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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review - The 3rd Woman

Author Jonathan Freedland is an award-winning journalist, a number one bestselling author, and a broadcaster. He is the Guardian's executive editor for Opinion and also writes a weekly column. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, and presents BBC Radio 4's contemporary history series The Long View. In 2014 he won the Orwell special prize for journalism.  Today we will take a peek at his new novel, a murder investigation with a twist setting.

Author: Jonathan Freedland

Copyright: August 2015 (Harper) 480 pgs

Series: Standalone book

Sensuality: sex scenes-Adult reading

Mystery Sub-genre: Investigative Journalist

Main Characters: Journalist Madison (Maddy) Webb

Setting: Slightly Futuristic, Los Angeles

Obtained Through: TLC Book Tours for honest opinion

Madison Webb's sister is dead and everyone believes it was an accidental heroin overdose, but anybody who knew her can't conceive of such a thing. Madison digs in to investigate and finds she can't trust the police...even more than usual, and that two women prior to her sister appear to have died the same way. This takes place amid widespread national political and financial turmoil (defaulting on Chinese loans) that has resulted in Chinese military presence on US soil.

Maddy is stubborn and fearless/reckless often beyond common sense or considering its her sister's murder.  She has insomnia, which sleep deprivation could explain some.  Regardless, I found the character difficult to relate with.  The setting of a different America where China has essentially moved in and taken over economically and now politically brings a dystopian feel.

The core plot is good, but it tended to drag.  I found it confusing to use a reporter from the stand point of the decline of hard investigative reporting now, let alone in a future America that is kow-towing to China (journalists in China either write what they're told or suffer the consequences). Pacing suffered often in tedium and details of investigations, lots of internet research is not "thrilling" no matter how you write it, or even the politics surrounding a vicious Governor's election got bogged down. This work could have been considerably shorter and been better for it...IMHO.

Fair resolution, but the wrap-up was less satisfying with some story elements left unresolved and some "secret" of Maddy's that is brought up but never explained.  This book has some good points with an interesting concept, but I just had a very hard time staying interested to read through the nearly 500 pages.

Rating:  Good - A few good points but equally flawed, good but not stellar. Consider borrowing from a Library/swap/borrow if you want. 

Find out more about Jonathan at his website, and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

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Jonathan’s Tours Stops

Tuesday, August 4th: Man of La Book
Wednesday, August 5th: JulzReads
Thursday, August 6th: Priscilla and Her Books
Friday, August 7th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies
Tuesday, August 11th: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, August 11th: Rockin’ Book Reviews
Thursday, August 13th: Lilac Reviews
Tuesday, August 18th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Wednesday, August 19th: Stacy’s Books
Thursday, August 20th: Great Imaginations
Monday, August 24th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, August 26th: Queen of All She Reads
Thursday, August 27th: Mysteries and My Musings
Monday, August 31st: Apples and Arteries
Tuesday, September 1st: Beauty in Ruins
Wednesday, September 2nd: Imaginary Reads

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Pros and Cons of a series

Last week I questioned your preference of a series versus stand-alone novels.  The poll widget showed 5 of 6 people prefer a series.  The comments had good points regarding this question.  A big thank you to those who took a few moments and voted or commented. 

Authors are encouraged to write series, believing that the series is hot and the best chance to be a success.  But, it seems there are challenges with either a series or a standalone book.

People tend to read a series if they enjoyed (or at least were intrigued by) the world and people of that story.  Most authors shoot for this, but not all accomplish it.  A series that one loves can be like spending time with old friends and therein lies the hook.

We have many examples of successful series:  Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple/Hercules Poirot, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Lisbeth Salander trilogy etc. and so on.

But a series' appeal weighs very heavily on the debut novel's success. The characters must engage the reader enough to want to see them again (harder than you may think), and the story must be equally gripping. Then each successive novel must be as good or better than the previous, the character snot get dull, and plots stay fresh to keep readers coming back. We all know of a series that outlived its entertainment value and became too predictable.

Additionally, a series must be able to smooth the way for a new person picking up the book without reading the series in order...and still understand exactly what is happening. 

The challenge of the standalone novel is to create an immersive world, full characters, and engrossing plot time and time again.  That can be a challenge indeed.  Many classic novels were stand-alones including Dracula, Robinson Crusoe, Rebecca, Winds of War, Treasure Island, or Red Badge of Courage etc.  More modern one-offs include The Color Purple, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Water for Elephants, any Stephan King novel (The Shining, Cujo, It, Salem's Lot, The Stand, Misery...), Gone Girl etc.

Ultimately, a well written story is the best, but that isn't even a guarantee of being a best-seller (we can all name terrible books that sold well, or the stellar novel that was never widely recognized and thus languished, can't we?)  What are your thoughts on this?  Anything I've missed?  Please share.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Review - The Kill Order

When the praise on the cover is from Lee Child ("A Very Talented Author") and James Rollins (" pushing to new heights of storytelling"), I knew I had to read it.  I didn't begin with the first book in the series, just grabbed the one starring at me in the book aisle of the grocery store.  Find out how this new-to-me author ranks.

