Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
  • ISBN-10: 1250072328 - Hardcover $26.99
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (September 1, 2015), 336 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.
Li Du was an imperial librarian. Now he is an exile. Arriving in Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border, he is surprised to find it teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. All have come for a spectacle unprecedented in this remote province: an eclipse of the sun commanded by the Emperor himself.
When a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered in the home of the local magistrate, blame is hastily placed on Tibetan bandits. But Li Du suspects this was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can't keep his own story straight.
Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the mountain pass that will take him out of China forever. He must choose whether to leave, and embrace his exile, or to stay, and investigate a murder that the town of Dayan seems all too willing to forget.

Jade Dragon Mountain is a murder mystery set in an outer province of Qing Dynasty China. Elsa Hart takes us to the closed world of ancient China full of palace intrigues, hereditary enemies, scheming foreign visitors and plots against the Emperor. The Emperor is planning his visit to the remote Southern province to coincide with the eclipse, during his scheduled public appearance, the Emperor will order the moon to cover the sun, give evidence of the Emperor's ability to control the world.

The local magistrate and his wife have been preparing for the Emperor's visit for months from collecting the linens, porcelain, supplies, and gifts for the Emperor and his entourage to coordinating with the various local officials and foreign visitors. This Emperor is fascinated by astronomy and the sciences that the Jesuits and other foreigners have mastered, so the tribute from the foreign visitors will play a huge role in the Emperor's visit.

When an older Jesuit astronomer is found dead in his room, the local magistrate Tulishen calls upon his exiled cousin Li Du to determine whether murder was committed and who might have done it. It is critically important that the culprit, if any, be captured before the Emperor reaches the area. The exiled cousin, Li Du, had served as the imperial librarian, but his impolitic actions led to his banishment and the disgrace of their family. Tulishen, Li Du's politically savy cousin resents Li Du's academic achievements and is quick to find ways to show his superior position. Li Du knows that his new task can lead to much more beyond slights and petty humiliations, that there is a danger to his person as well as to those innocents that might be conveniently accused.

Li Du is a fascinating, sympathetic lead character and I thoroughly enjoyed following him as he traveled around ancient China piecing together unusual alliances and uncovering deceptions. Though you won't come across the usual violence and large body count, Jade Dragon Mountain is an unusual and fun read!

About the Author:
Elsa Hart was born in Rome, Italy, where her father was the foreign correspondent for U.S. News & World Report.  She lived in Russia, Finland, the US, and the Czech Republic before moving back to the US for college and law school.  Hart lived in China for three years while her husband completed field research, where she researched and wrote Jade Dragon Mountain. She now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she works for the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

  • ISBN-10: 0345544048 - Hardcover $28.00
  • Publisher: Bantam (July 21, 2015), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
In the latest blockbuster novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan investigates what looks to be a typical missing person case, only to find herself digging up bones possibly left by a serial killer, a cult, or perhaps something not entirely of this world.

I'd been a big fan of the TV show Bones but hadn't read the books on which the show is based.  It was a surprise to find that Temperance Brennan of the TV show lives a very different life from that of the novels. The Temperance Brennan of Speaking in Bones didn't grow up in the foster care system, instead she is very rooted in her family.  We meet her beautiful, smart and difficult mother, her outspoken sister, and her daughter who is serving in the military overseas.  It's clear that Brennan pushes herself constantly to care for her family and further the investigations that arise from the discovery of missing bones.  

She's still the brilliant forensic anthropologist, well respected, well connected. She's not in DC with a lively and quirky supporting cast. Instead, she's working with local law enforcement with far less resources and trying to navigate reluctant witnesses to follow missing persons cases.  

Speaking in Bones is a forensic mystery novel with a well beloved heroine who is trying to make sense of the deaths that suddenly surround her and the people that she cares about.  It's a fun read, rich with forensic and medical details and unexpected twists. While this heroine is different from the Temperance Brennan of Bones on Fox TV, she's equally endearing.

