Book Review: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine
Christine Mangan
Ecco, March 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-268666-4
Hardcover

From the publisher:  It’s about Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason, at one time the closest of friends, now wedged apart by a chilling secret.  They find themselves reunited in Morocco in 1956, where revolution is imminent, though it seems like the real warfare is between the two of them.  The dusty alleyways of Tangier have never felt so ominous.”

First things first:  “Tangerine” is what you are called if you are of, or from, Tangiers.  The chapters’ p.o.v. alternates between Lucy and Alice, fittingly enough. The first belongs to Alice, musing as she looks out the window at the streets of Morocco, thinking back to her days at Bennington College, in Vermont, where she and Lucy, both 17, were best friends and roommates [having met on their very first day at college.]”  And where she met John McAllister, to whom she is now married, although having decided not to change her name:  “It felt important, somehow, to retain some part of myself, my family, after everything that had happened.”  Trying “to not think each and every second of the day about what had happened in the cold, wintry Green Mountains of Vermont.”  It is now just over a year since that time.  (There are several references to “what had happened,” although the reader is not told what that “everything” was for quite a while, e.g., “It was perhaps too much to hope for, I knew, that things would simply revert back to how they had once been, before that terrible  night.”)

Lucy, who is a writer of obituaries for a local newspaper, first appears in Chapter Two, as she describes the intense heat of the city, where she finds “the promise of the unknown, of something infinitely deeper, richer, than anything I had ever experienced in the cold streets of New York.”  She has come to Tangiers for the express purpose of finding and joining Alice.  Born in a small town in Vermont, Tangiers is literally another world for her.  When she makes her way to Alice’s apartment, she finds it cluttered with books, by Dickens and others of that ilk, which is surprising to Lucy, as the Alice she had known was “not a big reader.  I had tried to encourage her during our four years as roommates, but try as I might to interest her, she had only stuck up her nose.  They’re all just so serious, she had complained . . . she was made, it seemed, for living, rather than reading about the experiences of other lives.”  When Lucy re-enters her life, Alice is delighted to see her “once friend, the closest friend that I had even known before it had all gone wrong.”  The tale goes along this way, with fascinating insights into the two women, and into this stifling city, and its people and places, so completely foreign to everything they have known till then.  The writing is fascinating, and the mystery, when it is finally made clear to the reader, well worth the time it took to get us there.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2018.

Advertisements

Book Review: Dying to Live by Michael Stanley

Dying to Live
A Detective Kubu Mystery #6
Michael Stanley
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN:  978-1-466-88156-3
Hardcover

The sixth in the series featuring detective Kubu (“hippopotamus” in Setswana, the language of Botswana), this novel has an unusual plot:  a secret plant indigenous to the desert, for which three men are murdered, is the basis for this mystery.  The pathologist Dr. Ian MacGregor, who does the autopsy on a bushman found dead in the desert, discovers an aged body containing youthful organs.  He calls Kubu when he suspects the man was murdered.  It turns out the victim was a highly respected witch doctor who treated a variety of “patients” with a secret potion promising a long life.

Thus begins a long, complicated investigation, in which Kubu is assisted by the first female CID detective, a case that expands when another witch doctor turns up murdered and a visiting anthropologist from the United States goes missing.  As if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Kubu is confronted by another case in which controlled substances, powdered rhino horn, is being smuggled out of the country.  Kubu suspects the two cases are inter-related.

