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Down Among the Dead Men
Down Among the Dead Men

4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Satisfying Police Procedural, July 3, 2015
Detective Peter Diamond is coerced into accompanying Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore on a fact finding mission to Sussex. Beyond the fact that he doesn't much care for Georgina and he really doesn't care to leave Bath where he has plenty to do, he really hates the assignment - to investigate a senior investigating officer at the Chiscester CID after it is learned that she may have buried information in a murder years earlier because one of the suspects is her niece. And if all that isn't bad enough, he knows, likes, and, more important, respects Henrietta Mallin, the woman they are to investigate.

Hen admits that she did, in fact, cover up evidence although she hadn't thought it was relevant at the time - they already had a viable suspect. But the more Diamond investigates, the more he begins to suspect that all of this is related to a series of disappearances in the area that Hen had been looking into against the orders of the higher-ups. Among the disappeared are an art teacher and a gardener, both people who don't seem to have any reasons to take off on their own. As Diamond digs deeper, he is convinced that all of these things are linked especially when the niece disappears as well as a young student who had been inquiring about the teacher.

Down Among the Dead Men is the 15th entry in author Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond Mystery series and there's a whole lot going on, most of it seemingly unrelated. However, Lovesey manages to pull all of the disparate strings together quite satisfactorily. Diamond is a likeable character, willing to stroke the often giant egos of his superiors on the force if it will help solve the crime, and his relationship with Georgina is a whole lot of fun to read about. Although the story skips around among various different characters, it never gets muddled and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Overall, a very satisfying police procedural.

After We Fall: A Novel
After We Fall: A Novel
by Emma Kavanagh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.33
45 used & new from $7.95

4.0 out of 5 stars More Than a Just a Psychological Thriller, July 3, 2015
This review is from: After We Fall: A Novel (Paperback)
After We Fall by author Emma Kavanagh begins with a plane crash. There are only thirteen survivors, one of whom is Cecilia, an airline attendant. This had been an important flight for her - she was running way from her husband, Tom and their three-year-old son, Ben. The story is told by four different narrators including Cecilia; Tom, her husband, a police officer who is investigating the death of another officer, Libby, while trying to take care of both Cecilia and Ben; Jim, a retired police officer and Libby's father; and Freya, the daughter of Oliver, the pilot of the plane.

As the novel progresses, the lives of these characters become entwined as questions about the cause of the crash arise as well as a possible link between it and Libby's murder. But this is much more than a simple police procedural or a psychological thriller. It is about, among other things, the ways people cope with tragic events, how they deal with loss and grief, and how it impacts the choices they make. The characters are complex, fallible and, in some case, not particularly likable but they command our empathy and our attention throughout.

After We Fall bridges the gap between literary fiction and psychological thriller and it does both seamlessly. It is well-written and well-plotted and it never settles for the simple solution but it is really the characters that will keep you up reading and who will stay with you long after you finish the last page.

A Crown for Cold Silver
A Crown for Cold Silver
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Usual Fantasy, June 30, 2015
`It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.'

A young cavalry officer figures he'll make a name for himself and make his daddy proud when he leads his soldiers against a small village. He is particularly impressed with the mayor's house which he will claim for himself after, of course, slaughtering the entire village and killing the mayor's husband. Next, he will kill her and maybe even her dog - that should be easy. Except the mayor isn't your average old lady, what look like wrinkles are actually battle scars, and her dog - well, he isn't really a dog in the usual, um, canine sense. Talk about picking on the wrong person. Because the mayor of this small village is actually Cold Zosia, she of song and legend, thought dead for two decades, who with her Five Villains, once led a rebel army against the Crown and won it only to seemingly die in a fall over a cliff during a duel for that crown. Now she's out for revenge and she won't stop until she gets it.

If you've read any reviews of A Crown for Cold Silver by author Alex Marshall, the phrase `trope-bending' gets repeated a lot and there's certainly plenty of that - there's gender-bending eg duels between women for the crown and men in arranged same-sex marriages; women tend to be the dominant sex when it comes to positions of power like Crown, Pope, or General; Zosia and her Villains are a great deal older than your average young hero or heroine and way more cunning; and the one guy who seems to have all the traits of the usual hero, honour, loyalty, etc, is the least respected. It's been called grimdark and there's certainly aspects of this but, at the same time, it's more positive than your average grimdark fantasy; and when it comes to the big battle (there's always a big battle), things don't exactly go the normal way of these things. But it is really the world-building, the complexity of the plot and the characters, and the dark humour that kept me up at night reading.

