Monthly Archives

July 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: CRIMINAL by Karin Slaughter

I originally reviewed this for Shelf Awareness for Readers, and am reprinting it here with permission.

Fans of Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series know that his boss at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Amanda Wagner, is a ball buster. In this sixth installment, the author goes back in time to show why Amanda is so hard on Will, and how she used to be quite a different person.

The story alternates between the mid-1970s, when several prostitutes disappear and are feared dead, and the present, when something similar occurs. Amanda was a rookie Atlanta PD cop investigating the original crimes and fears the original perpetrator is back, but she keeps Will away from the case, much to his frustration. Turns out she has very good reasons, because discovering the truth could destroy him.

Faithful series readers might at first lament that this book doesn’t focus on Will and his budding relationship with Dr. Sara Linton, the heroine of many of Slaughter’s previous novels. They should soon, however, appreciate the author’s decision to give Amanda a fleshed-out history that will change preconceived notions about a character who’s often been seen as unpleasant. One of only two females in the police department in 1975, twenty-five-year old Amanda was far from the confident woman she is today, at times too meek in her reaction to maddeningly sexist colleagues. But this makes her arc realistic, as she eventually finds her footing when she realizes she’s good at her job.

While Will is somewhat on the peripheral, the story is ultimately about him. We know his childhood in foster homes was tough, but the additional details Slaughter reveals here about his origins are even more shattering.

Thanks to the nice people at Authors on the Web, I can give away TWO copies of this book. To enter, leave a comment telling me a lie you once told someone because you wanted to protect that person from the truth. It could be a small, harmless lie, or you could just lie to me and make up something right now.

The giveaway is open until next Monday, August 6, 9 p.m. PST. US/Canada addresses only. Winners will be randomly selected, and have 48 hours to claim the books.

Ready, get set, lie your teeth off!

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First Impressions 7.27.12

I hope you all have had a good week. I was out of town, though not on vacation, and in a mostly no-Wi-Fi area. It’s good to unplug once in a while, but it’s also nice to be back.

A bunch of books were waiting for me upon my return, and these three openers passed the test of not containing long descriptions of weather or scenery or people doing boring things.

The Other Woman’s House by Sophie Hannah (out now, Penguin paperback original)

Saturday 24 July 2010

I’m going to be killed because of a family called the Gilpatricks.

There are four of them: mother, father, son and daughter. Elise, Donal, Riordan and Tilly. Kit tells me their first names, as if I’m keen to dispense with the formalities and get to know them better, when all I want is to run screaming from the room. Riordan’s seven, he says. Tilly’s five.

Shut up, I want to yell in his face, but I’m too scared to open my mouth. It’s as if someone’s clamped and locked it; no more words will come out, not ever.

I discovered Hannah last year, and really liked her style of combining wit and gut-wrenching drama. Can’t wait to dive into this one.

 

A Wanted Man by Lee Child (September 11, Delacorte)

The eyewitness said he didn’t actually see it happen. But how else could it have gone down? Not long after midnight a man in a green winter coat had gone into a small concrete bunker through its only door. Two men in black suits had followed him in. There had been a short pause. The two men in the black suits had come out again.

The man in the green winter coat had not come out again.

Did you even need to read that opening? You probably already have this on your TBR list, right?

 

Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham (October 2, Mulholland Books)

My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago. I didn’t disappear completely and I didn’t run away, which is what a lot of people thought (those who didn’t believe I was dead). And despite what you may have heard or read, I didn’t get into a stranger’s car or run off with some sleazy paedo I met online. I wasn’t sold to Egyptian slave traders or forced to become a prostitute by a gang of Albanians or trafficked to Asia on a luxury yacht.

I’m almost done with this book and it’s another good one from Robotham. If you’re not already reading him, I recommend you start.

Any of these pique your interest? What are you reading?

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Book Review: THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I originally reviewed this for Shelf Awareness for Readers, and am reprinting it here with permission.

