front that they know there are no female Seals, just that maybe there ought to be...)  For the past five years, Kate has been in hot pursuit of Nick Fox, a clever con man who always manages to stay just a few steps ahead of her. 

When Kate finally does catch up with Nick, things don't go the way she planned; instead of Nick spending some quality time in prison, her bosses want her to pair up with her former nemesis to catch an even bigger fish (think Bernie Madoff in terms of financial damage.)  Nick doesn't mind.  It sure beats jail, plus he's always been attracted to feisty Kate.  What more could you ask of a five year plan with unrestricted government funds?

The action and the humor kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.  I enjoyed it so much I passed it along to my husband to read.  What can I say?  We both like King and Maxwell, too.  It's just that kind of fun ride.  I sure hope Evanovich and Goldberg are planning more cases for Fox and O'Hare.  In the meantime, I'll just have to think about who I would cast as Nick Fox...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Violinist's Thumb

In case you're wondering, the violinist referred to in the title of Sam Kean's The Violinist's Thumb (#322) is the renowned Niccolo Paganini.  And the reason he's of interest in this non-fiction work can be answered by the book's subtitle: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War,  and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code.  Sam Kean has done a masterful job of hooking the reader by combining humorous or salacious (in some cases, both!) anecdotes with a serious look into the history of the discovery of DNA and genetic research.  The result is both highly entertaining and educational.  And there are pictures!

Since many, if not most, of the major discoveries discussed in The Violinist's Thumb have taken place within living memory, or fairly recently around the beginning of the twentieth century it makes the content of this book even more compelling.  It also makes me appreciate just how up-to-date the science books were in my parochial elementary and high schools, since I was learning about many of these things just a few years after the events described.  Mr. Kean is spot on to credit, among others, Sister Miriam Michael Stimson, an American Dominican nun, for pushing science forward at a critical juncture.  It therefore surprised me a little that he also seems to pooh-pooh Francis Collins for his Christian beliefs when asked to take over the management of the Human Genome Project; he notes Dr. Collins responded by praying about it.  He might have benefited by reading Dr. Collins' book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief about how his research in the field of DNA and genetics led him from atheism to a strong belief in God - just a thought.  Mr. Kean also failed to mention that Dr. Collins will, at the drop of a hat, pick up his guitar and serenade his audience with clever ditties about DNA.  I've been in the audience for that, and will never forget it! 

I know that I learned quite a bit more about DNA and genetics from reading The Violinist's Thumb because Sam Kean makes the tough material much more accessible to the average person, but I have to admit that there were sections of his book that left me shaking my head, because I still just don't get it.  The section where he describes how artists are using strands of DNA to create sculptures is a perfect example.  He goes into detail about how a bust of Beethoven was made (single DNA strands only - I guess the double helix shape doesn't lend itself well to the process).  This could definitely have used a picture to illustrate what he was talking about, if that's even possible. 

Speaking of pictures, one of the illustrations did put a whole new slant on the BBC America series based on human cloning Orphan Black.  If you've watched the series, you'll know exactly which one!But if you have even an ordinary size bump of curiosity, you'll be sure to find something to amaze, surprise and delight you in The Violinist's Thumb, even if like me, you can't find the Easter egg Mr. Kean has embedded in the book.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pride's Prejudice

I had fun reading Misty Dawn Pulsipher's Pride's Prejudice (#321), a contemporary re-telling of Jane Austen's masterpiece.  In fact, each chapter is introduced by a different Jane Austen quote from a number of  her writings.  I'm glad I won this title in GoodReads' First Reads giveaway.

This version is set in a Wyoming college town, of all places, with a brief excursion to New York City.  Part of the enjoyment was matching up the characters in Pride's Prejudice to their counterparts in Pride and Prejudice.  Ms. Pulsipher made this easy by assigning a similar-sounding name in most cases, except for that of Wickham.  You'll just have to guess which of the male characters this will be until he finally is revealed!  Many of the events of the original novel have been transmuted into this modern version as well, although I would have liked to see Beth Pride on a tour of Mr. Darcy's New York City penthouse in his absence!  I was happy that Ms. Pulsipher chose to remain faithful to the spirit of Jane Austen's work, and resisted having Beth fall into bed with Mr. Darcy before the vows were spoken - not that she didn't turn up the heat to suit today's tastes.

Though I freely admit I did feel the generational gap in reading this book, one of the things that amazed me about the college life of Beth Pride and best friend and roommate Jenna was their dorm  set up and their predilection for baking cookies at the drop of a hat in the comfort of their suite!  It is reassuring to this reader to know that dances and romance still have their place in modern life.  

