30.6.13

BLEEDING HEARTS, by Ian Rankin

Assassin-for-hire Michael Weston must find out who breached the secrecy of his latest hit and alerted the London police, who arrived only moments after Weston had pulled the trigger. With an unpleasant, self-promoting American private detective dedicated to finding and killing Weston hot on  their heels, Weston and his freshly-murdered gun supplier’s daughter Belinda Harrison must find out why he was set up, and by whom. As always, Rankin delivers a tight, action-filled plot with some really interesting twists. Amazingly, he makes this cold-blooded killer almost likeable. A 4.

29.6.13

A DEAD MAN IN TRIESTE, by Michael Pearce

Pearce, author of the Cairo-based Mamur Zapt series, introduces Seymour, the London-based inspector sent, by default, to Trieste to locate a vanished diplomat. The time is 1910, and the city, at the top of the Adriatic, is a mere bomb’s toss from Bosnia, Serbia, and a hornet’s nest of squabbling statelets from which will soon come World War One. As always, the characters are lively and interesting, the humor sly and gentle, the plot complex: anarchists, artists, secret police, the pomp of a crumbling, uniform-ridden empire, aspirations political and personal. No serious violence, no obscenities, Seymour’s love life treated with discretion…a very pleasant read with a lot of quirky characters. A 4. Sex not even on the charts.

28.6.13

THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED, by Elizabeth Berg

Subtitled “and other small acts of liberation”, this collection of short stories and essays is a delightful introduction to the author’s subtle, gentle, but emotionally forthright, style. This is not a beach read, but a late at night with a cup of hot chocolate kind of read. Truth, humor, and a well-tuned eye for the ridiculous pickles human can get into, the foods we eat (the title story is worth the entire book), and the loves we lost and can’t quite find again. A marvelous jewel box of little gems. A 5, maybe for the novelty of reading essays.

27.6.13

THE SHIFTING TIDE, EXECUTION DOCK, ACCEPTABLE LOSS, by Anne Perry

This trilogy-inside-a-series is Perry at her very best, with plenty of action, most based on a wealth of social ills that beset industrializing England in the Victoria era, and (happily, for me) not too much of the interior social dilemma dialogue at which the author is so adept. In the first, economic necessity forces William Monk to take a case on the river, unfamiliar territory. Hester, his wife, is busy with her clinic for street women in Portpool Lane, and is surprised to see Monk’s client bring a woman in for treatment. She is, he claims, a friend’s discarded mistress. While Hester deals with the unlikeable woman, Monk must find his way around the waterfront with the help of a mudlark (orphans who scavenge the fetid river mud) named Scuff. The plot takes a sudden and horrifying turn which Monk and Hester must solve. Execution Dock focuses on the booming Victorian trade in pornography and the ugly world of pedophiles. Acceptable Loss uncovers the mastermind behind the pornography/pedophile ring, destroys a long-standing friendship and perhaps a new marriage, and things return to normal…or do they? All are 4’s.

26.6.13

PAINTER OF BATTLES, by Arturo Perez-Reverte

This very dark and extremely dense story of a former war photographer, Antonio Faulques, who is visited by the subject of one of his first prize-winning photos, is no way to introduce yourself to the entrancing body of work of this internationally acclaimed Spanish novelist. His characters are always beautifully and subtly drawn, he draws out the development flawlessly, his action scenes are mesmerizing. Wish I liked this particular book more; I couldn't slog through it to the end. But for an unsparing view of life photographing the worst man can do, which is what the author photographed for many years, this is your book.

25.6.13

HOUSE RULES, HOUSE SECRETS, HOUSE JUSTICE, by Mike Lawson

Senate Investigator just-your-average-guy Joe DeMarco doesn’t quite fit the slick detective found in a lot of the political-thriller genre. Author Lawson keeps the plot tight and the action swift, first with DeMarcoexposing a scheming politico, then neutralizing a psychotic lawmaker, and then maybe finding Ms Right as he pursues a psychopathic Mafioso and a lot of political manipulators (or is that last an oxymoron?). Everyone who should dies satisfactorily, and our hero gets the girl…or does he? They’re a 4.

