Book Reviews: Lawyers, Profilers, Assassins, and Diplomats

This is a small prequel to a novel I’ve already read, in which a “chosen one” teen had to fight dark forces to save the world. . . stop me if you’ve heard this before. This story tells about the first meeting between the probably doomed lovers, events that were mentioned in the previous book. Syl has a huge crush on violin-playing Rouen, going to her concert and then heavily involved in the train crash that brings them together and separates Syl from her friends.
Gotta admit, it feels kinda weird reading this after the main event. What I most liked about the main book was the humor, and that’s as evident here. It does explain why the dark fae can’t sense her, but I would have liked more on Glamma. More than anything, I wasn’t able to really picture the train crash and its aftermath, which made it difficult to follow.

Second book in a series about a former hacker/now-ethical lawyer who keeps finding herself in huge conspiracies but can never back down. This one is different in that she’s no longer with a huge law firm, now doing the attorney version of the down-on-her-luck private investigator. In this story she realizes her late grandmother’s watch has been stolen, and tracking it down leads to much bigger crimes that threaten her life and those of her friends.
I love how this author, in both books, takes a small detail and turns it into an entire plot. That takes skill and imagination. But unlike the first one, this time it felt a little more convoluted than it needed to be. I didn’t like it as much as the first, especially in the beginning, but since it was on nursing homes and that’s important to me right now, I kept reading. Thankfully in the end that didn’t turn out to be an issue. There were some intriguing new characters and everything wrapped up in the end.

Profiling Nathan
Cold female FBI agent falls for tattoo artist to whom she’s delivering a message. Not very likely, but that’s what makes these stories fun, right?
Right off the bat she says, “I was recruited during my last year of college and started training at Quantico right after graduation. That was sixteen years ago.” By I quickly forgot that, because she reads younger. As for him, he’s got quite a past, including some fantasy elements that tie in to the rest of the series, which I have not read, but that only comes into play here once.
Throughout the entire story it was hard to pinpoint if this was a procedural or a romance; turned out to be the latter, as there are many scenes that were strictly getting to know each other and didn’t advance the plot at all. This is especially true of the entire nudist colony setting. After finishing the romance part, it sets up for the next sequel.
I really like that this isn’t a 300-page epic like most in the genre, filled with thoughts of “I want to, but I can’t!” The romance, plus the murder mystery/serial killer plot that I figured out by chapter four—writer made it a little too obvious—took about 120 pages.

Twisted Threads
An abstract intro with rhyming couplets does nothing but prove that this author is quirky.
A Japanese mafia assassin—female and reluctant—gets one last assignment before she can be free. All she has to do is figure out which one of the passengers on a cruise ship killed a family member of the boss. Who would have guessed that an assassination mission would somehow turn into a star-crossed romance?
Unfortunately there were far too many characters introduced when the story gets to the ship. With all the setting and introductions I was completely bored. Halfway through a mysterious figure is introduced, as if there weren’t enough characters already. The last part got confusing and ever so complicated, too convoluted. Still not sure what happened or who did what. Not at all surprised at who showed up on the plane at the end.
On the other hand, the writing was pretty good. There’s one point where the main character is “eating” a tear. That’s awesome. I did like the main characters, her more than him. Snippets about her past were confusing, but that’s probably because this is part of a series that I haven’t read.
All in all, a shorter, tighter book would have been better.

Undiplomatic Episodes
A career diplomat for Great Britain discusses some of his adventures and accomplishments in a surprisingly conversational and occasionally humorous manner.
I started this book in August; I finished it in December. Part of that is attributed to its awfully slow start. Until the end it’s a chronological autobiography (the last section is on epic parties) and the dullest parts are at the beginning, especially his school years. His time in Iran, for example, was a thousand times more interesting.
Here’s a nice example of his writing style: “This was at a time when the Cold War was still going strong and the Russian bear was still very much growling.”
But there were some moments that didn’t ring true. . . not that I thought they were lies, but I can’t believe he was that cheery during certain mishaps. Only in retrospect can it feel like a great adventure.
Bats, roaches, giant toads, claustrophobia=least favorite parts.
There’s a much needed break in the middle, photos and drawings and a couple of maps.
I’m not trying to make light of it, but as someone unfamiliar with the whole thing, it seems like it doesn’t take much to get knighted.
All in all it was mostly fun and well told, although it was sometimes tough getting through the lists of food served at parties, what the royals were wearing, or what birds were spotted. I particularly enjoyed the travel descriptions, especially when he talked about places I’ve been and loved, like Dubrovnik, Finland, and Australia. Never got to see much of Iran outside the archaeological sites, so learning about that was fun too.
But I will forever question his sanity, because of that bat cave expedition. . .

