Book Review: Ivory Ghosts by Caitlin O’Connell

Ivory GhostsIvory Ghosts
A Catherine Sohon Elephant Mystery
Caitlin O’Connell
Alibi, April 2015
ISBN 9781101883471
Ebook

From the publisher—

Still grieving over the tragic death of her fiancé, American wildlife biologist Catherine Sohon leaves South Africa and drives to a remote outpost in northeast Namibia, where she plans to face off against the shadowy forces of corruption and relentless human greed in the fight against elephant poaching. Undercover as a census pilot tracking the local elephant population, she’ll really be collecting evidence on the ruthless ivory traffickers.

But before she even reaches her destination, Catherine stumbles onto a scene of horrifying carnage: three people shot dead in their car, and a fourth nearby—with his brain removed. The slaughter appears to be the handiwork of a Zambian smuggler known as “the witchdoctor,” a figure reviled by activists and poachers alike. Forced to play nice with local officials, Catherine finds herself drawn to the prickly but charismatic Jon Baggs, head of the Ministry of Conservation, whose blustery exterior belies his deep investment in the poaching wars.

Torn between her developing feelings and her unofficial investigation, she takes to the air, only to be grounded by a vicious turf war between competing factions of a black-market operation that reaches far beyond the borders of Africa. With the mortality rate—both human and animal—skyrocketing, Catherine races to intercept a valuable shipment. Now she’s flying blind, and a cunning killer is on the move.

Elephants have to be among the most beloved of all animals and there’s something quite romantic about them and their story. I think much of our appreciation of these wondrous creatures comes from our recognition of their intelligence and their loyalty to one another. We’re also drawn in by the tragedy of their existence, the horrendous poaching and slaughter for their body parts, especially their tusks.

Catherine Sohon is an admirable woman, one who goes the extra mile to fight the smuggling trade that so severely endangers the elephants, but the stakes get even higher when she becomes involved in murder. Unprepared for this, she nevertheless plunges right in to investigate the human deaths as well as the poaching and slaughter of the animals. Running into something of a brick wall in an official named Jon Baggs, Catherine pushes ahead and finds a senseless darkness even she didn’t expect. She also finds a welcome lightening of the grief she has been living with since her fiancé’s death.

Author Caitlin O’Connell doesn’t just admire elephants; she has made them her life’s work and I envy the opportunities she has to be around them. She’s also a dedicated scientist and is doing much to make that discipline more accessible to those of us who aren’t as thoroughly immersed as she is. Her knowledge of science and of elephants in particular shine through the pages of this debut novel and I can honestly say I know a little more after reading it. I’m already looking forward to what I hope will be many more novels from Ms. O’Connell.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

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About the Author

Caitlin O'ConnellA world-renowned expert on elephants, Caitlin O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ecology and is a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as director of life sciences for HNu Photonics. She is the author of five nonfiction books about elephants, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense, An Elephant’s Life, A Baby Elephant in the Wild, and Elephant Don, and co-author of the award-winning The Elephant Scientist. She is the co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and science education, and the co-founder of Triple Helix Productions, a global media forum with a mandate to develop more accurate and entertaining science content for the media. When not in the field with elephants, O’Connell divides her time between San Diego, California, and Maui, Hawaii, with her husband, Tim Rodwell, and their dog, Frodo.

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Book Review: Cost of Life by Joshua Corin

Cost of LifeCost of Life
Joshua Corin
Alibi, March 2015
ISBN 9781101882610
Ebook

From the publisher—

Happy Independence Day. You’re all going to die.
 
Life can’t be better for veteran pilot Larry Walder. He has a great job, a terrific kid, a gorgeous wife—and no inkling that tonight will be the end of the world as he knows it. In the early hours before the Fourth of July, three men break into Larry’s home. And as the day lurches on to its terrifying course, a life is taken, and Flight 816 from Atlanta to Cozumel, Mexico, vanishes off the radar.
 
