Archive for March 2013

Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson


Merry Christmas, Alex Cross is the nineteenth installment in James Patterson's Alex Cross Series. Initially, I was hesitant to dive into this novel. Despite having read all of the previous books, and enjoying most of them, giving Alex Cross a Christmas story seemed to be stretching things a bit thin. The Alex Cross series is one of the few projects that Patterson has maintained sole writing credit on, so I decided to trust that he would continue to deliver the quality that has remained in tact throughout the series.

The novel opens on Christmas Eve, as Alex is enjoying the holiday festivities with his family, after a mostly normal day. In this opening, we reconnect with Alex's children, wife, grandmother, and newly adopted daughter who readers of the previous novel will remember. As always, Patterson writes these family scenes with an honesty that is undeniable. Perhaps this is why Alex continues to be one of my favorite Patterson characters.

Of course, all of this peace and goodwill doesn't last. Soon, Alex is called to intervene on a hostage situation. A disgraced lawyer has taken his young children, ex-wife and her new husband, and a senator's wife hostage in his former home. Alex learns that the man, who suffers from severe drug addiction, is seeking revenge on the people he blames for his downward spiral, his family. As the hours progress, Alex tries to use his expertise and personal experiences to convince the man to free his family before he destroys Christmas for both his and Alex's families.

Across town, more trouble is brewing as a known terrorist is spotted in Union Station. The FBI has tried to keep tabs on her, but is genuinely surprised at her resurfacing. Alex was the lead the profiling on the initial investigation on her, and is called by the FBI to discover her motives before she takes action. As he attempts to unravel the details of her plans, he uncovers a terrorist mission that threatens the security and well being of the entire nation.

After a disappointing effort in the previous novel, Kill Alex Cross, I was happy to see Patterson return to top form with what is certainly the best Alex Cross novel in years. As with most of my favorite Patterson novels, this story finds the perfect balance between fast paced action and relatable character development. More than any of his previous novels, Patterson delves into the psyche and motivations of the villains and reveals deeper connections between them and his hero, Alex Cross. More so, Alex begins to question his years of risking his life and family for the well-being of others. This kind of tragic outlook juxtaposed against the cheery backdrop of the holiday season makes Merry Christmas, Alex Cross an undeniable hit.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 13, book 11)

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins


In Wolfhound Century, author Peter Higgins imagines a fantastic, totalitarian state, inhabited by grim characters. In other words, Higgins has crafted his vision of 1940's Russia. The story mainly follows investigator Vissarion Lom, as he attempts to capture a terrorist. Intrigue is instantly put on display as Lom is ordered to report directly to the head of the Secret Police. Despite the image of power and order that the state projects, Lom discovers the state to be full of power struggles and battles between the state police and radical revolutionaries.

Adding to all of this is a muddied attempt by the author to impart elements of fantasy and Russian folklore to this otherwise straight-forward crime thriller. When I first read of the crime leader dealing with a possession of the mind reminiscent of something out of an exorcism film, I immediately felt disconnected from the story. While I believe that Higgins does a commendable job at building his vision of Russia, there comes a point when too many details become cumbersome and distract from the story.

I'm convinced that within the many names of places, people, and muddied descriptions of Russian myth, there is a good story. Despite never really getting into a strong flow, I couldn't help but continue reading to the next chapter (short chapters probably helped with this issue). The story itself is fairly convincing, and all of the plot lines come to a satisfying point. Unfortunately, the narrative just stops, which I'm assuming means a sequel to this novel is in the works. For my tastes, however, I just can't get over the style of Higgin's writing to justify reading a future installment.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 13, book 10)

Congratulations to Andrea Corley for winning an ARC of this novel!

The Pope's Last Crusade by Peter Eisner

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The year was 1938. Hitler was in complete power, leading Nazi Germany on a campaign through Europe, to spread his views. In the Vatican, Pope Pius XI, who was slowly declining into failing health, sought the assistance of an American Jesuit Priest, John LaFarge. LaFarge was a scholar, whose expertise on racial injustices perfectly fit into the Church's views on the situation. His goal was to publicly denounce the Nazism and anti-Semitism that he feared would destroy the teachings of the church. Coming from the Pope, the highest leader of the Catholic Church, this condemnation of Hitler could potentially impact the views of other world leaders, and in turn, World War II itself.

