Review: The Water Rat of Wanchai (Ava Lee #1) ~ Ian Hamilton

water ratISBN ~ 978-1250032270
Publisher ~ Picador
No. Of Pages ~ 400 pages
Links ~ House of Anansi, Amazon, Indigo

In Ian Hamilton’s The Water Rat of Wanchai, we meet forensic accountant and martial arts expert Ava Lee in her early days working for the mysterious businessman Uncle as they track down large sums of money that have disappeared. One of Uncle’s longtime friends has requested help for his nephew, who needs to recover five million dollars from a business deal that went sideways. Ava steps in and immediately is off on a global hunt for the missing money that has her dodging shady characters.

On a journey that takes her from Seattle to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Guyana, and the British Virgin Islands, Ava encounters everything from the Thai katoey culture to corrupt government officials. In Guyana she meets her match: Captain Robbins, a godfather-like figure who controls the police, politicians, and criminals alike. In exchange for his help, Robbins decides he wants a piece of Ava’s five million dollars and will do whatever it takes to get his fair share.

2 Thumbs-UpI started to read this book because I couldn’t recall ever having read a crime series that had a forensic accountant as the main protagonist, and a female one at that.

This character just grated on my nerves from the very first, and I’m not sure if it was the intention of the Author to make her dislikeable or was just the way things turned out in the end.  She is rich, as we are constantly reminded whenever possible, only likes the best of everything and was an avid coffee drinker, like all the other characters in this novel.  As a female lead character she is not the strong independent woman I was hoping for; the kind that inspires other women to reach their full potential.  In fact she is quite the opposite, she comes out of the page as being some sort of superwoman that can do anything, have anyone and anything she likes.  This in itself is not a bad thing, but the way in which she is written could possibly make her an intimidating character to those women readers who are not supremely confident in their own skin and lives and, in my opinion this is something no Author should do to their readers, make them feel less than they are.  In an effort to make her interesting she is Chinese-Canadian, although how this could redeem her flaws I am still not sure.

The coffee company Starbucks was mentioned so many times in this book that I broke off to look and see if it had been published through some program they funded.  Another disappointment, apart from the obviously brand push, was that there is actually very little forensic accounting in this book, and what small amount there is takes place in a whole 5 or 6 pages. Combine these points with flat and uninteresting language and you have a book that really does not deliver for me, and this is the reason behind by 2 thumbs rating.

Given that this is marketed as an international thriller, I failed to get the thrill from the book that was hinted at and, although a taste of each country visited in the storyline was given, it just wasn’t enough to make this a series I would want to read anymore of.

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What to read next.

After finishing a good book in the early hours of the morning I often find myself with the problem of what to read next.  I usually go through my ‘to be read’ stack in the order of which books were added to it, but sometimes the book on the top of the pile doesn’t appeal to me at the very moment I need a new read.

This flowchart, found on Upworthy.com may help me, and others in the same predicament, head in the right direction and find something we are in the mood for.  Just because it says summer in the chart doesn’t mean you can’t use it anytime of the year, after all what better way is there to spend a rainy day than curled up in your favourite spot reading?

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Review: The Dragon and the Needle ~ Hugh Franks

dragon and needleThe clash between the Orient and the West is put under the spotlight in this far-reaching novel of medical and political intrigue. A mysterious syndrome is striking down political leaders across the Western world. Named Extraordinary Natural Death Syndrome, or ENDS, it has baffled medical experts. The Western prejudice against the mysteries of Oriental medicine, and the growing acceptance of acupuncture as an effective method of treatment, are just two of the contrasting approaches explored in the story. Then a brilliant young British doctor, Mike, and a glamorous American acupuncturist, Eleanor, become involved in finding the cause of ENDS. They think they are on the right track, but the implications are shocking. Could this be an audacious ideological plan for world domination? And how does Eleanor’s dead husband Chen fit in? When the secrets of Carry Tiger to Mountain are revealed, where will Eleanor’s loyalties ultimately lie?

3 Thumbs-UpIf this book doesn’t pull you in within the first few pages, you might as well lay it to one side and move onto something else; I was pulled in and sped through it in a day.

