Books I am reading

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dreams of Being a Secret Agent

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

Noah's Rainy Day by Sandra Brannan is the 4th book in a series. I have not read the first three books, and had no problem following the story. It easily could be a stand-alone book, so don't worry if you haven't read the previous books in the series.

The story centers on Liv Bergan, and, her nephew, Noah. She is an FBI agent fresh out of the training academy at Quantico, stationed in the Boulder, CO office. She is living with her sister and her family, including 11 year old Noah and 9 year old Emily. Noah has Cerebral Palsy and is not able to walk, control his limbs, or talk. He and Emily have worked out a personal system for spelling words so that he can communicate. 

On Christmas Eve, a child traveling alone disappears at the Denver airport between flights. Liv is called in to help find the child. She is the handler for Beulah, a trained tracking dog. Beulah eventually tracks the child to the airport parking garage, where the sent ends.

While the FBI is painstakingly piecing together information about the child, Noah is at home trying to understand who the child is that is visiting his reclusive next door neighbor.

For the rest of the story, you will have to read the book.

Things I liked: As a former therapist, I loved Noah. He is bright and interesting, trapped in a limited functioning body. His inner ruminations make it clear how frustrated he feels by people who assume his mind is as crippled as his body. He is bullied by being called names, having his lunch stolen at school, and shunned by most of his class mates at school. But he perseveres.

I like Noah's sister, Emily, who loves her brother and understands him better than anyone else. I find the painstaking spelling system so difficult and time consuming, I can't imagine anyone actually using it, but I love the idea of the siblings working together to communicate.

The writing is suspenseful with some things predictable but many surprises as well. I was compelled to keep reading to find out what would happen next.

Things I wasn't so thrilled about: early on in the book, Noah ruminates about his lot in life too often and for too long. The repetition became boring, to me. There were times when Liv obsessed on things for too long, and both of these brought the story to stand-stills. Fortunately, this stopped once the action in the story got moving.

I also didn't like Liv waffling between the two men to whom she was attracted. Some of this is probably better understood by reading the early books in the series. But her remunating about them seemed very immature for her age; more like someone in high school.

I will definitely read the next book in the series and give this author and series another chance. With my reservations, I still very much enjoyed the overall mystery and am glad that I read it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Like, man, Sarah of the Moon captures an era

My Central Tucson Book Club has Sarah of the Moon for this month's selection. Even though I will not be there to share with them, I decided to read it, in order to be with them in spirit. I had no idea what it was about or what I was getting into.

It is an excellent, well written book. I had never heard of Randy Mixter before, but I genuinely wonder why because his writing is exceptionally gifted. Within a very few pages, I was completely pulled into the story, to the degree that I did not feel I was reading but was watching a movie.

This is the story of Alex, a young man doing a summer internship for a Baltimore newspaper. The time is 1967 (I was 17 years old, between my high school junior and senior years). The major setting is the Haight-Ashbury area in San Francisco. Alex comes to SF to write weekly stories for his Baltimore paper, trying to give the "straight" adult (whole different meaning back then!) a picture of the Summer of Love and the counterculture scene. This is the setting.

The story is about Alex's coming of age, learning to accept people who are very different from him, to understand how this culture grew, and to find his own place in the world. Alex moves in to a house that his editor pays the rent on for his nephew. The scene of his entry into the house is quite funny, picturing out totally out of place Alex is. As Alex gets to know the houseguests (as they are called), we get to know them as individuals. At first, they are painted by a broad brush of "hippies". But over time we realize they each have their own story and are not so very different than "straight" young people.
I give this book 5 Stars! It is literature, well-written, interesting and an historic record of a life-changing era in the history of this country.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

No Show: A Person's Worst Nightmare

No Show is the story of an English scientist (Terry Sheffield) who fell in love while on vacation, met with Sarah several subsequent times, married her in Las Vegas, and is relocating to CA to live with Sarah. He arrives at SFO, but Sarah is not there to meet her. The rest of the book is Terry's journey to find his wife.
I have a mixed response to this book, and from other reviews, I am not alone. The premise of the story is interesting and full of intrigue. But the characters often come across as caricatures, with predictable good guy/bad guy traits. Terry is befriended by an arcade owner, Oscar, and their dialogue is repetitive and oftens drags on too long. And there are two mysteries that emerge, but are eventually not related. The second theme seems to be more of a red herring than a necessary element. And I found the ending personally dissatisfying. But I am someone who always wants to good guys to win, and real life often does not follow this inner wish.
With all that said, I still enjoyed the book and recommend it. It is tense and surprising throughout the story, it is believable and drew me into the desire to find Sarah. I give it 3 1/2 stars. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

I follow 149 series, plus enjoy many stand alone novels and read and review books about to be published. I say this to explain why some of my reviews are years past publications dates.

The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny is a case in point. This is #5 in the series, published in 2009.

I love this series. Chief Inspector Gamache heads a detective team from the Sûreté du Québec. He has investigated several murders in and around the village of Three Pines, south of Quebec. During these investigations we have met the inhabitants, gotten to know their hopes and dreams, and their flaws and heartbreaks. They are an eclectic groups, arriving in Three Pines through many paths.
The Brutal Telling begins with a body being found in the local bistro. No one seems to know him. As the Sûreté du Québec team investigates, a feud comes to light between Olivier, the owner of the bistro and a B & B, and, the owner of a new spa in the area. The reader is privy to information about a friendship between Olivier and a recluse living deep in the woods. As Gamache digs deeper, he begins to wonder how Olivier has been able to afford his purchase and remodeling of the bistro and the B & B.
As some of the less appealing sides of some of the residents of Three Pines came to light, I had very mixed feelings. People I had grown to care about had darker behaviors than I wanted to face. I was compelled to keep reading because I had to know how it all turned out, but I was disquieted at the same time. I have come to appreciate the more realistic portrayal of these people. Ms. Penny makes the village seem more real and less of the fairy tale the first four books seemed to show.
I do recommend that if you have not read any of this series that you start at the beginning: Still Life. 
I feel that Ms Penny is masterful in creating a place and situations and characters of which you want to be a part. This is a five star recommendation!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Story Within a Story

I receive advance copies of books through NetGalley in order to write and share reviews of the books. I am not paid other than to receive the books, and I have no association with either the authors or the publishers.

The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer is a novel that reads like a biography. The premise is bazaar, but plausible, and, since the author writes as himself, gives the reader a sense of this being a true story. It is a thriller that is slow paced most of the time. It is an indictment on the current state of publishing, and skewers the "big house" publishers for the ways authors are treated. It is a sociological exploration of what makes people (especially, but not exclusively, authors) tick, and, what it would take to sell one's soul to the devil.

A one-book-wonder author, is approached by a more prolific author with a tale that is told in installments. The story pulls in references to many famous authors such as J D Salinger, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote to B. Traven. It explores what constitutes inspiration, practicality of profit, "formula" writing, and delving into one's own creativity. 

As an overly cautious person, I found the risks that each author takes foolhardy, but I was compelled to keep reading. I had to know how it all turned out. 

The book is well written, intriguing, and very original. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves thrillers, psychological explorations, and social commentary. This book has it all.