Monthly Archives: February 2010

212 by Alafair Burke

212: A Novel by Alafair Burke

From Amazon ~

When New York University sophomore Megan Gunther finds personal threats posted to a Web site specializing in campus gossip, she’s taken aback by their menacing tone. Someone knows her daily routine down to the minute and is watching her—but thanks to the anonymity provided by the Internet, the police tell her there’s nothing they can do. Her friends are sure it’s someone’s idea of a joke, but when Megan is murdered in a vicious attack, NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher is convinced that the online threats are more than just empty words.

With smooth, straight-talking partner J. J. Rogan at her side, Ellie tries to identify Megan’s enemies, but she begins to wonder if the coed’s murder was more than just the culmination of a cyber obsession. Phone records reveal a link between Megan and a murdered real estate agent who was living a dangerous double life. The detectives also learn that the dead real estate agent shared a secret connection to a celebrity mogul whose bodyguard was mysteriously killed a few months earlier. And when Megan’s roommate suddenly disappears, they know they have to find her before another young woman dies.

My Review ~

What could a college student, a real estate agent, the bodyguard of a real estate mogul, and a missing roommate possibly have in common? It just might be a little thing called murder.

A late night anonymous 911 call directs Homicide Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner J.J. Rogan to the penthouse apartment at the 212. There they find a bloody mess, a man shot to death, naked in bed. Turns out the man does not own the apartment, but is the body guard of Sam Sparks, real estate mogul (think Donald Trump) who occasionally lets his employees use it. For some reason, Sparks is determined to keep his thumb on the pulse of the investigation, possibly even having the sitting judge on the case in his back pocket.

Megan Gunther is your typical NYU college student. Living in an apartment with a roommate who’s a virtual hermit and missing her best friend, who is only six miles away at her own school. But Megan’s world comes crashing down around her when she sees a post on CampusJuice.com, a website where people can post anonymously whatever they want about any college stupid. The posts are all about her schedule ~ she’s being stalked. But by whom and more importantly WHY? She goes to the police, but they tell her there is nothing they can do. Then one night, one roommate ends up dead and the other ends up missing.

Katie Battle is a real estate agent working in NY to pay her bills, including the assisted the living facility where her mother is currently residing. With the real estate market in the toilet, Katie is having a hard time struggling to pay all the bills with just her day job. One afternoon she gets a phone call for a “appointment” later that night. She really doesn’t want to go, but knows that there are bills to pay. So Katie goes home and Miranda goes out!

Ellie and J.J. have no reason to believe that the two cases, the murdered bodyguard and the murdered college student are related until the missing students fingerprints are matched to the ones left on a champagne flute at the penthouse apartment. That sends them on a course of intersecting phone records, fake names, double lives and a whole lot of secrets. 212 is one heck of a thrill ride, with enough twists and turns to rival any roller coaster ride you would find at your local amusement park. Although you may want to turn the pages quickly to find out what happens next, make sure to take your time. Savor each page, pay attention to each clue. You aren’t going to want to miss a thing with this book. An intense story that will keep you reading way past your bedtime. And when it’s over, it will leave you begging for more.


Release date: March 23, 2010

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Millennium 1)
Rating: abandoned unfinished
You might like this if you: like media-hyped novels; aren’t easily disappointed by media-hyped novels

Synopsis:
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone in her own family – the deeply dysfunctional Vanger clan. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired to investigate, but when he links Harriet’s disappearance to a string of gruesome murders from forty years ago, he needs a competent assistant – and he gets one: computer hacker Lisbeth Salander – a tattoed, truculent, angry girl who rides a motorbike like a Hell’s Angel and handles makeshift weapons with the skill born of remorseless rage. This unlikely pair form a fragile bond as they delve into the sinister past of this island-bound, tightly-knit family. But the Vangers are a secretive lot, and Mikael and Lisbeth are about to find out just how far they’re prepared to go to protect themselves – and each other.

