Book Review: Tarnished by Kate Jarvik Birch

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Book Reviews: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, Bad Blood by Arne Dahl, and The Brave by Nicholas Evans

Watching the Dark 2Watching the Dark
An Inspector Banks Novel
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, February 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-06-228397-9
Trade Paperback

Lorraine Jensen, a patient at the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Center, is in the habit of getting up around dawn when her pain is keeping her awake to sit outside before the other members of the Center are up. As the light grew stronger, Lorraine thought she could see something like a bundle of clothes at the far side of the lake. Since Barry, the head groundsman and estate manager was in the habit of keeping the artificial lake and natural woodlands tidy, it was unusual to see anything that looked out of place. Although the grass was still wet with dew, Lorraine walked to where she had spotted the bundle of clothes. She did not get all the way to the spot when she realized that it was a dead body she was looking at and not a bundle of clothes.

DCI Alan Banks was immediately dispatched to St. Peter’s as soon as the authorities had been notified. Banks had visited Annie Cabbot there during her recent convalescence. Now Annie was due back to work on Monday and Banks was looking forward to working with her again. When Banks and the Dr. in attendance turned over the body, they found that the victim had been shot with a crossbow bolt. Lorraine recognized the corpse as DI Bill Quinn. Banks stated that he knew Quinn too but only in passing.

When Quinn’s room is searched, some photographs were found that placed Quinn in a compromising position. Quinn’s wife was deceased but the photographs looked as though they had been taken some time ago. Inspector Joanna Passero, of the Police Standards Division, is assigned to work with Banks to determine if Quinn has somehow done something that would reflect badly on himself as well as the department.

Banks feels hindered by Inspector Passero but has no choice in the matter. As he digs deeper into the case he keeps going back to a six-year-old missing person case that Quinn investigated and Banks is beginning to feel that there are crooked police officers involved in the old case as well as the current case of Quinn’s murder.

This is a fast moving story that keeps the reader guessing.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2014.

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Bad Blood 2Bad Blood
An Intercrime Novel
Arne Dahl
Pantheon Books, August 2013
ISBN: 9780375425363
Hardcover
A translation from the Swedish 1999 original.

This was an interesting experience, reading galleys from a book released over a year ago in the US. The original manuscript is even older, the book being first published in Swedish in 1999. All of that is explanation for the difficulties I encountered with this novel. Awkward strange phrases, missing words; are they the result of a less than stellar translation, difficulties with the original manuscript, or is some of the odd structure deliberate? Hard to say.

Still: Arne Dahl is a Hell of a writer. His vision of the world is often dark, troubling, awesome, and turbulent. Questions of good and evil, right or wrong, Islam or Christianity, dark versus light are all here, mostly unresolved. Crimes, the most horrific imaginable, perpetrated on the guilty and the innocent alike are here too in this dark crime novel. It is the story of a highly trained killing machine, a former member of a small elite American intelligence group that operated in Viet Nam. Disbanded after the war, the killing went on and the machine became a serial killer. But this is no ordinary serial killer.

An elite Swedish police unit is alerted by the FBI when a Swedish literary critic is murdered at an American airport. The killer eludes the police dragnet when he arrives in Sweden and subsequent information indicates he must be a killer who has long eluded the FBI. Or is he the reincarnation of a man destroyed in a fire years earlier?

The cast of characters, both in Sweden and the US is varied and excellent. The writer’s style is unusual and well suited to the subject matter, international conspiracy and crime. Add a large element of social commentary about some of our most troubling moral questions and the result is Bad Blood, a tension-filled thriller that is of immense proportions and a not entirely satisfying conclusion. Well worth the trouble.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The BraveThe Brave
Nicholas Evans
Little, Brown and Company, October 2010
ISBN 978-0-316-03378-7
Hardcover

In a story set both in England and the American West during the late 1950s to the present, the tale is mostly told through the eyes of Tom Bedford. A lonely child with older parents and a loving big sister, he’s an English child obsessed with watching American cowboy shows on television. His hero? The actor Ray Montane in the role of Flint McCullough, the epitome of tracker, rider, shooter and all around good guy. Tom couldn’t be happier when the day comes that his sister Diane, a rising British actress, is called for a part in one of the shows. She and Ray fall for one another and it isn’t long before she’s off to Hollywood and American fame and films.

Then we learn that instead of being his sister, Diane is Tom’s mother. She’s able to finally claim Tommy now, with Ray’s support, and Tom happily accompanies them to America where he learns to ride and shoot, living out his dreams. Until, that is, a violent blow-up brings them all down.

Shoot forward three or four decades. Tom is living now in Montana. He’s divorced from his wife when it comes out that his son Danny, estranged from him for many years, is up for court martial charged with the multiple murder of an Iraqi family.

