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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