Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan

First Line: On a sultry March evening, in the great hive-city of Mumbai, Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) was once again discovering the futility of reasoned discourse with his fellow countrymen.

The city of Mumbai loves extravaganzas and larger-than-life characters, which is fitting since it is home to Bollywood, India's film industry.

Private detective (and retired police inspector) Ashwin Chopra has been hired by film legend Bijli Verma to find her missing son, Vikram. Playboy Vikram is a rising star, and his disappearance has put the fate of his latest film in jeopardy.

Chopra takes the case, and when he and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, begin to investigate, they find feuding movie stars, bad investments, and death threats. It would seem that there are a lot of people who want Vikram Verma out of the picture. Permanently.

The more Vaseem Khan's Baby Ganesh Agency mystery series develops, the more assured, complex, and enjoyable it becomes. The three books that have been published so far are doing a wonderful job filling the gap left by Tarquin Hall's excellent Vish Puri series. Khan has even begun featuring Indian cuisine via Chopra's restaurant, although I don't feel strong enough to try even the tiniest nibble of one of the chef's "Rocket Fuel pickles."

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star showcases culture, humor, strong characters, a hair-raising escape, and two separate investigations. While Chopra looks for the missing movie star, his associate Rangwalla is working on a case for a group of eunuchs. This investigation has a lot to teach readers (and Rangwalla) about this group of people in Indian society and how they're treated. It is a strong investigation in its own right.

Chopra's case is complex and sometimes frightening, and it's amazing how a baby elephant can actually have a part to play in all the action and not make the book seem ridiculous-- but Khan pulls it off with panache. He also shows us a bit of the history of Bollywood-- a film industry many times larger than the American Hollywood-- and fascinating tidbits like the relationship Indian families have with their jewelers.

Good story, good setting, good food, and the type of characters that bind all the pieces together. Rangwalla has a large part in the book, and we also see more of the relationship between Chopra and his wife Poppy. One of the things I enjoy most about these books is Khan's uncanny ability to describe a character in one (often hilarious) line. The film legend Bijli Verma is "a vision of immaculate fury in a sari," and Chopra's mother-in-law mans the restaurant's cash register "as though it were a gun turret.

I think I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star. Give it a try. I'll bet you will, too.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan
ISBN: 9781473612334
Mulholland Books © 2017
Hardcover, 370 pages

Private Investigator, #3 Baby Ganesh Agency mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan

First Line: The snatch of poetry caught at Mohsin's thoughts, making a mockery of thousands of burnt-out stars flung wide against the banner of the sky.

When minority-sensitive cases come to the attention of any level of law enforcement, it's up to Detective Esa Khattak of Canada's Community Policing Section to take care of them. Since he is still under the microscope for the way his last case was handled, he's surprised when the national security team (INSET) calls him in on another politically sensitive case.

For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year's Day. Their informant within the cell, Mohsin Dar, has been murdered at the cell's training camp just weeks before the planned attack. INSET wants Khattak to give the appearance of investigating Mohsin's death because they can't risk exposing their operation. But Mohsin used to be a close friend, and Esa knows that he's not going to be able merely to go through the motions. So Khattak sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the mosque that houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and of the terrorist cell, the reasons for Mohsin's murder only seem to multiply-- and time is running out.

Ausma Zehanat Khan's The Unquiet Dead was one of the best books I read in 2016, so I was looking forward to reading the next book in her Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak series. The Language of Secrets is another splendid entry in the series which had me leaving my comfort zone and entering the world of terrorist cells. 

It was clearer to me in reading this second book that Khattak has so many enemies within the police force that-- unless something happens soon-- it's going to be almost impossible for him to get anything done. The author also plays the differences between her two lead characters to perfection. Those who are familiar with the interpersonal relationships within Muslim families are going to understand Esa Khattak, while those who aren't are going to gravitate toward Rachel Getty. This is certainly true in my case because I find Khattak behaving as though he's the protector and savior of all those whom he cares for to get a little old. In real life, I might behave like his one rebellious sister who will purposely do the exact opposite of what he expects almost every single time. 

