Archive for May 2012

Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson

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James Patterson seems to be one of the most polarizing authors working today. While he is one of the best selling authors of all time, most of his novels are met with lukewarm responses. It has been argued that because of his prolific output, the quality of the novels suffers. I agree that many of the standalone novels that Patterson writes, often with a co-author, are not very good, but he has always seemed to take a certain pride in his Alex Cross series. Because I have read all of the other novels in this series, there was no way I would miss the latest.

The novel begins with the kidnapping of the U.S. President's children. The junior high school where they were last seen is locked down, and Alex Cross, who just happens to be in the area, stops by to lend a hand. Alex has had experience with high profile kidnappings in the past (read Along Came a Spider) and after the first lady personally contacts him to get her kids back, Alex is officially put on the case.

At the same time, a Saudi Arabian terror cell is infiltrating the country. Nicknamed "The Family", the cell sends out teams of married couples to come into the country and wreak havoc. When they release a deadly poison into the Washington D.C. water supply, Alex also becomes burdened with facing a national security crisis. Even more, he believes this terrorist organization could be responsible for the kidnapping of the President's kids.

I have mixed feelings about this latest Alex Cross novel. Despite the title, I never really felt that Alex was in any danger of losing his life. Both the kidnapping and terrorist stories run separate from each other for most of the novel, making the book feel extremely disjointed. The redeeming factor, as in most of the other novels in this series, is the emotional depth shown in Alex's interaction with his family. Patterson understands that readers are connected to the character and his family, and uses relatable domestic life to entice us. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel feels like just another thriller with an ending that doesn't really satisfy. I know Patterson still has some great stories left to tell, but this novel was pretty middle of the road for me.

For more information visit the author's website,
www.jamespatterson.com, Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/review/R7UC6W82RYQRO/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
and http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11179955-kill-alex-cross.

(week 22, book 24)

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

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In The Lifeboat, author Charlotte Rogan explores the actions of a group of people who are forced to survive on a small lifeboat and the repercussions of this event. The premise seems simple enough, but in the dexterous hands of Rogan, the story takes on a larger life that invites readers to join in on this fascinating journey.

The year is 1914, and newly wed Grace is traveling with her husband, Henry, across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the luxurious ocean liner, The Empress Alexandra. After a sudden explosion, the passengers frantically evacuate the sinking ship, doing whatever it takes to secure a spot in a lifeboat. As Lifeboat 14 begins its descent into the ocean, it stops just long enough for Henry to put Grace and seaman John Hardie onto the boat. Hardie, who clearly has the most experience with all things nautical, takes lead of the small boat, navigating through the debris, and coldly passing other passengers who struggle to stay afloat in the sea. Hardie is the only one aboard the lifeboat who understands that the small vessel is already overcrowded and to take in even one more passenger would be suicide.

As the days pass, the passengers all follow the lead of Hardie, who has assigned tasks for each of the evacuees. They all seem to believe that despite their misfortune, help will arrive soon. After several days, the solitude of the sea begins to take its toll on the passengers. Hunger and thirst muddy their minds, a looming storm threatens to sink their boat, and different opinions threaten to tear apart the unified effort of the passengers.

The novel is told from the point of view of Grace who is writing a journal of her time on the lifeboat. We learn, through many flashbacks, that Grace is currently on trial for murder. As the novel progresses, we gain further insights into the events that took place on the boat, and are forced to face the question of how far a person should go to further their survival.

Being the debut novel from Rogan, I was very impressed with the strength and clarity of her story telling. The suspense of both the struggle to survive in the ocean and to clear her name in a murder trial kept the pages turning and my attention fully held. Rogan descriptions offer subtle glimpses into human nature and the desire to live. Despite the fantastic build up, I felt a bit let down by the ending. It seemed as if these philosophical ideas about survival were leading to some kind of revelation. Instead we get a resolution to the plot with no emotional punch. That being said, I think this novel is worth the read for that build up alone. Perhaps the lack of a real answer to the questions that come up, in this situation, perfectly captures the reality of the event. Either way, this novel forced me to conjure ideas about life, death, and the will to survive.

For more information, visit the author's website,
http://charlotterogan.com,
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12888599-the-lifeboat, and Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/review/RIX76M7RSLIO5/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0316185906&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=.

(week 21, book 23)

Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

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There is really only one rule that all criminals must follow: Don't Get Caught!. In the latest Dexter novel by author Jeff Lindsay, Dexter finds himself in this exact situation.

For those who are not familiar with the novels or the hit television show based off of the characters, Dexter Morgan seems like a normal guy. He has a solid job working as a blood splatter analyst at the Miami Police Department. He has a wife, Rita, a new born baby girl, two step kids, and a sister, Deborah, who is his only living blood relative and who happens to be a detective at the Miami P.D. While Dexter seems like the perfect example of a suburban father, he harbors a dark secret. Dexter is a serial killer. He feeds this habit by only killing those who "deserve their punishment."

The novel opens as Dexter is "punishing" a pedophile in a vacant home. Everything seems to be going as planned until he hears someone enter the home. He rushes to make sure he isn't seen, but he is too late. He sees the person leaving, shadowed by the night, and is left to worry that he has been seen. On top of this, someone is killing cops in Miami. Dexter is summoned by his sister to assist in the gruesome murder investigation, which adds to his stress of family life and trying to discover the person who witnessed his crime. When that person beats him to the punch, contacting Dexter through a blog and threatening to expose his secrets, Dexter becomes engulfed in a race to put a stop to this unknown witness before his entire facade of a life comes crashing down.

