Book Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis

Baby Blue
Stratos Gazis Series, Book 1
Pol Koutsakis
Translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Bitter Lemon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-908524-91-1

Modern day Athens is rife with corruption. Stratos Gazis makes his living by dealing with that corruption. He doesn’t consider himself a hit-man, although plenty of other people do. He sees himself as more of a problem solver; often the problem requires removing a person from a given situation on a permanent basis. Stratos is OK with that; some people deserve their fate. Stratos does have a code: if a client lies to him, he keeps the deposit and doesn’t do the job. Many people don’t believe this. Stratos believes that when you’re the best, you can afford to make the rules for your job.

One evening a friend, Angelino, calls in a favor. Angelino has a protégé, Emma. Emma wants Stratos to find out who killed her adoptive father several years ago. Definitely a cold case. Emma is blind, and has an amazing talent for card tricks. Angelino, who normally deals in information in and around Athens, plans on making a bundle of money by promoting Emma. Concurrently, there is a group (or maybe just one person) who killed pedophiles; there is a definite signature to the killings and this resembles the way in which Emma’s father was killed. Was Themis Raptas, once a well-known and respected reporter, a pedophile?  Why is there virtually no trace of him on the Internet?  Why was his adoption of Emma expedited?  The more Stratos looks into this old case, the worse everything looks for practically anyone and everyone involved.

There is a sub-plot related to Stratos and his past. The woman he is living with, Maria,  is pregnant. Stratos is not sure he is the father; there is at least one other potential candidate, who happens to be Maria’s previous boyfriend and a man Stratos considers to be his best friend, Kostas Dragos. Drag is also a policeman, a detective. He is investigating the pedophile murders; there may be some overlap with Emma’s situation. Maria isn’t sure where her relationship with Stratos is going, considering his occupation. Life is complicated.

Koutsakis paints a very dark portrait of Athens. Corruption is the rule and there seem to be almost no exceptions to that rule. Good people are difficult to find in this city, and their lot is not generally a pleasant one. Stratos comes by his world view via American film noir; references to classic films are scattered throughout the novel. Like back alleys in some Greek neighborhoods, the plot twists and turns many, many times before the truth (if that what it actually is) is revealed. There are lots of dead bodies, most of them justifiably so. This is the second book in the Stratos Gazis crime series; if one is prone to dark reads, tracking down ATHENIAN BLUES (the first) would probably be time well spent. BABY BLUE can stand quite well on it’s own two feet.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 4

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…

Unsub
Unsub #1
Meg Gardiner
Dutton, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-98552-6
Hardcover

If you’re ever in the mood for a nail-biting, gut-wrenching tale of police work, this is it. Detective Caitlin Hendrix comes very close to her own kind of obsession that plays like a counterpoint to the unsub’s sick and deadly obsession and, at times, it’s a little difficult to tell them apart. I don’t mean that literally—on the page, of course you know who is who—but the emotional turmoil that each feels has a sort of certain similarity and you can’t help wondering just how much the killer is affecting her, perhaps even twisting her mind, not to mention the agitation stemming from her own baggage. This unsub is pretty well terrifying and Ms. Gardiner had me flying through the pages.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Poor Things
Daniel Barnett
CreateSpace, June 2016
ISBN 978-1533613080
Trade Paperback

Are you ready for some creepy vibes of the horror variety? From the opening scene of a deer dying on the road, I had a sense of what the title might refer to in a vague sort of way but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like these characters, especially Joel and a new friend, Ash, a tomboy with an inner strength and a no-nonsense attitude. A high school superjock, Joel is typically obnoxious and a bit of a bully towards his kid brother but his life changes in an instant. He’s naturally full of anger and resentment but a kernel of compassion is there. All he can really hope for is to find acceptance for his new circumstances and, just maybe, a little happiness.

