Sep 30, 2011

Book Review: Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman

"I know who they are, Howie, and what they're capable of. You get your money back, you can afford to go somewhere else. To be somebody else."

"What -an alias? A new identity?"

"You're really happy with the old one?" (ch. 22)

Comments: A fast-paced thriller with twists and turns in the plot, up to the very end, kept me surprised at every turn. A delight to read.

Book description: Ex-CIA Carr is the reluctant leader of an elite crew planning a robbery of such extraordinary proportions that it will leave them set for life. Diamonds, money laundering, and extortion go into a timed-to-the-minute scheme that unfurls across South America, Miami, and Grand Cayman Island.

Carr's cohorts are seasoned pros, but they're wound drum-tight - months before, the man who brought them together was killed in what Carr suspects was a setup. And there are other loose ends: some of the intel they're paying for is badly inaccurate, and one of the gang may have an agenda of her own. But Carr's biggest problems are yet to come, because few on his crew are what they seem to be, and even his own past is a lie. (Goodreads)

Title: Thick as Thieves: A Novel by Peter Spiegleman
Hardcover: 320 pages, Knopf, July 26, 2011
Objective rating: 4.75/5
A copy of this book was sent to me by the author through Shelf Awareness. My opinions are objective and not influenced by my receiving a complimentary copy.

Sep 27, 2011

Book Review and Teaser: Little Black Dress by Susan McBride

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"Did you bring the dress?" Her voice was so soft I could barely her. "Do you have it?" she said, this time more loudly, and her dark gaze stared across the room at me, unflinching.

"First, tell me why."

Comments: Not to be confused with Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, this novel, Little Black Dress is a story about two sisters who are very different in temperament and whose lives are influenced by revelations from a little black dress that tells the future. The book is firmly in the category of magical fantasy. I thought the novel could have been written well and the story of the sisters could have been more compelling if the author hadn't used this device.

Book description: Two sisters whose lives seemed forever intertwined are torn apart when a magical little black dress gives each one a glimpse of an unavoidable future.

Antonia Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but she realizes her life has gone off-track. Forced to return home to Blue Hills when her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke, Toni finds the old Victorian where she grew up as crammed full of secrets as it is with clutter. Now she must put her mother’s house in order—and uncover long-buried truths about Evie and her aunt, Anna, who vanished fifty years earlier on the eve of her wedding. By shedding light on the past, Toni illuminates her own mistakes and learns the most unexpected things about love, magic, and a little black dress with the power to break hearts...and mend them. (Goodreads)

Title: Little Black Dress by Susan McBride
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 23rd 2011 by William Morrow
Objective rating: 3.5/5

A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher for possible review. My opinions are in no way influenced by my receiving a complimentary copy.

Sep 25, 2011

Sunday Salon: Winter Reading

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Found some good books for my "Want to Read" list through Goodreads' Recommendation system for books, thanks to suggestions on a blog post by Aths at Reading on a Rainy Day, who discusses mechanical versus personal ways of having books chosen for you. I liked the books Goodreads threw up at me based on the books I've read.

I've also decided that I'll no longer let my "To Be Reviewed" list be my exclusive reading, and that I'll add more books to my list based on other suggestions, mechanical or otherwise!

I've gotten some very good books for review, however, some I won, others sent by the publisher. Among them are

I love that they are in different genres as I no longer restrict my reading to mysteries. But would you believe it, I'm now reading a book from the library, The Busy Woman's Guide to Murder by Mary Jane Maffini, having rushed through another mystery, The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen. But I can't wait to get to those books, some of them non-mysteries, from the Goodreads recommendation system. Among those are

Some Prefer Nettles
Wild Ginger
The Road of Lost Innocence
The Last Will of Moira Leahy
Ship Fever

Let me add that LibraryThing also has a long list of Member Recommendatons as well as suggestions based on books you have logged into their system.

A comment by C.B. James on gautami tripathy's blog let us know that the University of Chicago Press gives away a free e-Book each month. This month it's a mystery novel from the 1960s. I was also reminded by Laurel Rain-Snow's Sunday Salon that Banned Books Week is here. Are you reading any banned books? I hope so!

