The Expats

Book Jacket  4W, 4H  Audio

Pavone, Chris., (c. 2012).  The Expats.  Read by Mozhan Marno.  Books on Tape. 10 discs (12 hrs, 24 mins), $32.95.

ISBN: 9780307990310

Reviews

NY Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Ex CIA agent Kate Moore becomes the picture perfect ex-pat in Luxembourg until a new couple activates her well-honed instincts and she knows their survival is at risk.

Summary:  

Kate Moore is a typical expat mom with two kids supporting her husband in his new job in Luxembourg.  She left her job, her life in Washington D.C. knowing that it was a good move for her family, hoping that her past would finally be behind her.  But she can’t ignore her CIA training when questionable behavior starts coming to her notice.  Who is this couple that has suddenly popped into their lives and what exactly does her husband do and why has he become so evasive?  Soon Kate is traveling around the European continent hoping to find answers through her CIA contacts.  Is she over reacting or is she protecting her family?  This taught tale of intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat, uncertain as to anyone’s intentions.

Evaluation:

Although the audio book was entertaining, this type of story in audio format can get confusing with all the characters coming in and out of the scenes along with the clandestine behavior that may be easier to follow in print.  Regardless, Pavone has created a wonderful heroine who is more chameleon than mom when it comes down to survival.  The plot is full of twists and turns reminding me of vintage Robert Ludlum.  Taking the reader on a tour of modern Europe, this is a great read for anyone who loves international intrigue along with a heroine who does not just sit by and let the world determine her place in it.  She is definitely a take-action kind of girl.

Author’s Website:

Chris Pavone

Genre/Subgenre:

Fiction/International espionage

Awards:

New York Times Bestseller

Edgar Award Winner

Anthony Award Winner

Readalikes:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Kate’s character is constantly evolving.  Which role seems to fit her best or does she successfully incorporate them all?

2. Kate had led a double life and now is faced with the fact that her husband might be too. Is she setting a double standard or just responding to her well-honed skills?

3. Dexter sites human gullibility as a weakness yet he becomes ultimately gullible.  What makes him gullible?  Is he ultimately blameless?

4. What does this novel say about trust?  What does this novel say about marriage?

Reasons for selection:

I wanted to read something with international intrigue so I found this while on NoveList as a read-a-like for Steig Larsson’s “Dragon Series” and thought I would give it a try.  I’m glad I did.  Pavone definitely packs a punch and has the talent to intertwine multiple plots and characters for a very satisfying read.

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Blue Heaven

Book Jacket  4W, 4H

Box, C.J., (c. 2008).  Blue Heaven.  St. Martins Minotaur. 352 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 9780312365707

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

When two children witness a murder in the Northern Idaho, they run for their lives.  But are they safe from the ex-cops they saw commit the crime?

Summary:  

An execution-style murder is witnessed by a twelve year old girl and her younger brother in the backwoods near their home in Northern Idaho.  As if that isn’t bad enough, the four men involved see them.  Running for their lives, the children soon realize that they can’t trust anyone except an old-rancher whose barn they seek out for refuge.

This part of Idaho has been dubbed “Blue Heaven” by the Los Angeles cops who have taken up retirement there.  And it’s the ex-cops that are in pursuit of the children.  But more is going on that brings attention to this part of the country.  Suspicious $100 bills are surfacing that were part of a robbery from a southern California race track years back.  Retired Detective, Villatoro is determined to solve this open case  and follow whatever leads he can find.  As all the pieces start coming together, the rancher Jess Rawlins and Detective Villatoro must face down these highly skilled and highly motivated ex-cops before they kill the children.

Evaluation:

Box skillfully brings together the plot lines and characters to produce his usual back-country brand of justice.  And even without his main series character, Joe Pickett, this stand-alone effectively puts the reader in the middle of beautiful country where human weaknesses have met their match. Box manages to introduce all the characters but gradually expose the threads tying everyone together making the climax not so much surprising but more validated.  In the spirit of the old-western, good versus evil is clearly laid out but with the twists and turns of modern day crime, weapons and greed.   Even if you are a Joe Pickett fan, Blue Heaven still provides all the reasons you love to read C.J. Box but with a whole set of new characters that will grab your heart and scream for justice, the old-west way.

Author’s Website:

C.J. Box

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Crime

Awards:

  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Best Novel
  • The Reading List (RUSA): 2009

Readalikes:

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe Kootenai Bay and how does the nickname “Blue Heaven” fit?

2.  What traits does Annie display early on that makes her “a survivor”?

3.  Are Monica’s actions believable or is her character conveniently manipulated for the purpose of the plot?

4. Is Rawlins a throw-back to the Old-West hero?  What makes him the “unlikely hero”?

Reasons for selection:

I am an avid C.J. Box fan.  His Joe Pickett series always sends me back to my summers in Montana, without the murder and mayhem of course.  He was recommended to me by a library patron in 2009 and I haven’t stopped reading him.  I picked up Blue Heaven because it’s one of Box’s stand alone titles that still takes place in the rugged mountains of the north west.

The Yard

  4W, 4H

Grecian, Alex.,  (c.2012). The Yard. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 422 pages. $25.99.