Little Book of Lagom: How 2 Balance Your Life the Swedish Way
There are a lot more uses for Goldilocks now than there used to be, even astronomically speaking, and this could be one of them, as it is a philosophy of “not too much, not too little, just right.” Having visited Sweden often, I can attest that a lot of people really do think this way. . . which is one of the reasons I visit so often.
There’s tips to make your home more energy-efficient. There’s a crafts article on how to turn an old t-shirt into a tote bag, as well as other clothes that can be reincarnated as draft stoppers or rugs. The part about storing your clothes vertically in the drawers was a revelation, as was the advice to eat before shopping for groceries. On the other hand, the recipes meant nothing to me, as almost every one has ingredients I’m allergic to or can’t stand. Same with the garden.
Like many advice books, there’s a lot of what’s usually called common sense, even if it isn’t. . . common. It really doesn’t feel much different than other similar books, simply using the Swedish connection as a way to supposedly differentiate.


Book Reviews: Crime, Clothing, and Care

Hunger Moon
“It is loose in the country. Everywhere, now. In the very highest corridors of power. There will be a showdown.”
The series was leading to this from the start, but it couldn’t be any more timely. Cara tries to stay away from all men because there’s a price on her head, but in the meantime other women have taken up her just but gruesome cause. It all leads up to a confrontation with possibly the worst bad guy of them all.
“He’d even at one point suspected his own Agent Singh.” Been waiting the whole series for my girl Singh to make her mark, but I sure didn’t expect it to be like this, though I’ll bet Epps will like it, once he gets used to it.
Like Anne Franks’ diary, this is a painful read. Scarier than her earlier horror works, so difficult to read because it’s so plausible. But it’s brilliantly written, Ms. Sokoloff’s best work to date.

The Informed Patient
This definitely lives up to its title, although by the end of it a more truthful name would be “The Overinformed Patient.”
As one example, the section on IVs and catheters was way too long. There’s no way an explanation of every little nuance was necessary. Same with the description of every kind of chest tube; far too detailed for readers who don’t have a degree in medicine. So many procedures are mentioned this becomes more of a reference book. Some sections are repeated, more than once; at one point it’s acknowledged. This book feels like the first draft came out too short and needed padding.
I applaud the author for the idea, but it’s still not explained down enough for regular people. In fact, the last tenth of the book is glossary, because no one expects the readers to know all the medical jargon tossed around. This is not the kind of book you read, remember, and pass on. There’s so much here that, while a little dumbed down, is hardly comprehensible.
I’m going to treat this as a reference book, ready to be looked up as needed.

The Crime Book
I didn’t know DK did anything but travel books, though this follows the format set by those.
The most intriguing fact hits right at the beginning: the first known homicide occurred 430,000 years ago.
This book turned out to have a pretty standard design, in the form of a reference book: one- or two-page chapters on famous criminals or crimes, with panels featuring similar acts. Each chapter is led with a meaningful title and an even more meaningful drawing, a caricature of the crime in question; my fave was the horse and the can of paint.
Some of the categories really aren’t, more like broad labels: celebrity murder, desert murder, and so on. Don’t expect anything in-depth here, merely something to pique your interest so you can explore the fascinating crime further on your own. Other than to let the reader know about a particular case, there’s nothing here that can’t be found in other books or the internet.

Killer Fashion
Subtitled: “Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History.” But despite all that, it’s easy to think of this as a comedy, albeit a dark one.
Simple rhyming couplets accompany an illustration in each story. . . and just to keep the rhyme motif, they’re mostly gory. Best rhyme: “boast” and “ghost.”
If you hate your mother-in-law, give her artificial silk.
The long history of asbestos was intriguing.
Mercury poisoning was known as the “mad hatter’s disease.”
Beauty—supposed beauty, anyway—sure had a heavy price; from belladonna eyeballs to lightning bras to strangling corsets to high heels to lead makeup. . .
Despite how it eventually turned out, I love that a new hairstyle came out of falling off a horse.
Poor Jean Harlow. . .
The scariest part, even if it was a sign of the times, was the newspaper editorial that stated, “What of woman’s mission to be lovely?”
Ends with ten pages of sources.
If you’re into fashion and macabre—if you like your humor black and morbid—this is for you.