About the Author:
Kathy Reichs is the author of seventeen New York Times bestselling novels featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Like her protagonist, Reichs is a forensic anthropologist—one of fewer than one hundred ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. A professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she is the former vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and serves on the National Police Services Advisory Council in Canada. Reichs’s own life, as much as her novels, is the basis for the TV show Bones, one of the longest-running series in the history of the Fox network. 

Cover Reveal: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

  • ISBN-10: 0062347268- Paperback $15.99
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 1, 2016), 592 pages. 

About the Book:
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and 
original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the 
fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson's eldest daughter, Martha "Patsy" 
Jefferson Randolph -- a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding 
father and shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson knows that though her father loves his 
family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper.  As Thomas Jefferson's oldest 
daughter, she becomes his helpmate in the wake of his mother's death, traveling with 
him when he becomes American minister to France.  And it is in Paris, at the glittering 
court and among the first tumultuous days of the revolution, that she learns of her father's
liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl of her own age. 
Patsy too has fallen in love--with her father's protege, William Short, a staunch abolitionist 
intent on a career in Europe.  Heartbroken at having to decide between being William's 
wife or a devoted daughter, she returns to Virginia with her father and marries a man 
of his choosing, raising eleven children of her own.
Yet as family secrets come to light during her father's presidency, Patsy must again 
decide how much she will sacrifice to protect his reputation, in the process defining 
not just Jefferson's political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.
About the Authors:
Stephanie Dray is a bestselling and award-nominated author of historical 
women's fiction.  Her series of Cleopatra's daughter has been translated into six 
different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf.  
As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of paranormal romance, 
contemporary romance, and American set-historical women's fiction.  She is a 
frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near 
the nation's capital.  Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game 
designer, and a teacher. She uses the stories of women in history to inspire the 
young women of today.
Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical 
presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological 
study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from 
The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early 
America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History 
at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre 
fiction as the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty books, Laura Kaye. 
Her debut historical novel, America's First Daughter co-authored with Stephanie 
Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her 
passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, 
Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
If you're interested in learning more about America's First Daughter or winning a copy of
the book, head over to Tasty Book Tours to join the book contest!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture and Creativity by Oriana Leckert

  • ISBN-10: 1580934285 -  Paperback $29.95
  • Publisher: The Monacelli Press (May 19, 2015), 224 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
As an incubator of culture and creativity, Brooklyn is celebrated and imitated across the world. The settings for much of its dynamic underground scene are the numerous industrial spaces that were vacated as manufacturing dwindled across the huge borough. Adapted, hacked, and reused, these spaces host an eclectic range of activities by and for Brooklyn’s unique creative class, from DIY music venues to skillsharing centers. These are spaces to make art together, throw parties and concerts, host classes and performances, grow vegetables, build innovative products, and, most importantly, to support and inspire one another while welcoming more and more collaborators into the fold.
In Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture and Creativity, Oriana Leckert introduces us to the creators driving Brooklyn’s cultural renaissance, and in their company takes us on a tour of these unique alternative spaces. Whether a graffiti art show in an abandoned power station, a circus school in a former ice house, or a shuffleboard club in a disused die-cutting factory, these spaces present a vibrant cross-section of life in the borough where trends in music, fashion, food, and lifestyle are set. A chronicle of a thriving and ever-renewing scene, this book will appeal to everyone who’s interested in the unique energy that makes Brooklyn Brooklyn.

I've lived in Brooklyn since 2008 but Leckert's Brooklyn Spaces revealed so many aspects of Brooklyn culture as well as places that I didn't know existed.  I'd walked by the Superhero Supply Co., and thought it had such a catchy name but didn't know the tutorial and writing services it provides to kids and teens in the community.  

The Morbid Anatomy Museum is near Four and Twenty Blackbirds, but I'd never gone further than peering into the windows. I've seen two different homes Brooklyn Brainery, but haven't taken a class yet.  

