Tag Archives: Booklist

Yes, Virginia…

There Is a Real Santa Claus

Real Santa

Real Santa: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehler Books, $16.95, 244 pages)

“While the merry bells keep ringin’
May your every wish come true…
Happy holidays to you.” – Irving Berlin

William Hazelgrove again delivers the goods with Real Santa, which is, on a very superficial level, the story of a Dad and a daughter; or, at a deeper level, the story of a mid-life crisis; or, at what is presumed to be the author’s intent, a story in which the great tradition of Santa is the vehicle to enter into a much larger conversation about the current state of the human condition and – as is Hargrove’s specialty, a further glimpse into human dysfunction.

Real Santa Hazelgrove

In Real Santa, George Kronenfeldt, a self-proclaimed Santa freak, harbors the pain of his childhood and attempts to reconcile his perceived child-rearing errors from his first marriage. His wife took off with an old high school flame, and George, who is portrayed as a difficult person (which seems to be an inherited trait from his father), has a distant and troubled relationship with his two oldest children.

As the story begins, George is let go from his job as Christmas approaches and simultaneously vows to preserve one additional year of his daughter’s childhood by prolonging her belief in Santa Claus. He blows his savings to create an elaborate ruse that escalates beyond even his intentions. And, while George makes his play as the true Santa, the real Santa – of course – actually makes an appearance.

This is all either completely psychotic or rather charming, depending on one’s perspective. But, the larger themes of second chances, love, forgiveness, positive values, parenthood, childhood, and hope transform this story into one that resonates. While it may end up on the Hallmark Channel someday, it is not a cheesy made-for-TV Christmas story. It is, rather, a “real” novel about everyday people who are doing their best to overcome their weaknesses, survive, and occasionally do the right thing amid circumstances that do not always cooperate.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Real Santa blurb

You can read the first chapter of Real Santa here:

http://williamhazelgrove.com/read-the-first-chapter-of-real-santa

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Black Is Black

Wendell Black, MD (nook book)

Wendell Black, MD: A Novel by Gerald Imber (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, 412 pages)

Fans of medical-themed stories will be happy to find this one written by famed plastic surgeon Gerald Imber. Dr. Wendell Black, the central character, narrates an often-dark and sinister tale. Black is a New York City police surgeon. His credentials allow him access to crime scenes even though he’s not a sworn officer who carries a weapon.

Circumstances that seem quite ordinary place Black at the center of an international crime syndicate. His first encounter with the mayhem created by the criminals occurs on a flight to New York. A call over the public address system for a doctor on board to provide assistance brings Black to the side of an ailing passenger.

The story centers on the theme of connections, mostly centered around human friendships. The in-flight medical emergency becomes more than a one-time event. Black seeks out the help of a Central Intelligence Agency staffer who’s well placed in the organization when he realizes there’s trouble that far exceeds Black’s problem solving capabilities.

Imber provides the reader with just enough medical information to be plausible but not in an egotistical and heavy-handed way like one finds in the Kay Scarpetta novels. In this post-9/11 era tale, an awareness of terror threats forms a basic thread in the plot’s fabric.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Imber’s debut is a fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists.” Booklist

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The Death of Bees

The Death of Bees novelThe Death of Bees: A Novel by Lisa O’Donnell was released by Harper on January 2, 2013.   This unique story begins with these words:

Today is Christmas Eve.   Today is my birthday.   Today, I am fifteen.   Today I buried my parents in the backyard.

“…this beautifully written page-turner will have readers fretting about what will become of the girls (sisters Marnie, Nelly and Lennie).”   Booklist

Click on this link to read the first 55 pages of The Death of Bees:

http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780062209849

Enjoy!

Joseph Arellano

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Cucumber Castle

Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter (Blotto, Twinks #1) by Simon Brett (Felony & Mayhem, $14.95, 211 pages)

The treacherous footman Pottinger has been impaled by a dagger in the library!   “Who by?” asked Blotto.   Then remembering that he had been at Eaton, he amended his question to, “By whom?”

The back cover of this book might read, “Camp and spoofy, while altogether enjoyable!”   No serious effort is required to read the rather small volume that author, Simon Brett, hails as “the first Blotto and Twinks mystery.”   The publisher is Felony and Mayhem which is a clue to the tone of their books.

Blotto and his sister Twinks are the son and daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester (pronounced “taster”).   Being dim-witted and handsome is Blotto’s curse and blessing.   His sister Twinks is both beautiful and brainy which makes her the detective while he is merely there as window dressing.   The period piece is set in England between the first and second world wars.   The Dowager Duchess follows through on the obligation of her landed gentry’s class by entertaining house guests of lesser social standing.   The ex-king of Mitteleuropa and his entourage are beginning to outstay their welcome when the inevitable happens.   A murder victim is found quite by accident by Blotto is his ancestral home.

The mayhem and subsequent murders that occur serve to heighten the potential for puns, class snobbery and altogether good jokes.   Author Brett has been a fixture in British radio and television.   He has also written three detective novels prior to this, and his latest, Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess (Blotto, Twinks #2).   Brett definitely qualifies for the designation “prolific.”

The volume size and excellent writing make this book ideal for summer reading.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Brett’s latest is a complete wow…  comic in an ebullient yet still sardonic, P. G. Wodehouse way…”   Booklist

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I’m Sorry

The Confession: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 344 pages)

His voice was hoarse, but still recognizable.   “Damn it, Morrison, there’s nothing to confess.   I just need to talk to someone.”

