Saturday, February 20, 2010

Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay

Never Look Away is the second Linwood Barclay novel I've read (my review of Fear the Worst here), but I've taken to collecting them now (through Bookmooch). I LOVE Harlen Coben novels and though these don't quite grip me the same way, they do fit the bill when it comes to wanting an interesting suspenseful story.

Never Look Away opens with a family's trip to an amusement park. Just after entering the park, the couple's four year old son is kidnapped and then found a few moments later abandoned in his stroller on the other side of the park. Just as David Harwood is calming down from the roller coaster ride of finding his son, he discovers his wife is now missing. As the investigation into her disappearance gets underway, suspicion falls more and more on David. His claims that his wife was depressed and suicidal appear made up. No one else has seen this side of her. His actions appear more and more guilty to the police. All during which, David never gives up looking for his wife and eventually stumbles on a mystery involving her true identity. Is she who she's said all these years? Or someone completely different? Someone he doesn't even know.

This book has several twists and turns and while I found much of it to be predictable, the book was time well spent. I find Barclay to be a comfort author. Someone you can count on to give you a good well-written story when you're in the mood to just sit down and enjoy a book. Not much thinking involved, no real depth to the story or characters. Just nice surface appeal.
The book is in bookstores March 16, 2010.
Source disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Random House through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

I wanted to read this book last year when I was participating in the Art History Reading Challenge. I first heard of the Gardner Heist ten years ago when I was in grad school for Museum Science. And then again when I took an online Forensics course through Barnes and Noble several years ago. They had this case as one of the examples to discuss how things could have been handled differently by the authorities.

For those who aren't familiar, nearly 20 years ago (the anniversary is actually March 18th this year) two men dressed as police officers banged on the security door of the Gardner Museum in Boston. The guards let the two men in and were tied up in the utility room while the men went about stealing (ripping/cutting paintings out of their frames and leaving the empty frames on the wall) about a dozen artworks from the museum. And then they just disappeared into the night. The paintings have yet to resurface anywhere in auctions or the underground art world.

Boser's book very thoroughly traces the history of the investigation from renowned art investigator Harold Smith all the way through his own obsession with trying to crack the case. And amazingly enough, this case is still open today with only theories and speculation left as to what happened to the artwork.

I found this book a bit tedious to get through, while it is VERY thorough, I feel like maybe just a tad bit too thorough. There are sooo many names and places and Boser comes back to the some of the names in later chapters. It was a little difficult for me to keep track of everyone. However, it was very interesting too! Quite an inside look into the art theft world and just the criminal world in general. Some of the people Smith thought could be behind the theft were scary individuals. It's pretty surreal for a naive Midwestern girl like me to fathom the reality of the mob world and that the characters you see on television and movies do exist in the real world. I mean, you know people like that exist in the real world, but to see their personalities laid out in a nonfiction book, just incredible. I like my little bubble of goodness I live in. :-)

If you like investigative reports or are particularly interested in art theft, this would be a great book for you. Otherwise, I suggest moving on.
Source disclosure: Borrowed this from the library.

Over the Holidays by Sandra Harper

Sandra Harper's holiday novel is a nice way to spend an afternoon relaxing. The title could have double meaning and perhaps that was the authors' purpose; the story takes place over the holidays and also the characters' attitudes toward the holidays.

The book itself only happens for a few short weeks around the holidays but Harper's story packs a punch in that short time frame. Following several women linked by family, we see many different viewpoints on the holidays. Just after Vanessa and her husband JT decide not to travel East as they do every year, her sister-in-law Patience decides to travel to California instead. Vanessa finds it hard to hide her annoyance as she already has her plate full with work and their own holiday preparations. Vanessa also teases with the idea of infidelity over the Christmas break. Patience struggles with not having her standard "perfect" New England Christmas and dealing with a sassy seventeen year old daughter who seems to hate her. Vanessa's older sister Thea is struggling over the holiday season with finding inspiration for her art. And Patience's daughter, Liberty (Libby for short) cannot seem to get through to her mother that she doesn't want the same things has her mother.