If you're a Jane Austen fan who is willing to venture into a different time and place for a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, you will undoubtedly enjoy Pride's Prejudice.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Eye of God

James Rollins always poses the most interesting scientific conundrums in his novels.  His latest Sigma Force book, The Eye of God (#320) would have delighted Madeline L'Engle, I'm sure, with his take on space/time wrinkles.

The United States space community's experiments in tracking Dark Energy in the tail of a comet (based on a similar real comet due to pass close to the earth in November of 2013!) goes horribly wrong when it's determined that the comet's course is being influenced by an earthbound relic associated with Genghis Khan.  Sigma Force only has days to save the planet, and the usual assortment of villains are doing their best to prevent them.

Rollins introduces a couple of new members to the Sigma Force, and develops the relationship between Commander Pierce and former assassin Seichan now that she is cooperating with the agency. 

Two familiar characters also die in The Eye of God, or do they?  That depends on some of the science posited in this book.  As always, Rollins' notes at the end of the book are equally fascinating as he separates out truth from fiction.  In this case, surprisingly little other than the plot line is imagined.  It was ironic that the day after I finished reading this book, I heard a discussion on Dark Energy on NPR!

All in all, a fast, nail-biting read, perfect for summer (or any other time, for that matter!)  After Googling pictures of the statue of Genghis Khan Mr. Rollins mentions several times in the book, just outside  the capital city of Ulan Bator,  I'm just going to have to add Mongolia to my wish list of travel destinations...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blood of Tyrants

The penultimate book of Naomi Novik's exciting Napoleonic era dragon series, Blood of Tyrants (#319) is due out on August 13.  I was lucky enough to win an advance reader's copy in a GoodReads giveaway.  Usually a five star rating and review is slightly suspect on GoodReads; is it a self review, is the person receiving money for a positive review, or is he or she a relative of the author?  In this case, it's none of the above, because I absolutely adore this series.  It's Horatio Hornblower meets an intelligent, multi-lingual soul mate who just happens to be an extremely rare Chinese Imperial dragon, as written by Jane Austen.

As Blood of Tyrants opens, William Laurence, the former British Naval captain, now a member of His Majesty's Air Corps with his dragon, Temeraire, regains consciousness on a remote beach.  Thirst drives him to find a stream just off a traveled road, but when next he awakes, he is in a strange room with paper walls.  He knows his name, and he can recognize one of the languages those around him are speaking, but otherwise, his memory is gone.  He is stunned to find that he is in Japan when the last thing he can remember puts him on the other side of the globe battling Napoleon.  How did he get here, and why is he still alive?  When he is finally reunited with his crew, he does not know them, which is especially upsetting to Temeraire, who would not let the British leave Nagasaki without news of Captain Laurence.  An urgent mission to China awaits, but with so much of his past a blank, will Laurence be able to play his role?  Napoleon's tentacles reach even here, drawing Captain Laurence, Temeraire and their small detachment along with their Chinese allies to Russia on the eve of Napoleon's final push to become the master of all of Europe.  And the end is a cliffhanger, aarrghh!

 There are some authors and series which are such a treat for me to read that I buy the books as they come out, but I don't necessarily read them right away.  For me, half the pleasure is looking at the books on the shelf, enjoying the cover art (in most cases!) and anticipating the delightful day when I feel the occasion merits a special reward - savoring one of these special works.  Buying books 2 and 3 in Ms. Novik's Temeraire series provided the perfect excuse for my husband and I to spend several enjoyable hours in the amazing Powell's Bookshop in Portland, Oregon last fall.  My husband indulged in them right away, but they're still waiting for me. 

Although this novel would normally have joined the rest of the series on my bookshelf to wait its turn, I felt I needed to read and review Blood of Tyrants because of GoodReads.  I think it's better to read the series in sequence, if possible, but at the very least, read the first book,  His Majesty's Dragon first (See my post of 9/26/12.); it really lays the groundwork for so much else that takes place in these books you'll be lost without having read it.  Otherwise, knowing that this daring duo has been to Africa, China, and South America, and wanting to know the back stories of some of the characters which figure in Blood of Tyrants has done nothing but whet my appetite for more!  I'll be looking forward to the final book but at the same time, I'm sad this marvelous series is ending.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I found Dan Brown's latest thriller, Inferno (#318) an entertaining summer read.  It moves along briskly with symbologist and Harvard professor Robert Langdon in peril with a gunshot wound and retrograde amnesia as he tries to out think the shadowy figure who seems intent on destroying the human race through the means of a mysterious plague.  Of course there's the requisite beautiful young female doctor who comes to his aid as he races though Florence, Venice and Istanbul.