ONLY TO DECEIVE, by Tasha Alexander

The intrepid Lady Emily has lost her wealthy, globe-trotting husband of mere months before she even got a chance to know him. Dead of a hunting accident in Africa, Emily must get to know her groom by his letters, memories of his friends, and his library. In short order, she discovers her rather tepid husband adored her, called her Kallista, and had eager plans for a long and happy marriage with lots of children. Supported in her bewildered bereavement by Colin Hargreaves, one of her husband's best friends, Emily finds new purpose as she pores over his letters and belongings. Gradually, she comes to believe that her husband's death is not what it seems, and is determined to go to Africa and see for herself. Hargreaves urges her to move on with her life; but why does he do this? And in Africa, Emily may have found she's placed her faith in the wrong people. Part of an intriguing series, these books are a great vacation pick. It's a fabulous 4.

24.6.13

BITING THE MOON, by Martha Grimes

Grimes is one of my favorite British police procedural authors; her series starring Richard Jury and the folks at Long Piddleton are priceless. This tale, Biting the Moon, is about a coyote-rescuing teenaged girl on her own in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, and her friendship with a well-to-do orphan in nearby Santa Fe. It’s impossible to fault the author’s storytelling skills, but the storyline itself felt completely unconvincing, the flawless planning of improbable feats by the teenaged heroine a little far-fetched, and the novel itself more a vehicle for a cruelty-to-all-animals rant. It’s a 3, mostly because I too deplore animal cruely (and Grimes really lays it on).

23.6.13

THE LAST JUDGEMENT, by Iain Pears

?/series. Another excellent Jonathan Argyll/Flavia di Stefano art mystery, this one set in Rome and Paris and London, involving the theft of a relatively worthless painting and the murder of its momentary owner. Art dealer and once-in-a-while sleuth Argyll must dig into the painful past, the Nazi occupation of France, to find the killer. Flavia di Stefano, tireless in her pursuit of art thieves, ties it all up. As always, all Pears’ characters are complex (as is the plot), with the human foibles and interactions that make for a rich tale. As well, Pears' art knowledge, casually dropped in (so you don't feel like a total dolt) is first-rate, as befits an art historian. A 4; a super series for those not devoted to endless brinksmanship in their plotting, or a hero who never sets a foot wrong.

22.6.13

THE LAST CHILD, by John Hart

Another grim and gripping story by the master of  the “contemporary Southern bleak” genre, this one about the twisted, crumbling lives of the survivors of abducted twelve year-old Alyssa Merrimon. Johnny, her fraternal twin, is only one of several obsessed with finding her, including his mother and a strung-out cop. Hart is in that group of writers who won’t insert a single smile in his novels; be prepared to be exhausted and, at the end of the complicated tale, for a horrific surprise. It’s a well-worth-reading 4.

21.6.13

TIGER HILLS, by Sarita Mandanna

It's so good to find and enjoy a family saga that doesn't take place in the courts of Europe or the upper echelons of some country or other. Coorg, a state in northern India, is the setting for this epic generational story of love betrayed and unfulfilled, of tragedies that seemingly come out of nowhere but have very deep roots, of terrible brutality, immoral weaknesses, of stubborn hate and gentleness. A lovely young girl, Devi, cosseted and adored, falls in love with a man. But another loves her just as much. And there's a tiger and a coffee plantation. Now, here's a dilemma: do I tell you any more and ruin all the plots and sub-plots, the twists and turns? No! You'll get the full and tantalizing flavor of this complex country and culture from this engrossing, well-written story...it's a big book, a big tale, you'll enjoy every minute of it, and it is a 9.

20.6.13

IRON HOUSE, by John Hart

You can’t beat Hart for a tough, often cruel, tale packed with really nasty characters and settings ranging from elegant Taras to squatter hovels: elements of the perfect Southern novel. What makes a Southern novel? Beats me, but Hart’s debut book, The King of Lies – much praised by Pat Conroy as an example of the genre – was, to me, a turgid affair that would’ve made a great short story but drawn out to a novel was hard to get through. This one - Hart’s fourth novel - however, is another beast entirely. Michael, a New York mob enforcer, wants out; his dying boss says yes, the boss’s son and his psychotic sidekick Johnny say no way. It’s war, sucking in Michael’s pregnant girlfriend, a prominent senator and his lovely wife, and Michael’s long-lost brother. But the cast of weird characters is only beginning, and the action and tension ratchet up almost exponentially. You'll stay up late to finish this! It’s a 4, a really good, rough, tough, read.

