Tag Archives: Las Vegas

Magic Unleashed

Unleashed amazon

Unleashed: A Kate Turner, DVM, Mystery by Eileen Brady (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 266 pages)

Animal lovers get set for an adventure-filled mystery from Eileen Brady, the second in her Kate Turner series (Muzzled was the first book). Toto, a wire haired Cairn terrier owned by artist Claire Burnham, is left an orphan in the care of Dr. Kate Turner, the vet in Oak Falls, New York. Claire’s death is an apparent suicide but the prologue of Unleashed sets up the death as a pre-meditated murder.

The cheerful easy-going narrative of Kate’s life as a small town vet is engaging and her relationships are consistent with the first book in the series. Kate and her assistant, Mari, make house calls when emergencies or problems with non-portable pets such as potbellied pigs occur.

Kate’s wide circle of friends and clients provides her with several potential alternatives for Claire’s “suicide.” Readers will be brought along as she works through each of her suspicions about Claire’s demise.

Unleashed 3

Brady’s journal quality writing brings the reader along during Kate’s work and off-hours. There are many fascinating veterinary cases presented throughout the text. This book has much to offer.

Well recommended.

Magician's Daughter

The Magician’s Daughter: A Valentine Hill Mystery by Judith Janeway (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 236 pages)

Next up is the first in a series featuring an aspiring magician named Valentine Hill. Valentine is a young woman who is working as a magician’s assistant in a casino in Las Vegas. Her first person narrative is brisk and fast-paced. Her status as an actual person is tenuous because her mother has withheld Valentine’s birthdate and the name of her father. Yes, this is an odd situation for anyone and is especially so due to her mother’s habit of running scams and flitting from one duped mark to another.

There’s a fine line between a quirky story and a silly one. Author Janeway has mastered the art of telling a really good story, albeit one definitely off the beaten path. Valentine moves from Las Vegas to San Francisco in search of her vital statistics as she follows clues to her mother’s whereabouts. The folks she encounters along the way provide the reader with an inside look at a segment of society (hustlers and buskers) that is not part of most mysteries.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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Bang Bang

Gun Games: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow, $25.99, 375 pages)

“She kissed his shoulder.   He was a ball of coiled muscle.   ‘I’m sorry.’   She kissed his shoulder and he felt a tear drop onto his skin.”

Enter a new generation of characters for the charming and endearing series about Rina Lazarus and Pete Decker written by Faye Kellerman.   Now that the older children have been launched into the adult world, Uber-parents Rina and Pete are devoting time and energy to Gabriel Whitman, the son of acquaintances with Las Vegas mob connections.   Gabe is a 15-year-old piano prodigy who studies with a professor at the University of Southern California – Fight On!!!

Gabe has been invited to live with the Deckers until he is ready to head off to college.   This is a desirable placement for all concerned, what with his dad being a gangster and his  mom having run off to faraway lands to have someone else’s baby.   Some of his time is spent at the private school where Rina’s two sons by her first husband were students.   The school provides a suicide victim, Gregory Hesse, a student whose mother refuses to believe he took his own life.   The investigation centers on the weapon used in the suicide or murder.   It seems that there are students at the school who are fixated on guns.

The twist to this plot is Ms. Kellerman’s use of a passionate love/youthful romance between Gabe and a 14-year-old girl, Yasmine, the daughter of devout, observant Jews.   This sets up a bit of a culture clash that is the reason for a whole lot of sneaking around and trysting at the local coffee shop.   The detailed scenes of their passion border on kiddie porn and this reviewer often felt like it was a bit too much.

The story moves slowly for the first two-thirds of the book and the tale is spread among many characters; Pete, his co-workers, the kid’s parents and a few guest appearances by Rina.   The gears of the story finally engage and the last third reads more like a John Grisham novel of years ago.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Gun Games is also available as an Audible Audio Edition, and as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.

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Suspicion

Once Wicked Always Dead: A Novel by T. Marie Benchley (M.M.W.E. Publishing, 296 pages)

“Ev’ry time you kiss me/ I’m still not certain that you love me…”   Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman

The story begins at the intersection of retribution and lonely street.   Well, not exactly, but it’s close enough to justify the reference – sorry Elvis and Terry.

Author T. Marie Benchley proudly proclaims that she hails from a family that included early exposure to classic literature as part of her upbringing.   Perhaps her reliance on excessively flowery language can be attributed to the literature?   The reviewer read an advanced copy/uncorrected proof; therefore, no direct quotes will be used in this review.   Let’s hope that Ms. Benchley has engaged a skilled editor to polish up her novel because there are enough malaprops to be exorcised, or is that excised?

