Tuesday, July 26, 2016

IQ, by Joe Ide

Isaiah Quintabe, aka IQ,  is an exceptionally bright young black* man in East LA.  He has overcome some pretty incredible odds to become independent and works as an unlicensed investigator, taking on the cases that the police don't have time for (or the clients don't have the money to hire a professional investigator). He is remarkably observant and a great analyst of the facts and impressions that his clients give him, and is usually successful, which leads to referrals and occasionally repeat business.

The author Joe Ide, an American with  Japanese roots, has placed his characters in the East LA neighborhood where he grew up.  He has a great ear for street slang and is great at writing dialog of the gangsta thugs who populate this novel. The language is rough, but there is wit and pathos in the dialog throughout the book.  The characters, both good guys and villains, are well developed and believable.   In alternate chapters, Ide tells the current story, occurring in 2013, and the back story, which takes place in 2005-06.

Isaiah and his big brother Marcus share a one bedroom apartment of necessity, since their parents have passed away.  Marcus has been Isaiah's guardian and biggest fan since the death of their parents when Isaiah was 10 years old.  Isaiah is in AP classes and a strong part of the Academic Decathlon team at his high school when Marcus is abruptly killed in a hit and run accident.

Isaiah, still a minor, is forced to get a roommate or he will lose the apartment and be sent to a foster home.  He ends up taking in another teen, Juandell Dodson, a hardened drug dealer/thug, whose family has kicked out of the house, but that's not enough. Isaiah ends up dropping out of school and getting several part time jobs.   Eventually, both young men are desperate for income and Isaiah makes the biggest mistake of his life, going into a "thievery" partnership with Dodson. In the beginning, Isaiah's thorough planning leads to success, but eventually Juandell's lack of discipline sends them both spiraling out of control.  In the end, Isaiah's intelligence and inner strength, not to mention the lectures that he imagines Marcus is giving him for making such bad choices, pulls them back from the brink.

I received the book courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for a review, which I am happy to give.  It is really good reading and I hope there will be more books to come.  IQ is a marvelous reinvention of Sherlock Holmes for this day and age. The book should hit the shelves in October 2016 so be watching for it.

*Some reviewers refer to Isaiah as Asian American, and there is an allusion to his "almond shaped eyes,"  but none of the other characters refer to his ethnicity except to call him "nigga" and occasionally "brotha," so until the author tells us, I guess his ethnicity is whatever you see in your head!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Bat, by Jo Nesbo

Published originally in 1997 in Norway The Bat was nevertheless slow to get into the hands and hearts of English reading fans of author Jo Nesbo and his Norwegian detective extraordinaire, Harry Hole, pronounced Hoo-leh.  (And if we were ever told how to pronounce his last name in subsequent novels, I never noticed until now.)

The translation by Don Bartlett was published in 2013, and though I can't compare it to the original language, it has a smooth and natural flow to the written word.  This book is important to the series fan if for no other reason than it is the first time we meet Harry Hole. He is in his early 30's, already established as an outstanding detective in Norway who has an inner code of conduct, but no particular respect for the rules and regulations of his employer.  He is an alcoholic, but sober when we meet him. When the right buttons are pushed, however, he can go on a binge that lasts for days.

On this mission, he has been sent to Australia to follow up on the murder of a former tv personality in Norway, Inger Holter. Her career has apparently hit an impasse and she has been a bartender in Sydney, Australia until her disappearance ends in the discovery of a strangled body at the bottom of a seaside cliff.

Hole is told to observe but pretty much stay out of the investigation, but he just can't help himself.  He begins to ask the questions that expand the investigation and catch the attention of the Sydney police, who have pretty much decided this case will not be solved.  Harry meets any number of folks who may or may not be suspects. He meets a witness at the bar where Inger worked and winds up getting emotionally attached to the lovely young bartender. He enjoys working with his local partner, an aboriginal Australian named Andrew Kensington, and together they seem to be getting closer to solving the crime.  But it doesn't take long for Hole to get frustrated.  It seems like everyone he interviews knows a little more than they are telling, and it even seems like his partner is not sharing all he knows either.

But Hole's brain is always working at the subconscious level and he is able to put clues together that lead him closer and closer to the answer to the age old question, "Who done it?" Nesbo's plot is intricate, the motives of several possible suspects are plausible, and it is a question that goes unresolved til the end is upon us. Intricate plotting, well told story, a good mystery...in short, I think it is an excellent first novel of the series....though for most English readers up til now,  we don't get the luxury of reading in chronological order.

