Book Reviews: A Well-Respected Dead Man by Tricia Allen and Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

A Well-Respected Dead ManA Well-Respected Dead Man      
Tricia Allen
Five Star, August 2003
ISBN 0786254416
Hardcover

Former prosecutor, David Weather, member of a prominent Dallas family, is living in hard times. Suspected corruption in his family has lead to his dismissal from the prosecutor’s office. Now, long time family friend and area gambling ruler, Willie Peabody, is dead, murdered, and David is a prime suspect.

The story, replete with unusual twists and turns and a truly clever resolution, is set against a real-life Texas disaster. In 1947, a ship docked at the Texas City seaport catches fire. Inadequate fire-fighting resources fail to stop the fire and when the freighter Grandcamp explodes, the real disaster is instant and widespread. From all over Texas, help and the curious flood to the seacoast. Meanwhile, as the line goes, back at the ranch….

Author Tricia Allen, in her second novel, has fashioned a real ripsnorter, populated with incredible, bizarre and wonderful creatures, not the least of which is Weather’s family. Grudges, feuding criminals, missing bank robbery money and Texas-style politics are judiciously blended by the author to make this a clever, enthralling novel. As big as all of Texas and twice as complex, where dead thugs are almost as revered as politicians.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Bad MonkeyBad Monkey
Carl Hiaasen
Alfred A. Knopf, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-27259-1
Hardcover

Here we have a crime novel from an established writer who demonstrates a tendency to aim well-considered darts at various and sundry established elements of our society, such as Medicare. In most cases, the author’s aim appears to be true, but he’s using a scatter-gun approach. Sometimes less is more. The novel has a simple plot at its core. A scammer who has taken the federal government for millions of dollars through a fairly elegant illegal operation in south Florida hangs it up when the Feds inquire begin to close in. His method of avoiding arrest is bizarre to say the least.

Meanwhile a reasonably competent Key West detective named Andrew Yancy, now demoted to restaurant inspector, formerly of the Miami Police Department, is tasked by the local sheriff to dispose of a human arm, brought up by a fishing boat off the keys. Seems like a simple task, right? Unfortunately for various law enforcement agencies in South Florida and the Bahama Islands, Yancy thinks there’s something fishy about the arm. And in spite of the distraction of a plethora of pulchritudinous, sexually available women, throwing themselves at Yancy’s feet he soldiers on, determined to bring a murderer to justice and get back his detective’s shield.

Hiaasen is a wonderful writer. He generates a rolling thunder of forward movement and then chucks a nasty wrench into the works that sends the story off in a seemingly totally different direction. He is clever and inventive. Yes, of course there are crimes, including murders and there are many strange and sometimes wonderful characters, effectively used—mostly—by the author to illuminate his concerns about the social milieu which he observes in often minute detail. Reading this book put me off restaurant meals for at least a week.

Yes, there is a monkey. A pet Capuchin, ill-trained, ill-mannered  and possessed of the worst temper and too many anti-social “skills.” The novel is by turns sweet, acidulous, slow, nasty, dark, hilarious, and confusing. Sometimes the pacing and cleverness are enough to take your breath away. Bad Monkey is essential Hiaasen.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart—and a Giveaway

Escape from ParisEscape From Paris
Carolyn Hart
Seventh Street Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-793-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Romantic suspense amid the chaos of a world at war. The year is 1940. As England braces for invasion and the German army overruns Europe, two American sisters in Paris risk their lives to save a downed British airman from Nazi arrest. Linda Rossiter and Eleanor Masson soon realize the price they may pay when they read this ominous public notice: “All persons harbouring English soldiers must deliver same to the nearest Kommandantur not later than 20 October 1940. Those persons who continue to harbour Englishmen after this date without having notified the authorities will be shot.” On Christmas Eve, the Gestapo sets a trap, and death is only a step behind the two American women.

“Carolyn Hart’s riveting and realistic portrayal of German-occupied Paris keeps the suspense high. Set just before Germany declared war on America and just as the French Resistance started to emerge, Escape from Paris is a compelling page-turner.”—Robin Burcell, bestselling author of The Black List

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This book threw me for a loop a little.  I didn’t get into it right away, but it grew on me and I found myself wanting to finish it to see how the story ended.  There’s some good writing, but then there are a few sections that don’t seem to fit.  Overall, I’d say this was a solid book.

