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Monday, January 30, 2012

Blog Tour - The Silent Oligarch

I reviewed Chris Morgan Jones' debut novel, The Silent Oligarch, Saturday but today is my day for his blog book tour.  I wanted to share more about Chris himself.

Chris was born in Bromsgrove, a town in Worcestershire, England, and studied English Language and Literature at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. He worked about eleven years for Kroll, the world's largest investigations company, where he specialized in Russian projects and disputes. He has advised Middle Eastern governments, Russian oligarchs, New York banks, London hedge funds, and African mining companies.  He currently lives in London with his wife and children.

What made him uniquely qualified to write a novel about a Russian oligarch who uses a front man to help with a money laundering network of shell companies? 

"For most of my career I made a living hearing other people's stories and being trusted to keep them secret; I now find myself making up my own and hoping to find them an audience. I was a spy, or sorts - not a proper one, because I could everyone what I was, if not the details of what I did - but part detective, part spy, perhaps, working for the largest private intelligence business in the world.

We worked for companies, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, governments, the odd celebrity, and because we tended to work for them when they had much to lose they would reveal more to us than they might to other advisers or even colleagues.  Each new project meant a new target and a new world, at its center a Ukrainian coal mine or an Albanian crime organization or a Middle Eastern bank, that I would get to occupy for a while, hoping to understand its particular character and dynamics.

In many of those worlds we would come across a distinctive breed of modern criminal: frontmen, or sorts, who hid money for others in their own name.  I was always fascinated by their predicament: how they ever found themselves in that position, what their lives had once been, what it might feel like to sell your identity to someone else.  I particular I wondered how they might react to their complicated fictions being unpicked and to the shame and ruin, or worse, the result." source: authors website.

You may read an extract from his book here (click here)

Chris' Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 17th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Thursday, January 19th: Man of La Book
Friday, January 20th: My Two Blessings
Monday, January 30th: Mysteries and My Musings
Wednesday, February 1st: Life in Review
Thursday, February 9th: Mrs. Q: Book Addict
Monday, February 13th: Walking With Nora
Tuesday, February 14th: The Year in Books
Wednesday, February 15th: Mary’s Cup of Tea
Thursday, February 16th: nomadreader

Here is a video of Chris discussing his book.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review - The Silent Oligarch

Monday M&MM is hosting the book blog tour for Chris Morgan Jones who has his debut novel out this month.  Please be sure to stop by on Monday and find out more about the author.  His first book takes us inside Russia and corporate money laundering networks.  Below is the review and it is surprising this is Mr. Jones' first novel.  Don't forget Monday's blog tour! 

Author: Chris Morgan Jones

Copyright: January 2012 (Penguin Press) 336 pgs

Series: Debut novel, stand alone?

Sensuality: some violence, not graphic

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense, Intrigue

Main Characters:  Richard Lock, money launderer and Benjamin Webster, Corporate Intelligence Investigator

Setting: Modern day, England & Russia

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

The book opens with Richard Lock in Monte Carlo enjoying his wealth with the beautiful and easily bored Oksana.  The reader is introduced to his easy and pampered life just before it starts to fall apart.  Lock is a lawyer who has created a complex web of fake businesses to shuffle money around for the Russian Minister of Natural Resources, Konstantin Malin. Lock had even married Malin's daughter although they are divorced now and Marina lives in London raising their only child. Lock's world begins to fall apart piece by piece because another wealthy and vindictive operator feels he was cheated in a deal with Malin and hires Benjamin Webster to ruin Malin.  Lock's position has always been that he would be the front man and be the face to take any blame if the web of money laundering oil companies came under suspicion.  Lock has been paid well to maintain the shifting web of shell companies and the risk with it. 

But what happens in Russia when you really are under scrutiny by world courts?  Lock begins to experience real fear when a good friend dies under very suspicious circumstances and he has goons restricting his every move.  Webster instinctively feels that Lock is the linchpin and if they can get him to cooperate with their side and expose Konstantin Malin for the business crook he is the world would be better off.  Webster manipulates press and FBI contacts to raise the heat on Lock.  Webster becomes personally involved when the decade old murder of his dear journalist friend Inessa may have been at Malin's hand.  The line between doing his job and getting a personal payback for Inessa blur at times for Webster.  Is Webster too personally involved to be effective?