Fans of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series finally have another installment to enjoy with The Prisoner of Heaven, which begins right before Christmas in 1957 Barcelona. A mysterious man with missing fingers comes into Sempere & Sons, the bookstore where Daniel (The Shadow of the Wind’s protagonist) works, and buys an expensive edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. He leaves it at the store with a cryptic message inside for Fermín, Daniel’s best friend and coworker. When Daniel presses for the meaning of the inscription, Fermín tells him the awful truth, including the real reason Daniel’s mother died.

Fermín’s sense of humor helps readers through some of the more horrific incidents when he talks about his prison stint in 1939-1940, when he met the writer David Martín (from The Angel’s Game). Daniel’s mother, Isabella, also makes an impression as David’s friend, who tirelessly lobbies to get him out.

Part of the intrigue of these three books is to see how all the characters and pieces fit together (even if some details don’t match what was disclosed at the end of Game), and as a note says at the beginning of this novel, they can be read in any order.

The Prisoner of Heaven doesn’t quite capture the magic of Shadow, but is more engrossing than Game. Like them, this is a tale about—and for—people who are passionate about books and the art of writing. It contains Zafón’s usual wit and eye for period detail, and ends with a cliffhanger indicating that Daniel’s journey down a dark path is just beginning.

Nerd verdict: Engrossing Heaven, if a bit in Shadow‘s shadow

Can’t get enough of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books? You can read about its origins in a free short story by Zafón that HarperCollins has made available here.

Buy Prisoner now from Amazon| Buy it from an indie bookstore

This blog will be quiet for about a week, as I’ll be out of town for a family emergency. I wish you all happy reading until we meet again.

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How Much Do Book Covers Matter?

I saw this beautiful cover for Michael Frayn’s book, Skios, this morning and was immediately attracted to it.

My trip to the Greek islands remains my favorite so far, and I have fond memories of the gorgeous vistas there. So when I saw this cover, I wanted to know more about the book. But when I went to Amazon to check synopsis and reviews, I saw this:

Wha? Turns out the pretty one was the UK cover, and we’re getting the ugly one in the US. I suddenly lost all desire to read it, despite knowing it’s not fair to the author, since he had no control over this. It’s the equivalent of losing my appetite when I see an otherwise delicious dish served in an unappealing way.

Has this ever happened to you? How much do covers matter to you?

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First Impressions: PULP INK 2 Anthology

Cover by Eric Beetner

I thought I’d do something different this week. Instead of featuring three openers from three books, I decided to post the openers of three short stories from a recently released crime fiction anthology called Pulp Ink 2.

I want to spotlight this because co-editor Nigel Bird (with Chris Rhatigan) says in his introduction that all proceeds from the book go to an organization called Place2Be, which offers counseling sessions in schools to students, their families, and teachers to resolve any issues that might get in the way of the children’s progress and hurt their self-esteem.

So, here’s a taste of three of the stories:

“Kidnapped” by Mike Miner

Kids can spot crazy. Just like you and me. Maybe better. Eleven-year-old Bobby knew his dad’s new girlfriend was crazy. He could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice, feel it in his guts.

But kids don’t realize how dangerous crazy can be. Bobby didn’t know she was dangerous. Not yet.

“My Life with Butcher Girl” by Heath Lowrance

I want to tell you about her eyes, but I lack the poetry of spirit. They were green, but not just green. They were the green of a wild animal, or an innocent alien visitor from another planet. They were wild and hungry, and a sort of sweet, glorious death lingered in them.

You could see a million worlds in those eyes, even if you only saw them on TV, on the news, that clip they always showed of her hurrying through the courthouse hall, body half-hidden by her attorneys after she’d been convicted of triple murder.

“Rats” by W.D. County

The scurrying rats within the walls of her apartment kept Jane awake wondering what sort of lives could be led by such pitiful creatures, trapped within a world of dark and narrow confines. The rag stuffed in her mouth wasn’t conducive to sleep either, but by now she’d pretty much gotten used to the gag, the handcuffs, and the worn kitchen linoleum sticking to her bare skin. Sometimes she felt as though she could send her mind out of her body, away from the pain, even without the injections that Mumbles gave.