ISBN #:  9780399149542

Reviews:      The Guardian,  New York Times

Annotation:  

It’s 1889 London. The Yard’s Murder Squad is now faced with an even more menacing threat than the Ripper; the murderer is killing detectives.

Summary:  

Inspector Detective Walter Day has just moved to London to work with the Murder Squad, a department that had been recently formed to deal with the new phenomenon of the serial killer.  Since the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper the year before, Scotland Yard has been trying to regain the trust of the population in an environment that is disease ridden, poor and dangerous.  Day is the first detective on the scene when a member of the squad is discovered in a steamer trunk at the railway station with his mouth and eyes sewn shut.  Along with Dr. Bernard Kingsley, London’s first forensic pathologist and a pioneer in his field, Day sets out to piece together the mystery before more detectives are targeted.  The plot is rounded out with a cast of characters involved in separate events but all of which help contribute to the aesthetics of  a Victorian city rife with murder, crime and an overwhelming distrust of the police.

Evaluation:

Grecian captures the gritty, dank nature of Victorian London and the detectives who were determined to try and keep order in this chaotic environment.  He successfully intertwines historical facts with colorful characters to his story. A gripping and atmospheric read, mystery and history enthusiasts will enjoy the story and look forward to more in the Walter Day series.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Historical

Readalikes:

The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  The Railway Detective by Edward Marston.

Book Discussion Questions:

What is significant about the setting for this novel?

Forensic Science was still too new to trust in solving cases.  What type of evidence did they need to rely on to solve a crime?

Grecian includes several settings in this novel.  Which did you find most intriguing?

Reasons for selection:

I discovered The Yard through the Stop Your Killing Me! newsletter  I receive monthly.   I normally stray from historical mysteries because I feel they get bogged down in the atmosphere and fall short of the plot.  I was pleasantly pleased when I read this novel to find that it was a page turner. I was intrigued by the obstacles faced in solving crimes during this post – Jack the Ripper time frame.

The Coroner’s Lunch

  4W, 4H

Cotterill, Colin, (c. 2004). The Coroner’s Lunch.  Soho Press.  257 pages , $22.95.

ISBN:  1569473765

Reviews

New York Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Appointed as State Coroner in Communist Laos, Dr. Siri upsets the Party by taking his job seriously, solving politically sensitive murders with his unique style.

Summary:  

Seventy three year old Dr. Siri is looking forward to retirement regardless of the societal upheaval surrounding him in 1975 Communist Laos.  An apolitical, Parisian educated doctor, the Party magistrate appoints Dr. Siri to the position of state coroner knowing that he will be a good communist and tow the party line.  But Dr. Siri is not one to do much towing and finds himself butting heads with his appointees when he decides to take his job seriously and work the cases brought to him.  Along with his two assistants, Siri uncovers the secrets behind three intertwined murder plots much to the annoyance of those in charge.

1970’s Cambodia is brought to life through the sobering and sarcastic observations of Dr. Siri.  He is a realist that enjoys the beauty of his country while he puzzles over the contradictions of ruling power.  The country’s history is eloquently brought in to the story through the power of dreams which helps remind the readers that Cambodia is a country rich with cultural intent.

Evaluation:

Cotterill successfully describes an area of the world that has long been in a tug-a-war for its identity.  Dr. Siri and his colorful assistants are wonderful characters that add three dimensions to a period of time that proved to be both chaotic and predictable.  Effective sleuthing will appeal to the mystery lover and the area and political turmoil that create such vivid imagery will appeal to the history buff.  The combination is effective and makes for a perfect “cozy” read.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill.  Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton.

Book Discussion Questions:

What do we learn in the first pages about Dr. Siri?

What is Laos’s relationship to Thailand? to North Vietnam?

Does the paranormal add to to take away from your enjoyment of the story?

Reasons for selection:

Colin Cotterill was recommend to me by a friend who knew I enjoyed mysteries and stories that took place in other cultures.  Cotterill is a great find and I recommend him to many people who enjoy a light, yet intriguing read with fun, surprising characters.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

  4W, 4H

Adler-Olsen, Jussi, (c. 2011). The Keeper of Lost Causes.  Dutton.  395 pages , $28.79.

ISBN:  9780525952480

Reviews:

 Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

Relegated to cold cases, Chief Detective Morck finds himself intrigued by the five year old disappearance of a prominent politician.

Summary:  

A shooting that paralyzed his partner and should have ended his career has only served to make Chief Detective Morck bitter and unmotivated, a state that is apparent to all in the precinct.  Delegated to the basement, Morck has been assigned to work on the cold cases where he can pretend to stay busy and useful.  However, his recently assigned assistant, Assad, prods him into action and together they take on a five year old case involving a missing politician.  The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are intriguing enough to make Morck shed his aura of indifference and put his detective skills to work to piece together the puzzle.

This dark and gritty narrative successfully shows the detailed workings of a cold case juxtaposed to the victim’s horrific plight and the horror endured while the detectives methodically work there way to the answer.  Interspersed with wit and colorful characterizations, Adler-Ollsen explores the dark side of human nature and leaves us wanting more out of Department Q.  This is the first book in the series.