To be fair, this is not the sort of book I read, so I’m wondering if I was fighting it a bit too much to give a fair shot.  I do feel the characters were fairly well developed and the plot was interesting.

I would recommend Escape from Paris to folks looking for romance, suspense and books about Paris during the 1940’s.

Reviewed by Chris Swinney, August 2013.
Author of Gray Ghost.

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Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart, leave a
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Book Review: eleanor & park by rainbow rowell

eleanor and parkeleanor & park
rainbow rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01257-9
Hardcover

Recently, @realjohngreen wrote an amazing review of eleanor & park for the NY times.  I added the book to my To-Read list.  Shortly after that, the fabulously talented Sophia Bennett gave the book a 5 star rating on Goodreads.  I bought the book that very day and I am so glad that I did.

I finished the book weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to write a review because, for me, sometimes something is so good that I almost can’t talk about it.  To do so, would somehow cheapen it; like performing a random act of kindness, then telling someone all about it.  All of the sudden, that amazingly satisfied feeling dims.  I am over that now.  I know that I don’t have the ability to right a review worthy of this book, so I will just tell you some of my favourite things.

1.     The characters: Eleanor & Park
In different reviews that I’ve read, they have been referred to as “misfits”.  I didn’t see that. Rather, I felt that, in their sincere simplicity they appear to be complex.  To me, they stand out because they are genuinely true to themselves.

2.    Showing that parents do have the capacity to understand, admit when they’ve misjudged, and be supportive, even when they don’t fully understand.
Park’s mother:
·    Not too fond of Eleanor at first, but she later realizes that she “judged a book by its cover” and that she was wrong.
·    I love the way she speaks.
·    Doesn’t even feign subtlety when she chooses to encourage the relationship

Park’s father:
·    Military man, serious, strict and intimidating
·    When Park chooses to change his appearance, his father is furious.  When he tries to accept Park for who he is, he lets Park know in a hilarious, off-the-cuff way.
·    Shows unconditional love by supporting both Park & Eleanor, even when not in agreement

3.    The back of the book tells you that this is a romance, but I would not categorize it as such.  Yes, a relationship develops, but it is not romantic.  Hearts don’t suddenly beat faster, there is no “love at first sight”.  Instead, Eleanor & Park meet only because Park chooses to share his bus seat with a strange-looking, weird-dressing new girl.  The development of the relationship is realistic.  It doesn’t start with a spark then explode into fireworks.  It is way better than that.

4.    Eleanor’s challenges are believable.  The miserable issues she faces aren’t gratuitous.  They are intricate to her character and the development of the story and we all know someone that has been in her position.  The empathy and support that I felt for a fictional character felt real to me.

5.    Finally, I believe it shows teens for who they really are.  Name-calling, teasing & tormenting usually disguise an insecure person with a true heart.  When truly needed, most teens will come through.

I hope that you enjoy Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel as much as I have.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

Book Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

The Nightmare AffairThe Nightmare Affair
The Arkwell Academy Series #1
Mindee Arnett
Tor Teen,  March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3333-9
Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0067-0
Ebook

Dusty Everhart spends her life breaking into bedrooms to feed off the energy of others dreams. Feed too long and the magic is gone, along with a soul or two. But now, the dreams are different. His dreams are different. Eli, the good-looking, popular guy is a perfect match for her abilities. Together they must face the greatest danger to all kinds, magical and ordinary. Can they defeat the oldest and most powerful magic ever known?

This book is fantastic! There, I’ve said it. Now to justify my declaration (of love, admiration and a smidge of jealousy). I had just finished a below par book and having sent off my unsavoury review I begrudgingly decided to soldier on with the next one since I felt guilty at not having all these titles reviewed by now. I’m so glad I did since The Nightmare Affair gripped me from the first page and reminded me why I review books in the first place. Once in a while, you’ll stumble across an absolute gem that makes it all worthwhile. I read this in one sweep, taking about 3 hours to do so, and so enthralling was the story that it carried me away into a new world while my own ticked away in the background. While the book market has recently been saturated with vampire and werewolf tomes of late, The Nightmare Affair takes a new slant on typical teenage fantasy and tackles the subject of Nightmares and their quirky habit of sitting on the chest of their unsuspecting victims, ahem, I mean subjects. A dangerous mission has Dusty and her dream partner Eli, not to mention her siren friend Selene, chasing down suspects, breaking into crypts and battling powerful enemies, all while tip-toeing through the minefield that is the teenage social scene.