Lots of inner turmoil going on in this book from Sandra Harper. And amazingly, she wraps it all up with a perfect little bow by the end of the book. I wasn't sure if this book would be too fluffy for my tastes when I started it. But honestly, Harper has written a book that manages to capture the stresses of the holiday season from many women's point of view in a way that is entertaining and spot-on. I think at one time or another we've all been annoyed at the the fact that much of the holiday preparations fall on the woman's shoulders. It's amazing to see how universal this is through several characters in Over the Holidays. I would recommend this as a holiday read as well as a book for anyone who enjoys Women's Fiction with strong, well-developed characters and a story with some depth to it.
Source disclosure: I received this book from Simon and Schuster through the LibrayThing Early Reviewer Program.

Middle Grade Musings: We the Children by Andrew Clements

This book caught my eye while perusing the Shelf Awareness newsletter one day. I was excited to receive a copy!

We the Children by well-known author Andrew Clements is the first in a series of books called Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School. This first installment really just introduces us to Benjamin Pratt and his friend Jill. They attend a school originally started by an eccentric ship captain. And now, the school is in danger of being bulldozed so the City can build an amusement park on the property. Ben didn't know it at the time, but a fateful encounter with the school janitor just before he passes away may give Ben the key to saving his school. Ben is also preoccupied by an upcoming sailing race. The race itself provides an exciting end to the book and also a look at what Ben's true personality is like.

The first book doesn't take us very far into the story, but gives a small inkling of what is to come. Clements focuses quite a bit on ships and sailing. If you have a child who is particularly interested in these subjects, this may be well suited for them. I also think this would be a good book to put into the hands of boys. Though with a girl playing the part of sidekick to Ben, I believe anyone will enjoy it. I am anxious to see where Clements takes this story in the future books.
Source disclosure: A review copy sent from Simon and Schuster.

Graphic Novel Snippets

I joined the Graphic Novel Challenge this year. I think I will be a little more successful with this reading challenge than I was with the Art History Reading Challenge from last year. Crossing my fingers anyway. I'm entering at the Intermediate level where I just have to read 3-10 graphic novels this year. Well, I've already read three, so I guess I can't lose!

I requested Calamity Jack from the publisher when I saw it listed on someone else's blog. I really LOVED Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale so I was very curious about Jack's side of the story. While this chapter of the story was an interesting retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story, I wasn't quite as riveted as I was with Rapunzel's story. I think part of that is that I loved Rapunzel's character and how strong the Hales portrayed her. She definitely plays the role of sidekick in Calamity Jack and there is much more of a love story going on in this one as well. While I didn't respond to this one as much as the first, it is still entertaining with a few twists and turns that keep the reader focused. I think it would be great for a reluctant reader (though I believe that with just about all graphic novels) and boys might be a little more interested in this one, just because of the main character as well as the storyline of Jack overcoming the giants.
Source disclosure: I requested a copy directly from the publisher for review.

Zeus: King of the Gods is the first in a planned eleven-part series by George O'Connor called Olympians. This graphic novel starts from the very beginning of Greek Mythology talking about the Titans and eventually getting to Zeus's (whose father was the Titan Cronus) story. The story continues through Zeus defeating his father. O'Connor eludes to other books in the series in a couple places (like the story of Aphrodite) and there is a great Author Note at the end. I definitely recommend this one and hope the rest of the series is as fun as Zeus. I think this (and the rest of the series) would be a great introduction for any young readers who might be interested in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series but might need or want some background on Greek Mythology first. Or maybe a great complement along with reading the Percy Jackson series.
Source Disclosure: The publisher sent a copy of this to me.

This young adult memoir by David Small depicts his childhood in images (and a few words). David was subjected to repeated x-rays from his father (a radiologist) as a treatment for his sinus issues as a small child. All the exposure to radiation caused David to get cancer in his throat as a young teen and was subjected to an operation that left him with one vocal cord and a huge scar on his throat.

Though this is categorized as young adult and touted as a coming-of-age story, I would be hesitant to have anyone younger than 15 or 16 or so read it. Many parts of the story would be difficult for a young reader. David's parents lie to him about his cancer, he finds his mother in bed with another woman when he's fifteen, his grandmother tries to burn down her house with his grandfather inside, and I'm sure there's more that I can't remember off the top of my head. While this book sounds disturbing (and it is), it's also really interesting because of the graphic novel medium the author chose to use.
Source disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library.