In The Confession, the mother and son writing team known as Charles Todd delivers the 14th episode in the evolution of Inspector Ian Rutledge, the well-respected Scotland Yard detective.   Rutledge is continuing to transition from a World War I shell-shocked soldier back into his civilian life.   Understandably, such a process is open-ended.   To make matters more complicated, Rutledge has the ghost of a fallen comrade lodged in his subconscious.   From time to time this fellow enters his current thought process with unsolicited advice and observations.

The presenting case involves an unsolicited confession to a murder; however, proving the confessor’s guilt or innocence proves to be a challenge that even Rutledge finds a bit overwhelming.   The plot becomes a bit crowded with confusing names and relationships.   Adding to the confusion are the many trips Rutledge makes between London and a small seaside village in Essex.   The characters are not who you think they are – a reasonable device considering this is a mystery.

Regardless of the red herrings, multitudes of characters and the era when the tale takes place, the basic theme ties to the presence of evil which knows no time limit.   Evil is contrasted sharply with the values Rutledge holds sacred and dear.   Along the way the reader experiences the overwhelming impact of group mentality and shared secrets.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Todd serves up plenty of period detail and plot twists, but the real attraction here is Rutledge, a shrewd, dedicated detective grappling with the demons of his past.”   Booklist

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Coming Attractions

This is a quick look at recently released books, and soon-to-be-released books that I’m looking forward to reading.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster; 10/24/11)

This is already the best-selling book in the country, based on pre-release orders at Amazon.   Isaacson earlier wrote the mega-selling Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and the recent, tragic death of Steve Jobs will only heighten the interest in this almost 700 page biography.   This is an authorized bio, as (according to Reuters) Jobs knew that his death was imminent and wanted his kids to know him through this expected-to-be definitive work.   Jobs had made clear to his friends and co-workers that nothing in his personal or professional life was off-limits.

Steve Jobs will also be available as an audiobook; unfortunately, an abridged one.

Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (Picador; 09/27/11)

If you’re like me, one of the two dozen or so individuals who did not read this book when it was originally released, you now have a chance to pick it up as a Picador trade paperback for just $16.00.   USA Today called Franzen’s novel about a troubled marriage, “Smart, witty and ultimately moving.”

Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction by Elissa Schappell (Simon and Schuster; 09/06/11)

This is a hybrid between a short story collection and a novel, as Schappell has penned eight interlinked tales (“Spanning the late 1970s to the current day…”) about the experiences that turn girls into women.   Tom Perrota, author of The Leftovers and Little Children, says of Blueprints for Building Better Girls:  “Elizabeth Schappell’s characters live in that zone where toughness and vulnerability overlap.   In this remarkable, deeply engaging collection of stories, Schappell introduces us to a wide variety of female characters, from reckless teenagers to rueful middle-aged moms, and asks us to ponder how those girls became these women.”

The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 10/11/11)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides returns with a story about a not-so-calm year in the lives of three college seniors (one female and two males) attending Brown University in the early 1980s.   It’s about love lost and found, and the mental preparations that young people must make before entering the stolid world of adults.

The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company; 11/28/11)

From the author of The Lincoln Lawyer and The Reversal, comes the latest thriller involving LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.   A bored Bosch is getting ready for retirement when two huge criminal cases with political and other implications land on his desk.   Both cases need to be solved immediately and, as usual, Bosch must break some major investigative rules in order to do so.

“Connelly may be our most versatile crime writer.”   Booklist

Joseph Arellano

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Hold the Line

On the Line: A Bill Smith/Lydia Chin Novel by S. J. Rozan (Minotaur Books; $14.99; 320 pages)

If reading a suspense thriller by David Baldacci is like driving in a new Porsche, reading a private investigator thriller by S. J. Rozan is like riding through the streets of New York City in a turbo-charged go-kart.   You never know what you’re going to bump into!

Rozan writes in a style that is part 1950s detective magazine, part retro (think of Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move), part Miami Vice/Hill Street blues and more than a bit of Batman and Robin.   In order to follow her story you will need to suspend reality or believe in – as does the main character – miracles.

As the story opens our protagonist P. I. Bill Smith receives a mysterious message on his cell phone telling him that his partner and love interest Lydia Chin has been kidnapped.   Smith doesn’t know who’s behind this but he correctly suspects that it’s someone he helped put in prison.   He’s soon provided with a “clue” that leads him to an abandoned building in Manhattan in which he finds a dead girl.   This, naturally, is a set-up.   The NYPD officers arrive just after Smith does and suspect him of murder.   Smith has to fight with and escape from the cops just as he’s about to begin his frantic search for Lydia.

The person who has kidnapped Lydia has set a clock on this “game” of cat and mouse.   Smith must find Lydia before time runs out, because her kidnapper has promised to kill her once the clock reaches double-zero.   Smith needs to figure out who exactly has taken Lydia, and where she’s been taken while he hides from the police and – oh, yes – as new crimes take place and the police suspect him of being the perpetrator.   Smith would have little chance of dealing with this all by himself, but two young assistants come to his rescue and he’s also got a friend inside the NYPD who performs a few of the miracles he needs.

Rozan’s writing style is rapid and breathless.   As the story begins, the reader will likely feel (as with Nobody Moves) that too much is happening too fast.   But if you accept the fact that dramatic events are going to happen every few pages, the read becomes a highly entertaining  and exhilarating one.   If you’re like this reader, you will begin On the Line wondering if you will be able to finish it.   On doing so, you will be calling a bookstore to order one of the nine previously released Bill Smith/Lydia Chin novels.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   On the Line was released in a trade paperback version on August 30, 2011.  

“A high-velocity entry in a reliable series.”   Booklist

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