There is an excellent rapport between the two leads. They are rapidly learning each other's strengths and weaknesses as well as how each will react in any given circumstance. Khattak is an old pro while Getty needs a lot more experience-- some of which she certainly gets while going undercover.

Although I had my suspicions about a certain character and thus wasn't completely surprised when all was revealed at the end, I did find parts of this absorbing book to be fascinating-- in particular, the ways terrorists try to avoid detection in their communications with each other. This problem of communication has meant that entirely new secret languages have been devised which can twist words of beauty into hatred and death.

After this second page-turner, I'm looking forward to seeing where Getty and Khattak go in the next book in this series. Khattak may annoy me from time to time, but I do like his very different perspective on things.

The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan
ISBN: 9781250055125
Minotaur Books © 2016
Hardcover, 336 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Khattak and Getty mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Book Outlet.


I Have Michael Connelly Covered (Again)!

This week I decided to visit Michael Connelly's book covers again because I enjoyed The Late Show so much. Renée Ballard is a wonderful character, and I can't wait to see where Connelly takes her next.

The book has been spending a few weeks (so far) at the top of the bestseller lists, and for once I am in total agreement-- not that publishers care about my opinion, especially since I pay no real attention to bestseller lists or awards. I know what I like, and my feelings aren't hurt if I find myself in a minority about a book because... I'm used to being on my own.

But that's more than enough about me. Let's take a look at these book covers, pronto!

This week I find myself really wanting to take elements of both covers and making them into the one that I want. Both US and UK covers have the author's name and the book title front and center, as they should be because, at this point in time, Connelly's name alone can sell his books. Both are very careful to inform readers that The Late Show is the first in a brand-new series, which is good. (I can see misogynists everywhere bemoaning the fact that their hero is writing about a *choke* female.)

Naturally, the US cover has to tell us that Connelly is a #1 bestselling author; while the UK publisher must believe readers already know that because they have "Crime never sleeps" at the very top of the cover instead, which is perfect for a police officer who works night shift, as Renée does.

Both covers use shades of blue and show a large city at night. Both have a woman on the cover, although there is quite a difference in how the woman is presented. In the UK cover, the woman is running away from the reader, and I don't like that. Renée Ballard doesn't run away. The US cover shows the silhouette of a woman, and by the woman's stance readers can tell that she's not someone to be messed with.

If I could make my own cover of The Late Show using elements from these two, what would I do? Basically, I would use the US cover, ditch the #1 bestselling author mention and insert "Crime never sleeps" in its place. I'd use the brighter city skyline from the UK cover in that graphic strip below the author's name because the lights in the skyscrapers make it obvious that it's night.

What would I do if I couldn't make my own cover and had to choose one of these? I'd choose the US cover. It's understated yet definitely gets its point across. I feel as though I know more about Renée from the US cover. The UK cover gives a bit too much importance to the city skyline when The Late Show is really all about its main character.

Now it's your turn. Which cover do you prefer? US? UK? Neither one? Too close to call? Inquiring minds would love to know!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

First Line: Ballard and Jenkins rolled up on the house on El Centro shortly before midnight.

Renée Ballard works the late show out of LAPD's Hollywood division. Once an up-and-coming detective, she's now on permanent night shift as punishment for filing an unsuccessful sexual harassment complaint against a superior officer. To her, the downside of night shift is beginning many investigations but never finishing them-- that honor goes to the overworked day shift.

But one night Renée catches two assignments she doesn't want to turn loose of-- the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a shooting at a nightclub. Against orders and her partner's wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shifts at night. 

This isn't just a matter of working on practically no sleep. These cases soon have Renée facing some of her personal demons, and they also make her realize why she will not give up her job-- no matter what the department throws at her.