There are several story tracks that intertwine in the manner that is currently in fashion.   The reader is horrified by a very vengeful, angry woman on the one hand, and on the other, is saddened by the plight of a faithful, devoted wife whose husband has neglected to inform her that he’s gay and has a lover.   These tracks have some serious continuity issues.   When they are paired with several non sequitur-like statements, it’s not clear whether this is an intentional device to draw the reader’s attention or a set up for later revelations.

Oh, I neglected to mention that the devoted wife just happens to be the only child of a very rich rancher – the ranch is situated on 45,000 acres in Big Sky country.   Back at the ranch there are men who have been hounding dad to sell out and they really don’t want to take “No” for an answer.

Although the plot lines are tied together in a knot worthy of a sailor, I suggest that prospective readers pass on this one.   My copy went straight to the recycle bin.

(Not recommended.)

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   An Advance Review Copy was provided by the publisher.

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A Painful Read

“Though it makes no sense, I’d like to get on the court again.   I want the pain that only tennis can provide.”   – Andre Agassi

Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   – C. S. Lewis

“(Brooke’s) concerned.   She hates I was so upset…   that I’m in pain.”   – Andre Agassi

“This is why we’re here.   To fight through the pain…”   – Andre Agassi

“…seek the pain, woo the pain, recognize that pain is life.”   – Gil Reyes

‘Cause feeling pain’s a hard way/To know you’re still alive   – Barry Manilow

“…let’s go put some pain on your opponents.”   – Brad Gilbert

This one is about pain, as reflected in the selected quotes – all taken from Open: An Autobiography – listed above.   One would think that the autobiography of a glamorous tennis star, one who ranked at the top of his profession, who owned his own jet, and dated and married famous actresses and tennis stars, would be a fun read.   Open is anything but, it’s a morose slog though a life of torture and misery.   It seems like Agassi tells us a million times in the book that he hates tennis:   “I hate tennis more than ever – but I hate myself more.”   And the point of this is?

Of course, this book was not actually written by Mr. Agassi.   It was dictated to a ghostwriter whose name won’t be used here to protect his ghostly status.   This is an “as told to…” tale in which the Agassi-ghost pair appear to emphasize every painful moment in their character’s life, while minimizing the positive.   But then Agassi, clearly, loves his stays in the state of misery:   “Rock bottom can be very cozy, because at least you’re at rest.   You know you’re not going anywhere for a while.”

It’s not as if Agassi is unaware that he’s a lucky man, “I tell myself you can’t be unhappy when you have money in the bank and own your own plane.   But…   I feel listless, hopeless, trapped in a life I didn’t choose…”   Yes, all of this misery comes from playing a sport of the leisured class.   “I’ve played this game for a lot of reasons…   and it seems like none of them has ever been my own.”   Perhaps he thinks that we’ve all been in complete control of our lives from the moment of birth on, ignoring the comment of John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Lennon also wrote about pain:   “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”   But it never seemed like his music was overtaken by the need to paint his life as a prison of pain.   Agassi’s book does so, over and over again.   Because Agassi does not like himself much, he can hardly be expected to have nice things to say about his former competitors in the sport.   After he said some not-so-nice things about Wimbledon champion Jim Courier, Courier responded, “I’m insecure?”   Indeed.

Of course, by the time the reader finally reaches page 384 there’s the to-be-expected happy ending, with marriage and beautiful children and the founding of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school.   But what an exhausting march to get there…   filled with too much pain and too little hope.   Tiring.

This work is the opposite of a life affirming one.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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A Tour of American Chinatowns

American ChinatownA book about visiting five American Chinatowns sounds like a fascinating idea: however, the writing in Bonnie Tsui’s book – labeled American Chinatown (singular) – does not seem to have met its potential.   Tsui visits the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Honolulu (Sacramento is not included).   She does a great job of writing about San Francisco and Honolulu with just the right combination of factual information and human interest stories.   The segments on the other three Chinatowns fall short.   They read a bit too breezy, as though written for an airline magazine, or Sunset.

There’s also a problem in that one basic premise is stated too often:  Chinatowns are places to grow up in, places to leave and places to which one may wish to return later.   These neighborhoods are both ethnic villages and tourist traps.   Further, in preserving a particular culture and lifestyle (at a particular point in time), they may become separatist enclaves, something that troubles the author.

This reader would have liked a comparison among these Chinatowns and other ethnic communities, such as Japantown and Koreatown in L.A., and Solvang.   As it is, this book comes off a bit flat, like a Chinese meal served without fortune cookies.

Free Press, $25.00, 288 pages

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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