One caveat though: there's a lot of cussing and violence so, for anyone who is offended by four-letter words, violence, or, for that matter, gender fluidity, this will probably not be the book for you. For others, a definite big Yes from me!

Omari And The People
Omari And The People
by Stephen Whitfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.46
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining realist fantasy, June 20, 2015
This review is from: Omari And The People (Paperback)
Omari's skills as a thief have allowed him to live a life of luxury. However, when it looks like his world is about to tumble down, he decides to take matters into his own hands - he sets his house on fire. Unfortunately, the fire spreads and soon the entire town is engulfed in flames. The survivors gather outside of town, wondering what is to become of them. Omari, in an attempt to avoid capture, hints that he knows of a land across the desert where they can make a much better life than the one they have lost. For the first time in his life, Omari finds himself leading a group of people who put all their faith and hope in him but can this unrepentant thief and loner change enough to really keep his promise - especially as he has never actually crossed the desert before and has no idea if this promised land actually exists?

Omari and the People by Stephen Whitfield is one entertaining realist fantasy - a completely engrossing sword & sorcery tale with very little of either. Not to say there isn't some sword play and a bit of magic but the story is more character-driven which, with a less deft hand, could have made for a very dull tale. Fortunately, Omari and the people are all complex and interesting characters and the tensions and the relationships that arise throughout their long journey through the desert makes for some very addicting reading. The characters must rely more on themselves and each other to survive their very grueling trek rather than some outside supernatural force. Reminiscent of old folk tales like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, even the desert seems more a living, breathing and always unpredictable character than a place perhaps because it is responsible for so many of the struggles, disappointments and hopes but also perhaps because, as Whitfield says, he based it on the real Sahara desert.

Omari and the People is more than a simple quest story - it is a tale of love and struggle, of growth and courage and faith, and of the resilience of the human heart. But more than that, it is a really engrossing reality fantasy that will grab and keep the reader's attention throughout.

The Snow Kimono
The Snow Kimono
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful & Complex, June 15, 2015
This review is from: The Snow Kimono (Kindle Edition)
It is 1989 and retired police inspector, Auguste Jovert, has received a letter from a woman in Algiers claiming to be his daughter. He throws the letter in the trash but then stumbles into the path of a car, breaking his leg and keeping him home bound. Two days later, a new neighbour appears at his door - Tadashi Omura, a former professor of law in Japan who relates to him the story of Katsuo Ikeda, a brilliant but arrogant writer who was once his best friend and the women in his life. Entwined in his tale is Jovert's own story of the Algerian woman he loved and lost.

The Snow Kimono by author Mark Henshaw is a hard book to categorize or describe. This is a complex tale that seems to unfold in layers - sometimes seemingly unrelated but always bringing the reader closer to the heart of the story. It is, as the narrator describes it, like a Japanese puzzle:

`Each piece is considered individually. No shape is repeated, unless for some special purpose. Some pieces are small, others large, but all are calculated to deceive, to lead one astray, in order to make the solution of the puzzle as difficult, as challenging, as possible... how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world.'

Suffice it to say that its hauntingly beautiful prose captivates the reader as the various aspects of these different lives unfold. There is a lyrical rhythm to the story that kept me enthralled throughout. It is a book rich with beautifully crafted imagery and sentences that demand to be read out loud. It is also, for me, that rare book that I know I will read and read again and it will never fail to draw me in each and every time.

The Fall: A Novel
The Fall: A Novel
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing & Topical Legal Thriller, June 11, 2015
This review is from: The Fall: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
The Fall is the 16th in author John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy legal thrillers series and, in this outing, Dismas hands the legal torch over to his daughter, Rebecca AKA The Becks. Anlya Johnson, a pretty 17-year-old African American girl in foster care, dies after falling from a San Francisco overpass. Although there are no eyewitnesses to the event, a man claimed to have heard a struggle right before her fall. Greg Treadway, a white teacher and volunteer advocate for foster kids is the last person to be seen with her in a restaurant and, according to witnesses, they were holding hands. Not only that but another witness identifies him as the white man seen walking away from the underpass after her fall. Lately, there have been charges made that African American victims don't get equal treatment in the courts causing prosecutors to rush to charge Treadway.

After meeting Rebecca and talking to her about his chances, he asks her to represent him. Fresh out of law school, she has no experience in criminal law but, after talking to her father, she decides to go ahead. Fortunately, most of the evidence seems circumstantial. There are other possible culprits who, in their rush to prosecute, the opposition ignored. Unfortunately, the old defense of SODDIT or `some other dude did it' is no longer an acceptable defense without direct or circumstantial links to the crime. Even with Dismas' help, Rebecca may have just bitten off a lot more than she can chew.

