Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“Murder on Astor Place” by Victoria Thompson – The Midwife Sleuth

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson - book cover
In Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson, we are introduced to a midwife by the name of Sarah Brandt, who has, with time, become estranged with her rich and powerful family. However, one day she is forced to reconnect with them as a young girl, Alicia VanDamm, is murdered in Sarah’s boarding house.

As it turns out, Alicia’s family is also quite prominent, and her next of kin do not want an investigation for fear of some kind of scandal. It seems, for a while at least, that Sarah is the only one who wants justice for Alicia, but soon after being taken off the case, Sargeant Frank Malloy asks for Sarah’s help, and together they attempt to bring the one responsible to justice.

One of the greatest things about this story, I found at least, is the setting. Everything is so accurately and vividly described that you can practically feel yourself being there. The world of old New York may be something lost to time that we will never get to experience personally, but from what I could feel, this book comes pretty close to transporting you there.

The characters themselves are also quite interesting, at least in the sense that Victoria Thompson did not try to modernize them or anything. It felt as if she wanted to keep everything as it was in that time period, and though she falters at times (of course, I do not blame her), on the overall, the characters simply feel like they fit in with that world. The cast is of all colors here, with there being charming, hate-inducing, mysterious, loud and quiet characters. The chemistry between the protagonists is especially fun to watch develop.

As for the story itself, I have to say that it reminded me of some old-time detective novel. It’s not exactly something outstanding or truly groundbreaking, but it keeps you interested and entertained throughout the entire duration. The events advance at a relatively brisk pace and most of the twists aren’t exactly easy to predict, with the ending being quite enthralling, wrapping everything up nicely. All in all, I believe that fans of mystery novels will have a lot of fun reading this book.

Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson

Personal site

Victoria Thompson is an American author who had the distinction of, so far, being nominated for the Edgar Award, and her latest novel (at the time of writing this), Murder on Fifth Avenue, was nominated for the Agatha Award. She is without a doubt best-known for her crime series, Gaslight Mystery, one where every novel's title (not exaggerating in the slightest) begins with the words “Murder in”.

More of the Victoria Thompson's book reviews:
Murder on Fifth Avenue

Monday, April 22, 2013

“The Girl on the Stairs” by Barry Ernest – The Small Thorn you Can’t Ignore

Girl on the Stairs by Barry Ernest - book cover
Girl on the Stairs, by Barry Ernest and with a foreword written by David Lifton, is an exploration of one specific aspect of the JFK assassination. More precisely, it looks into what a little girl by the name of Victoria Adams saw on that day while standing in the staircase of the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald was supposedly making his escape.

Actually, it is more about what she didn’t see than what she did see. Victoria was on the staircase Oswald supposedly used, at the exact same time he supposedly used it. If he were to be there, even the little girl she was, Victoria would have noticed a nervous man quickly running down the stairs. However, she says that on that day, she was alone there, with nobody to be found, especially Oswald.

Friday, April 19, 2013

“Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes – The Endless Wonders of Life

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - book cover
Louisa Clark is a young and ordinary girl who lives in a small village, outside of which she has never dared to venture. In other words, she knows very little about the world, spending most of her time wondering about all that it has to offer her. Her life isn’t exactly a tragedy though; she has a steady life, a good boyfriend, and a loving family to make it through with every day.

One day, she decides to take a job working for Will Traynor, a man whose life has always been nothing but big: huge business deals, extreme sports, travelling the world... there is nothing the man has left unconquered. At first, their opposing characters make the relationship difficult, but as Louisa learns more and more about him, she starts to realize that his happiness may very well be more important than hers. Upon finding out that he has terrible plans of his own, Louisa grabs the torch and sets out to teach the old man something he had long forgotten: why life is worth living in the first place. At this point, I’m pretty sure we can make a separate category for stories such as Me Before You by Jojo Moyes; one in which two very unlikely people separated by a large generation gap end up bonding with each other, overcoming giant hurdles in the process.

However, there was something about this book which put it slightly above most others, and I believe it is due to the cast of characters. While the story is definitely centered around Louisa and Will, there are plenty of equally-interested side characters and plots that make the whole story feel more alive and believable. The background can make us perceive the foreground differently, and that’s what I think is happening here.

As for the story itself, I have to say it was quite touching to see a young and inexperienced girl inspire an old man who has seen everything to keep on living. The development of the main characters is especially fascinating, as they both take somewhat different paths and end up on the same page.

As you can probably tell though, the point of the book isn’t to simply tell a story, but to share with the readers thoughts on what makes life worth living for each and every person out there. A fulfilling book that I would recommend to anyone with a bit of time on their hands.