19.6.13

COLD COMPANY, by Sue Henry

9/series. I usually find that a Michener-style opening is, more often than not, boring. Twenty or more pages just to set the scene? Yikes! Not so with Henry’s first chapter, a perfect word portrait of Alaska’s wilderness near Wasilla (this series pre-dates you-know-who). As a scene-setter, it’s outstanding. Alaskans love the outdoors in every season, and famed “musher” (dog team racer, which turns out is a year-round occupation) Jessie Arnold is enjoying the brief, beautiful summer when a skeleton is unearthed while digging the foundation for her new cabin. Other, newer, bodies begin to turn up, as do single red roses delivered to her Winnebago. This is book nine in a series, but it’s what I first scooped off the stacks, and now I’ve got to go back and read all of them. Great fun, good plotting, lovely evocations of Alaska; perfect beach read. It’s a 4.

DANGEROUS TO KNOW, by Tasha Alexander

This accomplished author continues with the story of Lady Emily which began in And Only to Deceive. Set in 1892 in Normandy at her new mother-in-law's estate, Lady Emily - recovering from injuries sustained while on honeymoon (and sleuthing) in Constantinople (read Tears of Pearl) - stumbles across a dead woman, terribly mutilated. Emily is urged by her disapproving mother-in-law to be a proper lady, and by her adoring husband, Colin Hargreaves, to stay out of danger. But will she?

18.6.13

DJIBOUTI, by Elmore Leonard

The master and creator of the modern genre in which he writes, this convoluted tale follows film documentary genius Dara Barr and her 72 year old cameraman Xavier LeBo, a 6’6” hottie, as they film Somali pirates at work and play in their own sun-blasted back yard. Enter Billy Wynn, Texas millionaire with a curious fixation on a liquefied gas tanker sitting under pirate control just offshore, and his long-suffering girlfriend Helene. Nobody does stone cold killer bettr than Leonard. As always, tiny subtle details can slip by you, and the tension builds up so slowly you don't know you're gasping for breath until you almost pass out. To be truthful, I’ve read far better Leonard, but it’s still great. It’s a 4.

17.6.13

IODINE, by Haven Kimmel

Getting into this compelling psychological novel without reading the cover notes could leave you floundering; it certainly did me. Trace Pennington, lavender-eyed, brilliant, troubled, zooms through her college psych courses at the speed of light; she could teach them if she wanted. She lives in a remote, deserted farmhouse with her dog Weeds. She avoids all contact. Then she falls in love, the ultimate contact sport. Then questions begin. Is she really Trace Pennington? Is she sane? Is she really in love? Is the dog real? Despite the endless (no doubt brilliant) Jungian and Freudian analysis, this journey sprinkled with subtle clues and witty insights will grab you. It’s a 4. Perfect for a book group.

16.6.13

THE BEDLAM DETECTIVE, by Stephen Gallagher

This prolific author writes this time of 1912 England and Sebastian Becker, Master of Lunacy, an investigator for the Crown, as he sets about to discover if a wealthy nobleman who claims to see monsters is sane. As Becker arrives at a seaside town to begin his evaluation, two girls disappear and are found dead and disfigured. Valuable evidence is compromised, a competent policeman is demoted. Is it politics? Is this a repeat of a similar crime a decade before? Is the nobleman responsible? A complex and interesting plot with many strands, all of them believable. It’s a 4. www.stephengallagher.com will awe you with Gallagher's, novelist and screenwriter, many talents.

