Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Angel's Kiss

The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery
By Justin Richards
AudioGO, 2013. Science Fiction

In New York, Melody Malone is the owner and sole employee of the Angel Detective Agency. Angels are her business. When the famous movie star Rock Railton comes to her for help, she is intrigued by his fear of the “kiss of the Angel.” She takes the case and while attending a party for Rock’s latest film, Melody discovers that fame can come with a very high price.

Narrated by Alex Kingston, this audiobook will appeal primarily to fans of the TV show Doctor Who, and especially fans of River Song. Alex Kingston falls into character perfectly and brings this audiobook to life as its narrator. Like the TV show, this book is pretty clean but Melody Malone is often very suggestive. I would recommend this to Whovians familiar with Weeping Angels and River Song, but that’s probably about it.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game

Baseball as a Road to God:  Seeing Beyond the Game
by John Sexton, with Thomas Oliphant and Peter J. Schwartz
Gotham, 2013. 242 pgs. Nonfiction.

Believers both in God and in the sanctity of the game of baseball will love Sexton's new book, a logical and mythological extension of his NYU seminar of the same name.  Sexton (what a great name for a writer of such a book!) finds in baseball and in the cathedral ineffable feelings, both the ballpark and the sanctuary as sacred space.  His chapters, or innings,  consider everything from the saints and sinners of baseball--Hank Greenberg and Ty Cobb, respectively--to the miraculous; e.g., Kirk Gibson's walk off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.  Drawing from sources as variant as Paul Tillich's theological writings to W. P. Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe," Sexton beautifully links the ineffable fruits of the spirit with the ineffable delights of baseball for fans of both faith and the summer game.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


By J. Robert Lennon
Graywolf Press, 2012. 205 pgs. Fiction

Driving home from her yearly pilgrimage to her son’s grave, Elisa Brown finds herself instantly changed. One moment, she is driving an old car with a cracked windshield, and the next she’s ten pounds heavier, in different clothes, and driving an air-conditioned SUV. As she stumbles through this new life, trying to learn her job and piece together her recent past, she also attempts to solve the mystery of what happened to her. Did her consciousness somehow jump into a parallel world? Is she here to fix a mistake from her other life? Or is she suffering a psychotic break? Lennon does not do the work of answering these questions for the reader; instead he lets the unsettling tension between the familiar and unfamiliar pull the reader through the book without succumbing to the temptation of a tidy ending. 

I relished reading this book, racing through it in under a day, but I enjoyed it in the way that one enjoys an old black and white horror movie: it made me look over my shoulder obsessively and have curious thoughts about whether I am who I think I am or not. This book is definitely not for everyone, but those who loved the mild and haunting creepiness of, say, I am the Cheese, might find that J. Robert Lennon is their new favorite author. 


The Disaster Diaries

The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse 
By Sam Sheridan
Penguin Press, 2013. 324 pgs. Nonfiction.

In his younger years, Sam Sheridan was something of an adventurer. At different times he worked as a martial arts fighter, an EMT, a cowboy, a sailor, a wilderness firefighter, and even a South Pole construction worker. He’d seen and survived harsh conditions and loved every minute of it. Then his son was born. Almost overnight, he became obsessed with the thought that he was not prepared to assure the survival of his family if the world as we know it came to an end. The Disaster Diaries follows Sheridan has he gains the skills and knowledge he feels will be necessary when the zombies, aliens, earthquakes, volcanoes, ice ages, and/or deadly viruses wreak havoc on our civilization. From carjacking to rope making, fire starting to igloo construction, Sheridan travels the world to find experts and instructors willing to teach him.

 This book is a lot more fun than it sounds! Each chapter begins with the author’s imagined story of death and destruction caused by a number of apocalyptic villains including giant alien spiders. Next, he describes his quest to prepare himself for those possible challenges or crises. This is not a survivalist how-to manual. It is more a memoir of the author’s journey toward his own preparedness. But it’s a great journey and sure to inspire readers to evaluate and maybe even improve their own chances of surviving the end of the world as we know it.


Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives

Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives 
By Becky Aikman
Crown, 2013. 337 pgs. Nonfiction

Soon after her husband died of a prolonged cancer diagnosis, Becky Aikman felt she needed people around her that understood her loss, but could also help her move on with courage and optimism. To this end, she joined a local grief support group and after one painful meeting was asked to leave. So began a search for a more healthy and effective way to help herself and other relatively young widows to move through the loss and adjustments necessary when a spouse is taken. Several years later her dream became a reality as she gathered 5 other women, none of whom knew each other but each who had recently lost their spouses, to create their own support group that would provide new adventures and hopefully a few healing friendships as well.

Saturday Night Widows is a great book, not only for those who may have recently suffered the tragic loss of a loved one, but also for their friends and family. Aikman candidly describes her highs and lows, giving readers valuable insights into how to support and encourage others in situations like hers. She writes with warmth, sympathy, hope, and even humor which keeps the narration from becoming too depressing.


Aviator's Wife

The Aviator’s Wife 
By Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte Press, 2013. 402 pgs. Historical Fiction

Charles and Anne Lindbergh's names are familiar to most. "The Aviator's Wife" tells, from Anne's perspective, of their marriage and life together. Charles was a larger than life icon in the years following his historic flight. Anne was a somewhat timid ambassador's daughter who could not help but fall in love with the daring young captain, her own personal hero. Their seemingly idyllic lives, however, were never far from the public's eye. The Lindberghs were continuously hounded by the press and a never-ending stream of admirers and hangers-on. And when true tragedy struck with the loss of their infant son, the world's fascination with the famous aviators would make a horrible situation immensely worse.

Few people in history have had to cope with the level of public interest and scrutiny the Lindberghs were faced with. Anne's story is one of both tragedy and achievement. Benjamin does an excellent job melding fact and fiction to tell a story that is at once familiar and surprising. Historical fiction fans will not want to miss out on this carefully crafted portrait of a true American heroine.



Jungleland: A Mysterious Lost City, a WWII Spy, and a True Story of Deadly Adventure 
By Christopher Stewart
Harper, 2013. 263 pgs. Biography

With the ever-expanding scope of GPS and satellite imaging, there are few truly uncharted regions left in the world. There are still a few, however, and in "Jungleland," journalist Christopher Stewart follows the celebrated explorer Theodore Morde's 1940 expedition deep into the rain forests of Honduras seeking a fabled hidden city. Christopher becomes almost obsessed with the idea of finding the White City as he researches Morde's fearless travels, rumored discoveries and mysterious death. His fixation drives him, an inexperienced camper or hiker, on a parallel journey in an attempt to see what Morde saw and find for himself, and the world, what treasures lie hidden in this almost impenetrable wilderness.

Readers who enjoyed Mitchell Zuckoff's "Lost in Shangri-La" or David Grann's "The Lost City of Z" will certainly want to pick up "Jungleland." This is a worthy addition to the armchair adventurer's bookshelf. Stewart balances his own travels and explorations with those of his subject and provides a fascinating look at how some parts of the world retain their mystery and wonder -- which is fortunate for all those adventurous souls with an itch to explore and discover.


Because I Said So!

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down To Its Kids
 By Ken Jennings
Scribner, 2012. 237 pgs. Nonfiction

Is that feather you picked up in the parking lot really as saturated with deadly germs as your mother warned you? Are there really additional nutrients in the crust of bread warranting their consumption? Will sitting too close to the TV really injure your vision? Parents work so hard to protect their precious young ones from all the dangers of our world. But are those dangers actually as dangerous as we were led to believe? Ken Jennings has saved you the trouble of researching all those little warnings your parents or grandparents shared with you and that you may have already passed along to the next generation. Some warnings are completely legitimate, others are completely bogus, the rest are somewhere in the middle.

Jennings provides these answers with actual facts and a healthy dose of humor. "Because I Said So!" is a completely entertaining literary "Mythbusters." The short essays covering each topic make for a quick read. Jennings may have earned his initial notoriety by winning on "Jeopardy!," but he has since earned the right to be considered an exceptional writer as well.