Full Service Blonde
“Once I decided to go to Las Vegas, no one could have talked me out of it.”
It’s amazing how different this book is from the other by Megan Edwards I’ve read, Strings. That book was so fantastic I have no doubt it left a high mark for this one to strive for, and it came up far short.
In the end it felt like a whole lot of nothing. Copper goes everywhere but doesn’t do much. Some threads pick up halfway through, but this writing doesn’t remind me at all of the other book. It felt more like a slice-of-life than a mystery.
Strings seemed to take forever to read, but in a good way. This one took forever in the more usual sense.
The two main storylines made everything more complicated than it needed to be. I liked Copper, but I didn’t like Sierra, or many of the other characters, even the ones I was supposed to like. All the relationship stuff—hers, her parents’, etc.—just felt like too much, or the mystery she eventually solved too little.

101 Protocols for Online Dating
Stuff to do–and not do–when looking for love in all the electronic places.
A lot of the stuff offered is common sense, but we all know that common sense isn’t. . . common.
I wonder why the author decided to call these protocols, like it was some top-secret dossier in a spy movie. Sounds silly this way.
I guess if someone went to the trouble of buying this book, they might be inspired to take its advice, but as I said earlier, a lot of these are common sense. Some I flat out disagree with. Others are too self-serving, becoming the person the author warned us to avoid. But more than anything, there was nothing earthshattering here.


Book Reviews: Los Angeles, Russia, and small town mysteries

Did everyone in the magnificent City of Beautiful Angels enjoy those last few days of cloudiness and one rain shower? I sure did, as I am already dreading this coming week of 90 degrees.

When’s the last time you saw a paparazzo as a hero? Yeah, me neither, though I hesitate to use that word for him; let’s go with protagonist instead. This is a far-reaching—timewise, anyway—story about a photojournalist who burned out on shooting the ugly things in life—I can totally relate, the same thing happened to me—and reinvents himself as a celeb stalker. . . and don’t ask me if I can relate to that, because I can’t, not even close. A not-at-all-concealed expy of Princess Diana’s death leads to blackmail, which takes him into the orbit of a Hollywood star. . . at which point things change dramatically, leading into whole different genre, the chase/escape spy thriller.
At first you’re not even sure if he’s a paparazzo or an assassin, which I think is a statement by the author, considering how he wrote that part so ambiguously. And it wasn’t till Channing Tatum and Robin Williams’ death were mentioned that I knew it was present-day and not completely written as the past. I did like the settings, though, from Paris to Brazil to Germany but mostly Los Angeles; it always makes me smile when a place I know well is mentioned, such as Pepperdine University in Malibu.
It’s an intriguing choice to have the lead character be such an anti-hero from the very start, since it was difficult to muster any empathy for him. Thankfully his actions, even while doing the most despicable of photography jobs, do redeem him enough to sustain the rest of the book. And isn’t it the point of a story to see personal growth in the characters, especially the protagonist? Well done.
And I will always be grateful to anyone that can educate me on something I knew nothing about but immediately grabs my interest, in this case German dueling clubs.
So if you have intense distaste for photographic leeches like I do—I frequently say that comparing a paparazzo to a real photographer is like comparing a porn star to an Oscar-winning actress—I advise you to stick with it, you’ll be rewarded by the end. If you like the ‘razzis or don’t care either way, then just relax and enjoy it.

Guy dies and leaves his house to a cousin he didn’t like, along with a puzzle that he knows the cousin won’t be able to resist. Small-town secrets and an inevitable psycho complicate things.
I’ll be blunt: it’s just incredibly hard to enjoy a book with no, or incredibly few, likeable characters. Probably the nicest was the gas station attendant, and how often has anyone said that? Except for him and Debbie—no, not even her—everyone in this story is an asshole; Debbie, while in general being nice, does the most despicable thing of all. Even the librarian’s a bit of a jerk. The best moment for me was when the lead’s sister comes right out and calls him an asshole, and all he does is laugh it off, saying she’s right. By that point I didn’t need to be told.
From the start there was nothing outright suspenseful going on—except a dad rat—yet it was still giving me the wiggins. The plot itself is Machiavellian, if somewhat convoluted, though I’d have to say pretty much everyone got what they deserved. The thing that most annoyed me is that despite being injured and having terrible things happen to his sister, the protagonist—like above, no way am I calling him the hero, even more so here—didn’t change at all, continued being a world-class asshole. I don’t require redemption, but I can’t help but wonder what the point of the book was when the characters don’t grow.

