Friday, March 7, 2014
Four-time Tony nominated actor Raul Esparza gave astounding performances on Broadway, and he does the same with this explosive thriller by Patrick Lee.
Compared to the best books by Tom Clancy and Robin Cook his latest tale, Runner, propels Lee to the A-list of mystery writers. There’s non-stop action as a very unlikely pair - Rachel, a 12-year-old girl, and Sam Dryden, a highly skilled former Delta Ranger - run not only for their lives but to find out what the men pursuing them are trying to hide.
Sam had been taking a midnight jog on a California beach when he found Rachel, a terribly frightened girl who was running from armed men who quite obviously intended to kill her. But why?
Rachel has no idea who the pursuers are or why they would want to harm her. All she knows is that she had been held captive and finally managed to escape. She does have a skill - the ability to read minds.
After suffering the loss of his wife and child Sam feels compassion for the girl and vows to do whatever is necessary to save her. Considering their enemies that’s an enormous task - one man and a girl versus many.
Lee skillfully adds technology and medical science to this already compelling thriller. Suspense heightens with each word as Esparza takes us on a perilous journey with roadblocks at every turn.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
“Good” is far too timid a word to describe this book yet it is accurate in that what we would describe as being “good” is so evident in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. There is love, friendship, respect, trust, beauty, observance of tradition, and all are leavened with generous dashes of humor. After all, who but Alexander McCall Smith would describe a heavyset woman having trouble getting out of a van as being “accustomed to occasional issues of manoeuvrability?” He has a delightful way with words which is uniquely his own and always brings smiles.
Smith immediately won the hearts of countless readers when he introduced Mma Precious Ramotswe and her founding of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency with the initial book in this series. Life goes on with The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, and what a joy it is to return to Botswana! With this revisit we are reminded that one certainty in life is change even in one of the earth’s most beautiful places.
Mma Ramotswe finds herself confronted with two confounding cases. One concerns the legal inheritor of an impressive farm - is the young man really who he is presented as being? The second concerns a new beauty shop owner who has become the object of so much slander that she may lose her recently opened shop. As Mma Ramotswe ponders these questions she realizes how very much she misses her shoe-loving assistant Mma Makutsi who is now the proud mother of a beautiful baby boy, Itumelang Clovis Radiphuti. (The middle name Clovis honors Clovis Andersen, author of The Principles of Private Detection.) The ladies rely heavily upon his advice.
Mma Ramotswe’s devoted husband, garage owner J.L.B. Matekoni wants very much to please Mma Ramotswe by becoming a modern husband. To this end he enrolls in a course taught by a rather unlikable teacher. His attempt at cooking dinner is unsuccessful to say the least but met with understanding and equilibrium by his wife.
Despite the cases that need her attention Mma Ramotswe still finds time for frequent cups of red bush tea and visits to friends, especially one who bakes the best cake and is thoughtful enough to add extra sultanas simply because she knows Mma Ramotswe loves them.
At one point in a conversation Mma Ramotswe finds herself unable to express her gratitude and senses “that our heart is not always able to say what it wants to say and frequently has to content itself with less.” That is precisely where I find myself with this review - I simply cannot say enough “good” things about this book and eagerly await the next one.
- Gail Cooke
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Anyone remember the 1970s when Armistead Maupin raised eyebrows and temperatures with his newspaper serial? We were introduced to an over-the-top cast of folks at Barbary Lane and the now lauded transgender landlady Anna Madrigal. Who thought, perhaps Maupin least of all, that this serial would become an internationally loved, bestselling series of eight books and a Peabody Award winning miniseries?
Today Maupin has taken us back to San Francisco in the ninth and final novel in his series - it is frosting on the cake. Anna is now 92-years-old, fragile but as plucky as ever. She’s also a realist and determined to “Leave like a lady.” Well, leave she may but she will forever be an important part of American popular literature.
In the latest story she is looked after by her much younger roommate Jake Greenleaf, the transgender gardener. Maupin reveals Anna’s early life in several chapters - back to the time when she was a boy named Andy in the 1930s. The author also brings back other characters so readers can have a last look at where they are today. There is Brian Hawkins, a former tenant who is now 67 and remarried to Wren a 50-some former plus-sized model. Shawna, Brian’s daughter, who is single, wants to have aa child and is in search of a sperm donor. As this is done it might be helpful if readers were familiar with earlier books, but whether or not it is a joyous and satisfying ride.
The Days of Ana Madrigal is an endearing story, rich with reconciliations, love, and a reminder of the unforgettable characters created by Armistead Maupin.
- Gail Cooke
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
This is one book I found impossible to close for the night until I’d read every line. What a setting and what a plot! Gage so perfectly describes the nether regions of a remote Brazilian state that one can all but feel the heat and drenching perspiration that is impossible to escape. As is said a visitor does not drink water for pleasure but for survival. Truth be told there are precious few visitors save for Jade Calmon, the official tribe relations agent.
Twice a year she visits the Awana tribe who live in the Amazon jungle. The tribe had shrunk in size to a mere 41 but to Jade’s horror she now discovered it numbered a great deal less.. There are two remaining - Amati and his 8-year-old son who lead her to 39 mounds of earth. She heard “All Awana...Dead...Men kill.” She realizes that all must have died at the same time, but how and why?