Just as important to this novel, as well as the series, is Kubu’s home life, his relationship with his wife, Joy, and his daughter Tuni, and adopted daughter, Nono, who is HIV positive and suffers a breakdown causing considerable concern until a prescribed cocktail of medicines can be formulated to stabilize her condition.  These aspects give the writing team who authored the book the opportunity to show how human Kubu is, as well as the detective’s well-known appetite.  Other constant features of the series are the atmosphere and characteristics of the Batswana (the people of the nation).  We await the seventh novel in the series after recommending the sixth and current one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

Book Reviews: Durable Goods by Patricia Hale and Your Robot Dog Will Die by Arin Greenwood

Durable Goods
The Cole and Callahan Thriller Series #2
Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, April 2018
ISBN 978-1940758695
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Detective John Stark approaches the PI team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan with a postcard he’s sure is from his estranged daughter, Kira. She’s been listed as a runaway for three years by Portland, Maine police but John isn’t convinced that her continued absence is by choice. As Stark’s long-time friends, Cole and Callahan agree to look into the postcard marked only with the letters OK. The postmark leads them to Oracles of the Kingdom, a farm where women sell fresh produce in return for a fresh start with God. But nothing seems right about the town or the farm and Britt goes undercover to look for Kira. Once inside, she realizes that Oracles of the Kingdom is not the refuge it appears.

I look forward to crime fiction that combines police work with private investigation because, while they’re very different occupations, they also are very complementary when each respects the other’s profession. A PI has limitations by virtue of not having access to national and international resources (unless it’s a huge security firm) while a police detective is restricted by laws intended to protect the public from overreach. That’s simplifying things, of course, but there’s no question that collaboration can make for a rich story.

When John Stark approaches his friends for help finding his daughter, it’s a logical thing to do. After all, his emotions and objectivity are compromised, just as a doctor’s would be if he tries to treat his critically ill child. Add to that, John has burned a few bridges in his department over the past three years that Kira has been missing and, when he finally gets a potential lead, he can’t drum up much interest in the police in localities near where he thinks she might be. Now, he’s come to Britt and Griff and they can’t turn him down; this man is too important in their lives. The plan they come up with will put all of them, especially Britt, in terrible peril.

Although the case in this book is very different from that in the first book, The Church of the Holy Child, the drama and emotion in that story are no less intense here and the subject matters, including sex trafficking, drugs and physical violence, are important topics in today’s world more than ever before. This is no tale for the squeamish but is nevertheless recommended.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Your Robot Dog Will Die
Arin Greenwood
Soho Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-839-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Seventeen-year-old Nano Miller was born and raised on Dog Island: home to Mechanical Tail, the company behind lifelike replacements for “man’s best friend.” The island is also home to the last living dogs, all but extinct. When a global genetic experiment went awry and canines stopped wagging their tails, mass hysteria ensued and the species was systematically euthanized. Here, they are studied in a natural and feral state.

Nano’s life has become a cycle of annual heartbreak. Every spring, Mechanical Tail gives her the latest robot dog model to test, only to tear it from her arms a year later. This year is complicated by another heartbreak: the loss of her brother, Billy, who recently vanished without a trace. But nothing can prepare her for a discovery that upends everything she’s taken for granted: it’s a living puppy that miraculously wags its tail. There is no way she’s letting this dog go.

Take a good look at that doggie sitting next to you or at your feet and imagine, if you will, that you can only keep her for a year and then you’ll be given a replacement. Can you fathom the heartache? Would you even be willing to have a dog in your life?

Now, take it a step further—your dog is a machine, a robot, very cleverly built and every year’s model is better, more lifelike, than the last. Would you want your annual dog? Would you be as attached?

Nano is heartbroken when the “executioner” comes to end Derrick’s existence and brings her his replacement. Nano names this one Billy, for her brother who has been missing for a while. Nano and her friends, Jack and Wolf, grew up on Dog Island and have never left it. The few families on the island are kind of a marketing focus group that tests all the new mechanical dogs before they hit the shelves and they help look after the six remaining real dogs. When Nano discovers four living puppies, she hides one and what that act leads to will change life for every one, for better or worse to be determined.