Jojo Moyes (August 4, 1969)

Jojo Moyes

Personal site

Jojo Moyes is an English novelist and journalist hailing from London. She has the distinction of being one of the few authors to have won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award on two occasions, the first time around in 2004 for her novel Foreign Fruit, and once again in 2011 with The Last Letter From Your Lover.

More of the Jojo Moyes' book reviews:
One Plus One
The Last Letter from Your Lover
The Girl You Left Behind

Thursday, April 18, 2013

“Hit List” by Richard Belzer and David Wayne – The Burden of Witness

Hit List by Richard Belzer and David Wayne (Book cover)
In practically every murder case, there is always some witness out there who has heard or seen something, enough to shed light on the mystery. This is especially true when it comes to public and high-profile murders, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

As Richard Belzer and David Wayne explain it in Hit List, the thing which truly doesn’t sit right is the fact that in the next three years, eighteen witnesses to the murder died of some reason or another. As Jim Marrs pointed it out in his own book on the subject, Crossfire, the probability for such a chain of events happening has calculated, and the odds were 1 in 100,000 trillion.

As such, Belzer and Wayne spend the book delving into each of the eighteen cases, examining the facts, trying to connect the dots together and draw conclusions. While it truly does seem that in some of the cases the deaths were a work of nature, in other cases, the facts point to a cover-up operation put in place by the government, perhaps in hopes of covering its tracks. Or at least, such is the conclusion they come to in this book.

When I first started reading I already knew what to expect from the others, having read through their other book, Dead Wrong. For those who aren’t familiar with it, these authors are hardly sensationalistic. On the contrary, they tend to stick to the facts and make interpretations based on them within the limits of logic and reason.

This isn’t really a book where you are going to be presented with new and unprecedented facts... rather, it is an objective re-interpretation of what they could point to. I have to say, it is a very interesting re-interpretation at that, especially seeing as how most people skip over the strange “coincidences” which befell the various witnesses in favor of exploring Kennedy’s life and those who opposed him.

On the whole, I found the book to be a very enjoyable, easy-to-understand, and thought-provoking read on a case that will probably haunt us for a very long time, perhaps a bit like the Ripper murders. The best we can do is look back on what we know, re-analyze that information, and perhaps hope for some new facts to come along; with time, those responsible won’t really be eligible for any administration of justice, and the mystery will be the only thing remaining.

Richard Belzer (August 4, 1944)

Richard Belzer

Personal site

Born at the end of WWII back in 1944, Richard Belzer is a renowned author and comedian who has done his fair share of work for the silver screen, stage and radio. In addition, he even found the time to crank out some peculiar books (to say the least), and they include beloved titles such as UFOs, JFK , and Elvis and I Am Not a Psychic!.

More of the Richard Belzer and David Wayne's book reviews:
UFOs, JFK, and Elvis
Dead Wrong

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

“Delusion in Death” by J. D. Robb – The Hallucinogenic Murderer

Delusion in Death by J. D. Robb - book cover
When most of us thing of the enemies which can hurt us the most, we generally think of humans with either guns or briefcases. However, there are infinitely more devastating weapons in this world, some of which are naked to the invisible eye... airborne chemicals.

In Delusion in Death by J. D. Robb, lieutenant Eve Dallas is called to a scene in a quaint downtown bar, where eight people lay dead. After interrogating the still-paranoid witnesses, she concludes that the whole bar had drinks spiked with some kind of potent hallucinogenic substance, which caused a murderous twelve minutes of mayhem. However, she still has to find out who did it, and more importantly, prevent that person from carrying on with their work. The worst part is another outbreak can take place literally anytime and anywhere, and there are no prevention methods, for the thing is airborne.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

“Dead Wrong” by Richard Belzer and David Wayne – The Government’s Dirty Laundry

Dead Wrong by Richard Belzer and David Wayne - book cover
While death has always played a huge part in human history, over the course of the past century it feels that more celebrities and political figures were found dead or assassinated than before. The authors of the book Dead Wrong, Richard Belzer and David Wayne (with Jesse Ventura having written the afterword) believe that many of the deaths, including those of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and even Marilyn Monroe, were part of a government plot. Naturally, the author’s don’t simply whip their opinions out of thin air; most of the theories in this book is based on the analysis of the undisputed facts of each case, both scientific and forensic.

To begin, I have to say that I really enjoyed the concept of someone taking a factual and logical approach to the topic, at least in terms of premise anyways. While it is true that the authors present a large number of very curious facts, there is very little in this book that is conclusive beyond all doubt. Don’t get me wrong... I’m not playing for either side of the fence here, but if you are going to expose a damning truth (murder and conspiracy to commit murder), then you better have some undisputable facts to back yourself up.

However, it has to be added that at this point, the information available to us is quite limited, and the likeliness of new facts popping up is very minute, meaning we must do what we can with what we have.

