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Billy J. Hobbs "Bill Hobbs" (Tyler, TX USA)

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Target in the Night
Target in the Night
by Ricardo Piglia
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.24
30 used & new from CDN$ 11.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Piglia targets the night--quite well!, May 12 2016
This review is from: Target in the Night (Paperback)
I have long been intrigued by modern South American writers, from Jorge Luis Borges to Mario Vargas Llosa.

This year, Buenos Aires-born Ricardo Piglia won the Formentor Prize, following in the footsteps of Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, Javier Marias, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Target in the Night, his latest thriller (translated from Spanish by Sergio Waisman) also won the 2011 international Romulo Gallegos Prize. Piglia, who recently taught at Princeton for 15 years, is considered by many to be the greatest living Argentine writer. It is now being released in English.

We meet Inspector Croce, a legendary detective who gets results, even though he has “a few screws loose.” His new case involves the murder of a man who met the twin red-haired Belladona sisters in Atlantic City and followed them to the remote Argentine Pampas town their grandfather from Turin founded. Who killed him? And why? “The whole town participated in fine-tuning and improving the stories,” writes Piglia. “The motives and the point of view changed, but not the character. The events themselves hadn’t actually changed, only how they were being perceived. There were no new facts, only different interpretations.”

Target is a passionate political and psychological thriller, an intense and tragic family history reminiscent of a “little known” (much less read) work called King Lear in which the madness of the detective is integral to solving crimes. Like Lear, though, the reader has to do a little thinking along the way.... But the results are worth the effort. I read this in English translation—and can only imagine what it must be like in the original Spanish. Piglia deservs all the credit (and accolades) he is getting.

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
by Elaine Sciolino
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.34
44 used & new from CDN$ 19.07

5.0 out of 5 stars "The Only Street in Paris" is a nice stroll!, May 12 2016
“We’ll always have Paris,” Bogey tells Ilsa, and for years we’ve all believed that (in spite of last fall’s terror attacks). And for those of us who’ll always love (and have) Paris, Elaine Sciolino, a former Paris bureau chief of The New York Times, shares her love for her adopted working-class Parisian neighborhood in this delightful and detailed look at the Rue des Martyrs. "The Only Street in Paris" will evoke many fond, nostalgic memories from readers such as I, who’ve spent some time in the City of Light! (The Lost Generation folks must be smiling over this publication!) And it certainly brought back memories of my own!

The street is a traditional Parisian rue with a distinguished cultural history--the inspiration for Puccini’s "La Bohème," and Emile Zola’s "Nana," as well as circus paintings by Degas, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s where Truffaut filmed scenes for his 1959 autobiographical film "The 400 Blows."

Sciolino brings us up to date with leisurely visits to her favorite café, shops, “the most seductive greengrocer in Paris,” and the second-hand shop where she took Arianna Huffington shopping, and the cabaret that inspired "La Cage aux Folles." Her knack for making friends and her reporter’s instincts keep this tour fascinating. Viva la France!

Great Revolt, The: A Brother Athelstan novel of Medieval London
Great Revolt, The: A Brother Athelstan novel of Medieval London
by Paul Doherty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Doherty's latest is 'revolting'!, May 12 2016
Readers who’ve been following the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan are in—finally—for a treat. Book 16 of this series finally gives us some “closure” in The Great Revolt. After several years now, Paul Doherty is letting the English folk of 1381 have their say! Our favorite monk of St. Erconwald’s parish, the good brother, has been monitoring this rebellion for years, as some of his parishioners—he knows—are part and parcel of this movement. He must walk a fine line here, for to veer in either direction would be most dangerous.

The rebel armies now are massed outside London, determined to overturn both Crown and Church. The Regent, John of Gaunt, has headed north to take care of a bit of unrest Up There toward Scotland, leaving his nephew, the boy-king Richard II, indeed, unprotected.

Brother Athelstan, meanwhile, has been summoned to the monastery at Blackfriars, tasked with solving the murder of his fellow priest, Brother Alberic, found stabbed to death in his locked chamber. Athelstan would rather be protecting his parishioners. Instead, he finds himself investigating a royal murder that took place 54 years earlier while the rebel leaders plot the present king's destruction.