15.6.13

MOVE TO STRIKE, by Perri O’Shaughnessy

6/series. A pair of sisters write this best-selling legal series about Lake Tahoe-based attorney Nina Reilly and her teenaged son who asks her to defend a troubled young friend. The independent and often aggressive girl, Nikki Zack, has, as they say, a "history", and when her uncle turns up murdered, she's the go-to suspect. Meanwhile, Nina's taking on the establishment, mourning the loss of her (murdered) husband, trying to keep track of her wayward son, and fighting off stirrings for a long-absent significant other. Little violence, sex or profanity, but plenty of keep-you-up-at-night plot twists, a nice romance with oodles of undertones, and not too much legalese. Despite a weird denouement, it’s all mostly plausible, and you’ll love the perky holistic weed woman. As one of the writers is an attorney, I guess the court shenanigans actually happen, and that’s the scariest part of the entire book. It’s a 4, a great weekend read. A big zero on the sex scale, I think. But this legal who-dun-it ain't about sex. www.perio.com

14.6.13

LONG, LEAN AND LETHAL, by Heather Graham

Graham is the bestselling author of Tall, Dark and Deadly. With titles like this you know what to expect. This romance  (explicit sex) is part of a trilogy with the background a daytime soap opera called Valentine Valley. Predictable in many places, but still entertaining, Graham has done her homework on the medical conditions she uses in her tale, and the necessary fireworks and disagreements aren’t those infuriating idiotic misunderstandings so common in this genre. It’s a 5 for devoted romantic-readers, maybe a 3+ for the un-devoted. For sex, pretty close to a 5, so keep the kids away.

13.6.13

THE VILLA OF MYSTERIES, by David Hewson

2/series. Another weird murder starring Rome-based Italian detective Nic Costa and the totally entertaining pathologist “Crazy” Teresa Lupo. A distraught tourist claims her lovely teenaged daughter has been kidnapped in broad daylight. A pair of truly ugly Americans, "souvenir" hunting, dig up the corpse of another teenager, which at first they think is an ancient Roman sacrifice. A mostly-retired Mafia capo comes to life. Is there a connection? A great deal of violence but not gratuitous (although a couple of the scenes, while believable, are for me a bit over the top). You'll feel as if you've spent a month in the Eternal City when you've enjoyed this; Hewson really knows his way around Rome. It’s a 4. www.davidhewson.com

12.6.13

A SEASON FOR THE DEAD, by David Hewson

1/series. Italian police detective Nic Costa  searches in Rome’s oven-like August heat  for a deranged but clever killer as the next victim, beautiful Sarah Farnese, hides out with Costa’s terminally-ill father in their suburban Rome farmhouse. The grisly martyrdom-based murders leave mangled bodies in Rome’s churches as shadowy Vatican figures dodge involvement... is this the source of the atrocities? Why was Sarah Farnese chosen? Who’s the mastermind? Costa and his silent, lumbering sidekick Luca Rossi, and pathologist-without-peer “Crazy Teresa” Lupo, seem to be too late each time. Hewson knows his Rome like you know your own home; it’s like a travelogue, but a very entertaining one. Great weekend read. It’s a 4, and a compelling series. www.davidhewson.com

11.6.13

LESSONS OF DESIRE, by Madeline Hunter

Ah, romance, and romance novels, and their provocative titles. This historical romance, set in Italy and in London, is a continuation of Hunter’s other best-seller, Rules of Seduction. But it stands alone fairly well. Bluestocking Phaedra Blair, daughter of the notorious free-love advocate Artemis Blair, first sees Lord Elliot Rothwell from her prison window (her lodging, where she is unjustly held). It’s mild antipathy with a frisson of sensual desire at first sight. As the plot thickens, so does the conflict. Plenty of authentic detail, plus the growing attraction between the two sparkling protagonists will keep you glued to the pages. Hunter builds to a nice climax (pardon the pun) in the story, and the rocky road to understanding is worth the voyage. It’s a 4. For sex, it's a discrete 1+. 

OUTLIERS, by Malcom Gladwell

Award-winning author has written a book that could change the fortunes of your family, especially your children. I have, for quite a while, known that children who are brought up in homes with books (even a half-dozen books) do better in school. If you do better in school, generally speaking you do better in life. Few parents don't want their kids to have better lives. But how does a parent work towards the goal of successful children? Aren't the daily chores of surviving, keeping up, getting ahead taking all a parents' time? Gladwell's book, which explains the phenomenon of birth dates (very important if you're going to be a sports star), ten-thousand hour expertise, the rice cultivation work ethic, and KIPP, also explains why Bill Gates got to where he did. No, it wasn't all Bill Gates, he was the right boy in the right place and he had a lot of unique opportunities. If you do one thing for your family, for your kids and your grand-kids, read this book. It's a 5+ and should be required reading for every new mother ("Sorry, honey, you can't give birth until you read this book...")

