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Do you all have that list of authors in your head that you’d like to read, when given the moment?  Well, due to a couple strong recommendations (I wish I could elaborate on the source – if it was you please say so!), author Kate Atkinson was always on my radar as someone to pick up.  Serendipitously I stumbled across her novel, CASE HISTORIES, in the bargain bin at B&N (ok, maybe it wasn’t serendipity as much as it was escaping the cold and being a *great* shopper).

So yesterday, my last day of a very long though not-as-relaxing-as-one-may-think Christmas vacation, I sat down to read it and couldn’t put it down. Oh I tried – I had to unpack, clean up, wash dishes, dry my hair – but in between every small task I glanced longingly at book – and quit trying to be productive until I finished it.

Officially classified as a detective/crime novel, I found it more to be a sweeping drama than a mystery.   The flap copy says: “private detective Jackson Brodie—ex-cop, ex-husband and weekend dad—takes on three cases involving past crimes that occurred in and around London…” – but it doesn’t factor in the hints Atkinson drops throughout the novel, and the intertwining of the individual stories and the unanticipated interaction between characters.  I think only a very talented author can successfully write a novel weaving this many story lines together (not to mention the alternating point of views), and she does without missing a beat.

I’ve already ordered her next two novels featuring Jackson Brodie – for which my expectations are very, very high.  I get the feeling Atkinson won’t disappoint!

My second author discovery, who has also been on my TBR list, is another female author based in the mystery/thriller genre: Laura Lippman.

Obviously I love the alliteration of her name and when I came across the shiny jacket of her latest, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE (my mom used to call me a crow due to my affinity for anything that shimmers in the light), I couldn’t resist.

I had expected I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE to be more action-packed and thrilling, but similar to CASE HISTORIES above, this book had a psychological depth that surprised me.

Told from the perspective of the Eliza Benedict, a wife and mother who overcame her terrifying kidnapping as a teenager.  She was the only victim of Walter to escape his entrapment alive.  Already dealing with a sullen teenager and a young child, a letter from her captor and his approaching execution puts her hidden past back to the forefront.

I’m happy I finally had the opportunity to experience both authors.  Kate Atkinson immediately left me wanting more and I’ll definitely make more room on my bookshelf for Lippman – I’ve been told that many of her books are more traditional thrillers with a repeating character that I’d love to try.

Any authors you recently “met” that you can’t wait to read again?  Or, any shiny covers attract you lately?

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Have I mentioned that I enjoy reading about different lifestyles/religions?  Polygamy, harems, leprechauns, eskimos and the like fascinate me (no disrespect intended).  A little closer to home are the Amish.

I grew up in a small town in rural Michigan.  With few stoplights, very little ethnic diversity (no edible sushi or falafel), one high-school (except for the “academy” to which you were sent if kicked out of public school or pregnant), but there was uniqueness since we had an Amish population.  We would pass them driving in their buggys, or visit nearby Indiana for a pie or the spontaneous quilt purchase (thanks, Mom).

It’s always been a fascinating lifestyle to me (when I visited Lancaster, PA with some new friends from NYC, I was determined to interact with the Amish, hence photograph below), and I’ve been searching for some good fiction on the topic.  I tried Mennonite In A Little Black Dress but it wasn’t different enough (the family used a computer!?).  I read the Beverly Lewis series, but they were a little too preachy for me.  Thanks to a review in People magazine and a friend at Macmillan, I arrived at the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo.

As the rain came down yesterday evening, my shopping plans were swept away in the tsunami-like conditions,  so I excitedly pulled the first book in the series, SWORN TO SILENCE, from my overflowing TBR shelf.  This novel introduces the reader to Painters Mill, Ohio; a small, idyllic town with an English and Plain community.  Kate Burkholder is no Kay Scarpetta (though she is  a welcome edition to my fictional female badasses), wielding several advanced degrees as she solves crimes, but the first female Police Chief in the town she grew up in, when she was born Amish.

Me determined to capture the Amish experience while visiting PA

This is an intense thriller in which Castillo successfully weaves several intricate plots without losing the greater thread.  Burkholder is a very likable character, facing her own personal demons from a time, lifestyle and family she left behind, while trying to solve graphic and disturbing murders.  The supporting characters are well developed without overshadowing the protagonist.  The snowy setting and graphic murders remind me of the Finland depicted in James Thompson’s SNOW ANGELS (which I reviewed here), while the tying in of Amish life fascinates me.

I agree with the starred reviews awarded by Kirkus and Booklist when this book was first published, and I’m excited to begin the newly released PRAY FOR SILENCE during the next storm.  This thriller really made me appreciate my pretty lamp and air conditioner (aka use of electricity) as I was absorbed in the world of Painters Mill, Ohio.  I’m really interested in researching a weekend on an Amish farm to experience the lifestyle firsthand, anyone want to join?

My booklist has taken an R-rated twist

I consume books regularly and try to be open to all genres (except Twilight and Harry Potter; I refuse based on principle), but tend to stick with titles that offer some literary content or even just a thrill.  Lately, my titles have been more suspect and less something I would proudly read while riding on public transportation (yet another reason I need an EReader!).  Strippers and womanizers have dominated a few of my recent literary ingestions.

 

Tucker Max

Tucker Max

Drunkenness & Debauchery with Tucker Max: To some, Tucker Max is a hero: One to emulate, live vicariously through and high-five. To me, he is a cringe-worthy example of all that’s wrong in society today – a mediocre looking man who somehow has managed to find innumerable women who willingly exploit themselves and become a topic of Max’s only talent – writing.  I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is written as a memoir, filled with vignettes of stories, aka one-night stands.

