Fourth Day by Zoe Sharp

The latest Charlie Fox thriller Fourth Day, by Zoe Sharp, continues the life and adventures of Charlie in her career as a “bodyguard” and her deep love for co-worker Sean.    Charlie goes “undercover” in a supposed “cult”.     The plot involves deprogramming kidnapping, an unnamed federal agency, oil rights and the “green” world, with personal decisions that need to be made by several people.      If you wonder about previous Charlie Fox adventures, go back to the December 16, 2008 entry in this blog.

Cleo Coyle

Cleo Coyle is my new recommendation for the “cozy mystery” category.    Her Coffeehouse mysteries feature Clare Cosi who manages the historic Greenwich Village coffeehouse belonging to her ex-mother-in-law “Madame”.     As part of the deal Clare lives without rent  in the upstairs duplex which is furnished with antiques and decorated with original works by famous artists, and she shares in the ownership and profits.   What she doesn’t know is that Madame has also made the same bargain with Matteo Allegro, her son and Clare’s ex-husband, in the hope that they will get back together.    Madame doesn’t want or need to be at the coffeehouse anymore because her second husband Pierre left her in a beautiful uptown townhouse with the bills paid until her death.     Matteo and Clare have a lovely 20 year old daughter who is attending culinary school in the city.    Matteo is the coffee buyer for the business – traveling all over the world, sometimes in great danger, to search out the best beans for their many types of coffee and coffee blends.    Clare is adamant that she cares nothing for Matteo because of his philandering ways.    In the first mystery, On What Grounds, Clare finds one of her best young employees dead at the foot of the basement steps.   Enter the very exhausted and very truculent Police Detective Mike McNeill.    She manages to soften him up with a special latte, and a new friendship is formed.     Subsequent titles are Through the Grinder, Latte Trouble, Murder Most Frothy, and Holiday Grind. Neither Mike nor Matteo can persuade Clare to give up her penchant for trying to solve the murders herself.    Clare in turn cannot persuade Madame not to be her helper in sleuthing.  I enjoyed reading them one after another in less than a week.    The characters become more realistic to the reader as you get to know them throughout their trials and triumphs.    Some of the coffee puns are quite a stretch, and Clare reminds everyone never to trust tea drinkers or decaffeinated drinkers.   I’m looking forward to the next book order when I hope we receive French Pressed, Espresso Shot, and Decaffeinated Corpse.

Juliet by Anne Fortier

Before there were the Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, there was the Decameron of Boccaccio. Before Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, there was Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Before the Shrew there was the 14th-century Castillian tale by Don Juan Manuel of a young man married to a fiery woman. Before Romeo and Juliet there was the 1340 true Italian story of Giulietta Tolomei and Romeo in the small Italian town of Siena. In Anne Fortier’s contemporary novel Juliet, 25 year old Julie Jacobs’ life is one of wandering from pillar to post and focusing mostly on working on various small theater productions of Romeo and Juliet. When their aunt Rose who raised them dies, Juliet and her twin Janice learn that Janice inherits her aunt’s entire estate and Juliet receives a key to a lockbox in Siena, Italy that was her mother’s. Aunt Rose’s beloved butler Umberto who is the only “father figure” the girls have ever known, secures Julie a passport in her real name Giulietta Tolomei.

The story weaves back and forth from medieval documents and journals found in the lockbox to Juliet’s acquaintance with a wealthy Italian lady who is a descendant of the family with whom the Tolomei family has feuded for centuries. She also meets the lady’s godson who is a good looking police officer and almost immediately learns that Giulietta is also Julie Jacobs who has been banned from Italy because of a political demonstration several years earlier. Fortier is a master of suspense and taking the reader just to the edge of a major revelation and then jumping to another part of the story.

Along the way Julie / Giuletta is stalked by a terrible looking man, meets her elderly cousin who runs a “family” museum, and learns more about her parents’ lives and deaths. It seems they may not have died in “accidents” – a fire and a car wreck. What was her mother’s obsession with the Romeo and Juliet story? Is there really a treasure to be found? Was it a coincidence that she named her twins Giulietta and Gianozza just as the 14th century twins were named?

