Monday, January 26, 2015

Mobile Library - David Whitehouse

My review of Mobile Library first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. I also had the delightful opportunity to interview David Whitehouse. You can check out that interview here if you missed it last week in Shelf. This is a book for everyone who loves and appreciates story!

First line: "Lips, sticky, not how his mother kissed."

In an exciting and heart-warming adventure befitting the greatest of literary heroes, David Whitehouse (Bed) explores the meaning of family and the value of love.

Bobby Nusku, like many fairy tale characters, lives in a dark world. His mother is gone; his father neglects him. At school he's an outcast, bullied by his classmates. And his only true friend, Sunny, moves away, leaving Bobby completely alone--until one day when a ray of light pedals into Bobby's life on an oversized tricycle. Rosa, the tricycle's driver, has a disability that makes her a target for bullies as well.

Bobby and Rosa form an immediate bond. When Bobby meets Rosa's mother Val, who cleans the town's mobile library, his luck seems to be turning. He finds the warmth, love and safety missing from his biological family and begins to thrive in their presence.

But the utopia is short-lived. When the town puts the bookmobile out of commission, forcing Val to look for work elsewhere, and Bobby's father beats him for spending time with his new friends, Val decides to run away in the library-on-wheels. This unlikely group of misfits, joined on the road by an ex-soldier, gradually melds into a family. Now they have to elude the authorities if they're going to live happily ever after.

Whitehouse wields language like a sword, fencing to defend story. He lunges with suspenseful pacing, advances on references to literary works and guards with rich character development. As a result Mobile Library prevails in engaging and entertaining readers, and story lives to fight another day.

Mobile Library is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781476749433) from Scribner. There is also an audiobook download, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, available from Simon & Schuster Audio.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ostland - David Thomas

My review of Ostland first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "The police chief was naked when they came to arrest him."

Using the actual German Criminal Police and SS officer, Georg Heuser, and the events surrounding his life, David Thomas, author of Blood Relative, tells a chilling story of how a human can devolve from fine, upstanding citizen to heartless killing machine.

Georg Heuser is a young man with strong ambition when he joins the Criminal Police (a.k.a. Kriminalpolizei). He intends to do his job superbly and rise accordingly in the ranks. The first case he investigates--and helps solve--is a high-profile serial murderer. In grotesque irony, Heuser's superiors reward him with a promotion to SS-First Lieutenant and a transfer to Minsk where his job is to assassinate helpless Jews as part of the Nazi's "Final Solution."

Although a fictionalized account, Ostland is an emotionally challenging read. Thomas carefully examines the life of this respectable individual and the forces that enable his transformation to mass murderer. Without exempting Heuser from personal responsibility, Thomas questions the level of his guilt and provokes his readers to do the same.

Ostland alternates between sections told in Heuser's voice during World War II and sections told from the perspective of a pair of the criminal trial lawyers twenty years later. The latter includes little of the actual legal proceedings and a superfluous affair between the two that temporarily draws the reader's focus away from the power of Heuser's story.

Despite the slight deviation, Thomas has created a captivating narrative with a high level of suspense and a morally charged theme. A horror story told with grace and passion.

Ostland is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781623658496) from Quercus.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Five on Friday: Jutta Profijt

Happy Friday all! I'm so excited after having raved and raved about The Morgue Drawer series on Tuesday, I'm over the moon to welcome Jutta Profijt today as our featured guest.

Jutta Profijt hales from Germany and spent some time living in Cognac, France. She's worked as a translator, a project manager, a Business English and Business French teacher and now most importantly, a crime writer.

Morgue Drawer Four kicked off the series, as I mentioned on Tuesday. What I did not mention then was the fact that it was nominated for the 2010 Friedrich-Glauser-prize (the German Edgar award!).

You already know how much I love these books, so let's meet Jutta, shall we?

1. I'd willingly make a deal with the devil to stop violence and wars. No need to explain that, ey?

2. If I could have a secret superpower, it would be read people’s mind. I would be able to switch it on and off (I certainly don’t want to know every thought from everyone!) and from time to time I would sneak into people’s mind to understand why they do what they do.

3. My last meal request would be a fresh garden salad including rucola and radicchio with mustard/honey dressing as a starter, some bread with muhammara (a walnut/garlic/chili pesto), spaghetti with basil pesto, a little lemon sorbet to refresh the tastebuds, roasted chicken (or lamb chops) with french fries and a ginger-chili-tiramisù. After that a very strong espresso. (Fortunately I’m criminal only in my books, so I hope to enjoy all these things – not usually in one meal, though - many, many times before I die.)

