Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ten Books

My friend Jen Forbus from Jen's Book Thoughts recently tagged me on a Facebook post asking for a list of ten books that have stuck with me. The instructions said not to put too much thought into it, just make a list. So here is my list, in no particular order, and with brief explanation.  

I first heard of this book when my third grade teacher, Mrs. Alice McClelland, read it to our class. She read to us everyday, right after lunch, for about ten minutes. She read many great books to us that year: Superfudge, Charlotte's Web, The Boxcar Children, and Where the Red Fern Grows to name a few. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was first, and it introduced me to novels. I'm forever grateful.

The Twentieth Century is a textbook I was required to read in college at Eastern Michigan University. However, it is notable for a few reasons. One reason is that all four of its authors were professors at EMU, which, because I was a student there, was really cool. Another is that it was written differently than many of the text books I had read: it was interesting! It told a story. It wasn't dry and boring. It was very readable. But the biggest reason it made the list is because it introduced me to a history of more than just the west. It included Asian and Middle Eastern history, too, and it is fascinating. 

Son of the Revolution is a book I was required to read for the class that used The Twentieth Century as its text book. Of course, I didn't start it until the day before the final, and only got partially through! But, it was a great book written by a man that grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. It was so compelling, I finished it immediately after the semester was over. 

This is the first book I read after college even though I didn't have to. I was working a side job at my local library one day and as a staff member was leaving for the day he asked how I was. I told him I was bored. He said, "You're in a library, pick up a book!" He recommended The Death and Life of Bobby Z., and said if I didn't like it by the end of the first chapter, he'd never recommend another book again. He was right, the book grabbed me. But he didn't have to recommend another book, I was eager to find more on my own and have had a pile waiting for me ever since!

This book is about World War I, told from both the side of the military in Europe and the protesters and soldiers at home in England. First of all, it is the most I ever learned about World War I. It was the first ware of the Twentieth Century, when officers were still commissioned because of the family from which they came, and how much they could pay for their rank. It was a meeting of two eras. Second, it was a great example of how leaders are sometimes unable to changes, despite the devastation their actions, or inactions bring. Finally, it showed the birth of communism, which at that time was more of a means to end the tyranny of the Russian monarchy and a method to get England out of the war. It was a people's government, which at the time was practically unheard of. 

This book made the list for its title. Sorrow's anthem refers to the cacophony of sound made by the sirens of emergency vehicles responding to an emergency. It is a sound I know well, and it is almost always accompanied by sorrow. Someone hurt, sometimes killed, a home lost to fire, a couple fighting; the possibilities are endless. And the sorrow is not always lost on those who respond.

This is a book about the Iraq war during the Coalition Provisional Authority. It shows how political the Iraq War was from the beginning, and how the arrogance that ruled the day ruined any hope for success in post-Sadam Iraq.  

This book includes two murders. Neither are what you think. Things are not always black & white, and maybe a good friend might have to kill you for your own good.

I read this book in junior high school. It was the first time a book brought me to tears.

How can a tragic story be told with elegance? When it's written by Toni Morrison. 

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: King and Maxwell by David Baldacci

     Sam Wingo had a mission. Drive a truck across Afghanistan and deliver its forty-eight hundred pounds of cargo. But, as one might expect, it's easier said than done. When he arrives at his destination, the recipient wasn't who he expected. Instead, a group of men identifying themselves as CIA operatives told him the plans had changed, and he's to deliver his cargo to them. Despite his orders to destroy it, along with himself and anyone else in the blast radius, Wingo decides he'd like to play it out and live to fight another day. But when he contacts his superior to explain the missing cargo and that he's alive, he's suspected of double crossing the government and stealing the truck's contents. 
     Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia, private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell nearly run over Tyler, a teenager running in the road during a rainstorm. The boy was distraught, running from home after learning of the death of his father, a soldier in Afghanistan: Sam Wingo.  But when he receives an email from his father, after the time of his supposed death, he suspects there is more to the story, and hires King and Maxwell to look into it. 
     Tyler's suspicions are correct, and the more King and Maxwell look into the death of Sam Wingo the Army warns them off the case, followed by the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. But what starts as Michelle's desire to help Tyler, and by extension help heal her own emotional wounds, turns into Sean's desire to solve a case that has the makings of an international incident that could disrupt an entire region and involve the United States President in a potentially unrecoverable scandal. 