This intriguing story will keep the reader fully occupied for several evenings’ readings. According to the author’s website, Juliet has been published in numerous languages in 30 countries around the world.

– Anniesse

Ancestor by Scott Sigler

It began as a free, serialized audio book podcast in September 2005. Then it was published by a small press in 2007 and reached #7 on the Amazon best seller list. Now it has been published by Random House with a Crown Publishing imprint. The reviewers hail it as the “new Jurassic Park”. Ancestor, by Scott Sigler, is a thriller (or in my opinion, a nerve-wrecker). Genetic modifications are being researched and tried by a variety of international companies. Where is the line between what is ethical and moral and what is not? There are millions of people waiting for organ transplants – every five minutes someone dies because an organ is not available. Genada is a fictional company owned by millionaire brothers Dante and Magnus. Their research team is made up of a German doctor, a Chinese computer and science genius suffering from manic-depression, a drunken scientist who does all the grunt work, an ex- military who lost his virologist wife because she was deliberately infected with an organ-wasting disease and was unable to find a donor. Fisher is with the government and is seeking to oversee all such research institutions and shut them down when they have “accidents” or “cross the line”. Dante and Magnus take their team undercover with a small band of specially trained flight team flying a mega-plane outfitted to mirror their former lab and hold all their surrogate mothers (cows). The “Ancestor” is genetically modified from DNA found throughout the world of ancient animals that no longer exist. The goal is to impregnate to cows to produce the ancestors as multiple organ donors. Change the word ancestor to monster and you can imagine what they created – a very hungry super strong creature which is over 200 pounds at birth and over 500 pounds after eating every living creature that crosses its path – including its mother, its fellow monster ancestors who are wounded, and any stray human they find. Set all this action on a 10 mile island out in Lake Michigan in the middle of subzero blizzard weather and you will find yourself an exhausted but hooked reader. The biggest drawbacks to the novel are the overly graphic description of the violence and the terrible, unacceptable for public use language used by all of the characters in the novel. It truly is a captivating novel, not for the faint of heart, and equal to Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones with the added problems of terribly cold temperatures. Give it a try. Check out the author’s web site for a photo of a sculpture of Baby McButter, furry, long fangs, yellow eyes and all.

From the Files of Vish Puri Most Private Investigator Series by Tarquin Hall

If you are a fan of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, give Tarquin Hall’s two mysteries a try. From the Files of Vish Puri Most Private Investigator series titles are The Case of the Missing Servant and The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Mr. Vish Puri is a rotund little Punjabi gentleman who considers himself a master of disguise and is a lover of all things fried and spicy. He has a team of operatives with very entertaining working names who follow his every direction in each investigation — Facecream, Tubelight, Flush, Handbrake and others. In The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, Mr. Vish Puri does not even have a client. He is so incensed by the murder of a prominent Indian scholar and rationalist supposedly by the multi-armed goddess Kali that he decides to solve the murder himself. The murder occurs in the circle meeting of the weekly Laughing Club on a very popular walking boulevard in downtown Delhi leaving several very confused eyewitnesses. The number one suspect is Maharaj Swami, a popular spiritual leader who has a vast and well-paying following. The politicians do not want to offend him in any way. Inspector Singh does not appreciate the political maneuverings of the police department to avoid actual pursuit of a human murderer and welcomes Mr. Vish Puri’s help in solving the crime.

The characterizations are very entertaining, including his wife Rumpi and his Mummy-ji who are investigating a crime of their own – the theft of the pot from the latest “Kitty Party”. Tarquin Hall does not belittle the Indian people nor does he make light of the problems of corruption in India. He is a British journalist who has lived in many parts of the world and written three works of nonfiction, including an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweatshop in London’s notorious East End. The Hall family divides its time between London and Delhi. He is married to Indian-born journalist Anu Anand, and they have one son.