Interested in reading more? eBooks can be purchased for Kindle and Nook; a paperback copy is available through Amazon. Go forth and help the children!

What do you have on tap for this weekend?

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First Impressions: Flashback Edition

Couldn’t find three hard-hitting openers among the ARCs I received this week, so I thought I’d take a look back at some older favorites. I wanted to feature authors whose work you may not have read but might consider doing so after seeing these.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (yes, that Hugh Laurie)

Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.

Right or left, doesn’t matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don’t…well, that doesn’t matter either. Let’s just say bad things will happen if you don’t.

Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly—snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint—or do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest of increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable?

Well exactly. Of course. The right thing to do, the only thing to do, is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Break the arm, ply the brandy, be a good citizen. There can be no other answer.

Unless.

He got you, didn’t he? “Unless” what?? This book is hilarious, and I’ve been waiting for a looooong time for his second novel. The Paper Soldier was supposed to be released years ago, but was indefinitely delayed due to Laurie’s busy schedule. Now that House, M.D. is over, maybe he’ll have more time for writing.

 

Where the Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes (yes, the Piña Colada man)

In the seventies, I had three unrelated lunches with three different men, each of whom might have done A Terrible Thing. The nature of their varying “things” ranged from obscene to unspeakable to unutterable, and you will surely understand if, as a writer, I was rather hoping that each had. (Done their particular Terrible Thing.)

In the case of my lunch with the first man, I knew by the time he rested his gold Carte Blance card upon the meal’s sizable check that my hopes were abundantly justified.

Ignore the fact this book was made into a movie that’s not very good (despite Colin Firth’s presence). It’s a sexy, twisty mystery that made me snap up Holmes’s second mystery novel, Swing, which was even better.

 

Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston

My feet hurt. The nightmare still in my head, I walk across the cold wood floor, shuffling my feet in the light grit. I’m half-drunk and I have to pee. I’m not sure which woke me, the piss or the nightmare.

My john is just a bit smaller than the average port-o-potty. I sit on the pot and rest my forehead against the opposite wall. I have a pee hard-on and if I try to take a leak standing up, I’ll end up hosing the whole can. I know this from experience. Plus my feet still hurt.

This opening started my love affair with Huston’s work eight years ago. I wanted to know why this guy’s feet hurt. Well, his day is about to get much worse, and by the end of this book, his feet aren’t the only things that hurt.

What do you think? Interested in any of these? What are you reading? Happy second Friday this week!

[Note about the covers: These are from the first editions I read. The current editions all have different covers but I prefer these.]

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Movie Review: SAVAGES

If you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s U-Turn or Natural Born Killers, and/or have read the Don Winslow novel on which this movie is based, Savages is pretty much what you’d expect it to be—violent, in your face, with strong acting, dark humor, and overly saturated sun-soaked images.

Stone’s style is a good match for the story of pot growers/dealers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), living the high life in Laguna Beach, CA, with their mutual girlfriend O (short for Ophelia, played by Blake Lively). Things get ugly when a Mexican cartel led by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek) wants a piece of their business and kidnaps O to make sure the guys cooperate. But instead of rolling over and playing nice, Ben and Chon get mad and risk everything to get O back.

The three leads do an adequate job—Lively is most effective in captivity when her face is scrubbed clean of makeup and she shows her vulnerable side—but they can’t hold a candle to the veteran supporting cast. Hayek is fierce as the cartel’s leader, and just as convincing as a mother desperately trying to connect with her daughter. Benicio Del Toro seems to have really enjoyed playing Elena’s enforcer, Lado, managing to get some laughs despite his character being terrifying (think Javier Bardem’s Anton Chiguhr in No Country for Old Men). As a dirty DEA agent, John Travolta sinks his teeth into his role and chews up the scenery, too.

