Saturday, September 30, 2006

Review of Scenes From the Blanket by Ted Torres

2006, iUniverse
250 pgs
Rating: * (Fair)

First Sentence: The Reverend Awoke with a jolt.

Reason for Reading: I reviewed this book for Front Street Reviews.

Comments: There is a comfort and peace that comes under the cover of nightfall, as well as a freedom to let down one’s pretensions and explore the many mysteries the darkness has to offer. Ted Torres’ novel, Scenes From the Blanket, offers a glimpse into the nightlife of New Orleans, the magic, glamour, and temptation of drugs and sex. It is the perfect setting for this original novel. Ted Torres’ descriptions of the French Quarter brings the setting to life; New Orleans is a character all in it’s own.

In what would become a nightmare for many, Reverend Wakefield, once a man of God, places a curse on the city of New Orleans, striking out at those who would embrace the night. Over the years, the disappearance of several individuals remains a mystery, as does the nature of the curse. The time line in Scenes From the Blanket is fluid, moving in time between 1937, writer Blake Worthington’s exploration of New Orleans and the approach of a new millennium. The two more modern time lines were confusing to follow at first because they lacked more clear delineation.

Arriving in the city in hopes of recapturing a relationship he once shared with an old flame, Blake unexpectedly finds himself linked to the fate of the city in a way he never anticipated. He immediately falls in love with New Orleans and the allure of the night, the time of day in which he has always taken comfort. Judith Blair opens her life back up to Blake, hoping, too, that they can rekindle their love. However, she soon discovers that the life she has grown content with, a successful career and a conventional lifestyle, clashes with Blake’s choice for a more hedonistic existence, in which self-discovery and going after one’s desires with little concern for tradition and convention take precedence. Rallying those of like mind around him, Blake brings together The Order of the Blanket, and together they open their hearts and souls to the power and love of the night, reveling under the cover of darkness. The Order of the Blanket is reminiscent of a 1960’s hippie commune, with a touch of the bohemian influence.

Upon his first night in the city, Blake is haunted by shadows. He is certain he is being stalked. Blake and Judith learn the truth about the curse and something of the shadows that chase them and threaten the Order of the Blanket through an old and mysterious man whose fate seems to be tied to Blake’s. Unless the curse is broken, it is only a matter of time before the shadows of the night reach out for them all.

The author uses words to paint a colorful and yet dark tale that pushes the boundaries of convention. The practical and grounded Judith was the most detailed of the characters, and perhaps the character to whom I was most drawn. Her counterpart, Blake Worthington, somehow remained elusive and a mystery, much like the portrait of the night Ted Torres painted in his novel. . I really didn’t see what anyone saw in Blake other than his good looks. He came across as selfish and egotistical. Then there is the mysterious Funnyman whose story was just about the only one that was worth uncovering with each turn of the page. Scenes From the Blanket is a novel that will reward the careful reader to some extent but overall was boring and the author took to long to get to the meat of the story.

Favorite Part: The scene where Funnyman tells Blake the history behind the curse. I felt like the story was actually getting somewhere at that point.

Miscellaneous: The changes at work seem to be coming in droves now. It’s not all that unusual, but there’s always a little anxiety to be had when those changes may impact me. As I told my boss, just let me know with enough of a warning so that I can make sure I know what time to be at work the next day!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Thoughts on Unconfessed by Yvette Christiansë

2006 ARE, Other Press
347 pgs
Historical Fiction
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: He stood just in the entrance of the cell, a tall man with his hat in his hands.

Reason for Reading: When selecting a book to review for, I came across Unconfessed and was immediately drawn to the novel.

Comments: Unconfessed is Sila's story, the tale of one woman's pain and suffering. It is the story of a mother's love, of desperation, and the cruelty of slavery. Yvette Christiansë's haunting tale pierces the heart in this powerful novel about a broken and angry woman hanging on by a thread. However wounded, Sila is undeniably a strong woman.