For Max, sex is an activity akin to my shopping habit.  He just walks out on the street, sees something he likes and takes it home – nothing personal or even especially friendly.  I don’t even care enough to go on a tirade about this, because the strongly offensive nature is exactly why this exaggerated content is so popular.  If everyone just ignored it, Max would hopefully disappear, and suffer from some STD, alone.

  • Novelwhore’s Grade: C (Mediocre, like the author)
  • Title: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
  • Author: Tucker Max
  • Publisher: Citadel Press (Kensington)

candygirlOn-Stage with Juno’s Screenwriter, Naked: The blockbuster success of the Summer Movie of 2007, “Juno”, about the pregnant high-school giving her baby up for adoption, resulted in an umbrella effect of PR for the author, Diablo Cody.  Not the typical glitzy Hollywood Screenwriter, Cody had already been around the block before achieving fame and there is no doubt many people who became fans experienced her naked at multiple strip clubs in Minnesota.

Yes, Minnesota.  The cold state in which the taking off of clothes makes me shiver was the setting of Cody’s memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. College-educated with a normal childhood (if there is such a thing), she had a job in an advertising agency before wandering into an Amateur Stripping contest and becoming rather addicted to the thrill.  This memoir reminds me of Chelsea Handler’s Confessions of My Horizontal Life, as both women managed to maintain a conversational, self-deprecating voice while describing intimate things.  Entertaining throughout, this memoir offers a subversive thrill to a taboo subject and ends before getting overly disgusted from the vivid descriptions of what is done for cash.

  • Novelwhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper
  • Author: Diablo Cody
  • Publisher: Gotham (Penguin)

Expected Stripper-Tale, with Political Twists: From my experience, Carl Hiaasen takes a normal murder/suspense/power plot and adds tidbits of sex and humor to keep the reader engaged.  Striptease (an old title, found at library sale for $1) stays to this obviously successful formula and follows a young mother, driven to strip by the piling up of legal bills as she fights her ex-husband for custody of their young daughter (typical stripper sob-story, right?).

Seedy tale with the emotional mother-daughter pull, Hiaasen weaves his web of politics, blackmail and murder through the sleazy Governor of Florida, who’s in love with the stripper (like that Akon song!) and in bed with $millions$ behind the illegal farming of sugar cane.  The stripper is realistic and smart, the bouncer muscular and clever, the Congressman aging and not aware of all that’s happening for his behalf, this book is another look at the different cogs in society and what happens when they interact.  Definitely entertaining, but without the introspective angle of Candy Girl or the disgust-worth content of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

  • Novelwhore’s Grade: B-
  • Title: Striptease
  • Author: Carl Hiaasen
  • Publisher: Vision

Sometimes the life of a drug lord seems a little like the mob – dangerous and violent, but sexy in that easy-money sort of way.  I don’t have the heart for it – I can’t take the pictures of the starving children in Africa that come up on those religious commercials, much less personally contributing to addicts (is that a logical chain of thought?).  Not to mention drugs, weapons and police scare me… But they do make for a good story, as long as the violence and danger stay on the page, unlike the Mexican Cartels currently doing their best to wreak havoc in the States…

Elizabeth Lowell had no idea how current her fictional novel, The Wrong Hostage, would seem right now, with news outlets daily covering the influx of drugs and violence from Mexico and the issues going on within the drug world down there.

Published as the second book within her “St. Kilda” series (of which I’ve

How I like to picture MX

How I like to picture MX

never read the first), The Wrong Hostage takes place during a harrowing weekend in which California Judge Grace Silva is forced to go toe-to-toe with the feared Mexican drug lord, Hector Rivas Osuna, in order to rescue her 15-year-old son.  Held hostage against money Silva’s ex-husband owes, she takes action.  Instead of wasting time in tracking down her lousy ex, missing for weeks, she calls the super-secret St. Kilda firm, known only to her due to a brief, passionate love affair with an operative… If you’re a fan of the “Romantic Suspense” genre, I bet you can guess this operative is also, ta-da, the son’s real father.

Through scary roads in Mexico, being witness to cold-hearted murder within the drug community (reminiscent of the Chicago Mob: https://novelwhore.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/operation-gambat-when-corruption-was-king-of-chicago/) and all the while reigniting  long-lost passion, this is a fast-paced novel that leaves your heart in your throat as you just wish the family to be reunited, frolicking on a white-sand beach and off the drug-ridden streets of Tijuana.

Crazily enough, I read this novel last year and as quickly as I finished the last page it left my thoughts, just to spring to mind as I was reading The New York Times two days ago:  “More than 7,000 people [in Mexico], most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. Many of the victims were tortured. Beheadings have become common.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/us/23border.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2&em.

There are numerous additional articles covering home invasions and kidnappings in the United States, all related to the Mexican drug trade, making me wonder if a situation like Lowell portrayed in The Wrong Hostage happened to an ordinary family unconnected with underground, all-powerful rescue rings (do these even exist in real life?), what would happen?  Would the news even be publicized, or would one family be in unbearable private pain?

It’s scary when what I would consider to be outlandish fiction comes alive in the newspaper.  While I enjoyed reading this book throughout its 406 pages, I don’t like the reading of individual newspaper articles that don’t always have the same caliber of ending (trying not to give anything aware, being sly).

Give this book a try if you like action, suspense, guns and violence with an undercurrent of sexual tension, but skip it if you would rather not take a behind-the-scenes peek at what may be happening as we speak.

And I even love Mexico – Cancun vacation, anyone!?

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B
  • Title: The Wrong Hostage
  • Author: Elizabeth Lowell
  • Publisher: Avon

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