In the air, Larry must find a way to save his family, his crew, and his passengers. On the ground, disgraced FBI agent Xanadu Marx goes rogue, making it her mission to track down the missing flight before the hijackers reach their diabolical endgame. With the casualties racking up and the world’s busiest airport under lockdown, a message arrives: This is no ordinary hijacking, no typical hostage crisis. This ransom is a totally different beast—the first hint of a conspiracy that might bring America to its knees.

I’m drawn to thrillers involving airplanes in jeopardy for some reason so, when offered the chance to participate in this blog tour, I jumped right on it. Once I started reading, and all through the book, I was delighted to find that Cost of Life is really, really good.

From the first sentences, I bonded with Larry Walder and his family with just a simple scenario of a little boy and his parents having fun together. I did not, of course, bond with the bad guys who show up on the scene early on and are, indeed, very bad guys. It’s apparent that they will have no reluctance to harm Marie and Sean so Larry is left with a terrible choice—which lives matter more, Marie’s and Sean’s or the 174 people on board the airplane that should be heading to Cozumel?

I don’t know about anyone else here but, once past the initial moderate unease during takeoff, I find most flights to be excruciatingly boring. Believe me when I say Flight 816 to Cozumel is anything but boring and Mr. Corin manages to ratchet up the tension every time he shows us certain passengers.

Then there’s Special Agent Xana Marx, a woman who has made a mess of her life. She may not make it back into the FBI but she has talents the authorities need if they’re going to find the missing plane and a waif of a girl named Hayley O’Leary just may be the person to bring Xana the redemption she so sorely needs. Both are severely damaged, each in her own way, but it’s hard for me to say which of these two very different people I liked the most.

There are just a few authors who reside on my list of favorite thriller writers but I think I’ve found one to add to that list, Joshua Corin. After this rollercoaster of a tale, I can barely wait to see what he’ll give us next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

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About the Author

Joshua CorinJoshua Corin is the author of Nuclear Winter Wonderland, While Galileo Preysand Before Cain Strikes. He holds an M.A. in English and an M.A. in theater from Binghamton University, and currently teaches college in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, May 2012
ISBN 978-1-4231-5219-4
Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-4231-5325-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

 

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

 

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Queenie, daughter of an upper-crust family, is a wireless operator captured as an Allied spy and facing execution if she survives six weeks of medical experimentation in a Nazi camp. In an odd twist of fate, she is being interrogated in Ormaie, France, where she used to visit her grandmother and where her great-aunt still lives and is a part of the French Resistance. Maddie is a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying planes and pilots but never allowed in a combat zone until the fateful flight that ended in disaster. Maddie is Jewish. In any circumstances other than war, these two women would almost certainly never have known each other and yet they have become the best of friends and trust each other completely. That trust will lead to a moment of devastation and sheer love.

KISS ME , HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!

To say this is an engrossing story is to put it mildly. Much has been written fictionally about World War II but there is always room for more because we’re so fascinated with that piece of history. Having the horrors and the everyday routines of wartime built into the friendship of two women who find themselves in unbearable circumstances is nearly too much and I literally could not stop reading until I’d finished and then I wished for more.

Ms. Wein tells a great tale and she does so by making the reader feel that these two women are much like most of us, willing to do our part in a bad time but still just ordinary people. Little things make the story come alive, such as the detail of the first successful ballpoint pen, licensed to the RAF in 1943 and manufactured for pilots who needed a way to write at high altitudes where increased pressure frequently caused fountain pens to leak. There are also the women’s lists of top ten fears which, not surprisingly, change as they learn what is really important to them. Above all, this is the story of what one person can mean to another and the sacrifices they’re willing to make for each other. Even Verity’s Nazi interrogator has shades of humanity, something the author didn’t have to do but still a touch that lifts this book above many other World War II novels.

Is the ending of this tale a happy one? Most would say “no” but it’s an appropriate ending, one which will remain with me for a very long time. I’ll be including Code Name Verity in my top 5 books of 2012.

KISS ME , HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2012.