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

The Map of True Places, by Brunonia Barry, is a thoughtful, happy/sad novel centered on Hepzibah (known as Zee) Finch and her small circle of friends and family. Her life activities, especially her career as a therapist, are built on the foundation of having a mother who was bipolar and committed suicide in front of Zee when she was still a child. Set in Boston, Salem and the surrounding areas, historical events also share a part in the plot – from her father living across the street from THE House of Seven Gables and being one of the country’s most renowned Hawthorne scholars to the recreated Friendship sailing boat serving as a tourist attraction and a teaching center. Zee’s past and present overlap as she has a client patient (Lilly) who is bipolar and acts out in many ways as Zee’s mother Maureen had. The loving home created for her after her mother’s death by her father, simply known as Finch to everyone, and his significant other, known as Melville, helped Zee to have a more stable adolescence once she was forced to quit stealing people boats and taking them for a ride to be abandoned in various ports around the area. Finch’s advancing condition of Parkinson’s Disease and dementia hold Zee in place as she tries to sort out her life – her broken engagement, her career, her new love interest, her relationship to her “fathers”, uncle and her friends. Behind everything else is the menace she feels from the man she is sure caused the death of Lilly, although she is unable to convince anyone that he is a very real danger in the past and the present.

This is Brunonia Barry’s second novel. Her first The Lace Reader was on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks. The Lace Reader is scheduled to be one of the books used in Marlene’s monthly book discussions in the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Purple Heart, by Patricia McCormick, is an excellent novel for both young people and adults. Set in present day Iraq, the story is from the point of view of Private Matt Duffy who graduated high school and entered the Army. Duffy finds himself in a hospital in the Green Zone of Baghdad with memory problems of how he came to be there. He wants very much to return to his squad, but there seems to have been an “incident” for which he must be interrogated and he has suffered TBI (Traumatic Brain Damage) which has somewhat scrambled his thought processes. He is allowed a phone call home to let them know he is ok and then another phone call home to let them know he is going back into the field. Military terms which we often hear in newscasts such as RPG, IED, and CamelBak are explained in the context of the story. The characters from commanding officers to the “social worker /psychological evaluator” woman to the Catholic priest chaplain to his best buddy Justin to tough girl / jock of their squad Charlene are well drawn and believable in a few words. Even his sister Lizzie who answers the phone both times he calls and his girlfriend Charlotte are believable although they are mentioned only briefly from time to time. This short book would be excellent reading for those considering entering the military or ROTC or National Guard as well as family and friends of those who are active military. The book is written in memoriam to Army Sergeant Sherwood Baker, Army Specialist Joshua Justice Henry, Marine Lance Corporal Patrick B. Kenny, Army First Lieutenant Neil Anthony Santoriello, and Marine Lance Corporal William Brett Wightman whose families were able to share their stories of their sons and brothers with her. She has also spoken with returning veterans and current military to gain accuracy. The book is not preachy, not saccharine, uses very little gutter language and allows the reader to feel worry and pride in varying degrees depending on the individual reader. I spent less than two hours reading the whole book, but I thought about and I think even dreamed about it for many more hours.


Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

Prayers for Sale, by Sandra Dallas, continues her career as an excellent storyteller. Prayers is the story of Hennie Comfort and her life in a Colorado mountain gold mining camp during the early years of the 20th century. Told primarily through flashbacks as Hennie tells her stories to newcomer Nit Spindle. At one point in her life, Hennie declared jokingly to her husband that all her prayers had been answered so maybe she needs to start selling hers. Husband Jake makes her a sign and posts it in the yard. Hennie gladly prays for anyone who asks free of charge, but she has one burden on her heart that won’t go away. From the loss of her child, the loss of a husband, and loss of countless friends and neighbors, Hennie bounces back and helps those around her. Ever-busy Hennie and friends quilt and talk and help each other. Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. She does not repeat characters nor connect her novels in any sequence, so the reader can pick up any one and be assured of a great read. My most favorite of her novels were The Persian Pickle Club and The Diary of Mattie Spenser. Others that are still quite enjoyable are The Chili Queen, Buster Midnight’s Café, Alice’s Tulip, and Tallgrass. New Mercies seemed to slip by me, because I don’t remember reading it at all. Give Sandra Dallas a try any time you need a novel about the enduring power of women’s friendship.