The male and female protagonists are scratchy, that is to say they have moments in the book where they really did grate on my nerves and, if it had not been for the fast paced plot I would probably have consigned this book to my not finished pile.  There were so many things about these characters I found a little hard to wrap my head round, and this really relegated them to being of a secondary nature to the storyline.  The female lead I found to be somewhat stereotypical, as she falls into the arms of the male lead without the reader really being able to understand what the attraction is between them.  I put this down to it being a matter of convenience, and the possibility they were attracted to each other’s minds; there was really no depth of emotion shown by either of them and this led to my not finding them plausible at all and the reason for my 3 thumbs review.

As to the storyline, what a great idea; holistic medicine vs. modern medicine, a debate that is constantly going the rounds but it really could have been handled a little differently, perhaps without making the usual East is evil West is wonderful statement.  With a little more expansion on the plot and some very firm dialogue editing this could have been an exceptional book, rather than just a good one.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast paced medical/political thriller, but don’t expect anything too in depth.  Would I read anything else by this Author?  Probably.

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Review: The Sunne in Splendour ~ Sharon Kay Penman

SunneA glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

5 Thumbs-UpI’ve either mentioned this book or the Author several times during the life of my reviews so I have decided it was about time I actually wrote a review on the book itself.  This was the debut novel for this Author.

I was first introduced to both the book and the Author by my History Professor whilst taking my Masters in History many years ago.  She recommended it to me on the basis of it being the most accurate account of the times she had read in fiction form.  Being a Yorkshire woman by birth and therefore, a staunch Yorkist, I was slightly apprehensive when I picked this up as most accounts of Richard III and the House of York are based on Tudor propaganda from the times, and are slewed very much in their favour.  I found none of this when I read this long 936 page book.

The book itself could be broken down into thirds; the first brings into the light that confusing history of the Wars of the Roses, and for readers who are not up to speed with the ins and outs of this time it is a great way not only to get to know the key players, but where they fit together in the whole sorry mess.  Yes it does sound a little like a history lesson, but it is given in such a manner that it skilfully and neatly pulls the reader so far into the novel that they have no choice but to read to the end. Just by reading the first part of the novel it can be clearly seen that this Author has done extensive research into the period, and this comes through in way in which locations are described and characters react to their environment.  The remaining two-thirds catalogue the reign of Edward IV and also the life of Richard.

Character development is stunningly done within the pages of this book.  The reader is not thrown huge chunks of back-story and motivational traits, but slowly includes them as the plot progresses.  Their fears are revealed, sometimes surprising the reader, and the political machinations that ruled their everyday lives are uncovered slowly, rather like peeling the layers from an onion.  Obviously the main focus of the book is Richard, and it follows him from a very young age when he is very much in the shadow of his brothers through to his death on the battlefield.  The Author does not portray him the same light as Shakespeare, but rather gives him a more human face than the one constantly given to him of that of monster.  A compelling and believable case is presented regarding his nephews in the Tower of London, which rather makes the reader consider that this could be a case of the wrong people mishearing words said at the wrong time and in frustration, as in the case of Thomas Becket when King Henry II uttered ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest’; we will never know.

I could write for hours on this book, but to do so would have me revealing spoilers and getting into the whole White Rose versus red rose debate (yes the capitalization error was deliberate *smile), so I’m going to leave this review short, and I hope tantalising enough to make someone want to actually pick this up and read it.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good read.  I have read it several times and yes, my History Professor was right it is the most accurate account of the times in fiction form.

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Review: Ministry of Bombs ~ Nelson Lowhim

Ministry of BombsIn the mountains of Yemen, rebellion brews and spits out terror into the world. In Pakistan, a nuclear scientist escapes. And an agent in America, Justice, sees these things and understands that the world is in danger. He must find the scientist before the terrorists do. If he doesn’t millions will die. Will he save the day? As he peers deeper into the world of terrorism and the war on terror, Justice finds that things are never as they seem to be.
Not your average spy or thriller novel, this looks deep into the heart of terror. Dare to look inside!

3 Thumbs-UpThis is the second review on work by this Author that I have done and, after reading The Struggle Trilogy I was ready to settle in and enjoy the ride.  Unfortunately this was not the case, although I enjoyed this book immensely it just didn’t have the same punch that the trilogy had, and left me wanting something more by the time I turned the last page.

It wasn’t the characters that left this book wanting in my opinion as, with his usual style and skill the Author was able to take three totally distinct and separate protagonists and weave their varying belief systems and convictions into one very compelling story that pulls the reader in.  A was a little disappointed with the characters though; in the story the reader encounters two very strong characters who have no grey areas in their lives, everything is either black or white there is no in-between ground.  However, with these characters, as the story progresses the Author begins to place chinks in their armour and slow change can be seen.  With the remaining character, this is not the case.  He is awkward, unrealistic and does not have any endearing qualities whatsoever.  I was hoping that, as with the other two, he would develop and grown as the plot progressed, but this was not to be the case which was a shame as I felt there could have been so much more to him.