Convicted of murder on April 30, 1823, Sila van den Kaap (so named by her captors) escaped her execution once when she became pregnant with her daughter, Meisie. Living in filth and worse than a whore in prison, Sila is certain her time has come when the new superintendent appears at the door of her cell. However, with the changing political climate in the Cape Colony of South Africa and perhaps a bit of kindness on the part of the new superintendent, Sila's order of execution is commuted. She is to carry out a lengthy sentence on Robben Island, a prison known for its institutional brutality.

As Sila toils in the quarry, breaking stones that will be fitted for the roads of Cape Town under the watchful gaze of guards, and occasionally working in the warden's kitchen, she reminisces about the past, reliving the horrors she has been forced to endure all her life, as well as the scarce slivers of joy that seemed to come and go so quickly.

Sila has little memory of her life before being forced into slavery. She is shuffled from house to house like property, going from the Neethlings, a pastor’s family whose debt forces them to sell her to the Oumiesies (old missus), Hendrina Jensen, who promises Sila and the other slaves in her care freedom upon her death - only to be denied freedom by Oumiesies’ son, Theron. From there she goes to Hancke, another who promises her freedom once her debt is paid off, and finally to the vicious Jacobus Stephanus Van der Wat. Beaten, raped, stripped of her identity, and robbed of her children, Sila, like so many others who walked in similar shoes during that time in history, has little to hope for. Freedom is something she longs for, has been promised and denied her before she has a chance to taste it. Still, it is that dream that keeps her going - that and the hope of reuniting with her children so that they can all live as free people together.

Having been born and raised in South Africa during apartheid, the author is close to the history she writes about in Unconfessed. The novel is almost poetic; the writing is style lyrical at times and full of symbolism. Although as the novel goes on, the narrative becomes slightly disorganized, it fits well with the story and the direction that the main character is going. She brings her characters, particularly Sila to life—her anger and despair bleed from every page.Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2006 

 Final Note: Unconfessed is not the type of book that will leave the reader with a sense of resolution or happiness. It is a tortured and sad novel that is full of pain and suffering, with a scattering of laughter and a hint of hope if you look close enough.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Review for Murder Suicide by Keith Ablow

2004, St. Martin’s Press
305 pgs
Rating: * (Fair +)

First Sentence: The shadow of the night still clung to a frosty Boston morning, the silence broken only by the crisp, clean sounds of the slide on a Glock handgun being pulled back, a 9mm slug popping up out of the magazine, clucking into the chamber.

Reason for Reading: I decided to continue with the Frank Clevenger series since the books I was set to review had not yet arrived in the mail when I was ready to start a new book.

From the Publisher: An hour before inventor John Snow is to undergo experimental brain surgery, he's discovered outside Massachusetts General Hospital, dead from a single bullet wound. Did he commit suicide, as the police suspect-or was he murdered?

Forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger is about to find out. As he digs into Snow's complex past, he discovers a host of tortured relationships: The wife who can never forgive what Snow has done to their child and their marriage. The son who loathes him. The beautiful mistress who loves him deeply but can never have him. The business partner intent on taking control of his inventions.Whatever secret Snow took to his grave, it is casting a shadow of suspicion over the people who said they loved him. Now Clevenger must venture into a dead man's dark past to unearth the truth-in an explosive mystery of passion and betrayal.

Comments: Perhaps I should not have continued with the series without taking a break first. Psychopath was such an entertaining reading experience. From the very description of Murder Suicide, I had my doubts that the book could live up to its predecessor in my eyes. The main plot line didn’t really catch my fancy. While my opinion of Frank Clevenger continues to rise, I was disappointed with this novel in general. I was unable to take to most of the characters and found the story farfetched at times.

Favorite Part: Billy’s story thread was my favorite part of the book. Perhaps the only redeeming story. Frank and Billy continue to grow as characters, both as individuals and in their relationship with one another.