This book is for the patient reader who enjoys letting the story unfold and the tension slowly rise without car chases or explosions.  If you want a glimpse of the shadowy world of wealthy chess players using humans as pieces to be maneuvered in a bigger strategy, this book is your armchair vantage point.  The focus is on Lock and Webster and how these two will exit on the other side of this crucible.  The viewpoint shifts between the two characters and the reader becomes invested in both men.  Lock is reduced to the man he once was before taking the easy big payout and Webster is dealing with the dangerous people who slaughtered Inessa and who haunt his dreams and now threaten his wife and peaceful home life.

I had many distractions as I was reading this book and that didn't help.  This book simmers on low while setting the stage.  This book should be read when you have blocks of time to devote to its reading. Despite my scattered attention, the book is clearly a fine story.  The premise is sound and couldn't be more "ripped from the headlines" as wealthy corporate interests manipulate everything around them with impunity.  The plot is solid and realistic.  The character development is golden in this book, they are both flawed and make mistakes.  The pacing reminds me of Hitchcock's 1946 movie Notorious with layers of danger built up slowly as the story progresses.  The climax is as real world as I have read in a book but left one thread unanswered.  In real life we rarely get every question neatly answered, and perhaps this leaves the possibility of another Benjamin Webster novel to follow that thread.

  Remember Chris Morgan Jones' Book Blog Tour.   Don't miss it.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review - Pleating For Mercy

Let's combat the winter cold and snow with a book set in the sweltering heat of Texas.  This week we review a book in small town Texas to spent some time with a mulch-generational family that will bring a smile to your face and lift you out of the winter doldrums.

Author:  Melissa Bourbon

Copyright:  August 2011 (JSignet) 320 pgs

Series:  1st in  Magical Dressmaking Mysteries

Sensuality:  n/a

Mystery Sub-genre:  Cozy paranormal mystery

Main Character:  Harlow Jane Cassidy, Manhattan fashion design

Setting:  modern day, Bliss Texas

Obtained Through:  Publisher for an honest review

Harlow is a descendent from Butch Cassidy and all the Cassidy women have possessed a special gift of some sort.  Harlow is returning to her hometown because her great grandmother passed and left Harlow her farmhouse.  Harlow quickly turns into her own custom dressmaking boutique on the main floor.  Her first customer is her childhood friend Josie who needs bridal and bridesmaids dresses all completed lickety-split.  Josie is marrying into the wealthy family Harlow almost did, until the groom dumped her just before the wedding.  Returning home drags up some old hurts such as that back which Harlow never wanted to face again.  One of the bridesmaids is found murdered in Harlow's front yard.  The murder is committed too close for comfor which makes Harlow motivated to figure who did it. 

It becomes clear that Harlow has a genius for dress designing - and that Harlow's great-grandmother haunts the house.  The pipes will groan or other noises will happen to make gran's opinions clear.  Harlow's mother and grandmother are just eccentric enough to make the story a delight to read.  Harlow's character just flows from the pages.  She is an easy character to warm up to.  The teen girl that Harlow gets roped into apprenticing as a seamstress and designer was a great touch. 

The plot has enough suspects and the investigation takes place naturally as Harlow questions the bridesmaids during fittings.  The killer is not obvious and the revealing of the killer was handled in a seemingly natural way.  This book seemed so natural - that seems silly to say but the book never seemed contrived or forced and that made the book a pleasure to read.  All the elements meshed.  The characters, dialog, plot, pacing, suspects, climax, and wrap-up all came together for a balanced blending that had humor, a touch of romance, danger lurking, and even some old wounds to heal.  Miss Bourbon makes this cozy mystery look so effortless.  But we know it took skill and finesse to make it look so easy.

I am looking forward to the next book in this series.  I have been burned out on books set in small southern towns lately but this one is my exception.  If you don't care for paranormal books, this book is primarily a cozy with only slight paranormal touches applied carefully. 

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Self publishing, What do you think?

Self publishing has had a bad reputation and I wonder if it is fully warranted.  The standard idea is that if a traditional publisher doesn't want a person it must be because they just aren't that good.  Yet we all know that the publishing houses have been hit hard, retail book stores have been closing so the publisher today wants a sure bet.  Thus we get a glut of vampire books because they are hot sellers right now.  