What have you been doing or reading this past week?

Sep 23, 2011

Two Book Reviews: Naughty in Nice; and The Tale of Castle Cottage

These two cozies are English though written by authors in California and Texas. Naughty in Nice, A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen and The Tale of Castle Cottage: the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert are both nostalgic mysteries, one set in the 1930s when the British vacationed on the Riviera and hobnobbed with the rich and famous, and the other in the very early 1900s, when children's author Beatrix Potter lived and wrote about animals in the English countryside.

The Tale of Castle Cottage is a very cozy cozy, set in the English countryside, with various animals representing the inhabitants of a village in the English Lake District. Here Beatrix Potter spends her summer of 1913 working and renovating Castle Cottage, the place where she and her fiance William Heelis will live after they marry. Theft from the construction sites and the death of a carpenter are the meat of the mystery novel, and the romantic aspect is supplied by Beatrix's engagement, which is frowned on by her parents.

This cozy is for readers who have nostalgia for all things British and especially for Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other children's stories. (My favorite character in the Potter stories was the hedgehog in The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle!)

In Naughty in Nice, a novel set in 1933, the main character is Lady Georgina (Georgie) Rannoch, a descendant of Queen Victoria. Georgie is a favorite of the current Queen Mary, wife of King Edward, who sends her to the Riviera to recover a valuable snuff box stolen from her by one Sir Toby Groper, an unscrupulous character living in Nice.

Famous persons of the day crop up on the Riviera. The Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson appear, and Georgie stays in her mother's villa with the famous designer Coco Chanel, who grooms her as a model for the Chanel collection of the season. When Sir Toby is murdered, however, Georgie finds herself a suspect.

I read eagerly through three-quarters of the book but balked at the spot where Georgie is arrested. This change in the plot didn't sit well with me for some reason, and I flipped through the rest of the mystery just to find how the book would end. I knew of course that the true criminal would be found and charged with the murder. Overall, though, I enjoyed the period setting, descriptions of the Riviera, historical tidbits, and the lively characters of Georgie and her mother.

The books were sent to me by the publisher, The Berkley Publishing Group, for possible review. My opinions are in no way influenced by my receiving complimentary copies of the books.

Sep 21, 2011

Feature: A Marked Heart, a Memoir by David George Ball

Title:A Marked Heart by David George Ball
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 28th 2011 by iUniverse, Incorporated
Genre: Memoir

In looking back, I understand now what an incredible force my missionary mother was in my life. As a child in wartime England, I thought she was just like everybody else's mother. Although she frequently reminded me she had dedicated me to the Lord's service, at first I didn't grasp what she meant. Gradually I began to realize she was different. She seemed to think her will and God's will were the same. If I didn't obey her, I wasn't pleasing the Lord. (from the Introduction)

Publisher's description: "The son of a missionary and a Baptist minister, seventeen-year-old immigrant David George Ball was following his destiny to become a pastor. . But when he met the then relatively unknown Martin Luther King Jr., the course of Ball's life changed forever.

In this memoir, A Marked Heart, Ball narrates his journey: beginning with growing up in wartime England; immigrating to the United States in 1954 to take the pastor's course at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute; attending Yale University as a scholarship student; and, most importantly, meeting King. Later, he worked on Wall Street as a lawyer, started a family, championed the 401(k) plan, and served as assistant secretary of labor.

A Marked Heart describes how Ball's encounter with King inspired the rest of his life's work, and it provides a multifaceted look at his immigration, education, family relationships, career, and his commitment to public service.  Ball never became a minister, but his story tells how his commitment to God and prayer guided his life."

Source: A copy of this book was sent to me by the author/publicist.

Sep 20, 2011

Book Review: Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"So," he said at length, "we have a renegade monk standing on the very summit of the Citadel, forming a deeply provocative symbol, one that has probably already been seen by hundreds of tourists and the Lord only knows who else, and we can neither stop him nor get him back."