Too bad there’s something evil beginning to stir, maybe the end of the world…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Renting Silence
A Roaring Twenties Mystery #3
Mary Miley
Severn House, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-7278-8653-8
Hardcover

Jessie Beckett isn’t really a private investigator but she seems to have a knack for it so, when Mary Pickford asks her to look into a starlet’s death, she agrees, having no idea where her search for the truth will take her. Vaudeville’s colorful past, blackmail, an impending death sentence…all come into play but will these varying pieces lead Jessie to Lila Walker’s real murderer before Ruby Glynn hangs?

The mystery here is topnotch but it’s Ms. Miley‘s evocation of Hollywood in its early days that’s really the star of the show, pun intended. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Myrna Loy, Zeppo Marx,  even Rin Tin Tin fill the pages with so much history and fun it’s easy to become mesmerized. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode in Jessie’s life and will be staring the next book, Murder in Disguise, as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Resurrection Mall
A Penns River Crime Novel #3
Dana King
Down & Out Books,
ISBN 978-1-943402-65-6
Trade Paperback

A town that’s down on its luck, economically speaking, is ripe for drug trade and mob activity along with a rise in petty crime and that’s what’s happened to Penns River, leading to corruption on multiple fronts and a police department that’s sorely tested. The “Resurrection Mall” of the book’s title actually is a shopping mall, one that’s being refurbished by a minister trying to help the community or so he says.

Doc Dougherty, the quintessential cop we all want on our side in a crunch, still goes home for Sunday dinner because that’s the kind of guy he is, rooted in family and the truly important things in life. Police work in Penns River is generally not exactly unusual but this time it most certainly is, beginning with the mass murders of five top level members of the drug trade.

Resurrection Mall is a little more dismal than I usually like but Mr. King‘s elegant writing, his plot development and his characters (who are refreshingly normal) all kept me going because I became invested in this Rust Belt community and in Doc. There are two earlier books and I think I’m going to have to check them out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Crimson Earth
Modi Series #2
Anna Soliveres
Anna Soliveres, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-9960149-3-9
Trade Paperback

Aeva is a most unusual girl, even in her world that’s so different from our own, and is currently passing as the missing Queen Violet. Aeva is also right in the midst of the fight against a man who is obsessed with power, no matter what he has to do to obtain it and Aeva’s people look to her intelligence and strength to protect and lead them in this time of crisis. To do that, this remarkable young woman has become the strong, self-reliant heroine she was destined to be.

Crimson Earth is the sequel to Violet Storm which I read and enjoyed more than three years ago (https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/book-review-violet-storm-by-anna-soliveres/). I didn’t feel quite the same connection to this second installment but I blame myself for not re-reading the first book before getting into this one and I really do recommend reading them in order to get the full effect of a really well-conceived dystopian tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Continue reading

Book Review: A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby

a-taste-for-monstersA Taste For Monsters
Matthew J. Kirby
Scholastic Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-81784-4
Hardcover

Numerous mysteries and novels have been written involving Jack The Ripper. A few have been written where Joseph Merrick (known as the Elephant Man) was featured. In this juvenile mystery, the two come together under the excellent crafting of Matthew J. Kirby. I read and cheered on (for a well deserved Edgar) his Icefall, so I was eager to see how he treated this markedly different setting.

London, 1888: Evelyn, a young orphan, has already experienced multiple tragedies when she seeks a position at the London Hospital. She lost her mother very early and then her father when speculation in commerce turned against him and he drank away both his wealth and his life. Left to survive on her own, she was dealt another cruel blow when she was poisoned by the phosphor in the match factory where she worked. Surgery saved her life, but took part of her face and jaw. Forced to survive amid taunts and jeers from passersby on the streets of London and needing to scrounge enough coins to pay for lodging each night in filthy flop houses, she’s desperate.

