Review of Whiskey Sour: A Jack Daniels Mystery (2004) by J.A. Konrath (Jack Daniels Mysteries #1)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read for hard boiled fans who don’t mind a little cliché and dose of humor in their gruesome detective stories.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Lieutenant Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels is having a bad week. Her live-in boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, chronic insomnia has caused her to max out her credit cards with late-night home shopping purchases, and a frightening killer who calls himself ‘The Gingerbread Man’ is dumping mutilated bodies in her district. Between avoiding the FBI and its moronic profiling computer, joining a dating service, mixing it up with street thugs, and parrying the advances of an uncouth PI, Jack and her binge-eating partner, Herb, must catch the maniac before he kills again….and Jack is next on his murder list. Whiskey Sour is full of laugh-out-loud humor and edge-of-your-seat suspense, and it introduces a fun, fully drawn heroine in the grand tradition of Kinsey Millhone, Stephanie Plum, and Kay Scarpetta.

Review:

This book was recommended to me years ago, but I put off reading it because I was afraid it would be too gory for me. Make no mistake, this book certainly has its disgusting and violent moments, but for me the light tone interspersed throughout the book (it works better than it sounds like it would) helped me stomach the bad moments. It was suspenseful, interesting, and well written. There were several clichés throughout, but I genuinely liked the main character. It is difficult to create a tough-as-nails female cop/detective that is also feminine (in the “feels like a woman” sense, not necessarily the “pink high heels” sense) and realistic, not to mention likeable, but Konrath has managed that with Jack Daniels.

Two things that annoyed me the were the way over the top incompetent and cardboard FBI agents and the bad guy’s giggling. Other than that it was a very strong read – I will certainly be reading more of the series when I have the time.

 Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? I know the series has been around for almost a decade now – have any of you read it?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of JET by Russell Blake (2012) (Jet Series)

Bottom line: JET is a free, full length novel introducing the JET series. If you’re a fan of thrillers, give it a try!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Code name: Jet 

Twenty-eight-year-old Jet was once the Mossad’s most lethal operative before faking her own death and burying that identity forever. But the past doesn’t give up on its secrets easily.

When her new life on a tranquil island is shattered by a brutal attack, Jet must return to a clandestine existence of savagery and deception to save herself and those she loves. A gritty, unflinching roller-coaster of high-stakes twists and shocking turns, JET features a new breed of protagonist that breaks the mold.

Fans of Lisbeth Salander, SALT, and the Bourne trilogy will find themselves carried along at Lamborghini speed to a conclusion as surprising as the story’s heroine is unconventional.

Review:

I recommend reading this book when you can devote a few hours to it and finish it all in one gulp – otherwise, you’ll still end up finishing it all in one gulp, but there will be babies crying, dogs barking, chores neglected, and food uneaten as you frantically race through the pages. The style reminded me the most of the Bourne trilogy (as suggested in the blurb). We have an extremely competent assassin: a female character far more strongly developed than one would normally expect to see in this genre. We have international shenanigans, scary bad guys, cool weapons, and clandestine government agencies. The writing was very tight, and as I said earlier, I was very impressed with the lifelikeness of the main character. Blake managed to create a ruthless assassin who still feels realistically human and also manages to be a sympathetic character. Descriptions were evocative without being tedious, and there are enough logistics and details (e.g. what kinds of weapons they used, how they get from point A to point B) to give the reader a good flavour of setting but not so much that your eyes start to glaze over. The only thing I know about guns is that they fire bullets, and the only thing I know about cars is that they come in different colours. (Yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but seriously, I look at a car and I can generally tell if it’s an SUV, truck, or car, but that’s it. I’m a mess trying to find my car in parking lots. Do you know how many gray cars there are?!? Anyways…)The only aspect I wasn’t crazy about was how the story jumped around in time and place, but I recognize that these were all important for the plot and/or backstory. My brain is very linear and I just have a hard time coming into and out of the main story line.

So basically, we have an intriguing premise, lots of action, an interesting main character, and last but not least, very good writing. Oh, and it’s free. What’s not to like? I’ll definitely be reading more in the series as time (and budget) allows, and will be checking out some of Blake’s other works.

Side note: This is a violent story, and while the writing certainly conveys that, it never felt overly graphic to me (and I am a total wimp).

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Summer Reading List – travel through time and place

These aren’t time travelling books, though that might make a good reading list in and of itself, but I’ve called this travel through time and place because the books featured were written as far back as 1869. (Please keep in mind the date these books were written as they will reflect the cultural norms of the day when it comes to dealing with other races, religions, cultures, and so on.) Some of the funniest books that I’ve ever read are travel memoirs. I think that is partly because being out of one’s element resonates with me (I spent most of my “growing up” years abroad) and partly because nothing brings out the extremes of life like travel – you see the best, the worst, the most absurd, the most profound , and therefore, the funniest (at least after the fact). I hope you enjoy some of these armchair journeys this summer in addition to (or instead of) your actual trips.