"That is correct." Atannasius nodded. "But he cannot talk to anyone while he remains up there, and eventually he must climb down, for where else can he go?" (ch. 10)
Comments: The renegade monk, Brother Samuel, has escaped confinement in the Citadel after balking at the ceremony of the order, where he had witnessed "awful scenes" and learned "terrible secrets." We are later told of the existence of a heretic Bible and an ancient relic called the Sacrament that the Citadel and the order of monks are protecting with their lives. The secrets of the Citadel are jeopardised when Brother Samuel jumps to his death from the top of the mountain, in full view of television media, tourists, and the world.

The book made me think of the DaVinci Code, which had secret groups and secret religious rites. Sanctus seems to take this further, with a new version of religion whose symbol is the sign of the tau.

Described as an "apolacyptic conspiracy thriller", this is a book for those who didn't want The DaVinci Code to end, another book of suspense based on religion.

Title: Sanctus by Simon Toyne
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 31st 2011 by HarperCollins
An ARC of the novel was provided by the publisher. 

Sep 18, 2011

Sunday Salon: The End of Summer

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I'v been enjoying the past few days' sunny but cooler weather and nights without air conditioners. The red maple in the back has turned from purple grey-green to a  rusty color, though it's not yet in its full fall foliage. The tomato vine is full of tomatoes of all sizes though it has stopped blossoming.  My exotic hot pepper plants have produced a few thick and elongated green peppers that I am waiting to pick. I think they need to turn from green to red to be ready for cooking.

The roses are cutting back on blooms, a few chrysanthemum plants are in bud, and the giant hibiscus plant is opening all  its final buds with energy and vigor before the cold really sets in. And I am getting ready for winter by putting away summer clothes and sheets and getting out the flannels.

Last week, I read a lot and posted a few reviews:

The Dog Who Knew Too Much, a mystery by Spencer Quinn
Death of the Mantis, a mystery by Michael Stanley
Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance; and The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman, crime fiction novels
Help! for Writers, a manual by Roy Peter Clark
Death on Tour, a mystery by Janice Hamrick

I am now reading, thanks to my random number generator, the 10th in my pile of books: Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegleman. Yes, I'm using an RNG to help me choose the next books to read! It has the authority to make me decide and settle on one book, otherwise I'd be still trying to make up my mind.

A lovely and surprise win in a book contest came from the author, Laura Joh Rowland,who sent The Ronin's Mistress, with a very nice handwritten note. I've read her books in the mystery series before. They are set in early 18thC Japan amd feature the Shogun's chief investigator, Sano Ichiro.

What have you been reading lately?

Sep 17, 2011

Book Review: Death on Tour, a Mystery by Janice Hamrick

Title: Death on Tour, a Mystery by Janice Hamrick
Publisher: Minotaur Books, April 26, 2011

I picked this up at the library because of the cover picture of the Sphinx and the pyramids in the background and not because of the figure of the Grim Reaper with his  scythe, although that let me know right off that the book was a mystery.

The book was a descriptive travel of Egypt for me, as I went on a tour with WorldPal, from the pyramids of Cairo, Giza, Abu Simel, Luxor, Karnak, the tombs of Tutankhamen, the Valley of the Kings, a cruise on the Nile. There is more travel information and overall descriptions of the pyramids than in Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile or even in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody Mystery Series set in Egypt.

While you armchair travel, there is a murder mystery that plays out. Two murders on the tour, to be exact, and two attempts on the heroine, Jocelyn's life. Jocelyn and her cousin Kyla unwittingly become involved in the murder mystery when one in their tour group has a suspicious and fatal fall after climbing up on a rocky outcrop. Some one else is killed later in a bazaar shop, and Jocelyn is attacked in a pyramid and on board their ship on the Nile. The title Death on Tour is an apt one.

Very well written and plotted, I recommend the book to cozy readers and anyone interested in a murder mystery tour of Egypt along the Nile, with some romance mixed in.

Death on Tour won the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition

Sep 15, 2011

Book Tour: Help! for Writers by Roy Peter Clark

This writer's manual is a good one for beginning writers and also for those who know about the writing process but who need a little nudging to get on their way.

