Friday, March 29, 2013


I found it difficult to get into this story but stuck with it because it gives such a detailed view of the two Havana realities. There is the tourist Havana with its own money and luxuries. Then there is the residents' Havana with its poverty, horrible living conditions, and restrictions. This second Havana is only visible to tourists because of the ubiquitous beggars who want not just money but soap, pencils, and other small items they can't buy.

This story is about Detective Mike Ellis, a cop in Ottawa, Canada. He has rather stupidly chosen Havana for a vacation with his wife, hoping that being away will somehow repair the problems in their marriage. The last straw for her is when he gives some tourist pesos to a little boy after she told him not to. She checks out early and flies home. The boy is found dead the next morning and Mike Ellis is accused of raping and killing him.

Knowing he has been framed and is in such peril gave me the willies, but by that time I was caught up in the story and just had to know what happened so I read the rest of the book. There is much to admire here, especially the character of Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Havana Major Crimes Unit. Apparently this is the first in a series of novels about Ramirez and he is certainly interesting enough to warrant a series.

The plot and writing style are excellent, but I most enjoyed learning about Castro's Cuba. I recommend the book to those who like mysteries in foreign settings, intricate plots, and well drawn characters.

Source:  Amazon Vine

Sunday, March 24, 2013

PRIVATE EYES by Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series is one that I haven't read in order.  I pick them up at book sales though and save them for times when I need an Alex Delaware fix.  I just love this character, a pediatric psychologist who solves crimes, often with his friend Det. Milo Sturgis of LAPD.  Delaware is smart, caring, and at the moment of this story lonely.  Sturgis is gay and takes a lot of you-know-what from other LAPD cops.  In this story he has been put on suspension for a period of months and Delaware talks him into taking a case as a private eye.

For those who love Delaware's former girlfriend Robyn as I do, she does make an appearance in this book.  She has been through a bad time and of course Delaware is there for her.

The case involves a former patient of Delaware's, a rich girl whose mother is agoraphobic, her father dead, new stepfather in the picture, and the effects of all those on the girl.  Melissa is bright and after two years of treatment had seemed capable of going on without Delaware.  He doesn't take patients now except for former patients, and now Melissa needs help for her mother.  Mom had been horribly scarred years earlier when someone threw acid in her beautiful face.  She hasn't left the house since.  The guilty parties have served time and one is dead, but the other is out of prison now.  Meanwhile, Melissa has talked her mother into getting treatment for her agoraphobia but doesn't like the way things are going.

Kellerman is a master at characterization which is what keeps me on the lookout for his books that I haven't gotten to yet.  In this one I sometimes thought Melissa was a little over the top, but maybe not considering her situation.  I figured out the bad guy fairly early on, but I didn't know the reasoning behind the crimes.  It was a harrowing mystery.

Highly recommended reading - the whole series.
Source:  book sale find

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TOM'S RIVER by Dan Fagin

Today is the publication date for this impressive nonfiction book from Bantam.  I read it weeks ago but had to wait until today to post my review.  

You may have lived in New Jersey in the 1980s (as we did) and therefore have heard about the cancer cluster in Tom's River, or it may have made the New York newspapers.  By now the basic facts are an old story unfortunately repeated in many other parts of our country and abroad.  The mother of a boy with cancer started hearing about other children who had it.  She put up a map of the Brick Township area of which Tom's River is a part, and she began to put a push-pin at every home where she heard of a case of childhood cancer.  It didn't take very long before that map had so many pins it was shocking.  Rather than just sit on this knowledge, she began to campaign for the state, or someone, to investigate what could be causing this phenomenon that looked like an epidemic to her.

In a wooded area of the township hidden away from prying eyes was a Ciba-Geigy facility making dyes.  The processes used produced toxic waste which they disposed of in open pits or the river, Tom's River.  They burned other waste at night when the black smoke and putrid smell would be less noticeable.  Meanwhile, the toxic waste simply ate away the tarp covering the bottom of the pits and proceeded to filter down through the sandy soil to the aquifer.