On the surface, this seems like a fairly straightforward story but it actually has a lot of layers, so many that I don’t actually know what the author’s main intent was. Along with the idea of mechanical dogs, attention is given to the causes and repercussions of scientific experimentation, budding romance, severe drought, isolation, misguided societal control, the vegan lifestyle, euthanasia…the list goes on and one. Finally, I decided to not look for meanings and just enjoy this shaggy dog tale with a few twists.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 5

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Peachy Flippin’ Keen
Southern Eclectic #3
Molly Harper
Pocket Star, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7894-8
Ebook

Molly Harper has a ton of books but I had never “met” her until I came across the first book in this 4-book series and fell deeply, madly in love with Lake Sackett, Georgia, and the McCready clan, not to mention the folks in their town. These books are Southern fiction at it’s best and this novella is no exception. Nothing earthshattering happens here as it’s pretty much a set-up for the book coming out in June, Ain’t She a Peach (and I can hardly wait to start that one).

Frankie McCready has to be the cutest, most unusual county coroner and embalmer you ever did see but she fits right in with the family and the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop which is exactly what the name says. One day, there’s a new lawman in town, Sheriff Eric Linden, fresh from Atlanta, and he apparently never read the Southern charm book. Pranks are being perpetrated on the McCready premises but it’s questionable whether the sheriff will help solve the case or drive Frankie to murder (of him) first. Then again, they did have a previous encounter so keeping that secret is one thing they have in common, probably the only thing. Can you guess where this is headed?

These books can be read out of order because each one focuses on different members of the family but, for a real treat, read these in order.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Death Promise
Jacqueline Seewald
Encircle Publications, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-893035-94-2
Trade Paperback

On the surface, this sequel is a thriller involving human trafficking and organized crime as well as maybe Russians and international intrigue but, for me, the core story is that of Daniel Reiner and the family dysfunction that suddenly mushrooms when he learns he has a much younger teenaged sister, daughter of the father who abandoned him as a child. Who is Beth and is she truly his half-sister? International consultant Michelle Hallam agrees to help Daniel look into the situation but what they learn in Las Vegas sends them into a tornado of more and more questions with frightening answers. This is a nice blend of suspense and romance with lots of action to keep the pages turning.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
A Flavia de Luce Novel #9
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-0-345539991
Hardcover
Random House Audio
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

Great sadness and a near-cliffhanger enveloped our cheeky pre-teen detective at the end of the previous book and fans had to wait, with huge anticipation, for this newest book to find out what would become of the de Luce family and its faithful servants, Dogger and Mrs. Mullet. When Aunt Felicity becomes overbearing and a bit of a bully, Flavia decides to do away with herself but Fate intervenes when Dogger suggests an outing, a boat trip on a nearby river. Is anyone surprised when Flavia quite literally catches a corpse, setting her off on another investigation?

Rumor has it the next book, The Golden Tresses of the Dead (January 2019), will be the last we see of Flavia but, oh my goodness, I hope not and the surprise at the end of The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place gives me a little bit of hope for her future. Who knew, back in 2009 when the series began, that so many mystery readers would fall in love with this kid?

As always, narrator Jayne Entwistle kept me entranced and, at times, sitting in the car in my driveway or a parking lot so I could continue to listen. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and I highly, highly recommend the audiobooks and/or the print books (I do both so I won’t miss anything) but reading in order is a must.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn
A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Short Story
Gigi Pandian
Henery Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-314-3
Ebook

“Jaya, for the love of all that’s good and holy, please remember that not everything is a murderous plot.”

With that, Jaya and Tamarind (the latter wearing stylish purple combat boots) are rescued from the Denver airport in a snowstorm by a pair of friendly guys and are soon ensconced at a Victorian hotel, the Tanglewood Inn. Did Jaya really see someone at the window of the turret room she’s been assigned? Kenny thinks the hotel is perfect but it puts Jaya more in mind of a spooky haunted house. Sure enough, the owner, Rosalyn, shares the tale of her hotel library’s “avenging ghost”.  A former guest, a Mr. Underhill, died there in the 1930’s and an Agatha Christie book had something to do with it in a classic locked room mystery.