It's been a while since I read one of Lescroart's novels and after reading this one, I'm wondering why. The book is well-plotted with plenty of twists and turns. The topical storyline makes for a very engrossing read. It gives an interesting perspective on the question of race within the judicial system as well as the rush to justice and trial by public opinion. My one criticism - I did find the last part a bit contrived. Still, this was only a mild irritant and the book kept my attention throughout so if you are a fan of Lescroart's or legal thrillers in general, The Fall gets a high recommendation from me.

Rage Against The Dying
Rage Against The Dying

4.0 out of 5 stars A Pretty Decent Read, June 5, 2015
In the opening of Rage Against the Dying, an older woman is attacked by a serial killer who has a `thing' for granny types. Thing is though this older woman isn't your usual middle-aged victim - she's 59-year-old Brigid Quinn, retired FBI agent, who is more than a match for any predator despite her gray hair. When the proverbial fan gets hit, Quinn is left with a dead guy and, although it was a clear case of self-defense, she is afraid that if she explains what happened to her new husband and ex-priest he couldn't handle it. So she walks away hoping that somehow her role won't be discovered - of course, this will come back to bite her.

Then she receives a call from agent Laura Coleman about another crime, the Route 66 killer, `the one that got away' in Quinn's long career and who has haunted her ever since. A suspect has been apprehended who seems to have real knowledge about the murders, stuff that was never released to the public. However, Coleman doesn't think he did it and, after meeting him, Quinn also has doubts. Now, Coleman is missing and Quinn is convinced that she is another victim of Route 66 but she can't convince anyone of the fact. Worse, she is now a suspect in the murder of the man she killed and, since she not only didn't report the incident, she has lied about her role, it's going to be damn near impossible to claim self-defense. She is forced to go on the run from both the FBI and a serial killer stalker hoping she can solve the case before one or the other catches up with her.

Rage Against the Dying by author Becky Masterson makes for some very fun reading mainly down to Quinn who makes it clear that older women can be just as interesting and feisty, not to mention hot, as the usual young heroines of thrillers - she is, by her own definition, a kick-ass-take-names kind of person and she lives up to the hype. My one criticism - I admit I found the part about her doomed efforts to keep her encounter with the serial killer from her husband somewhat problematic - one would think that someone who is married to an FBI agent, even a retired one, would have some idea of what they do for a living. But that aside, Rage Against the Dying is a real roller coaster of a ride. Overall, a pretty decent read.


Loving Day: A Novel
Loving Day: A Novel
by Mat Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.62
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Race, Identity, & Family,, June 3, 2015
This review is from: Loving Day: A Novel (Hardcover)
Loving Day - an annual celebration held on June 12, the anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving Vs Virginia which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen US states citing "There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause".

Warren Duffy's life has not been going well. He has just come out of a rancorous divorce and he's behind on his alimony; he makes his living doing illustrations for comics with African American storylines which means he doesn't make much money; and his father recently died and left him a dilapidated old mansion in the middle of one of the most crime-ridden areas in Philadelphia. He has never felt comfortable fitting in as a black man in America. His mother was African American and his father was Irish and he is very light-skinned, something that has always made him feel insecure because, although he has always identified as black:

"I am a racial optical illusion. I am as visually duplicitous as the illustration of the young beauty that's also the illustration of the old hag...The people who see me as white always will, and will think it's madness that anyone else could come to any other conclusion...The people who see me as black cannot imagine how a sane, intelligent person could be so blind not to understand this, despite my pale-skinned presence."

And if things aren't sucking enough, he is heckled by a woman at a comic book convention for denying the white side of his biracial heritage. She tells him he's the worst sunflower she has ever seen. Warren doesn't know what a sunflower is but he's damn sure he's being insulted - which kind of makes the fact that he finds her extremely attractive a bit, well, difficult. So when she stalks off after her harangue, he decides to go after her. As he searches for her in the crowd, he is approached by an old Jewish man and his sixteen-year-old granddaughter who claim that Warren is her father - maybe things are finally starting to look up in his otherwise sad life.