This book was very well written, with characters that have depth and an intriguing plot. Occasionally, some of the more peripheral characters were a little light in detail but not enough to be off putting and certainly not enough to take away from the plot.  I did manage to pinpoint one or two villains of the piece, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and certainly not for younger readers. There were enough surprises and twists to satisfy most readers and keep you eager for more. I think this is a book that teenagers would love and I’m hoping that this is the first of a series. I will definitely be on the lookout for any follow-ups and heartily recommend it to others. I certainly would not be surprised to see this on the shelves of any good bookstore; it’s simply a must for young adults!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, August 2013.

Book Review: Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader

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Title: Escape from Eden
Author: Elisa Nader
Publisher: Merit Press
Release Date: 08/18/13
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult
    

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Escape from EdenEscape from Eden
Elisa Nader
Merit Press, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4405-6392-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Since the age of ten, Mia has rebelled against the iron fist of a fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join a fanatical family of followers. At “Edenton,” a supposed Garden of Eden deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the reverend’s strict and arbitrary rules–even about whom they can marry. Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in and the curious out. When the rebellious Gabe, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees her chance to escape and to free her family. But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s facade are more shocking than anything they imagined. While Gabe has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friend and freedom fighters. But there’s no time to think about love as they race against time to stop the reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock–but not himself–from this corrupt world. Can two kids crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman whose only concern is his own secrets?

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I’m dating myself, I know, but I remember Jonestown very well. For those of us on the outside, it was unbearably sad but also a real shock to our sensibilities because we had never really experienced anything remotely like this. There had been other megalomaniacs before Jim Jones—Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung come to mind—but, so many years later, most of us just didn’t contemplate the possibility of a “civilian” having such total control over the people who believed in him. Those other men operated with immense cruelty but they were generally removed from the acts of their followers while Jones was right in the midst of it. Besides the incredible sadness of all the lives lost, we were confronted with the reality that some people are so lost and in search of meaning in their lives that they could be completely swayed by the glibness of a madman to the point that they would murder their own children because he told them to do it.

There have been other cults with their own kinds of disasters and leaders, like Charles Manson in the 1960’s and David Koresh in the 1990’s, who also could twist the minds of vulnerable people but Jim Jones is a name that will always be the epitome of cultish horror. In recent years, though, cults have become less of a news item. They certainly still exist but their activities are no longer in the public eye as much as they were back then. That makes what Elisa Nader has done even more remarkable than a casual reader might realize.

Ms. Nader is far too young to remember Jonestown and her target audience certainly won’t but she has created a story that brings to life how a cult leader like Jim Jones can operate.  Certain traits hold true with Reverend Elias Eden including isolating his people from general society, controlling what they eat and where they go , even naming the community after himself as another subliminal means of imprinting on these people who are not allowed to keep their own family names. What’s so amazing, in real life and in this story, is how far those people will go to support their leader and I think Escape from Eden will help today’s young adult readers understand the serious pitfalls of such a life.

Yes, the scenario is frightening and sad and a matter of incredulity for those of us on the outside but here is where Ms. Nader introduces an element that relieves the sense of doom—she creates hope in the persons of Mia and Gabe, two young members of the hidden society who don’t believe, who seek to break free and perhaps bring an end to the tyranny. I appreciated the support they gave each other although I didn’t particularly care for the potential romance or Mia’s propensity to let her attraction to Gabe get in the way but it’s such a relief to have these kids bring hope to an untenable situation. Mia, in particular, is refreshingly not always the brightest bulb in the box  and Gabe has his own tragic background to overcome but they have the passion to survive. Along the way, the reader is faced with intense suspense and fast-paced action, frequently feeling the need to chew fingernails.