If there's one book I've read this summer that I would recommend everyone read, it's Michael Connelly's The Late Show. The character of Renée Ballard blew me away. She's from the same mold as Harry Bosch: Everyone counts, or nobody counts. She's intensely private and spends many of her mornings when she's just gotten off shift paddleboarding with her dog Lola. Renée graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree in journalism, but the first time she had to cover a crime scene, she realized that she didn't want to write about crime, she wanted to catch the bad guys.

Her journalist's background means she's fantastic at mowing through the mounds of paperwork every police officer has to deal with, and she's become a pro, not only with paperwork but with her timing as well so she can work the cases that will get short shrift by the overworked day shift. (Everybody counts....) As a result of what she continues to deal with after her unsuccessful sexual harassment complaint, Renée has no time for people who won't stick up for her when they know she's right. But she's not all sharp edges and hostility; she can be thrilled to find a bookstore she didn't know existed when walking in downtown Los Angeles-- and there are her grandmother and Lola, too.

As you can tell, I did fall hard for Renée Ballard, but it wasn't just the main character that makes this book so special. The story itself is compelling, and Michael Connelly absolutely blindsided me with whodunit. Yes, The Late Show is so darned good that I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. Write faster, Mr. Connelly!

The Late Show by Michael Connelly
ISBN: 9780316225984
Little, Brown and Company © 2017
Hardcover, 448 pages

Police Procedural, #1 Renée Ballard mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar

First Line: There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs.

Twelve-year-old Gwendy is on a mission to lose weight. That's why she takes the Suicide Stairs up to Castle View every single summer day of 1974. One day while she's at the top catching her breath, a stranger calls out to her. This is how she meets Richard Farris, a man in black jeans, a black suit coat, a black hat, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the collar. Farris has been watching Gwendy, and he has an offer for her that she can't refuse.

Readers quickly see that although Gwendy is young, she's not stupid, and for the next ten years of her life, we are able to observe how this young woman deals with being in possession of something that bestows great gifts, great temptations, and great responsibilities.

The collaboration between Stephen King and Richard Chizmar is seamless. Not only do we get another chapter in the saga of Castle Rock, Maine, we're given another unforgettable character in Gwendy. This cautionary tale never loses its momentum and was a pleasure to read from first page to last. If only it were longer!

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
Cemetery Dance Publications © 2017
eBook, 180 pages

Novella, Standalone
Rating: A-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

My Favorite Sci-Fi/Dystopian Novels

I had so much fun sharing my top ten list of non-fiction books that I thought I'd throw out another one to see what would happen. I also want to say a big Thank You! to everyone who shared their own personal lists. I added several titles to my Need-to-Read list, and that's always a good thing!

This time, I'm going to share my ten favorite Sci-Fi and/or dystopian novels. I've had a penchant for well-written "end of the world" tales since I was a teenager, although I'm not quite sure why. Probably because they're the ultimate in survival tales. No matter what gets thrown at us humans, we're determined to live. Half the list I've loved for decades which means they struck a very deep chord within me. 

Without further adieu, I'm going to share the titles with you. The only order they're in is the order in which they popped into my mind. If you click on the caption beneath the book cover, you'll be taken to Amazon to read more about it.

An 8.4 earthquake hits the New Madrid fault line.

Nuclear holocaust ravages the U.S.

A father & son try to survive during the post-apocalypse.

What if JFK were cloned shortly after his assassination?

An asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth.

What's the point in solving murders if we're all going to die soon anyway?

Water is power, and the western U.S. is fighting over what little they have left.

The best purely Sci-Fi book I've ever read.

Which book would you memorize?

The Lottery is chilling-- and the best short story I've ever read.

It's going to be interesting to find out how many of you mystery lovers will have anything to do with Science Fiction and/or dystopian novels. The way I look at it, many of the books in this list I've compiled have had something go wrong, and it's up to the characters to come up with deductions and solutions. Yup, just an offshoot of my passion for solving mysteries!

