Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva

I have a thirty minute commute to and from work, so I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to listen to audiobooks for some time.  Lately, I’ve gotten hooked on Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series (which is up to 16 books)!  I didn’t read them in order in the beginning, and was able to enjoy the books without all the back story; but I recently started at the beginning with The Kill Artist, and have made it up to number 7, The Secret Servant.

Gabriel Allon is an old masters art restorer and former art student who was recruited by the Israeli intelligence service (they never name the service) at a young age to exact vengeance on the terrorist group Black September after the massacre of the Israeli Munich Olympics team in 1972.  Historically, then Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized the operation, named “Wrath of God,”  and 11 members of Black September were assassinated in retaliation.  The fictional novels open over 25 years after that event, and though Gabriel has retired from the service to focus on his art restoration, he is unwillingly drawn back in to further operations in each novel.  He is haunted by the memory of a car bomb, meant for him, that killed his young son and horrifically damaged his wife physically and mentally.

These books are narrated by several different people (Tony Goldwyn being one), and each narrator does an excellent job with the various accents of the characters.  They are a bit brutal at times, but the suspense of the storylines has made me stay in my car in my driveway or at the parking lot at work longer than I should, just to finish the chapter!  Each book takes place in a variety of locations besides Tel Aviv, such as Switzerland, Rome, Venice, Austria, Moscow and Corsica, to name a few.  Each book also tells a bit more of the history of Gabriel and his fellow agents, and introduces historically accurate information, which the author notes at the end of the books.

I’ve really enjoyed these audiobooks and being immersed in the lives of these characters who feel so much commitment to their country that they are willing to risk their lives for the safety of their people. Being familiar with the history of Israel is helpful, but I’ve found it easy to enjoy the novels without knowing all the details.  Wikipedia is helpful while reading these!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Jack Salvo Series by Jesse Miles

Amazon Kindle e-book

Looking for a great new private detective series? Try the Jack Salvo novels by Jesse Miles.

After falling into this book, when I stopped to take a breath, I couldn't believe it was a self-published. It reads as if it were written by a much more experienced author, and I was pleasantly reminded of the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais, which I love. 

The main character in the series is a Philosophy teacher at a community college in Los Angeles, as well as a private detective, and I enjoyed his snarky internal and external voice. I appreciate that the author does not reveal all of Jack Salvo’s back story, which makes me want to keep reading the series to find out more. The plot involving a Russian ballet troupe is very creative, and the author has a great story on his website about where he got the idea for this novel. The descriptions of the two settings, Los Angeles and Saint Petersburg, Russia, were an integral part of the story and helped make it a great read. And the title comes from a very real church in Saint Petersburg, Russia called “The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood." I even looked it up on Google Images to get a vision of the setting. My only criticism of this excellent first novel is that the ending is a bit abrupt. I would have liked to have seen a little more there. Other than that, I do recommend this one.

The first title in the series, Dead Drop, is also well done and involves a case of embezzlement gone out of control. There is a third book underway called The Middle Sister, which I am looking forward to reading. I have a sneaking suspicion this author and his series may very well be snatched up by a traditional publisher. Here’s hoping.

(update: The Middle Sister was published on August 2, 2019 as a Paperback and eBook).

Dead Drop by [Miles, Jesse]

Amazon Kindle e-book

Happy Reading!

Atlas Obsura ~ Joshua Foer, et. al.

Foer, Joshua et. al. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0761169086. $35.00 USD.

I ordered this book for my library collection not really knowing what it was all about.  When it came in from processing for the shelves, I happened to pick it up and browse through it.  What a find! is a website created in 2009 by Joshua Foer, a science writer and author of international bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein, and Dylan Thuras.  It is a collaborative effort where people from all over the world can add information about interesting and obscure places, people, histories, art and architecture, just to name a few.  The website gave birth to the book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, published in late 2016 by Workman Publishing Company. It was my Non-Fiction pic for #libfaves16 this year, and when I tweeted “It’s like porn for information junkies,” the publisher retweeted it with the comment “what else can be said?!”