Elisa Nader Book Quote

The combination of appealing and credible characters, and some who are not so appealing, with such a bonechilling plot led me to race through the story because I just had to know what was coming on the next page while I was also dreading the end. I was afraid of what might happen but wanted the story to keep going. Elisa Nader has brought us a real winner with Escape from Eden and I hope we won’t have to wait too long before her next work. Perhaps she could come up with a novella or two to tide us over in the meantime ;-).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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About the Author

Elisa NaderHi. I’m Elisa. I like cheese and reading and TV show marathons. Writing is scary, but not as scary as, say, Civil War amputations. I’m an Aquarius. Uh… let’s see… I’m not very good at writing my own biography. Or autobiography. I guess this is reading more like a slightly incoherent personal ad.

Author Links:

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebookPinterest

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Book Review: No Angel by Helen Keeble

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Title: No Angel 
Author: Helen Keeble 
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication date: October 8th 2013
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

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No AngelNo Angel
Helen Keeble
HarperTeen, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-208227-5
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Rafael Angelos just got handed the greatest gift any teenage boy could ever dream of. Upon arriving at his new boarding school for his senior year, he discovered that he is the only male student there. But Raffi’s about to learn that St. Mary’s is actually a hub for demons—and that he was summoned to the school by someone expecting him to save the day. Raffi knows he’s no angel—but it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s some higher plan at work when he wakes up one morning to discover he’s sprouted wings and a glowing circle around his head. . . .

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Be honest now. Can you resist a book tag like this?

He flies.
He fights demons.
He’s looking down your shirt.

I admit it, I couldn’t resist ;-). Angels and demons with a splash of humor seemed to be just the ticket for me in my mood at the moment and what I found was a rollicking parody of all the usual angel vs. demon novels out there, chockful of LOLs and a touch of potential romance and a whole lot of fun.

Ms. Keeble has a masterful voice with all of her characters, whether they be self-satisfied teens or love-struck tweens or overbearing teachers and, dare I say, Raffi aka Raf is perhaps the most appealing teenaged boy I’ve come across in a long, long time. I love the way he is first thrilled and then very quickly scared out the wazoo when he finds out he’s not just the first boy to enroll at this previously all-girls academy, he is the ONLY boy. That rings so true, doesn’t it? I can see a cocky kid who swims in popularity thinking this situation would be the most glorious opportunity ever but Raf’s reaction is what I think 99% of the teen male population would have.

So, off he goes to his lonely room in the boys’ dorm and he very quickly finds that loneliness won’t be a problem. The parade of young girls that come knocking at his door, flowers in hand, is hilarious and Raffi (he apparently can’t make the preferred “Raf” stick) shows what he’s made of by being kind to these kids. Unfortunately, that good deed does not go unpunished.

Then, Raffi finds out, in a most alarming way, that there’s much more to him than meets the eye—although the eye can’t help being drawn to the halo that has suddenly appeared and the best he can come up with to hide it is a My Little Pony hat. It seems that his new self-appointed best buddy, Krystal, did a little conjuring and called him to the school to help Faith, one of the most down-trodden pretty girls ever, fight the demons back before they can escape the local Hellgate. Somehow, Raffi never saw himself as an angel but it is what it is.

Can the trio defeat the demons and can Raffi fend off the deadly attentions—and intentions—of Michaela, a girl who drips smoldering beauty and menace? Will those nasty demon tentacles succeed in knocking him into the hereafter?

In a final scene of good versus evil at the annual Masked Ball, Raffi spends just as much time defending the honor of some of his classmates who would like to give up said honor to their dates from the neighboring boys’ school as he does confronting the Demon Prince. Raffi and friends discover too late that they just may have been outmaneuvered and more than one huge secret comes to light.

I so enjoyed this story and I hope that, someday, Ms. Keeble will bring us another adventure with Raffi and his friends. In the meantime, I’ll have to get my Keeble-fix with her previous book, Fang Girl.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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About the Author

Helen Keeble
Helen Keeble is not, and never has been, a vampire. She has however been a teenager. She grew up partly in America and partly in England, which has left her with an unidentifiable accent and a fondness for peanut butter crackers washed down with a nice cup of tea. She now lives in West Sussex, England, with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a variable number of fish. To the best of her knowledge, none of the fish are undead. Her first novel, a YA vampire comedy called FANG GIRL, came out 11th Sept 2012, from HarperTeen. Her new YA paranormal comedy novel, NO ANGEL, is scheduled for October 8th, 2013.
Author Links:
Website  //  Goodreads  //  Twitter  //  Facebook

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Going to the Dogs—and a Giveaway

Kathleen DelaneyKathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with a few thoughts on how folks lived in the eighteenth century and how things have changed since then, especially for the animals.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, was released on July 1st.

