Friday, July 18, 2014

The Wilder Rose, by Susan Wittig Albert

This book is quite the spoiler for died-in-the-wool Little House on the Prairie fans, who feel like they know Laura Ingalls Wilder personally.  Author Susan Wittig Albert has done a great deal of research on Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  At the end of the day, as the saying goes, it seems pretty clear that the compelling stories of life on the prairie were pretty heavily edited, okay, rewritten, by her daughter to make them the charming and heartwarming stories they became.

Rose was already a successful and oft published journalist when she moved back home to help her parents, Laura and Almanzo. Her mom was 61at the time.Rose had traveled and lived internationally for awhile, earning her living writing for magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. She knew what the editors and the readers expected and knew how to shape a story that would appeal to the readers.  She encouraged her mother to write down some of the family stories, not realizing how much of her own time they would eventually absorb. Rose's goal was getting her mom's work published so the subsequent royalty checks could help support her parents financially.

Ms. Albert, the author, used Rose's journal to capture the sometimes tense moments between mother and daughter.  Mrs. Wilder was innately managing and manipulative; Rose was quietly resentful but always hoping to please her mother.  The journal also revealed all the famous and near famous folks that Rose counted as friends.  Shaped somewhat by her life experiences during the stock Market Crash and the Great Depression, Rose became almost libertarian in her views.  She is generous, but weaves her own web of family and friendship by being generous with her money.

Rose's life is certainly significant and her resume is extensive.  The irony is that the works that will live far beyond her were the ones she "ghost wrote" with her mom, the books where her name never appears at all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Blieberg Project, by David S. Khara

Another winner from the Le French Book team, this time the story is a modern day espionage thriller with roots in the Nazi regime of WWII.  Jay Novacek is a Wall Street trader who has met with enormous financial success but is seemingly defined by self-destructive behaviors in recent months.  That changes when a knock on his apartment door reveals the Air Force team which has come to inform him of his absentee father's death.  Soon he is overwhelmed with new information about his past and his father's true identity, information that will change his life forever.

His Wall Street boss turns out to be a CIA operative who knows more about Jay's dad than he had ever revealed.  The action begins to move very quickly, as it seems his father has left a trail that both the good guys and the bad are eager to follow, and we can't always be sure which is which. 

The fast paced action in the present is interspersed with back story chapters that reveal the beginnings of a conspiracy in the Nazi laboratories. Many lives were callously sacrificed in the pursuit of facilitating the mutation of humanity into a race of Ubermensch, or Super Men. Not all the researchers in the lab were loyal to Nazism above all.  Their loyalties lay with a shadowy mysterious international group called the Consortium, which manages to survive the fall of Nazism and spread into other countries at the end of WWII.

It seems Jay's dad had gotten too close to revealing the sordid ties of  the Consortium to his own government and they took his life, but not before he was able to leave the key to revealing the evil plans and scary progress of the Consortium.  That is,  if Jay and his compatriots can only get to the information first. There is a lot of hand-to-hand to fighting, an explosion here and there, all to keep the excitement level racing in this fast-paced book.

This is the first in a series of Consortium thrillers, so be on the lookout for more excitement to come.

Treachery In Bordeaux by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen, translated from French by Anne Trager

Both wine and mystery aficionados will love this book! It is first of a planned series of Winemaker Detective stories, and it has already been adapted for television in France.  And you don't have to know a lot about wine...you'll know even more after you have read the book anyway. 

The protagonist is a wine connoisseur, steeped in the arts, the culture and the history of the Bordeaux region of France, and though he doesn't fancy himself a detective, he can't help but ponder a mystery when he finds it.  The mystery is presented to him as a problem to solve, and an urgent one at that.  The wine that is aging in the barrels of a local vintner/friend of Benjamin Cooker has somehow become contaminated with a bacteria.  The conditions in the winery are pristine...how could it have happened?

The book is enjoyable, easy to get caught up in as one learns about great wine, good food, and the  intriguing history of the region along the way.  I am thankful that an excellent translator, Anne Trager, has taken on the task of sharing French mysteries with English readers. I'd hate to have missed out on the growing library of the Le French Book portfolio!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

Bird Box is a psychological horror story set in the near future. The dismal setting is not caused by a war or nuclear meltdown, or even global warming.  Instead, bizarre reports of suicides and murders begin to be reported, first over seas, then Alaska and then even closer to home.

Apparently there is some alien creature that the mere sight of will cause insanity, always resulting in the suicide of the viewer and the murder of any people who might be near enough to be killed by the crazed victim.  Those who have only heard reports or who have experienced the loss of a loved one to the madness, begin to be governed more by fear, seeking out others who might help them to survive. 

Malorie is one such individual.  Weeks earlier she has seen an ad in a local paper advertising a house whose owner is inviting others to come live with him so that they can face the unknown together and perhaps discover how to achieve long term survival together.  For weeks more and more people have started covering their eyes outside, covering their windows and even the windshields of cars if they feel they must travel. 

She has discovered that she is pregnant from a one night stand, but she has her sister as roommate and built in support system.  That is, she does until her sister apparently looks beyond the blanket-covered window, goes insane and kills herself in the home they share.

Now all alone, Malorie gathers her courage, checks the ad again and strikes out to find the address.  She is finally admitted into the house where she will live for the next several years. She and her housemates share the canned food that they have gathered in forays into abandoned grocery stores, always blind folded when they leave the house.  The water no longer runs in the house but there is a well in the back yard. They must overcome their fears of the unknown creatures every time they leave the house.  Sometimes they hear them (is it them, really?) but they never allow themselves a look beyond the interior of the house. Their food supply is dwindling; new people come requesting to join them.