I believe this is why every reader out there has read a book where they have said "whatever possessed the publisher to sign on for this book?"  I don't think I am the only one who has come across that situation.  It would seem that poorly plotted, terrible characterizations, disastrous dialog, and atrocious writing in general have been accepted by those traditional publishing houses.  If they have made bad judgements in their seeking the next big seller why is it that a self published book is looked down upon?

I found the Self-Publishing Hall of Fame which lists the multitude of successful self-published books which I have taken some highlights from and listed below.  I bet some of these will surprise you and perhaps challenge the notion of self published automatically equates to poorly written. 

Spartacus by Howard Fast was a best seller and a blockbuster movie was self published.

Bestselling Canadian author Margaret Atwood self-published her first volume of poetry Double Persephone in 1961.

Richard N. Bolles originally self-published What Color Is Your Parachute

Before selling rights to Putnam, Julia Cameron self-published her bestselling The Artist's Way. The book has sold more than a million copies now.

Deepak Chopra vanity published his first book and then sold the rights to Crown Publishing. The book went on to become the first of many New York Times bestsellers for this author.

British journalist Stephen Clarke originally self-published in France his travel adventures, A Year in the Merde.

American poet e.e. cummings self-published No Thanks, a volume of poetry financed by his mother. On the half-title page, he listed the thirteen publishers who had rejected the book, which became one of his classics.

In 1933, Charles Darrow invented the game of Monopoly. Parker Brothers had originally rejected the game because of “52 design flaws,” so Darrow produced the game himself and quickly sold 5,000 games to a Philadelphia department store.  Okay, it is not a book but I thought it was interesting.

Mary Janice Davidson began by publishing her romance novels as e-books at  A friend of hers brought her novels to the attention of an editor at Berkley, who liked one of them enough (Undead and Unwed) to offer a three-book deal.

French novelist Alexandre Dumas, author of such swashbuckling romances as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, self-published some of his first books.

Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot, author of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, paid for the publication of his first book.

At the age of 26, Ben Franklin, using the pen name of Richard Saunders, self-published his Poor Richard's Almanack in 1732 and continued to produce the almanac for another 26 years.

Greg Godek sold more than 750,000 copies of his 1001 Ways to Be Romantic before selling the rights to Sourcebooks Trade.

Zane Grey, the father of the adult western novel, originally self-published. His first successful novel, The Heritage of the Desert, earned enough money that he was able to move his family to California from Ohio.

British novelist Thomas Hardy, author of such classics as Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, paid for the publication of his first book.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, author of such classics as The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, paid for the publication of his first book.

In 1958, Clifton Hillegass borrowed $4,000 to self-publish a guide for Shakespeare's Hamlet. He sold 58,000 copies of the first Cliff Notes in that year. He went on to publish hundreds of Cliff Notes booklets that high school and college students came to rely on for helping them to study and write reports. He eventually sold his company to John Wiley for millions of dollars.

In 1968, after taking eight years to write his novel about the Korean War and after getting more than a dozen rejection letters, Capt. Richard Hornberger chose to self-publish M*A*S*H under his pen name of Richard Hooker. In 1970, his novel was made into a movie, with a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and directed by Robert Altman. The movie was the third highest-grossing film of 1970.

Irish author James Joyce, author of Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and many other novels, paid for the printing of Ulysses in 1922 with the help of bookseller Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France, and some of their friends (this is called patronage or subscription publishing). Beach contacted writers and arts patrons throughout Europe pre-selling copies of the novel. When they collected enough money, they published the book.

Robert Kiyosaki sold more than a million copies of his self-published Rich Dad, Poor Dad in less than three years.

Todd McFarlane formed Image Comics with six fellow artists and proceeded to self-publish the Spawn comic book in 1992. The first issue sold 1.7 million copies!

Tim O'Reilly, president of O'Reilly & Associates, started out as a self-publisher of books on UNIX. He now runs the fourth largest trade computer book publisher, which grew out of his self-publishing efforts. 

