About This Blog

I am always in search of a good book, which is getting harder to find these days. My taste is ecclectic though it leans toward books that take me places I've never been.

Through the books I've read during the past few months, I've been to China, Spain, Ireland, India, Afghanistan, Chile, Japan, The Philippines, and many other exotic places. I've lived the lives of a boy soldier in Africa, a Shanghai detective, a foreign intern in Spain, a famous geisha, a precocious boy in Ireland, and a college student in a circus train.

My reviews will not reveal the plot but it will give you a general idea of the storyline and the flavor of the narrative.

I make it a point to only post reviews on the good books I've read, whether from a small or big publisher, those that merit a four or a five stars. In this way, I can point my readers toward a new and exciting place on a journey they may otherwise not have taken.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review of The Russian Hill Murders by Shirley Tallman

Part of the fun of reading books is discovering midlist authors who have published good books but are still relatively unknown to the general public. Even with good editorial reviews, their titles languish in the Amazon ranking abyss.
Such is the case with Oregon author Shirley Tallman, who has published a stable of highly-entertaining books from Minotaur/St. Martin's Press. When I recently read one of her cozies, The Russian Hill Murders, I wondered why I haven't heard of her or any of her work. Is it because she's not a name brand author and had been passed over by the press? The book was incredibly well-written and so engrossing I finished it in two days.
The novel features a tough-minded socialite, Sarah Woolson, a female attorney in late 19th-century San Francisco working for the largest law firm in the city. Being a woman, and despite her success in solving a Nob Hill murder, she is treated as the company go-fer, asked to perform mundane tasks such as typing correspondence and making coffee for the stodgy partners who are of the opinion that law practice has no place for a woman.
This second-class treatment galls Woolson. When a socialite chairing a hospital's charity event dies in the middle of a sit-down dinner, Woolson's catlike curiosity for sniffing out crimes where none seemingly exists goes into overdrive. Her suspicion is further validated after the accountant managing the charity's finances mysteriously dies of food poisoning. When the hospital's Chinese chef is conveniently arrested, Woolson's instinct tells her the perpetrator is someone else. This sends her on an investigative path to find the truth against the wishes of her bosses.
The novel takes the reader to the belly of San Francisco's 1890s underworld, from the rough-and-tumble streets of the Barbary Coast, to the city's powerful tong gangs, to Chinatown's filthy sweatshops, contrasting it with the city's socialite world of which Sarah Woolson is a part.
Good books such as this are getting harder and harder to come by. The narrative is evocative and funny, the voice, impeccably unique. The reader can't help but root for Woolson and follow her journey to the satisfying conclusion. This is a highly enjoyable novel, one that takes the reader to unusual time and places.

Its sequel, The Cliff House Strangler is already in my Kindle bookshelf, glowing like a smoldering coal, waiting to be read.

Article first published as <a href='http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-russian-hill-murders/'>Book Review: <i>The Russian Hill Murders</i> by Shirley Tallman</a> on Blogcritics.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I thought I would review the book for those who haven't read this entertaining novel. The story starts when Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of an investigative financial magazine called Millennium is found guilty of libel by a Swedish court for the article he published about a shady financier. The dense back story on Blomkvist's predicament unfortunately slowed down the narrative to the point that I began to wonder whether the book may have been overhyped. But twenty pages into the novel when the intriguing Lisbeth Salander is introduced, the story takes off like a rocket.

Disgraced and derided by the Swedish press (they dubbed him Kalle Blomkvist, after a fictional amateur boy sleuth in Astrid Lingren's novels), Blomkvist takes a temporary leave of absence from Millennium. Out of work, he is hired (enticed actually) by Eric Vanger of the venerable Vanger Corp to investigate a cold case that happened thirty years before: the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Harriet Vanger, the likely heir to the Vanger fortune. Blomkvist accepts the job and searches for an assistant to help him with his research.

Enter punk-haired and severely underdeveloped Lisbeth Salander (yes, the girl with the dragon tattoo, among her other body art), a mistrustful, anti-social, and oft-violent twenty-five-year-old woman who has been declared mentally incompetent by the state and placed under guardianship of a state-appointed lawyer. What the government doesn’t know is that Salander is a highly intelligent protégé, a kind of wonder girl, who secretly works as an investigative researcher for the biggest security firm in Sweden. Through his unthreatening wiles, Blomkvist is able to earn Salander's trust and the two of them embark on an investigative journey that uncovers a sinister Vanger family history that eventually endangers both their lives.

This book is fast-paced with extremely well-drawn characters, especially Salander whose flawed but endearing personality readers can't help but root for. The relationship between Blomkvist and Salander is touching but tense, which adds to the sexual intrigue. Though the descriptions are sometimes overwritten, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best reads I've had in a long time.

Article first published in http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-girl-with-the2/ on Blogcritics

Book Review of The Safe Man: A Ghost Story by Michael Connelly

I like to follow certain authors with track records of publishing good books. One of these authors is Michael Connelly whose Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch series take up a good portion of my eBook library. His latest work, an Amazon single called The Safe Man: A Ghost Story, takes him out of the mystery-thriller genre into the supernatural. The story does not disappoint.

When locksmith Brian Holloway is called upon by a famous writer to open a safe in the writer's newly-acquired home, he sees it as just another job. Though he thinks it odd that the owner wants him to haul the safe away after he opens it, a request that sounds strangely suspicious, Holloway ignores his early warning radar and proceeds with the job. He soon realizes that the work is not going to be an easy one as the lock mechanism is so rare no information about it could be found. Not a man to give up on a challenge, he doggedly works on the overly stubborn safe, eventually managing to drill a hole through the steel membrane and slip an eye scope through. He sees a spectral image inside the cavity, which startles him, a feeling compounded when he senses a female presence next to him.
Chalking it up to a momentary bout of paranoia, Holloway diligently works on the safe, feeling validated when he successfully jimmies it open and encounters a vacant space. Still, the strange and ghostly events in the library give him the creeps, so much so that it begins to occupy his mind. He does his own research on the safe's history and what he discovers instills fear in him, a fear exacerbated when the daughter of the man who hired him is found missing.

The delivery of the narrative is vintage Michael Connelly with the use of mystery/thriller devices giving it a quick pace. In certain scenes, one can't help but break out in goose pimples as Holloway unravels the mystery surrounding the safe and the man who hired him.

I enjoyed the piece very much. At just over eleven thousand words, there may not be enough meat to the bone for those with appetite for long fiction. But if you like short stories, this may be the book for you.

Article first published as Book Review: The Safe Man: A Ghost Story by Michael Connelly on Blogcritics