Tuesday, April 23, 2013

World Book Night 2013- City of Thieves

David Benioff
Plume Books
January 2009

I probably would not have read City of Thieves had it not been my assigned book as a Giver in 2013 World Book Night. Thinking that I could not recommend and give away a book that I had not read, City of Thieves rose to the top of my TBR pile.

City of Thieves is a story of survival set during the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1942. History tells of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Russians by starvation, deprivation and murder during the brutal German invasion. City of Thieves is an adventure story, a buddy story, a coming of age story and a look at the absurdity of war wrapped up in a quest. I had moments of laughter, sheer horror, terror, joy and sorrow though out the course of Lev's and Kolya's journey to find the impossible, a dozen eggs. Lev and Kolya are brilliantly drawn. Lev is sensitive and secretly convinced of his own cowardice. Kolya is crude, arrogant and bursting with life.

I can highly recommend City of Thieves. It has been quite a while since I read a book that I found so emotionally affecting.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, April 15, 2013

Artificial Absolutes Delivers

Mary Fan
Red Adept Publishing
February 2013

Jane Colt is a 20-something office drone in a mega corporation, bored and discontented. What she really wants is a musical career but as her father happens to be the powerful head of the corporation, she tries to be what dear old dad wants. It seems that her entire life and that of her brother, Devin, has been about trying to live up to the expectations of controlling parents. Devin seems to be succeeding, having risen in the corporation and becoming engaged to beautiful Sarah DeHaven. Both of their somewhat routine lives change when Jane witnesses the kidnapping of her friend/boyfriend, Adam, and Devin discovers that his beloved Sarah is not at all what she appears to be. What follows is an exhilarating ride through space into the worlds of net terrorism, Artificial Intelligence and a shadowy villain trying to subvert the future of humanity.

I have never been a big fan of sci-fi, finding much of my admittedly limited reading of the genre long on science and short on character development. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is a notable exception and so is Artificial Absolutes. Debut author Mary Fan succeeds brilliantly in drawing vivid characters. Jane is sarcastic, a little spoiled and reckless, but absolutely loyal to her brother and to Adam. She will do whatever it takes to get them all home safely. Devin is tortured with guilt over his dark past; a past of which Jane is not fully aware.  The brother and sister team are formidable and reclaim the closeness of their childhoods, lost in recent years. The supporting characters are equally well drawn, from the mad programming genius, Kron, to the pair's equally gifted sidekick Riley.

There is a lot going on in Artificial Absolutes; the ethical considerations surrounding AI, the importance of religion in a technologically advanced society and what can happen when that society becomes too dependent on technology. However, I read the novel more for the adventure and because I really wanted to know what would happen next. I found the pacing a little rocky and the ending somewhat rushed, but otherwise Artificial Absolutes delivered a "cracking good read".

Mary Fan is definitely a writer to watch. Thanks to Red Adept Publishing for a digital review copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


SEDUCTION ( The Reincarnationist # 5)
M. J. Rose
Atria Books
May 2013

Seduction is a follow-up to last year's The Book of Lost Fragrances and continues the story of Jaq L'etoile, heir along with her brother to one of the most famous fragrance houses in Europe. Jaq has long ago given up any involvement with the day-to-day operations of the fragrance house and making fragrances of her own. She has become a mythologist and in fact has a TV show in which she explores and often debunks myths. Plagued by hallucinations and visions her entire life, visions that seem to be triggered by fragrances, she has finally decided to try to get to the bottom of her problems.  Could reincarnation be the answer? Jaq refuses to entertain the idea but a long-time mentor, therapist and reincarnationist thinks she can prove all his theories.

Seduction weaves four story lines; that of Jaq, Theo Gaspard, with whom Jaq formed a bond  when they were both institutionalized briefly as teenagers, Victor Hugo during his exile on the Isle of Jersey, and Owain, an ancient Druid Priest.  History tells us that Hugo was exiled for his political views and formed an interest in spiritualism during that time. He was grieving the loss of his much loved daughter, Didine, in a boating accident and was trying to communicate with her. From this historical truth comes a story of obsession and danger for Hugo. Theo Gaspard is looking for the secret journals of Hugo, believed to be hidden somewhere on Jersey. Owain was a Druid priest called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for his people.