A couple things were less successful. First was the voice-over narration done by Lively in languid, SoCal mode; Winslow’s language is snappy and kinetic in the book. The second thing…

**SPOILER AHEAD IF YOU’VE READ THE BOOK; SAFE IF YOU HAVEN’T**

 

…was the ending was changed. It’s still in the movie, but it’s not the same. What made the novel memorable were its beginning and ending; the revision here is too safe, taking the claws out of something called Savages. Next to me in the theater, though, was a woman who had not read the book (based on her reactions) and she seemed to prefer the movie’s conclusion, so I guess it was altered for viewers like her.

**END OF SPOILER**

Moviegoers attracted to Savages because of Stone and the cast will enjoy a solid thriller. For fans of the novel—Winslow co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and Shane Salerno—it’s a kick seeing it on screen until it gets compromised, which is ironic since Ben and Chon are all about not compromising.

Nerd verdict: Faithful Savages ’til the end

Photos: Universal

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Book Review: THE KINGS OF COOL by Don Winslow

My review appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers last week and is reprinted here with permission.

After Savages became a breakout hit and Hollywood movie (directed by Oliver Stone, out July 6), Don Winslow is back with the origin stories for his renegade pot growers Ben and Chon and their friend O, including how the latter two met and how Chon got his nickname. Winslow delves into their parents’ backstories, giving dimensions to O’s mom, previously known only as Paqu—Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe—and showing how the boys were almost fated to do what they ended up doing. It’s about choosing your family, but this is no warm and fuzzy (drug) trip into the past. Bullets fly and people die, as Ben and Chon discover that they “make up a collective pacifist. Ben is the paci Chon is the fist.”

As with Savages, this novel has a profane two-word first chapter, and unfolds in a combination of prose, free verse, and screenplay format. This might have resulted in a disjointed mess, but Winslow already proved with the previous book (which can be read before or after this one) that he’s a master storyteller who knows how to use whatever style best serves each scene. He keeps his dialogue hip and his prose lean, landing each word like one of Chon’s roundhouse kicks. Throw in his trademark wit, blistering violence, razor-sharp social commentary, and cameos from characters from his non-Savages-related novels, and this is one summer read that’s as scorching hot as it is cool.

Nerd verdict: A Cool read for the hot days of summer

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

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Book Review: THE NIGHTMARE by Lars Kepler

Because I was light on posts last week, it probably looked like I was slacking off, but I was actually experiencing pop culture overload. I did a marathon of the entire first season of Homeland (SO good), saw Savages the movie (review later this week), and was glued to the tube for the Olympic trials (what was going on with Nastia Liukin??).

I also finished a couple of books and reviews, including this one for Lars Kepler’s The Nightmare (translated by Laura A. Wideburg, out July 3), the follow-up to The Hypnotist, one of my top five 2011 reads.

This novel opens with a woman found dead on an abandoned boat. Cause of death is drowning but her clothes are dry. Meanwhile, the body of a government official is discovered hanging in his home. Even Detective Joona Linna thinks the latter case is suicide…or is it? What drove the man to do it, and how might his death be related to the young woman’s on the boat? As Linna delves deeper, he crosses paths with a professional killer and a sadistic businessman involved in a scheme that would have horrific consequences on an international scale.

Whereas Hypnotist is a tense psychological thriller, this is more political commentary, something I don’t enjoy in my entertainment. There are psychological elements, but the characters remain elusive. The story sometimes wanders off on odd tangents—such as one involving a talk-show host playing a strange game—that don’t help propel it forward. The plot also relies on the coincidence of several people knowing classical music well, including a government official who provides an important key to a puzzle because he happens to be a musical prodigy.

When I mentioned the political angle to a friend, she said she had a Swedish neighbor who read this book in its original language and liked it better than The Hypnotist. The reason was that Nightmare dares to use names of real-life politicians in Sweden, and pulls no punches in its criticism. Perhaps, then, my inability to enjoy it as much is just a cultural thing, but I think something was lost in translation.

Nerd verdict: No goosebumps in Nightmare

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

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