Tag Archives: Library Journal

Hiss and Hers

Hiss and Hers (nook book)

Hiss and Hers: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 304 pages)

“Yes,” said Agatha, acidly noting the plain hairstyle and fine wrinkles on Mrs. Freemantle’s face and wondering why she, Agatha, has wasted so much money on hairdressing and nonsurgical facelifts, not to mention a whole new wardrobe, all to lure George.

This book is one of an extensive collection of English mysteries centered around an aging, though not really older, lady detective. As is usually the situation, Agatha has her own wealth and runs a detective agency seemingly as a hobby rather than from financial need. Although Agatha is willing to work at staying attractive, she’s not likely to give up smoking and drinking. Throughout the book most of the characters were depicted pouring drinks, brewing tea and lighting cigarettes.

Enter George Marston, a retired military man who works as a handyman/gardener in the village where Agatha lives. George is distinguished looking and sought after by most of the ladies in the village, single and married. Sadly, Agatha seems to fail in her pursuit of George and she feels the need for a sure opportunity to corner him. A charity ball is her answer to the dilemma. Before Agatha’s big evening, George is found dead.

The real chase begins as Agatha takes on an assignment from George’s sister to find his killer. Agatha is brutally honest in her self-assessments as well as those that she makes of the various women whose lives intersected with George. To make matters more convoluted, Agatha has her ex-husband for a next-door neighbor and a former lover who has a key to her house that he uses whenever he wants her company.

“Oh, my mink,” mourned Agatha. “All those beautiful little vermin which were better on my back than depopulating the natural species of these islands.”

There are many non-PC comments and actions in the story, and that’s just fine. This is an English mystery for heaven’s sake!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Raisin (is an) irrepressible detective.” Library Journal

M. C. Beaton is also the author of the Hamish Macbeth Mystery series, which includes Death of a Chimney Sweep, earlier reviewed on this site.

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Twist and Shout

The Expats

The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone (Broadway, $15.00, 352 pages)

The Expats by editor-turned-novelist Chris Pavone has all the twists and turns of a Robert Ludlum or Clive Cussler action-thriller, plus a domestic element that sets it apart from the pack: it plays the layers of duplicity in Kate and Dexter Moore’s professional lives against the secrets they guard from each other in their marriage.

Kate is a spy and a young mom – a smart, self-consciously attractive, nominally maternal, thirty-something who leaves a CIA career to stay home with the kids when Dexter lands a lucrative banking security job in Luxembourg. But nothing and no one in The Expats is as advertised. Kate’s nagging questions about her husband’s fundamental character spur her to investigate when she senses threatening intentions in a friendly American couple they meet in the ex-pat community in Luxembourg.

Don’t read it for shimmering imagery or deeply conflicted characters. It isn’t that kind of book. Kate is Jason Bourne in a skirt. She can remove herself from the Company, but she can’t squash the instincts that made her a hired gun. The Expats is a set of spiraling secrets, the exposition of which is played out in lushly detailed European cities.

In a Publishers Weekly interview in 2012, Chris Pavone said, “A detailed map of the story line was what made it possible to write such a labyrinthe book…” – in addition to a numbered list of twists and turns. Action thriller fans will love this one. Well recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Expats was released in a trade paper version on January 22, 2013. “Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable.” Library Journal

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In the Midst of This

The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone (Crown, $26.00, 336 pages)

The Expats by editor-turned-novelist Chris Pavone has all the twists and turns of a Robert Ludlum or Clive Cussler action-thriller, plus a domestic element that sets it apart from the pack: it plays the layers of duplicity in Kate and Dexter Moore’s professional lives against the secrets they guard from each other in their marriage.

Kate is a spy and a young mom – a smart, self-consciously attractive, nominally maternal, thirty-something who trades a CIA career to stay home with the kids when Dexter lands a lucrative banking security job in Luxembourg.   But nothing and no one in The Expats is as advertised.   Kate’s nagging questions about her husband’s fundamental character spur her to investigate when she senses threatening intentions in a friendly American couple they meet in the ex-pat community in Luxembourg.

Don’t read it for shimmering imagery or deeply conflicted characters.   It isn’t that kind of book.   Kate is Jason Bourne in a skirt.   She can remove herself from the Company, but she can’t squash the instincts that made her a hired gun.   The Expats is a set of spiraling secrets, the exposition of which is played out in lushly detailed European cities.

