Monday, April 12, 2010

"Hell Gate" by Linda Fairstein -- legal thriller set in NYC

There are two things I really appreciate about the Alex Cooper series of books. First, each book highlights a feature of New York history and/or architecture. I lived in New York for several years and enjoy reading about buildings I know and buildings I never had the opportunity to visit. And with so many images available on the Internet, I can look up the things Ms. Fairstein describes in the books. This book features historic mansions, especially Gracie Mansion. The publishers included a map of Manhattan that noted several of the buildings discussed in the book which was very helpful. I hope they do that for future books as well. From glancing at other reviews of the book, I think my fondness for the history and historical places in New York may be a minority view.  Also, it's a picky thing but the water tower pictured in the cover art is not the one described in the book. If you spend so much time talking about New York landmarks and the cover art features something that seems like it is one of the sites in the book, it would seem logical to actually use a photo of the landmark that is part of the plot.

The second thing is a legal thriller with a female protagonist. These books re definitely in the thriller category (rather than being courtroom dramas) because little of the book is spent in court. Alex goes out investigating with Mercer and Chapman and gets into the thick of things and often ends up in danger. Mercer and Chapman still treat Alex a little bit protectively but in this book she isn't relegated to damsel in distress, which I also appreciate.

The plot involves human trafficking and women brought to this country with promises of good jobs but forced into prostitution. That can be tough stuff to read, but most of the cases in this series can be a little tough as Alex Cooper is head of the sex crimes division. This wasn't my favorite book of the series, and it probably is weaker than the earlier books in the series, but I definitely enjoyed it. There were plenty of suspects to consider and I didn't guess the ending ahead of time.

Although I enjoy the New York history, I think it would be good if the next books returned more to the courtroom or at least more to the crime than the setting.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!!!

"The Bone Thief" by Jefferson Bass

This book is partly a continuation of "Bones of Betrayal: A Body Farm Novel"; two fairly personal side stories to the main mystery in this book are directly related to the events in the earlier book. If you haven't read that book you should read it before reading this book, not because you need to have read "Bones of Betrayal" to understand this book but because reading this one will spoil the ending of the other one.

The main story in this book starts with what should be a routine exhumation, but the body is missing its arms and legs. The resulting investigation brings the FBI to Dr. Brockton with a request that he go undercover to help them get evidence against suppliers of black market body parts by appearing willing to sell bodies donated to the Body Farm for personal profit. The interesting aspect of this book is that it is not about Brockton solving a murder by studying the remains but instead about crimes involving the bodies. And Brockton's undercover work shows a different side to his personality. And there is thought-provoking information about the business of medical research and transplants. I thought the book was very enjoyable.

I also read the Kathy Reichs "Bones" book series and think if you enjoy that series, you will also enjoy this series. Brockton is a much different character than Temperance Brennan but they have the same professional background. And Brockton is the fictional counterpart of one of the authors -- the founder of the University of Tennessee's Body Farm.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program for purposes of writing a review.

"Shoot to Thrill" by P.J. Tracy. The latest Monkeewrench book!

I had been waiting for this book for more than a year (OK, to be honest, I'd been waiting for it as soon as I finished "Snow Blind", which I read as soon as it came out because this is one of my favorite mystery series). Sometimes that much waiting can build expectations too high so I worried I'd be disappointed. I really liked this book but it isn't my favorite of the series, probably because a couple of my favorite characters didn't get as much "page time" in this book as they have in my favorites (which are "Monkeewrench" (the first book in the series) and "Dead Run" (Monkeewrench, No 3)). But even so, it was fun to read and a good addition to a series I love. I recommend it.

If you are new to the Monkeewrench series, you definitely should read "Monkeewrench" first. This story does stand on its own but you will miss a lot of the character background if you haven't read at least the first of the books. In particular, you will not fully understand Grace and why she is so fearful/careful. The authors give brief information on what has happened in the past but you don't get the full flavor of it. Plus, Monkeewrench is such a fun book, you really want to read it. I haven't yet mentioned the second book in the series, "Live Bait." It's another good one but it isn't necessary to read before the current book.

