Thursday, July 29, 2010

Secrets of Eden

Secrets of Eden: A Novel
Secrets of Eden: A Novel
by Chris Bohjalian
February, 2010
Crown Publishing

Secrets of Eden follows the successful template that Chris Bohjalian has worked off in the past. There is a horrific event centered on difficult subject matter, multiple narrators give their interpretation of the event each adding facts that inform the reader and build the suspense, ending with revelations that were unexpected - usually with gut wrenching detail provided along the way.

This novel takes on domestic abuse and with chilling reality shows the destruction of lives that this abuse triggers. The setting is a small Vermont town; the characters are Stephen Drew a Baptist minister, the Haywards an unhappily married couple with a 15 year old daughter Katie, Catherine Bennicassa the county prosecutor and Heather Laurent an author who has written books about angels. Before the end of the first chapter the Haywards are dead in an apparent murder suicide. I won’t give away any plot details here but each of the four narrators retells the events around the murder/suicide from their point of view.

I thought this was not one of Bohjalian’s finer works. It is not as well constructed as Double Bind (the novel on rape). The characterizations were I thought flat. Stephen Drew, the minister seemed cold and self centered and in the end performed actions that were out of character. The county prosecutor was very stereotyped and not exhibiting any of the passion I’ve come to expect from Bohjalian’s characters. The “angel expert” Heather Laurent was almost extraneous to the story. Katie, the orphaned daughter was the most realistic voice in the novel. The who dunnit was not hard to figure out early in the story, even for me who often is the last to get it! What did work very well in this novel were the scenes of domestic violence and the devasting consequences of this abuse on everyone it touches. This is not the best work of this author, earlier novels in particular Double Bind and Midwives were much better, but I still think Secrets of Eden is worth a read.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Strong Justice

Strong Justice: A Caitlin Strong Novel
Strong Justice: A Caitlin Strong Novel

by Jon Land
June 2010
Forge Books

(Spoilers here) This book is the second in a series that features fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. Most of the characters in this book were introduced in the first of the series, Strong Enough to Die. I’d strongly recommend that you read that book first. I did not and struggled to understand the background and motivation of some of the characters. The story opens with Caitlin Strong investigating murders of Mexican girls on the Texas/Mexico border. A serial killer, Marcielo is the target of her investigation. Caitlin saves a kidnapped Mexican girl, Maria Lopez from the serial killer. Subplots abound! A billionaire, Hollis Tyree is drilling for water and finding something completely different. People living near the drilling site are acting strangely and committing violent acts. Strong is accompanied by Cort Wesley, an ex-convict and Special Forces veteran who is also her love interest. A shadowy character, Paz, lurks in the background playing the part of Caitlin’s protecting angel. Colonel Montoya, a Mayan rebel plans terrorist attacks on the United States. If all of this wasn’t complicated enough we are given flashbacks scenes from Caitlin’s Texas Ranger grandfather and great grandfather, including a description of the Texas Rangers versus the Al Capone gangsters in the 1930s. The good guys prevail as Caitlin, Cort and Paz thwart all of the bad guys in their attempts to terrorize citizens in the US and Mexico; the body counts are really very overwhelming.

This was one of the most complicated police procedurals that I’ve ever read, but the author just pulls it off in my opinion. Several things that I enjoyed about this book were: 1) Caitlin Strong is a smart Old West type police officer and a great character with depth and passion 2) all of the Texas Ranger history was fun to read and enhanced the story 3) the multi-generational story was a plus even though it added to the complexity of an already complex story. Some of the things I though could stand improvement were: 1) without reading the first book I was clueless about why a Texas Ranger would take up with an ex convict and also what the motivation was for Paz to become Caitlin’s protector 2) too many sub plots, I left out many of them in my review 3) too much gratuitous violence. All said though if you like police procedurals with a slightly historical twist this might be for you.

This review is part of a book blog tour organized by Gaby at Starting Fresh.  This is my first book blog tour, so welcome all who have come for it!  To learn more about the author Jon Land go to his home page.