It's always fun to see cities you've been to through the eyes of an author, and it only whets your appetite to visit those places that are on your "must see" list.  The title of the novel, Inferno, is of course, a reference to the first section of Dante Alighieri's immortal work The Divine Comedy, which provides the jumping off point for all the symbology Robert Langdon must unravel in this thriller.  It's fitting therefore that he finds himself, not in a dark wood as Dante did, but in his beloved city of Florence when Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no knowledge of what he is doing there.  I suspect that the more familiar you are with The Divine Comedy, the more you'll appreciate Mr. Brown's references to the many works inspired by Dante.  I had to rely on a hazy recollection of reading it many years ago in college, but enough facts are dropped into the narrative that personal experience wit this classic is not necessary.  I doubt Inferno would have spent so much time at the top of the New York Times bestseller list otherwise!

I do have to say without giving anything away, that I did think the ending was a bit of a letdown;  I had total sympathy with the "villain" of the piece and even the ends he used to achieve it.  Also, I have to say I have my doubts about just how smart Robert Langdon actually is, since it took him so long to decipher the big fat clues that were being dropped into his lap by several parties.  Having a head wound must be a trial to work with if you're used to being the smartest one in the room all the time!

Anyway, there's plenty of material to Google in this book to keep you happily occupied for hours.  I wonder just how hits the sculpture Hercules and Diomedes in the Palazzo Vecchia in Florence described several times in Inferno generated; inquiring minds want to know...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Rebel Wife

From the title and the cover art of Taylor M. Polites' The Rebel Wife (#317) you'd expect to be reading Civil War historical fiction, probably a romance, wouldn't you?  Well, in this case, you'd be mistaken.  What you'll find instead is a very dark tale set in the fictional town of Albion, Alabama approximately ten years after the end of the Civil War.

Things haven't gone well for anybody in Albion in the intervening years, except for Eli Branson who apparently has the Midas touch, and has played his political cards well.  He also happens to be the much older husband of the story's narrator, Augusta.  She makes it clear she is not happy in the marriage, but even Gus wouldn't wish the mysterious sweating sickness on Eli that takes him in a matter of hours.  That's only the first of many shocks Gus will be dealt over the course of the next few weeks as her cousin Judge Heppert steps in to take over the financial reins of the Branson household.  ( I had a mental picture of Donald Sutherland in Cold Mountain as Judge, but with the personality of the character he played in The Hunger Games - it fits Judge's physical description perfectly!)  Lies swirl around her as Gus realizes that she can trust no one to protect her or her young son Henry.

This was a very atmospheric and well-researched  novel.  It's just long enough after the end of the war (which will never be over for many inhabitants of Albion) for those with some power in town to have regained their voting rights and to try to put the Negroes in town "back in their place".  Gus has become the subject of gossip since her husband's death, but now the ladies will come right into her parlor to share their opinions. You will sweat in the extreme Alabama heat right along with Gus laced into her whalebone corsets as she watches the town around her crumble as many leave for better economic opportunities elsewhere or to flee from the spreading sickness.  She cannot comprehend that she no longer has that luxury herself.

I expected some light summer reading with The Rebel Wife, but what I got was a powerful, compulsively readable story, Southern Gothic style.  Augusta Branson is bound to make an impression on you, too.  Highly recommended.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Long Live the King

Finally!  Long Live the King (#316), the second book of Fay Weldon's trilogy about the turn-of-the century Earl of Dilberne and his household has arrived.  Be warned, though; you really need to have read the first installment Habits of the House (See my post of 3/4/13) to squeeze every last little bit of pleasure from this book.

The Earl of Dilberne's political star is rising, thanks to some shrewd financial tips from his man of business, Eric Baum.  His son and heir, Arthur, is safely married to an American heiress, Minnie, and prospects are good for the imminent arrival of a grandchild.  The family has given up on daughter Rosina ever landing a suitable husband, so Lady Isobel is free to concentrate on their roles in the upcoming Coronation of Bertie, the Prince of Wales.  Who knew that three extra tickets to the Coronation could be wielded as a weapon?  And how can Lady Isobel approach Consuelo Vanderbilt, whom she suspects of having designs on husband Robert for replacements when those engraved invitations go "missing"?

In the meantime, Robert's estranged brother and his wife die in a tragic accident just before Christmas, leaving behind sixteen year old Adela.  The Bishop of Bath and Wells' wife happened to be passing by and rescued Adela, but with the holiday, no one has any time for her, or interest in claiming her since she's due to enter the convent on her next birthday.  That is, until the day she's abducted, except no one really notices...

What fun!  Too bad it's going to be another long wait until The New Countess finally appears on the scene.  If you haven't read these already, you might want to consider hoarding the first two books in this series until the third installment comes out, so you can read them back-to-back.

Just a note about the cover art for this series.  It's really cleverly done, with each front cover forming a panel of a triptych showing an "upstairs" party, while the back covers depict three sections of the downstairs kitchen with the household staff.  The publisher is kind enough to show each series together on the back end flap of the book.  They certainly add to the overall enjoyment of the series!