Miscellaneous: Three review books arrived in the mail on my birthday no less and so I’ll be busy with those for awhile. Now the question is where to start?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Review of Psychopath by Keith Ablow

2003, St. Martin’s Paperbacks
342 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: Mahler's Tenth Symphony played on the BMW X5's stereo, but even that serene music did nothing to calm Jonah.

Reason for Reading: Psychopath was the obvious next book to read in my plan to catch up in the Frank Clevenger series.

Comments: Written in third person instead of first like the previous books in the series, Psychopath stands apart from Dr. Ablow’s earlier books. The thriller opens as a disturbed psychiatrist sets the trap for his latest victim, which is sure to end in the death of his prey. Having settled into his life and the role of being a father to his adopted teenage son, Frank Clevenger is reluctant to get involved with the FBI’s search for the “Highway Killer” who is known to have killed twelve people in twelve different states. But when the serial killer reaches out to Frank, seemingly asking for his help, Frank cannot refuse. Frank can only hope that his skills as a forensic psychiatrist will prevent too many more deaths of innocent people.

In the usual Ablow fashion, Psychopath delves into the psyche of a mentally ill person, drawing him out and laying his life bare. The tie between childhood trauma and the destruction of oneself and those around him or her is once again explored, creating a riveting and exciting story that was next to impossible to put down. Frank’s character has clearly matured and is a much more likeable person in this latest novel. Psychopath is by far the best in the series that I’ve read so far.

Favorite Part: The third person voice worked very well for this particular novel, allowing the reader into the mind of the serial killer, which is always a fascinating viewpoint to look out at the world from, however sick it may be. It also allowed for some distance from the main character, which I appreciated.

Miscellaneous: My husband and I had the day off today, sort of an extended weekend to celebrate my birthday. We took in the movie Hollywoodland, which we both enjoyed, and followed that up with a tasty lunch at Islands. Hmmm. Got to love those Yaki tacos!

Why Do You Read?

I do not remember the trigger that turned me on to reading. I do not remember where my love for reading began. There is no one book that stands out from my childhood as having been the turning point for me. I often joke that my love for reading and books is genetic. My father's passion for reading and his book collections I am sure played a part in it. My mother is a reader also. I grew up in a household where reading was encouraged and nurtured. So, is it really any wonder why I enjoy reading today?

I once had a pen pal who argued against reading fiction, believing that there was no value in it. She obviously did not subscribe to the belief that "fiction reveals truth that reality obscures" as Jessamyn West once said--a quote I believe to be true. It's a shame because I think she misses out in the end.

For me, reading is much more than just an escape. I read to learn and to broaden my views and outlook in ways that I am unable to do in my own life. I have met, journeyed with, and shared experiences with characters I would probably never have met outside of books. Reading strengthens empathy and helps maintain an open mind, offering up different perspectives to any given situation. My love for mysteries has certainly helped hone my skills required for my job. On a much more personal level, reading has offered me an outlet for my emotions, which I tend to keep close to my vest both for professional and personal reasons. A fellow booklover said she enjoyed reading because it was good therapy. I had not really thought of it that way, but I suppose there is a lot of truth in that for me too.

Why do you read?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Review of Compulsion by Keith Ablow

2002, St. Martin’s Press
321 pgs
Rating: *

First Sentence: Lilly Cunningham looked up.

Reason for Reading: I figured I would continue on with the series while I’m immersed in Frank Clevenger’s world.

From the Publisher: Burdened by his own psychological scars, brilliant forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Clevenger, has weathered the most extreme twists of the human mind. Then he receives a disturbing call from Nantucket's Chief of Police. The five-month-old daughter of prominent billionaire, Darwin Bishop, has been found murdered in her crib.

The obvious suspect is Darwin's adopted sociopathic son, Billy. Even Clevenger can't fathom the motive behind the troubled boy's murder of an infant. But what is Billy really running from? Does Darwin's stunning wife Julia know? If she does, she isn't talking. Neither is the Bishop's other son who's harboring terrible secrets of his own.