  1. The Innocents Abroad (1869) by Mark Twain. (Free at Amazon, for sale at Barnes & Noble) This is the only book on the list I haven’t read, but it is on my “Read Soon” list. I’ve had several recommendations for this book and look forward to diving into it.
  2. Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome. The book is available at Amazon (free) and Barnes & Noble, but please do yourself a favor and get the audiobook version narrated by Hugh Laurie (Amazon, B&N). It is excellent. For the most part, you would never guess that this book was written well over a hundred years ago. It is absolutely hilarious, even more so for those of you who, like me are cursed blessed with an extremely energetic terrier (is there any other kind?).
  3. Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) by Agatha Christie. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. This reveals a completely different side to Hercule Poirot’s creator. Funny, wry, and self-deprecating (the book starts out with Christie attempting to buy plus-sized summer clothes in 1930′s London in the winter), it shows glimpses of the life she and her husband led while on an archeology dig in Syria. I have lived in a similar part of the world myself, and it was interesting to see her take from sixty-ish years before my impressions were being formed. Cross-cultural communication attempts are always…interesting. Some things that we take for granted as being inherently important are dismissed with a shrug in other cultures, and vice versa.
  4. Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World (2001) by Rita Golden Gelman. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I wouldn’t classify this books necessarily as “humorous” although there are funny parts in it, but it will make you want to sell off all you possessions and hit the road. At least that was my response. There’s something both freeing and envy-inspiring about realizing that some people have actually left everything behind and just gone.
  5. Anything by Bill Bryson. Bryson is another contemporary writer and one of the funniest across any genre, in my very humble opinion. He’s an American who lived for several years in England. Consequently, I think some of his writing on both the US and the UK is among his best work. Some of my favorites include: Notes from a Small Island (the UK) Amazon, B&N, A Walk In The Woods (his travels on the Appalachian long distance hiking trail, although the first half by far outshines the second) Amazon, B&N, and In a Sunburned Country (Australia) Amazon, B&N. In a Sunburned Country I don’t think is as consistently funny as some of his other works, but it does contain two of the funniest passages I have ever read. The first addresses sleeping in public, and I have never been able to read it aloud without snorting myself into incomprehensible speech and having to hand the book off to someone else, and the second deals with his crazed flight through a suburban park from a pack of dogs that may or may not be anywhere near him.
  6. Bonus: The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World by Doug Lanksy. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I’m not sure when this was first published, but I believe they occasionally release updated versions. If you’re the type who has as much fun in the planning as the actual execution of the trip (please tell me that’s not just me), this is a book to satiate, or possibly inflame, your wanderlust. It contains practical information on how to do it as well as region guides and some anecdotes from the author. This was one of my favorite forms of escapism while I toiled away in grad school.

There are lots of great travel books out there. What did I miss?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Alphabet Mysteries Series by Sue Grafton

Bottom line: A great example of the hard boiled genre, featuring a strong female P.I.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb for First Book: A is for Alibi (1982)

A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.

A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.

A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer–and sharper–than she imagined.

Review:

It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, so I got A is for Alibi from the library and started over at the beginning (not all of them – I’m dedicated to you, my loyal readers, but not THAT dedicated). I’ve read up through T, though Grafton has published up through V (W is for Wasted comes out this fall). For a series that has 22 published books, plus some short stories (none of which I’ve read), the level of quality is surprisingly consistent – and high. The mysteries and characters are interesting and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again. There are, obviously, some books that are better than others, but for the most part they’re very good reads.

One thing to note is that just because this series features a female detective, do not mistake these for cozies. They are definitely hard boiled: gritty and full of the realities of life – sex and bad language and all the rest of it. Kinsey is a tough, prickly, character, one that you come to respect before you necessarily start to like her. In the first book, you get enough details about her earlier life to keep you interested, without there being an info dump of backstory. I find it annoying when within a few strategic conversations in the first chapter you learn everything you need to know about a character. Real life doesn’t work that way. You do learn more about her as the series progresses, in a very natural way.

I’d recommend this series for anyone who likes the hard boiled mystery genre, or even mystery fans in general. Be warned that there is quite a bit of detail involved in tracking down various aspects of the cases; facts don’t seamlessly fall into place on the first try, which I quite like. Another great thing about these books is that any library is almost guaranteed to stock them. So, pick one up and give it a try – if you like it, you’ll eventually have 25 more great books to keep you entertained. Even for someone who reads as fast as I do, that’s at least a hundred hours of happiness.

 Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985) (The Ender Quintet)

Bottom line: A compelling character and suspenseful story combine to create an engrossing read.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Review:

I’ve been wanting to reread this book ever since I saw they were coming out with a movie version, due to be released November 2013. They have some pretty big names in the movie, so I just hope they don’t mess it up too badly (this is my prevailing attitude towards book-to-film adaptations).

This is one of those books that I was able to completely lose myself in. I felt so connected to the main character that as events unfolded, I responded to them from his point of view. After I had finished, I realized that some of these plot points didn’t make much sense, but while in the moment, I hadn’t noticed. This is such a well told story that whether or not it is plausible hardly seems to matter.

Ender’s Game seems to have a polarizing effect on readers. Many people love it, but there is a very strong minority that hate it just as passionately. Arguments against it I saw ranged from the political messages, to the justification of violence, to whether or not child geniuses would really act like that.  As much as I love to analyze things to death (and believe me, I do), this story was, to me, just a story. Maybe it’s that I read it when I was much younger, but I don’t feel the need to delve deeply into themes and messages and plausibility. It’s a story, I enjoyed it, and if you think the blurb looks interesting, you should give it a try, too. Sometimes, that’s all you need to say.

Side Notes: This is the first in the Ender Series, I haven’t read any of the others, though I plan to at some point. I debated making this a Family Fridays post, but it’s not really a “children’s” book. I would guess it’s aimed at preteens on up.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book? How old were you when you read it?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Rigged for Murder by Jenifer LeClair (2011) (Windjammer Mysteries)

Bottom line: An enjoyable book, as much for the ambience as the mystery itself.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

High seas adventure turns to high stakes sleuthing when a beautiful but troubled homicide detective and a New England sea captain join forces in this award-winning mystery set on the coast of Maine.

On leave from the Minneapolis Police Department after being shot, homicide detective Brie Beaumont has gone to Maine where she has family roots. She ships out on the Maine Wind for an early season cruise with Captain John DuLac and eight others. Caught in a gale, they anchor off remote and windswept Granite Island. But when someone aboard is murdered, Brie must single-handedly stage an investigation that moves from the ship to a small fishing village on the island. Plagued by flashbacks, and fighting a growing attraction to Captain DuLac, she works to unravel a mystery that will place her directly in the path of a psychopathic killer.

Review:

Two of my favorite things in life are reading and travelling. If I can find a book that is a great story and has enough local flavor to provide a mental journey, I’m an extremely happy camper. Rigged For Murder delivers on both counts. It’s a solid mystery, and there were enough descriptions of both the sailing and the island to give me a good feel for the setting. It’s well written, and the pace flows along nicely. I got it for free, but will be buying the next book in the series, Danger Sector.

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about it. First, there was a lot of nautical jargon, and the meanings weren’t always readily discernible from context. To be fair, I think authors generally tend to overexplain instead of the other way around, so it was nice to be treated as an intelligent creature (even if that might have been an overestimation on the author’s part!). Second, cynic that I am, it annoys me when people fall in love in a couple of days. Lastly, there are a couple of abrupt shifts in perspective, often a couple within the same paragraph. I found these a little disorienting.

Barring these minor issues (none of which are very distracting from the storyline), it’s a really fun read. I thought Brie was a great character – she was more complex than you sometimes find in these types of mysteries. Although you don’t get a lot of insight into the secondary characters, they felt realistic – characters, not caricatures.

Rigged for Murder is what I think of as a “Modern Cozy” – meaning it has several elements of a traditional cozy mystery, but there are aspects that are a little more PG-13 than you would tend to find in a traditional cozy.

What did you think of the book? Ever been sailing?

Review of the Chronological Man Adventure Series by Andrew Mayne

Bottom line: A fun, historical, science-y, steampunk-y, adventure-y series of short stories.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I really like this series. It consists (so far) of two short stories, telling the tale of Smith, time traveler extraordinaire, who shows up to save the day whenever he is needed. The books are short enough to be read in one sitting (Ok, so I read most books in one sitting, but I’m a bit obsessive that way. Normal people could read these books in one sitting), but long enough to feel balanced – you get good characters, good settings, AND a good story. I wouldn’t put the premise in the “terribly plausible” category, but the ride is such a good one that it doesn’t matter. My favorite aspect of the series is the characters. The assistant, April, is smart and capable and takes action when it’s called for. She’s no Watson-esque sidekick, perpetually stumbling around in the dark. Teddy Roosevelt, more big stick than speaking softly here, is a hilarious and brilliant addition to the crew in the second story. And of course there’s Smith, a strange genius who suffers from amnesia due to his time travelling.