Since I absolutely hated The Horse Whisperer, especially the ending, I’ve been reluctant to read another Nicholas Evans book. However, I can categorically state that The Brave is excellent, and that I’m happy I received this book to review. The storyline, the characters, the emotion throughout are outstanding and, as one would expect from a writer of this repute, the writing is excellent. Learning about the Hollywood of the 1950s is riveting.

The Brave receives my recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Review: Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch

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Title: Perfected
Author: Kate Jarvik Birch
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: 07/01/14

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PerfectedPerfected
Kate Jarvik Birch
Entangled Teen, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-62266-268-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Perfection comes at a price.

As soon as the government passed legislation allowing humans to be genetically engineered and sold as pets, the rich and powerful rushed to own beautiful girls like Ella. Trained from birth to be graceful, demure, and above all, perfect, these “family companions” enter their masters’ homes prepared to live a life of idle luxury.

Ella is happy with her new role as playmate for a congressman’s bubbly young daughter, but she doesn’t expect Penn, the congressman’s handsome and rebellious son. He’s the only person who sees beyond the perfect exterior to the girl within. Falling for him goes against every rule she knows…and the freedom she finds with him is intoxicating.

But when Ella is kidnapped and thrust into the dark underworld lurking beneath her pampered life, she’s faced with an unthinkable choice. Because the only thing more dangerous than staying with Penn’s family is leaving…and if she’s unsuccessful, she’ll face a fate far worse than death.

For fans of Keira Cass’s Selection series and Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series, Perfected is a chilling look at what it means to be human, and a stunning celebration of the power of love to set us free, wrapped in a glamorous—and dangerous—bow.

Sometimes you come across a book whose theme stops you in your tracks. Perfected is just such a book. We’ve seen many interpretations of humans controlling and manipulating other humans, usually young girls, but breeding them to be pets is something else entirely. Most of us love animals and think of our pets as part of the family but what if some of those pets were actually human?

So much about Ella’s world is so wrong from the day these girls are born (and isn’t it telling that they’re apparently all girls?). To be born into a kennel and raised in caged conditions before going into training is horrendous but the actual training is worse. Only the education that’s necessary to make them docile and beautiful and appealing is offered; no thought is given to teaching them to read or to giving them more than the most rudimentary knowledge of life. They are, indeed, viewed as nothing more than dogs or cats or whatever we might keep as pets.

Ella is a striking character with her naivete and her fear of displeasing her owner and her dismay as she learns what she doesn’t know, like how to swim or how to read. Her curiosity is somewhat limited, though, and I think that might be the most telling thing about her, giving us insight into how being under other people’s control for so long can damage the natural curiosity we all have.  Her developing relationship with Penn, a truly nice guy, is unforced and quite believable and what he’s willing to do for Ella makes him a real hero in my eyes. As for the rest of the family, they’re all so well-drawn, likeable or not, that they seem very real. The congressman, of course, makes a truly unpleasant villain, especially since he sees nothing wrong with keeping people in luxurious slavery.

Ms. Birch does a really nice job of depicting the world of pets with humans substituted and, in all honesty, there are shades of questioning the validity of our keeping pets at all as well as very subtle comparisons to slavery. Really, my only quibbles with the story have to do with worldbuilding because there is almost none. We don’t know when this takes place although there are many hints that it’s intended to be the very near future as there are still television, normal cars, gas stations, border patrols, etc.  We also don’t know how it came about that Congress could possibly pass such legislation, no real evidence of what the government is like. I’d like to know so much more to get the full effect of the story.

Now, about the ending…I honestly don’t know whether it was intended to be a humdinger of a cliffhanger that will be resolved in future books or simply an invitation for readers to use their own imaginations about what will happen next. Either is acceptable to me but I’m selfishly hoping there are going to be more books 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

About the Author

 

Kate Jarvik BirchKate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals including Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids. To learn more visit www.katejarvikbirch.com

                               

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Book Review: The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi

The Burning Lake
Brent Ghelfi
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011
ISBN No. 9781590589274
Trade Paperback (also available in Hardcover)

When Alexei Volkovoy, a Russian agent, learns of the death of Katarina Mironova, he is   horrified.  Katarina was a prominent journalist known as Kato and Volk has close ties to Kato.  The two had an intense personal relationship that they had managed to keep very private.  Kato had trusted Volk with information that she needed to pass on.  Volk immediately begins to plan how to avenge her death.

Volk manages to get his patron, The General, to give him an assignment that will allow him to move freely and conduct his own investigation into Kato’s death.  Kato was shot on the banks of Russia’s Techa River near the radioactive village of Metlino.  Kato had made friends in the area and as Volk makes inquiries, he is shocked at the condition of the people living in the area. Volk is convinced that Kato was killed in order to cover up a story.

