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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review - The Archangel Project

James Rollins called Graham’s debut thriller, The Archangel Project, “As current as today’s headlines and as disturbing as your darkest nightmare….Riveting, provocative, and enthralling.” But what really had me buy this book was I found out C.S. Harris had written a few thriller books, so I was all over it.

C.S. Graham is the pseudonym of writing team Steven Harris and Candice Proctor. Steven Harris spent twenty-one years as an Army Intelligence officer. He also spent ten years in Washington, D.C., working at the national intelligence level. Candice Proctor is the author of more than a dozen previous novels, including the critically acclaimed Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series published under the name C.S. Harris.

See what you think.

Author: C.S. Graham

Copyright: September 2008 (Harper) 384 pgs

Series: 1st in Jax and Tobie Thriller series

Sensuality: Some action-thriller violence and occasion swearing

Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller

Main Characters: CIA agent Jax Alexander and
remote viewer October (Tobie) Guinness

Setting: Modern day, New Orleans-post Katrina and D.C.

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Tulane professor Henry Youngblood seeks funding for his remote viewing research project with test subjects from the wrong person. When he has October (Tobie) Guinness do an example of her remote viewing abilities, she sees documents that have just put the professor and herself in mortal danger.  Professor Youngblood is burned in a fire and Tobie is running for her life.  The CIA Director assigns Jax Alexander to investigate the professor's death, intending the assignment to be a punishment.  Jax looks past the local police's assumption that Tobie killed the professor because she was discharged from the military due to PTSD.  Rather, he realizes she is the key to what happened to the professor, but finding her while murderers are on her trail is a challenge.  When they partner and recall the information from her remote viewing session, it takes them on a whirlwind race to stop a devastating large scale domestic terrorist attack.

October (Tobie) Guinness is former military suffering from PTSD who got introduced to the remote viewing program and finds she is a natural.  She is smart, stronger than she thinks, and distrustful.  Agent Jax Alexander comes from money, so he isn't impressed by titles or concerned about his career.  This makes him look at his job differently and that shows in this investigation. Tobie has some friends who try to help her out. Two in particular stand out, Gunner who is a conspiracy guy and Colonel McClintock.  Character development grew as the story progressed but took a backseat to the fast tempo of a thriller.  If I could have asked for anything, it would have been just a bit more character development, but this is a common challenge in thrillers.

The setting is a battered and recovering New Orleans which evoked the aftermath of Katrina well.  One scene occurs in a deserted part of town and gives the sense of a suburban ghost town.  That left an impression.

The plot was interesting and Tobie barely eluding the relentless mercenaries sent after her kept the pace going.  The climax definitely had some good tense moments, but it was resolved a touch too quickly.  The wrap up lays the foundation for more books (which there have been two more with Tobie and Jax).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I liked the concept, the overall plot, the remote viewing aspects, and the characters mentioned. I have already purchased the next in the series, The Solomon Effect.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. 

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post - Laura DiSilverio

I am delighted to welcome Laura DiSilverio to our place.  I recently reviewed the debut book in her new mystery series (click here).  She has a good question for you too.

Finding a Book Club that Fits

Up front confession: I do not currently belong to a book club, even though I've just launched a series about the five women who make up the Readaholics book club. 

Over the stifled gasps, I add: I would like to, but with two teens still at home, I have not carved out the time to join one or start one. [Embarrassed pause.] Okay, that's weak. We make time for the things that are important to us, right? I mean, I make it to the gym 3-4 times a week, and to Bible study every other week, so if I were serious about wanting to join a book club, I would. After all, CEOs and government ministers and stay-at-home moms with six kids find time (and babysitters) and get to their once a month book club meetings. 

Book Club Types
I've gotten as far as debating what kind of club I would like to join. One that reads best-sellers? One that reads classics? A club that mixes it up with fiction one month and non-fiction the next? One that has husbands and wives, or one that's all women? One that spends ten minutes discussing the book du jour and an hour catching up with friends and noshing? Or a club that huddles around a facilitator with a long list of prepared questions? 

I divide most book clubs into two groups: social and serious. There's usually a lot of wine or margaritas at a social book club, and furrowed brows and note-taking at the serious ones. As a writer, I've talked to clubs of both kinds and enjoyed them both. I get all my best what-to-read-next recommendations from book clubs. 