David Baldacci

    King and Maxwell is the sixth book in a series by David Baldacci featuring the two Private Investigators, both disgraced former Secret Service Agents. Baldacci has been a favorite of mine since I read Last Man Standing over a decade ago, and he did not disappointed with King and Maxwell. I enjoy the relationship of the two protagonists. Sean is older, more experienced and diplomatic, with a career full of contacts throughout Washington; Michelle is youthful, full of energy, bold, sometimes rash, and extremely physically fit. But they work well together, each generally using their strengths towards the mission. There is an obvious mutual attraction between Sean and Michelle, and although it hardly dominates, I look forward to their relationship progressing in future books.
     The ghosts that haunt Sean and Michelle clearly motivate them throughout the book, but I can see it being difficult for those not familiar with the characters to understand why. Baldacci mentioned that Michelle had been inured while they were working on a high profile case, how each had saved the other's life many times, and that they left the Secret Service after personal and professional failures. However, even minor details of those events were not explained for readers new to the series or whose memory of the previous books is a lacking. It might have been more helpful and less intrusive to dedicate a paragraph or two to a summary of Sean's and Michelle's past so readers could appreciate the history of the relationship. The smaller but seemingly constant reminders throughout the book were effective at demonstrating their dedication, but failed to explain its origin. 

     In King and Maxwell, the antagonist is haunted by the death of his parents, which he blamed on a government scandal decades earlier. When he learned of an opportunity to avenge those deaths, he took it. Although I don't know if it was Baldacci's intent, the story could be a warning about the far reaching implications of the actions of those in power. Decisions made on a large scale, considering only the bigger picture, have consequences on individuals, too. Recklessly making decisions with without consideration of those viewed as inconsequential, especially if those decisions are more about preserving political power at the expense of others, could create problems that are far reaching and unpredictable.

     King and Maxwell accomplished what many thrillers have difficulty with: a fast paced story that is well told combined with strong, consistent, well developed, dynamic characters. 

Baldacci, David. King and Maxwell, Grand Central Publishing, November 19, 2013.
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455521319

King and Maxwell was provided to The Thirty Year Itch courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.  No other compensation was received in exchange for this review or its content. 

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Challenge Accepted (kind-of)

     The Thankfully Reading Weekend is upon us; a weekend spent reading instead of becoming a part of the
craziness that has become the post-Thanksgiving weekend. I learned about the event, the brainchild of Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves, first on Twitter. It sounded like a great way to quietly protest the materialism of the weekend and a fun way to get motivated to read. It is my understanding that there are no rules or requirements for participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend; it can mean something different to everyone participating. Some will simply read, and post periodic updates; some will post pictures; others will sponsor challenges.
     So far I've been doing some reading (currently King and Maxwell by David Baldacci) and posted a picture or two. Now, I'm accepting a challenge issued by my friend Jen Forbus at Jen's Book Thoughts. Well, I'm kind of accepting it, with a minor bending of a rule.
     Jen's challenge is to recommend a new(er) author based on the work of a more established author. For example, if you like Michael Connelly, you'll love Wes Albers (Black & White). She has provided a list of great authors on which to base a recommendation. Right away I thought of a newer author I'd like to recommend, but the author I thought of as a comparison was not on Jen's list. And that is where my rule bending has come in. Sorry if I ruined your challenge Jen!

If you like Carl Hiaasen... 

Author Carl Hiaasen
     Carl Hiaasen was one of the first few authors that led me to the crime fiction genre. The book was Skin Tight, and I still think it is one of his best. I like Hiaasen because  his books are mysteries, but are also funny. His characters seem pretty normal at first, but as the story progresses, they get wacky and complex. For example, one recurring character is a former Florida governor who got tired of the politics, the stress, and the way Florida, in his view, was being ruined. So he took to the swamps, lives off the land, and, in his way, helps to keep Florida unmolested. Another is a man who lost an arm, and replaced it with a weed eater! In the mix of mystery and comedy, there is usually an underlying environmental message about the natural beauty of Florida and the state's commercialization (read: destruction). 

Author Lou Berney'll love Lou Berney  

Lou Berney is the author of Gutshot Straight and Whiplash River. I read Gutshot Straight a few months ago, and look forward to Whiplash River. The book stars Shake Bouchon, recently released from prison, eager to start a clean life. But he barely gets outside the prison gates when he is picked up by an old friend offering him work. One more job, he tells himself. But of course it doesn't turn out that way, and Shake leads us through an adventure spanning two continents, an ensemble of characters that rival Hiaasen's best, and an ending that kept me wanting more.      
     So, if you like Carl Hiaasen, give Lou Berney a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed!