Falling for Julia is Clevenger's first mistake. Investigating the Bishops' twisted emotional landscape is his second. It's done more than just draw him into the maze of a [twisted] family history. It's trapped him. As his own demons rise to the surface, he must play the ultimate mind game to catch a killer-and make it out alive.

Comments: Just when I think I am beginning to respect and like Frank Clevenger, he does something that puts me back where we started. Talk about your flawed characters. I do like characters with flaws—it makes them more human and easier to relate to. However, there are certain flaws that I have trouble relating to for whatever reason. I think Frank Clevenger’s character would have a field day analyzing me and the reasons why I have trouble connecting with him the same way I would with other heroes in the books I read. And honestly, if I had to be analyzed by anyone in that way, Frank would probably be the psychiatrist I’d want to call. His skill and insight are unrivaled in the fictional world.

Keith Ablow has written another fast paced thrilling novel. Compulsion was even better than the first two novels, and I look forward to seeing what more trouble Frank can get himself into while trying to help those around him face their personal demons.

Favorite Part: Lilly’s story was my favorite part. I like reading about Frank putting his skills to good use, bringing out a person’s darkest secrets and helping them face them. There is another reason this particular story stands out for me—but to tell you might be too much of a spoiler even if the truth is revealed in the first chapter.

Miscellaneous: Keith Ablow is hosting a daytime TV talk show. Not sure how I feel about that. They all seem to run together after a while and this one seems no different.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Review of Projection by Keith Ablow

1999, St. Martin’s Paperbacks
337 pgs
Rating: *

First Sentence: I watched Josiah King pace in front of the witness stand.

Reason for Reading: Getting back into my series reading, I felt Keith Ablow’s series was a good place to start. I read the author’s first book in the series quite a while ago and enjoyed it, deciding it was high time to read another.

From the Publisher: Once an accomplished plastic surgeon, Trevor Lucas started using his scalpel to do very bad things. Locked in a Boston psychiatric hospital, Lucas is holding the ward hostage-and performing grisly "operations" on his prisoners. Lucas, calling for forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger, is willing to strike a deal. What Lucas knows about Clevenger could ruin the psychiatrist. What Clevenger can find out about Lucas could save the hostages. And he's got 24 hours to do it. As Clevenger feverishly delves into Lucas' past, what he discovers is chilling, disturbing, and all too familiar. For Clevenger can't help but wonder if his proximity to killers and madmen in coincidence, or something much more complex: Projection.

Comments: Before reading the first novel of the Frank Clevenger series, I had been warned that the main character might be hard to like and at times difficult to empathize with (at least for me) because of his extracurricular activities. I took that warning to heart and was able to enjoy the novel, Denial, as a result. The same rules applied to Projection. Forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger lives by his own rules. His intelligence, skill at his job, and insight not only into others but also into himself make him an appealing leading man. I flew through this novel, having a hard time setting it down. At times I felt like I was reading a horror novel, which fortunately did not invade my dreams when I had to finally decide sleep before a working day was a necessity. One thing that especially impressed me about Ablow’s second book was the way he did not leave anything hanging from the first. I had been sorely disappointed at the ending in Denial, which didn’t sit well with me, and Projection offered me a more satisfying resolution. Although the plot to save the hostages and the hostage taker plays a large part in the novel, I think that the main character’s own self exploration into his past and his struggle with addiction take center stage.

Favorite Part: North Anderson is a character that stood out the most for me in this novel. He was a good character—kind of refreshing one compared to so many of the others in the book.

I know it’s lazy of me to rely on the publisher’s synopsis of the book, but I was just not feeling up to summarizing the book myself. Besides, the publisher did a much better job than I could have.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Review of The Devil's Feather by Minette Walters

2006, Knopf
343 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good +)

First Sentence: I don’t know if that story was picked up in the West.

Reason for Reading: I was selected to review this book for the publisher through the Borzoi Reader program.