When she seeks an interview with the hospital matron, the woman’s initial impulse is to send her away, fearing her disfigurement will upset patients. However, Mr. Merrick has come to spend his remaining days in isolation at the hospital and it has been difficult to keep anyone on staff who is not completely unsettled by his appearance. Despite her misgivings, Evelyn soon realizes that he’s a kindred soul and she feels a sense of comfort and safety when taking care of him. She reads to him, as well as assisting him with the completion of a complex jigsaw puzzle. The more they converse, the more she warms to him, realizing there’s a lovely, caring soul underneath his disfigurement.

All is well until a mysterious killer calling himself “Leather Apron” begins murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel, the ghosts of the victims begin to appear each night at exactly the same time in Mr. Merrick’s quarters. Each visitation seems to sap his strength a bit more. Evelyn can also see them and the two realize these spirits have something unresolved in life that has locked them into their nightly visits. Realizing that she’s the one who must leave the safety of the hospital in order to learn what must be done to send each ghost on to eternal rest scares Evelyn silly. With the help of Charlie, a violinist who befriended Mr. Merrick, she does so, but not without several upsetting experiences.

How she deals with them, secures peace for the ghosts, overcomes betrayal and deals with “Leather Apron”, make for a dandy read. Both young teens and adults will very much enjoy the story, the plot twists and the very strong main characters. It’s a book well worth adding to any school or public library or buying as a gift for younger family members who love to read.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, November 2016.

Book Review: Silver by Chris Wooding

SilverSilver
Chris Wooding
Scholastic Press, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-60392-8
Hardcover

Take a boy who is already feeling emotional isolation and drop him into a private school in a remote English countryside, add monsters,  conflicted friendships, a bully and mix well.

This is the situation Paul finds himself in. His parents vanished in a South American plane crash and his aunt and uncle never wanted kids, so he’s felt the double sting of loss and rejection. He’s been polite and friendly at Mortingham Boarding school and has a crush on popular, athletic Erika, but she’s not interested. Caitlyn, however has it bad for Paul and, as the fourth of a group of sisters, has always felt less than in everything. Erika thinks Caitlyn is her best friend, but the opposite is true, although well hidden. Adam is big and a bully because he’s secretly afraid that any sign of weakness will cost him dearly. Quiet, very intelligent Mark realizes he’s outgrown the nerd clique and wants new friends, but has no clue how to do so.

When most of the kids have gone home for the weekend,  those remaining come under siege. It starts innocently enough with the discovery of an odd and very large beetle by the campus pond. Adam intimidates the boys who found it and after it’s dropped, he steps on it. Paul retrieves the crushed insect and takes it to their science teacher who shows the class that this bug is really different. Under a microscope, it looks like it has transistors and silver wires integrated into its body.

Kids go looking for more of the odd creatures and the fun begins. A boy is bitten and hordes of the beetles start after the now terrified students. When kids and faculty members who have been scratched or bitten begin morphing into glowing-eyed,  silvery monsters, those students remaining must put aside petty things and join together or die. They’re trapped in the science building and every time they come up with a defense, the monsters quickly adapt.

What ensues is fast-paced and creepy-scary,  typical Chris Wooding fare. He’s able to take a small part of the world and spin it into something frightening and complex. He does it again in Silver. You’ll want to set aside sufficient time to read it in one sitting because you won’t want to put it down.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2016.

Book Review: Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

ThreatenedThreatened
Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic Press, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55143-4
Hardcover

I want to crawl into this book and live forever with Luc and “his” chimpanzees. Mr. Schrefer’s adoration and admiration of these astounding creatures is obvious and contagious. His complete understanding of the logistics as to why the chimpanzees must be wild animals is as evident as the tug of emotion that wishes it wasn’t so.

Threatened isn’t a glossy, glowing fantasy of strolling under canopies of trees, munching fresh fruit, arms happily swinging without a care in the world. Luc’s story is tragic and not unique. This is real. It is raw. And brutal. Harsh and stunning. This tiny tome is heart-breaking, soul wringing and world-shattering. But, most importantly, it is hopeful.