Jon Land is the acclaimed author of numerous bestsellers, including The Seven Sins, The Last Prophecy, Blood Diamonds, The Walls of Jericho, The Pillars of Solomon, A Walk in the Darkness, Keepers of the Gate, and The Blue Widows. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Deeper Than The Dead

Deeper Than the Dead Deeper Than The Dead
by Tami Hoag
December, 2009
Dutton Adult

Tami Hoag has written a real pager turner here (no spoilers).   Some of her recent efforts (The Alibi Man Prior Bad Acts), in my opinion were not up to her earlier work but Deeper Than The Dead is good. The story is set in suburban California in 1985. Four elementary school children find a body on their way home from school. Their teacher, Ann Navarone, arrives on the scene to help the children with this horrific event. The murder is soon seen as the work of a serial killer. FBI profiler Vince Leone, a new and untested breed of law enforcement officer, arrives to help. Hoag presents the family life of each of the four children and we are introduced to dysfunctionality in each of these families. The children narrate the story and it is an effective method in revealing key facts in the murder investigation. The dysfunction extends to the local police department where small town politics and ignorance prevent the investigation from proceeding in an efficient fashion. All of the major characters (Ann, Vince, and most of the children’s parents) have back stories that when revealed influence the investigation. Hoag is good at giving just enough clues to keep you thinking but not enough to give away the murderers identity.  

One of the key plot elements is that in 1985 modern forensic techniques are not yet available. Not only does this set of circumstances limit the investigative options it also exquisitely slows the action as cell phones and internet searches are not available. All of this allows for the suspense to build. There is a love story but it is pretty thin in the telling. There were also a couple of loose ends that were not tied up, at least one unidentified skull and one untried child molester. Perhaps there is a sequel in the making that will answer some of these questions.

I enjoyed this book – read it in record time- but again am sure I will not remember the plot in two weeks time. I haven’t yet figured out how to change my book rating quill system to use fractions but I’d give this thriller a 3.5.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel (Thursday Next Novels (Penguin Books))
The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel 
by Jason Fforde
Viking Adult
January, 2002

This is a book that is very hard to categorize. Part sci fi, part mystery, part literary satire, part alternative history, part fantasy but all fun! Suspend belief and travel to 1985 Britain where the English continue the Crimean War with Russia, Wales is a socialist republic and the citizenry are mad for literature. Characters that can suspend time and travel back and forth are common. Some science is far advanced (cloned dodos as house pets) while other aspects are not well evolved (blimps are the primary means of air travel). Witty wordplay and colorful characters abound.

The heroine of the novel is Thursday Next (character names are a hoot). She is a literary sleuth who works for a government police agency that specializes in literary crimes from the most common such as plagiarism right up to the theft of original literary works. Her adversary is Archeron Hades a villain who has stolen the original work of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit. When he kills a minor character in the novel, a deed that erases this character from the work forever, the plot is on! Before you know it, not only are minor characters in danger but Jane Eyre herself is threatened! I will not even make an attempt to summarize this plot as it will sound ridiculous in an abridged form but each page holds its own delights. This novel will charm English majors with the satire aimed at English lit. Characters argue over the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, join societies dedicated to John Milton and in my favorite chapter, audience participation in the presentation of Richard III that harkens back to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think even if you do not have a detailed knowledge of English literature you’ll enjoy this book, but it is certainly enhanced if you know the story line of Jane Eyre. Thursday Next is a fully developed character with a quirky family, appealing work colleagues and a love interest. A veteran of the Crimean War (Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade is a sub plot) Next is human and sympathetic enough to carry this series – I understand there are a total of 5 books.

While Fforde’s novel clearly gives a nod to Dickens, Christie, James, Orwell, Rowling and Monty Python his work is unique and very creative, perhaps this first novel is just a tad too complex but I really enjoyed it. All but the most literal of readers should like this engaging story. Whether the story and characters will hold up over all five books is for me, still to find out!