4. My most successful New Years resolution of all time was not to have any. I skipped this tradition years ago. If habits are really bad enough to change them I could do this any time of the year. And if they are not bad enough, why should I care?

5. The #1 item on my bucket list right now is start with my new book. I’ve been doing funny things the last days pretending they were extremely urgent just to avoid the confrontation with the blank page. Thanks for reminding me that this is in fact the no.1 item on my list …

I'm in totally agreement on the violence and wars. I have to share with you that the first picture of Jutta is what she says is her favorite activity each day and the picture was labeled "Profijt chilling." Now I'm going to put on a sweater because I've suddenly developed goosebumps all over. Brrrrrrr!

Many, many thanks to Jutta Profijt for taking time out...when she should be starting the new book...and joining us today. So much fun! You can learn more about Jutta Profijt and her books at her website and you can also follow her on Facebook. For those who might be interested, here's a link to MacLeod Andrews' Five on Friday from 2013.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Morgue Drawer series - Jutta Profijt

I don't often have the freedom to read numerous books in a series back to back these days, but I made time in the case of Jutta Profijt's Morgue Drawer series, which I listened to on audio. I'm going to combine the reviews here because so much of what I loved carried over in each book--without become tiresome, I should add! Unfortunately I haven't been able to get ahold of the second audiobook yet, so that's the only one from the series missing in the review to follow. Hope you enjoy...

Book 1: Morgue Drawer Four

First line: "I hope you'll read this account from top to bottom because it's the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and so--eh, I'm sure you've heard the saying."

Morgue Drawer Four introduces Pascha (formerly known as Sascha) Lerchenberg, a car thief. He's dead due to a fall from a bridge and presently cooling in morgue drawer number four. Martin Gãnsewein is the forensic pathologist who is responsible for Pascha's autopsy. Despite Pascha's physical death, his soul is still hanging around and Martin turns out to be the only human who can hear him.

Once Pascha gets over the issue of his death, he begs Martin to help him prove that his death was not a suicide. He didn't kill himself and he doesn't want to be remembered that way. Pascha believes if he can prove his death was murder, his soul will be at peace and he can pass on. Martin, desperate to have this voice inside his head gone, agrees to help.

So straight-laced, well-educated, upstanding citizen Martin and crude, womanizing, law-breaking Pascha set out to find Pascha's killer. Hilarity, chaos, crime and mystery ensue.

Book 3: Morgue Drawer for Rent

First line: "So if I were going to put a date on when the series of crises at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Cologne began, it would have to be July twelfth."

Pascha is still very much a part of Martin's life, much to Martin's chagrin. He is trying everything he can to find a way to prevent Pascha from haunting his daily life. Now Martin and his girlfriend, Birgit--who doesn't know about Pascha--are talking about moving in together, but Martin fears Pascha's interference in their lives and seems to be doing everything possible to sabotage the apartment hunting.

Meanwhile on the morgue front, Martin has a new boss who seems dead set on making his life a living hell--as if Pascha wasn't enough--while body parts and whole bodies are disappearing from the morgue.

Book 4: Morgue Drawer: Do Not Enter!

First line: "The Renault Kangoo van was wedged between the narrow piers under the bridge like a boil in a butt crack, but the driver's seat was empty."

As the series presses on, Pascha begins to follow accidents in hopes of finding others trapped like he is between this world and the next. He'd like a friend, someone other than Martin.  He gets more than he bargained for in the fourth installment of the series, however.

An accident leaves a teacher missing and four young children in comas with their souls flittering around while their bodies are in limbo. They attach themselves to Martin and suddenly he's become the babysitter of the undead.

The teacher is being accused of a terrible misdeed in the accident but the children know she was kidnapped. Martin is determined to discover what happened to the teacher but he also has to make sure the children are not far away when the doctors bring them out of their comas or their young fates may be altered for eternity.

Each of the books in this series is creatively fresh. The mystery plots are plausible and Profijt does an excellent job of utilizing her entire cast of colorful characters. The individual books have their own unique guest characters, and they are as dimensional and fun as the regulars. It's actually sad to see those guests leave at the end of an installment.