What does the fate of the king's great-grandfather, Edward II, have to do with the murder of Brother Alberic more than fifty years later? When our sleuthing monk finds his own life under threat, Athelstan discovers that exposing past secrets can lead to present danger. Doherty never flinches as he pictures the life and times of Londoners of this century. His easy-to-read style always flows smoothly, never getting in the way of his story. This is a good read—certainly the climax to Brother Athelstan’s tales. And perhaps the author can pick up on some of the other series he has on-going.

Walking the Nile by Levison Wood (1-Jan-2015) Hardcover
Walking the Nile by Levison Wood (1-Jan-2015) Hardcover
2 used & new from CDN$ 53.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Levison's 'walkabout' is excellent!, May 12 2016
Many readers, no doubt, have paid their dues to Egypt and its Nile River. Either we’ve flown over it, floated on it, barged down it, or had coffee at the Nile Hilton and just watched the world go by, or we’ve read about it or seen movies of the fabled waterway. Levison Wood’s "Walking the Nile" brings back lots of fond memories, even though he trod those banks afoot, which most of us have not.

In November 2013 in a forest in Rwanda, Wood sets forth on foot, attempting to be the first person to walk the entire length of that 4000 mile long river, which flows from Rwanda clear up to the Mediterranean (as history and geography folks well know).

His fascination with this great river led him to undertake this journey. Trudging through the rainforests, swamps, and deserts “roughing it” (he shares quite a few “life-threatening” episodes), he gives us a real adventure story. In short, he reminds us that the Nile is more than a river in Egypt. Even if one has never seen the Nile, it’s still an exciting story.

In Satan's Shadow
In Satan's Shadow
Price: CDN$ 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well developed and fast-paced!, May 11 2016
This review is from: In Satan's Shadow (Kindle Edition)
If you are looking for a fast-paced, action-oriented thriller, “In Satan’s Shadow” is for you. Set, basically, in Berlin in the 1940s, the plot is straightforward enough. But don’t let the fast pace fool you—John Anthony Miller’s novel has all the intrigue, suspense, and nerve-wracking elements that will keep you turning the pages.

Michael York is a British agent assigned to “duties” in the Nazi capital. The war’s outcome is not yet decided—although cracks are beginning to show that the Thousand Year Reich may not be realized (this time around) after all. And in York’s business, just who can you trust? In addition to trying to find out what the Nazis are up to, so that he can report to his superiors in London, York stumbles upon other issues that not only concern him, but seem to confuse him about just what is the extent of his mission.

Fiction, it is, of course, but Miller’s handling of this story is enhanced not only as he seems to have captured the sentiment, the atmosphere, the attitude, the sheer danger of Berlin at this time, but he freely uses real characters to infuse realism in this story—names of the Nazis, for instance, with whom we are familiar. In addition, his own fictional characters are realistic enough to give the story a credible ring. His knowledge of Berlin and the German language certainly enhance the flavor and the setting. Having spent some time in Berlin (after the War and after the Wall was built), I found his penchant for verisimilitude another of the author’s strong points. I could figuratively “taste” Berlin!

I am not sure spy thrillers are meant to be “enjoyed,” but this one certainly created a positive reading experience for me, as we careen around the twists and turns of the storyline and its characters. I highly recommend it.

The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring Series)
The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring Series)
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Fast Paced" and a real page turner!, May 8 2016
Librarians and libraries can be thrilling. They can also be “thrillers”—and Brad Meltzer has given us a “thriller about a librarian” in "The Inner Circle." And the twists start coming as fast as you can turn a page (or whisper out—it in a library remember—Dewey Decimal System!).

Beecher White, as unlikely a leading man as one can imagine, is an archivist at the National Archives in Washington D.C. Buried in history every day, he makes a living by finding answers to arcane questions. “Mysteries are my specialty,” Beecher proudly confesses.

Alas, when Clementine Kaye, his elementary crush and first kiss, asks for his help in finding her father’s identity, Beecher can’t resist showing off his research skills. He’s been in somewhat of daze ever since his fiancée left him, and he sees now a chance to reconnect with his darling Clementine.

Of course, all this trying to impress a girl quickly goes wrong. Beecher and his security guard friend show Clementine the secret vault where the President comes to de-stress by reviewing old documents. The plot thickens when an accidental coffee spill unearths a torn-up old dictionary hidden under a chair. Voila! It just happens to be one that belonged to George Washington—one that may be used to send secret messages to the most powerful man in the United States (the president, not Donald Trump!).