Comments: Minette Walters is one of many authors that have been recommended to me over the years; however, before now, I had yet to give her a try. I am kicking myself for my reluctance and am extremely grateful to Knopf for giving me the opportunity to give read one of her novels. The Devil’s Feather will not be my last Minette Walters’ book if I have any say in the matter.

Reuters war correspondent Connie Burns, believes a British mercenary is behind the brutal rapes and murders of five women in Sierra Leone, despite the confessions of three teenagers. Her suspicions are aroused even more when she catches a glimpse of the mercenary in war torn Baghdad, and she begins to investigate his past, looking for patterns of crimes that might tie him to the murders. Realizing she may be in danger the more she digs into the life of the killer, Connie decides to seek safety in England, only to be kidnapped before she reaches the airport.

Connie turns inward after her release, not wanting to share with anyone the horrors and torment she went through in captivity. She finds refuge in a small countryside home where she befriends a recluse, Jess Derbyshire, whose history and suffering are not too dissimilar from her own. As Connie struggles to come to terms with her own fears, her curiosity of her landlady’s past as well as that of her new friend grows. Although two seemingly unrelated stories, it is the characters that bring them together seamlessly, as their stories unfold.

The Devil’s Feather is a complex tale of learning to cope and overcome fear just as much as it is a riveting thriller. The novel was well written and the depth of the characters only served to enhance the story. Minette Walters’ characterization of Connie Burns and the shame, intense fear, and anguish she felt at having been victimized was spot on. The format of the novel, narrative mixed in with e-mails, the main character’s notes and the opening news articles, offered a great way for the story to progress and for the author to step outside the first person narrative of Connie to allow for outside insight into the main character and events as they unfolded. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

Favorite Part: I felt an immediate connection with Connie’s character, and Jess was probably my most favorite of all. My favorite scene was probably when Connie and Jess first meet, with the mastiffs there to greet Connie. It was a very revealing moment for both characters.

Miscellaneous: Labor Day Weekend is over and it’s back to work tomorrow. Although I am not looking forward to having to get up early now that I’m on the day shift, I am very much looking forward to getting off work at a decent hour!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Review of Snow Blind by P.J. Tracy

2006, Putnam
311 pgs
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: The had to sit for a time after dragging the body far in this heat—two young women in sleeveless summer dresses, hugging their knees on the hillside while the hot wind danced in their hair and crept up their skirts and a dead man lay behind them.

Reason for Reading: Snow Blind is the 4th book in the Monkeewrench series. I’ve enjoyed all the previous books and decided it was time to read the most recent book in the series.

Comments: The mother and daughter writing team that write under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy has yet again written a suspenseful and entertaining novel. In their latest novel, the Minneapolis police have their work cut out for them when they discover the bodies of two police officers in snowmen during a city wide snowman-building contest. Detectives Gino Rolseth and Leo Magozzi are on the case as the winter weather turns fierce and their investigation takes them in unexpected directions.

In Dundas County, a third body is discovered in a snowman, and the Minneapolis homicide detectives join forces with the newly elected and highly inexperienced Sheriff Iris Rikker and her team to determine if there is a link between the murders or if it is just a copy cat killing. The Monkeewrench crew makes several appearances as they offer their computer skills and services to help in the investigation, hoping to catch the killer before he or she can strike again.

Although the novel got off to a slow start, weighed down by descriptions of the weather conditions which soon became an integral part of the story, Snow Blind eventually took off and kept me glued to the pages, wanting to know what would happen next. Just as in Live Bait, the authors’ second novel, where the character focus was more on the Minneapolis homicide detectives rather than the Monkeewrench crew, I also found Snow Blind to be similar in theme as Live Bait. Nothing is ever just black and white, and that comes out clearly in Snow Blind as the reason behind the crime becomes more apparent.

Favorite Part: I love spending time with Leo and Gino, and this time was no different.

Miscellaneous: Labor Day Weekend is finally here. It's the beginning of my favorite time of year.