As with any novel concerning war, there will be a political leaning in the text, and this was the case here.  Whether or not you agree with the arguments and discussions presented in this novel, one thing it will do is make the reader think.  As in all walks of life there are those that delight in the suffering and death of innocents, and for the most part society hides it away at the back of the proverbial closet.  Not here and, as uncomfortable as it may make some readers feel he addresses this aspect in connection with the military and, as a former member of the US Forces I felt that he was injecting some of his own personal experiences from association with others that fell into this unsavoury category.

Although not as good, in my opinion, as his first trilogy, this book is still well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a political thriller or spy novel.

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Review: The Lonely Tree ~ Yael Politis

The lonely treeTonia Shulman does not share her father’s dream – forging a Jewish State out of the chaos of British Mandate Palestine. She hates the hardships of life in Kfar Etzion – an isolated kibbutz south of Jerusalem – clearing rocky hillsides, bathing in rationed cups of trucked-in water, and being confined behind barbed wire. Her own dreams have nothing to do with national self-realization; she longs for steaming bubble baths and down comforters, but most of all for a place on earth where she can feel safe. She is in love with Amos, but refuses to acknowledge these feelings. She knows he will never leave his homeland and Tonia plans to emigrate to America. But can she really begin a new life there?

4 Thumbs-UpI was initially going to review a later work by this Author (Olivia, Mourning), but decided against that in favour of a review of their debut novel; a review of Olivia will now appear later in the year.  Given the current climate between Israel and Palestine, this is a book that anyone who is not familiar with Israel and its turbulent history should read.

Through the lives and words of the two main protagonists, this Author brings to life the history of Israel/British Palestine dating from the 1930’s up to the Six Day War in 1967.  With great care the Author uses their characters to describe the impact historical events had on both fictional and actual people.  The female protagonist was portrayed as being unhappy with her lot in life and wanting out, going to any means to achieve her dream.  While I did not agree with a lot of the decisions this character made, it did not make me like her any less as it brought into the light the hardships and uncertainty that she and those around her were feeling in this time of change.  This character is nothing if not determined but, as the novel progresses she develops a better understanding of the pitfalls this determination can bring, and also the power it can instil in a person.  The male protagonist is a complete opposite to the female lead; he comes from a totally different background and has a belief structure that is at total odds to hers.  However, despite this and the carnage of war that is exploding around them they develop a relationship.  To say more about this would spoil their part in the story, and to find out how this progresses this book has to be read.

The Author’s writing style throughout this novel is excellent, they are eloquent without being boorish and this leads to a story that flows well and pulls the reader in from the very first page.  Pulling on their links with Israel the Author adds an authenticity to their book that would otherwise have been missing if it had been based on purely research.  If you have never been to Israel, this book will take you there and, if you have been as I have back in the late 1970’s, reading it will bring to mind all the places seen right down to the rusted military vehicles at the side of the road.  As I read this book I was made to think of works by Leon Uris several times, as this Author captures the region with just as much clarity.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good well-paced and well written book, who also enjoys a historical novel based on fact and experience that shows through on every page.  Surprisingly for me, as I’m not a lover of the romance genre, I did enjoy this part of the book too and was not the reason I rated this as 4 thumbs; that was because I did not want it to end.

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Guest Review: Enemy In The Room ~ Parker Hudson

 

The final piece this week is from Loretta Livingstone, Poet and Author, who is sharing her review of what appears to be a ‘must read’ book.

Enemy in the roomEnemy In The Room is a fast paced geo-political thriller, intersected by the tragic choices of a modern prodigal daughter. An American CEO is secretly committed to killing the President and destroying the nation. His employees are unwittingly carrying out his plans. The threads are woven together with explosive actions and crisscrossed relationships. The characters confront high tech theft, internet spying, lies, jihad, betrayal, and redemption.

Wow! An edge-of-your-seat thriller you will find hard to put down.

A highly placed businessman with a finger in every pie is far from being what he seems. Not just a fat cat profiteer, Trevor Knox is a man who has a driving passion, and a plan to topple the U.S. Government, which he is determined will succeed – at any cost.

David Sawyer, one of Knox’s most valued employees, has no idea what he is about to get involved in.