The book is oversized (hence the larger purchase price), and is divided into areas of the world, such as Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada, USA and Latin American.  Within these sections are photos, drawings, maps, and, of course, written information about, well, obscure people, places and things that most of us have never heard about!  I, of course, started my review of this unique book in the USA section, “Four Corners and the Southwest,” which includes my native state, Texas.  In one entry, titled “Ozymandias on the Plains,” there is a picture of a sculpture of “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in Amarillo with references to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”  The sculpture is out in the middle of a field with cows grazing in the meadow surrounding it. Created by sculptor Lightnin’ McDuff, it is continually vandalized to include socks on the feet, perhaps to keep the legs warm…..

The Ozymandias on the Plains statue in Amarillo, Texas,

The other entry that captured my attention are the Pando Aspens located in Richfield, Utah.  Though it may look like a forest of trees, it is actually a single organism – every stem is genetically identical and is linked by a single root system, making it the heaviest, and one of the oldest, organisms in the world.   The root system is an estimated 80,000 years old!

Image result for panda aspens utah

These are only two of hundreds of entries from all over the world contained in the delightful book, Atlas Obscura.  I loved it so much, I gave it to several people for Christmas.  I highly recommend this title for anyone with curiosity and a sense of wonder about the world.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Taking a Breather....

I have not posted much Since October, 2016, as I was deep down in a reading frenzy completing  many, many books in preparation for the voting meeting in December for the Texas Library Association Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List. The Committee for the Lariat List is made up of 9 Librarians from across Texas. I was asked to be on the nominating committee for a three year rotation, and the 2017 List should be published this month.  Five of the titles I nominated made the final list!  The short list is available at this link:

The short list is the list of titles that each of the 9 members of the committee nominated to be on the Lariat List.  When we met on December 9th, we voted for the top 25 titles. The annual list of Lariat award winners calls attention to outstanding fiction published during the year that merits special attention from adult readers. The main criteria for selecting books for the Lariat List is that they are “a pleasure to read.”

I'm taking a breather from Lariat List reading and catching up on some other books I've been wanting to read, and should have some book reviews up in the near future.  There are so many amazing authors, especially debut authors, that have written excellent fiction, and I just wish I had time to read all the books that capture my attention!

If you would like to expand your reading horizons in 2017, and get outside your comfort zone, check out the 2017 Reading Challenge from the PopSugar website here:

Happy Reading!

The Dry ~ Jane Harper

The Dry: A Novel by [Harper, Jane]

Harper, Jane. 2017. The Dry. New York, NY: Flatiron, a division of Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1250105608. $25.99 USD.

I received an ARC from the publisher after seeing the pre-pub buzz about this debut from Australian author Jane Harper. It definitely lived up to the hype! The setting, a small farming town in Australia suffering from drought, was unusual and so well-described that I could feel the heat and see the cracked, dry earth - all of which played an important role in the novel.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of a former childhood friend named Luke. By all appearances his friend, a beleaguered farmer, snapped suddenly and killed his wife, his son and himself. Aaron would have skipped going back due to the bad memories of the town, except for a note he received at work: "Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral." Years earlier, Luke had provided an alibi for Aaron in the death of a female friend, and it appears that someone in the town knows that the alibi was not exactly true. Luke gets drawn in to what at first seems to be an open and shut murder/suicide case, and he is further haunted by memories of the past that the people in the town have not forgotten.

The novel moves at an incredible pace, alternating between the present action and scenes from the past. The author does a great job of sustaining the suspense to a surprising and unexpected conclusion.  This is an excellent mystery, with well-developed characters, believable dialogue and an unique setting - I had a hard time putting this one down!

Lots of accolades from famous authors, such as David Baldacci, who wrote "One of the most stunning debuts I've ever read. I could feel the searing heat of the Australia setting. Every word is near perfect. The story builds like a wave seeking the purchase of earth before it crashes down and wipes out everything you might have thought about this enthralling tale. Read it!" 

Well done, Ms. Harper!