     Whatever you do for your post-Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you enjoy it. And reading a few hours can only make it better.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: White Fire by Preston & Child

      "Knocking over his chair in his agitation, one hand to his forehead, the man staggered from the room, nearly upsetting a waiter's tray of delicacies. And as he vanished in the direction of the gentlemen's toilet area, his face displayed a perfect expression of revulsion. 
     The last two sentences of the Prologue of White Fire, the latest novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, describes the exit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after his dinner companion, Oscar Wilde, tells him about an event in Roaring Fork, Colorado, that he learned of while on his US tour in the late 1880's. A story so gruesome, so vile and disturbing, that he could not bring himself to commit it to paper. But would Conan Doyle? And why would it matter in a Twenty-First Century thriller? 
     Chapter One begins in the present day, with criminal justice student
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Corrie Swanson working to find a thesis acceptable to her hard to please adviser at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a retired NYPD Detective who was a, "strikingly handsome man with salt-and-pepper hair, wonderful teeth, trim and fit, a good dresser, articulate, soft-spoken, intelligent, and successful. Everything he did, he did well, and as a result he was an accomplished asshole indeed." Finally, and not without some deceit, Corrie's third thesis idea was approved: she would spend winter break studying the bones of miners killed in the late 1880's, presumably by a grizzly bear. She was off to Roaring Fork, Colorado, to start her research. 

     With its mining days behind it, Roaring Fork was now populated by the super rich. Being a millionaire wasn't good enough; it took a few hundred million dollars to be noticed. Corrie immediately set out to work examining the bones of the a miner, but after she got one quick peek, she was suddenly and inexplicably refused access. That peek showed her enough to know that the dead miner was not killed by a grizzly bear, but likely murdered. And she was intent not only to prove it, but to prove who the killers were, over one hundred thirty years later. Whoever revoked her access to the bones didn't want her to solve the century old mystery, and will stop at nothing to stop her.

     White Fire is the thirteenth in the series co-written by Preston and  Child featuring the mysterious FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast, "...his scultped, albaster, so blond it was almost white...eyes of such pale gray-blue that, even across the room, he looked almost like an alien." It was my second read of the series, following Still Life with Crows
     There were similarities between the two books. Like Still Life, there is a mystery that appears surreal, crimes so heinous it must be a monster or ghost that is the guilty party. But other than a reader's inferences, Preston and Child never took the books in the direction of the paranormal. Instead, Special Agent Pendergast, with deduction skills matched only by Sherlock Holmes, solves the mystery with worldly explanation.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

     White Fire is well balanced between compelling characters, a good, multi-layered plot, and thrills that kept coming. I enjoyed the injection of literary history about Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And, while I won't include any spoilers, the ending, and the solution to many of the book's mysteries, made a social statement about our power elite, environment, and how the two are still often connected to the sins of the Nineteenth Century. 

Child, Lincoln and Preston, Douglas. White Fire. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455525836

Review copy provided courtesy of Grand Central Publishing. No payment was made for this review.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bouchercon 2013 and Murder & Mayhem in Muskego


This fall I've had the opportunity to attend two Crime Fiction book conferences. The first was Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, New York; the second was Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, Wisconsin. I'm relatively new to these events, and and wanted to share a little about my experiences at each.

     Bouchercon is an annual event named after Anthony Boucher. It is held in a different city each year. My first experience was in 2012, when the event was in my hometown, Cleveland. However, I was only able to attend one day. This year it was in Albany, New York at the Empire Plaza, from Thursday, September 19th through Sunday, September 22nd.
    Bouchercon consists of hundreds of authors, bloggers and reviewers, publishers, editors, publicists, fans, and anyone else who has anything to do with crime fiction. The days are usually dominated by author panels, four to five authors and a moderator, and the subjects vary. Most evenings there is usually a large reception for all attendees and smaller gatherings by invitation, hosted privately. One of the most notable events at Bouchercon is the voting and awarding of the Anthony Awards. All registered attendees have an opportunity to vote for previously nominated books and authors.

     Murder and Mayhem in Muskego is a shorter event and attendees are generally from the Milwaukee Attendance is limited to fewer than 300, and of course there are fewer authors. As a result, there is much more time to meet and talk with authors. Although there was a "green room", many authors mingled with the fans, even watching the panels they weren't involved in.
area. It was held on Saturday, November 9 at the Muskego Public Library, with an smaller evening reception the night before. This year, some great authors were there: Michael Koryta, Marcia Clark, Dana Cameron, Megan Abbott, Tom Schreck, Marcus Sakey, Gregg Hurwitz, Reed Farrel Coleman, Chris F. Holm, Sean Doolittle, and many more. A great group.
     The best part about Murder and Mayhem was having a chance to meet, in person, all the great people from Crimespree Magazine, especially Jon and Ruth Jordan. They've kindly published a few of my reviews, and I'm looking forward to contributing many more.