10.6.13

I CAN SEE YOU, by Karen Rose

 Award-winning romantic suspense author Rose weaves a very complex plot here, starring Eve Wilson – still scarred both physically and mentally from a vicious assault – and police homicide detective Noah Webster, who has his own devils to defeat. Eve, a doctoral candidate, discovers that subjects in a blind study for her dissertation are being murdered. Why? And how is the killer finding these women? As Noah investigates the bizarre killings, and Eve delves into the very strange world of cyber-fantasy, the tension skyrockets. The trail is intricate but Rose will keep you on the edge of your seat. A great read, it’s a 4.

THE HUMMINGBIRD WIZARD, by Meredith Blevins

This enchanting book is full of marvelous moments, all set in idiosyncratic prose. Imagine this: you get a love note, and here's some of what it says: I am greedy for you in all ways. I want to eat your moans, lick your sighs. I'm greedy for you in ways that can't be explained in words... There's more but I feel like I missed life just reading the damn thing. This whole story of love and murder and dealing with the mysteries of people is filled with star-spangled moments you'll re-read just to enjoy them. Annie, widow of Stevan Szabo who drove his motorcycle off a cliff in a moment of misplaced exuberance, looses close friend Jerry who was divorced from circus star Capri, who is daughter of gypsy mystic and card-reader Mina Szabo who is involved with Zoltan and Pinky and drives a lot of late-model cars even though she (Mina, remember?) has no driver's license. Was Jerry's death in an alley near a dumpster really murder? Who is the boy who threw up on Annie at her wedding reception? What is horrible Bill, Jerry's law partner, up to? This, if only for the pleasure of reading Blevins' fabulous writing, is a 5+. But the plot's good, too.

HELLO OUT THERE!

I juse finished reading the statistics on readership and am thrilled to find hits from Germany, New Zealand (only one; tell your friends!), China, and a lot of other places. I am not only pleased by mystified. What brings you, from the other side of the globe, to this web site? For New Zealand, it could be the couple of writers who lives in your neck of the woods: Kerry Greenwood, for one. But...Germany? Tell me what you read, maybe you'll put me on to a new author. Same for China, Thailand, the Netherlands and Britain. Welcome to Nuts4Books, and thanks for checking in.

9.6.13

NO STONE UNTURNED, by Steve Jackson

Can't-put-it-down non-fiction for murder mystery enthusiasts. The riveting, grim, inspiring, saddening tale of The Pig People, the founders of NecroSearch International, the Colorado-based ├╝ber forensic team that has cracked cold murder cases around the world (although not the Romanov mystery: too much politics). Not for the highly squeamish, this is nonetheless a fascinating story of dedication by a gifted team of scientists and police, and pages of details of many of their searches. Non-fiction should always be this compelling. It’s a 4.

8.6.13

BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE, by Juliet Grey

More than just a fictional take on a compelling historical figure. Meticulously researched, containing an extravagant wealth of detail, this delightful book chronicles the first eighteen years of the ill-fated queen’s life, from pampered and indulged Austrian archduchess to Queen of France. Much of it is told in first person, and the impish qualities of the indulged young princess, thrust at age fourteen into the frivolous and dissolute (and let's nt forrget treacherous) French court, is mesmerizing. If you like solidly-based historical biography in a fiction form, this is the book for you. The first of a trilogy, the second book will be released  in summer 2012. It’s a 4+; book groups might enjoy this.

6.6.13

BLEEDOUT, by Joan Brady

A fabulous 5+! If only other writers would read Brady and follow her examples: subtle actions; dialogue that fits each character like a well-worn but polished pair of shoes; believable and meticulously researched characters and situations; a plot that unwinds and unwinds and then unwinds some more until you're almost panting...this woman is good. Brady's depictions of prison life will horrify you, particularly solitary confinement and medication practices. Her descriptions of blindness will do likewise, and the story itself - of a man imprisoned for life for crimes he may not have committed - will keep you hooked until the very last page, and talking about it for days after. Rough, tough, compelling. A5! A5!! A 5+!!!