That part of New Jersey is called the Pine Barrens.  It is known for its sandy soil and the aquifer which is one of the most valuable assets of the state.  That plume of toxins got bigger and bigger until it entered the aquifer where the town of Tom's River had its water wells.  Now many of the people who lived there, including Ciba-Geigy employees, were drinking tainted water.  Did that cause the cancer cluster?

Fagin's book is the long story of the fight to instigate an investigation, the pollution that was going on, the reluctance of the chemical employees to complain about anything because the jobs were needed so badly, and the children who contracted cancer many of whom died.

This is a long book because it's a long story, but also because Fagin traces back dye making to its beginnings in Europe and he also traces back the history of dumping toxic waste.  Sound boring?  Couldn't be farther from it.  This is a fascinating, if upsetting book that I read slowly to make sure I could retain it all.  Doesn't matter if you don't know or even like science (like me) because Fagin explains everything so that anyone can understand.

Highly recommended reading.
Source:  LibraryThing win

Monday, March 18, 2013

MISTRIAL by Mark Geragos & Pat Harris

The subtitle of this book tells the story: "An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works . . . and Sometimes Doesn't."  You will no doubt recognize the authors' names since they have represented several celebrities, including Michael Jackson when he was accused of molesting a boy who stayed overnight at Neverland.

Defense attorneys get paid to win people over to their point of view so of course I knew this book would be biased.  However, they won me over right from the get-go with their definition of one thing that's wrong with the justice system at the moment, namely the "Angry Blond White Women."  The name comes from a person on HLN who I cannot abide.  She used to be a prosecutor, but has since become a broadcaster and nominated herself judge, jury, and God.  I'm sure you know who I mean.  Some of these people aren't even women, or blond, or even white, but they are universally angry.

That the authors won me over doesn't mean I agree with everything they write, but I do see their point of view and that's all they ask really.  They are understandably upset at the fact that tough judges and district attorneys are easily re-elected because the public is convinced that only stiffer penalties will solve what they see as a rising crime rate.  Actually the crime rate has been falling for years; we just hear more about crime on 24 hour news programs that need to keep us stirred up and tuning in.  Meanwhile, the jails and prisons are full to overflowing so that in California at least, they are turning prisoners loose to free up space.

Read here about actual cases that prove dependence on eyewitness identification is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I learned a lot from this easy reading book.  Each author narrates some tales that make you feel like you're one of a bunch of lawyers sitting around telling stories and laughing.  There are also some unarguable points about problems with our justice system, many of which exist because the public demands them.  Mistrial might make you angry in places, and laugh in others, but I doubt that you will regret reading it.  When the subtitle says "the inside look," that's true and these two lawyers have the years of experience to back it up.

Recommended reading
Source:  LibraryThing win

Thursday, March 14, 2013

RESOLVE by J. J. Hensley

Tomorrow is the publication date for this debut novel and I just couldn't wait any longer to review it.  It's a different type of plot than I've ever read, set during the Pittsburgh Marathon with flashbacks to fill in the storyline.

Each chapter is a mile of the marathon.  Protagonist Dr. Cyprus Keller is running the race.  He explains that 18,000 people are participating.  Some will drop out for various reasons, others are running relays or just a half-marathon, and one person won't finish the race because he will die before the finish line.  Dr. Keller knows this because he is going to kill him.

Keller is a professor who teaches criminology at a small college.  He innocently finds himself involved in a mysterious plot after a young coed unsuccessfully tries to seduce him.  Actually she is conducting a study and seeing how many professors are willing to take her up on her flirting is the meat of the research.  She doesn't go through with any offers, but meanwhile she stirs up a hornets' nest.  The girl is found murdered in a part of town she would never visit.  After that, Keller's teaching assistant tries to murder him and Keller kills the T.A. as he defends himself.  Coincidentally, the police view Keller as a prime suspect in the girl's murder.