David is just about to discover, too, that his family is disintegrating – drawn unwittingly into Knox’s gigantic empire.

A brilliant strategist in the office, David has dropped the ball where his home life is concerned. Unable to connect with his children or influence their disastrous life choices, he is horrified to discover that, because of  his involvement with Knox, he is in some part to blame for the chaos descending on them. He is going to have to reassess. It is time for him to make his own choices, but he is already up to his neck in something terrifying, which puts his own life and those of his relatives at risk. However, he is also the one man who might be able to put a stop to Knox’s plans.

Hold your breath as this book hurtles towards its gripping conclusion.

However, good as this book is, I do hope readers will remember that the characters in this book are terrorists and do not represent all Muslims, the majority of whom live their faith as honestly and peaceably as those of us of other beliefs live ours.

But, overall, this is a fast-paced nail-biting book. The possibility, God forbid, of this ever happening in real life is far too terrifying to contemplate.

Loretta Livingstone
Author:
Where Angels Tread
Rhythms of Life
Hopes, Dreams & Medals
Jumping in the Puddles of Life
Fire and Ice
http://www.treasurechestbooks.co.uk/
http://amazon.com/author/lorettalivingstone

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Review: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin (Five Star Mystery #1) ~ Alana J. White

weeping virginRomance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin‚ an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his nephew‚ Amerigo‚ are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid’Antonio’s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God’s displeasure with Guid’Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere‚ Guid’Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting’s mystifying—and miraculous?—tears‚ all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons

3 Thumbs-UpThis is this Authors debut novel in the realm of historical fiction and, as much as I enjoy good historical fiction, I just couldn’t get into this one at all.  I think it was a case of the classic line ‘it’s me, honestly, not you’.

To say the cast of characters in this book is immense would be an under-statement, and I felt at times it would have helped me along in my reading if there had been a character list printed in the front of the book; I have a sneaky feeling that many other readers who pick up this book may feel the same way too.  Although none of the characters stand out in the book, they are interesting to say the least, and the main protagonist is very interesting; he is cranky, complicated, lonely and extremely loyal; all traits which seemed at odds to the world in which he was living, a world where loyalty seemed to be as fleeting as the wind.

Despite the indication in the synopsis that this may have edged into the realms of a genre I never read, I found there to be little to no romance in this book; there is no love in the traditional sense of the word and no homoerotic longings as can often take place in a novel of this kind.  What there is however is political intrigue by the boatload, and this made the book a compelling read and was, for me, the saving grace that earned the rating of 3 thumbs as opposed to it being lower.

It is obvious that the Author has done a lot of research into this era in Florence’s history, and I found this interesting and educating as I did not know about some of the historical details touched upon in the novel.  I felt this was helped by the fact that the main protagonist was actually a real-life figure in these times, and this added more realism to the descriptions used and the events encountered in the book.

I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction but particularly those who like a good solid mystery that is full of political intrigue.

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Review: Hunting Sweetie Rose: A Mystery ~ Jack Fredrickson

SweetieSweetie Fairbairn, the doyenne of Chicago society, is known for big-hearted philanthropy and magnificent soirees in her penthouse high atop one of the city’s premier boutique hotels. Dek Elstrom is hired by a mysterious man in a long limousine to investigate the death of a clown. Was it suicide—or murder? What is the connection between the dead clown and Sweetie?

Part of the ‘A Book from every State of the Union’ Reading Challenge – Illinois.

5 Thumbs-UpI came across this novel while I was searching my library for books to include in my 2014 reading challenge; it was the only one by this Author on their shelves and immediately cried out to me.  Heeding that cry, I brought it home… am I glad I did.

The main protagonist is everything there is to love, and hate, in the character of a private detective, or should that be insurance investigator; to find out what this means you’ll have to read the book.  He is full of the dry sarcastic wit and one-liners that a lover of a traditional mystery novel will find to their taste.  He is, or thinks he is, invincible, not easy fooled and a tough guy to boot; but really as we find out as his character develops in this novel, he is more than a little vulnerable. There is so much about this man that reminded me of Philip Marlowe, that I wasn’t but a few chapters into this novel before I found myself really rooting for the guy, and wanting everything to go his way.  There are a cast of supporting characters for our main to play off against, but rather than let his main character overshadow them, the Author does an excellent job of making sure that the others he encounters either bring out the best him in, stop him from totally self-destructing, or really bring out his hard side; whatever their role they are written with equal parts of grit and humour and enough realism to make the reader feel as if they actually lived.