In 1776, Thomas Paine self-published Common Sense, a 46-page pamphlet that sold over 500,000 copies and helped to draw more people to fight for the American Revolution.

18-year-old Christopher Paolini self-published the first book of his fantasy trilogy, Eragon, with the aid of his parents in February 2002. He spent a year hawking the book at various festivals, schools, and bookstores, often selling 100 or more copies. When the book began attracting a lot of attention, Paolini sold rights to the entire trilogy to Knopf Books for Young Readers in a major deal worth half a million dollars.  These books are intricate and amazing high fantasy so I was blown away to read he had self-published the first book!

Business consultant Tom Peters self-published In Search of Excellence and sold more than 25,000 copies directly to consumers in the first year. He then sold the rights to Warner, whose edition has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies.

When publisher Frederick Warne rejected The Tale of Peter Rabbit because of the costs of printing the illustrations, Beatrix Potter self-published a limited edition of 250 copies in 1901.

James Redfield sold over 80,000 copies of his self-published book, The Celestine Prophecy, from the trunk of his Honda and then sold the reprint rights to Warner Books for $800,000! The book, the #1 bestseller in 1996, has gone on to sell 5.5 million copies.

Irma Rombauer used $3,000 from her husband's estate to self-publish The Joy of Cooking in 1931. Since then, this cookbook has sold millions of copies.

M.J. Rose self-published an erotic thriller called Lip Service. Within three months, it became's highest ranked self-published novel. In 1999, it became the first self-published novel acquired by the Literary Guild book club. A few weeks later, after a heated auction, the hardcover rights were bought by Simon & Schuster for its Pocket Books imprint.

Several of those really surprised me, how about you?  The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry is a classic example of self publishing a book and once it had proven itself then the traditional publishing houses had a bidding war over it.

In this day and age of ebooks and print-on-demand technology self publishing is more accessible than ever.  What do you think about this?  Do you shy away from self-published books?  Are you more cautious when considering a self published book?  Please share your thoughts on this growing trend and how you see it impacting you?  The future of publishing?  Can it perhaps save the printed book and encourage reading in general?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review - A Killing in Antiques

Do you enjoy the Antiques Road Show or like to stop in antiques stores? This week we review a new cozy with the owner of an antiques show as the sleuth and a massive outdoor antiques show with crowds of hundreds of thousands of people as the setting.

Author: Mary Moody

Copyright: July 2011 (Signet) 320 pgs

Series: 1st in Lucy St. Elmo Antiques Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Lucy St. Elmo, antiques shop owner

Setting: Modern day, Cape Cod and Brimfield Antiques Show

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

Lucy St. Elmo is a middle-aged woman who runs St. Elmo Fine Antiques in Cape Cod. She has been married to Hamp since college and has five grown children. Her passion is antiques and she is attending the huge Brimfield Antiques Show which brings thousands of sellers in one spot. It is a multi-day event and dealers come from everywhere.  Entire "fields" opening their gates at staggered times which produces hundreds of people in line to rush in and scout a field to be the first to snatch up the great buys. It is in the intense atmosphere of thousands of people that a well known antiques person is murdered in the early morning hours of the first day of Brimfield.

Lucy knew Monty for several years. He was a bit unusual but Lucy figures that he was killed for the wad of money he always had at Brimfield to pay for a treasure on the spot. Two things happen that get Lucy involved: first she finds out the police are building the case against Monty's gentle and skittish partner "Silent Billy", and second that Monty's money was not taken. She is still going through her treasure hunting for her business but it doesn't hurt to get a lawyer for Billy and ask the network of dealers some questions.

I had a hard time getting really hooked by this character. She is okay and that didn't spark anything for me. I find antiques interesting, although I know very little about them and I really wanted to fall in love with this book. Lucy is drawn well and I could reasonably see her in my mind, she just didn't grab me. That is not to say other readers will not enjoy her. The best parts for me are when Lucy is interacting with her new daughter-in-law Monica. I really liked Monica and I am looking forward to her character being developed more in future books. This series has the potential for many eccentric characters to populate the stories, only one of them being Lucy's friend Natalie.

The mystery is dolled out in small little bits hidden among all the Brimfield Antique Show information and tips. The pacing seemed to maintain a steady pace until the last twenty pages when it raced to the conclusion. I had fingered the killer and some of the motive but that part was still enjoyable. The confrontation with the killer was tense with some harrowing moments which I always enjoy.

