Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IRON HOUSE by John Hart

At first glance, IRON HOUSE looked like the type of run-of-the-mill thriller that I tend to stay away from.  I expected it to be filled with a lot of action and very little else. I was pleasantly surprised.

Michael has been a member of an organized crime group since he was a teenager and he is ready to get out.  He has finally found some peace with a woman named Elena who is carrying his child and he wants to shield them both from the world he is a part of.  Quitting the mob life is easier said than done and it doesn't appear that his former co-workers will let him go without a fight.  When Michael and Elena are forced to flee, they head to the place Michael was born.  The place where he was separated from his brother many years ago. As family secrets are dredged up and the mobsters are closing in, Michael must face truths what really happened at the Iron Mountain Home for Boys and the reality of how he and his brother ended up there.

At first glance, this book appears to be an organized crime suspense novel. It definitely has plenty of action and violence. However, the heart of the novel lies in the relationships within the story.  There is a great deal of familial conflict and drama that prove to be the most interesting parts of the book. I was happy to see Hart develop the "family secrets" side of the story.  Long-time readers know that hidden family secrets are always a favorite of mine. The story is complex and interesting and deal with many different themes such as mother/son relationships, sibling relationships, the reinvention of self and the burden of hidden truth. All the elements work together really well to make a story that has something for almost everyone.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended. A real surprise for me.  I enjoyed this book a great deal.  I thought the story was interesting and complex and different from your average thriller.  A good vacation read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Another contender in the "next Stieg Larsson" contest, THE HYPNOTIST begins with the murder of three members of a family.  Only one teenaged boy and his missing elder sister survived.  Dr. Erik Maria Bark is called in to hypnotize the the boy in an attempt to gain information about the murder and, perhaps, prevent the missing sister from being murdered as well.  When Bark practiced hypnotism many years ago on victimes of extreme psychological and physical trauma, something went terribly wrong and his career almost ended permanently.  At the time, he vowed never to practice hypnotism again. Inspector Joona Linna convinces Bark that it is a matter of life and death. When Bark finally hypnotized the boy, it sets off an unexpected and possibly lethal chain of events.

I thought this book had a clever premise.  I liked the idea of throwing hypnosis into a thriller as a method of detection in crime cases and it was interesting to see what hidden "truths" that hypnosis could bring up in the different characters. However,  the book itself was structured in a bizarre way. The book begins with one story that is really exciting and intriguing but then this storyline gets derailed about 1/3 of the way through the book. The last 2/3 of the book are a completely different story.  There are lots of good ideas in the book but they never seem to go anywhere.  Just when I started to get interested in a storyline, the authors switched to something else.  It just didn't work.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. While there are some good ideas here, the book isn't well executed. I felt as if it tried to go in too many different directions.  There are too many good thrillers out right now to justify spending time on this one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE LANTERN by Deborah Lawrenson

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

THE LANTERN was one of my most highly anticipated books this year.  When I heard Lawrenson being compared to Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield, I couldn't wait to get my hands on her book.  I should have remembered all those books I have read recently that claim to be "the next Stieg Larsson." 

THE LANTERN claims to be a modern gothic tale set in Provence.  Eve falls in love with Dom when she meets him by chance touring a garden in Switzerland. After a whirlwind romance, the two relocate to an abandoned house called  Les Genevriers in the South of France. They set about restoring their new home in a manner reminiscent of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN as they enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies and hidden chambers. Their new home is rich with history.  As their enchanted Summer draws to a close and Fall sets in, Eve notices a change in Dom. He becomes more withdrawn and secretive and she begins to have doubts about him.  She knows he has a painful failed marriage in his past but he will not talk about it.  His refusal to reveal any information about his ex-wife Rachel makes Eve obsessed to find out more. She starts investigating his past and becomes more and more concerned with what she finds.  When a mysterious lantern starts showing up on the property, Eve begins to think the house is haunted.

The other half of the novel is the story of Benedicte Lincel who grew up in Les Genevriers and believed the house to be haunted by her family.  Benedicte is plagued by difficult memories and family secrets.  Her brother was a brutal and cruel person. Her blind sister, Marthe, became a famous perfume-maker but inexplicably broke off contact with Benedicte in her late forties.  Benedicte is left alone in her decrepit childhood home with her ghosts and her memories.

Lawrenson moves back and forth between the two stories slowly revealing hidden truths and secrets.  As Eve slowly uncovers clues about Dom's past, the two storylines begin to intertwine.  Long-held secrets of the past could provide clues to the truth about the present.

