Sunday, July 31, 2011

"One Good Turn" by Kate Atkinson. Guest review from @ScullyLovePromo

I don’t usually choose crime novels when selecting fictitious fare, although I have read my fair share of them in the past (John Grisham, Stuart Woods, Mario Puzo, John le CarrĂ©). However, One Good Turn by Edinburgh-based, bestselling author Kate Atkinson was a welcome change of pace and a literary mystery novel that unravels several crimes slowly and with great intrigue as well as humour. Atkinson’s characterizations are so detailed and the plot so complex that I really don’t know what to say about it that will do it any more justice than all the professional, critically acclaimed media reviews that have come before. It was an absolute delight to read and one helluva gripping page turner!
One Good Turn is set in contemporary Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which for me, made for an interesting backdrop because I’m such an Arts lover and I’ve always wanted to attend the Festival. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t as much detail about it as I’d hoped but it didn’t put me off the rest of the story and it does include a has-been stand-up comedian named Richard Mott to lend authenticity. Although the book reintroduces former police inspector turned man-of-leisure millionaire Jackson Brodie and his aloof actress girlfriend Julia (who I didn’t like one bit but has a play running at the Festival which is why Brodie’s in Edinburgh) from Atkinson’s previous novel, Case Histories, you don’t have to have read it to enjoy the suspenseful One Good Turn.
The plot revolves around the participants in and witnesses of a fender bender that’s immediately followed by a brutal road rage attack. This action sets the stage for a series of exciting and complicated events that are all interrelated but we don’t know exactly how until the end of the story, which concludes in a matter of four days, in one of those whopping A-HA moments!
The narration oscillates between the main characters which include an asexual, diffident but thriving crime novelist named Martin Canning (a.k.a. Alex Blake who writes about a 1940s English female detective named Nina Riley and is vaguely reminiscent of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote) who witnesses the baseball bat beating by thug Terrence Smith of unsuspecting motorist Paul Bradley. Martin reacts by throwing his laptop at Smith which knocks him off of Bradley just in time for the police to step in and then Martin finds himself accompanying Bradley to the hospital and strangeness ensues.
The incident is also witnessed by Jackson Brodie (who additionally discovers a female floater in the bay which sets up an equally interesting subplot), Archie Monroe and Gloria Hatter, a middle-aged, wealthy woman with a penchant for following rules, who is ironically married to criminal construction tycoon Graham of Hatter Homes – Real Homes For Real People – and stands as the moral center of the story.
Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is struggling with a 24/7 career that leaves little time for her to keep an eye on her 14-year-old son Archie, who goaded on by his buddy Hamish, may or may not be sinking into dark waters that are too deep for him to tread…or is that Brodie who is falling deeper and deeper into the mystifying peripheral events of the story?
One Good Turn embodies really great storytelling and even the secondary characters will keep the reader enthralled.
The novel also includes a conversation with the author at the back of the book, questions and topics for discussion if chosen by a book club, and the first chapter of Atkinson’s subsequent novel, When Will There Be Good News?, which gives One Good Turn’s Chief Inspector Louise Monroe and Jackson Brodie another mystery to solve.
Jackson Brodie also stars in her latest novel, Started Early, Took My Dog and according to Atkinson’s website he will soon be appearing in a six-part television series adapted from Case HistoriesOne Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? for BBC One. Now, I’ll have to go back and read all of these books because I know they’ll make for some terrific television! But who will play Jackson Brodie?! (I think Colin Firth or Eric Bana might be a good choice!)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hot "Fever Dream" Followed by "Cold Vengeance" Review/Preview from @mrneil98

Through nine previous novels Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have enrapt readers with the exploits of FBI Special Agent Aloysius X.L. Pendergast. The cases are always bizarre, with inklings of the supernatural, and Pendergast’s modus operandi  is quite unorthodox. Although the majority of the novels are set in New York, Pendergast is from an old New Orleans family with a sordid history. Tall, lean with white/blonde hair and even whiter skin, Pendergast is always dressed in black woolen suits and is often mistaken for an undertaker. During each novel, more of Pendergast's past has been slowly revealed, especially in the trilogy of books dealing with his brother Diogenes. The readers knew Pendergast was married and his wife, Helen, has been killed by a lion on safari twelve years ago.

