Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A HOT COUNTRY by Robert Olen Butler

I have made a huge discovery.  Robert Olen Butler's debut crime novel.  He is already a Pulitzer Prize winner and a National Magazine Award winner.  He's written many novels, collections of short stories, and nonfiction, but I'm so happy he's turned to crime fiction in this period piece set in Mexico in 1914.  The atmosphere, the characters, all told me so much about a historical time and place I knew little about.

His hero is Christopher Marlowe Cobb, a journalist who is in Vera Cruz in 1914 when the Americans have occupied the city but there is a mysterious German ship in the harbor which is said to be full of munitions.  Cobb is the son of a famous actress and singer who raised him alone, and he has inherited enough of her acting talent in addition to his natural writing talent that he's an unusually effective journalist for a Chicago newspaper.

In Mexico, as he spends days and nights trying to figure out what the Germans are up to, he hires a local boy to keep watch for him, and his photographer/friend Bunky also helps him.  They discover a German man in a suit being rowed to shore in the middle of the night.  He goes to the German consulate.  Now to find out who he is and what he's here for.  Meanwhile, the Americans seem to be oblivious, concentrating on cleaning up the city by collecting garbage in their efforts to make the Mexicans like them - a lost cause.

Cobb meets a musician in a German band who is actually an American spy, and when the man is killed, Cobb finds himself in serious trouble.  He sets off to Pancho Villa's camp by train to put a stop to a nefarious plot against the U.S. and Mexico both.  There is a love interest as well but it plays a small part in the story as you follow Cobb's adventure.

Since Cobb is a thoughtful person and as a journalist a great observer, you get a beautiful picture of 1914 Mexico and some of the characters, like Pancho Villa, who were important in that time and place.  I was especially fond of the boy Cobb hired, a brave little boy trying to earn or steal money to feed his mother and siblings.  

Recommended reading.
Source:  Amazon Vine

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Google Reader - Why Are You Changing?

Grrrr!  This is not how I wanted my Sunday morning to go.  I click on Google Reader and discover everything has changed.  It was working perfectly and easily for me to read, so, Google, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Computer geeks seem to believe we all possess their short attention span.  They don't even know people like me exist apparently because if something is running well and a non-geek like me is happy with it, that's a sure signal for them to decide it's time to make it more complicated and harder to work with.  

I am NOT happy with Google Reader and therefore I am turning OFF my computer.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Need a Laugh? Look to Sharyn McCrumb

As I've been dragging a little while going through chemo, I needed a book that would make me laugh out loud.  Right there in my box of goodies from friends and book sales I found Sharyn McCrumb's If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him.  This is an old one of hers, from 1995, and I had actually read it back then but boy did it fit the bill.

It's a book about marriage and murder, relationships between families and, um, between species.  

Elizabeth MacPherson is part-timing as an investigator for her brother's law firm.  Bill and his feminist partner A. P. Hill are the funniest pair of attorneys you'll ever meet.  Bill seems to collect oddball clients and A.P. Hill is trying her best to defend a woman who killed her ex-husband and his new bimbo wife and is proud as heck of it.

There are several relationships to explore in this book, some real, some not so much, and there's even an historical twist, a murder by arsenic - or is it?  

I always love McCrumb's books.  Her slightly skewed sense of humor appeals to me and I can always count on her to make me howl with laughter.  It worked again; I'm all cheered up and ready to tackle the chemo again.  Thanks, Sharyn.

Monday, September 17, 2012

SWEAT by Mark Gilleo

Thanks to Partners in Crime Tours, I've just read this new novel by Mark Gilleo and I'm glad to be able to bring it to your attention.  This is a novel with an agenda but it's one that most of us will agree with, and regardless, the plot will have you on the edge of your seat.  The characters are so well drawn that they all seem quite real.

The main character is Jake Patrick.  He'll be on my mind for a long time.  His father had left he and his mother years earlier.  Now Jake has dropped out of grad school for a year to care for his dying mother.  After her death, he's in, to put it mildly, a pickle.  No money, no prospects, lots of bills overdue.  With nowhere else to turn, he requests a summer job from his father, Peter Winthrop, a multimillionaire trader.  Winthrop is also unscrupulous, getting his millions with absolutely no regard for anyone but himself.  The original wheeler-dealer type.  But, he gives his son a job and takes him under his wing with an idea toward grooming him to take over the company someday.

Meanwhile, a powerful Chinese tycoon's son runs a sweatshop on Saipan, a U.S. Territory.  The seamstresses are held prisoner and abused.  Winthrop and U.S. Senator John Day visit there to film an idealized version of the shop and then the bigwigs are treated to dinner and "benefits" with two of the beautiful young seamstresses that evening.  The results of that evening will threaten to bring down both of them.

Jake is definitely the good guy here, and he has a window into what's really going on through his new job and the help of his father's secretary.  He also becomes the target of an assassin from China and due to his investigation into a murder in Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown, he is also in danger from that quarter.  The Chinatown subplot is another fascinating glimpse into another culture.  You'll be on pins and needles wondering if Jake will live through all the danger, but you'll also be cheering him on as he tries to do the right thing for the oppressed.

I loved this book.  Now I intend to read Gilleo's debut novel called Love Thy Neighbor.  Mark Gilleo is a real talent I'll be following for sure.