Now my burning questions are: how many of you read Sci-Fi or dystopian novels? Have you read any of the books on my list? Which ones did you like? Did I leave any of your favorites off my list? Please share-- you know how I love to add to my Need-to-Read list!

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Zapping Good Weekly Link Round-Up

As most of you know, I do most of my summer reading sitting in the shady end of my swimming pool. I'm cool and comfortable. I'm outside and can observe any wildlife that passes through-- and I'm enjoying some wonderful storytelling. However, there are a few things that can have an adverse effect on my reading experience. Neighborhood children who bang away on their drum sets or turn on the karaoke machine and begin to yodel and screech. Daylong parties with lots of loud music. A nearby dog who gets a prolonged case of yap-itis. Normally I can do a pretty good job of tuning that stuff out. I won't throw a fit about what the neighbors do just because they're not as quiet as I am. In fact, this summer has been very quiet, and I'm not sure why. I am enjoying it, though!

No, the things that can really get my knickers in a twist are from the natural world. Namely, BUGS. Since we've gone back to a salt cell to generate chlorine, I'm not constantly on the lookout for wasps and bees that have taken a swan dive into the pool and paddle frantically until they see me. They clamber aboard the SS Cathy and then have a tendency to sting me. Not a good way to treat your savior! That's why I have to be on the lookout with my flyswatter so I can bail them out before they get a chance to climb aboard. 

The two worst drive-Cathy-nuts bugs are flies and ants (and sometimes mosquitoes). In fact, I wore out the small red flyswatter I had and needed a replacement. I can still use it to bail critters out of the pool, but now I have an electric swatter. (Cue evil laugh.) Yesterday was my first day out in the pool with it, and I have to admit that I was getting altogether too much pleasure from zapping flies and hearing the satisfyingly loud POP! 

I know. Shame on me.

As penance, I'm going to put my zapper down and head on out to the corral. These links sure are getting restless.... Head 'em up! Mooooooooooove 'em out!

►Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄
  • Watch some extremely rare footage of wild tigers in Bhutan. 
  • The crew aboard one of Sri Lanka's ships was confused by a large mass in the water. The minute they recognize it, they all jump overboard.

►The Happy Wanderer◄

►I ♥ Lists & Quizzes◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Persona Non Grata by Timothy Williams

First Line: There was the smell of coffee on his breath and, as he spoke, small clouds of moisture escaped from his mouth into the chill air.

Northern Italy, 1985. Commissario Piero Trotti is on the verge of retirement. Although he's widely respected for his integrity and work ethic, almost no one on the police force likes him. Even his family has walked out of his life. Everything is telling Trotti that he needs to make a change, but instead he sticks to the only thing he knows: his work. The entire city is enraged when a young girl is attacked in her bed by an intruder. With the help of Ciuffi, a female brigadier who still listens to him, Trotti sets out to find the truth.

Sometimes it's just not meant to be. Have you ever tried multiple books written by the same author and had none of them "grab" you? That's what's happened to me with Timothy Williams. This is the second book he's written that I've read (from two different series), and both just fell flat.

In Persona Non Grata, the reason for my disinterest lies almost entirely in the lap of Commissario Piero Trotti. He is a thoroughly unlikable person. The only character that I did like was Ciuffi. She's good at her job, she works hard, and she's sick and tired of being treated like a fourth-class citizen by the men in her department. She has some very valid complaints which she brings to Trotti's attention from time to time. She admires and respects him for the quality of his work and would love to have him as her mentor, but Trotti very plainly has no intention of listening to anything she has to say unless it directly relates to the case they're investigating-- and sometimes not even then. 

As always, your mileage may certainly vary-- and I hope it does-- but for me, I think I've learned my lesson. I'll refrain from reading any more of this author's books. He undoubtedly enjoys so-so reviews just as much as I (don't) enjoy writing them.

Persona Non Grata by Timothy Williams
ISBN: 9781616954642
Soho Crime © 2014
Paperback, 288 pages

Police Procedural, #3 Inspector Trotti mystery
Rating: C+
Source: Book Outlet