But murder comes calling all too soon when the security guard is found dead and with fingers pointed in their direction, Beecher and Clementine go on the run. And, of course, the mystery of the dictionary must be solved! The more answers they find, the closer they get to the President and a secret that he and his inner circle are determined to keep buried (No, this is not a Steve Berry or Robert Ludlum book!).

Beecher steps up, though, shedding his naïve, nerdy, nice guy persona as he uncovers the layers of conspiracy. His librarian sleuthing skills prove invaluable and it’s impossible not to root for the little guy going up against the President. Fast paced and easy reading, The Inner Circle certain will hold your interest (and no late fees assessed!).

The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel
The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel
by Catherine Lowell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 32.57
30 used & new from CDN$ 22.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Lowell brings back the Brontes!, May 1 2016
In this smart, delightful, witty, and enthralling debut novel by Catherine Lowell, "The Madwoman Upstairs" brings us the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family, Samantha Whipple, who embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family's long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

Miss Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she's rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë's literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts. This is a literary and historical hidden fortune that's never been shown outside of the family.

Alas (and this is where the plot sickens), Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn't exist. She has little or no interest in the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father (author Tristan Whipple) or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

Yet, in keeping with Victorian literary boundaries and expectations, everything changes when she enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel written in her father's handwriting. Home schooled by her father, Samantha has grown up with the shadows of the Bronte sisters looming large over her life. Now, with her beloved father dead and her mother living in France, American Samantha has arrived at Oxford University to study English literature.

More and more bizarre clues arrive and Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world's greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor (remember, it's Victorian lit, though not Umberto Eco!), Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës own writing.

A fast-paced adventure, "The Madwoman Upstairs" is a moving'and often light--exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction (and without all the somberness of any of the Brontës!) (And happy 200th birthday, Charlotte!)

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery by Arlen, Tessa (2015) Hardcover
Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery by Arlen, Tessa (2015) Hardcover
by Tessa Arlen
Edition: Hardcover
3 used & new from CDN$ 27.46

4.0 out of 5 stars Arlen's 'Gentleman' is a killer!, May 1 2016
The Great War is still a few months off—and, of course, the possibilities of that happening is on everyone’s mind. Author Tessa Arlen does a good job of creating/reflecting this atmosphere for the setting of “Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman,” an easy to read yet intriguing murder mystery set in the comfortable surroundings of an Edwardian country house. (Yes, shades of “Downton Abbey,” but don’t let that influence you—Ms Arlen’s debut novel certainly holds its ground.)

It’s summer of 1913 and Lord and Lady (Clementine) Montfort are getting set for their annual costume ball at their country estate.It has all the trappings of murder, intrigue, and humor, both upstairs and downstairs. Credit goes too to the author for her carefully penned descriptions of the time and place, and with a delightful show of historical perspective.

Lady Montfort, of course, is all a-thither getting the ball rolling—she’s been planning every moment since last summer’s “do.” It’s no small order, for, after all, it’s always the hit of the summer season. Son Harry is home from Oxford to attend as is Teddy Mallory, the ward and nephew of the Montforts, who’s been caught in a card-cheating scandal. Early on, we find Harry and Teddy in a troublesome argument. But that doesn’t stop the ball from being a tremendous success!

But not so fast. The next morning Teddy’s body if found hanging in the woods, and it’s clearly a murder scene (remember, this is a murder mystery!). And to add calumny to the murder, Lady Lucinda Lambert-Lambert and Violet, a kitchen maid, are missing! What’s a countess to do? Alas and alack, she teams up with Mrs. Jackson, the housekeeper, and proceeds to investigate, feeling that the police involvement isn’t enough—and especially with her own son as a possible suspect (among the many who actually had a motive to “do in” that irritating Teddy!).

And proceed they do. Actually, they make a good pair of “detectives,” bridging the social and economic barriers, as it were. And from there, the list of the usual suspects and the usual number of red herrings abound. Before you can say “Miss Marple,” this intrepid duo scores a victory, weaving their way through a multitude of suspects.

