Book Review: Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Plum Rains
Andromeda Romano-Lax
Soho Press, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-901-2
Hardcover

Skip forward to 2029. Angelica Navarro is a Filipina nurse who is paying back student loans by working in Japan. Years later, the cost of those loans is about to bury her, as her brother’s debts have been added to her own. He signed on to work in Alaska and became sick from the poison left behind when a plague was eradicated by destroying the land. Angelica is nursing a Japanese woman, Sayoko Itou, who is about to celebrate her one hundredth birthday. When her son gives her a robot for a present, Sayoko and Angelica’s lives both take a drastic shift. As for the robot, the self-learning technology with which he (yes, a he) programs into himself will allow him to become both a friend, and an enemy.

The story is convoluted, the author’s vision of the near future rather terrifying, especially as, in a world that grows more crowded every day, privacy has gone by the wayside. And everything costs. One feels for Angelica, working in a strange country. One feels for Sayoko, too, whose background is tragic. Oddly enough and although neither are aware of it, her story is similar with Angelica’s. And oddly, one feels for the robot, who grows more human in exponential leaps and bounds.

The writing is often lyrical, the characters strong, the dialogue always draws the story forward. I felt a sense of dread as I read it, which certainly proves the writer’s ability to impart emotion into the tale. And I believe the end may surprise you.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Reviews: Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and The Arrow Shooter by James Mather

Drag Teen
Jeffery Self
Push, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-82993-9
Hardcover

Remember the first time you released your inner-most self?  Knowing you, to your very core; adoring and admiring that person so much it had to be celebrated—the joyful, buoyant feeling had to be released, good vibes to everyone.  Imagine being in that moment when a hate-filled, bitter person brings contempt so tangible that the light is smothered; the joy stolen.  Because most of us have experienced that, it is almost intuitive to empathize with JT’s predicament.

His parents do not support his desire to attend college after high school.  They appear offended by his plan, as if his ambition is as an affront to the lives they lead.  Rather than seeing and hearing their son, they seem to have created a persona of an ungrateful, arrogant brat that is easy to dismiss.  But JT has Seth, and Seth has a plan.

A Drag Teen pageant is being held for high school seniors needing financial aid for college; the prize—a full scholarship.  The idea of being a Drag Teen doesn’t bother JT; the terror of doing it again, with the same results is paralyzing.  With the support of his boyfriend, their best friend Heather and an assortment of souls along the way, JT tackles the terror.

I was amused, delighted and entirely invested in this story.  The combination of blue-collar parents, an over-the-top, former country music sensation, teen-agers and Drag Queens is quirky in the best possible ways and works wonderfully for JT’s journey to New York City and self discovery.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

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The Arrow Shooter
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-692-46617-9
Trade Paperback

The novel has enormous unrealized potential to provide a long look into what is sometimes referred to as the inscrutable East. Yakuza target Jonathan Lusk leaves Japan and his professional activities as a special undercover operative and enrolls at Stanford University. He is following his father’s trail and seeking the murderer of his father.

Of course his life is complicated by his growing infatuation, a forbidden love for Princess Nanami Yoritomo. A non-Japanese and a commoner, the love between the couple is overladen with difficulties. The campus atmosphere in the 1960s, the threat of a killer stalking Lusk, the efforts of the romantic couple to develop their relationship, all offer great opportunity for emotional soaring narrative.

Alas, the writing is competent, straight forward, efficient and flat. Although we are surely meant to identify with the young couple, the lack of emotion tends to set barriers so we never fully empathize with Jonathan or his princess. On the other hand, the narrative passages that reveal much about Japanese culture are quite interesting. In sum, an interesting read for those who wish to look more closely at a specific cultural element of the East.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino

A Midsummer’s Equation
A Detective Galileo Mystery #3
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-2500-2792-4
Hardcover

In The Devotion of Suspect X, the author created not only a first-class, original crime novel, but a singular character: a physicist, Manabu Yukawa, dubbed Dr. Galileo, who turned out to be an excellent amateur detective.  In this sequel, he applies the same scientific logic in helping to solve a murder, although the police believed the death to be an accident.

The new novel is a twisted tale full of unexpected turns in the plot.  It begins with the visit of a fifth-grade young man to a seaside resort on the Japanese coast, to a dilapidated inn run by his uncle and aunt, where he befriends Yukawa, who takes him under his wing, teaching the boy about various scientific principles and helping him with his homework. At the same inn a retired Tokyo homicide detective checks in and is soon discovered dead, presumably after a fall onto rocks lining the coast.

The story is far from a simple murder mystery and has its roots in the past.  The plot is full of surprises.  As was its predecessor, A Midsummer’s Equation is distinguished not only by the scientific content as applied to the case, but the moralistic conclusions as well.  Once again Higashino has written a clever tale that is deep and satisfying, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

Book Review: The Arrow Catcher by Jim Mather

the-arrow-catcherThe Arrow Catcher
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-615-94538-5
Trade Paperback

Boston, summer, 1948. A celebration and fund raiser for the new state of Israel attended by teen Jonathan Lusk with his parents. It is a day filled with tragedy and death. Before long, Jonathan is living in Japan with his grandfather, called to sit as a judge in the war crimes trials against Japanese criminals. He too, along with his Japanese wife, is soon murdered, Jonathan is sent to a military school and the real story begins.

