"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Second Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

Too Much Plot for Just One Book

Published in 2013 by Hay House Visions

So, the second book in the Tenzing Norbu series is jam-packed - so jam-packed that it really should have been two books.

Tenzing "Ten" Norbu is a welcome addition to the L.A. mystery genre. He is an ex-Tibetan monk and an ex-LAPD officer turned private investigator who is struggling to figure out his place in the world, looking for the right woman and dealing with a poor relationship with his father.

In this mystery, Ten is trying to solve the murder of an ex-client, a Hollywood producer with a reputation for making enemies. Along the way, he discovers a much larger plot involving a Latin gang, illegal drugs and a survivor of the Holocaust.

I really like the character Ten - he is an active practitioner of meditation but in no way does he have all of his problems solved by meditation - he still gets irritated in traffic jams, can't figure out how to deal with the new lady in his life and he carries a gun (once he gets his permit, that is) and is a genuinely nice guy.

But, no matter how much I like Ten, this book slowly morphs into an overly-complicated mess with an extraneous investigation into the missing sister of a Holocaust survivor and a trip to India for Ten to deal with family issues back at his father's monastery (this was interesting but very forced attached to the end of the book, including a side trip into Chinese-occupied Tibet. This would have been a fantastic stand-alone plot in another book - a book that really looked at what's going on in Tibet under Chinese rule).

One other issue, more of a pet peeve than anything else: shotguns and rifles are not the same thing. In a struggle on page 306 I was confused about how many weapons were in the room when the authors used the terms interchangeably.

See my review for The First Rule of Ten by clicking here.

I was offered this book from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Second Rule of Ten.

Reviewed on March 30, 2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Quest, Inc. by Justin Cohen

Published by Telemachus Press, LLC (March 19, 2012)

Quest, Inc. features an all-star cast of self-improvement experts who have joined together to offer the complete  package for those seeking self-improvement. There is an expert on fitness, a psychotherapist with a focus on relationships, a financial expert, a therapist who deals with addictions and a body language and image consultant.

The book starts out with Robert Rivera, the fitness expert, He has become fat and completely unmotivated. He has lost his home and his wife and fails at an attempt to kill himself. The other four experts know him from a presidential commission that they all served on and they re-unite to save Rivera and their own reputations (his failure throws doubt on all of their advice).

Once Rivera has his life back on track (roughly the first half of the book), the five of them start Quest, Inc. and promote themselves as the Worlds #1 Personal Development Agency. The rest of the book features a reporter for the Huffington Post who is determined to torpedo their venture because she despises the self-help "industry" and a series of clients. 

I had no problem with the book per se, but it just did not have a real ending. Instead, this felt like the novelization of the first two episodes of a television show, a show like ER that deals with self-help clients rather than medical issues. The first episode (the first half of the book) introduces all of the specialists and demonstrates that they are vulnerable people just like their clients. The second episode (the second half of the book) starts us on our "clients of the week." The reader gets to hear about interesting problems and how they might be helped while the main characters' individual plot lines continue moving forward at a glacial pace. The book screams to be the first in a series.

I found the book to be a little slow-moving. The clients were interesting but were so numerous that they were really just a device to introduce interesting ideas and cause the main characters to interact. I quickly lost interest in all of the experts (and their hang-ups) except for Robert Rivera. He was the only one that was developed in any way but as the story progressed he became less and a part of the story.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Quest, Inc. by Justin Cohen.

Reviewed on March 25, 2013.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas (audiobook) by Tosca Lee

Published by Simon and Schuster Audio 
Published February 5, 2013
Read by Jason Culp
Duration: 9 hours, 11 minutes

As the title says, Iscariot: A Novel of Judas tells the the story of one of the most infamous people in history - Judas, the disciple that betrayed Jesus.

Tosca Lee tells the story in a very sympathetic manner. At no point in the story is Judas an evil man. In fact, he is the opposite - he is an exceptionally good man who lives an upright life, tries his very best and truly loves Jesus, the man he calls "teacher."

A close up of Judas Iscariot (front) in Leonardo da Vinci's
"The Last Supper"
Tosca Lee creates a sympathetic back story for Judas involving a life full of loss, pain and a tragic multi-generational search for the messiah. Judas has decided that searching for a messiah is the surest way to get hurt. Instead, he has joined a secret society that is working to push the Romans out of Judea. But, things radically change when Judas meets John the Baptist and then goes on to meet Jesus.

Interestingly, throughout the story, as Judas hears what Jesus teaches he rarely gets the real meaning. He argues with Jewish officials that Jesus speaks in metaphors all of the time so his stories cannot be taken literally but Judas mainly misses the point time after time. Judas is looking for a military leader and does not truly hear what Jesus says about his true purpose and when his kingdom will commence.

Tosca Lee's writing style is often clunky with old-fashioned phrases. It can be be very tedious but it does blend easily with quotes from the Bible when they are worked in (she tends to use quotes that are similar to  the more formal style of the NIV translation rather than some of the more informal newer translations). For all of that clunkiness, there are some moments of literary magic here. The scene where Jesus heals the leper comes to mind as does most of the story of Jesus's trial.

Jason Culp brought this book to life. The multitude of voices he created just work to create a different world.  Even better, Culp really acts out the anguish and the passion that prevail throughout the end of the story.

I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review as part of the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

Reviewed on March 22, 2013.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bear Is Broken (Leo Maxwell #1) (audiobook) by Lachlan Smith

Published February 5, 2013 by HighBridge Audio
Read by R.C. Bray
Duration: 8 hours, 10 minutes

Lachlan Smith's debut novel is set in 1999 San Francisco. Leo Maxwell is a newly minted lawyer (less than a week) who was been helping around his brother's law office for the last few months. Teddy  Maxwell is one of the most controversial and most successful defense attorneys in San Francisco. His specialty is not high profile clients, but hookers, drug dealers and the like. He is thoroughly hated by the police department, the prosecutor's office and any number of people who were unhappy about cases that he won.

