Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gun Games (Review and Giveaway)

by Faye Kellerman, narrated by Mitchell Greenberg, 12 hrs., Harper Audio January 2012

...not the best story in this series

This is primarily the story of Gabriel Whitman, a 15 year old who the Decker’s have taken into their home as a stepchild.  He is a prodigy and a budding concert pianist.  His love interest Yasmine, is an immature 14 year old from a Persian Jewish family.  At least half of the story is devoted to their adolescent love affair.  In a separate story line Decker, at the behest of a distraught mother, is investigating a suicide of a teenager in an exclusive private school.  Decker finds that the gun used in the suicide is stolen and the investigation then focuses on the involvement of a clique of school bullies.   In a turn of events possible only in crime novels Gabriel and Yasmine cross paths with the school bullies targeted in Decker’s investigation.  At that point in the story (about 80% into it) the action picks up considerably.   
This is subtitled a PeterDecker/Rina Lazarus novel, but there is almost no Rina and not much Peter in this story.  Inordinate amounts of time are given to the adolescent lovers.  I found this story line very weak.  Gabriel a 15 year old has the voice of a much older guy.  Yasmine is one of the whineiest annoying characters that I have come across.  When she is not complaining, she is crying!  The scenes describing this love affair were interminably long and insipid. The suicide investigation that culminates in the arrests of the school bullies is well done and interesting. 
This series has been a reliable mid tier crime drama.   There have been at least twenty books the series and while I haven’t read many of the later ones  I detect a sharp drop-off in quality from the earlier books.  I always enjoyed learning aspects of Judaism from Rina’s character while reading a decent story; that aspect is gone from this book.   
I listened to the audio edition of this book.  Mitchell Greenberg was the narrator.  It is difficult to judge his performance since I found the two main characters so annoying.  Had I been reading this story, I would have been flying by large parts of it; since I was listening I had to slog through the audio performance in real time which did not add to my enjoyment. 
If you are interested I am offering my copy of the audio edition of this story as a giveaway.  Follow the rules to the right of this box.  Giveaway ends Saturday March 31. 

I listened to an audio version of this book I received from the publisher.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: life, death and hope in a Mumbai undercity

by Katherine Boo, Random House, February 2012

 You won’t read better nonfiction than this story

This is the story of some of the residents of Annawadi, a slum right next to luxury hotels near the Mumbai Airport.  The author, Katherine Boo, an American Pulitzer Prize winning author, interviewed the slum residents over a three year period and has produced a stunning piece of work.   She tells the story by focusing on the lives of two families, Abdul’s Muslim family and Asha’s lower caste Hindu family.
Abdul, a young teenager, works as a garbage recycler.  He is excited with India’s new prosperity and “sees a fortune beyond counting” in collecting and selling rich people’s garbage.  Abdul’s skills are bringing more and more income to his family.  They begin to see a way out of slum life with these earnings.  Then tragically Abdul is falsely accused in a neighbor’s suicide and a series of events that will profoundly affect the family begin.
Asha, raised in rural poverty, sees her way out of slum life through political corruption.  She works tirelessly to bring income to her family by a series of schemes that defraud the government and various NGOs.  She is actually good at this and is able to send her idealistic young daughter Manju to college.  The descriptions of Asha’s schemes to get government money are really a testament to her ingenuity and a depressing fact for any of us who have given money (foreign aid or otherwise) to third world countries in hopes of improving circumstances for people. 
The story of Abdul’s imprisonment and the circumstances that caused it, the suicide of a neighbor Fatima, is the centerpiece of the book.  We get a look at the Indian legal system and the strange democracy that India has.  The political corruption is widespread and makes me wonder why anyone gives this system any credence.   Throughout the story the horror of life in this slum is described in a very straight forward way.  I won’t recount a lot of it because I’d like you to read this book.  The lack of judgment and sympathy for these characters only adds to the power of the narrative.  
There were so many memorable stories and characters in this book but the one that continues to haunt me is that suicide was a common choice for some of these people.  The challenges of everyday living, hunger and the despair were just too much for some.  So while there is hope in this story, the strength of the human spirit to work a way out of these terrible circumstances is certainly present, only the most determined could transcend this horror.  This unforgettable book is rich and beautifully written, the characters heartbreaking and the setting haunting.  It would be an excellent choice for book clubs.
You won’t read better nonfiction than this story, but I wish that it were fiction
I read a copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Uninvited Guests