In the Shadow of the Banyan

In the Shadow of the Banyan 
By Vaddey Ratner
Simon & Schuster, 2012. 322 pgs. Fiction

"In the Shadow of the Banyan" by Vaddey Ratner is the story of 7-year-old Raami. She was born to privilege and wealth as the daughter of a minor Cambodian prince. Within the walls of her home she knew only love and security while outside the gates, a civil war raged. But one day the war came to an end and her entire family was forced, along with millions of others, to leave their home and travel from town to town, fighting for survival. The Khmer Rouge regime spent four years trying to strip the entire populace of their individual identities. Raami's childhood was left behind, but she still clung to the stories, legends and poetry her father had shared with her in those idyllic years before the chaos.

Based on some of the author's actual experiences, this story is filled with tragedy and despair. But it's also a beautiful tribute to the power of love and family. This is a wonderful choice for book clubs because when that last page is turned, you will want to talk to someone about the heartbreaking story and the beautiful writing.


No Easy Day

No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Ladin: The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL 
By Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer
Dutton, 2012. 316 pgs. Biogrpahy

 Told by a Navy Seal who witnessed the final shots first-hand, No Easy Day recounts the events that led to the death of Osama Bin Ladin. However, this is more than just a narrative of the mission that ended the life of the infamous terrorist leader. Instead, readers will find a look into the lives of the soldiers that regularly risk their lives completing mission that are, while just as dangerous, performed with a great deal less public notice.

A number of memoirs written by Navy Seals have been published in the past year. Some of this is due to the media coverage and notoriety this particular mission has brought to these special ops soldiers. No Easy Day, while not in my opinion the best, certainly deserves a place among the top.


The Twelve

The Twelve 
By Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, 2012. 592 pgs. Horror

The Twelve does not simply pick up where The Passage left off. It returns to the present day, before the virals decimated the human population, and introduces the readers to new characters. These new characters set in motion events that, one hundred years into the future, work both for and against the survival of mankind. Amy and her friends, after surviving their flight across the countryside, take separate paths but will still need to rely on each other if they are to fight the ultimate evil. Justin

Cronin is amazing. His storytelling, character development, writing, and imagination bring this post-apocalyptic world to mesmerizing life. The pages seriously flew by and when I read that final sentence, the dread of waiting another two years for the conclusion of this trilogy sounds like torture. A sure pick for any fan of horror....or of fantastic writing.


America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t

America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t 
By Stephen Colbert
Grand Central Pub., 2012. 240 pgs. Nonfiction

 On his TV show, Colbert provides his enthusiastic fans with an interesting and entertaining version of the news. In his second book, he provides an interesting and entertaining look at his version of America. Hot topics include jobs, healthcare, Wall Street, and, my favorite, food. Always funny, sometimes offensive, and never to be taken seriously.

The truth is, Stephen Colbert is hilarious, regardless of the medium. I listened to the audio version of America Again and I believe that is the perfect way to experience it. You miss out on the charts and the glossy illustrations, but Colbert’s narration adds more than you lose. For fans of Colbert or Jon Stewart type humor, this is a no brainer.


The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife 
 By David Ebershoff
Random House, 2008. 514 pgs. Mystery

The 19th Wife tells two stories. One of Ann Eliza Young, the notorious 19th wife of Brigham Young. The other of Beckylyn, a present day 19th wife and member of the fundamentalist First Latter-Day Saints in Mesa, Arizona. Eliza narrates her own story telling of her conversion to the Latter-Day Saint religion, eventual marriage and then divorce from the LDS prophet, and passionate campaign against polygamy. Beckylyn’s story is told by her son when he returns home to help his mother who is being charged with the murder of her husband.

Neither of these stories are easy to tell, or easy to read. Both narrators are scornful and angry about their lives and the role polygamy has played in their unhappiness. The tone is also somewhat hostile toward the LDS religion, so readers should be prepared for that.


