Book Review: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed @sam_aye_ahm @soho_teen

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-61695-989-0
Hardcover

Khayyam’s life is finished and she’s only seventeen.

Ok, that may be a bit over-the-top, but she truly is beyond bummed to have completely blown her chance to achieve her life-long dream. Admittedly, her over-eager attempt to get into the Chicago School of Art Institute was not as well researched as it should have been. The needlessly harsh criticism of one judge plays on repeat in Khayyam’s mind.

The hateful words aren’t wrong; but neither is Khayyam’s theory. A portrait must to be missing from Delacroix’s series based on Byron’s prose. And there is no way that a woman who inspired poetry and paintings was a fictional character plucked from a dark fairy-tale. Khayyam will use her month in Paris to do some proper sleuthing.

Meeting the adorable descendant of Alexandre Dumas and discovering that he, too, is conducting historical studies could prove to be beneficial. And exponentially more entertaining.

As Khayyam gets closer to a truth from the past, she begins to see that even in the present, people are not being completely honest. Going from a having a potential partner to wondering who to trust was unnerving, but uncovering the constantly-controlled life of a mysterious woman was absolutely infuriating.

This woman who had been talked about never got the opportunity to speak for herself. Her name was Leila and her story matters. In learning about Leila, Khayyam’s initial goal to rewrite her essay and prove her case grows distant. She’s no longer focused on her future, but resurrecting Leila’s past is imperative.

Teenagers are completely capable of being many things at once. Inquisitive, determined and tenacious while inexplicably also reckless, romantic and immature. I’ve not seen those traits so perfectly captured and conveyed before “meeting” Khayyam in Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed. Truly terrific YA Historical Fiction!

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2020.

Book Review: The Book Artist by Mark Pryor @MarkPryorBooks @SeventhStBooks

The Book Artist
A Hugo Marston Novel #8
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63388-488-5
Trade Paperback

The Book Artist is the eighth in Mark Pryor’s series featuring Hugo Marston, ex-FBI profiler and current chief of security for US Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor stationed in Paris.  The book begins with Hugo and the Ambassador attending an art exhibition at which, you may not be surprised to learn, a murder occurs.  Hugo offers the detective in charge the benefit of his expertise in solving such cases but his offer is quickly rebuffed.  Soon after, the detective in charge makes an arrest of a friend of Hugo’s but Hugo, convinced the wrong person has been arrested, sets out to find the real murderer and free his friend.

Unfortunately, Hugo soon learns about the death of someone close to him and also that the killer is likely after Hugo too.  Distressed for his friend, concerned for his own safety, and worried about another friend being in jail for the murder at the art exhibit, Hugo has, as they say, a full plate which is soon made fuller by the death of another friend.  Determined to solve both cases and stay alive, Hugo enlists the help of his boss but is it too late?

I only discovered the Hugo Marston series a few months ago when I came across The Paris Librarian and loved it.  I can’t believe I missed this excellent series!  On the bright side, though, I have six more books in the series to read plus, of course, whatever Mark Pryor writes next.  Lucky me – and you too if you haven’t yet read this series.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2019.

Book Review: The Storm Over Paris by William Ian Grubman

The Storm Over Paris
William Ian Grubman
Dupapier Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-732-61000-2
Trade paperback

A prologue and an epilogue that take place in 2000 in New York City bookends what is an exciting addition to the literature of the Holocaust. The rest of the story is set in Paris, beginning in April of 1942 where the Rothstein family has run a prestigious art gallery for several generations. They’ve handled the Rembrandts, the DaVincis, the Caravaggios. The very best of which the invading Nazis are looting for their own.

Mori Rothstein’s life, and that of his family are in jeopardy because they are Jewish. The only thing saving them, for a while at least, is because Hermann Goering is collecting (stealing) the most precious paintings for Hitler’s art museum and he needs Mori’s expertise. For a time, Mori’s connections and knowledge will keep him and his family alive, but time is running out. He and his sons must be not only brave, but clever if they are to save any of the paintings as well as their lives.

