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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

INFERNO by Dan Brown



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INFERNO continues Brown’s tightly plotted, though rather incredulous, tales.  The intrepid Robert Langdon is in Florence suffering from a head wound and amnesia. His foil is the intelligent and beautiful Sienna.  Together they must save the world.
Brown’s characters are fairly wooden and never quite become knowable.  His digressions to tell us about the history or architecture of the places the unfolding plot takes Robert and Sienna are interesting and generally accurate.  It is not necessary to know anything about Dante’s Divine Comedy as we are told all that is needful to follow the plot. 
Those who enjoy a convoluted and constantly changing plot line will enjoy this romp through Florence, Venice and Istanbul chasing a flawed master mind out to destroy the world. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by J K Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith



Rowling has written an engaging and tightly plotted mystery.  The characters are well delineated and clearly drawn.  I was especially impressed by how “true” the characters remained to themselves as the plot thickened (when I thought this was a debut novel). The situations with the paparazzi were interesting in retrospect as I wondered how much her own experience with the press and fans influenced her depiction of them.
We learn enough about Rowling’s damaged detective, Cormoran Strike, to like him and want to know more in succeeding installments of this obvious first in a series.  His backstory with military service, marriage/divorce and law enforcement “friends” offer opportunity for additional story/plot nuggets for the future. His Girl Friday, Robin Ellacott, is intelligent and a worthy foil to Strike, although the boyfriend/fiancĂ© is unknowable and likely to quickly disappear from the scene.
I liked that both entirely likeable and entirely unlikeable characters played a part in the plotting. There are several clear candidates for the villain and plenty of red herrings along the way.  The ending is always in doubt until the final chapters.  It is testament to Rowling’s ability that Lula, who is already dead when she first appears in the tale, emerges in totality even without the benefit of including “back flashes” as the book proceeds.
I hope that Rowling continues writing mysteries with Cormoran and Robin in many future novels.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot




It seems silly to go over the “plot” of this biography of Mrs. Lacks again, so I will just say that this non-fiction work details how Mrs. Lacks and her family were lied to, misled, ill informed, taken advantage of and used by the medical community after her cancerous cells were found to be able to multiply indefinitely.  Without compensating, or even acknowledging, the person from whom the cells were obtained, her cells were first given away, then sold, in order to advance medical knowledge.
The book is exceptionally well written, reading at times like a medical thriller.  But at others, it serves as an introduction to medical/scientific ethics and experimentation.  Skloot writes clearly enough so that even those who failed high school biology will get the gist of the medical experience of the Lacks family.  Author Skloot becomes a major player in the book when she engages Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, as  friend, mentor and ally.  The author’s involvement in the story and with the central players may become a topic for book groups to discuss.  How “disinterested” a writer can an author be when they are so intimately involved in their investigation that they become a part of the story.  Would the book have been a bestseller if Skloot was not a part of the story?  Could it even have been written?
Book groups will find the ethics of the various medical teams to be incredulous in the face of today’s laws concerning medical privacy.  Groups may want to investigate the case of John Moore, a “modern” lapse of medical ethics, mentioned briefly in the book. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

LOYALTY by Ingrid Thoft



LOYALTY  by Ingrid Thoft

LOYALTY will have your heart pounding right along with “Fina”, the female and only non-lawyer member of the Ludlow family. Fina is a private investigator trying very hard to remain loyal to her family while solving the murder of one of her sisters-in-law and striving to stay alive herself.  Occasional clichĂ©s notwithstanding LOYALTY is a well written, well plotted, heavy action mystery that will keep you guessing until the final pages.  The Ludlows are a family of shady lawyers – ambulance chasers and defenders of disreputable characters -- with some redeeming qualities and a coterie of assorted friends, cops and “helpers.”  Fina is the answer to their need for a PI, a hard working, hard living, hard loving female who is intensely loyal to her family even if her brother is the prime suspect. Each character is well defined although you may need a list to keep them all straight at the beginning of this engaging and thrilling tale.  By tale’s end you will be hoping Fina and her family appear in many sequels.   

THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS by Chris Bohjalian



THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS   by Chris Bohjalian

Follow Elizabeth, a proper Bostonian who is nursing at Syria’s Aleppo Hospital, and Armen, an Armenian engineer who fights with the British army in the Dardenelles, through 1915. The horror of the deportation of women and children into the Syrian desert after the massacre of the older boys and men in Armenia is explicit. 
Nevart, an adult woman, and the child, Hatoun, who have both somehow survived the desert, offer a clear picture of the “poor starving Armenians” my grandparents spoke of when encouraging me to clean my plate. You will learn a great deal about the “slaughter you know next to nothing about” through the eyes of those who survived it and in the context of an engrossing tale that covers death, sorrow, despair, cruelty, charity, kindness, hope and love with a dash of mystery.
The intertwining story of the Armenian family in 2010 Boston is peripheral, yet vital to the plot. Well written, with interesting and clearly drawn characters, this very believable story is true to history as well.  Book groups will love Elizabeth, root for Nevart and Hatoun, despair with Armen and be surprised by the end.

CITY OF WOMEN by David Gillham



CITY OF WOMEN    by David R Gillham

I started this book with great hope for a fascinating read. Kirkus and the New York Times promised a tale of love and intrigue.  By the 100th page I was bored and didn’t like any of the characters. Sigrid seemed especially shallow. The plot hadn’t appeared yet and I quit reading. Sorry.