Volk’s determination to find Kato’s killers and reveal the story she wanted to tell takes him from Russia to the United States where in the company of Grayson Stone he begins to uncover secrets that puts his life at risk and ends his personal relationship with Valya, his long-time lover.

The Burning Lake is a novel of suspense and intrigue and is very fast moving.  The book also gives some insight into the horrors of living in radioactive areas.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, May 2011.

Feit Book Reviews X 3

Queen of the Night
J.A. Jance
William Morrow & Company, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-123924-3
Hardcover

With a bow [by dedicating the book] to the late Tony Hillerman, who was a master at the genre of this novel (and the predecessors in the saga of the Walker family), J.A. Jance has written a murder mystery surrounded by the further development in the family’s history peppered with lots of Indian lore.

The eponymous Queen is a once-a-year blossoming cactus whose legendary beginnings, like many of the tales in the novel, are based on the culture and history of the Tohono O’odhap people of southern Arizona.  It plays a minor, but important, role in the story as the site of the contemporary murder of four people.  Meanwhile, former homicide
detective Brandon Walker inherits a 50-year-old open case from his Last Chance cold case mentor, one in which a popular coed was stabbed to death in San Diego while on a school break.

The broad sweep of the Walker saga provides interesting and deep personal observations about the characters and what motivates them.  The plot lines in the novel are fairly complex, but move forward in a logical pattern.  As usual, the writing is uncomplicated with beautiful descriptions of the Arizona terrain, and especially of the night-blooming cereus (the Queen of the Night) particularly appealing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

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The Last Lie
Stephen White
Dutton, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-525-95177-3
Hardcover

In a follow-up to the excellent The Siege, author Stephen White not only brings back detective Sam Purdy [introduced in that standalone], but also Alan Gregory, psychiatrist and clinical psychologist and long-standing series protagonist, and his wife, DDA Lauren.

From a rather curious opening dealing with his ‘supervisory’ duties involving sessions with younger clinicians, the scene is juxtaposed with that of a party [or, as Alan will later frequently refer to it, a “damn housewarming”] at the home of Alan and Lauren’s new neighbors in the Spanish Hills section, their “quiet corner of Colorado paradise.”  The fact that new people have moved into the neighboring property is fraught with emotional landmines for the Gregory family, as the former owners were close friends, husband and wife having each been killed in separate, horrific incidents [each the subject of prior novels].

One might think of Alan Gregory as, among other things, a kind of male Jessica Fletcher, whose friends and neighbors frequently die a tragic death.  This time, however, it is not a death, but a possible rape, that occurs at his new neighbors’ house.  I say ‘possible’ because the victim isn’t sure what happened to her, only that she’d been the victim of . . . something.  The book starts off more slowly than I recall Mr. White’s novels usually do; unsurprisingly, the payoff is
worth the relatively slow build-up.

I particularly liked the descriptions of area natives:  “Colorado is home, almost exclusively, to weather optimists . . . some people wear their Boulder-ness so visibly that it is as obvious as a brightly colored outer garment.”  Alan’s personal life is again a major story line, i.e., marital issues that are being “worked through;” Lauren’s ever-worsening MS; their daughter Gracie, approaching adolescence; and Jonas, the son of their murdered neighbors, who Lauren and Alan are now raising.  Conflict-of-interest questions abound.  The usual quotient of suspense that Mr. White’s readers expect is present in ample measure.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2010.

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Moscow Sting
Alex Dryden
Harper Ecco, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-196684-2
Hardcover

There is a lot to like about this book, and much to dislike.  To begin with, it is an interesting and diverting plot, reminiscent of all the Cold War novels of the past, albeit set in present-day circumstances.  However, the characters seem wooden, caricatures filling in the blanks.  Moscow Sting is the sequel to Red to Black, with Anna Resnikov, the KGB Colonel who defected to the West to marry the assassinated former MI6 agent Finn, again playing a major role.

It seems everyone wants to find Anna who was hidden in the south of France with her two-year-old son by the French security arm, and is discovered accidentally by an ex-CIA agent who tries to sell her whereabouts for half a million dollars to the Russians, English and Americans.  She and her son are “rescued” by a private United States intelligence company headed by a larger-than-life personage, who takes them to the U.S. to “debrief” her.  The reason she is so important is the relationship Finn had with Mikhail, an informant extremely close to Vladimir Putin, and who she presumably knows.

George Washington warned against “foreign entanglements” and Dwight Eisenhower against the military-industrial establishment.  However, this novel provides strong reason to distrust the intelligence community, whether public like the CIA or MI6, or private.  Each has its shortcomings, with the latter only driven by self-interest which can be as disastrous as, perhaps, the demonstrated ineptness of employees of the official agencies.  Written at a fast pace, the tale
more often than not is exciting and enlightening, despite its shortcomings.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.