Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer
  • ISBN-10: 1250071542 - Hardcover $25.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 24, 2015), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

The blurb:
Retired architect Otto Laird is living a peaceful, if slightly bemused, existence in Switzerland with his second wife, Anika.  Once renowned for his radical designs, Otto now spends his days communing with nature and writing eccentric letters to old friends (which he doesn't mail).  But Otto's comfortable life is rudely interrupted when he learns that his most significant and revolutionary building, Marlowe House, a 1960s tower block estate in South London, is set to be demolished.

Otto is outraged.  Determined to do everything in his power to save the building, he reluctantly agrees to take part in the television documentary, which will mean returning to London for the first time in 25 years to live for a week in Marlowe House.  Once Otto becomes reacquainted with the city he called home for most of his life, his memories begin to come alive.  And as he mines his past and considers life moving forward -- for him and his building -- Otto embarks on a remarkable journey that will change everything he ever thought he knew.

Otto Laird, a retired architect living in Switzerland with his second wife, learns that Marlowe House is about to be torn down. Otto had worked on Marlowe House with his talented wife and partner Cynthia and at the time of its construction it had been an iconic building. Unfortunately, it had not acquired landmark status while its partner building which is located in a posher area of London is landmarked. In an attempt to save Marlowe House, Otto is asked to return to London to be interviewed and to spend a few days living in his old creation.

Otto himself has aged considerably, it's uncertain whether he's up for the scrutiny and the exhausting trip. But he travels to London and the experience leads him to revisit his old life. We learn about the young Otto who survived World War II living in a dark, cramped basement keeping deathly quiet. His love for light, open spaces and his reticence are partly tied to those years. We learn what Otto learns to overcome as he moves from a talented but reclusive architecture scholarship student to one of the brilliant young men of his generation, of how Otto and Cynthia met and fell in love, built a practice, grew apart and found their way back, of the history of Otto and Daniel's rocky relationship, and of how London and its spaces played a part in Otto's life.

The Restoration of Otto Laird is a book about growing into one's self, growing up, growing old - how time impacts the people and the spaces around us. I'm fascinated by architecture and buildings and Otto reminded me in part of my old grandfather, a civil engineer whose buildings are beginning to disappear. I loved The Restoration of Otto Laird - the story and Nigel Packer's writing stayed with me long after I'd finished the book.

About the Author:
Nigel Packer is a former journalist, whose eclectic writing career spanned music reviews for the BBC to a reporting officer at the International Committee for the Red Cross.  He received his BA in Archeology form the University of York and an MA from Leiden University.  Nigel lives in London and this is his first novel.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation) by Vaseem Khan

Series: A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation (Book 1)
  • ISBN-10: 0316386820 - Paperback $15
  • Publisher: Redhook (September 15, 2015),  320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant.

As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.

And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs...

I'm fond of mysteries and detective stories set in unusual places and times, so I was happy to stumble upon The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. Naseem Khan doesn't focus on the crime as much as the personalities of Inspector Chopra, his lovely wife Poppy, the baby elephant Ganesh, and Inspector Chopra's colleagues on the Mumbai Police Force. If you're a fan of cozies set in unusual places, you'll likely be charmed. Inspector Chopra is a stickler for the rules and is surprisingly uncorrupted even after decades of working on the police force. His retirement leaves him a little lost, but he's kept busy with caring for the baby elephant and trying to keep his promise to the parents of a young boy who died a suspicious death. Baby Ganesh gives the story an added complexity and level of fun -- who doesn't enjoy reading about young elephants and their care. As Inspector Chopra follows leads that take him to various Mumbai neighborhoods we peek into unusual neighborhoods. I found The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra a fun cozies and a great start to a new mystery series. Looking forward to reading the next one by Vaseem Khan.

About the Author:
Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a consultant. It was the most unusual thing he'd ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his series of crime novels.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished daily by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sword of Honor by David Kirk

  • ISBN-10: 0385536658 - Hardcover $26.95
  • Publisher: Doubleday (November 3, 2015), 464 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Having survived the cataclysmic battle of Sekigahara, which established the mighty Tokugawa Shogunate, young Musashi Miyamoto travels through Japan determined to proclaim his revolutionary epiphany that the "way of the sword" -- the ancient code that binds samurai to their masters -- needs to be abolished.

But during the battle Musashi insulted an adept of the powerful Yoshioka school, and a price has been put on his head.  Musashi travels to Kyoto, domain of the Yoshioka, for a reckoning.  He has taken up with Ameku, a beautiful blind woman branded as a witch; his burgeoning love for her will make him vulnerable.

Musashi intends to deal a crushing blow to the traditional samurai dogma by destroying the Yoshioka warriors, but Musashi will learn that his spectacular gifts with the sword are no match for the cunning of powerful lords.  The wily Tokugawa governor, still struggling to establish dominance in Kyoto, sees in Musashi just the weapon he needs to overcome the rebellious Yoshioka.

Sword of Honor seamlessly blends meticulous research, mesmerizing action sequences, and a driving narrative to bring this extraordinary figure to life.

In Sword of Honor, David Kirk follows Child of Vengance and continues the story of one of Japan's greatest swordsmen,  Musashi Miyamoto.  Musashi has survived the battle of Sekigahara and has become disillusioned with the control that the lords wield over the samurai.  He subsists with a fellow survivor for years, trying to make sense of their future.

An ugly encounter forces Musashi to go forward into the world and to wield his sword again. This time, he has decided that he carries his sword for himself and not to further the goals of any samurai lord. This radical break from tradition and his obvious state as a masterless marks him as dangerous to traditional society.  He invariably draws the attention of samurai lords and the Yoshioka school warriors.  As samurai repeatedly confront him, seek to teach him humility, each encounter takes Musashi further from the traditional path and closer to his destruction.

David Kirk takes us to the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the political upheaval and the warring factions. We understand the expectations and culture of the samurai at that time and Musashi's need to rebel and seek his own path.  The fighting sequences are detailed and vivid.  Musashi comes alive and although it is frustrating to watch him dive into a dojo full of danger, it is hard not to respect his spirit and skill.

About the Author:
David Kirk is the author of Child of Vengance.  He grew up in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in the U.K.  He has lived in Sendai, Japan, since 2008.  Visit him at