Author Mat Johnson is an expert at satire and at uncovering the contradictions and confusions inherent in our sense of self. He is also a master at creating characters who are flawed, complex and who grow as the story and their lives change - Duffy makes a very sympathetic narrator as he tries and seemingly fails to fit in comfortably anywhere despite all his efforts to be not only what others expect of him but what he wants for himself. Other characters are less complex but, given that Duffy is telling the tale, that makes sense - we see them as he sees them. But it is with his relationship with his teenage daughter that this novel truly shines at least for me. Despite all his trials and tribulations, Duffy never gives up in his attempts to win her over because once he meets her, she becomes the most important person in his life.

Loving Day is at once poignant and humorous as it takes a satirical look at what it means to be biracial in America today, what constitutes `family', and the desire we all have to find our own identity and a place we belong. Like all good satire, it will likely amuse you and frustrate you in almost equal parts. One thing for sure, though, it will make you think long after you have finished reading it.

Seveneves: A Novel
Seveneves: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $16.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Rollicking Adrenaline-fueled Ride, June 2, 2015
"The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."

So begins Seveneves, the latest scifi opus by author Neal Stephenson. The moon's explosion creates an impending disaster for mankind of epic proportions. Dr Doob, who is kind of a Neil DeGrasse Tyson kind of guy, an astrophysicist with his own popular TV show, calculates, that in approximately two years, pieces of the moon will start entering earth's atmosphere at a remarkable rate of speed, force, and number and it is very unlikely that anything or anyone can survive this `hard rain'. Governments throughout the world hold a lottery to save at least some remnants of humanity by sending a few lucky souls representing as diverse a gene pool as possible (except Venezuela) up to a Cloud Ark beside a group of real science guys. Everything seems to be going, if not swimmingly, surprisingly well until politics rears its ugly head led by an extremely egocentric and cunning ex-President of the US and soon chaos ensues eventually leading to the demise of all but eight women, one of whom is postmenopausal resulting in the seven Eves of the title whose job it is to repopulate the human race and eventually the earth. But they will not allow a genetic lottery to decide the future of mankind:

"What keeps us alive isn't bravery, or athleticism, or any of the other skills that were valuable in a caveman society. It's our ability to master complex technological skills. It's our ability to be nerds. We need nerds."

All of that's in the first 500 pages.

Fast forward 5000 years and to the last 300 pages: the human descendants of the Eves have survived and thrived but have remained as seven distinct races who have divided into two antagonistic groups. They have begun to terReform the earth to make it eventually inhabitable for the populations. However, earth may hold secrets that neither group had anticipated and, in their push to gain and maintain control over larger areas of the surface, the two sides are in a race to be the first to uncover these secrets.

No one does speculative fiction like Stephenson and, if at times, the characters seem to take a far-back seat to the science and if the science becomes at times, somewhat overwhelming for those of us who are not science nerds, well, isn't that the point? We rely on science daily for our very survival, something we rarely notice except in the case of a major disaster and they don't get any bigger than an exploding moon. I will admit I did wonder, for example, if the moon exploded wouldn't there be more immediate concerns like tides and gravity and stuff but putting that aside, I found all of this fascinating even the parts I admittedly didn't fully understand. Stephenson's visions of this future world pushed my imagination in wholly new directions. And if I tend to feel that a world made up exclusively of nerds (and only science nerds at that) might be a bit, well, socially awkward, it certainly makes for some very original and exciting reading.

Despite its length, Seveneves is one rollicking adrenaline-fueled ride. In the immortal words of the Man in the Magic Mirror `Be prepared to be amazed beyond all expectations'. After all, that is what Stephenson does.

In Search of Lost Dragons HC
In Search of Lost Dragons HC
by Elian Black'Mor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.06
66 used & new from $15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars One Word: Beautiful, May 29, 2015
An illustrator journeys across most of the globe searching for dragons. In Search of Lost Dragons is the journal of his travels and his discoveries.

I can think of only one word to describe In Search of Lost Dragons: beautiful. Every page is a feast for the eyes. I do have one complaint although it is more a personal thing than an actual criticism - I received this as an ebook ARC from Netgalley (and I really have to thank Netgalley and Diamond Book Distributors for that) and although the font which is meant to look like the scribblings of a Victorian writer, complements the art, it was, at times, very difficult for my less than perfect eyesight. Some of it I was unable to read at all and, at times, I had to put the book down to rest my eyes from the strain. But that's just me and I suspect it wouldn't be a problem for most people. Besides, the art is so visually stunning, the book could have been written in ancient Samarian and I would have still loved it. I would definitely recommend buying it for anyone who loves art, dragons, or graphic novels preferably in hard cover - I know I intend to because this is the kind of book that you want to be able to peruse and enjoy more than once.

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