– Anniesse

Altar of Eden by James Rollins

James Rollins returns with another thriller in Altar of Eden featuring Dr. Laura Polk, a veterinarian with ACRES (Audubon Center for the Research of Endangered Species) in Louisiana. Following a storm, she races to ACRES to check that the backup generator was working to keep her embryos of endangered species frozen. When she arrives, so does a Border Patrol helicopter which takes her out into the New Orleans delta area to the scene of a beached trawler on a small island. There she is met by a group of heavily armed men. When the leader begins speaking to her she recognizes the Cajun voice of her dead high school boyfriend’s older brother Jack who had requested that she be summoned. The beached trawler contains some very interested caged animals – a parrot with no feathers who can recite pi for over 100 digits; conjoined capuchin monkeys, and a strange cat-like cub. What is more important is that a very large animal seems to be missing and there is a lot of blood on the boat and no human bodies. As the elite Border Patrol team and Laura start their tracking mission, it becomes apparent that these are genetically modified animals – throwbacks to an earlier time. Their tracking leads to Laura’s capture and finding a Caribbean island where the research is based. The research extends to humans and humanoid beings they have created. They are trying to genetically create a biologically linked master fighting group of humanoids and animals. Funding comes from such mysterious sources as the US DARPA and other even more secret agencies. The pace is fast, the language sometimes a bit strong, the violence is rampant, but the plot will keep you riveted. The four page epilogue will give you cold chills. I thought Amazonia was amazing, but Rollins has outdone himself with Altar of Eden.


Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

Author John Irving loves words. I love words. He likes to use a wide variety of words. I like to use a wide variety of words. John Irving can make his wide use of words into a novel. I cannot, but I can read. Irving’s latest novel Last Night in Twisted River is a bending, twisting novel – many more twists than the river of that name. The story of the lives of father and son Dominic and Daniel Baciagulupo (a misspelled Italian name) begins in 1954 in a New Hampshire logging camp. Known to most people as the cook and his boy, they live a remote life with logger Ketchum and Injun Jane as their main friends – a life surrounded by the violence of nature and of man, a world of strong language that is authentic in its usage. A devastating accidental shooting death alters their lives completely. They subsequently live in Boston, rural Vermont, Iowa, and the urban Toronto of 2000. Name changes are needed to escape the vengeance of the Coos County, New Hampshire, “deputy”. Each major part of the novel covers several years, but not necessarily in strict chronological order. Told sometimes from the omniscient point of view through Daniel’s (now Danny’s) eyes and sometimes from that of Dominic (later known as Tony), the story is of the love for a father for his child, the love of cooking, and the love of life. Danny becomes a famous author and a single parent. He struggles with his writing while the whole world likes to speculate how much is autobiographical and how much is FICTION in his fiction writing. Both Dominic and Daniel lead interesting love lives. Death is a stalker throughout the novel – sometimes in the form of the “deputy”, sometimes in the form the dreaded and strangely blue Mustang, and sometimes just the vagaries of life. To tell any of the incidents of the novel would spoil the reading for others because every subsequent action in the novel is built on what has gone on before. Many interesting people enter and leave their lives as Danny and Tony travel from one life to another. John Irving is so expressive in his writing, I feel that I can picture the logging camp, Doninic and Daniel, Ketchum, Six-Pack Pam, and most of the other characters in my mind as if I have really met them. I dread the thought of this novel being made into a movie. I would never watch the movie, because it would ruin the book for me. As with his novel The World According to Garp which I found to be very humorous as well as heart-breaking, the movie was a major depressing work to me. Since I’ve taken such a long break from reading Irving, I may have to go back and try The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. — Anniesse