In a Publishers Weekly interview in January, Chris Pavone said, “A detailed map of the story line was what made it possible to write such a labyrinthine book…” – in addition to a numbered list of the twists and turns.   Action thriller fans will love this one.   Well recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Expats was released on March 6, 2012.   “Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable.”   Library Journal

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Age of Aquarius

Murder in the Eleventh House: A Starlight Detective Agency Mystery by Mitchell Scott Lewis (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 239 pages)

This debut mystery novel with, dare I say it, a quirky twist, captivated me from the first page.   The main character’s name is David Lowell, which is not that unusual except that my late father’s first and middle names were David Lowell.   Author Mitchell Scott Lewis has a distinct advantage when it comes to attention-grabbing in other ways as well.   The Starlight Detective Agency relies upon astrology for sleuthing insights.   Moreover, prospective clients are vetted when they first encounter Mr. Lowell.   He provides an unvarnished astrological reading that doesn’t always sit well.   Since the agency does not rely on fees, the clients tend to be more interesting than well-heeled.

The author has made good use of his own life for the premise of the tale.   Like David Lowell, Lewis has made money by investing according to astrological information.   He, too, is an astrological consultant with a credible client list.   The thoughtfulness and dedication he uses to portray the  other main characters, Melinda (Lowell’s daughter) and Johnny Colbert (the desperate client), make this a gentle engaging read.   The reader need not be a believer in astrology or even have an inkling of how it works.   Lewis fits in just enough background information to lend credibility to an often-misunderstood discipline.

Johnny Colbert is a tough and street-wise female bartender who is caught in a situation that many folks experience only as a nightmare.   A judge is murdered, Johnny recently made a threat on the judge’s life in open court and there’s little doubt as to who  committed the murder.   Melinda, who is an attorney with a white glove firm, has taken on Johnny’s defense as pro bono work for the firm.   She feels that Johnny has been wrongfully accused.   Of course Melinda knows that her dad has plenty of wisdom and technical experience to shift the case from hopeless to a better outcome.

The plot has just enough twists and red herrings to keep the reader involved and engaged.   This book is a mini vacation and very much worth the price of the ticket.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “This series has tremendous potential.”   Library Journal

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Against the Wind

In the Rooms: A Novel by Tom Shone (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 342 pages)

She probably only dated snowboarders with a rap sheet as long as their arm, the cheekbones of Viggo Mortensen, and a penchant for whittling driftwood into small but meaningful tokens of their appreciation for Life’s Bounteous Gifts.   I failed on both fronts.   I had neither misbehaved with sufficient abandon nor reformed myself with enough zeal.   I was just trying to get home without being tripped up, or found out, just like everyone else.

This debut novel might have been entitled Dim Lights, Big City as it is a reverse  image of Jay McInerney’s book and film Bright Lights, Big City.   In McInerney’s story, a young man turns to drinking and drugs to evade the memories of  his dead mother and an estranged wife.   In Tom Shone’s novel, protagonist Patrick Miller turns to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as a way of shoring up his sagging career as a Manhattan-based literary agent.

Miller, who grew up in England (like his creator), has been shaken up by relationship problems – his girlfriend is bitterly honest about his flaws – and this has affected his ability to attract successful writers to the firm he works for.   And then, suddenly, he finds that his favorite author in the world – one-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Douglas Kelsey – is back in the Big Apple after spending years hiding out in the artists’ community of Woodstock.   Miller impulsively follows Kelsey when he spots him one day out on the streets of the city, and learns that the trail ends at an AA meeting in a church.

How is Miller going to get to speak to the reclusive Kelsey, a modern-day J.D. Salinger?   Well, simple, he will just pretend that he has a drinking problem and begin joining the meetings “in the rooms” of NYC.   But, actually, it’s not so simple because as he carries out his plan, Miller finds that he’s now lying all of the time to the two sets of people in his life – to his co-workers, he insists that he’s not a heavy drinker and does not have a problem (they think he’s in denial); to his new fellow AA members, he insists that he can’t handle his liquor or his women (oh, so he’s co-addicted to sex, just as they suspected).

If things aren’t complicated enough, Miller is soon attracted to Lola, a young woman he meets at one of these meetings – a woman who serves as a trusted liaison between him and the respected author – and they begin to get physical.   But, Catch-22, the rules of AA prohibit them from getting close to each other for a minimum of a year – a year based on mutual sobriety.   Eventually, Miller is not quite sure what he wants and just as he’s becoming addicted to Lola, his ex-flame comes back into his life.