The prologue of Fever Dream recounts the events leading up to Helen’s demise. Back in present day New Orleans, Pendergast visits his homestead and discovers Helen’s gun had been loaded with blanks. Someone, for some reason, had set Helen up! It was murder. The quest for Helen’s killer(s) is made more difficult since a dozen years have passed and so have many of the potential witnesses. The journey takes Pendergast and his adopted partner Lt. D’Agosta from Africa, to Georgia, to Maine but mostly around Louisiana.

I attended a Fever Dream release book signing and Preston and Child spoke and answered questions. They referred to the book as the first of the Helen Trilogy. There are several deviations from past novels, the main ones are the setting (not in NY) and the lack of the mystical elements. It is still fascinating and I am amazed how the authors continue to tie seemingly random elements together in a believable coherent story. In this case, we have a murder in Africa, John James Audubon and his mysterious lost painting “The Black Frame”, stolen Carolina parakeets and a family of four that met a horrible end.

By the end, Pendergast has solved the case... almost. There is still at least one person at large and many unanswered questions concerning Helen. Which is good, because on August 2 Pendergast #11, Cold Vengeance, is being released. This one begins in Scotland with a bang. I read the first chapter which was released as a teaser in the paperback release of Gideon’s Sword. Even I was surprised by the suddenness of what occurred. The publisher promises this journey will lead Pendergast from Scotland to New York and back to the bayou of Louisiana. I, for one, cannot wait.

Should you read Fever Dream if you haven’t read the other Pendergast novels? Of course! You will want to go back and read them afterward but you be able to understand the nuances of the relationships without the previous books. You should read it before Cold Vengeance. If you are looking for other books after the eleven in this series, Preston/Child have several non-Pendergast books written collaboratively and individually. After the temperature hit 104 on Friday, I am ready to replace a Fever with something Cold.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Fallen" by Karin Slaughter

At a time when many of my favorite authors seem to be floundering, experimenting and just generally under-delivering, it's nice to have Karin Slaughter.  After ten wonderful novels, I find it incredibly gratifying to say that her eleventh does nothing but improve on an already incredible world.  For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that I reviewed Broken a while back.  It was my pleasure to return to her intricate, damaged and beautiful characters.

For you thriller readers out there, this entire series should be required reading.  If you're not reading Karin Slaughter right now, I have one word for you:  Repent!  Pick up one right now.  It doesn't really matter which.  They're all superlative.  Starting at the beginning with Blindsighted, you'll want to finish them out.  Starting with Fallen, you'll be sure to backtrack.  So take your pick; just don't blame me when you're hooked.

Now, for you I-could-take-thrillers-or-leave-'em types out there, give this one a chance.  Slaughter lives up to her name, sure, but she does it with class and flair.  I said it with Broken and I'll say it again here.  These are thrillers that manage to live up to the adrenaline-packed excitement expected by the genre, while still reading like literature.  You're really getting the best of both worlds with this author, and I only expect it to continue.  You can get Fallen here.

Oh, and for those purebred bibliophiles out there (or anyone that's just looking for a smoking deal on books by up-and-coming authors), you MUST check out the Indie Book Collective's Menage a Blog.  It starts Monday, July 18th and goes through the 25th, with three different titles every day.  Awesomeness overload.  #dontsayIdidntwarnyou

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Keep your Rock stars, I’ll take Write stars, Post from Thrillerfest Crasher @mrneil98

As a much younger man, I would loiter outside Shea hours before a game hoping to catch a glimpse of  Daryl Strawberry or Doc Gooden. While working in Manhattan in the mid-eighties, I ogled Penny Marshall directing Tom Hanks in Big, I gaped at Meatloaf walking with his wife and daughter outside FAO Schwartz, I got autographs from Whoopi Goldberg, Dom Deluise, Alice Cooper and many more while they exited The Howard Stern Show, broadcasting next door to my workplace on Madison Avenue. The same mixture of excitement and nerves was equaled, and perhaps surpassed, as my daughter Chelsea and I neared Thrillerfest on Saturday afternoon. We were not attendees - we were crashing the book signing event that follows the afternoon workshops. Chelsea and I are still debating which of us is Owen Wilson and which is Vince Vaughn.

This subterfuge was necessitated by the previous day’s wedding of my older daughter. There was a Thrillerfest related book event at Mysterious Bookstore in lower Manhattan on Friday evening while our wedding party was circling the Statue of Liberty on a tour boat. I was psyched to learn Rollins was signing at the Thrillerfest bookstore Saturday. Chelsea, a new Rollins convert, agreed to accompany me on the 90-minute trek from the Jersey Shore to The Grand Hyatt in NYC with the added support of her friend Becky.