by Sadie Jones, Harper, May 2012

...skip this one and do something useful with your time

The story is set in an isolated English country house in the early years of the twentieth century.  The house is owned by the Torrington-Swifts - mother Charlotte and three children, Clovis the nineteen year old son, Emerald the twenty year old daughter and Imogene a nine year old.  In true English fashion there are of course  some servants.  Friends from the city are invited for a weekend house party and the family and staff are deep into preparations for the party when word is sent that there has been a train wreck and survivors will shelter at Torrington-Swift house.  The weekend guests arrive and the stranded passengers soon behind them.   The only survivor from the first class section, Charlie Haversham immediately attaches himself to the house party while the other survivors are sequestered in one room of the house.  Things get very weird after this.
Let me count the ways I disliked this book.  Charlotte, Clovis and Emerald were the most unlikeable major characters I have come across in a long time.  They were arrogant, vain and obnoxious.  I do realize that the author might have been writing satire but whatever,  I did not find it enjoyable.  The subplot that involved Imogene and a pony was truly ridiculous and mostly beyond belief.  The prose was dreadfully unwieldy; the author never used one word when six were possible.  Lastly, toward the end of the book the story completely jumps the shark (and the genre) and becomes a zombie story! 
I get offered a large number of books to review and I usually don’t accept books unless I have an expectation of liking them; this one came with recommendations from Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs) and Ann Patchett (State of Wonder) some of my favorite authors.   Did those women read the same book I did?  Do they indiscriminately lend their names to these book jacket blurbs?  I do hate to trash a book in a review but skip this one and do something useful with your time.
I read an advanced copy of this book provided by the publisher

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Dressmaker

by Kate Alcott, Doubleday, February 2012.

...the plot is a good one, the ethical questions raised  would make for good book club discussions

Some spoilers -
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the Titanic sinking we have a new tale that chronicles the lives of survivors of this disaster.  Tess Collins, a maid in Cherbourg, manages to attach herself to the traveling party of Lady Duff-Gordon.  Lucile Duff-Gordon is a famous designer and world class obnoxious boss.  Tess, harboring dreams of becoming a designer, is thrilled to serve as Duff-Gordon’s maid on the voyage. Her association with Duff-Gordon allows her access to the upper decks of the ship, the first class passengers and in the end saves her life.  Hardly 20 pages into the book, the Titanic has sunk and both Tess and Duff-Gordon have managed to find places in the few lifeboats that were launched from the ship.
The crux of the story surrounds events on the Duff-Gordon lifeboat.  Only twelve passengers were on their lifeboat, although space was available for fifty.  Conflicting reports describe events where survivors in the water were prevented from getting into the lifeboat and the crew was bribed not to return for survivors in the water.  One famous couple is accused of disguising the husband as a woman so that he could board the life boat in front of other woman and children.  Crew members both cowardly and brave are introduced into the story.  There is a congressional inquiry shortly after the sinking where the actions of many passengers and crew are revealed. 
What would a Titanic story be without a love triangle and we have one here.  Tess has a brief encounter on the Titanic with Jack Bremerton a wealthy Chicagoan who is attracted to her.   Tess is attracted to Bremerton but develops affection for one of the crew of the Titanic, Jim.  Who will she choose? Read on.
This is a very vibrant story that hooks you right in from the beginning.  I always enjoy historical fiction that includes real people and this story does -Molly Brown, (the unsinkable!), the Duff –Gordon’s, Bruce Ismey, the Astors.  The plot is a good one and the ethical questions raised about the actions of survivors would make for good book club discussions.    It is a fairly quick read, I finished it over two days, but I’d recommend as good beach material for the summer.
I read a copy of this book that I bought.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Conflict of Interest

by Adam Mitzner, narrated by David LeDoux, Audible Audiobooks, December 2011, 11hrs, 33 min.