Here's a taste of the book, tips on coping with writer's block ( from ch. 13):

Lower your standards at the beginning of the process. Raise them later.

Write for ten minutes as fast as you can - without stopping.

Tell the critical voice in your head to "shut up!"

If you are blocked in your usual writing place, try a new place.

The book takes you through seven steps of the writing process, (because writing is a process with a capital P). There are specific things you have to do at the beginning, the middle, and the end, such as finding a topic, getting focused, making a draft, and so on. The author lists the steps in the process, discussing them at length in eight sections: Get started/Get your act together/Find focus/Look for language/Build a draft/Assess you progress/Make it better

Each section is divided further into chapters and subsections that give tips for each step in the writing process. There are 210 writing tips in all.

I was particularly interested in writer's block and procrastination, in the section on Building a Draft. I like the down to earth, almost common sense approach to the subject. "Create a reliable, comfortable place to write." And, " Impose a deadline on yourself." Simple, but we all need reminders.

I found this a good manual to show writers the many things they can do to start, move forward, and get their writing done, and redone! It's easy to follow, and would you believe's also fun to read!

Title: Help for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces
Author: Roy Peter Clark
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2011), Hardcover, 304 pages
Objective rating: 4/5

An Advanced Readers Copy of this book was provided by Anna Balasi of Little, Brown and Company for this book tour. My rating was not influenced by my receiving a complimentary copy for review.

Book Reviews: Betrayal of Trust; and The Most Dangerous Thing

Two detectives are called in when a snuff film is found on a young man's cell phone. The young man happens to be the step grandson of the Governor of Washingston State. The boy denies knowing anything about the film which shows the strangulation of a young girl, or who sent it to him. Detectives J.P. Beaumont and his partner and wife, Detective Mel Soames, are assigned to the case.

The story is about high school adolescents unsupervised by adults and others betrayed by the adults they trust. The book points out the dangers adolescents sometimes face, not only from adults, but also from each other.

Title: Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 5th 2011 by William Morrow & Company
Objective rating: 4.5/5

A book with a similar overall theme is Laura's Lippman's The Most Dangerous Thing. Five adults were best friends growing up together. Now, Gordon, in his 40s, has died after crashing his car into a tree. Was it suicide or the result of drinking and speeding? The novel is written with flashbacks in every other chapter, to reveal what happened during their childhood and the consequences in adulthood. Slow to start off, the book nevertheless grabs you in the second half with its startling revelations about the adults and the children that they were.

Title: The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by William Morrow (first published August 23rd 2011)
Objective rating: 4/5

These two books were sent to me by the publisher. My reviews and ratings are in no way influenced by my receiving complimentary copies.

Sep 13, 2011

Book Review: Pao, a Novel by Kerry Young

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

As I watch the ship sail away I realise that I would never leave Jamaica. Never. I was committed to her, for good or bad, rich or poor, in sickness and in health. (ch. 7)

Title: Pao: A Novel by Kerry Young
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; July 5, 2011
Source: personal copy

Publisher's description of PAO: As a young boy, Pao comes to Jamaica in the wake of the Chinese Civil War and rises to become the Godfather of Kingston's bustling Chinatown. Pao needs to take care of some dirty business, but he is no Don Corleone. The rackets he runs are small-time, and the protection he provides necessary, given the minority status of the Chinese in Jamaica. Pao, in fact, is a sensitive guy in a wise guy role that doesn't quite fit. Often mystified by all that he must take care of, Pao invariably turns to Sun Tzu's Art of War. The juxtaposition of the weighty, aphoristic words of the ancient Chinese sage, with the tricky criminal and romantic predicaments Pao must negotiate builds the basis of the novel's great charm.

A tale of post-colonial Jamaica from a unique and politically potent perspective, Pao moves from the last days of British rule through periods of unrest at social and economic inequality, through tides of change that will bring about Rastafarianism and the Back to Africa Movement. Pao is an utterly beguiling, unforgettable novel of race, class and creed, love and ambition, and a country in the throes of tumultuous change.