All the parallel storylines in Seduction require a delicate balancing act, one in which Rose is partly successful. The most successful story for me was that of Hugo, blending fact and pure fiction, and the most emotionally involving that of Owain, riveting in it's pure tragedy. But as in The Book of Lost Fragrances, Jaq's story was the least interesting, at least for me. I can't seem to form any sort of emotional bond with her or drum up any empathy for her dilemmas, which  invalidates any suspense, a problem with a novel billed as "a novel of suspense".

Lushly written and more intriguing than not, Seduction will be a hit for M.J. Rose's legions of fans. Thanks to Atria Books and netgalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

RATING-3 Stars

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mayhem in Maine

Sarah Graves
Bantam Books
April 30, 2013

I have been vaguely aware of this series for a long time, but had no idea that A Bat in the Belfry is number 16 in the Home Repair is Homicide Series, or that the series is set in Eastport, Maine. Now I have a whole lot of catching up to do. Jacoba (Jake) Tiptree is a transplant from New York City, where she was a money manager for some of the worst sharks on Wall Street. As the book opens she has been in Eastport for 15 years and has seen some hard times from her abusive ex-husband and son, Sam, who went through a period of addiction and wild behavior in his teens. However, Sam is now sober, and Jake is happily remarried. She and her partner, Ellie, have a home renovation business that grew out of Jake's battles with her own very old house.

A Bat in Belfry opens in a very untraditional way for a "cozy" mystery- the gruesome murder of a 14 year old girl in the church belfry. Somehow, the church bell, which hasn't rung in decades, starts to ring and the local Police Chief goes up to investigate. Nothing like this has ever happened in Eastport. By the time the murderer is caught the dark underside of Eastport is fully exposed. Jake's houseguest, a longtime friend of Sam, is the main suspect and Jake must get involved in order to clear him, and to save Sam from mortal danger. We also meet Lizzie Snow,  a hard-edged former Boston detective who is in Eastport for her own reasons. I am hoping thtat Lizzie gets her own series- she is a fascinating character.

Sarah Graves did a great job of bringing a new reader into the series, without a lot of burdensome back story. A Bat in the Belfry could stand on it's own, but I am so interested by the characters that I am planning to read the series from the beginning. The action is non-stop and the mystery itself a real puzzler.

RATING- 4.5 Hammers

Monday, April 1, 2013

An Excellent Prequel for A Spear of Summer Grass

Deanna Raybourn
April 1, 2013
Harlequin MIRA

Far in the Wilds is an excellent prequel novella for Deanna Raybourn's A Spear of Summer Grass (coming April 30 from Harlequin Mira). I was lucky enough to get a review copy of A Spear of Summer Grass from net.galley and loved it, as I do all Deanna's books. Far in the Wilds serves both as a prequel and a deeper look into the back story of Ryder White.

Ryder White is a hunter, trader and reluctant guide in the Kenya of 1918. A mixture of adventurer and lover, he has an abiding love for Africa, it's peoples and his friends. He also has a backbone of steel and strong convictions. Unlike many others, he will only kill animals to eat or to destroy if they become man-killers. When he allows himself to be hired as a guide by a minor Danish prince, it is only to keep the prince from killing a healthy animal or causing trouble for any Kikuyu tribesmen he might hire otherwise.

Far in the Wilds tells the story of the hunt for a man-killing black leopard. It also fills in the story of Ryder's friends; Jude, Tusker and Gideon, the Masai warrior. It's a very short story, but well-worth reading, especially as a foretaste of A Spear of Summer Grass. Only available as an eBook, Far in the Wilds includes an excerpt of A Spear of Summer Grass.

RATING-4 Stars