Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fool Me Once - Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco

My review of Steve Hockensmith's Fool Me Once first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. And if you're interested in my take on the first book in this series, you can check that review out here. Plus, if you missed it, I chatted with Steve last year about this series. The interview is here. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "Anyone who says 'I'm going to kill you,' Biddle use to tell me, isn't going to kill you."

"I'd been so sure I could take over the White Magic Five & Dime and just flip its karma like a pancake. Turn wrongs into rights, help instead of hurt, make amends for all my mother's crimes."  Alanis McLachlan, introduced by Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco in The White Magic Five & Dime, is discovering that atoning for her deceased con-woman mother is harder than she first imagined.

In the second book of the Tarot Mystery series Alanis tries to help Marsha, one of her mother's most gullible targets, leave an abusive marriage. But the amateur tarot reader's efforts result in Marsha looking like the prime suspect when her husband winds up murdered. As Alanis endeavors to clear Marsha, she inadvertently steps into the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy.

Lisa Falco's tarot savvy combined with Steve Hockensmith's cunning wit make this series a delightful escape from life's austere demands. Each chapter begins with a comical interpretation of a single tarot card (accompanied by an illustration), reflecting insight into the card's spiritual meaning as well as cynicism for the occult.

The novel's mystery itself is an enjoyable diversion, but readers wanting to delve further into the plot's layers will find symbolism in the tarot's minor arcana--wands--featured in this installment of the series. And the complexities of the characters and their relationships help to make this story more than a simple who-done-it.

Smart, humorous and refreshingly offbeat, Fool Me Once is a must-read mystery for believers and non-believers alike.

Fool Me Once is available in trade paperback from Midnight Ink (9780738742236).

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Brush Back - Sara Paretsky

My review of Sara Paretsky's Brush Back first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "I didn't recognize him at first."

"I've lived my whole life in this city, and I know too much about how business gets done here," proclaims V.I. Warshawski in Sara Paretsky's Brush Back. The experience of both protagonist and author with Chicago's political, criminal and athletic landscapes make the seventeenth novel of Paretsky's P.I. crime series a thrillingly convincing addition to the genre.

When Warshawski's old flame Frank Guzzo shows up in her office asking for help exonerating his mother--newly released from prison after serving 25 years for beating her daughter to death--the seasoned private eye has serious reservations. This woman treated Warshawski's family viciously, and Warshawski believes Stella Guzzo is guilty of the crime for which she was convicted. But her history with Frank Guzzo motivates Warshawski's agreement to look into the case. What she uncovers leads her and her loved ones into the dark, dangerous underside of Chicago politics...and Wrigley Field.

Through three decades of V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky has portrayed the strong, independent female authentically. In Warshawski's sixth decade of life--the character is now in her fifties--Paretsky continues to draw a determined, believable hero. She bleeds when she's assaulted, aches the day after and admits fear of a corrupt social system much larger and more powerful than she. But she also perseveres, "'You know how it is. I was jumping over a tall building and forgot that it takes me two bounds these days.'"

With Warshawski working to brush back the bad guys, Paretsky scores another hard-boiled winner sure to make the fans go wild.

Brush Back is available in hardcover from Putnam (9780399160578) and as an unabridged audio (9781501231315), narrated by Karen Peakes, from Brilliance Audio.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Again and Again - Ellen Bravo

First line: "Let her be from New York City."

Before there were terms like "feminism" and "date rape" Deborah Borenstein knew her future would involve work on behalf of women. In college she helped found a group called Stop It Now, but it was the rape of her roommate and best friend, Liddie, that forever changed Deborah's life.

Returning to her room early from the library one night, Deborah walked in on Will Quincy forcing himself on Liddie. Quincy, an athletic frat boy, was a hot shot on campus and his family were large donors. Liddie had been drinking at a party with him and they were seen kissing by the other members of Quincy frat. Liddie knew she'd be labeled a slut and no one would believe her, but Deborah encouraged her to report the rape. Deborah was a witness after all and they had pictures of the ugly bruises Quincy had left behind all over Liddie's body.

Thirty years later Deborah is the director of Breaking the Silence, working in the political circles of Washington DC to help fight sexual violence against women, when she learns Will Quincy is running for a Senate seat from Delaware. She's being pressured by an aggressive journalist to out Quincy as a rapist, but to do so means drudging everything up for Liddie again. To make matters worse, her husband has landed a job on Quincy's opponent's campaign team. He also wants Deborah to reveal Quincy's past in order to help his career.

Being pulled in all directions Deborah is only sure of one thing. No matter what choice she makes, someone she loves is going to be devastated.

Again and Again is an emotionally powerful book with so many vital ideas packed in the pages. The first and foremost is of course the issue of date rape. Society has come a long way in thirty years, but the problem is far from solved. Bravo illustrates continuing barriers that plague victims: assumptions they did something to warrant being raped,  social or economic power their rapists wield over them, lack of compassion and understanding for the psychological effects of the assault, etc.