I'm not interested in guidebooks for New York City - have read so many and they often have the same suggestions.  But Brooklyn Spaces worked as a guide for me,  Leckert gives a concise but full picture of  50 spots scattered throughout Brooklyn (albeit heavily weighted towards Williamsburg) and offers us readers an introduction to worlds and areas that we might otherwise have missed.  I've my own short list of places that I'd like to visit and perhaps become well acquainted with, thanks to Leckert.  I feel rather guilty linking to Amazon - so I've signed up for Indiebound to link to independent booksellers as well. 

About the Author:
Oriana Leckert is a writer, editor, and cultural "hipstorian" whose love for Brooklyn borders on obsession.  She is the creatrix of the website Brooklyn Spaces (brooklyn-spaces.com), a compendium of the borough's creative and underground culture; a writer for Atlas Obscura, the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places; a matchmaker for ghosts at Gotham Ghostwriters.  Her writing has also appeared on Slate, Matador, Hyperallergenic, Untapped Cities, and Brooklyn Based.  She is relentlessly happy and will probably correct your grammar.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

  • ISBN-10: 0316405124 - Hardcover $18
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (October 20, 2015), 400 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world.  To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour, an annual mtorcycle race across their conjoined continents.  The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's Ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal:  Win the race and kill Hitler.  A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female victor, Adele Wolfe.  This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele's twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move.  But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

Wolf by Wolf is set in a world where Adolf Hitler's Third Reich goes on to control half the world alongside the Japanese Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere. Our heroine Yael survives a death camp after having been singled out by the concentration camp's doctor for his skin changing experiments.  Yael's buried her entire family and many of those closest to her.  Her overriding goal is to destroy the Third Reich's control and to bring about Hitler's end.

The Resistance has planned an elaborate mission that requires her to first win the Axis Tour - a deadly race over the conjoined continents of what had been Europe, Russia, and Asia.  It is only as the winner of the contest that she'll have the opportunity to come close enough to Hitler to make her move.

I loved Wolf by Wolf. Yael enters the Axis Tour with a dossier on each of her competitors and quickly finds that there is much that her files fail to cover.  She must decipher their shared histories without revealing her identity or her mission and play to win.  Yael is strong, deadly, and with a strict code and as she goes through one of the most difficult challenges in her world, we can't help but root for her.

About the Author:
Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, South Carolina.  She's the author of All That Glows and The Walled City.  She lives in South Carolina with her husband and wolf dog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Bamboo Sword by Margi Preus

  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • ISBN-10: 1419708074 - Hardcover $16.95
  • Publisher: Amulet Books (September 15, 2015), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Set in 1853 in Japan, this novel follows Yoshi, a Japanese boy who dreams of someday becoming a samurai. Unfortunately, as part of the serving class, Yoshi can never become a warrior. He is taken up by Manjiro, the protagonist of Preus’s Heart of a Samurai, and becomes his servant and secret watchdog. Meanwhile, Commodore Matthew Perry and his USS Susquehanna squadron of steamships arrive in Edo Bay demanding “diplomatically” that Japan open its ports to foreign trade. Aboard the commodore’s flagship is a cabin boy, Jack, who becomes separated from his American companions while on shore. When he and Yoshi cross paths, they set out on a grand adventure to get Jack back to his ship before he is discovered by the shogun’s samurai.

I'd loved Heart of a Samurai, so I was excited to read The Bamboo Sword.  The book opens in Japan in the 1850s.  Although Nakahama Manjiro returns to Japan in The Bamboo Sword,  this time,  Its hero is thirteen-year-old Yoshi, a peasant who dreams of fighting like a samurai, who is the main protagonist.  Yoshi was orphaned and given employment by the local samurai family.  He does errands and cares for the son of the house, and as he does so, he watches their lessons in martial arts, bushido and sword play. Though Yoshi knows his position will never change, he loves practicing the sword moves with his own "bamboo sword".   Things change drastically when the barbarian sailors come to the port and his young master decides to flee.  Yoshi helps him but doesn't expect his own life to be so much worsened in the bargain.  Yoshi and his friend Jun run away to the harbor where they observe the "hairy ones" aboard their ship.