About the author: Kerry Young was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Chinese-African mother and a Chinese father-a businessman in Kingston's shadow economy who provided inspiration for Pao. Young moved to England in 1965 at the age of ten. She earned her MA in creative writing at Nottingham Trent University. This is her first novel. Formore information about Kerry, visit

Guest reviewer, Kathi Harris, has this review about the novel, Pao.
The book PAO by Kerry Young brought to mind fond memories of life in Jamaica. It is PAO'S story, told by him in a Jamaican voice. It is also a historical novel. Though I grew up in Jamaica, this book taught me quite a bit about the Chinese in Jamaica.

Pao arrives in Jamaica from China in the mid 1940s, with his mom and brother, after the Chinese civil war in which his father dies. Zhang is Pao's father's friend who came to Jamaica some time ago. Zhang is Godfather in Jamaica's Chinatown, and provides to Pao and his family, a place to stay and his protection.

Pao starts out as a kid just helping his uncle in his business.The fact that some of this business is illegal puts him on a path that leads to his becoming the biggest and baddest crime figure in Jamaica's Chinatown - Mathews lane. While on this journey Pao fathers three children from his wife and his long-time mistress. He tries to be a good father. He was a good provider.

Pao isn't such a bad guy, even though he eventually takes Zhang's place as Godfather in Jamaica's Chinatown. He is a strong enforcer of the rules in this organized criminality - almost like the Italian mob. But he is still a compassionate and caring man to his friends, family and people who need his help.

Kathi Harris is the author of the novel Medusa The Beginning. A part of her book is also set in Jamaica.

Sep 12, 2011

Book Review: Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley

I enjoyed reading about the country of Botswana and the people of the Kalahari Desert, the Bushmen. I also found the main character, Detective Kubu, a person with an endearing personality who does his best as Assistant Superintendent of the police force while trying to please his wife, Joy, who prefers to have Kubu spend more time at home with her and their new baby.

When a park ranger, Monzo, is found killed in the desert with three Bushmen by his side, suspicion is immediately cast on the Bushmen, who are often discriminated against in Botswana. Detective Kubu makes no such assumptions, however, but pursues the case with care and detail. When another man is killed in the desert, a man from the nearby country of Namibia, Kubu has to travel there to further investigate, much to Joy's dismay. He also has to travel further into the Kalahari, where he almost dies from the heat and lack of water.

There is suspense and intrigue about the Bushmen, who call themselves the people of the Mantis, and about their sacred places in the desert. I found the book intriguing and would read the previous mysteries in the series.

Title: Death of the Mantis: A Detective Kubu Mystery by Michael Stanley
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Original edition, September 6, 2011
Source: review copy from the publisher
Rating: 4/5
My rating of this book is in no way influenced by my receiving a complimentary copy for review.

For more information on the authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, and for a list of other reviews, visit Death of the Mantis Book Tour held by TLC Book Tours.

Book Review: The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn

My first book in the Chet and Bernie Mystery series, and it won't be my last. I couldn't believe that Spencer Quinn could pull off having a dog tell the entire story, and do it so well. Chet is the dog partner in the Chet and Bernie private investigative duo. Bernie is his owner and boss, an ex-military man who isn't slowed down much by a slight limp.
"Chet. Are you listening, buddy?"
Of course I was listening. Didn't I always listen to Bernie? I made myself listen even harder, and right away heard distant footsteps, on some level above.(ch. 18)
In their newest case, the two are asked to find a boy missing in the mountains during summer camp. They discover the body of a camp leader, shot in the head in an old abandoned mine. When they pursue leads, both the dog and his PI partner are imprisoned. How Chet escapes and later helps Bernie to escape to solve the kidnapping and bring the perps to justice is good storytelling, dog style, of course. I also liked the humor in the novel.

Publisher's description: The fourth in the New York Times bestselling mystery series featuring canine narrator Chet and his human companion Bernie. Combining suspense and intrigue with a wonderfully humorous take on the link between man and beast.  Spencer Quinn lives on Cape Cod with his dog, Audrey. He is currently working on the next Chet and Bernie novel.