If all of this sounds a bit glum, it’s not as told by Shone.   The novel is quite funny, as my wife can testify since I read no less than 8 or 9 lengthy excerpts of it to her…  Readers will identify with Miller as he’s a want-to-be nice guy who makes mistake after mistake, even after he’s decided mentally that he’s going to get his act together.   It seems that he just can’t win, as life keeps throwing unexpected changes his way.

Shone makes the telling especially interesting with many insights into both the book publishing world and AA.   While his characters are sometimes critical of the 12-step process, they’re also positive that the program works.   Here’s the ever-cynical Kelsey on Bill (Wilson) of the Big Book:   “Well, Bill’s no Steinbeck.   That’s for sure.   There’s nothing original to any of it.   He filched the whole thing.   It’s just religion’s greatest hits.”

The more that Patrick Miller learns about AA, the more he wonders if he may indeed have some problems.   Whether he drinks too much or not, virtually every AA member that he encounters tells him that he spends too much time inside of his head.   Miller is so busy analyzing life, and trying to find the right path and rules to follow, that it seems to be passing him by.

The true charm of In the Rooms, is its conclusion, in which our hero must make the right choices – the exact right choices – to prove to himself and others that he  is, in truth, the nice guy that he’s always wanted to be.   He’s helped along in this by what he’s come to learn “in the rooms” and so he comes to see that – ah, yes – it works!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Sharp, funny, and ultimately touching…  Recommended for readers of Nick Hornby and Joshua Ferris.”   Library Journal

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Teach Your Children

Night Road by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press; $27.99; 400 pages)

For a mother, life comes down to a series of choices.   To hold on…  To let go…  To forget…  To forgive…   Which road will you take?

In a compelling novel of love, loss, hope and understanding, author Kristin Hannah redefines the pluses and minuses – challenges, tenderness and empowerment – of motherhood.

Jude Farrady has everything.   She lives the ideal life; a loving husband, a custom-built home, friends that support and love her, and twins that have an extraordinarily close relationship.   Her life revolves around her twins, ensuring that they have everything they need to be happy and successful.

Lexi Baill has nothing.   The orphan of a drug addict, she has grown up living in multiple foster homes, without a family, abandoned and alone.   With a heart of gold she selflessly carries hope that someday things will turn out differently.

When Lexi befriends Jude’s daughter Mia on their first day of high school, their lives are forever changed.   Lexi brings out the best in the shy sister of the most popular boy in town.   The bond between the twins and Lexi encourages the Farraday’s to treat Lexi like one of their own.   Finally finding a permanent home with the aunt she never knew she had combined with the love she is shown from the Farraday’s, Lexi feels she has finally found the life she has always dreamed of.

Yet tragedy finds a way into the lives of even those with the most fortunate of circumstances.   The resulting loss forces everyone to reevaluate the future of their relationships and life beyond the boundaries of the predictable.

Author Hannah presents an endearing and engaging story that uncovers a path of unpredictable events…  Events that will leave you laughing, crying, wishing and hoping but above all feeling fully appreciative of the love, devotion and trials that come with the territory of being a mother.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Night Road was released on March 22, 2011.   “Longtime fans will love this rich, multilayered reading experience, and it’s an easy recommendation for book clubs.”   Library Journal

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Two of Us

The Last Will of Moira Leahy: A Novel by Therese Walsh (Three Rivers Press; $15.00; 304 pages)

Therese Walsh’s first novel is a story of twins; a pair of near mystical sisters who call to mind the twins in Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.   The twins share thoughts, a unique language and their lives until an accident with tragic consequences for the piano-playing prodigy Moira.   Maeve, the narrator, must then find the means to continue her life on her own.   She’s assisted on her journey by finding a magical keris sword, and this leads her to Europe, where she finds out special things about her life and her sister’s life.

Maeve blames herself for the accident involving Moira and the journey that she takes provides her with a new perspective and much-needed forgiveness.   This is a well-told and very entertaining read from Walsh, although the reader must be willing to suspend reality as parts border on magic and science fiction.   There’s also a tremendous amount of jumping around, jarring the reader’s patience with the lack of chronological order.  

Sticking with the story until the end will, however, reward the reader with a satisfying conclusion to this unique tale by a very promising writer.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

   “This tender tale of sisterhood, self-discovery, and forgiveness will captivate fans of contemporary women’s fiction.”   Library Journal

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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