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived early and cased the joint. The hotel is truly grand but we walked through like we knew where we were going (we didn’t). We followed signs to the Convention Level and found the makeshift bookstore. Outside was a cafeteria-style table with name cards that read like a who’s who of bestselling authors. As yet, the seats behind the names were empty. We perused the bookstore buying a few books from authors in attendance. I had donated most of my Preston/Child books to my school library and my David Morrells to my town library, so I was holding Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and The Shimmer by David Morrell. A man squeezed by, bumping lightly into Becky and I glanced briefly at him then down at the book I was holding for confirmation. That was David Morrell! I elbowed my daughter pointing at the book then the man and she nodded. I was now officially a star struck 52 year old; the emotions were the same as my younger days, but the objects of devotion had changed.

As the authors trickled in I found Boyd Morrison (The Ark, The Vault) and got his autograph while talking about zombie marches and engineering. We then moved to the VIP table which now had faces that matched the names. Each author was more accommodating than the next. David Morrell signed his book and my nook while we talked about Asbury Park, the locale of his thriller Creepers. Doug Preston signed book and nook then asked for a demonstration of the nook. He was delighted to see Cold Vengeance, the new Prendergast book, out 8/2, on preorder.

The next two authors were the goal of my undertaking. James Rollins immediately pointed out my “Spread the Word” t-shirt to Steve Berry. The two were obviously friends having toured together, signing books and visiting troops in Iraq with Operation Thriller, and have developed a playful, jesting banter. At one point Rollins wanted his publicist to take a picture of him and me and Steve Berry lifted a copy of his book into the center of the frame. Steve Berry couldn’t help crowing to James Rollins that The Balkan Escape, his e-short story was my first nook purchase. After the autographs and handshakes, Chelsea, Becky and I left in a whirlwind daze, the whole experience lasting less than an hour.

The last two days have been amazing in very different and rewarding ways. You can have your rock stars and sports stars. When I want to feel like a giddy tween, I’ll attend a book signing by my favorite authors.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"The Vault" by Boyd Morrison, Post from @mrneil98

Talk about your 4th of July fireworks, Boyd Morrison’s The Vault is a non-stop action/thriller that blends technology, science, history and ancient puzzles with a race to head off impending disaster. Tyler Locke, our heroic ex-military engineer from Morrison’s debut The Ark, is back with his friend and partner, former professional wrestler turned Army Ranger turned engineer, Grant Westfield. Joining Locke and Grant is Stacy Benedict, the host of a television program on Ancient Mysteries and an expert in classic languages.

Locke’s father and Stacy’s sister have been kidnapped, forcing them to work together to solve a series of puzzles designed by Archimedes that lead to King Midas’ tomb and the true source of the legend. This trail takes them from Seattle to Italy, Germany and Greece and finally back to the US for nail-biting denouement. At first I was reticent about the introduction of Stacy as Dilara, the female protagonist of The Ark, was my favorite character. Stacy proved herself to be strong, independent and very capable in the face of the many challenges. Once again Morrison shows his ability to create powerful female characters that retain a balance of emotions and vulnerability.

The Vault is a perfect summer escape novel, filled with action and suspense but with enough history, science and technology to keep your mind sharp;  Locke, Grant and Stacy not only racing to solve the mystery of The Midas Touch to free their kidnapped loved ones but also heading off a possible terrorist attack. Morrison has proven The Ark to be just the first leg of what I hope is a long journey and The Vault is an excellent follow-up.

Unfortunately you’ll have to wait a day or so to join the fun since The Vault is being released Tuesday July 5th. I was thrilled (literally) to receive an advance copy for my review; my very first guest post was a review of the The Ark

Morrison is an inspiration for indie writers everywhere.  Although an Industrial Engineering Ph. D. who had worked for NASA, Microsoft Xbox and RCA, he had aspirations of writing.  Morrison submitted his three manuscripts to every publisher in New York and was rejected by all. In 2009, when Amazon began allowing authors to put their unpublished works on the Kindle store, Morrison took that avenue. Within months, The Ark was a leading seller and caught the attention of a publisher. He was given a multi-book deal. In addition to The Ark and The Vault, his early novel Rogue Wave was released in paperback (and e-book) and another early novel The Adamas Blueprint will be released later this year as The Catalyst.

Happy 4th of July week! I suggest cooling off by spending some time in The Vault.