And then they hear a scream in the night…

I’m already a devotee of Jaya’s historic treasure hunting adventures and this little story is a perfect interlude before the next novel. Besides, who could ask for more than a locked room mystery?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

The Italian Party
Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-14783-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher―a teenager with secrets of his own―disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Scottie and Michael are children of their times, as they say, and those of us who remember the 1950’s will certainly recognize them. They scream “American” with their enormous, flashy Ford Fairlane, their marriage is something of a convenience and they barely know each other, and they’re much, much wealthier than the Italians they want to live among. Michael is undoubtedly the head of the household and Scottie is the demure wife who follows her husband’s lead; in fact, Michael appreciates that she knows how to be a good, supportive wife. After all, her education at Vassar led to her Mrs. degree and she upholds it beautifully.

Unlike the “Leave It to Beaver” scenario, these two are not exactly the salt of the earth but, perhaps more importantly, neither one has a clue who the other one is and major secrets begin to come out as soon as they get to their destination, Siena. On top of everything in their personal lives, Communism is nipping at their heels.

All of that sounds kind of dismal, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s true to an extent but the joy in this novel comes from watching this young couple come to terms with themselves and each other while they’re in the midst of a most unlikely spy story of their own and there are a lot of laughs to be had, the kind that make you think “caper” and “adventure”. All in all, this was totally fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes spies, international intrigue, comedy, romance, adventure, history, Italian food…you get the idea 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

************

About the Author

Photo credit Stacy Brand

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel under her own name.

Website // Facebook // Twitter

Book Review: Fools’ River by Timothy Hallinan

Fools’ River
A Poke Rafferty Thriller #8
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61695-750-6
Hardcover

The author writes in an afterword: “I had a vague idea when I started writing Fools’ River that it might be fun to bring together three or four simultaneous stories and see whether I could tell them all in a very compressed span…”  And so he did, relating several threads within 36 hours.

So we begin with Edward, the leading man in a play with Miaow, Poke Rafferty’s adopted daughter, begging Poke to find his father who is missing for 12 days; the travail of the father, one of a series of men lured by sex and imprisoned while his capturers milk bank accounts and credit cards; the life and times of Lutanh, a boy-girl, which permits descriptions of the seedier side of Thailand and its sex-obsessed trade; then there is Rose, former bar girl, married to Poke for seven years and now bearing his child in a difficult pregnancy, and mother of Miaow; and lastly Poke’s constant worry about Rose, while attempting to find Edward’s father.

The descriptions of the corruption of the Bangkok police is penetrating as are observations of the sex establishments: the Cherry Girls, the bars and of the farangs chasing after them.   Each of the sub-plots is fast-paced and absorbing and brings the reader along to a thrilling finish.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: Fall From Grace by Tim Weaver

Fall From Grace
A David Raker Mystery #5
Tim Weaver
Penguin Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-399-56257-0
Trade Paperback

David Raker, finder of missing persons, is asked to locate Leonard Franks, a retired 35-year veteran who headed the Met’s murder squad, and had disappeared seven months before without a trace in a variation of the locked room mystery.  His investigation becomes more complicated than just finding out what happened after Franks stepped out from his living room to gather a few logs from the woodshed.  When he didn’t return, his wife went out to look for him and couldn’t find a trace: no tracks in the snow, no car visible for miles in any direction.

Raker’s investigation takes him from the bucolic Dorset countryside to the depths of London and into an abandoned Bethlehem, a mental institution, a cast of characters too numerous to contemplate and copious family and police secrets.  Along the way, violence erupts and Raker and his daughter are in danger.

The author has chosen to develop a plot far beyond a simple missing person’s case, unraveling a series of subplots ending in a denouement far from the original start of the story.  Whether this track is a good idea or not is up to a reader’s taste.  This reader reacted in the negative, believing a story should be simple rather than overly complex.  But the novel is well-written and –plotted, and for those who can enjoy very multifaceted tales, it can be and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2017.