The prospect of an American teenaged boy, regardless of his connections to important Japanese society, alone in a military training camp shortly after the conclusion of World War II is likely to be short-lived. Yet, against almost monumental odds, the plucky youth survives and readers will be treated to an enthralling inside look at Japanese culture, mores, and many ancient rituals and traditions.

Lusk endures all of the cultural and social strains, plus immense language difficulties, not to mention the normal flow of growing early teen-aged angst. Yet he determines to persevere and survive. He not only survives the real dangers of resentment by fellow students, but evil forces swirl around him when he is drawn into kidnapping and assassination plots by evil forces operating outside the schools.

The novel is not without its problems. It needed a sharp and careful editing of grammar and typography. Yet the relentless and constant push of the author’s style tends to overcome the difficulties. It was a fascinating and worthwhile experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Advocate’s Daughter by Anthony Franze—and a Giveaway!

The Advocate's DaughterThe Advocate’s Daughter
Anthony Franze
Minotaur Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-07165-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Among Washington D.C. power players, everyone has secrets they desperately want to keep hidden, including Sean Serrat, a Supreme Court lawyer. Sean transformed his misspent youth into a model adulthood, and now has one of the most respected legal careers in the country. But just as he learns he’s on the short list to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, his daughter, Abby, a talented and dedicated law student, goes missing. Abby’s lifeless body is soon found in the library of the Supreme Court, and her boyfriend, Malik Montgomery, a law clerk at the high court, is immediately arrested. The ensuing media frenzy leads to allegations that Malik’s arrest was racially motivated, sparking a national controversy.

While the Serrat family works through their grief, Sean begins to suspect the authorities arrested the wrong person. Delving into the mysteries of his daughter‘s last days, Sean stumbles over secrets within his own family as well as the lies of some of the most powerful people in the country. People who will stop at nothing to ensure that Sean never exposes the truth.

With suspense that begins to build in the beginning sentences of Chapter 1, The Advocate’s Daughter earns its place among the better thrillers on the market today. Even with the information provided in the publisher’s description (which I actually think tells much more than it should), I was still on tenterhooks, not so much because it was obvious Abby was missing but because I couldn’t help the nervous anticipation, waiting for her family to find out.

This entire story is chockful of secrets and lies and I really enjoyed the way that Sean uncovers the bits and pieces surrounding his daughter’s murder, all the time knowing he has a massive secret of his own that is almost certainly going to become public if he does get nominated to the court. What sets Sean apart from others—and perhaps shows why he should be considered for the court—is his dedication to find the truth when it would be so much easier to accept the accusations against Abby’s boyfriend. This is a man who really believes in justice even though he and the rest of his family become endangered and, yet, he isn’t obsessed to the point of being oblivious to their peril.

When the truth comes out, it’s shattering and will change Sean’s future and his past beyond anything he could have expected.

Although the author couldn’t have known this would happen, his timing couldn’t possibly be any better since we’re going through the agonies of selecting a US Supreme Court Justice right now. That doesn’t happen often so Mr. Franze’s topic is far more intriguing than it might have been in any other year and is an extra added attraction. The Advocate’s Daughter is gripping, a compelling read, and I don’t mind having missed a few hours of sleep 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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About the Author

Anthony FranzeANTHONY FRANZE has garnered national praise for his work as a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a major Washington D.C. law firm. The New York Times, Washington Post, and other prominent news outlets have quoted or cited Franze concerning the Supreme Court, and he has been a commentator on high-court issues for The New Republic, Bloomberg, and National Law Journal. He lives in the Washington D.C. area with his family.

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Follow the tour:

4/01 – Interview @ BooksChatter
4/02 – Showcase @ Romance Under Fire
4/03 – Review @ Book Reviews from an Avid Reader
4/05 – Review @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too!
4/07 – Guest Post @ Books Direct
4/11 – Review & Giveaway @ Buried Under Books
4/15 – Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
4/18 – Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
4/22 – Showcase @ FictionZeal. com
4/26 – Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
4/29 – Review @ Jaquo Lifestyle magazine
5/02 – Interview, Review, & Giveaway @ Rockin’ Book Reviews

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Advocate’s Daughter, leave
a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn Thursday evening,
April 14th, and the book will be sent
after the tour. Open to residents of the US.

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Book Reviews: Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet and The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Tokyo KillTokyo Kill
Barry Lancet
Simon & Schuster, September 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9172-6
Hardcover

Jim Brodie made his initial appearance in Japantown, an action-packed thriller and the series debut.  He now returns in a novel which is no less filled with derring-do and lots of exotic descriptions of Japanese culture and history.  Brodie inherited a half-interest in Brodie Security, founded by his late father and headquartered in Tokyo, and also operates an art dealership, which he claims is his main profession, in San Francisco.