Continue reading

Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Hazardous Duty by Christy Barritt (2012) (Squeaky Clean Mysteries)

Bottom line: An interesting premise for a detective, and with a well thought out story to back it up.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Buying a gun to kill your wife: $3,000
Hiring Trauma Care to clean afterward: $1,500
Having that same cleaner uncover evidence that frames you: priceless

On her way to completing a degree in forensic science, Gabby St. Claire drops out of school and starts her own crime scene cleaning business. “Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “a crime scene cleaner. People waiting in line behind me who strike up conversations always regret it.”

When a routine cleaning job uncovers a murder weapon the police overlooked, she realizes that the wrong person is in jail. But the owner of the weapon is a powerful foe . . . and willing to do anything to keep Gabby quiet.

With the help of her new neighbor, Riley Thomas, a man whose life and faith fascinate her, Gabby plays the detective to make sure the right person is put behind bars. Can Riley help her before another murder occurs?

Review:

I knew I wanted to read a mystery today, and I started several before landing on this one. From the opening line of “Whistling a tune from Fiddler on the Roof, I used my tweezers to work a piece of Gloria Cunningham’s skull out of the sky blue wall.” I was intrigued. There were many things I enjoyed : the main character was three dimensional and interesting, it had a good murder/detecting plot, and the ending leaves you satisfied but with some unanswered questions about Gabby’s past and future. I thought having the amateur detective own a crime scene cleaning business and have gone to school for forensic science was a clever way to solve the age-old mystery writers’ dilemma: how and why would ordinary people investigate a crime?

A couple of quibbles I had with the book are as follows. For one, the supporting characters felt a little flat to me. For example, the supposed best friend is militantly vegan and she’s often described that way: “the animal lover did such and such”, or we see her forcing vegan brownies down her neighbours’ throats while ranting about animal cruelty. All of which is fine, but EVERY time she appears in the story it’s while doing some animal rights activism (not “animal right’s activism.” I shouldn’t have read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. It just made me more obsessive about punctuation – other people’s, not mine, of course!) or something like that. The father is a drunk and a sponge, therefore he’s only a drunk and a sponge.

The other issue I had was with the effort to introduce matters of faith into the book. I respect writers who try to imbue their works with topics that are close to their hearts, like faith and doubt (or environmentalism or healthy living or whatever it is they hold dear), and as a Christian myself, the content certainly doesn’t offend me. However, it felt forced. Several characters brought up God seemingly out of nowhere, and Gabby sure spends a lot of time thinking about how she doesn’t believe in God.

These two issues aside, it was an enjoyable read. I had gotten the book for free quite a while ago and just today got around to reading it, but I was glad I had it on my Kindle. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to pursue the series – it looks like there are several books already out.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

More Info: http://www.christybarritt.com/

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Pompomberry House by Rosen Trevithick (2012)

Bottom line: A very fun read with a good mystery, an interesting main character (despite describing every single hat she puts on), and a clever roasting of the indie scene.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

A writer’s retreat seemed the perfect chance for Dee Whittaker to take her mind off her marital difficulties.

However, she meets five of the most hideous writers ever to have mastered a qwerty keyboard, and her problems quickly multiply. Things escalate further when the handyman winds up dead.

After fleeing from the island, Dee attempts to get her life back on track but begins to notice that something strange is going on. The stories written on the island are coming true and hers is next – complete with a murder.

Her estranged husband makes an unlikely sidekick as the two of them try to stop the literary copycat killing an innocent woman.

Packed with topical references, Pompomberry House provides a satirical look at the emerging world of indie publishing.

Review:

As an avid reader, I’ve been watching the changing dynamics of writing and publishing – both through the introduction of e-books and greater prevalence of independently published authors. You could have one without the other, but e-books have made it possible for anyone to take ANY piece of written work, hit “publish”, and it’s available to the masses. Pompomberry House takes a look at a group of characters who probably should have thought twice before hitting the publish button on their books.

It takes a look at some of the challenges of being an indie author, as well as some behind the scenes action of what authors have to do to get their books noticed. (There’s a huge difference between being able to e-publish a book, and being able to e-sell it.) Most of the characters felt a little TOO over the top for me, but it is satire, so that might have been a stylistic decision. Although the murder/mystery/discovery aspects of the book were handled quite cleverly, I felt that the author was at her best when portraying the complicated relationship and emotions between the main character and her soon-to-be ex-husband.

As it says in the blurb, this is a book “packed with topical references…” I don’t know how well Pompomberry House will stand the test of time with all the contemporary mentions, but in the here and now, it’s definitely worth checking out – especially if you have any interest in indie authors.

Side note: This book is firmly in the PG-13 camp, so be warned.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.