Apart from that though, the book is good at making you think, trying to figure out for yourself what happened during the murders of the people discussed in the book. It isn’t written in an overly cold or harsh tone... it is, after all, a book, and not some kind of scientific document. The language isn’t overly complex without being too simple, and it’s pretty obvious that the authors got everything they wanted across to the readers.

All in all, if you are looking for definitive and undisputable proof that the government has ordered various assassinations and executions of famous figures, then I’m sorry to say that this book isn’t it. However, if you are looking for a collection of facts on the subject, facts from which you can draw your own conclusions, then perhaps you should consider giving it a shot.

Richard Belzer (August 4, 1944)

Richard Belzer

Personal site

Born at the end of WWII back in 1944, Richard Belzer is a renowned author and comedian who has done his fair share of work for the silver screen, stage and radio. In addition, he even found the time to crank out some peculiar books (to say the least), and they include beloved titles such as UFOs, JFK , and Elvis and I Am Not a Psychic!.

More of the Richard Belzer and David Wayne's book reviews:
UFOs, JFK, and Elvis
Hit List

Monday, April 15, 2013

“Fever” by Maya Banks – Jealousy and Obsession

Fever by Maya Banks - book cover
Fever by Maya Banks is the second part of The Breathless series, and if you can remember, the first book introduced us to three of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country, Jace, Ash and Gabe. However, the first story was only concentrated on the last of these three characters. This time around, the story revolves around Jace and Ash.

They have been best friends for years upon years, sharing practically everything with each other, even their women. However, one day they make the acquaintance of a young and infatuating woman by the name of Bethany, and Jace is overcome by powerful emotions, those of obsession and jealousy. Determined to keep Bethany for himself only, Jace is willing to do anything it takes, even if it means turning his back on his really one and only best friend.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

“The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams – A Collection of Classics

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - book cover
At this point, most of us have read, seen, or at least heard about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a novel which famously put forth the number 42 as being the answer to life and everything. Those of you who know the above only as an animated movie will probably be surprised to know that it is the first entry in a series of classic novels, with there being plenty of other storylines to explore in that world.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams with an introduction written by Neil Gaiman, compiles five stories from the Hitchhiker world, bringing them to us in their pure and unaltered form. Here’s a brief look at the stories included within.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

“Rush” by Maya Banks – An Odyssey into the Darkness

Rush by Maya Banks - book cover
Rush by Maya Banks is the first book in what is known as The Breathless series, and it tells the story of Gabe Hamilton, one of the richest and most powerful men in the country. However, beneath his charming exterior beats a heart with much to hide from everyone. One day, he notices Mia Crestwell enter into the bathroom of his grand hotel, a young lady on who he had a crush ever since she was a teenager... and little did he know, Mia felt the same way towards him. And so they embark together on an ill-advised relationship, one which could threaten the integrity and honor of their families if it was to ever be exposed. However, it’s not as if all is fun and games, as Mia begins to learn about some of the darker tendencies Gabe hides from the world, going on a long and perilous odyssey into the darkest reaches of the human soul.

I have to say that even though I expected the first book to be some kind of run-of-the-mill love story, I was happy to see that despite everything, it does strive to evolve above that and explore deeper, existential themes. Of course, it all remains within the context of this type of book, with the main exploration being limited to human drives and desires, what is considered right and wrong, and of course, why.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

“Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson – Immortality Revisited

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - book cover
The year is 1910, with the night being dark, cold and snowy. A girl by the name of Ursula Todd is born. Then, she dies. Then, she is born again.

And so begins the long and tumultuous life of an immortal. In the aptly-named book, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, we are told the story of the afore-mentioned girl, whose power is obviously to live after dying.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

“Manuscript Found in Accra” by Paulo Coelho – The Blessing of Wisdom

Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho
It is July 14th, 1099 AD., and Jerusalem is about to face the crusaders who have surrounded the city and its gates. For those who don’t feel like brushing up on their history, the Jerusalem Siege of 1099 ended with a decisive victory in favor of the crusaders, who as you probably know, weren’t renowned for their mercy (to say the least). It is in this context that Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho introduces us to The Copt, a mysterious Herald who appears out of nowhere, summons the folk of the city, and spends the next few nights speaking to and with them.

At first, The Copt touches on the subject of the present, of what should really matter in this precise moment for the regular citizens. Coming to the conclusion that history will take care of telling others what happened on this day (seems he was right), he then starts discussing the difficulties people face on a daily basis. At first, they speak of topics that are seemingly of great importance at the moment, such as victory, defeat, and who the enemy is. As the story goes on, The Copt’s discussions drift more and more into the abstract, ultimately questioning core concepts of life such as beauty, love, wisdom, control of the future, and what success really is.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Power of Imagination

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - book cover
Unfortunately, unlike many of us are taught, once the Second World War came to an end, the fighting took a lot longer to cease in certain regions of the world. This goes more for Spain than anywhere else as even though the Spanish Civil War had officially come to an end, people of both sides were still at each other’s throats.