Rise of the Enemy
Who said spy stuff in Russia was over?
I knew going in that there was another book in the series before it, but lately I’ve read a few where that didn’t matter, so I didn’t worry about it much. There was enough told here to make me understand what had happened previously by chapter six, and even piqued my interest enough to want to go back to that one later.
There are two timelines interwoven: flashbacks to the recent past, where the spy is captured and tortured by the Russians, and the present, where he’s escaped and trying to find out just what the hell is going on. Soon enough they merge.
The spy’s background is reminiscent of David Morrell’s Brotherhood of the Rose, though without the twins thing. The plot reaches the point where he doesn’t know if he can trust even his father figure, and certainly not the people around him, so that us-against-the-world mentality takes over. A lot of the story, and some of the action, takes place on trains; having been on Russian trains, which aren’t as bad as third-world trains but not quite Amtrak—not counting the spiffy tourists ones between St. Pete and Moscow—it wasn’t that hard to imagine the particular setting, though I’m not sure how most readers would fare on that. More to that point, setting it in a city no one’s ever heard of—as I’ve said, I’ve traveled through Russia and have a degree in geography—could have worked but I don’t think did here, as most of the description was generic.
Still, overall this is a well-written one-man-against-the-world thriller. However. . .
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is obviously a sequel, and just as obviously I have not read the first one, so I don’t know how that ended. I can tell you that this ends in a cliffhanger, an obvious setup for you to buy the next one if you want to find out the real ending. Since it cuts off before paying off the story just read, in my opinion it’s a particularly egregious and strictly monetary move that irritates me no end and forces me to drop this from a 4 to a 3.


Book Reviews: Weekend Quad

Dukkha Unloaded
Interspaced with plenty of martial arts, this novel by Loren W. Christensen isn’t as much a mystery as a police procedural, involving a Portland cop who’d recently shot a child and then saved people in Vietnam (stuff that happened in previous novels, which I have not read). Here he’s given a new job, involving bringing down some racist killers.
About halfway through his girlfriend from Vietnam–they’re not really related, we’re told–comes to town; their scenes together are the best in the book, showing off a still budding romance where they illustrate their love for each other while still able to playfully tease. Along with the PTSD, both his and one of his new martial arts students, this makes the book a lot more than just a simple police story. 4/5

Enzan The Far Mountain
A story from John Donohue about a martial artist in Noo Yawk who is hired to “retrieve” a rich Japanese girl from a bad guy who supposedly got her hooked on drugs and sex. But of course it’s never that simple, as North Koreans, a huge snowstorm, his angry brother, a victim who might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or might not, and the past of his sensei complicate matters tremendously. As would be expected, there’s plenty of fight scenes; people get beaten up, killed, or almost killed with frequency; I found the descriptions of the various martial arts moves fascinating, but the results of the blows not so much. My only annoyance was the hero not thinking things through when he goes to rescue her and gets bopped on the head; shoulda seen that coming, bro. 3.5/5

The Experiment of Dreams
What starts as seemingly harmless experiments into dreams turns into something much more sinister. Since REM sleep is one of my many interests I found the first parts intriguing, as well as the art he’s paid to look at. But toward the end I was confused as to whether he was dreaming or not–as was the character, and as I was supposed to be, I guess–which made me feel like it didn’t work as well as the rest of the book. The end is revealed to be something a lot more pedestrian, even with some twists; couldn’t help but feeling a little let down after the more interesting first half, but it was still well worth the read. 3.5/5

The Devil Will Come
This is the second book by Glenn Cooper I’ve read, but this bears little similarity to the other. Right away it starts in the Vatican, with an archaeological mystery and a conspiracy that goes back millennia, as I’ve read far too often the last few years. There are frequent detours to Nero’s Rome and Christopher Marlowe’s England; now we know why Rome burned, though I’m sad and disappointed that one of my heroes–Marlowe, not Nero–is cast as a bad guy here. Also involved is the now-famous book by Saint Malachy, Prophesy of the Popes; this has also been overused recently, and I’m not kidding when I say the very next book I picked up–electronically–also features it.
The best part is the characters, particularly the lead and her family; I’m with her father, I can’t really see why she became a nun, but so it goes. But if Mr. Cooper made up this whole story out of the hieroglyphic monad. . . that’s as impressive a jump of imagination as Peter Shaffer coming up with Equus out of a news item of horses getting their eyes stabbed. 4/5