Sunday, July 11, 2010



by Geraldine Brooks
January, 2006

If you are a Little Women devotee you will surely want to read March. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is the story of Peter March the father of the March clan. While March is an absent father in Little Women, his life story is the basis of this novel. His character is loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson Alcott. The first part of the novel is narrated by March. He is introduced as an itinerant peddler working though the southern states in the years before the Civil War. We meet him as a young man; see his courtship and marriage of Marmee and the birth of his children. He is an idealistic abolitionist preacher who is influenced by his friendship with Thoreau and Emerson (neighbors in New England) and his partnership with John Brown, the violent abolitionist to whom he loses his fortune. In a fit of patriotic fervor March enlists as a chaplain to accompany Union troops. His naiveté and impossibly high ideals soon run afoul of his coarse Union companions. Caught in an embarrassing situation with a black slave who he had meet earlier in his travels he is reassigned to a plantation now operated by a northern manager and manned by freed slaves or “contraband” as the free blacks are known. His assignment is to teach the freed slaves reading and writing. The crux of the novel occurs on this plantation. March’s idealism is challenged by the everyday cruelty and racism of both Northern and Southern soldiers. The harsh plight of the slaves seems unchanged when their “freedom” is achieved. A Confederate attack on the plantation lands March in a Washington DC hospital and then the first person narration switches to Marmee. Marmee recounts a different version of prior events and reacts to the knowledge she gains about her husband’s life. Her difficulty in dealing with her rage and disappointment in March rings true. The return of Marmee and March to the idyllic setting of their New England home masks the changes in both of them; he the shattered and scarred dreamer, she the newly wise wife and mother.

The dialogue throughout this novel is firmly rooted in the 19th century but seems very easy and straightforward. The depth of description of even the minor characters allows the readers to know them. The plantation manager is anything but one dimensional, while he seems a petty, cruel tyrant we gradually learn of the struggles he has in managing the plantation. The difficulties in communication that March and Marmee have seemed timeless and could easily be attributed to a 21st century couple. This is a very different Civil War novel but I think will please many readers. This type of novel is among my favorites – historical fiction that has a well told story peopled by sympathetic but not perfect characters that have depth, emotions and passions that are universal.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is a week long festival celebrating the community of book bloggers and their contribution to preserving a culture of literacy through book reviews and recommendations, reading reflections, and general bookish chat.  I have decided to participate.  I don't have any great hopes of winning any prizes but it is always fun to participate.  So I have entered my blog in two categories

* Best Eclectic Book Blog—This blog doesn’t specialize in any one book genre. It is known for consistently excellent reviews, recommendations, analyses, and other content in a variety of genres
* Best New Book Blog - Blog must be started after September 1, 2009.

To particpate in the festival you must leave links for five posts that typify writing on your blog.  Below are those that I've chosen.  Follow the fun on Facebook!

Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China by Yung Chang

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George 

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter

Saturday, July 3, 2010

by Miranda Carter
March, 2010

The author has written an excellent comparative account of the lives of Nicholas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England. These monarchs all reigned in pre World War I Europe in a time of great change. They are all related - Wilhelm and George are grandchildren of Victoria and Nicholas is married to Victoria’s favorite granddaughter. What a dysfunctional family! The author recounts the lives of these monarchs from 1858 until after WWI. Both public events and private family gatherings are covered. The author does a great job using primary sources to tell intimate details of family gatherings and relationships. None of these monarchs were really educated, none had experiences that allowed them to in any way understand the social change that was going on in Europe and each of them was profoundly out of touch with their people. Queen Victoria’s plan to tie together all of the European royals through intermarriage resulted in royals who were distinctly unqualified to lead their countries. The way that Europe lurches and stumbles toward WWI is told through the individual actions of these monarchs. While George and Nicholas did not cause the war, they did nothing to strengthen their governments that might have allowed a saner course to be taken. Wilhelm appears as the most dysfunctional of the trio. Bellicose and arrogant, his public rantings incite a war climate within Germany and spread fear throughout the continent. Nicholas lived in a privileged cocoon and did not interact with the Russian people at all; he was completely taken aback by the events up to and including the revolution. George while having less power than the Nicholas or Wilhelm manages to be totally spineless, refusing to take the risk of giving asylum to Nicholas and his family and then denying it after the assassination of the czar. What a motley crew, it only made me wonder why anyone would think hereditary monarchy would be a form of government worth having. This is a good book and an easier than expected read. I’d recommend it to those interested in nineteenth century early twentieth century European history.