COOK THIS, NOT THAT!, by David Zinczenko & Matt Goulding

This month's cookbook review is literally what the doctor ordered. The authors have the chops to make this book worthy of your respect: both are Men's  Health editors (Zinczenko is editor-in chief, Goulding food and nutrition), and both wrote the six best-sellers in this series, for which thousands of skinnier Americans thank them. This handy-sized soft cover has a year's worth of recipes to help you lose weight, eat better, lower your cholesterol, and avoid the horrors of modern American fast food. Example: page 42 offers scrambled eggs at 320 calories and 540 mg sodium for a cost of $1.43. Or you can go to Denny's for a Heartland Scramble: 1150 calories, 2800 mg of sodium, for $8.49. A no-brainer, right? Or page 128: Grilled Chicken Sandwich for $2.64 and only 400 calories (Outback's version is 696 calories and a whopping 1323 mg sodium!). Recipes are clear, concise, and delicious, and all of them are things you want to eat...especially the Banana Rum Splits on page 324 (350 calories vs. Baskin-Robbins' 1010!) In most cases, you'll halve your caloric intake, and drop costs by 60%. There's also an Eat This, Not That! book for kids. A solid 5+.

5.6.13

SEASHELLS, GATOR BONES, AND THE CHURCH OF EVERLASTING LIABILITY, by Susan Adger

This newly-published book, a delightful compilation of fictional memoirs from the 1930's residents of Toad Springs, Florida, will keep you laughing from first page to last. Between Sorry May Only's reminiscences to Pastor Buck Blander's avoidance of his purple past, you'll find it hard to put this one down. Enjoy Flavey Stoutamire's Reptile Ranch with the world's only gator, name of Precious, having a profile of Jesus on its flank.
Note: Susan Adger is a good friend of mine, by the way. We're in the same writing critique groups. Download it if you wish, or buy the hard copy. Better yet, buy some as gifts; they'll be adored by the recipients. It's a marvelous, fun-filled 5, and not because I know Susan.

FOBBIT, by David Abrams

Author Abrams - think of Abrams tank - has written a razor-edged, comic but not funny, from-the-inside tale of life at the U.S. Army's Forward Base Triumph in recently-liberated Baghdad. Largely told from the view of the career functionaries in the spin - also known as Public Relations - department, whose time on deployment is lived in comparative comfort contrasted with the outside-the-wire lives of the soldiers who actually fire their guns. Meet Lt. Col. Eustace Harkleroad, whose nervous tic is his inevitable nosebleeds when faced with making any decision. Or his assistant, Sgt. Chance Gooding Jr. whose fragile hold on bravery may crack any day. And then there's the uber-incompetent Capt. Abe Shrinkle, whose goofs go from mild to catastrophic. Abrams is a been-there-done-that kind of author, and the authenticty rings from every page. A 4+. Could be a good book for a group.

1.6.13

AUTHENTIC CUBAN CUISINE, by Martha Abreu Cortina

Okay, all you adventurous chefs, here's a very accessible book on a rich and varied cuisine that'll have you cooking a la Cubana in no time. With the explosive growth of latino ingredients in most grocery stores, this engaging book will get you conversant with those strange, sometimes hairy, tubers in no time. If you try nothing else, page 53 shows you Caldo Gallego, a soup you'll cook all winter and take to those cold-weather pot lucks. Or page 187, Yucca Roots with Mojo...you're going to love this book. A 5.

THE HOLMES INHERITANCE, by Brian Freemantle

1/series. Sherlock Holmes fans will find this series of great interest, not least because author Freemantle is such a devoted researcher that he brings absolute authenticity to these books. The Holmes Inheritance is the first of the series, and stars the great detective's long-unacknowledged son Sebastian. This young man is a chip off the old block; the author shows the inevitable clash between over-achieving father and ambitious young son. Sebastian goes to America on behalf of his uncle Mycroft Holmes and Mycroft's boss Winston Churchill (who is portrayed in a slightly different, less genuflecting, light). Daddy doesn't approve. The plot thickens. Sex rears its lovely head. Sebastian falls for a femme fatale of legendary proportions. This series is, particularly for those who enjoy the Holmes mystique, a real find. As always, author Freemantle delivers the goods. The subsequent story - The Holmes Factor - takes our young hero to St Petersburg, Russia for some pre-meltdown intrigue and upper-class hanky panky. This is a 4.