Another young hero from America is thirteen-year-old Jack Sullivan, who works as a cabin boy and a powder monkey on the Black Ship that's sailed into Japan's harbors.  Their captain and crew have gun powder and cannons and are preparing to make their mark and their fortune in the heathen East under the command of Commodore Perry.  Though the language and attitudes are historically accurate, I couldn't help but wince when they talk about killing slant-eyes, and the like.  Being Asian myself, I couldn't help hoping that they'll get their comeuppance.  

I loved The Bamboo Sword, but it is hard to share what I loved about it without revealing plot points.  It's helpful to note that much of the story is rooted in research.  So, what did I particularly enjoy?  The two boys, Yoshi and Jack, both on their own and the story of their friendship.  I appreciated how Preus masterfully wove in details about samurai weapons, armor, skills and training as well as the social and political restrictions under the political regime in Japan at the time of the Tokagawa Shogunate. The wood block prints depicting scenes of Japan, its people and the events.  The description of the Shogun's castle from the perspective of a young first time visitor.  The adventure that she gives to young Yoshi and Jack is both entertaining and plausible.  The Bamboo Sword is a keeper!

About the Author:
Margi Preus is the author of the acclaimed novels West of the MoonHeart of a Samurai, and Shadow on the Mountain. She also writes and co-writes plays, sketches, and adaptations for theater. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Fixer by Joseph Finder

The blurb:
When former investigative reporter Rick Hoffman loses his job, fiancee, and apartment, his only option is to move back into -- and renovate -- the home of his miserable youth, now empty and in decay since the stroke that put his father in a nursing home.

As Rick starts to pull apart the old house, he makes an electrifying discovery -- millions of dollars hidden in the walls.  It's enough money to completely transform Rick's life -- and everything he knew about his father.  Yet the more of his father's hidden past that Rick brings to light, the more dangerous his present becomes.  Soon, he finds himself on the run from deadly enemies desperate to keep the past buried, and only solving the mystery of his father -- a man who has been unable to communicate, comprehend, or care for himself for almost twenty years -- will save Rick. . . if he can survive long enough to do it.

I'd read the short story that  Joseph Finder co-authored with Lee Child in the International Thriller Writers' collection, but this is my first time to read one of Joseph Finder's thrillers.   I was fortunate enough to listen to Lee Child and Joseph Finder discuss how they worked on the short story and their differing writing methods during ThrillerFest last year.

Finder's latest novel, The Fixer is a standalone novel.  I've spent much of my life in Boston and manage property in the Back Bay and South End, so I appreciated the details that Finder wove into the story.  The descriptions of real estate aren't just spot on, but they helped give me a sense of the different characters.  It certainly added to my enjoyment of The Fixer.

The protagonist, Rick Hoffman, goes through a great deal and his investigative skills help him solve the mystery of the unexplained cash. He takes quite a journey and I'm not sad to say that he got battered up (literally and figuratively) along the way.  To be honest, I didn't much like Rick, but the romantic subplot gives us a good sense of who Rick is.  And it made me like him even less.  Fortunately, this is a standalone and we won't be seeing much more of Rick Hoffman.

I did grow to care for Rick's father  a great deal.  The thing that I loved best about The Fixer was the masterful way that Finder introduced us to Lenny Hoffman and the way that he let drop details of Lenny's life.  The scene in the Supreme Court and the struggles that he had balancing the person/lawyer that he'd hoped to be and the lawyer that he was resonated with me.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Fixer and am looking forward to reading Joseph Finder's earlier novels - as well as what comes next!

About the Author:
Joseph Finder is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven previous novels, including Suspicion, Vanished, and Buried Secrets.  Finder's international bestseller Killer Instinct won the International Thriller Writers' Thriller Award for Best Novel of 2006.  Other bestselling titles include Paranoia and High Crimes, both of which became major motion pictures.  He lives in Boston.