Title: The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn
Publisher: Atria Books, September 6, 2011
Rating: 4.5/5
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

© Harvee Lau 2011

Sep 11, 2011

Sunday Salon: The Dog Books of Summer

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My mother passed away last year. Today would have been her 97th birthday. I remember ten years ago that I forgot to call her to wish her a Happy Birthday. I'm sure she forgave me.

The past few days I've been enjoying the sunny days after last week's steady rain, doing some light gardening, picking Big Brother tomatoes from the one sprawling vine, deadheading roses, pulling up a few weeds here and there, and thinking of removing lilies from around the peony bush and replanting them around the skeleton of my now dead Shishigashera Japanese maple tree. I had planted the decorative maple in a shallow depression in the back yard, where it got too much water around the roots. It lasted over 10 years and had gotten as tall as six feet. I miss it, with it's curly leaves that made it look like a lion's mane. That's its common name - Lion Head's Maple. Maybe one day I'll get another.

Last week, I featured an historical thriller, The Devil Colony by James Rollins, reviewed three novels of suspense and a dog lover's mystery:
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
The Perfect Suspect by Margaret Coel
The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen and
Brute Strength: A Dog Lover's Mystery by Susan Conant.

At present I'm enjoying two more books on dogs -

The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn,
Nose Down, Eyes Up: A Novel by Merrill Markoe.
Following Atticus by Tom Ryan is next on the list.

All these dog books make me long for another dog! (We lost our wonderful and irreplaceable bichon frise Harvey in 2008.)

What have you been doing/reading during these last days of summer?

Sep 10, 2011

Book Review: Brute Strength, A Dog Lover's Mystery

As a dog lover, I enjoy this writer's mystery series about a dog trainer/writer and dog rescue volunteer for Alaskan malamutes.
 "Think of me as your matchmaker," I said. "Or your adoption social worker. Your advocate. I will do my best to find you the right dog. We're getting a young female from Maine, but I don't know much about her yet. She'll need to be evaluated and vetted. I have no idea how she is with other dogs. Or with cats. But I'll find out." (ch. 7)
Title: Brute Strength: A Dog Lover's Mystery by Susan Conant
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Severn House Publishers (August 1, 2011)
Rating: 5/5
Source: borrowed from the library

Comments: When I found out that Susan Conant had written another of her Dog Lover's Mysteries, I headed out to my local library post haste to get a copy of Brute Strength. I had been missing Holly Winters and her Alaskan malamutes, Rowdy, Kimi, and Sammy, who are featured in Conant's earlier books, and, dog lover that I am, was glad to meet them again in the author's nineteenth Dog Lover's Mystery. I was not disappointed. I learned more about dog adoptions, living with strong and independent dogs like malamutes, dog training and dog shows, and I also enjoyed a good mystery.

Synopsis: The main character Holly Winters is a dog trainer and dog writer/columnist in Cambridge Mass. who is actively involved in a malamute dog rescue group. She matches rescue dogs to potential owners to find a good match in personality, habits, proper environment, etc. Things begin to heat up when new neighbors move in next door, her stepmother wants help to train her bichon frise Molly to win her Canine Good Citizenship certificate, Holly has to screen applicants in order to find homes for rescue malamutes, and there are chores waiting to be done that she wants to do herself -  climb an extension ladder to paint the outside of her house and fix the drain pipes. Her husband Steve is all for hiring out the paint job, but Holly won't hear of it.

A young woman is killed in a car accident and another man suddenly dies of kidney/liver failure, nasty anonymous phone calls begin to come in to members of the rescue group, and dog owners around her are covetously eyeing Holly's beautifully groomed and trained show dogs.  When Holly's stepmother has a close call with death, Holly begins to put two and two together to find out if this was an accident or not.  Holly's life is in danger when she comes too close to the truth.

About the author: Susan Conant is a seven time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America's Maxwell Award. She has written 18 other mysteries featuring Holly Winter and her Alaskan malamutes.