     Both events had author panels, which generally consisted of four to five authors and a moderator. Both also had author discussions, that included two authors kind of interviewing each other. There was also a lot of time to meet great new people who share a love of crime fiction.
     But the events were very different, mostly because of the difference in size. I found Murder and Mayhem much more pleasant because it was a smaller venue, smaller crowd, and a lower author to attendee ratio. It would make for a great first book conference for anyone considering one.
     One thing that is certain about Bouchercon, Murder and Mayhem, and every other crime fiction event I've attended: the community is one of the kindest and most welcoming groups of people I've had an opportunity to spend time with.
     Now, off to read a book!

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gregg Hurwitz Tells No Lies to Cleveland Audience

     Gregg Hurwitz is an accomplished author of novels, movies, television, and comic books. His most recent novel, Tell No Lies, was released August 20th. Anyone who has an opportunity to meet him will know why: his stories mirror his animated, enthusiastic, and dynamic personality. Last night, about fifty people saw that first hand when Mr.Hurwitz made an appearance at the Strongsville branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library system.
Superfan Jen Forbus and Gregg Hurwitz
     Mr. Hurwitz was introduced by my friend and blogging mentor Jen Forbus, who writes for Shelf Awareness, Crimespree Magazine, and her own blog, Jen's Book Thoughts. She has been a longtime
Hurwitz fan. I could provide more details about how she feels about him, but, as it is said, a picture says a thousand words!
     During his presentation, Mr. Hurwitz talked about a topics including growing up in San Francisco, life in LA, and being a writer for television, movies, and comics. One of my favorite topics was about his experiences while conducting research for books. He spent time in Russian bath houses, surrounded by suspected organized crime members; disappeared into jungles; and watched a body being dissected, each part sent to a different place for research, more bodies nearby, suspended by the ears in a large cooler.
     Another favorite was about the violence in his books. While sometimes violence is described,  other times he intentionally does not, instead bringing the reader to the point where violence is implied. He said he finds that what the reader imagines is nearly always worse than anything he could write.
Gregg Hurwitz at
Strongsville Library
     After a short presentation, Mr. Hurwitz took some questions. The first was the obligatory, "Where do you get your ideas?" His answer, perhaps the best I've heard for such a commonly asked question, was that he doesn't know where his ideas come from any better than we know where our ideas come from.
     He also was asked about balancing his writing between novels, comics, and screen writing. Mr. Hurwitz said he thought it made him a better writer, because each of the styles could help the other. For example, screen plays require very direct, succinct writing. There is no room for lengthy dialogue or description, and that skill helps avoid getting too wordy while writing a novel.

     I have noticed in the three Hurwitz books I've read that he has an excellent ability to establish strong relationships among his characters in a very short time. Sometimes I even like the strength of the relationships more than I like the protagonists individually. I asked him about this ability, if it is something he is specifically aware of and if he has any special method for doing so. He said it comes from watching people interact, looking for small indicators about their relationship. He likened it to seeing a couple who are obviously out on their first date, or a couple where it is clear that one is more interested than the other, or a couple who have such a comfortable familiarity that they seem to be working as one. An example he provided was from You're Next, when Anabelle, the wife of protagonist Micheal, had applied too much hand lotion and wiped the excess casually onto Michael's hands.
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WIN a signed copy
     The people watching skill Mr. Hurwitz described was familiar to me. Not as a writer, of course, but as a
police officer. We watch people too, and can sometimes learn more watching than talking. Body language can give away a liar or bring unwanted attention to someone. It is sometimes referred to as a 6th sense, but it isn't; it's just very small ways people interact, watch what's going on around them, pause before answering a question, looks at someone, or not look at someone, or try not to be seen, which usually makes them stick out even more.

     I try and see and meet as many authors in person as I can; it provides valuable insight into their work, is an opportunity to meet interesting people, and is always entertaining. Seeing Gregg Hurwitz was no different.
     Thank you, Mr. Hurwitz, for coming to Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County Library system for hosting him. 