The book starts with a couple of murders. And then the FBI brings in a bunch of computer hackers to help them track down people who are posting homemade snuff films online. And of course if serious computer geeks are involved, the Monkeewrench crew has to be part of the action. The Monkeewrench group agrees to write some programs to help the FBI so Special Agent Smith moves into Harley Davidson's Summit Avenue Mansion and the rest of the crew stays there as well so they can work around the clock. Not too much later, Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth and various other members of the Minneapolis Police Department join the investigation.

A careful reader will figure out who is behind the murders before the characters in the book do, but that didn't spoil the fun for me. My only criticism (other than that Annie wasn't in the book enough) comes from one of the reasons I love the series so much: Minnesota geography. I love these books because they are mostly set in the Twin Cities where I live. The authors took some liberty with a couple of things that distracted me enough to pull my attention from what was happening in the story. It's a minor thing but it did bug me enough so that I will mention it to them when I get my book signed later this month. (And I'll ask them to give Annie a bigger part in their next book as well!)

The very end of the book was unexpected and it will be interesting to see how that affects future books in the series. (No spoilers from me; you'll have to read it yourself.)

Bottom line: This isn't meant to be great literature but it is well written and very enjoyable. I love the series so I think people should read all the books.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program for purposes of writing a review.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"How to Dazzle a Duke" by Claudia Dain

I have not read any of Claudia Dain’s other romance but after reading this one, I am going to find and read the earlier books in the series.

This is a historical romance with a slightly different twist. Penelope has a much more 21st century sensibility than one might expect in a young lady of the period. She knows what she wants in a husband ( a duke or the heir apparent to a duke) and sets out a plan to get what she wants. In particular, Penelope wants to marry the Duke of Edenham. To achieve her goal, Penelope requests assistance from Lady Dalby who has managed several marriages in the current social season.

Not content to let Lady Dalby handle matters, Penelope charges ahead with her own plans to get Edenham to notice her. Part of those plans involve the Marquis of Iveston. Penelope has no interest in Iveston beyond her plans and Iveston’s interest in Penelope is based on her being the only young woman to not chase after him. After Lady Dalby and Penelope set their own plans in motion, things happen quickly and no one knows if Penelope will end up with Edenham or Iveston.

For me the romance happened too quickly to feel much connection with the characters. I would have preferred the action to have taken place over a longer period of time. But it was an enjoyable read and I intend to read other of the author’s novels. Readers who don’t care for a lot of graphic sex scenes will like this books. There are several “heavy petting” type scenes but the couple doesn’t have sex until after they have decided to marry and even then it is “off camera” rather than played out in detail in the book.

I got this book from the library.

"The Cinderella Deal" by Jennifer Crusie

This book is a reprint of a long out-of-print romance from 1996. The reprint is good news for fans of Jennifer Crusie because the original was hard to find and used copies were selling for a premium. It is also interesting to see how the author's style has changed over the years.

The introduction indicates that she wanted to write a romance that was less about the humor and more about the emotions. Personally, the humor is what I like best about Crusie's books so I wasn't sure whether I would like this earlier novel as much. Crusie fans will be happy to know that even though this book concentrates more on emotions, there is not a lack of humor; it is just more subtle than in other of her books.

Daisy is an artist who (rather foolishly one might think given the present economy) quit her teaching job to paint full time but has not sold enough of her work to support herself. As the story opens, she has burned through her savings and is behind on her rent and in a financial pinch. In addition, she is not happy with either her life or her art. Daisy tells stories and wants to write herself a new one. Daisy's neighbor Linc has career success within grasp. All he needs to secure the job of his dreams is a pretend fiancée so he makes a deal with Daisy.

Daisy and Linc are wildly different in personal style but have a serious case of the hots for each other that they each assume is not reciprocated. Daisy is stereotypical artist, with a love of color, mismatched antique furniture and bohemian clothing. Linc loves black and chrome and track lighting. The plot gives the romance the chance to develop over a realistic period of time. And in contrast to the kind of romance where the couple has sex early and later fall in love, Crusie builds the sexual tension slowly along with the romance.

It isn't my favorite romance of all time (and not even my favorite Crusie romance), but I thought it was delightful.

I got this book from the library.  Support your local library!