Jade soon learns that there is no help in solving the mystery of the sudden death of so many. Further, and perhaps worse no one seems to care. She’s unable to elicit any response from local law enforcement officials while people in a nearby town share one opinion - “Good riddance” while arguments ensue as to who can claim the valuable tribal land. Jade sends an SOS to Chief Inspector Mario Silva. He and his team arrive to be greeted with zero cooperation by the town folk, which is putting it mildly. There is suspicion, hostility and one more death - the murder of an important white citizen.
What follows is an example of Gage’s admirable skill in plotting and drawing complex characters. Sadly the author passed away this year so this is the last book in what is an outstanding series. The words of Leighton Gage will be greatly missed.
- Gail Cooke
Friday, February 21, 2014
Cat lovers, mystery lovers, and readers will take to the latest from Shirley Rousseau Murphy, popular author of the mystery series featuring talkative tomcat, Joe Grey. This time out she teams with her husband, Pat, to offer a rather offbeat thriller - a supernatural tale featuring Satan himself and Misto, a yellow tomcat who often appears in his spirit form and has the ability to see through time and space.
Misto is a very caring kitty and a force for good. He has known Lee Fontana since Lee was a child and is with him now in 1947 when Lee is paroled from prison. Once an expert train robber Lee is ill prepared for the way the world has changed during his incarceration. In addition to that Satan is often there to tempt him with just one more robbery, one more time so Lee can retire in comfort. Misto is well aware of Satan’s powers and Lee’s weaknesses but is determined that Lee will not become one more lost soul.
Lee’s parole includes a job driving a truck on a farm in Southern California - days spent under the hot sun. Foreman of the operation is Jake, an old friend of Lee’s, who has married Lucita, a beautiful woman apparently loved by both men. She appears untouched by age and the lovely home she has made for Jake plus the wealth acquired by Jake’s boss rankles Lee - he wants some of both for himself. And Mr. Satan is right there, whispering in his ear, telling him how easy it would be to get it.
Misto is also right there to face down Satan in order to protect Lee. But, as brave and clever as he is how can he do it?
This mix of mystery and the paranormal keeps us guessing until the final pages and hoping for Misto’s return in another story.
- Gail Cooke
Saturday, February 15, 2014
You may well want to listen to this alone or with someone who loves you very much because you’re going to frequently laugh out loud. B.J. Novak, known to many of us as the writer/actor/director of the hit TV comedy The Office has given us a hilarious debut with One More Thing. It’s a pastiche of what we experience as humans - love, hope, fear, acceptance, ambition and more. Novak is obviously one blessed with an outre imagination and the ability to surprise. The 63 stories and vignettes are short, sometimes a bit longer and all infused with insight and rare humor. I mean where else will you find that wearing a red T-shirt all the time just might help someone find love?
These pieces cover a vast range of places and themes. To do justice to each in addition to his own entertaining narration we’re treated to readings by Lena Dunham, Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling, Julianne Moore, Carey Mulligan, B. J. Novak, Katy Perry, Jason Schwartzman, Emma Thompson and Rainn Wilson. Each performance is a praiseworthy original.
Enjoy this rousing yet spot-on sensitive collection then share it with your friends - they’ll thank you for it.
- Gail Cooke
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Delightful, delicious That Part Was True is a journey for two people and a reminder for us of the intimacy of words and the power of shared sensibilities.
Best selling American author Jackson Cooper has not only been successful but is also evidently still quite a hunk as his 50th birthday approaches. He doesn’t lack for women after his wife has left him for a woman, and he has a good friend, Dex, who is on the verge of becoming a major movie star. This plus money, a home in the Hamptons, a houseboy who tends to his needs, and beautiful blonde Adrienne aren’t enough. Jack suffers from writer’s block, and the feeling that despite book sales he’s never written anything of value. He turns his attention to cooking and soon becomes absorbed in it.
Clear across the pond lives Eve Petworth, a wealthy, long divorced woman of Jack’s age who lives a somewhat reclusive existence with her three-times-a-week housekeeper, Gwen. Eve putters about her garden and cooks - she loves to cook. Her daughter Izzy is about to be married which has simply increased Eve’s anxiety disorder to think of parties and the attendant nuptial plans. Izzy is all but a stranger to her as she left the girl’s upbringing primarily to her late overbearing mother, Virginia, who wasted no words in describing Eve’s inadequacies. The result was Eve believed what her mother said and continues to believe she is flawed even though her mother is no longer there to remind her.
Although Eve is certainly an unlikely candidate to pen a fan letter to an American detective novelist, this she does primarily to praise his description of a scene involving food. Jack in turn is somewhat surprised to receive a handwritten letter from England, and he responds to it. In this way the two discover their mutual love of food and cooking; a correspondence develops, a friendship blossoms.
Jack impulsively suggests that the two meet in Paris and enjoy a few days of gustatorial pleasures. How impossible for Eve who suffers a panic attack even when going to London! Or is it?
Filled with well-drawn characters, insightful revelations re emotional issues and the pleasures found in good food That Part Was True is a gem with a perfect finish.
- Gail Cooke