Review:
First off I want to say I did not finish this book, but I think I gave it a very good chance – I read over 200 of its 530-ish pages. After hearing so many people sing its praises, I wanted to enjoy it, but it completely failed to impress me on every level.

One would expect something to happen within 200 pages of plot, but on this occasion one might be forgiven for believing nothing had happened at all. Small, seemingly inconsequential things happen, but there was little, if anything, of excitement. I wanted at least one or two small thrills to keep me hooked into what was happening, but I was sorely disappointed.

None of the characters seemed to me to be particularly “real” and they all felt like caricatures – the rebel computer genius; the journo with integrity; the evil big business man; the old guy with a kooky family – and I found I didn’t identify or sympathise with any of them. I didn’t find any of what I read to be all that original. The characters have all been done before and I had my suspicions about the missing girl from the beginning. I strongly suspect (highlight to view potential spoiler) that she’s alive and well and living somewhere else and that it’s she who sends the flowers to her uncle on his birthday. I found I didn’t much care why she left.

The amount of character back history given in the middle of what’s happening “now” was far too irritating. It jarred and annoyed me. Part of the problem is that I didn’t actually like any of the characters. Actually, I found them very annoying – especially Lisbeth (who I suspect I’m supposed to like) and Blomkvist (who I’m pretty certain I’m not supposed to find plodding and pedestrian). As they’re the two main characters it ruined any enjoyment I might have got from the story.

I really do wonder what all the hype is about (I came to the book knowing nothing about it except that a lot of people are banging on about it and the sequels – honestly, nothing more than the title!). To be perfectly honest, the only reason I continued as long as I did was because I’d already invested a fair bit of time in getting that far with it and could see myself getting very angry for having wasted the time if I didn’t finish it. It didn’t pick up and I wasted even more time on it.

I didn’t even care enough about Harriet to find out if my previous prediction was correct.

Apologies to all those who enjoyed it, but I found it pretty dire. I’ll be getting shot of the book pretty quick-smart and I won’t be bothering with the sequels.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Pretty In Ink by Karen Olson

Pretty In Ink: A Tattoo Shop Mystery by Karen E. Olson

From Amazon ~

Brett Kavanaugh is a tattoo artist and owner of Vegas’s hottest tattoo shop, The Painted Lady. And in her spare time, she does some sleuthing. After Brett and company ink Sin City’s newest drag queens, they’re invited to opening night at the strip’s glamorous Nylon and Tattoos show-which ends in disaster when a stranger with a Queen of Hearts tattoo fatally injures Britney Brassieres with a champagne cork. And when another drag queen is found poisoned, it looks like someone’s targeting Vegas’s fabulous femmes…

My Review ~

Brett Kavanuagh is known for her original art – tattoo art that is. As the owner of The Painted Lady tattoo shop in Las Vegas she doesn’t do “flash” artwork as her counterpart Jeff Coleman does, she does custom work. So after she does the ink for a group of Drag Queens, she makes sure she’s there for their opening night. What she doesn’t expect is to get caught up in the middle of another murder investigation.

During the show, Britney Brassieres is taken down by what sounds like a gunshot, but what turns out to be the cork from a champagne bottle, shot right at her heart. She recovers from this incident, but not to long after ends up dead. Brett manages to catch not the culprits face, but the distinctive Queen of Hearts tattoo on the inside of their arm. She then sets out to track down who did the art, leading her right to the door of rival tattoo artist Jeff Coleman. But when she finds out that not one, but three people got the same tattoo one night, Brett isn’t sure what to do next.

Everything seems to somehow be related to a pin found in Britney’s make-up case (a pin that matches the tattoo of the mystery man). Not only is Brett now involved in this case, but it seems so is her trainee Charlotte. But to what degree? As a victim or a suspect? Things get really scary when another Queen is found dead (by Brett of course), from deadly ricin poison he was manufacturing in his apartment.