Reading Like a Writer
I think part of my inertia is because I haven't ever been part of a book club that wants to look at books the way I do, as a writer. Francine Prose wrote a book called Reading Like a Writer some years back, and I think she'd be great to have in a book club. Yeah, it can be interesting to argue about the social issues raised in a book, and ask "What would I do in such-and-such a situation?" But I want to dissect how an author makes a character sympathetic, or how she raises the tension in a particular scene, or why he chose a particular setting. Few of my friends and neighbors want to take a book apart that way. That's not a slam on them--they're not writers. 

I'm sure a movie director would have a similar experience watching movies with non-industry friends. Her buddies might be gushing about the moral dilemma portrayed in the film, while the director says, "Did you notice how that shot was framed, or that transition, or the lighting?" 

While writing this post, I've come to the conclusion that I really do want to be part of a book club. If I start a book club that spends at least part of every meeting looking at how the author wrote the book (and part of each session quaffing wine, chatting and arguing about the book's content), will any of you join me? We'll have to call ourselves the Readaholics, of course. 

In the comments, please recommend a book for us to start with! 

P.S.: If you don't live close enough to Colorado Springs to make it to meetings, why not check out the Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco to see what they're reading? 

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THANK You Ms. Silverio for that thoughtful post on book clubs.  I tend to look at how the book is written as well.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Review - The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco

The author of the Swift Investigations, the Ballroom Dance mystery series, and Mall Cop mystery series is writing a new mystery series. Here is my take on this debut novel. 

Author: Laura DiSilverio

Copyright: April 2015 (NAL) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in Cook Club Mystery series

Sensuality: all mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Amy Faye Johnson, Event Planner 

Setting: Modern day, Small fictional town (less than ten thousand people) of Heaven Colorado

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Amy Faye, a Southern name for a gal who lives in Colorado, amazes her friends when she agrees to plan the wedding for her ex-boyfriend.  Granted, she had talked to the bride without realizing who the groom would be.  As if that weren't enough, a fellow Readaholic bookclub member-Ivy Donner, dies suddenly and the police declare it suicide ala poison.  That has Amy Faye determined to get to the truth, because she can't accept Ivy took her own life.  

AFaye discovers Ivy had some secrets of her own, but she also had uncovered some corruption in city government and had contacted a reporter to expose it.  Either her little secret or her knowledge might have gotten her killed.  The killer liked the suicide ruling hiding his deed and begins to make AFaye's life difficult...and dangerous.

Amy Faye, 32-year-old native small town gal who has had the same on-again-off-again boyfriend since high school is blind-sided to find out he is getting married. This book shows how loyal a friend she is ultimately.  The standard cop-romantic interest is filled by Detective Lindell Hart  from Georgia.  Al Frink is AFaye's very capable assistant.  The Readaholic members: Brooke Widefield is a former Miss Colorado married into a wealthy family, Lola Paget went to Texas A&M for her degree in Chemistry but returned to save the family farm that she made a successful plant nursery, Maud Bell is sixty-six years old and a conspiracy theorist, and Kerry Sanderson is the Mayor and a successful realtor.

The town of Heaven was previously named Walter's Ford, but they changed the name to Heaven in hopes of cashing in on the wedding business. Mostly town scenes involved.  The plot is okay with Ivy's big secret and her knowledge of corruption that could have made a several people want to kill her.  

There were a few times when the pace slowed a bit, but it wasn't long before it picked back up.  Amy Faye realizes who the killer is about the time she is in serious danger, so there are a few tense moments when the killer is revealed.  The wrap-up felt a bit incomplete for me.  I wanted to know the fallout from the evidence AFaye found that exposed the corruption (who all was involved and did the other people have to answer for their involvement?)  Without this loose-end addressed I felt like the story wasn't quite finished.

Each novel in the series will have the Readaholics book club reading a different classic mystery that somehow plays into the murder they're solving.  A little extra clue of sorts.  This time it was The Maltese Falcon which supplied the "Falcon Fiasco" part of the title.

Rating: Good - A fun read from an accomplished author.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Guest Post - Naomi Hirahara

I am delighted to welcome Ms. Naomi Hirahara back to our blog.  She is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai mysteries and the first book in her new series won the T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award. Her new series is the Ellie Rush Mysteries where we follow a fledgling Los Angeles bicycle cop who wants to be a detective.  

I reviewed the first book, Murder on Bamboo Lane (click here), the second book Grave on Grand Avenue (click here), and we were honored to have a guest post from Ms. Hirahara last year (click here).  

Please welcome back Ms. Hirahara!

Never Making First Chair

I’ve a big believer of doing things that you’re not good at.  I’ve completed a few half-marathons (I’ve since retired), and been left in the dust by women who have been twenty years older than me. A rusty set of golf
clubs sit in my garage, a reminder of the many divots I’ve left in local golf
courses. And a bowling bowl with my name, “NAOMI,” engraved on the surface is a memento from the days that I proudly held a 113 average in a company league.