Growing up as a kid in such a climate can be very hard for lack of a strong and developed psyche. In Shadow of the Wind, written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and translated by Lucia Graves, we are told the story of a little boy growing up in Barcelona in 1945, and his love for books.

Friday, April 05, 2013

“Open: An Autobiography” by Andre Agassi – The Making of a Legend

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi - book cover
While most people only watch tennis when there is no American football, soccer, basketball or hockey playing, dismissing it as being a lighter sport with less intrigue.

However, there are many others who have taken the time to learn about the sport, its history as well as its players, and they know the emotions don’t run lower than in any other professional sport. Andre Agassi was one of the greatest tennis players of his time, having won a total of eight Grand Slams and claiming victories over some of the sport’s greatest athletes.

Open: An Autobiography is Andre Agassi’s tale, detailing the life he led to becoming one of the greatest tennis players of all time. It starts with his childhood during which he was already groomed to become a tennis champion by a demanding father. He touches on topics such as winning his first Grand Slam at the age of twenty-two, how the fame and wealth affected him, his double-sided relationship with the sport, his marriage with Brooke Shields and even his ever-growing interest when it comes to philanthropy.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

“The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles – The Emptiness Inside

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (Book cover)
The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, is a book which tells story of three American travelers wandering in the cities and deserts of North Africa during the Second World War. More precisely, we follow the adventures of Port and Kit, a couple entangled in a lifeless marriage, and their friend George Tunner, who decides to join them in their adventures more out of impulsiveness rather than anything else.

While the trio had hoped their journey across North Africa would breathe life into them, nothing of the sort happened; rather, they just found themselves in another type of prison. As such, the trio decides to head out into the great reaches of the Sahara, where they make some interesting encounters, some of them being quite sinister. As time goes on, the three friends start wishing they had never set out on this adventure in the first place, for in the end, each one is subjected to a harrowing gauntlet.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

“Bonhoeffer” by Eric Metaxas – God’s Spy

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas - book cover
While most of us know the gist of what happened during the Second World War, there are plenty of little stories that get far less recognition than they deserve, and many more being lost in time forever. The story of Bonhoeffer, fortunately, is still available to us, and in the book titled by the same name, Eric Metaxas covers his life.

Just who was Bonhoeffer exactly? For starters, he was a priest living in America. Just a regular person like any other. One day, however, he decides to leave America behind him in favor of going to... Germany. Naturally, he wasn’t going there on a religious mission or for his own entertainment. Being a man of God, Bonhoeffer recognized evil and decided to fight back against it.

And so began his involvement in the Second World War; he not only participated in the famous operation Valkyrie in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, but he was also involved in the equally-famous Operation 7, a large-scale effort to bring Jewish victims to the neutral territory of Switzerland. Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas chronicles the life and exploits of this man.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

“Six Years” by Harlan Coben – Stranger than Fiction

Six Years by Harlas Coben - book review
Six Years by Harlas Coben is a sort of mystery story, one that is a level above the rest in my opinion. It starts off with the introduction of our great hero, Jake Fisher. Six years ago, his wife left him to marry another, and he coped with it by investing himself in his career.

For all this time he has promised to leave Natalie alone, but on a faithful day, he sees the obituary of the man she left Jake for. Unable to contain himself, Jake goes on to attend his funeral, but while there, something strange happens: he sees the man’s wife, but she is not Natalie. What’s more, the woman standing there has been married to Todd for over two entire decades. Nobody remembers Natalie, nobody remembers Jake, and that’s if he’s lucky enough to find old friends and acquaintances. Just like that, Jakes’ entire life is turned upside down.

Monday, April 01, 2013

“World Without End” by Ken Follett – The Human Mind Corrupted

World Without End by Ken Follett (book cover)
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that there are some truly terrible people in this world, some of which have committed mass genocides, bringing unimaginable pain and suffering to millions upon millions.

Regardless of whether we are talking about a serial killer or a dictator, at the back of our minds, we do want to know how they have come to be where they are. How, why and when were their minds twisted beyond redemption? Did they live through traumatic events? Were they simply average and born with a need to exterminate?

In World Without End, Ken Follett looks into the people of Kingsbridge, a little town where two hundred years earlier, a cathedral was built under very demanding circumstances, as can be seen in The Pillars of Earth, the novel preceding this one. In any case, this time around Ken Follett tracks the adventures of four little boys of Kingsbridge who are one day changed beyond limit when they witness a killing in the forest.