Malice of Fortune

Malice of Fortune 
By Michael Ennis
Doubleday, 2012. 396 pgs. Mystery

A beautiful Vatican courtesan is sent by Pope Alexander to the remote city of Imola to uncover the conspiracy he believes is behind the death of his favorite son, Juan. Damiata has several driving motives for aiding the pope. First, Pope Alexander is holding her son hostage. Second, the murdered Juan is her child’s father. Though she has many of the skills necessary to navigate the politics and intrigues surrounding the murder, she will also require the aid of new friends, Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Malice of Fortune contains a nice balance of mystery, history, and romance. The events fictionalized in the novel are based on some historical facts and Ennis has an interesting way of incorporating Machiavelli’s theories. A great read-alike for The Da Vinci Code or Robert Harris’s Pompeii.


Frozen Heat

Frozen Heat 
By Richard Castle
Hyperion, 2012. 313 pgs. Mystery

Star homicide detective Nikki Heat with the NYPD is more than surprised when her latest case, a dead woman found stuffed in a suitcase, is linked to the long cold murder of her own mother. She and her investigative journalist boyfriend, Jameson Rook, will eventually travel from Manhattan to Paris in order to track down new leads that will hopefully bring Nikki some degree of closure concerning her mother’s death.

This is another exciting mystery from the fictitious author Richard Castle played by Nathan Fillian in the popular TV series, Castle. While the mystery itself is engaging and entertaining, the real fun in reading the Nikki Heat series is for those who watch the TV show. Allusions to events in the television series, as well as other characters played by the lead (like Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly) just adds to the fun.


The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared 
By Jonas Jonasson
Hyperion, 2012. 384 pgs. Fiction

It’s Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday. The nursing home is about to throw him a big party to celebrate. Problem is, Allan doesn’t want to attend his birthday party, partially because he doesn’t think there will be any alcohol served, which is really no party at all. He would much rather crawl out the window and see where the wind leads him. So, this is what he does. Dressed in his pajamas and slippers, Allan is about to embark on a grand adventure, which the reader soon learns, is but the most recent in a long life lived to it’s fullest.

It’s easy to think that the only literature coming out Scandinavia these days deals with serial killers and violence against women. Not so! This funny and irreverent book is as far from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as you can get. As Allan journeys out into the world he meets a fun cast of characters, but even more entertaining is his reminiscences about his unlikely past.


Violets of March

Violets of March 
 By Sarah Jio
Plume, 2011. 296 pgs. Fiction

Ten years ago, Emily seemed to have it all, a best selling book, an idyllic marriage, and a very bright future. Now, that bright future has dimmed as her marriage crumbles and her ability to write has all but disappeared. Eager to escape and trying to start anew, Emily accepts an invitation from her great-aunt Bee to visit her for a month on Bainbridge Island. Soon after arriving in Washington, Emily discovers a tattered diary and a host of family secrets. Her mission to discover the diarist’s name and fate may possibly lead her to her own.

Long hidden family secrets is a popular plot device. The Violets of March certainly isn’t the best in the genre, but it’s not the worst either. Emily’s discoveries were not necessarily predictable, instead they were almost unbelievable, which I tend to regard as worse. Readers not expecting too much may consider it an entertaining diversion. Possibly my expectations were a little too high.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Death on a Pale Horse: Sherlock Holmes on her Majesty's Secret Service

Death on a Pale Horse:  Sherlock Holmes on her Majesty's Secret Service
by Donald Thomas
Pegasus, 2013.  345 pgs. Mystery

Sherlock Holmes is back, as we knew he would be, in the service of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, trying to bring to ground a truly wicked man.  Rawdon "Hunter" Moran is a crack shot, a gambler, a ladies' man who uses up the ladies and then discards them to terrible fates.  When one of his conquests kills herself he is brought before a kangaroo court of his peers and as he leaves, is branded with a 666 mark on his arm by the husband of the dead woman. He swears revenge, and it is not long in coming.  With various sabotages he helps a Zulu force overwhelm an entire British armored column, causes the death of a young French nobleman and subsequently of those who were guarding him. When his killings reach British shores, Sherlock Holmes is on the case. Dr. Watson's narrative is deliberate but suspenseful--even scary at times. Sherlock Holmes' relentless pursuit of Hunter Moran leads them to a frightening showdown in foggy seas, and a hasty-feeling but ultimately satisfying ending. Not Conan Doyle's Sherlock, by any means, but a creditable substitute if you've already read the masterworks.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


