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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Win the Life You’ve Imagined

No, we don’t have magical powers but, thanks to Avon Books/HarperCollins, we do have two (2) copies to give away of The Life You’ve Imagined: A Novel by Kristine Riggle.   This trade paperback book has a value of $13.99.   Here is an official synopsis:

Are you living the life you imagined?   Is there anything you’d have done differently if you could?   Those are the questions asked in Kristina Riggle’s unforgettable novel.

In high school, Cami and Anna were as close as they could be…  now, years later, both have returned to their hometown to face the people they had once left behind.   Anna must confront her mother, still distraught over the abandonment of her husband, and come to terms with choices she had made years before.   While Cami returns home to stay with her alcoholic father, she uncovers a secret he sought to keep which could change her life and salvage her future.   They reconnect with their classmate, Amy, who can’t understand why achieving the thin body and handsome man of her dreams hasn’t given her the happily-ever-after life she desired.

This is a novel that digs deep and touches the heart of the issues so many women face – the quest for perfection, the hope of love, the value of family and the importance of always striving for your dream.

Here are a couple of comments about this novel:

“(Riggle) explores what happens when real life diverges sharply from childhood dreams.   Her strong and complicated female characters are interesting and likable, and she ably weaves together multiple story lines.”   Booklist

“Rich, messy and real…  Kristina Riggle is going to be my official go-to for novels about the complications of everyday life.”   The Devourer of Books

In order to enter this giveaway, you should answer the key question, “Are you living the life you imagined?”   You can post your response below, or if you prefer send an e-mail with your reply to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, post your answer to the question, “What is the one thing in your life that you absolutely would not change?”

In order to be eligible to win a book, you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. Box or to a business-related address.   The two winners will be drawn at random by our highly experienced contest administrator, Munchy the cat.   You have until Midnight PST on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 to enter.

This is it for the highly complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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A Thriller of a Giveaway

Harry Bosch is back, and this time it’s personal!

Thanks to Hachette Audio, we have two copies of The Reversal by Michael Connelly to give away in unabridged audio book form.   Yes, not one word has been cut from the story and it comes with a bonus.   The Reversal is read on 10 CDs by actor Peter Giles (who narrated Michael Connolly’s prior novel) and the bonus is a 2 CD set containing complete, uncut, copies of The Reversal and The Brass Verdict in MP3 format.   That’s right, this audio book box contains 12 CDs and has a retail value of $39.98!

Here is the official synopsis of this legal thriller from the mega-selling author Michael Connelly:

Longtime defense attorney Mickey Haller never thought he could be persuaded to cross the aisle and work for the prosecution.   Then convicted child killer Jason Jessup, imprisoned for twenty-four years, is granted a retrial based on new DNA evidence.   Haller is convinced Jessup is guilty, and he takes the case on the condition that he gets to choose his investigator, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, and his second chair, deputy DA Maggie McPherson.

But there’s a serious political taint on the case, and Haller and McPherson must face off against a celebrity defense attorney who has already started trying it in the media.   Borsch searches for the runaway eyewitness who was the key to Jessup’s original conviction, but that trail has long since gone cold.   Jessup, out on bail, grandstands for an eager press by day, but his nocturnal actions make Haller and Bosch fear the worst: this killer may have just gotten started.

“Connelly may be our most versatile crime writer…  Reading this book is like watching a master craftsman build something that holds together exquisitely, form and function in perfect alignment.”   Bill Ott, Booklist.

So how can you win a copy of this audio book with the bonus MP3 discs?   It’s simple, just post a comment below with your name and e-mail address, or send an e-mail with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell us what you’d like Santa to bring you for Christmas this year (We will keep it a secret, OK?).  

You have until Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at Midnight PST to submit your entry or entries.   In order to be eligible to receive the audio book box, you must live in the continental United States and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to P. O. boxes or to business-related addresses.   And, as always, Munchy the cat reserves the right to change the contest rules – including the closing date – at any time.   So check back periodically at this site or risk getting your entry/entries in too late.  

This is it for the complex rules.   Be careful out there; good luck and good reading!  

 

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Come Win a Copy of Come Sunday

Thanks to Picador, we have a giveaway copy of the novel Come Sunday by Isla Morley.   This trade paperback book will be released on August 3, 2010 but you have a chance to win it now.   Here is a synopsis of the story:

Abbe is a restless young mother living on the outskirts of Honolulu with her husband, Greg, the pastor at a small church.   Their lives are suddenly riven by tragedy when their three-year-old daughter, Cleo, is struck and killed by a car.   As Greg turns to God and community for comfort, Abbe turns inward and reflects upon her own troubled past.   Isla Morley brilliantly weaves the story of Abbe’s grief with a gripping tale of her tempestuous childhood in apartheid South Africa  – and how Abbe’s father, a villainous drunk, held her family hostage for decades with his rage, until they finally began to plot their escape from him.   Come Sunday is a spellbinding drama about a woman breaking free of her grief and of her past, and what it takes to revive hope when all seems lost.

Here are some of the critical comments about this work:

“A heart-wrenching tale of unthinkable loss and hard-won healing.   This is a novel to savor.”   Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

“A phenomenal debut…”   San Diego Union-Tribune

“A compelling tale of survival, reinvention, and hope, in the end, Come Sunday is…  about personal redemption and resurrection…  Vivid and poignant.”   The Boston Globe

“An intense and ambitious first novel, and an exquisitely detailed exploration of the mother-daughter bond.”   Los Angeles Magazine

“Firmly establishing her in the pantheon of such insightful authors as Chris Bohjalian, Sue Miller, and Anita Shreve, Morley’s…  read-in-one-sitting tale of loss and renewal will haunt readers.”   Booklist

To enter our contest, just post a comment here or send an e-mail with your name and e-mail address to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, just post another message here or send a second e-mail with the words, “This is my second entry.”   Easy, huh?

The winner’s name will be drawn by Munchy the cat, our contest administrator, and the winner will be contacted by e-mail.   This person will be asked to supply a residential (street) mailing address in the U. S. – not a P.O. box or business address – so that Picador can ship the book directly to him/her.  

You have until Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at Midnight PST to submit your entry/entries.   Good luck and good reading!

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