Though some reviewers have been annoyed by the folk tales the aboriginal characters in the book have shared with Harry, I think the tales further the plot and give Harry insight into the aboriginal view of life and another way to look at the mystery of Inger's murder, not to mention other murders  that happen along the way.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Timebound (The Chronos Files Book 1)

Timebound is Rysa Walker's debut novel, first published in 2012 and selected in 2013 as the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year. Ms Walker has created a complex world that involves the ability to time travel for some and the necessity for time travel by others, who must try to correct historical shifts that evil schemers have purposely caused in trips back in time.

The schemers' goal is to assure that they will rule the world in the future and  that those who might have opposed them are neutralized before they can act. The time shifts create false memories in some cases, and in others, people and relationships completely disappear from history.

Our protagonist is Kate Keller-Pierce, a teenager whose parents are divorced but share custody.  She has no idea that she has any special abilities until her maternal grandmother shows her a medallion that appears to glow an eerie blue from time to time.  Kate soon realizes that  not everyone in the room sees the color emanating from the medallion, and what's more, when she touches it she sees visions...glimpses of other times and places which amazingly include herself as well as strangers who she seems to know. Her grandmother teaches her how to use the powerful tool, and reveals that Kate may be the only one who can use the medallion to return to the past and correct the damage that has already been done.  If she fails, her family line may be erased before she is ever born.

And what's worse, her own grandfather is the schemer who is orchestrating future outcomes by reshaping the past.  She needs to act quickly before he discovers that she can follow him into the past to prevent the mischief. Her individual heartbreak is that, if she successfully corrects the time shift events, her current boyfriend will no longer have any memory of her when she returns to the present.

Kate is smart and innovative, and though she has done her homework before she returns to the past, nothing ever goes exactly as planned and she experiences some unexpected and scary encounters with guard dogs, not to mention a serial killer.  It helps that she is up on her martial arts training!

There are several books in the series, so get on those reservation lists at the library now! You'll want the next book, Time's Edge, close by when you finish. This is an enjoyable YA/SciFi/Thriller journey.  Looks like Kate will have a boyfriend in two different timelines...it gets complicated, but never boring, and she still stays focused enough to save the world as we know it!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore

Graham Moore has written The Last Days of Night, historical fiction that reads like a novel, and the parts that seem most likely to be fictional embellishments turn out to be the truth!  This is the fascinating story of the battle of competing inventors to control the "electrification" of the United States.  Though you might question the appropriateness of the word fascinating, let me explain that I have heard of Edison, the Westinghouse company, and have heard of Nikola Tesla, but going into the book, knew nothing of their lives or their competitive natures, much less what AC and DC stand for, and why it matters.

The story is told from the perspective of a young lawyer, Paul Cravath, who is hired by Westinghouse to deal with the 312 (!) lawsuits which Edison has filed against him for violating Edison's patent on the light bulb. My first thought was that Cravath's character is a literary device...WRONG! He was just as real as that extraordinary number of lawsuits that Edison filed.

Nikola Tesla is another genius inventor, pivotal to the story, but was apparently a very difficult person to deal with, and almost impossible to work with.  Modern analysts in fact, believe he may have been schizophrenic, but no one doubts his genius!

Cravath is great with law but has no concept of the significance of the "Current Wars," and so has to have it explained to him in layman's language...believe me, this is a literary device that comes in very handy for the non-engineering readers such as myself! 

I received an early e-book from NetGalley and really appreciate the opportunity to learn details of historical events that I have glossed over, if I ever studied them at all! Moore's plot is unexpectedly tension-filled and includes close calls, danger, board room skull-duggery and even a love story.  Yep, a great way to learn history!  Moore does go into what is real and what is fiction in the story he has told at the conclusion of the book. This book is definitely a winner, in my humble opinion!

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna Raybourn

Author Deanna Raybourn has created a fast-moving mystery set in 19th century England.  A Perilous Undertaking is the second in a projected trilogy featuring Veronica Speedwell and her partner, Revelstoke (Stoker) Templeton-Vane. They are both natural scientists (She is a lepidopterist and he is a taxidermist, among other things,) but their skills range far beyond catching exotic butterflies and stuffing animal skins.  At the present they are working together to put the eclectic collections of several generations of Rosemorrans into an organized museum display to be housed in their ancestral home called Belvedere.

But Veronica receives a "request" to follow up on a murder in which a gentleman has already been tried, convicted and sentenced to hang.  However, the accused has a highly placed and influential friend who knows he is innocent but cannot, because of her "high place," provide the alibi he needs to be exonerated. Veronica and Stoker have a bit of a reputation already for solving a mystery involving the royal family (A Curious Beginning, book 1 in the Veronica Speedwell Mystery series), so even though they are not professional detectives, they are asked to look around on the down low, as it were, and see what they can uncover without upsetting Scotland Yard.