The massive event in the book, the Brimfield Antiques Show, is real and I found this video that gives a good introduction to the backdrop for the novel.


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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review - The Bitter Truth

It is a brand new year and the endless stacks of books to read have not gone down any.  I found this book offered for review on LibraryThing and have finally gotten to it.  This is a historical mystery set during WWI with the story developing in both England and even France's battlegrounds.

Author: Charles Todd

Copyright: August 2011 (William Morrow) 352 pgs

Series:  3rd in The Bess Crawford Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: historical amateur sleuth

Main Character:  Bess Crawford, English military nurse during war

Setting: WWI, England and France

Obtained Through: Library Thing

This was my first Bess Crawford book and it stands alone fine.  Bess is given holiday leave from her nursing duties and finds a women huddled at the door to her apartment building soaked to the bone and her face bruised.  Although Bess doesn't want to get involved in Lydia's Domestic situation, she is talked into going with the women to her home to help her face her husband since Bess feels she has a concussion and wants to see she is cared for.  Bess becomes enmeshed in a dysfunctional family in their bleak mansion.  During the dinner party Lydia's husband Roger and his longstanding friend are distinctly heard in a lull in the dinner conversation talking about a suspected illegitimate child of Roger's in France.  Naturally the friend is found dead the next day.  Lydia asks Bess to locate the child in France and when Bess returns to the battlegrounds of France for her duties she enlists the help of an Australian officer to locate the orphanages so she can begin her search.  Her search to find the child sets events tumbling out of control.

Bess as a character is fine as far as she goes.  I found her motivations hard to understand through most of the book. Emotionally Bess was distant for me. She explains emotions but they didn't resonate with me.  Always in the background is a family friend named Simon who I felt had more potential in any number of ways, but remains as a convenient chess piece to have assist Bess.  The dysfunctional family and their bleak home called Vixen Hill provide a creepy atmosphere, giving this tale a Gothic touch.  The Australian officer was an brilliant touch that I can only hope will be a return character in the next book.

The plot was nicely complex and the reader is along for the ride.  It isn't until the last eighty or so pages that the final pieces to this puzzle are revealed and the story is suddenly racing along.  There are many improbable parts to this tale, which would not have been too bad if I could have related a bit more with Bess, which I think is the main reason why this book took so long to get me interested.  I felt no emotional connection and thus no immediacy from the tale.  The Gothic touches and seemingly sinister family members make up for the down sides.  As for the killer, there was not enough information to have figured out who it was so that added to the suspense in the final pages as things spun out of control.  Without giving up too much, I would have liked the killer to have been a more central character rather than an almost sideline player.

This book offers an atmospheric historical tale which does lead the reader on a twisted path with a rather harrowing climax.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival - January 2012

It is the first Monday of the month - time for another highly anticipated Blog Carnival.   Click on the title or author's name to go to that link.  Last month we skipped having a carnival due to few entries.  Please pass the word of this blog carnival along so it is a win-win for all blogs to get more exposure for their reviews.

Police Procedural / PI Book Review

In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel reviewed The Ice Princess by Camille Lackberg, a Scandanavian crime fiction novel. 

Booking Mama reviewed The Cut by George Pelecanos

In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel reviewed Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol Carr

The Mystery Librarian reviewed Zero Day by David Baldacci

Murder, Mystery & Mayhem reviewed Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson

Amateur Sleuth / Cozy book Review

Booking Mama reviewed V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Pudgy Penguin Perusals reviewed The Last Word by Ellery Adams

The Mystery Librarian reviewed Peril at Somner House by Joanna Challis

Booking Mama reviewed the Gingerbread Bump-off by Livia Washburn

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Uneasy Spirits by M. Louise Locke

Pudgy Penguin Perusals reviewed Threadbare by Monica Ferris

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

Booking Mama reviewed Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynski

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose

Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan reviewed The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva featuring Gabriel Allon 

Thank you to all the wonderful bloggers out there who contributed to the carnival.

Let's make next month's Carnival even better. For more information on the specifics of the Carnival and how to submit your posts go here.
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