     Gregg Hurwitz is the author of thirteen novels. His most recent release is Tell No Lies. Others I've enjoyed include You're Next and The Survivor.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Steel Breeze by Douglas Wynne

     Desmond Carmichael had some baggage. He wife was brutally murdered; beheaded by a Japanese Samurai sword that he owned. He drank too much. He was fired from his teaching job. And he had a four year old Lucas to take care of. But he was doing his best, and getting better. He quit drinking and was working on getting a second book published. He was paying the bills and keeping his head above water. Until Desmond found Lucas being led into the woods by a man in a Samurai  mask; a beheaded doll next to his toy truck in the sandbox; and a mystery haiku on his laptop computer. The local police wouldn't help, the Detective instead believing that Desmond was making it up for attention, or worse, had killed his wife a year earlier.
     Douglas Wynne's first novel, The Devil of Echo Lake, was the first place winner of the 2012 JournalStone Horror Fiction contest. Steel Breeze, a crime thriller, is his second, but no less deserving of high praise. The book had a little of almost everything a good thriller should: good cops and bad cops, leads and misleads, suspense and action, heroes and villains, vengeance, jealousy, even kidnapping. And of course, murder. Cold blooded. Unsuspected. Murder. All of which culminated in a climactic and page turning ending that left me satisfied. 
Douglas Wynne
    And Steel Breeze  went a little deeper. The characters were a little more dynamic, facing choices that could take them from villain to hero in a second; from purposed, principled, disciplined to nothing but mass murderers; a bad cop who made bad decisions to a hero who sacrificed himself to save another; a father who was weak and beaten by circumstance or a father who gave it all to save the people he loved. There was potential from many of the characters, some met it and some didn't. 

     Even though the characters were dynamic and the story complex, there were some misses, too. Consider this dialogue between four year old Lucas and one of the antagonists:
"I don't like it here. I want to go home."
"Just rest, okay? Here, have some water."
Lucas shook his head. "Are you a bad guy?"
Bell considered the question..."I don't know."
"My Daddy says bad guys usually think they're the good guys."
Although short, it is one of my favorite exchanges in the book. It implies so much about what could have been explored, that good and bad are not always exclusive; that even murder and murderers are complex. Lots of stories have been told from the point of view of a righteous killer or outlaw. Fewer have told a story from both perspectives, leaving readers torn between who should succeed. That opportunity could have been realized. Instead, the passage quoted above was just a glimpse of what could have taken Steel Breeze from a good to great thriller.

Wynne, Douglas. Steel Breeze, JournalStone Publishing, 2013.
ISBN-13: 9781936564842


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Saturday, July 13, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

     "It was as if they were able to hurt not only us, our generation, but also the one coming after. And that was just too much to bear."

     Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani begins with the birth of Neda, whose mother is a political prisoner in post-revolutionary Iran in 1983, during the Iran-Iraq War, and follows the lives of three generations of Iranians between 1983 and 2011. All three generations are damaged by the leadership of the Islamist government; the first, who watches as their children are beaten, imprisoned, and executed. The second, who worked hard during a revolution with dreams of a better country, who are cast aside, labeled enemies of the State, enemies of Islam, beaten, imprisoned, and too often executed.  And the third, the children, left abandoned and sometimes orphaned, as their parents are arrested or killed. 
     It is the third generation that are the children of the jacaranda tree.  They were the ones who lived for years in the sad but peaceful and loving home of Maman Zinat. She cared for her grandchildren and others during the long, indeterminate prison sentences; offered shelter security in her home, adorned and seemingly protected by the beautiful jacaranda tree in the courtyard.  
     The book frequently jumps from the early 1980's to the first decade of the 21st Century as it follows the lives of its characters. It isn't exactly fast paced, but what it lacks in thrills is made up for tenfold in Ms. Delijani's beautiful, descriptive prose. There is an expected sadness in the story, sometimes highlighted by characters with minor roles. Near the beginning of the book, an Aunt takes the displaced children for a photograph for their imprisoned parents. The photographer sets the mood of the seen, and the era:
"As you see, Leila Khanoom, I'm not very busy these days. It seems like no one wants to take pictures in wartime. Who knows? Maybe they prefer not to keep records of themselves; maybe they want to forget. Or maybe the're afraid of remembering it later. If that's the case, it means they're already looking ahead..."
Sahar Delijani
     But despite the sadness, the war, the desire not to remember, there is also a hope that lies just under the surface, and it is ever present. 
     The last chapter is set in Turin, Italy. Neda is an adult dating Reza, an Iranian political refugee because of his activity during the protests of the 2009 elections. At one point, his relationship with Neda is strained because of what she sees as his lack of acknowledgement of her parents involvement in reshaping Iran, their suffering and hardships, and by extension, hers. She learns that his father was a member of the Revolutionary Guard, the people responsible for the suffering of her parents and so many others in Iran. Despite Reza's own political exile, his explaining that his father left the Guard because he disagreed with their actions, and that his father was among the demonstrators badly beaten during the 2009 protests, she struggles to accept Reza knowing what his father had likely been involved in, but knowing that to make any progress means letting go of parts of the past. .  
"In his eyes, she sees the same angst that she once saw in her parents' eyes, and she hopes she has the power to wipe it away. And that is why she can't let him go, no matter where and which side he has come from. She gets up. If his father was the past, if her parents were the past, Neda and Reza must be the future; they are the future. 
     My only criticism of Children of the Jacaranda Tree is that it is choppy. It jumped around from the 1980's to 2009-2011; from Tehran to Turin. There were many compelling, well developed characters, but it was difficult to keep track of who was who and how were they related to each other. But that might have been intentional; a small, symbolic way to demonstrate the chaos and uncertainty that is a way of life for the people of Iran. 
     This is the first novel by Sahar Delijani, herself born in Evin prison in Tehran while her parents were political prisoners. After living in Iran for 12 years, she immigrated to the United States, and now lives with her husband in Turin, Italy. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is fiction, but has obvious similarities to Ms. Delijani's life. I hope she, her family, and the millions of people in Iran that are children of the jacaranda tree are able to experience the hopes that are ever present in Ms. Delijani's book. 