Just what are these murders about? Are they related to a sinister terrorist plot to take out Las Vegas or is it something smaller like a simple case of blackmail. Brett certainly has her hands full with this color cast of characters. What’s the actor turned politician hiding? Is the hunky Dr Brett meets in the ER after being exposed to the ricin somehow involved? How does her assistant Charlotte, accountant turned tattoo artist, fit into all of this? And is the sheriff on the case more interested in actually solving the case or just doing whatever he can to annoy Brett and her brother Tim(considering he’s now engaged to Tim’s former fiancee Shawna!)?

Once again Brett has the support of her loyal staff, including shop manager Bitsy and tattoo artist Joel to help her solve this intriguing who done it. One filled with just enough ‘he’s’ and ‘she’s’ to make it hard to keep all the hims and hers straight. While she does make a few slips up along the way, Brett is definitely getting the hang of this sleuthing thing ~ and is giving her detective brother a run for his money in the crime solving business. And just why is Jeff being so nice to Brett all of a sudden? Might there be something brewing here? One can only hope! It shouldn’t be to hard for fans of Olson’s Annie Seymour series to easily pick up the reference to that series.

Pretty in Ink is a quirky mystery with a fun, independent, determined leading lady and loyal supportive cast of characters, each so different, yet lovable in their own ways. A fast, easy, enjoyable read with an ending that will catch the reader completely by surprise. I look forward to seeing what Brett gets herself involved with in Driven To Ink, due out later this year.

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God is Dead by Ron Currie

God has decided to see the suffering in Darfur for himself, and to do so, he takes on the form of a young Dinka woman, who is caught up in the war.  In assuming this form, God has also to take on the mortality and frailties of humans, and is killed in the conflict.  When his real identity is uncovered, the news that God is dead spreads throughout the globe, causing civil unrest, anarchy, wars and the breakdown of society.

This book is less a novel, and more a series of vaguely interlinked stories about how the world reacts to God’s death.  Certain parts tell what life was like after the initial hysteria following the news died down, but all of the tales tell a story of how ordinary lives were affected.

The writing is imaginative, and the stories which unfold in this tale are disturbing, satirical, ironic and at times very amusing.  The author seems to shine a light on human flaws and strengths and shows the sort of behaviour that people will display in times of terror and uncertainty.

The book flowed easily, and although the stories within it are only loosely linked, it never felt disjointed – I realised that I was reading big chunks in almost no time at all.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially to fans of dystopian fiction.

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Dead Simple by Peter James

Michael Harrison, a rich and successful property developer, is on his stag night with four of his best friends.  As a prank, and to pay Michael back for the pranks which he played on some of them on their stag nights, they bury him in a coffin in the woods, with the intention of coming back for him a couple of hours later.  However, his friends are then killed in a horrific traffic accident (this all happens in the first few pages).  The walkie talkie which the friends left with Michael is found by a young lad who does not apparently have the capabilities to help, and nobody else apparently knows where Michael is.  The day after the stag night, with Michael still missing, his distraught fiancee Ashley Harper contacts the Police and the case falls into the hands of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a man still battling his own demons after the unsolved disappearance of his wife eight years earlier.

Grace and his colleagues try to find Michael – seemingly an impossible task.  They don’t know if he is in danger, but they don’t want to take any chances…meanwhile, time is running out for Michael.  With no food or water and no way of attracting help, he is getting desperate.  And the one person who should be able to help seems intent on remaining silent…

This book certainly grabbed me from the first page, with an explosive – if slightly implausible (would anybody really think that burying a friend alive is a good idea for a stag night prank?) – opening.  Although the book takes place over a short period of time, it moves quickly and I never got bored.

The chapters are short and choppy, and although it is told in the third person, the point of view of all the characters are shown.  I did find myself turning the pages quickly and always wanting to read “just another chapter.”  There are twists and turns aplenty, making it hard to guess how things were going to turn out.