I have to admit I was really disappointed with this book.  I think Lawrenson does a superb job with setting.  This book made me want to run off to Provence.  Her description of Les Genevriers was wonderful.  However, the story felt forced.  It was a little too heavy-handed.  I wish she had chosen to concentrate solely on the story of Benedicte and left out the Eve storyline altogether.  Having two storylines was an attempt to create drama and intrigue and it didn't work.  I think the secrets that Lawrenson reveals are clever but they do nothing to move the modern-day plot forward.  The significance of the lantern even got lost in the shuffle and it's the title of the book! 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. In spite of its flaws, the book is still a pretty good read.  It was just something of a disappointment. There is so much unfulfilled potential here!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. It's true. However, the cover is what immediately drew me in when I got this book.  Set in New York City circa 1938, RULES OF CIVILITY follows the lives of three friends--Katey, Eve and Tinker.  When the three meet by chance on New Year's Eve, a chain of events is set into motion that will change all of their lives.  The story follows the three friends throughout the year of 1938. Tinker lives within the world of the wealthy while Katey and Eve are two career girls trying to scrape by in the Big City.  As Katey and Eve are drawn into Tinker's world, they must confront truths about themselves and what they believe.  Katey is the narrator of the story and she is a truly interesting and compelling character.  She gets all the snappy dialogue and is the one character who always seems to be true to herself.  The novel's title comes from a work by a teenaged George Washington who attempted to set out a list of rules for navigating for polite society.  Each character in the book attempts to define his/her own rules and figure out exactly who they want to be in this rarefied NYC world.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded a great deal of THE GREAT GATSBY.  I think similar issues are at play and Katey acts as a sort of Nick Carraway character although she is more engaged and affected by the action.  Towles' doesn't fall into the trap of making strict black and white moral judgements about the different characters.  There are both good and bad, moral and immoral characters in all stratas of New York society. The characters are all extremely well-drawn and interesting and Towles' keeps you guessing about their motivations and their choices.  Ultimately, this is not just a social commentary about society in a certain place and time. It is also a look at how spontaneous choices can affect and change our lives forever.  This book is a wonderfully well-written freshman effort by Towles and definitely left me wanting more.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  Well-written and compelling.  Interesting characters and an intriguing look into New York society during the late 1930's.  One of the best books I have read this year.

Monday, July 18, 2011

5 a Day Book Challenge

Want to see what I'm reading with my toddler this week?

Go here.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

There is a lot of hype surrounding this book. Many people are claiming that THE LAST WEREWOLF will do for werewolves with the TWILIGHT series did for vampires. Maybe.

At the beginning of the book, 200-year-old werewolf Jake receives a phone call from his closest human friend.  Another werewolf has been killed by a secret society whose mission is to wipe out all werewolves.  now, Jake is the last one.  He now knows he only has until the next full moon before the society comes for him.  And it doesn't bother him.  Jakes is suffering from profound depression and ennui.  He is ready to die.   His deep loneliness has taken its toll and he cannot find solace anywhere.  Jake begins to prepare for the end by getting his affairs in order and makes peace with what is going to happen. Until an unexpected event takes place that will change everything.

The werewolves in this book are not pretty. They don't turn into sleek lovely wolves.  They turn into ugly 9 ft hybrids whose only desire is to kill and eat humans. In this state, they feel no remorse or conscience of any kind. Their sole purpose is sex and killing. Werewolves can only procreate by biting a human.  If the human survives the attack, he or she becomes a werewolf. No new werewolves have been made in 100 years, however.  There seems to be some sort of virus preventing the transformation so that now Jake is the very last one.  The werewolf hunters are about to put themselves out of business.

What surprised me about this book was how well written it is.  Duncan is an excellent writer.  This may be the first really literary werewolf novel.  However, the book is also extremely explicit in sex, violence and language. This may be off-putting for some readers. It is somewhat amusing at first to read about a werewolf having an existential crisis but I thought it was a clever take on this genre and made the book more interesting.  The twist that comes halfway through the book was also clever although not quite as successful. The book became a little bit silly and the ending was very predictable.  Still, for fans of the horror genre, there is much to like here. Duncan's take on werewolves is definitely original.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  I really appreciated Duncan's writing style. Very well written. He lost me sometimes with the explicit nature of the story and some of his plot choices.  I was really disappointed with the ending. Still, this book could revive the whole werewolf genre.  Not for the faint of heart!