This matters because Teddy is shot in the head in the middle of a restaurant by an unknown assailant right over Leo's shoulder and the list of possible suspects is enormous. The police think that one of Teddy's clients did it, or maybe an unhappy victim of one of his clients. Teddy's friends and clients think that the police did it.  All Leo knows is that he has to figure it out and somehow muster the courage to finish Teddy's closing argument in what may very well have been his last case.

Up to this point, Bear is Broken is an amazing first novel. It is tight, interesting, has the reader rooting for Leo to successfully finish the argument for his brother and somehow figure out who shot Teddy. The argument scene is amazing and then this tight legal thriller scatters everywhere.

Leo accuses everyone of shooting his brother. These are not just mere musings or suppositions to Teddy's former wife. No - these are confrontations, screaming matches, announcements to the world. He accuses the police, his brother's investigator, one former client, then another and then accuses them of working together and then changes his mind and then decides that he was right and starts all over again. Throw in a large subplot involving the murder of Leo and Teddy's mother years ago, their father serving time in jail for that murder and another one involving a drug dealer and a missing cash retainer (and a shady secretary) that was pre-paid to Teddy Maxwell and two more subplots involving a former client who was caught disposing of a body and that client's connection to even more stuff in Leo and Teddy's past and a look at San Francisco's prostitution scene and a rich girl that enjoys sexual games and is good with a gun and you can see that there are just way too many moving parts here. I honestly do not know how Leo solves the mystery in the end or if he actually did. All I know is that the person he finally settles on in the end is a bad person and needed to be punished for plenty of other stuff so why not for Teddy Maxwell's shooting?

The real positive to the audiobook was the reader. R.C. Bray's voice characterizations were excellent. I loved his characterization of Teddy Maxwell and the police officer in charge of the case. He covered a variety of different accents with real skill - everything from hookers to messed up druggies to elitist old rich ladies. He has a lot of talent. But, there is no way a fantastic performance by a reader could have made up for the confused jumble that is the end of this book.

My advice to Lachlan Smith would have been to have pared away at least half of these subplots and then saved them for other books.

But, what's done is done. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The first part was excellent - 5 stars. The last part was all over the place and left me confused (1 star) which makes a 3 star average.

Reviewed on March 15, 2013.

Note: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review as part of Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here:Bear Is Broken (Leo Maxwell)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero edited by Otto Penzler

Published  in 2012 by Smart Pop

Robert B. Parker 
I discovered Robert B. Parker's Spenser about 20 years ago. In a way, that is sad because I could have been enjoying Spenser for a lot more years. But, in a way it was fantastic because I had so many Spenser books to read to catch up and there were new ones coming out regularly. For years I was able to read or listen to his books as quickly as I wanted. But, eventually I caught up and had to just wait for the new ones. Sadly, in 2010 Parker died so all of his series came to an end.

In Pursuit of Spenser is an attempt to honor the long and noteworthy career of Robert B. Parker. Editor Otto Penzler has collected 14 essays by such writers as Lawrence Block, Loren D. Estleman and Dennis Lehane (and one work by Parker himself that explains Spenser) in a must-read for any fan. Although the focus is on Parker and Spenser, many of the other of the dozens of characters that  he created are covered as well. His role in re-invigorating the detective story, his take on male-female relationships, race relations and, of course, Spenser's wonderful wisecracks are thoroughly discussed.

I found it to be a wonderful celebration of a unique voice in American literature and a fitting tribute. I know the Spenser "franchise" is being continued by Ace Atkins, but I found myself agreeing with Lawrence Block who decided made the analogy between tribute bands and the real thing. I won't be moving forwards into the  "tribute band" portion of the Spenser franchise. I'll just re-visit the real thing from time to time.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero

Reviewed on March 14, 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Intercept (Jeremy Fisk #1) (audiobook) by Dick Wolf

Published in 2013 by HarperCollins
Read by Peter Ganim
Duration: Approximately 11.5 hours

Dick Wolf is best known as the producer and creator of the many different TV series in the Law and Order franchise. This book is his first attempt at fictional book writing (he has considerable experience at screenplay writing).

So, how was this first attempt?

I liked it. I liked it a lot.

The story revolves around Jeremy Fisk, a detective with NYPD's counter-terrorism squad. New York City has an extensive counter-terrorism unit because New York City has been such a frequent target of terrorism. Fisk is fluent in Arabic and is frequently a contact person between NYPD and the FBI or CIA.

A terrorist tries to commandeer an airplane headed to America from Sweden by holding a stewardess hostage. Five passengers rise up to fight the terrorist and they succeed in saving the stewardess with only the one of the rescuers suffering the relatively minor injury of a broken forearm. When they land the media pounces on the story and the rescuers and the stewardess become nationally famous.

But, Fisk does not like the way things add up once he interviews the captured terrorist. Once he starts digging he finds that his worst fears may be coming true...

Peter Ganim read the book. He covered the wide variety of accents well, especially the Arabic accents. I was especially pleased with the milder New York accents that he provided. So many actors go with no accent or an over-the-top accent. Sure, some New Yorkers sound like the exaggerated stereotype of the New York accent, but how many more have a more subdued accent? I thought it added a nice touch of realism.

This audiobook has more multiple surprise twists and is pushed along at a quick pace. I found it thoroughly entertaining for the better part of a week's commute.

Note: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Intercept: A Jeremy Fisk Novel (Jeremy Fisk Novels)

Reviewed on March 2, 2013.