Source:  The Story Plant
Recommended reading

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Movie: "We Bought a Zoo"

We watched this movie on DVD last night.  I think it's my favorite Matt Damon movie ever.  I love him in this kind of role.  I didn't realize until the end, though, that the story is based on a memoir by Benjamin Mee about buying and saving a small zoo in England.  All they did was change the location to southern California.  

Matt Damon is Benjamin Mee, a widower of six months who still grieves and whose life seems to be meaningless without his wife.  He has a 14-year-old son who is acting out in his own grief and a 7-year- old daughter who also struggles without Mommy.  He has an inheritance which enables him to suddenly decide they need a change in scene, and when he and Rosie, his adorable daughter, are shown a "farmhouse" by their realtor, they want to buy it immediately.  Trouble is, the place includes a struggling zoo with many species of animals.  Oh well, they buy it anyway.

Some of the animals are stars of the movies in their own right, and as Benjamin tries to learn from the staff about those animals you have to laugh at his naivete.  But, he cares and so does the staff, and so does Rosie.  Eventually his son does too.  

There were parts of the movie that I scoffed at, such as the ridiculous inspector who can give or deny their license.  Mostly though, this is a warm-hearted movie with characters you care about and animals in need.  Both Dave and I just relaxed and went along with the story.

I recommend this one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NEON DRAGON by John F. Dobbyn

This e-book is one I had put off reading for a long time and I now wish I hadn't.  It is part of Dobbyn's Michael Knight series about a young attorney in Boston.  Knight works for a large law firm and comes under the guidance of a legendary lawyer named Devlin whom he comes to idolize.

Devlin had been falsely accused of jury fixing in a case many years earlier and although he had been cleared of that charge, it still made the rounds of the bars and clubs.  It had ruined his life. Now he sits in his office at the end of the hall scaring everyone to death, while Knight serves time as everyone's errand boy since he's the newbie.

Then there is a murder in Chinatown.  The victim is a revered member of the community; the man charged with that murder is a black student at Harvard.  Knight takes the case because after interviewing the young student, he truly believes he is innocent.  Devlin joins him on the case and the two of them set out on what seems like an impossible defense.

The scenes in Chinatown, Boston, and later in Canada, felt like I was traveling through the cities right along with Knight, a character I like very much.  As they try to solve their official case, Knight also takes on the seemingly impossible task of finding out what was behind the jury fixing charge.  How far up does the fault lie?  Who was out to get him and why?  Between the two investigations, I was surprised I didn't get lost, but it was all quite clear to me what was going on throughout.  That's no small feat in this story.

The reason I had put this one off is because it's an e-book on my Kindle and I'm not fond of that medium.  I have several books on my Kindle that look good but I would so much rather read a print book.  This is just my person foible though so I would hope Kindle users would choose to read Neon Dragon.

Source:  Amazon.com
Recommended reading for mystery lovers

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Introduction to Maeve Binchy

In all my hundreds of years of reading everything in sight, I had never read a Maeve Binchy.  I know it's unbelievable but there you are.  I had her in my mind, just never took the time.

Last week I was looking for a short read to fit in between books for promised reviews.  My box of books from friends yielded The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy, a short paperback perfect for the amount of time I had.  It turned out to be a little book of short stories, all related to travel in some way.

Short stories and I have been total strangers for many years.  I stopped reading them entirely during the period of time when they were more like scenes.  They had no beginning, middle or ending, nor did they seem to serve any purpose at all.  I was never satisfied with them, and felt they were a waste of my valuable reading time, so I just stopped.

Apparently short stories have changed somewhat in the meantime.  Although these Binchy stories are more like character studies, there is an actual plot.  I am in awe of Binchy's ability to make interesting characters come alive in a few paragraphs.  I'm still not sold on short stories, however, I can say I really enjoyed the people and each of the little stories here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

GONE by Randy Wayne White

This is my second Randy Wayne White novel and coincidentally it introduces a new series.  I'm anxious to go back through the Doc Ford series because I really enjoyed the characters and the mystery in the one I read, but this new one is a series I'm happy to in on the ground floor for.

The new heroine is Hannah Smith, a native of southern Florida whose family is as interesting as she is.  Hannah was taught everything about fishing and being a fishing guide by her Uncle Jake who has died and left her a legacy of knowledge and skills to keep her going.  She's 30 at this point, single, and still shy about a few acne scars hidden by her hair, but she's strong and is building a good business as a fishing guide to wealthy people.  Jake had also insisted she get a private investigator's license.  Now one of her clients wants her to use that license to find his missing niece.

Hannah's advantage in this search is that she knows so many people, and the ones she doesn't know remember her Uncle Jake with respect and friendship.  She also has a gay friend who is a body builder and he gets around too; he's as loyal to Hannah as a  hound dog.

The villain in the mix is known to us almost immediately but getting the goods on him involves Hannah in some pretty steamy and brutal stuff.  She's tough, but deep down good.  You count on her to do the right thing, no matter what.  This is one of the scariest villains I've read about in quite a while.  

You'll love some of the other characters in this book.  Her mother for instance is just plain batty, but Hannah blames her quirky behavior on a stroke she's had.  There are waterfront souls who are salt of the earth types.  Others may look down on them, but these are real people with good common sense who see things others overlook.

I'm looking forward to the next volume in the adventures of Hannah Smith, and hoping White doesn't drop Doc Ford entirely.

Source:  Won from LibraryThing
Recommended reading