By Mark Forsyth
Berkley Books, 2011. 279 pgs. Nonfiction

Mark Forsyth takes his readers on a marvelous romp through the English language visiting clusters of words and laying bare how they connect together. Learn of the connections between punch and the pentagon, Australian aborigines and Peter Pan, slaves and the Italian parting ciao, SPAM (the meat product) and spam in your email, torpedoes and turtles, and dozens of additional word relatives.

This book is great fun and will be of interest to those interested in language, history, or trivia. Forsyth makes his stroll with ease and wit. The results are illuminating, informative, and occasionally ironic. 


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blue Asylum

 Blue Asylum
By Kathy Hepinstall
Houghton Mifflin, 2012. 288 pgs. Fiction

I love a book that has fantastic characters and an intriguing story. Blue Asylum definitely had both. It is set during the Civil War but isn't the typical story of soldiers and hard times near and on the battlefield. This novel takes place on an isolated island that houses numerous unique "insane" patients as well some guards and a staff. There is also the resident doctor and family who don't seem any saner then some of the people getting treated there. The author wrote with an easy back and forth between memories and the current situations on the island. I really enjoyed each of the characters and their struggles. I think what really made this book stand out is that the issues are so complicated according to the doctor or the main characters, but really the love story and the way to their version of sanity is simple. Since it was written from the character's observations and the things they discovered, there wasn't a lot of narration. That led me to really care about everyone since they all had their secrets and mysteries that caused them pain. I couldn't put it down just so I could find out what happens to everyone.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Last to Die

Last to Die
By Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books, 2012, 352 pgs. Mystery

Just to get my disappointment out of the way, I will start with the negatives. This is the tenth book in the popular Rizzoli and Isles series and was actually not focused on Detective Rizzoli or Dr. Isles. There was little interaction between the friends themselves, and they were not in the story a lot of the time. After the other books in the series (and even the television show) this one lacked the characters that are so prominent in the other books. I think this made me wish for more the entire book. If you love the series for Rizzoli and Isles then this may be a let down.

However, as a mystery, this book was enjoyable. The subject was different from Gerritsen's other novels. This mystery involved three unrelated children that first are orphaned when their parents are murdered, then again when their foster parents or guardians are also attacked. They are all sent to a school in middle of nowhere called Evensong where they will be educated and taken care of, but also protected as the story unfolds. Rizzoli and Isles see the similarities in their histories and realize it is all a bigger plot. The students all get a lot of time in the book as they are the ones in danger, but also trying to figure out what is happening that connects them and even their teachers. Everything is concluded nicely in the end, and there are a couple of twists that I didn't expect. It was a quick, easy read and even though I missed the characters, it developed in to an interesting mystery.


Monday, April 1, 2013

The Six-Gun Tarot

The Six-Gun Tarot
by R. S. Belcher
Tor, 2013.  361 pgs. Science Fiction

Take a big old galvanized metal washtub such as were used for Saturday night baths in the real Old West. Fill it with reanimated body parts, a one-of-a-kind guardian angel and his occasional visitor, Lucifer, a jade eyeball of immense power, a sturdy little pony named Promise, a slew of memorable characters including the sheriff who couldn't die, the half-breed Indian named Mutt, and the Sword-of-Laban wielding Mormon elder, along with a  young boy named Jim who just arrived in the Nevada town of Golgotha carrying a great secret.  Pour poisonous black blood over the whole mixture, and throw in a handful of tiny but bright sparkles, LED lights or fireflies or the like. Stir it altogether and you have an idea of the contents of R. S. Belcher's The Six-Gun Tarot.  Not a book to everyone's taste, granted. But memorable and even heartening in the end.