The Morgue Drawer series is translated from the original German by Erik J. Macki and of course I mentioned that I listened to all three books on audio. They are narrated by Macleod Andrews.  This is truly a team effort here. Jutta Profijt has written a great series, but she's created a protagonist who is snarky and street-wise and he throws a lot of slang--and attitude--around. Macki brings that into English brilliantly and Andrews hits the tone with perfection. Pascha's first words to Martin in Morgue Drawer Four are, "Dude, get your monkey beaters off my balls!" Martin is about to emasculate Pascha in the post-mortem and Pascha hasn't come to terms with his death yet. The word choice is pitch perfect for Pascha and Andrews' desperate yelp of the exchange will convince readers he himself is about to be sliced. This trio is akin to a three-legged stool. If anyone came up short the entire thing would fail, epically. Instead, they simply seem to be floating around with Pascha, on the exact same wavelength.

MacLeod Andrews does an incredible job with this series. From things as simple as Pascha's disinterested "blah, blah, blahs" to his emotional outbursts. You don't just hear Andrews, you feel Pascha. And Profijt has sculpted this character who is simply over-flowing with swagger. Andrews delivers that without over dramatizing it. Since Pascha is a former car thief, he pays a lot of attention to cars, especially Martin's car. Andrews will deliver Pascha's lines about Martin's "trash can on wheels" with complete seriousness, which makes it hysterically funny for the listener.

And Pascha's attitude toward women, especially compared to Martin's. Pascha will rip out something completely sexist and piggish, and Andrews can turn on dime to deliver Martin's rebuke in such a way that listeners will burn from the heat the blush in his face creates. The complete mortification Martin endures when Pascha tries to help him with his romancing of Birgit (a la Cyrano)--in the middle of a private bedroom scene--is so well performed by Andrews that readers will look to make sure they are covered up.

This isn't a series that's heavy in social commentary, although social issues do arise. But the focus tends more toward the relationships, both human to human and human to not-quite-so-human-anymore. A overall humor pervades these novels, but there's an endearing element to them as well, an element readers and listeners can identify with even if they don't hear voices in their heads.

The stars aligned and the perfect combination of creators came together. The result is a wonderfully entertaining--and addictive--mystery series. I can not wait for the next one!

All four books in the Morgue Drawer series are available from AmazonCrossing in paperback and from Brilliance Audio in unabridged audiobook.

Morgue Drawer Four (ISBN: 9781611090321)
audio (ISBN: 9781455876526)
Morgue Drawer Next Door (ISBN: 9781611090406)
audio (ISBN: 9781455876334)
Morgue Drawer for Rent (ISBN: 9781611090420)
audio (ISBN: 9781455876327)
Morgue Drawer: Do Not Enter! (ISBN: 9781477826409)
audio (ISBN: 9781491578773)

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Global War on Morris - Steve Israel

For this week's non-crime Monday I am posting The Global War on Morris by Steve Israel with the permission of Shelf Awareness for Readers where it first appeared as a starred review. There's a lot of food for thought in this satire, but a lot of laughs as well. Hope you enjoy.

(Note, the first line of the book is preceded by this definition: tsu-ris (/tsoÕùoris/) n.--1. Trouble or woe; aggravation.)

First line: "Tsuris ahead."

Brandishing biting wit and a Washington insider's perspective, U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (New York) takes aim at the United States' global war on terror--revealing true casualties--in his hilariously shrewd first novel.

Pharmaceutical salesman Morris Feldstein walks the straight and narrow in his tediously routine life. He avoids conflict at all costs and follows the philosophy "don't make waves." Victoria D'Amico is a recently single, lonely receptionist on Morris's sales route. She lures Morris, who is in a rare state of weakness, to lunch and seduces him into a single, pitiful illicit rendezvous. Before Morris even reaches the seedy motel, the government is scrutinizing him through crosshairs due to a zany chain of innocent encounters. Spies and surveillance systems feed misinterpreted information about Morris into a supercomputer that determines he is a serious threat to national security. Morris Feldstein's routine life is turned upside down with no sign of being righted.

Israel's wicked sense of humor highlights the absurdity of his subject matter, clear down to setting descriptions: "Landscaping trucks sat on the sides of the road like infantry vehicles in an army of occupation, a foreign legion of immigrants impressed into lawn-to-lawn combat in the global war on dandelions." Readers will doubtlessly find analogs to Israel's exaggerated characters among their coworkers, neighbors, maybe even family.

Like his salesman protagonist, Israel has something to pitch: the belief that Americans must stop allowing fear to govern them. His obvious conviction for this idea propels him to alter Morris's philosophy: "be selective; make the right waves." The Global War on Morris is the right wave.

The Global War on Morris is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781476772233) from Simon & Schuster.

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