The plot is quirky and funny wrapped up in a pretty page turning mystery that will keep you guessing to the end.  I finished this book in one sitting, and when I finally came to the closure of the plot all I could wonder was ‘how the heck did I not see that coming’.  The Author is also able to inject a touch of realism into the locations of his novel by throwing the reader pieces of plot that link to past, or current, news items.  Normally I don’t like this in the fiction I read as I hate being distracted from a good plot by the feeling I’ve seen this in the paper, but that was not the case here.  I think the difference between this novel and others that I’ve read that attempted this was the fact that this Author wrote about these events with the same with as he did his plot.

A downside to this book, I found, was that it actually the third in a series containing this protagonist; however, this did not make me like the book any less or feel I was missing out on anything, as it works just as well as a standalone novel.  What this discovery did achieve however, was to ensure that I will be reading more by this Author.

If you are looking for a writer who has a similar style to Raymond Chandler, I highly recommend this novel.  If you’re looking for a good traditional mystery, well see the sentence above this one.

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Review: The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds ~ Philippa Langley, Michael Jones

The Kings graveThe first full-length book about the discover of Richard III’s remains by the person who led the archeology team and the historian whose book spurred her on

The mystery of who Richard III really was has fascinated historians, readers and audiences familiar with Shakespeare’s dastardly portrait of a hunchback monster of royalty for centuries. Earlier this year, the remains of a man with a curving spine, who possible was killed in battle, were discovered underneath the paving of a parking lot in Leicester, England. Phillipa Langley, head of The Richard III Society, spurred on by the work of the historian Michael Jones, led the team of who uncovered the remains, certain that she had found the bones of the monarch. When DNA verification later confirmed that the skeleton was, indeed, that of King Richard III, the discovery ranks among the great stories of passionate intuition and perseverance against the odds. The news of the discovery of Richard’s remains has been widely reported by the British as well as worldwide and was front page news for both theNew York Times and The Washington Post. Many believe that now, with King Richard III’s skeleton in hand, historians will finally begin to understand what happened to him following the Battle of Bosworth Field (twenty miles or so from Leicester) and, ultimately, to know whether he was the hateful, unscrupulous monarch of Shakespeare’s drama or a much more benevolent king interested in the common man. Written in alternating chapters, with Richard’s 15th century life told by historian Michael Jones (author of the critically acclaimed Bosworth – 1485) contrasting with the 21st century eyewitness account of the search and discovery of the body by Philippa Langley, The King’s Grave will be both an extraordinary portrait of the last Plantagenet monarch and the inspiring story of the archaeological dig that finally brings the real King Richard III into the light of day.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is definitely not a dry history book, and for those who know next to nothing about Richard III they will receive an almost personal history lesson about this Monarch as they progress through the book.  This is an extraordinarily user friendly book.

The chapters in the book alternate between the story of searching for, and eventually finding the grave of Richard III and his factual history, and it is not the one everyone is familiar with  and painted by Shakespeare and the victor of Bosworth Field.  However, in reading this book it soon becomes apparent that this is more than a simple recounting of an archaeological dig; it is very personal to the Author and that comes through in their writing.  The book is loaded with an impressive amount of information, both about the search itself and, as I’ve already noted, the history of this King, but it s the delivery of this information that really impressed me.  There is not a point in this book where the delivery becomes stale and dusty, the Authors managed to make every part of it enjoyable to the reader.

The sections of the book that cover the identification of the remains, and the scientific techniques used are equally as interesting as the descriptive scenes of the battle that took the Kings life.  They covered disputes and grievances between the House of York and the House of Tudor with great tact and never once came out in favour of one House or the other.  This book will also serve to dispel some of the images people have that Richard III was just an all-round evil man; it informs the reader of all the good he did for the country and shows him in the context of the world he lived in.  Through the Authors writing skills the reader is introduced to a man of deep convictions and courage whilst at the same time showing he was definitely not a saint.

The great strength of this book is that it captivates like a well-written historical novel while at the same time informing and educating the reader.  This strength kept me up late into the night to finish this book and once again stoke the flames of my love of history.  Richard III, the last King of England to come from the House of York and the last Plantagenet King found his champions in these hard working people, and will finally have the burial a Monarch deserves, particularly one of such fame.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of all forms of history, plus those who want to learn a little more about this period of time in England.

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