Sep 9, 2011

Book Review: The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

Title: The Silent Girl: a Rizzo and Isles Novel
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition (July 5, 2011)
Source: Library book
Rating: 4.75/5

"Why would an immigrant on a cook's salary buy a Glock?"
"For protection maybe? Because he felt threatened?"
"You're the psychologist, Dr. Zucker. Don't you have an answer?" ( ch. 9)

Comments: I found The Silent Girl, my first Tess Gerritsen book, after scrolling through blogs and reading positive reviews of this suspense writer. The plot is complex and involves several families in and outside of Boston's Chinatown. I liked the pairing of detective Rizzoli with forensic pathologist, Maura Isles, in the series and using Chinese mythology and Chinese martial arts or wushu in the plot.

Publisher's description: In the murky shadows of an alley lies a female’s severed hand. On the tenement rooftop above is the corpse belonging to that hand, a red-haired woman dressed all in black, her head nearly severed. Two strands of silver hair—not human—cling to her body. They are Rizzoli’s only clues, but they’re enough for her and medical examiner Maura Isles to make the startling discovery: that this...had a chilling prequel.

Nineteen years earlier, a murder-suicide in a Chinatown restaurant left five people dead. But one woman connected to that massacre is still alive: a mysterious martial arts master who knows a secret she dares not tell, a secret....that may not even be human. Now she’s the target of someone, or something, deeply and relentlessly evil. Cracking a crime resonating with echoes of an ancient Chinese legend, Rizzoli and Isles must outwit an unseen enemy with...a swift, avenging blade.

About the author: Tess Gerritsen, a physician and author of several books of suspense, lives in Maine. She is the New York Times best selling author of Ice Cold.

Sep 8, 2011

Book Review: The Perfect Suspect by Margaret Coel

Title: The Perfect Suspect: A Catherine McLeod Mystery
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 6, 2011 by Berkley Publishing
Objective rating: 4.5/5

"Who are you?" she said. "I can't do anything unless I know your name."
"No names. I told you what I saw. You take it from here."
"Listen," Catherine began, but the line had gone dead. A hollow space had opened between her and whoever had been on the other end. (ch. 4)

Comments: An unusual plot that worked well for me. We know from the first page who shot David Mathews, the leading candidate in the Colorado governor race, and we find out it is his lover, a detective and therefore a very unlikely suspect. Detective Ryan Beckman finds herself in charge of solving the very crime she committed and works hard to cast suspicion on the perfect suspect - the victim's estranged wife. Reporter Catherine McLeod receives a frantic call from an unknown woman who says she saw the detective at the home of the victim after the fatal shots were fired. Catherine's and the woman's lives are in danger when Detective Ryan Beckman finds out that they are too close to the truth.

I also liked learning about newspaper policies regarding informants and their privacy and their care in printing facts rather than conjecture or details that can't be corroborated. I gave this 4.5/5 for suspense and plot.

Source: A copy of the novel was provided by the publisher. My rating was not influenced by my receiving a complimentary copy for review.

Sep 5, 2011

Book Review: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson - TLC Book Tour

Title: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
Publisher: Harper 2011
Genre: literary fiction, suspense
Source: ARC for review from TLC Book Tours
Objective rating: 4.75/5

About the book: There two stories intertwined, one from the past and one in the present, both set in Les Genevriers, a hamlet in  the hills of Provence, France. In the present is the love story of the young writer Eve and an older man, Dom, who come to live in Les Genevriers and gradually discover the secrets of the old house and the story of the people who used to live there.

One of the former occupants was a young blind girl, Marthe, who was known for her perceptive sense of smell and her knowledge of the plants and flowers that grow in the region. After becoming a famous creator of new perfumes in Paris and at the height of her success, Marthe suddenly disappears, never to be heard from again. We learn from the writings of her sister Benedicte, who stayed on at the house, what went on with the family during those early times.

But Eve and Dom have their own troubles in the present. Eve discovers that Dom has haunting secrets from his past that trouble him, which he is unwilling to share with her. Between dealing with the ghosts from the past, including a mysterious glowing lantern that appears during the night on the path to the house, and those of the present, Eve finds herself trying to assess her safety and the reality of her life at Les Genevriers.