The writing is excellent, the setting of 1942 Paris well depicted, and as the pacing picks up to an exciting conclusion, the tension swells exponentially. The characters are well-fleshed out, including those you are sure to hate. A fascinating read for those who like historical adventure set in that time and under those circumstances.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

The Crimes of Paris
Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
Little Brown & Company, April 2009
ISBN 978-0-316-01790-9
Hardcover

The book begins with the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 from the Louvre. It ends only a few years later when an artist of some renown named Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on a small reproduction of La Gioconda which, in effect, as the authors say, transformed the painting from a “masterpiece of Renaissance art to an icon of modernism.”

That was in 1919. A mere eight years had passed, during which Paris had experienced a World War and been the host to nearly every giant of science, literature, the arts and politics. It was an amazing time when Trotsky and Marx, Hemingway and Picasso and Cezanne met and drank and socialized in Montmartre and Montparnasse and attended original short plays at the Grand Guiginol.

It was a period when the first professional private investigator appeared and the science of forensic investigation developed as a recognized arm of law enforcement. And it was a period during which some of the most vicious and creative gangs of criminals roamed the streets of the City of Lights.

The book is engagingly written and organized in a thoughtful way to encourage readers to delve more deeply into intriguing topics with voluminous notes, and an extensive bibliography. Yet, a reader who is only casually interested in the period and the players will find this book a fast and enjoyable read. But a casual reader will be drawn in, to the writing, the style, the language and the content. This is a fascinating work of great consequence.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
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 Sorbonne Affair by Mark Pryor

The Sorbonne Affair
A Hugo Marston Novel #7
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-6338-8261-4
Trade Paperback

The seventh book featuring Hugo Marston, former FBI agent and now head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. Helen Hancock, an internationally famous romance author, is staying in Paris working on her latest opus and teaching a seminar on writing with a small group of students. She reports a hidden camera in her room of the exclusive hotel where she is staying. Shortly thereafter a hotel employee with a gambling problem is found stabbed in a hotel stairwell. When images from the camera in Helen’s room are found on his laptop, the police assume that he intended to blackmail Helen to pay his gambling debts. Helen has a rock-solid alibi for the time of his murder, leaving the police to wonder who else he’d tried to extort. Then a video showing Helen in an embarrassing situation, clearly from the camera hidden in her room, finds its way onto the internet, causing much consternation to her fans and upsetting her publisher. Two more murders follow in short order, complicating the investigation being conducted by Hugo and a Paris police lieutenant.

In the meantime the convicted bank robber from the last case Hugo worked as an FBI agent has managed to obtain parole and disappears from the United States. Tom Green, Hugo’s former FBI partner and current tenant, is convinced that the man is heading for Paris to obtain revenge upon them both. Tom is something of a hothead and Hugo serves as a brake on his impulsive actions, leading to a lot of dialog along the lines of “I’m going to….” “No, no, that would be (dangerous/illegal/not good/(fill in the blank)”.

Pryor loves Paris, every inch of it. The people, the food, the streets and parks, the architecture, all are glowingly described. The book is well worth reading just for the travelogue.

In an interesting twist, the crisis with the bank robber that would lead to both Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI is described in a series of flashbacks presented in reverse chronological sequence. That is, the scene foreshadowing a showdown with their boss over what he considered their mishandling of the situation comes early in the book and the initial scene where Hugo and Tom realize they are witnessing a bank robbery is at the very end of the book, while the contemporary crime is treated in straightforward as it occurs order.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, July 2018.

Book Reviews: Badlands by C.J. Box and Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

badlandsBadlands
C.J. Box
Minotaur Books, , August 2016
ISBN 978-1-3125-4690-8
Mass MarketPaperback

When the art of fracking created an oil boom in North Dakota, it also gave rise to all sorts of complications from housing shortages to drug crime.  What was before a sleepy little town, now arose a bustling area where the sheriff’s staff grew like topsy to keep pace.  The latest addition is Cassie Dewell, hired as chief investigator from her old job in Montana where she became obsessed with the so-called Lizard King, a trucker who preyed and killed prostitutes plying truck stops from coast to coast.