But don’t let all that slow you down—Arlen’s book, told from the point of view of these two strong women, does a great job of capturing not only the sentiment and atmosphere of this time, but it also clearly presents some of the characteristics of this time and place: class distinction, snobbery, prejudice, and short-sightedness. She deserves credit for unearthing in a realistic fashion some of the secrets of the family, their servants, and of that society in general as she readily lets Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson proceed to the finish line of discovering the guilty culprit.

As it turns out, this is a “tale of two ladies,” and the “summer of their discontent—the best of times and the worst of times,” as both Dickens and Shakespeare would have it. Shortlisted for the 2015 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel, it set the foundation for, to date, a three book series.

Steps to the Gallows (The Bow Street Rivals)
Steps to the Gallows (The Bow Street Rivals)
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Marston continues with an excellent series!, April 28 2016
Edward Marston has a plethora of historical mysteries series going on, series which span a wide stretch of British history—and all worth reading. In one of his latest series (he has at least three going on at the same time), Marston continues with his Bow Street Runners episodes in "Steps to the Gallows." Set in the 19th century, the Runners eventually, history shows us, evolves into modern day Scotland Yard. But this evolution takes time and in the early stages of public detectives, things indeed get rough, crude, clumsy, and someone dead wrong. Forensic pathology had not yet been invented (by Patricia Cornwell, some say!).

But our twin brother detectives, Peter and Paul Skillen (saintly they’re not) are determined. A local newspaper (we’d call them “tabloids” today) with nary a thought about ethics, it seems, plays big here. The editor, who captains the paper with fierce details of political and sexual scandals (and damn the collateral damage) is killed and his newspaper’s printing press destroyed.

Though they are not Bow Street Runners but actually competitors as private detectives, Peter and Paul (our Invisible Detectives) are hired to find—and to bring to justice—the person or persons responsible. The owner wants the paper back in publication (scandals sell papers!).

And, indeed, our brothers tackle the job with their usual fervor, facing grave danger as they are hard pressed to find the killer and, lo and behold, they also find a world of scandal and corruption going on (we could have told them so, for things aren’t much different a century or so later!).

Still, though, Marston’s series is worth the effort—and this reader particularly found this installment interesting, especially owing to its journalistic angles

Jane Steele
Jane Steele
by Lyndsay Faye
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.18
34 used & new from CDN$ 22.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jane steals the show!, April 28 2016
This review is from: Jane Steele (Hardcover)
It’s a dark and stormy setting, a story filled with the difficulties of being a female who holds no title or prospects in London in the 1800s. "Jane Steele" is a darkly intense historical novel by Lyndsay Faye that is openly fashioned after Charlotte Brontë’s classic, "Jane Eyre," written in a manner befitting the mid-1800s.

Whether or not you like "Jane Eyre" (and there are legions of fans who do), it's hard not to be pulled in by Jane Steele's narrative voice. Her mother dies, leaving her orphaned and at the mercy of her constantly-disapproving aunt, who later sends her to a strict, miserable boarding school. (Remember this is Victorian lit and how intense melodrama was most fashionable!).

But that's not before she commits her first murder.

The novel follows Jane Steele, an orphan whose life mirrors that of her favorite literary heroine, Jane Eyre. Their paths diverge at this one fine point, however: Jane Steele is a serial killer. She uses her wit, nerves, and slight sociopathy to kill abusive men, all the while wondering what would Jane Eyre think? Jane’s childhood struggles are interesting and they set into motion a series of events that would change her future, providing a solid background for the adult portion of her story. The book is broken into three parts with a complex storyline fully displaying all the characteristics of the Victorian novel.

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim boarding school until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law (while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged!), Jane thrills discovers an advertisement: her aunt has died and Highgate House, her childhood home, has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Jane takes the position incognito as she’s burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir. She soon learns that the house is full of strange new residents—the fascinating, irrascible army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars (Mr. Thornfield) and his Sikh butler (whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend--and, of course, we want to know!). As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: will she be able to possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past? Faye's dear readers certainly wonder!

Amazingly, Lyndsay Faye makes this a satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies in a clever and absorbing book—but with a huge twist—it has a lot more blood, murder, and vengeance that the delicate Miss Brontë could ever imagine! (But Brontë purists, beware!) Kudos, though, to author Faye for giving us yet another glimpse of a real literary treasure.

And Happy 200th birthday to you, Miss Brontë !

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