Another large part in the novel is the idea of empowering women. One faction Deborah deals with believes victims are only empowered if they face their rapists. But Bravo emphasizes how that just isn't the case. Empowering these women means giving them their right to make the choices that are right for them.

A third, less prominent but still vital issue is that of money's continuing influence in our justice system. Wealthy perpetrators are better able to afford lawyers who can manipulate the system and ultimately punish the victims.

Bravo doesn't try to make this story cut and dry, black and white, right and wrong. The issue is a complex, complicated and messy one. The novel makes that very clear.

In Again and Again's case, the victims are empathetic and readers will easily feel compassion for them.  The evolution of date rape--from giving it a name to dealing with how law enforcement handles it to psychologically treating the victims in its aftermath--is tactfully presented with an enlightening approach.

This is a book to share with your sisters, daughters, granddaughters. It's a book to share with your brothers, sons or grandsons. Everyone can benefit from understanding victims better. Even though Again and Again is fiction, it has the ability to shed light on the dark corners of sexual violence against women. It kept me spellbound well into the wee hours and I highly recommend it.

Again and Again is available in paperback from She Writes Press (9781631529399).

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My review today is part of the TLC book tour for Again and Again. Check the schedule to see what other bloggers are saying about this powerful book.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Brutality - Ingrid Thoft

Somehow this one slipped by. My review of Ingrid Thoft's Brutality first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I'm posting it (late--sorry) today with their permission. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "Liz Barone had come to the conclusion that if her illness didn't kill her, the medical and legal bills just might."

Spitfire private investigator Fina Ludlow returns for Ingrid Thoft's third hard-boiled crime novel, Brutality. Instead of receiving a case from her family's legal practice, Fina brings this one to them. But what she pedals as a potential payout may turn into a major disaster.

Bereft mother Bobbi Barone hires Fina to find who assaulted her adult daughter, Liz, leaving her for dead. The pool of suspects is large: Liz is pursuing a lawsuit against her college alma mater, plus there's no secret she and her boss do not get along.

As Fina scratches the surface of Liz's life, even more creepy crawlies emerge as potential assailants, leaving Fina with a full can of worms to investigate. Somewhere in that mix is a deadly snake, and when Fina pokes too close, she finds herself--and her family--in danger as well.

Brutality's plot contains excesses that slow the story's pace, but Thoft still keeps the suspense high and her readers engaged. This is in large part due to her fantastically quirky protagonist. Seeing more layers of Fina's complexity peeled away in each novel is as entertaining as figuring out who done it. Thoft continues to play up Fina's humorously oddball characteristics, like coveting a vending machine in Costco as "the answer to all my prayers." She also flushes out more of her PI's passionate side through Fina's relationships with her family and friends.

Mixing the traditional PI novel with her own secret ingredient--Fina Ludlow--Thoft once again creates an explosively fun read for any crime fan.

Brutality is available in hardcover from Putnam (9780399171185) and as an unabridged audio (9781490683713), narrated by Rebecca Soler, from Recorded Books.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Redeemers - Ace Atkins

My review of Ace Atkins' The Redeemers first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "Mickey Walls didn't bring up the subject until after he'd paid the Huddle House check and was walking out to his red Hummer parked on top of a ridge overlooking Highway 45."

Former Army Ranger and now former sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, Quinn Colson just can't escape the ugliness the world has to offer. His sister, Caddy, has fallen off the wagon--back abusing drugs--and a deputy is shot and left for dead during a burglary on Quinn's last night as sheriff. Leaving Tibbehah looks like a better option every minute.

In the fifth book of Ace Atkins' Quinn Colson series, his protagonist is again faced with dark and difficult decisions to make. Quinn has rekindled his relationship with his high school girlfriend, Anna Lee, and his rambling father, Jason, is back living on Quinn's property, urging his son to give farming a go. But Quinn doesn't see himself as a farmer; without his role as sheriff, he doesn't know where he fits.

Luckily, Mississippi isn't quite ready to let its native son go. Quinn is tangentially pulled into the burglary investigation as it snowballs out of control and changes the entire landscape of Quinn's hometown.

Atkins has created another suspenseful installment of this series. Despite the novel's nearly 400 pages, the plot is tight and will grip readers with plenty of action and twists.

But The Redeemers, like the previous books in this series, goes beyond a thrilling story. Atkins delves into the darkest and messiest depths of his wonderfully complex characters in order to pull out rays of hope for humanity. Readers unfamiliar with this series don't need to start at the beginning, but they should definitely start.

The Redeemers is available in hardcover from Putnam (9780399173943) and as an unabridged audio (9781490684215), narrated by Brian D'Arcy James, from Recorded Books.

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