My most recent mystery, Murder by Syllabub, is set on a mythical plantation close to Colonial Williamsburg. I spent a lot of time in Williamsburg doing research on how people lived in the eighteenth century as that is an integral part of the plot. I learned a lot, some a bit trivial, some basic to the way people lived then.

Do you know where the expression “sleep tight” comes from?  Beds in the eighteenth century didn’t have springs. They had ropes woven across the bed frame. Ropes loosen with time and with the weight of many bodies. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for travelers to find themselves sharing a bed when they stopped at a tavern for the night. You and your bed mates, whom you quite likely had never seen before, could expect to be issued a ropejack to Murder by Syllabubtighten the ropes as they sagged through the night along with the admonition, “sleep tight”. You could not expect to be given anything to keep away the creepy crawly things that often inhabited the mattress stuffing, so you were on your own on how to obey the rest of that saying, “don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I’ll bet they did, and often.

Ever call someone an “old goat?” The saying didn’t originate because of the animal itself. It refers to the wig the “old goat” wore. Many wigs were made of goat’s hair and, of course, the older the goat the whiter the hair that went into making the wig, saving one the expense and trouble of dusting the wig with powder to make it white. I’ve wondered how they got that much hair off the goats. The ones I’ve met today don’t have an abundance of it. Which brings us to another topic.  Animals, and how they were used and treated.

Kathleen's pal Lanie

Kathleen’s pal Lanie

Today, we have pets. They live with us, keep us company, but most of them don’t have jobs. Dogs play an important part in Murder by Syllabub, but the two who are crucial to the story don’t have jobs, either. At least not the way they would have in the eighteenth century. Then, no one but the most wealthy would keep a dog that didn’t have a job. Animals, all of them, were expected to perform a valuable function. Hens laid eggs and later, graced your dinner table as the entre. Cows gave birth to more cows and gave milk that fed the calf and later fed the family in the form of butter, cream, yogurt etc. Goats also gave milk which could be made into cheese and evidently they also gave hair, as mentioned above. Sheep gave wool which became cloth and they all also, at some point, became dinner. Cats caught the mice and rats that ate the grain–you get the picture.

Kathleen's other pal, Milly the Mop

Kathleen’s other pal, Milly the Mop

What did the dogs do? Their function then, as now, was different. From the time they walked out of the forest to join primitive man around the camp fire they have delivered service. They’ve guarded the store rooms and the homestead, pulled small carts, herded sheep and cows, retrieved game out of freezing cold ponds and lakes, pointed out a deer trying to avoid getting shot, and have been our eyes and our ears. Many of them still preform these function. They guide the blind, find lost children and hunt down criminals. They still herd sheep, fetch game from frozen ponds, and are guardians of the portals, in other words, they bark like crazy when a stranger comes to the door and often when the postman delivers the mail. Mostly, today, they are our friends.

I have two dogs, both small, both useless. I also have a cat who I doubt has ever caught a mouse. I suggested she might try her hand at it but she fell asleep on my bed before I could finish instructing her. I tried the little dogs next. Surely they could find some useful occupation. Think of the contributions their kind made in the eighteenth century, I said, in my most encouraging voice. One laughed, the other looked bored. Right now they are standing over empty dinner bowls, looking pathetic. I think that is their way of saying, its 2013 and we’re hungry. If my two are an example of the old phrase, “going to the dogs”,  I think I’d like to try it.

One lucky reader will win a print copy of
Murder by Syllabub
by Kathleen Delaney
and you have two chances to enter the
drawing. For the first
entry, go back to
yesterday’s review
and leave a comment
there. To have a second entry, leave a
comment here .
The winning name will be
drawn
on the evening of Thursday,
September 26th. This drawing is open
to
residents of the US and Canada.