In fact, that’s how we are introduced to Cassie, as she travels to North Carolina to participate in an interrogation of a person suspected of being the perpetrator just before she assumes her new duties.  When she arrives in Bakken County, ND, the sheriff confides in Cassie his suspicion that all is not well in the department, and asks her to undertake an investigation by herself without telling her why.  Meanwhile, a shipment of a large quantity of drugs is delivered by car, which is forced off the road by a rival gang, and a  duffel bag is flung wide of the accident scene and recovered by a 12-year-old newspaper delivery boy.

As the plot unfolds, Cassie is in the middle of it all, making assumptions, detecting, analyzing, and finally guessing that the boy is the key to it all, except for the possible corruption that might exist in the law enforcement personnel (which of course is related to the drug gangs).  The author demonstrates his reputation for writing novels with excellent characterizations and providing detailed environmental descriptions.  When the outside temperature falls to 20 and 30 degrees below freezing, the reader almost feels compelled to turn up the heat.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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

murder-on-the-quaiMurder on the Quai
An Aimée Leduc Investigation #16
Cara Black
Soho Crime, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-616-95624-0
Hardcover

After 15 Aimée Leduc mysteries, Cara Black turned her attention backward in time to the start of Aimee’s career, providing a back story to her beginnings as a detective, and introducing some of the basics which inhabit subsequent novels, namely how she met Rene Friant, her partner in Leduc Detective, and acquired Miles Davis, her bichon frise.  At the time, Aimée was a first-year medical student, hating every moment.

Then one day while Aimée was in her father’s office, as he was about to leave for Berlin to obtain the Stasi file on his renegade wife, who had  disappeared years before, a distant relation asks him to find a young woman who perhaps was the last person to see her father before he was murdered.  Instead, Aimée takes the case on herself as her father had refused to do so before he left.

From that point on, all the attributes of an Aimée Leduc mystery flow:  Aimée getting into all kinds of danger; all the flavor and smells of Paris streets and neighborhoods; the give-and-take between Aimée and her godfather and high police official Morbier; Aimée’s passion for discounted fashion clothes; among other common features of the series.  Since it was her first case, the progress is not as smooth as future investigations, as she stumbles and learns, but unquestionably the book is recommended as an introduction to her subsequent adventures.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

RookRook
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-67599-4
Hardcover

This review has proven to be as stubborn as Sophie Bellamy.  Therein lies the ultimate compliment.  To me, it is only when I’m consumed by furious joy and almost dumb with delight that writing a review becomes a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  I’m torn between simply carrying this tome everywhere I go so that I can thrust it into someone’s hand and simply say, “This.” and gushing like a new grandparent.

Rook is a remarkably enjoyable, engaging read.  Each of the colorful, captivating characters has his or her own agenda.  Engulfed in a time when a coin stamped with the year 2024 is considered ancient and satellites are machines from the Time Before, enamored with and eagerly enthusiastic for Sophia, I could not keep myself from guessing who was true to Sophie and her most honorable cause, and who was true only to himself…..or herself, for that matter.

Instead of moving forward, it seems that we’ve only gone backward…all progress has been undone.  Rather than gender equality, women are reduced.  Instead of a democracy, a dictatorship, topped by the illogical, egotistical insanity of narcissistic men that are only up when holding others down.

Against unimaginable odds, The Red Rook devises a daring plan including a mass release of those wrongfully imprisoned to be followed by the triumphant toppling of the terrifying regime.  Action is aplenty, alongside conflicting emotions, witty banter and immediately intriguing ideas.  It isn’t possible to read this story without taking pauses to consider and ponder points.  Not in a “what the ……?” way but in an “hmmmm…..interesting, I couldn’t have conjured….” way.

While appropriate and appealing to Middle Grade readers, I would be remiss if I limited my recommendation to that group.  Like a giant bag of Hershey’s miniatures, there is something for everyone.  Enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2016.