But are the housemates all worthy of the trust that they must show one another if they are to live together? Malorie's only hope may be to abandon the house and strike out for a new place, a place where safety and security for herself and her children have been offered by a stranger whose voice she has only heard over the land line phone, which somehow continues to work.

And When She was Good, by Laura Lippman

Heloise Lewis has worked hard to create a comfortable and secure home for her son Scott and herself in an upscale suburban community in Turner's Grove, Maryland.  She has also created a successful small business which supports them very well.  The problem is that she must be vigilant to keep her two worlds from intersecting.  She calls herself the CEO of Women's Full Employment Network, but her employees are high end prostitutes and her job title is actually Madam.  For nearly twelve years, she has carefully kept records, paid taxes, seen to it that her employees are safe and have health insurance at her expense, so that she can avoid unwanted attention from the police and the IRS..

But now another woman in an adjacent county is making the news in an apparent suicide.  She is identified in the newspaper as a Suburban Madam.  Heloise's friend at the Police Department has offered her protection from  notoriety for years because Heloise was able to provide them with key information that put her former pimp/Scott's father in prison for life for murder.  But now her friend is retiring and he warns her to be extremely careful. There is now a possibility that the conviction could be overturned on a technicality.

Author Laura Lippman is a master at slowly building tension, introducing provocative details as she reveals the back story that makes Heloise the woman she is today.  Heloise's parents, her current clients, even her employees are carefully nuanced and add to the richness of the story. As the story unfolds, complications multiply, but nothing Heloise can't handle.  Even the relationship with Scott's father is dynamic and complex, though it is beginning to have an ominous aspect to it... 

Maybe it is a little too much to handle after all...losing the business may be least of Heloise's worries. There is an exciting ending and this is a book that suspense fans, not to mention Laura Lippman fans, will definitely want to read.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen

Gabriel Finley is a near orphan...his mother is presumed dead and his father has been missing for three years.  He lives with his dad's sister, who assures Gabriel his father will return eventually, but otherwise, gives him very little information.  As Gabriel nears the age of 12, lots of things begin to happen at once.  He learns more about his grandfather, uncle, and father, and their special relationship with ravens.

It seems that long ago, ravens and humans communicated freely.  In more recent times, his grandfather and his sons each had particular ravens that they had formed close bonds with and could communicate telepathically. They even had the ability to share one another's physical body from time to time, meaning that they could protect one another when they were in the presence of an enemy of either humans or ravens.

Early in the story, Gabriel rescues a young raven named Paladin. Gabriel discovers that not all ravens are of good character.  Some have become valravens, meaning they eat human or raven flesh. The valravens are immortal and serve the demon master of the Bird World, located far below the city where Gabriel lives. Gabriel and Paladin soon discover that they can understand one another's thoughts.  Paladin shares lore from the raven world that sheds light on what might have happened to Gabriel's father and his uncle.

Gabriel remembers his father and how much he emphasized analyzing riddles for hidden meanings. Turns out riddles are the key to distinguishing ravens and valravens, and Gabriel has learned the lessons well. The author George Hagen uses riddles and puns which I think should appeal to the middle school reader, not to mention the reluctant reader, many of whom should enjoy working out the riddle before reading what the solution is.

Gabriel, some of his school friends and Paladin have a grand though somewhat scary adventure in pursuit of his missing father.  Not every adult in the story is reliable, in fact, several are trying to outsmart Gabriel and take the treasure that Gabriel must use to rescue his father.  But as the riddles have predicted, if Gabriel makes unselfish choices, he will be able to rescue his father....but those choices are not easy to make.

I received an ebook from Netgalley and recommend the book for middle school readers and others who will enjoy this fast-paced magical fantasy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sting of the Drone, by Richard A. Clarke

Fiction with the feel of reality is what Richard A. Clarke delivers with Sting of the Drone.  His pre-author background is all about government service, including stints in Security and Counter-Terrorism, so his plot and character development seem to have a ring of truth pretty closely intertwined with his imagination.

The plot of this fast moving thriller presents the US federal government, multiple agencies and acronyms abounding, as the good guys working to decide who they are justified in "taking out," with the remote controlled drones which make up the most effective arsenal of weapons ever.  The drones can see, record, even sense tunnels between buildings, not to mention direct devastating bombs into the places where the bad guys have gathered. To be targeted, the bad guys must rise to the level of being an actual threat to American lives, but sometimes the validity of the threat is vigorously second-guessed by the politicians with the authority to nix the drone program if it becomes a drag on their next election chances. The agencies represented in the Kill Committee don't always agree either.

But that is not the worst of the worries of the pilots who operate the drones from thousands of miles from the front lines of the War on Terror. What if the bad guys decide to fight back?  In this case one of the Pakistanis, not actually a member of any of the Al Quada-derivative groups, realizes that the plan to take out bus and train stations in Europe can be modified and moved to the USA.  At the same time a  westernized Afghan has had a very effective business moving drugs into Europe, but redirects his interests when his father is killed by an American drone.  He decides to use his Ukrainian hacker team to find out more about the drones and the people who operate them. Both are hired by the Qazzani group, a Pakistani crime cartel, to work this daring plan of revenge.

Hackers are a dangerous and devious bunch, but the good news is the good guys have one on their side too.  The battle quickly proves dangerous and deadly to both sides, and the "players" don't always know who the enemy is or where he is coming from.

Lots of technology utilized in this thriller, and I am trusting that it is all very real.  A fast and enjoyable read...check it out!