Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Family Business by Carl Weber *****

The Family Businessby Carl Weber is not family story. As promised there is a family. LC Duncan is the patriarch of Duncan Motors, one of the biggest dealers in the New York area. The matriarch is Charlotte (aka Chippy). Joining them are their six children. Junior is the strong silent one, preferring to take care of the cars than get involved with the business. Orlando is the chosen successor to LC, since everyone's choice, Vegas, is off somewhere else. Then there is London, with her cute daughter Mariah, and her Ivy League lawyer husband Harris, who seems strangely out of place in this family business. Finally the youngest, the twins, Miss Paris and Mr Rio, who would both prefer partying and chasing guys.

Let me repeat that caveat again:  this is not a family story. Aside from the violence (low double-digit body count), there is a lot of male-author sex, explicit and lengthy. Regardless, this is fast paced story of deception and intrigue, with plenty of action and plot twists.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver *****

Writing a great novel is an act of love. Author Barbara Kingsolver and I love Dellarobia Turnbow, self-described as
A girl who got knocked up in high school and scurried under the first roof that looked like it might shed water.
Much in Flight Behavior focuses on life changing events like this. Or when Dr Ovid Byron told Dellarobia's kindergarten son Preston that he was a scientist, or when when Dellarobia discovered the monarchs wintering in the Blue Ridge Mountains behind her house instead of where they belonged in Mexico, or even when her mother-in-law Hester, and eventually her husband Cubby, stood up the the patriarch Bear. However, lest you think this is an ordinary story by an ordinary author, these events might not have been as powerful as they first appeared, or they might have been even more. Nothing is that black and white as Kingsolver delivers the story with loving details of the characters and the place.

Dellarobia grew up dreaming of leaving her small town, where the shops were out of business, and even the library closed. But she was trapped on a failing farm with not enough money to feed or clothe her children, serious Preston and the wild toddler Cordelia, much less plan any escape. All this changed when Dr Bryon came to study the monarchs and like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, Dellarobia slowly metamorphosed.
She'd stood before a crowd of fifty people and told them to bark up the correct tree. To command this kind of attention was a lifetime first for Dellarobia. Her normal audience was two, with the combined age of six, to what end she could never be sure.
Dellarobia matures while the monarchs struggle to survive in their new environment. This is a novel of climate change, as well as people change. While Dellarobia comes alive within the pages of this book, climate change still seems buried in polemic and preaching. Though the author knows her science, or maybe because the author knows her science, this is not the book to learn about science, but rather a book to learn about a much older subject: Love.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker *****

Julia is entering middle school and the earth's rotation is slowing down. This is the tension in The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. Is Julia's coming of age and maturing sexuality more important than the slowing of the earth and the ecological disasters that ensue? How will Julia balance her crush on Seth Moreno with the deterioration of the Van Allen Belt.

And for the reader ... is this a Science Fiction book about the possibilities of natural disasters and the limits of scientific knowledge, or a YA coming-of-age story of a girl's first bra and first kiss. Is this a book with something for everyone, or a allegorical mess.

The first answer is yes! This is a delightful novel that brilliantly balances yin and yang, right brain and left brain, emotions and logic. But in the end, Walker does not deliver on the promise of science or age. The book ultimately succumbs to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: everything just runs down.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams *****

The easy answer is that The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, one the great living writers of fantasy (and science fiction), about Bobby Dollar, an angel assigned to advocate for souls going to Heaven, against the Opposition recruiting for Hell, is Urban Fantasy. But Williams is not that easy to categorize, and I'd argue Bobby himself almost had it figured out when the Countess of Cold Hands pinned him against the wall and demanded,
Wake up Bobby! This isn't a detective novel.
It IS a detective novel. Bobby Dollar is the new Kinsey Millhone of Sue Grafton's 'alphabet series' (e.g. A is for Alibi through V is for Vengeance) fame.

The superficial evidence?  Kinsey lives in Santa Teresa, a fictionalized town in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, while Bobby, needing an "urban" setting, lives farther north in San Judas, a fictionalized town in the vicinity of Sunnyvale. Kinsey tends to go for murders, while in Bobby's debut, he is looking for lost souls ... literally lost souls ... people have died and no one in Heaven or Hell can find their souls.

But the similarities run deeper, both detectives are low key, irreverent, cool ... though the action is serious the tone is not ... closer to Terry Pratchett than Tami Hoag. Also, they both are clever in dialogue and thought. Here is a sampling of Bobby Dollar's bons mots.
Altogether, the affair had more loose end than Swinger's Night in a bucket of worms.
I felt like a garage full for car alarms right after a major earthquake.
What are you planning to do, open a Museum of Crap someday?
Urban Fiction or Detective Fantasy, this is a wonderfully imaginative story with fortunately more already planned for the near future.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Unfaithful Queen by Carolly Erickson *****

I've never been able to keep the House of Tudor straight, but since reading The Unfaithful Queen by Carolly Erickson, I won't forget Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, and cousin to Anne Boleyn (Henry's second wife) and Elizabeth I.

The author warns,
The Unfaithful Queen is a historical entertainment, in which the authentic past and imaginative invention intertwine.
However, the main story line agrees substantially with Wikipedia. It is in the details of the everyday relationships and the inner thoughts of the innocent Catherine Howard that this often told tale comes to life into a novel that is both engaging and readable.

Historical fiction for fans of the Tudors and those who could care less.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shunning Sarah by Julie Kramer *****

Are you getting bored of James Patterson et al? Here is a new writer with similar pacing, but less macho violence and a fresh voice. Shunning Sarah by Julie Kramer is the 5th in the series about Riley Spartz, TV Reporter in Minneapolis. In addition to solving the mystery of murder of a local Amish young woman, Riley also deals with small town politics, sexual harassment, commercial fraud, boyfriends, pets and parents.

There are enough subplots and plot twists for the hardest-core thriller-mystery fans, including the new News Director - the one with a degree in Business instead of Journalism, and the Old Order Amish who feel the TV is the Devil's tongue. 

This single-sitting page-turner has the added bonus, that dead vehicles count exceeds the dead body count.