Another thing that I never excelled in was music. There was the piano, followed by the guitar and the cello. I took up the cello in junior high school. To me, the violin seemed too common; the viola, too obscure. I was less than five feet tall (still am), so the upright bass was out of the question. But the cello – that rich, honey-hued instrument – I was immediately attracted to it.

A small girl carrying around a cello around school was a ripe target for
comments: “What, you got a machine in there?” “That thing is bigger than you are.” But I didn’t care. I loved the cello, and I wasn’t alone. There was a whole row of us, including one of my good friends, Denise Blanco, who had also adopted the instrument in our orchestra.

I enjoyed the process of preparing the instrument. Of lengthening the metal endpin to suit my height. The tightening of the strings and the rubbing rosin on the strings of the bow. But when I actually played, the sound that I encountered wasn’t what I heard from my fellow cellists. My cello, a rental, moaned and mooed like a cow. The poor thing wasn’t happy with the things that I was doing to it.

In my latest Officer Ellie Rush mystery, GRAVE ON GRAND AVENUE, I’ve revisited my beloved instrument. But the cello in the novel is in the hands of a superstar Chinese musician, Xu. It sounds a lot better when Xu is playing, which is one of the powers and benefits of being a writer. Another advantage is to give props to your real friends, and in this book I have in the acknowledgments: “To Denise Blanco, who always was at least a chair ahead.”

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THANK you Ms. Hirahara for sharing this bit of your life with us.  Reminds me of my Clarinet adventures!

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Review - Grave on Grand Avenue

This is a new series that I reviewed the debut novel, Murder on Bamboo Lane (click here) and we were honored to have a guest post from Ms. Hirahara (click here).  Let's see how the newest book in the series does today.

Author: Naomi Hirahara

Copyright: April 2015 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 2nd in Officer Ellie Rush Mystery series

Sensuality: some scattered swearing

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Police Procedural

Main Characters: 23 year-old Officer Ellie Rush, bicycle cop

Setting: Modern day, Los Angeles

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

While Ellie is patrolling one of Los Angeles’s premier concert halls she chats with gardener Eduardo Fuentes. Minutes later she finds him lying at the bottom of a staircase, clinging to life and whispering something indecipherable. The father of Xu (pronounced "Chew"), a popular Chinese classical musician, accuses Fuentes of attempting to steal his son’s multimillion-dollar cello and was knocked down as a result. But Ellie has trouble believing that account.  Mr. Fuentes dies from his injuries and Xu goes missing.  All while the department is scrambling to stop a rash of robberies from the Old Lady Bandit.

A substory has Ellie dealing with family drama when she discovers that the person who stole her beat-up 1969 Pontiac Skylark is a long lost relative with hidden agendas and a dark past.  

Ellie Rush is half Japanese, and among her friends her career choice isn't appreciated.  She has to deal with derision because she is a lowly bicycle cop and distrust because her Aunt Cheryl has the Police Chief job in her sights. Nay Pram is her best friend who puts distance between them during this book as she follows her journalism career that conflicts with Ellie's at times.  Detective Cortez Williams gets little page-time, but his scenes show him to be a good influence for Ellie.  Benjamin, Ellie former boyfriend, appears in this story again and there is some resolution between them.  Aunt Cheryl is still ambitious but shows her family loyalty as well.  Ellie's father takes the family drama poorly, which actually had me liking him for his struggle.

Ms. Hirahara displays Los Angeles as vibrant and busy with its big-city problems.  She deftly flavors the book with the mix of cultures that shapes LA into its own unique identity.  The plot was fine with the Old Lady Bandit case in the background and the struggle over a renowned musician's Cello resulting in death.  But, I do have to say that neither story line had much immediacy to it, nothing that raised the tension to hurry and solve the murder etc. This low tension factor slowed the pace a bit as well. 

The climax had one notable tense moment around the Old Lady Bandit case, but the resolution to the disappearance of musician Xu and his father was anti-climatic and matter-of-fact.  The wrap-up emphasized how important the bond between her friends is and gives a positive note as well as a development with with Cortez that leaves the reader wanting more.

This second book had a tough act to follow from the debut book in this new series.  It is a solid story with wonderful and fresh characters that lacked a suspenseful engine to ratchet-up the tension. All-in-all, I enjoyed the book and appreciate Ellie and her world.

Rating: Fine - A fun read, good but not stellar. 

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