Roy Grace is a great character – sympathetic and intuitive, and it was easy to warm to him and understand his thoughts and frustrations.  However, apart from this, I did think the characterisation was thin; most of the rest of the characters were very stereotyped.  However, as this is the first book in a series, some of the roles of Grace’s colleagues may be expanded on in future books.  As with most crime stories, this book is driven by the plot rather than by the characters, so the fact that most roles were not very fleshed-out did not detract very much from my enjoyment.

There were also some rather fantastical plot developments, so the story wasn’t entirely believable, but I was able to suspend disbelief enough for this not to bother me.

Overall, this is an undemanding read, and one which I found hard to put down.  I would certainly be interested in reading further books in the series.  Ideal for a holiday read (despite the subject matter), and one I would recommend to fans of Ian Rankin or Peter Robinson.

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The Dead’s Father Club by Matt Haig

I read ‘The Dead Father’s Club’ when it was released in paperback in April 2007 and decided to have a reread.

Again with most of my rereads I enjoyed the book more second time around. The story is based loosely on ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare with the main character Philip Noble faced with his Dad’s ghost telling him that was not killed in a car accident but he was murdered by his brother and Philip’s Uncle, Alan who according to his Dad’s ghost tampered with the brakes of the car causing the accident.

Philip is understandingly shocked to hear this news and agrees to help his Dad get revenge, something which proves to be difficult for different reasons. Philip’s Dad tells Philip about ‘The Dead Father’s Club’ and the truth about ghosts, a truth that Philip finds somewhat conflicting at times.

‘The Dead Father’s Club’ is full of dark humour, Philip’s thoughts on life are innocent and humorous, and his confusion about his Dad is heartbreaking, he is trying to cope with the loss of his Dad and his Dad’s ghost at the same time.

Philip narrates his story and the book is written in the style of an 11 year old, which at times can be confusing.

I enjoyed ‘The Dead Father’s Club’ but this time around it struck more of chord for me in a lot of ways and even though he was a character in a book, I felt protective of Philip and angry at his Dad.

A funny, sad and insightful book, you will either love it or hate it and it will be make you think.

Reviewed by Paula Mc (Weave)

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Chocky by John Wyndham

‘Chocky’ tells the story of Matthew Gore, an average 12 year old boy until the day he begins speaking to ‘Chocky’. At first, his parents, David and Mary and his younger sister, Polly believe ‘Chocky’ is an imaginary friend, true, Matthew is a bit old to have a imaginary friend, they decide to let Chocky runs his or her course.

Chocky’s begins to affect Matthew in different ways, he is asking questions he has never asked before, completing mathematics problems that he should not be able to do. Matthew’s parents decide to get help and as they discover more, they realise that Matthew is under risk from not only Chocky but outside influences.

I enjoyed ‘Chocky’ but it is not as good as previous John Wynham novels I have read. The story is insightful if dated (I hated how Matthew’s mum, Mary was pandered to because ‘she was a woman’), and I did feel sympathy for Matthew because he did not understand what was happening to him and was very frustrated because he could not express what Chocky was and I felt as much he/she cared for Matthew, Chocky was not helping him in the long term. I remember watching ‘Chocky’ after school and the fact that another two series were made based on the book, is commendable but after reading the book, I do think they overplayed their card, one series was enough.

Reviewed by Paula Mc (Weave)

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Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Date of Publication: 2006, Penguin Classics

Number of Pages (including notes): 268

Description: Considered to be one of the greatest national writers of Japan, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa had a short but brilliant career in the early twentieth century. This collection includes some of his best known short stories, such as “Rashōmon”, “Spinning Gears”, “Loyalty”, and “The Nose”, as well as some of his lesser-known works. The stories range from humorous, to historical, to agonizingly autobiographical. The Penguin Classics edition also includes a wonderfully insightful introduction by Haruki Murakami.