Author: Kate Parker
Copyright: December 2013 (Harper) 416 pgs
Series: 5th in Sidney Fitzpatrick Thriller series
Sensuality: Some medium violence, some mild reference to sexual attraction, occasional swearing
Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller, Intrigue
Main Characters: FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick and forensic artist
Setting: Modern day, San Francisco, Italy, Washington DC
Obtained Through: Personal purchase

I had not read the prior books in the series, and although there are references to the book just prior to this one, I had no trouble following this story and where it picks up.  Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick had recovered a "code" called the Devil's Code that her father had helped steal twenty years prior in the previous book.  She was supposed to have turned over everything she recovered to a covert U.S. agency called ATLAS. Even though she has begun dating ATLAS's Agent Griffin, she makes a copy of the code on an FBI copier.  

That copier is scrapped as old and an enterprising man snatches up a block of older copiers to refurbish and sell.  Said enterprising man finds the code on the copier's hard-drive and makes the mistake of using his computer to research the code.  This repairman thought he was smart and had his friend Piper with an eidetic memory read the numbers so they will never be lost.  Except he is murdered and Agent Griffin barely gets Piper out alive.  The rest of the book is a race to keep Piper alive, since she also saw the man who is hunting the code ruthlessly, a man who is a corrupt government official.  The code grants the user tremendous world-wide power and he will kill anybody to get it.  He issues his own kill order on Piper.  Can the code really bring nation's to their knees?  If this code is in the wrong hands, can it start World War III?

Sydney a great character, dealing with the truth about her thief father who and not sure about dating Griffin.  Zachary Griffin, ATLAS agent, is walking a fine line with Sydney and he fears he will loose her before they have begun when she discovers his original orders in the prior book were to kill her. He risks his career for her and the reader suspects he isn't honest with himself about his feelings. Piper is the orphaned twenty year old who is quite literally swept up in events.  She makes some serious mistakes, but ultimately she is surprised to find people trying to save her.  Tex, a fellow ATLAS agent to Griffin who understands people more than you might ever guess.  ATLAS Agents Lisette and Marc are great additions.  Lisette befriends Piper and is the breakout memorable character.  I hope she is featured more in future books. 

The setting of Italy was the best, its Italy after all. But the setting takes a back seat to all the running and hunting.  The plot is solid and the concept of such a computer code doing what this purports isn't much of a stretch really.  The pace was a good balance between action and quieter scenes that let the reader catch their breath. It kept me turning pages to find out what would happen next.  The climax was tense with lots of action and the wrap-up gave a sense of justice--I even let out a whoop. 

I like the action and story-line.  Piper was a nice mix of scared but determined.  I would have liked more scenes from Sydney's viewpoint since she is the main character.  I consider any book a success when I am ready to pick another in the series...and I definitely am in this case.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Series or Standalone?

Do you like to read books in a series, whether it is cozy, suspense or thriller?  

Some people don't like series books because the characters and plots lose the initial magic and don't live up to the first few for long.  Others look forward to the regulars in a series.  What about YOU?
Note in comments your preference and let your voice be heard.  I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Review - Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle

This is a new cozy series that I stumbled across and snatched up.  I have to share this little gem with you.

Author: J. A. Lang

Copyright: April 2015 (Purple Panda Press) 240 pgs

Series: 1st in Chef Maurice Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, humor

Main Characters: Chef Maurice Manchot, owner and head chef at Le Cochon Rouge restaurant

Setting: Modern day, fictional Cotswold village of Beakley

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Chef goes to call on Ollie, his forager, who is overdue to deliver mushrooms to Le Cochon Rouge restaurant. Chef goes to Ollie's house to find his neighbor and law enforcement already there.  Ollie is missing. Chef Maurice finds his mushrooms in the fridge tagged with the restaurant name, but he also finds a bag of rare and expensive White Alba truffles.  Before long Chef finds his body in the forest, probably during a truffle hunting excursion.  Chef believes that Ollie found the rare truffles growing locally (unheard of) and that got him killed.  So Chef begins a two-pronged agenda.  Get a truffle hunting dog (he has to settle for a pig at the pound), and investigate Ollie's murder to find the truffle location.  The more he investigates Ollie, the more he discovers there were plenty of reasons and people to kill him.

Chef Maurice is eccentric, strong willed, posseses few social skills until he wants something, and is all about the food.  His character is funny, but not too outlandish.  Arthur Wordington-Smythe is Chef's stuffy sidekick friend and restaurant reviewer for the England Observer.  Arthur is the proper, everything-by-the-book character to offset Chef's willful behavior.  The Odd-Couple redux.   Hamilton is the pig that Chef Maurice acquires with the plan of training him to be a truffle-hunting pig.  Hamilton gets a few scenes told from his point of view and he adds to the humor.  Patrick is Chef's sous-chef and likely heir to the top chef mantle, is an gentle soul who becomes smitten with the policewoman investigating the case.  PC Lucy Gavistone is a young policewoman with her hands full with a murder case, let alone with Chef Maurice elbowing his way into the investigation. 

The Cotswalds are nicely portrayed and the eccentric English countryside folks add to the overall atmosphere.  The plot is lighthearted and flows easily.  The book is fewer pages than the average, but it doesn't feel rushed.  I felt the pace was steady without much repetition of going back to the same witness time and again.  The climax wasn't full of suspense or danger, just a confrontation.  But, it was done well.  Questions were answered and I was left wanting more. 

Fun plot and humorous characters make this an entertaining read.  This is my new "go-to" series when I need something light and fun.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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