Delijani, Sahar. Children of the Jacaranda Tree, Atria Books, 2013. 
  • ISBN-13: 9781476709093

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Killer Ambition by Marcia Clark

     Marcia Clark is back with her third novel featuring Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight, Killer Ambition. The story begins with the kidnapping of the teen-aged daughter of a wealthy and powerful Hollywood producer Russel Antonovich, and ends with the trial of the person responsible for it. On the way, it uncovers some deep secrets of Hollywood: lives bought and paid for, made and destroyed, with the promise of fame and fortune, or the threat of being cast off into nothingness with so many other wannabees and could have beens. 

     Killer Ambition is a unique combination of police procedural and legal thriller. The first part of the book takes readers through the investigation of the kidnapping. The second, through the trial of the person believed to be responsible. Each part could stand as its own novel. Instead readers get one book, told in the first person as Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight. 
Author Marcia Clark
     Ms. Clark is in a great position to tell such a story. Her work experience as a Deputy District Attorney has provided her with access to the office that few writers or readers share. The direction of the investigation, the hurdles of the prosecution, the games of the defense, are likely very close to what happens in a Los Angeles courtroom. 

     Killer Ambition is not without a few weaknesses. One is minor, but so obvious that it really irritates me when it happens, is that Ms. Clark referred to a .44 caliber Glock handgun; such a handgun does not exist. Glock makes a 9 mm, .40 caliber, and .45 caliber. Those types of mistakes are too frequent in crime fiction, and could be so easily avoided that it deserves being called out, even though it has no bearing on the story. 
     I also thought Rachel Knight was a little too involved in the investigation portion of the story. My experience is more that the police investigate with guidance from the DA's office. In this book, Ms. Knight was involved in the investigation from the very beginning, in all aspects. A minor complaint, but it stuck out to me. 

     One of my favorite aspects of the book was that in some ways it was a David v. Goliath story. Usually in the American just system, the Goliath is the State; the prosecutor. But in this instance, it seemed the other way around. The Goliath was a rich, powerful, popular, Hollywood mogul with support from the industry, the press, and unlimited funds to spend on a defense that had no values to uphold, no goals except the acquittal of their client. Against all that, consider this dialogue between Rachel Knight and her second chair, a young DA who grew up close to Hollywood:
"We're playing the Hollywood game now, and that's a game I've watched since birth. Nothing is real--and everything is real. What's that line? 'King Kong was only four feet tall--'" 
"'But he still scared the crap out of everyone.'" 
"Only because you didn't know. Once you know, it's all over. So now you're going to show them--"  
"That (the defendant) is only four feet tall?" 
"Yes, exactly." 
     I really liked that exchange. It's so simple, real. And it's how Marcia Clark told the story. Simple and real. She built a case against the defendant brick by brick. Some bricks got knocked down by the defense, and she rebuilt them as best she could. 
     It's how a trial works; it's how life works.  

Clark, Marcia. Killer Ambition, Mulholland Books, 2013.
  • ISBN-13: 9780316220941

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