Evaluation:

For fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Keeper of Lost Causes hits the mark.  Set in Denmark, Chief Detective Morck wants to give up on life but circumstances won’t allow him that luxury.  Partnered with the ultimate optimist, Assad, Morck finds himself fascinated with the challenges of solving a relatively recent cold case.  The story is compelling, horrific and humorous which is not an easy mix to accomplish but the author succeeds on all levels.

Genre/Subgenre:

Thriller/Psychological Suspense

Readalikes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Alex by Pierre LeMaitre

Book Discussion Questions:

What makes Carl Morck’s character so believable?

Describe the relationship between Morck and Assad?

Despite the horror of the crime, there is comic relief throughout the story.  How big a part in the story does it play?

Reasons for selection:

I found this in NoveList as an Author-Readalike for Stieg Larsson.  It is the first in the Dept Q series and does not disappoint.  I was hooked from the beginning and managed to get through the pretty grisly parts.

The Last Runaway

  4W, 4H audio

Chevalier, Tracy, (c. 2013). The Last Runaway.  Penguin Audio. 8 discs (10 hours) , $32.99   Read by Kate Reading.

ISBN:  9781611761412

Reviews

The Guardian, Oprah.com

Annotation:

Immigrating to America in 1850, Honor moves into pre-Civil War Ohio where she must establish roots while not losing her sense of self.

Summary:  

Honor Bright travels with her sister from England to help her get settled with her new husband in Ohio.  It’s 1850 in America and Honor, a young, quiet Quaker woman, finds herself stranded in this foreign land when her sister dies on the journey.  Befriended by a milliner, Honor’s sewing skills help Belle with her business until Honor must leave to settle with a Quaker family in the neighboring town of Faithwell.  But Belle’s brother, Donovan, has taken an interest in Hope which does not bode well for Belle’s other business, that of helping free slaves through the underground railroad.  Donovan is a slave hunter and a good one at that.  His unwanted attention raises questions in Faithwell and puts Honor in a precarious position with her new family.

But Honor is true to her faith.  She understands the danger involved yet she becomes part of the underground railroad, helping slaves on their journey to freedom.  As she tries to fit in with her American family and avoid Donovan and his baffling appeal, Honor strives to do what is best until she is pushed too far and she can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

Evaluation:

Beautifully written, Chevalier creates a story that captures an element of american history from the perspective of a reluctant immigrant who sees America and its challenges with fresh eyes.  The struggles of the “slave issue” in the free state of Ohio are just as intense as elsewhere with Honor’s character having to battle with the moral ambiguity of helping to free innocent people and protecting her own family.  A great work of historical fiction. brought to life with the reading  by Kate Reading whose different voices, inflections and accents created a vivid picture of life in America as seen through the eyes of Chevalier’s characters.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction

Readalikes:

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning.  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Book Discussion Questions:

Quilting is significant to the main character.  How does it enhance the story?

Which character(s) would you have liked to see more developed?

How is Honor “flawed”?  Are there aspects about her character that you find difficult to comprehend?

Reasons for selection:

This book was chosen for one of our class’s book discussion selections.  I listened to it thinking that I might not be able to get into it by reading the print version due to the pace of the story (an assumption).  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and found myself intrigued by the story and wondering how Chevalier was going to effectively bring all the pieces together.

The Age of Miracles

  4W, 4H

Walker, Karen Thompson, (c. 2012). The Age of Miracles.  Random House.  288 pages , $24.99.

ISBN:  9780812992977

Reviews:

New York Times,  The Washington Post

Annotation:

As the earth’s rotation slows, nothing is as it used to be.   Julia is turning 12, coping with a new world and her new self.

Summary:  

Julia lives in San Diego, California and is on the brink of becoming a teenager when something out of the ordinary starts taking place.  The earth’s rotation has started to slow down significantly.  The scientists are at a loss as to its cause and can not predict if or when the slowing will stop.  So like everyone else, they watch their days and nights get longer affecting every aspect of the human.  But Julia’s world continues to be that of an average pre-teen where she is surrounded by uncertainty with friends, family, popularity and boys.  Her environment which is changing around her just adds to the weirdness of it all.

This beautifully written coming-of-age story will capture your imagination and leave you wondering about an existence with bright nights and dark days and living life with the overriding knowledge that the future is not a guarantee.

Evaluation:

Walker defines the pre-teen part of our lives as “The Age of Miracles” and her story is a celebration of the human instinct to focus on self at this time of change even in a world that is slowly coming to an end.  The story will capture your interest from the first page and keep you hooked the entire time.  A beautifully written tale of relationships, uncertainty and inevitability as the characters cope with an ever-changing landscape while trying to keep their lives as normal as possible.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction/Science Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice: Adult Fiction for Young Adults 2012

School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens 2012

Readalikes:

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.   Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.

Book Discussion Questions:

Why are “real-timers” seen as a threat?

What makes this story and premise believable/not-believable to you?

What is the rest of Seth’s story?

Reasons for selection:

This is a selection for our class book discussion groups.  I found the novel to be very thought provoking and believable as to what would take place if our world did start slowing down.