Review: For much of Akutagawa’s early career, he delved into Japan’s literary past. The story “Loyalty” is a complex tale based on a true event that took place during the Tokugawa period, when the young head of a noble family went insane, creating a crisis among his samurai retainers. Samurai were meant to be loyal to the death, but that loyalty also extended to the Shogun. If one’s master posed a thread to the Shogun, where should your loyalty lie? This is the problem that faces two very different retainers, each of whom must make an almost impossible decision. The story explores not only loyalty, but the issues of sanity, respect, obligation, and shame.

Some of the more humorous stories include “Horse Legs” and “The Story of a Head That Fell Off”, both involving dead men who suffer terrible humiliations, one at the hand of some spiritual bureaucrats, and the other because of a medical miracle. But the final section of the book, which include those selections that tell Akutagawa’s own story, is possibly the most moving and compelling. Akutagawa’s childhood was difficult, as his mother went insane shortly after his birth. He was afraid of mental illness for the remainder of his life, and the final story of the book, “Spinning Gears” tells the tale of his last months spent in depression and constant anxiety. He suffered from insomnia, hallucinations, and constantly worried about his own sanity. It is the final passage of the story that conveys Akutagawa’s overwhelming despair:

I don’t have the strength to keep writing this. To go on living with this feeling is painful beyond description. Isn’t there someone kind enough to strangle me in my sleep”

The story was published posthumously in 1927, the year Akutagawa took his own life. The story progresses toward that inevitable conclusion, and gives us an insight into Akutagawa’s tortured mind.

Rating: 10/10

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Dream Makers by Nora Roberts

Waterstones Synopsis:

“Untamed”: Jo Wilder was certain her charming new boss, Keane Prescott, imperilled everything she cared for, but she couldn’t deny the attraction between them. Though Keane’s kisses left her breathless, it was his tenderness that threatened to tame her heart…

“Less of a Stranger”: Confident and arrogant, David Katcherton swept into Megan Miller’s life and awakened feelings that had long been lying dormant. But she wasn’t about to fall for this irresistible stranger who was after her grandfather’s business, despite the passion Katch aroused within her…

This is two books in one – both romantic short stories, and both I really enjoyed. This is the second Nora Roberts book I’ve read, and again I finished the book feeling satisfied. The first short story is called “Untamed” and it is based in the circus. The owner has just died and left the circus to his son, whom he had had no contact with for most of the son Keane’s life. Jo, the protagonist is worried that Keane will sell the circus and has disliked him since before his Dad’s death. Yet things change when she meets him. The chemistry is instant and distracting… The second story is called “Less of a Stranger” and is shorter than Untamed. The feature of this novel is a fairground. Megan has grown up with her grandfather, who owns the fairground. She is worried when a stranger – Katch comes along and tries to buy it. Although the fairground is only just making a profit, Megan does not want to see it go. Along with that, Katch is determined not only to have the fairground, he is determined to have Megan too; and she is finding it hard to resist falling for him…

If you like chick-lit and quick-reads than this book is for you. Both of these stories were good and I enjoyed them both immensely. I probably preferred Untamed more as it was a bit longer so I felt I engaged with the characters more. However, both were very good. They were predictable but I didn’t mind that. And I liked how they had unusual settings for romance novels. I loved reading about the circus and the lions in Untamed, and reading the descriptions of the fairground was lovely too. One of my favourite parts was when Katch and Megan were on top of the Ferris wheel looking down at the fun and lights below.

I liked both Jo and Megan. They were determined and prepared to stand up for what they believed in and what they felt was right. I loved the affection they had for others, such as Megan for her grandfather, and I enjoyed reading how they pursued what was right. I liked the outcomes for both them too. I found them likeable and believabl.

These were not hard to read. I was hooked from the beginning and enjoyed both stories. Roberts wrote wonderful characters and although the outcomes were not a surprise I liked how she picked original settings, making a great story. This was not a let down and I would highly recommend this book.

4/5

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