Our street-boy-turned-scientist-narrator, Luc is tough, courageous, bold and tenacious. He is sneaky, suspicious, starving, alone and abused. But kind. And emphatic. And hopeful, loving, open and intelligent. Uncannily, it seems the Professor gleans this as he sips mint tea and watches the scrawny boy wipe down tables in the seedy dive on Gabon’s main street in Africa.

The Prof is delightful, compassionate, sly, clever, brilliant and also…..sad at his core. The Egyptian Arab proudly proclaims to be embarking on an adventure to become Africa’s very own Jane Goodall. Of course, an assistant is required for his stay in the jungle. With slightly less than half of the population being under 15 years of age due to the AIDS epidemic (The Worm), the Professor hopes to employ a local boy.

Mr. Schrefer’s tale of two lost souls together in the jungle observing chimp behavior is breathtakingly beautiful. He perfectly captures Luc’s gradual, 180-degree change of heart and mind towards the chimpanzees in general, and one very captivating chimpanzee: Drummer, specifically. This author’s prose is thoughtful and thought-provoking. As if by magic, he combines infuriating, depressing facts with optimism, ambition and sweetly simple dreams.

While Threatened is indeed appropriate for Middle-Grade readers; this narrative, in Mr. Scherer’s words, transcends age. It should not be overlooked or dismissed by the Young Adult, New Adult, or even the Older-Than-Dirt Readers, like me. This is not the time for self-limiting. Missing out would be catastrophic.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2015.

Book Review: The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

The Wolf PrincessThe Wolf Princess
Cathryn Constable
Chicken House, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-52839-9
Hardcover

Sophie will steal your heart and will, forevermore, own a tiny piece of it. You’ll be fine with that. Think Annie; although Miss Sophie is as far from the spunky, spiral-curled red-head as a lonely, little phantom Russian girl, could be.

Under the perpetually gray skies of London, tucked into her tiny room with Delphine and Marianne, wrapped in her raggedy sweater, life was just fine for Sophie. With the Class Trip quickly approaching, the inevitability of being ripped from her “home” and ushered to her guardian’s, banished to silently haunt the shadows of the empty rooms, had Sophie slipping back to the dreams that both saved, and shattered her.

With no memory of her mother, only vague, distant memories of her cherished father, surrounded by snow, rushing her along to something….or maybe away from someone…..that part wouldn’t come; Sophie subsisted on dreams, fantasies woven around this tiny fragment of recollection. Possessing and nurturing such a vivid imagination, Sophie had little trouble accepting the bizarre Class Trip turn of events that would take her, along with both roommates, to Russia!

Admittedly less than eager, Delphine and Marianne weren’t so accepting. Quickly noticing a strange, yet familiar, woman watching them, the girls began to feel a bit nervous, particularly as their class mates seemed to be scattering away in tight cheerful groups. Those butterflies paled in comparison to later being unceremoniously, and quite literally, dumped into a snow-bank, with the pitch blackness of the night pressing down.

From here to a grand, albeit derelict, palace with a beautiful, intense and often confused princess, was perfectly acceptable to Sophie, Delphine could be placated by the grandeur of the still sparkling chandeliers and vastness of the rooms, while dependable Marianne felt fine so long as her pals felt fine.

The sense of foreboding, howling wolves, deliberate solitude and mounting, unanswered questions was soon to come. Even with hackles justly raised, the trio could never have prepared themselves for an adventure with jewel thieves, stolen identities, unfathomable choices made in seconds, many years ago, a family living underground to care for a mythical pack of wolves, or the consequences and rewards ingeniously, resourcefully hidden.

Ms. Constable has crafted an enchanting tale, filled with complicated, compassionate characters, both human and animal, all looking to solve the same mystery, for vastly different reasons. In spite of the icy princess, blustery snow and biting cold, this book will melt your heart.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2014.