We meet intriguing characters such as the college president who for some reason has a grudge against Keller, two policemen who are wise to the world, and other professors who are running partners of Keller's.  Best of all, we meet Keller's wife, who is a psychologist, a fact which is both a blessing and a curse to her husband.  Since he can't ever pull the wool over her eyes, he has stopped even trying.  Theirs is a beautiful marriage.

Despite the killings and seriousness of the plot, I laughed all the way through this book.  Hensley is a very funny writer and Dr. Keller's wit sets this book above other mysteries in my opinion.  I do hope Hensley is currently hard at work on his second novel.  I'll be first in line to buy it.

Recommended reading
Source:  LibraryThing win

Sunday, March 10, 2013

THE SINNER by Tess Gerritsen

My copy of this book is a 2004 paperback edition of one of the Rizzoli and Isles series.  Maybe you've watched the TNT television channel show starring the characters in which, for a change, I think the casting people really nailed it.  And the characters are what makes this series so addicting to me.  We have Rizzoli the cop, Isles the pathologist, the Rizzoli family who are as Italian as they come, and the incidental characters in the stories who usually ring true with me.

This story is unusual in that the first victims are nuns in a cloistered convent.  The older one is still alive but the younger one is not only dead, she has recently given birth.  Since these nuns shun contact with the outside world, this presents quite a mystery.  It certainly wasn't a virgin birth.  The next victim, found in an abandoned restaurant populated only by cockroaches and rats, has no face, hands, or feet.  The face and hands could have been removed to prevent identification, but the feet?  And what are those lesions all over her body?

Meanwhile, Maura Isles' ex-husband suddenly shows up in Boston and is trying hard to insinuate himself back into her life.  And Jane Rizzoli has a problem she has never faced and never wanted to.  What to do?  This mix of personal and professional mysteries are engrossing enough to keep you turning the pages.  Have I tempted you yet?

Gerritsen writes an excellent series of novels.  I always look forward to finding a new one to me and the time to read it.

Highly recommended for mystery lovers
Source:  friend

Monday, March 4, 2013

WHITE SHANGHAI by Elvira Baryakina

I was excited to receive this novel since it is set in Shanghai in the 1920s, a chaotic period in the history of that city and China as a whole.  In setting and depiction of the political corruption,  public unrest, and rampant racism, the book didn't disappoint.  It's a confusing time and I still don't have it clear in my mind but I know a lot more than I did before I read this book.  I admire the author's ability to sort it all out.

Whites mostly lived in the white settlement which was forbidden to Chinese unless they were employed by a white family.  In this story, the main characters are White Russians who fled the Bolshevik revolution via Vladivostok on the remaining ships of the tsar's navy.  From there they sailed south, stopping at ports in  hopes of finding help and shelter but no one wanted them.  As they ran out of supplies and people were dying on the ships, they came to Shanghai and stopped.  There was no place to go.  At that point many of the more adventurous refugees found a way into the city where they fed and clothed themselves through means both legal and illegal.

I had one huge problem with this novel.  I really didn't find any characters that I liked or even cared much what happened to them.  The protagonist, Klim Rogov, a journalist is too passive, his estranged wife, Nina, too aggressive and self-centered, and the others just plain unlikable.  You must keep in mind that these people are in an impossible situation and I understand that.  The Russians are looked down upon and definitely unwanted in Shanghai.  Just making enough money for a little food and maybe a room to sleep in requires a lot of luck and courage.  Nina makes a success of her businesses because she cares only about herself and doesn't mind trampling on others to get what she wants.   

This book was written by a Russian woman who lives in New York, but she wrote it in Russian.  It was then translated by a team of two people and they did a marvelous job of it.  It still has a Russian flavor to it but the English is impeccable.  It was published in London.  As I think about it, that's almost as confusing as the situation in Shanghai.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical novels firmly set in the period and place, and who don't mind a long novel of more than 500 pages.  The novel carries the reader along without boring passages and tells a good story.

Source:  LibraryThing win