...a tightly plotted, face paced story with well developed characters

Alex Miller, a high powered criminal defense attorney, is the protagonist of this legal thriller.  Miller seems to have everything, an attractive wife, a child, and a partnership in one of the preeminent law firms in NYC.  After the death of his father, he takes on the legal defense of a friend of his parents, Michael Ohlig, who has been accused of securities fraud.  Ohlig is something of an enigma and as the trial progresses, Ohlig’s long standing relationship with Miller’s family is brought to light.  This relationship is the basis of the narrative.  This story becomes not only an account of the trial but a psychological drama as the complexities of the characters are examined.   Miller is the narrator of the story and we learn of his marriage, his association with a rising young associate at the firm Abby Sloan and his relationship with Ohlig. 

This is a tightly plotted, fasted paced story with a couple of subplots.  The descriptions of the jury selection, the trial and life at a major law firm are really well done.  I enjoyed all of this detail in the story although some readers might not.  The characters are well developed and very believable with their flaws and real life motives.  I’ll call this novel a page turner even though I listened to it.  This is a debut novel for Adam  Mitnzer and I believe he will be very successful in this genre.  He can write a story in the style of Scott Turow or John Grisham, so if you enjoy their work read this story.

The narration by David LeDoux was first class and added to my enjoyment of this story.

I listened to a copy of this novel that I bought

Friday, March 2, 2012

Audio Books

Nothing like a drive down and back to Florida to up the number of audio books listened to.  Here are short reviews of a couple.

The Clocks A Hercule Poirot Mystery by Agatha Christie, narrated by Robin Bailey, 7 hrs 12 mins
Agatha Christie never fails to entertain.  This is a straightforward mystery.  A woman is summoned to a house for a secreterial assignment.  When she arrives she finds a deadbody on the floor.  The owner of the house, a blind woman, arrives and professes not to know anything about the summons or the dead man.  The police investigate with the help of a British secret agent who is on the scene looking for a communist spy (it's the 1950s, there everywhere).  The case doesn't get solved until Hercule Poirot becomes involved.  All the clues are in the story but I admit to not solving the case before the legendary detective laid it all out.  Good mystery.  The narration was a little over the top.  Robin Bailey exaggerated so many of the character accents I found it distracting.  Good story, so so narration. (Borrowed from the library)

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina narrated by Jane McFarlan, Hachette Audio, 13hrs, 13mins, October 2011

In this murder mystery set in Scotland, Alex Morrow a tough female detective is the lead character.  She is pregnant with twins but gets no soft assignments.  A murder is committed early on in the story and we know who did it but the twists and turns that this plot takes are engrossing.   I really enjoyed this story, the characters were very well developed, the plot complex without being contrived, and the setting in Glasgow well described.  It is a little dark though.  Jane MacFarlan's narration was spot on as they say.  (Bought this one)

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt narrated by John Pruden, 7 hrs and 42 minutes, Harper Audio, April, 2011

This is the story of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sister, hired killers working for a robber baron in California in 1849.  The story is narrated by the younger brother Eli. Charlie is a borderline psychopath, Eli somewhat gentler in this approach to life.  The boys are sent into San Francisco during the gold rush to eliminate a charlatan who has deceived their employer.  The adventures for these two brothers are non stop and fairly violent.  What a strange story, several times I came close to abandoning it but was mesmerized along by the prose and the excellent narration.  It is not exactly a western more a dark comedy.  What an unusual imagination this author has!  Expecting this to be turned into the next Coen brothers movie.  Recommened if you can over look the violence.  (Received a copy from the publisher)