In Tokyo seeking a rare painting, Brodie is approached by a 90-year-old veteran of World War II asking for protection because members of his military detachment in Manchuria during the war-time occupation by Japan were being murdered.  After he supplies a security detail, events take over the course of the rest of the novel, as Brodie investigates the possibility of Triads, Chinese spies and others as the culprits.  And that takes on a life of its own.

The author has lived and worked in Japan for more than a quarter century, and the flavor and information about the country permeates with authenticity throughout the novel.  His description of various types of martial arts practiced in Japan is a further exhibit of his expertise.  Powerfully written, Tokyo Kill is a very enjoyable read, and this reader is looking forward to additions to the series.
Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

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The Care and Management of LiesThe Care and Management of Lies
A Novel of the Great War
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-222050-9
Hardcover

The old adage that an army travels on its stomach certainly is an apt description for this standalone by the author of the terrific Maisie Dobbs series.  Like those novels, it is sent in and around World War I and captures the horrors of the Great War, the muddy trenches, the deaths and its effect on the folks back home.

The plot centers on Kezia Marchant who marries Tom, the younger brother of her good friend, Thea Brisenden, with whom she went to school, both becoming teachers.  Then upon marrying Tom, Kezia becomes a farm wife.  All this takes place shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, and when the war breaks out, Tom feels imperiled to enlist, leaving Kezia to manage the farm.

In the brief time before Tom leaves for France, a ritual develops, as Kezia learns to cook with a flourish, using ingenuity and good sense to set a table unlike anything her husband had ever experienced.  And when he receives letters in the trenches they are filled with glowing accounts of dinners Kezia has prepared for him, filling his drudgery with lightness.  And the rest of the soldiers in his unit take to the descriptions as well, adding to their joy in the face of the poor rations they have to endure.  This is a novel demonstrating the ability of people to withstand all sorts of horrible experiences and survive, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: The Kizuna Coast by Sujata Massey

The Kizuna CoastThe Kizuna Coast
A Rei Shimura Mystery #11
Sujata Massey
The Ikat Press, December 2014
Ebook
Also available in hardcover and trade paperback

From the author—

When an earthquake triggers a tsunami that floods Japan’s northeast coast, amateur sleuth Rei Shimura is pushed into her most rugged adventure yet.

It starts with an SOS from Rei’s beloved elderly friend, the antiques dealer Mr. Ishida, who’s trapped among thousands on the ravaged Tohoku coast. Rei rushes from Hawaii to blacked-out Tokyo, where she discovers Ishida Antiques may have been burglarized and its cuddly watchdog, Hachiko, needs a caregiver.

Rei and Hachiko board a bus full of disaster volunteers headed to the damaged town of Sugihama. Once there, they learn about the disappearance during the tsunami of Mr. Ishida’s antiques apprentice, Mayumi, a troubled young woman from a famous lacquer-making family.

Making use of her volunteer friends, as well as her knowledge of Japanese manners and antiques, Rei investigates Mayumi’s suspicious disappearance. Complicating the situation is a police force overwhelmed by counting the dead, and a stalker who’s set his or her own sights on Rei.

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and resulting tsunami struck Japan and the world watched in horror as the ruinous effects unfolded, including the frightening damage to a nuclear plant and the deaths of more than 15,000 people. Four years later, more than 300,000 survivors still live in temporary housing and many who were exposed to radiation from the nuclear plant are coping with health problems.

Rei Shimura’s first thoughts are to find Yasushi Ishida, her mentor who is not answering his phone, but she soon discovers that while he is alive, Mayumi, a young apprentice, is missing. Rei, as any of her fans would expect, heads to Japan right away, directly into the devastation. She has solved mysteries before but this one will test her limits as she encounters destruction and untold suffering everywhere she goes.

Rei has always been one of my favorite characters in the mystery world, especially among those who take me to exotic places, and I have missed her and her inability to succumb to defeatism in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Her quirkiness and humor are infectious and I’m thrilled to have her back in my life.

Note: I sound like a crazy fan, don’t I? One might even say I’m a bit of a stalker but I really do know that Rei is a fictional sleuth 😉

Sujata Massey writes a cracking good mystery (with a fabulously helpful cast of characters!) but it’s easy to see that the earthquake and tsunami struck a chord in her. Much of The Kizuna Coast revolves around the aftermath and Ms. Massey‘s emotions clearly shine through Rei’s own. I’ve always enjoyed this series but, somehow, The Kizuna Coast has a depth to it I haven’t seen before and I appreciated the way the author brought heart to a terrible event. I can’t recommend this book highly enough whether others have read the series from the beginning or not.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

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The proceeds from all ebook copies of
The Kizuna Coast sold in March 2015 will be
donated by the author to support a
program for tsunami survivors in Japan.