Comments: I had heard that the writer of The Lantern had based her story on Daphne du Maurier's classic novel, Rebecca, which I had read more than once plus seen the black and white film several times. I began reading The Lantern with a bit of trepidation, dreading a meeting with the equivalent of Mrs. Danvers, the villain in Rebecca, whom I didn't want to meet again in another book.

Imagine my pleasant surprise, no Mrs. Danvers, though there is at least one very frightening character from the past and some hinted at in the present. Lawrenson's book does not follow Rebecca too closely, as I had imagined it might, and the plot is a new one, all its own, except for a few resemblances of Dom to Maxim in Rebecca, and the innocent character of Maxim's young wife to The Lantern's main character, Eve.

The novel is beautifully written and the plot is original and suspenseful. Lawrenson has written a novel of mystery as well as a romance. Her writing is full of poetic and lyrical descriptions of Provence and the countryside. That in itself is worth reading the book for, but add the mystery of Marthe from the past and Eve's love story in the present, and that gives two more reasons for liking the novel.

For more information about the author, visit her website and her blog.
For other reviews of the book on the TLC tour, see The Lantern reviews.

Source: An ARC of the novel was provided by the publisher for TLC Book Tours. My rating and review of the book are objective and not influenced by my receiving a free copy for review.

© Harvee Lau 2011

Sep 3, 2011

Opening Sentences: The Devil Colony: A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins

Opening sentences in a novel can set the tone and help readers decide whether they would like the book. Here are the opening sentences for The Devil Colony.
Opening sentences, page 1:

Autumn 1779 Kentucky Territory

"The skull of the monster slowly revealed itself.
A shard of yellowed tusk poked through the dark soil.
Two muddied men knelt in the dirt on either side of the excavated hole. One of them was Billy Preston's  father; the other, his uncle. Billy stood over them, nervously chewing a knuckle. At twelve, he had begged to be included on this trip. In the past, he'd always been left behind in Philadelphia with his mother and his baby sister, Nell.
Pride spiked through him even to be standing here.
But at the moment it was accompanied by a twinge of fear."

Title: The Devil Colony: A Sigma Force Novel
Author: James Rollins
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (June 21, 2011)
Genre: thriller, historical mystery

Source: This book was sent to me by the publisher for possible review.

Sep 1, 2011

Book Review: The Egyptian by Layton Green

Title: The Egyptian: A Suspense/Thriller
Author: Layton Green
Format: Kindle Edition, Amazon Digital Services
Publisher: First Ward (August 21, 2011)
Source: E-book provided by the author for review
Comments: The story involves the discovery of a formula for extending life and one man, the Egyptian, who wants to use this formula to extend control over the whole world. The novel is a mixture of science fiction and the occult. Though I am not a fan of this genre, finding it hard to "suspend belief," I think the suspense and the thrill of the hunt and the chase is worth it for those who enjoy books with a good thriller plot.

Product description:  At a mausoleum in Cairo's most notorious cemetery, a mercenary receives a package containing a silver test tube suspended in hydraulic stasis. An investigative reporter tracking rogue biomedical companies is terrified by the appearance of a mummified man outside her Manhattan apartment. A Bulgarian scientist who dabbles in the occult makes a startling discovery in his underground laboratory.

These seemingly separate events collide when Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, private investigators of cults, are hired by the CEO of an Egyptian biomedical firm to locate stolen research integral to the company's new life extension product. However, after witnessing the slaughter of a team of scientists by the remnants of a dangerous cult, Grey and Viktor turn from pursuers to pursued. From the corridors of visionary laboratories to ... Eastern Europe to a lost oasis in the Sahara, Grey and Viktor must sift through science and myth to uncover the truth behind the Egyptian and his sinister biotech - before that truth kills them.

 About the Author: Layton is also the Kindle bestselling author of the suspense novel The Summoner (first in the Dominic Grey series of stand-alone novels), as well as the mystery novella Hemingway's Ghost. Please visit him at

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