Of course, this process was easier said than done. Pius XI found himself in the midst of an Italian government that seemed to be, whether out of fear or agreement, embracing Hitler's Germany. They even invited the leader to visit their country. Pius XI would have nothing to do with the fanfare of Hitler's arrival. Instead, he retreated to a private Vatican estate, outside of the city, in a quiet protest. Met by resistance from even members of his own church who would rather keep peace with Hitler than provoke him with a damning proclamation, Pius XI stuck to his guns, to denounce what he knew was wrong.

I've always been fascinated by the many pieces to the giant puzzle that is World War II. This time in our history seems to show the best and worst aspects of our world, and I think there are many things to be learned. I was unfamiliar with the story of Pope Pius XI, but with all of the recent  actions taking place in the Vatican, it seemed like a good time to delve deeper into the church's history. I was immediately drawn to Pius's unassuming, humble ways. He really comes off as a kind of quiet force. This book gives interesting insights into the mysterious protocols and inevitable politics of the Vatican. Despite its rather brief length, the book is detailed, suspenseful account of this Pope's history making actions.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 12, book 9)

Angel's Gate by p.g. sturges


I honestly had no idea what to expect as I began reading Angel's Gate by author p.g. sturges. Described as a kind of tongue-in-cheek, noir novel, I was initially attracted by the thought of a good mystery. Set in Los Angeles, the novel follows the story of shortcut man Dick Henry. A former cop, Henry now goes around town, "getting things done" for the illustrious characters who occupy Hollywood. We first gain a glimpse into his work when he retrieves a client's money from a fraudulent lawyer. After getting the money (and urinating in the fraudulent lawyer's ficus tree), Henry reveals himself to be a man with good intentions, even if his methods are unconventional.

The first few chapters are a bit confusing as each one introduces different characters and points of view. Fortunately, the setup is made clearer as each character develops into unique individuals. Without giving too much of the plot away, the novel basically follows Henry as he is thrust into a large conspiracy, lead by the womanizing head of a large movie studio. When one of the studio executives "stars" is brutally beaten and sexually abused, Henry is called in to help clean up the mess. All parties involved, including a disgruntled producer, violent director, former Nazi doctor, and a women who's job is to take care of all the studio head's women, struggle to keep the incident a secret, for fear of losing their jobs and plush Hollywood lifestyle that they have grown accustomed to.

I although it took a little while to get going, I ended up being totally engrossed in this novel. sturges writes with a confidence and lightness that really lends itself well to this kind of noir story. This novel definitely has some graphic scenes, but all are presented in a light-hearted way that never glorifies the violence. The strong characters, multiple intersecting plots, and sturges's sharp wit, all culminate into an entertaining and surprisingly satisfying read.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon and GoodReads.

(2013: week 11, book 8)

Congratulations to Piggythekitty2010!

Black Irish by Stephan Talty


The sanctity of a local Buffalo, NY church is forever compromised when the maimed corpse of Jimmy Ryan is discovered in the basement. Tied to a chair, eyelids cut off as if he were made to look at something, the sight of Ryan's body sends a shock through the town. Author Stephan Talty describes the southern part of Buffalo, the County,  as having a "small-town feeling". Its best days behind it, the County is a place where news travels fast and nothing stays secret for long.

Enter Absolam "Abbie" Kearny. Despite growing up in the County, she has always been a kind of outsider. Adopted at a young age by John Kearny, a local police legend, she has now returned to follow in her father's infamous footsteps. Tasked with the Ryan case, she is quickly met with resistance from the local townspeople and police.

The County is mostly made up of Irish immigrants. As Abbie digs deeper into the murder, connections, both historical and personal, begin to reveal themselves. As further murders occur, Abbie struggles to stay ahead of the killer. The Buffalo police run an investigation parallel to hers, and Abbie soon finds herself a suspect in the case. As the tension rises Abbie is forced to question her sanity and family history, all culminating in a shocking twist that is sure to leave readers riveted.

With his debut work of fiction, Stephan Talty instantly places himself among the great modern thriller authors such as Dennis Lehane and Tana French. Like Lehane and French, Talty manages to maintain exceptional characters, setting and suspense without ever sacrificing the integrity of his writing. This novel could have easily become a standard thriller, but Talty daftly takes his time to build each character, allowing the suspense to stay at a constant boil. In Abbie, Talty has imagined a believable protagonist, whose flaws and vulnerability allows readers to connect with her emotions and desire to succeed. I was hooked on this novel from beginning to end. Fascinated by the serial killer who tells, "his autobiography through corpses", I was shocked at the final turn that the events took. This exceptional novel has everything thriller fans have come to expect and gives them more than they could ever have hoped for.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 10, book 7)

Conratulations Emi Pearce on being randomly selected as the winner of this contest!

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