The Dexter series has certainly gotten better with age. Jeff Lindsay writes with an assured voice that has grown into a unique style that can only be related to this series. The introspective narratives by the main character perfectly capture the twisted, sometimes sarcastic qualities of Dexter. I particularly appreciate the way Lindsay keeps the novels in their own world. This allows the universe of the novels and the television show to coexist without one seemingly copying the other. While this is by no means a "great" work of fiction, it is certainly an entertaining way to spend an afternoon. Six novels into the series and six seasons into the show, I am definitely hooked!


For more information, visit theauthor/publisher website 

(week 20, book 22)


The Inquisitor's Key by Jefferson Bass

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It is no secret that the ancient Catholic Church saw years of corrupt leaders, cover-ups and conspiracies. For modern mystery and thriller authors, this storied past has provided inspiration for countless gripping tales. In The Inquisitor's Key, the latest installment in the Body Farm series by duo author Jefferson Bass, the past of the church mixes with present day themes to form a unique take on the modern thriller.

Dr. Bill Brockton is no stranger to death. He works at the Body Farm, a Tennessee based institution devoted to the study of the human anatomy, and serves as a consultant on murder cases, providing his expert analyses of human remains. As he comes to the latest crime scene, where the burned remains of a presumed drug runner lie, he can't help but miss the companionship of his usual assistant/student Miranda Lovelady, who is assisting with an excavation in Avignon, France. As he begins to study the charred remains, he notices that gas is still leaking. With barely enough time to react, the building is enveloped in flames, and Brockton narrowly escapes the same death as the poor soul he was meant to be examining. It is all but apparent that whoever created this crime scene intends for Brockton to be his next victim.

On top of this, Brockton is summoned by Miranda to come to France to assist with the excavation. When he arrives to the site, The Palace of Popes, he is faced with an extremely puzzling case. The bones that have been discovered in a subterranean chamber contain wounds that resemble those depicted in the story of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Despite being skeptical of this, evidence points that the age of the bones are from the same time period as the life of Christ. When a composite reconstruction from the skull eerily matches the shadowy face engrained in the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial cloth of Christ, Brockton and Miranda become caught in an international war for the ownership of the remains.

Although the sub-genre of "religious thrillers" has grown in recent years (thanks in large part to the best-selling DaVinci Code), few novels have managed to come up with a truly original story. The Inquisitor's Key finds the perfect balance between historical fact, intriguing speculation, and compelling characters. Altogether, these elements make a highly entertaining, original thriller. Even in the historical flashbacks, the authors managed to maintain the quick pace and accessible language of the "present day" sections, avoiding the pitfalls that many "historical fiction" authors find themselves in. The relationship between Brockton and Miranda comes off as completely genuine, and even the less important characters are written with enough sincerity to keep them from becoming one-dimensional. Overall, I found this novel impossible to put down and enjoyed the story to the very end. Although this was my first encounter with the Body Farm series, I was immediately drawn to the characters and their story. I highly recommend this novel to all fans of mysteries, thrillers, and historically speculative fiction.

For more information visit the author's website,
http://www.jeffersonbass.com/, Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/review/R14KBP7CSXJDUT/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=006180679X&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=
and http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11769020-the-inquisitor-s-key.

(week 19, book 21)

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

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Gender equality has always been an important issue. Even with today's increased opportunities, the fact remains that women are not always afforded the same chances that men receive. This longstanding struggle was even more common in the 16th century, where author Regina O'Melveny sets her debut novel.

Dr. Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in Venice. While most women live more common lives, she has been afforded the chance to study medicine with her father, who is a well-respected doctor in is own right. Even though the guild of medicine is comprised entirely of men, her father has always done everything possible to ensure that his daughter becomes the best doctor she can be. When her father leaves the home to research maladies and cures to be published in his massive medical resource, The Book of Diseases, he leaves Gabriella to continue the family's medical practice. 

Years later, Gabriella is still home, facing mounting disapproval from the medical guild, while her father continues his mysterious journey, sending letters that leave minimal clues to his activities or whereabouts. When, one day, she receives a letter from her father stating that he plans to continue his research with no intentions of ever returning home, Gabriella, despite her mother's warnings, sets out to find her father and convince him to return. 

I have mixed feelings about this novel. Certain aspects worked extremely well. O'Melveny paints an accurate portrait of a young woman's struggle to reach her true potential. Set in the late 1500's the medical details, historical contexts, and character interactions are all fantastic. At times, however, I felt that the language of the novel got in the way of an otherwise intriguing story. The sections meant to portray the entries in the ongoing Book of Diseases seemed to be inserted in the middle of the plot, making the story a bit choppy. Overall, I think fans of historical fiction, mysteries and strong female lead characters will really enjoy this novel. Despite its setbacks, the story is strong enough to make this worth the read. 

For more information visit the publisher's website

(week 18, book 20)


A Look Ahead (May)

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It is hard to believe that May is already here. In the five months since I began the Book A Week Challenge, I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, comments, and general interest in this site.

May marks the beginning of an exciting season for book lovers. Most of the publishers have released new catalogs, and the summer is stacking up to be a great season for readers. As the month continues, I look forward to reviewing a variety of novels. This month I will post reviews to some new installments in series mysteries (Jefferson Bass's new Body Farm novel, Jeff Lindsay's latest Dexter book), smaller publisher novels (Eliza Factor's The Mercury Fountain), and a few other surprises. With the reviews, I will also post a few new giveaways.

 My favorite part about blogging is the interaction with different readers. As always, feel free to comment on reviews, enter giveaways, offer book recommendations, or just say hello. You can also stay connected to this blog by following me on Twitter. Simply click the link in the right hand column to follow. I look forward to the many books waiting to be read and to hearing from you. As summer approaches, I wish you all good fortune and happy reading!

-Ethan

(19 books of 52 completed)

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