Though doubting the innocence of Miles Ramsforth to begin with, Veronica and Stoker soon have so many additional suspects it is hard to narrow the field.  The dialogue is witty, the tension in their platonic friendship is palpable, and I think readers will enjoy evaluating all the the twists and turns of this mystery.  In addition, readers find out a little more about the back stories of the two protagonists.

I received a pre-publication e book in exchange for a review from NetGalley.  I enjoyed it and think readers who enjoy historical fiction with clever sleuths delving into multi-layered mysteries will too.  This book should be on bookstore shelves come January 2017, and the fan base for this series is sure to grow!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld

I read recently that there were something like 6 basic plots in all of fiction and all the subsequent books are just variations on the theme.  That being said, if there is a good plot out there already, who says it can't be tweaked a little?  And Jane Austen, a name you may recall, came up with some good stories a couple of centuries ago.  Her novel, Pride and Prejudice, has certainly stood the test of time, but who says it couldn't benefit from a little updating? 

Enter another witty and clever author from our current day, Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld.  She has taken the plight of a ditzy woman with five unmarried daughters in 19th c. Great Britain and replanted them in the classy suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio in 2013.  Back in the day, Ms. Austen's Elizabeth Bennet is 20 years old and looks like a spinster-in-waiting to her mother.  In 2013, Ms. Sittenfeld's Liz Bennet is 38, and her mother is just as concerned.

Liz and her older sister Jane are New Yorkers now, but are called home by the alarming heart attack suffered by their father. His condition does improve to the extent that he is sent home from the hospital, but Liz and Jane stay on to help run the household til dad gets back on his feet, and to step in for their busy socialite mother who really is too busy to tend to Mr. Bennet. It doesn't take too long for Liz to figure out that the family is virtually destitute and that her parents are living way beyond their means.  It doesn't help that the parents are still supporting their three younger adult daughters, who feel zero urgency for finding employment or separate living quarters.

The writing in this book is so witty that I laughed out loud repeatedly at the wit of the Bennet girls, not to mention the understated but just as quick wit of Mr. Bennet.

In this update, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are doctors, Liz is a magazine writer and Jane is a yoga instructor who, as she approaches 40, has started artificial insemination treatments, but never finds the right time to tell Chip Bingley when he begins to show interest in her.  (It's been awhile since I read P & P, but I don't recall the artificial insemination part. Oh, well, times are changing...)

Incidentally, the book title is also the name of the reality TV show which Chip has recently starred in as the season's most eligible bachelor.

Again, this  book is hilarious, a great love story, with all the misunderstandings that Jane Austen inserted in her novel now updated for our times.  I read it quickly and enjoyed it thoroughly.  It is our book club selection this week, so I am anxious to hear what my fellow readers have to say!

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Last One, by Alexandra Oliva

This is Alexandra Oliva's first novel...word to the wise: Remember that name!

The premise of The Last One is intriguing...a Survivor-type reality show is in production.  The twist  of the show is that no one is "voted off the island;"  the winner is the one who doesn't give up...no matter how long it takes to finish. The first twist in the book is that it starts with Chapter Zero, and reveals that the show's film editor and producer will be dead in days...what??

The following chapters alternate past and present time so that the reader travels with the protagonist, a young woman nicknamed by the production team, Zoo (because she works at an animal sanctuary), as she faces the last and most difficult challenge, the Solo.  In alternating chapters we meet the twelve contestants and see their first challenges, learning their individual strength and weaknesses.  Because we have been given the "Heads Up," the increasingly frequent coughing jags of production crew members sound much more ominous to the reader than they do to the tired and stressed out contestants.

Ms. Oliva builds suspense slowly and steadily, showing just how our protagonist has been inadvertently manipulated by the fake crises set up by the "reality" show production team, so that she doesn't recognize reality when she sees it.  Hungry and confused, she remains determined not to give up, even as the clues the production team has said will be out there fail to materialize.  Things that are not clues begin to look like clues to her.  She marvels at how much money they must have spent to create the set of this vast and lonely terrain.

I got the opportunity to read this from NetGalley Round Up featuring Debut Authors. It is published by Random House's Ballantine Books. To those folks I say thank you! 

This is a great first novel, a great dystopian/suspense/thriller, and I recommend that you check it out soon.  It is due on the shelves this month.  Time is wasting; Go get this book!!