The Amateur Marriage is a nearly vintage Anne Tyler novel:, offering a slightly off-kilter family, a fine sense of time and place and an excellent eye for detail expressed in well-turned phrases. But this book is written on a larger canvas than her others, spanning over 40 years in the lives of Pauline and Michael Anton. The story begins in 1941 at the start of World War II when Pauline falls in love with Michael for no other reason than she needed a man to send off to war. But Michael?s war career is short-lived and he soon comes limping back to Baltimore and into Pauline?s waiting arms. They quickly marry and live with Michael?s mother over the family grocery story. It is immediately clear that the couple is not a perfect fit. Pauline is impulsive, determined and ambitious while Michael is slow, plodding and perfectly happy in his small inner-city grocery store. Pauline?s will prevails, however, and the couple?along with Mother Anton and their new daughter, Lindy?move to one of the spanking new suburbs that blossomed around the country in the early 50s. Michael opens a new grocery story and the family adds to two more children. Except for the constant bickering between Pauline and Michael, all is well until Lindy abruptly vanishes, the only trace of her the three-year old son she abandons in San Francisco. Still devastated over the loss of their daughter, the Antons bravely press on and begin another round of carpools to raise their missing daughter?s son. Unlike most Tyler novels, this one contains no epiphanies, no sudden moments of understanding. Instead, there is a rather helpless sense of time rushing on while the characters spin out their lives caught up in trivialities. And while Tyler might be criticized for giving her characters little or no motivations for their life?s choices, she can be praised for creating a family we like and care about. And that is what makes this novel worth reading.
Protect and Defend starts out with vintage Mitch Rapp neatly disposing of an adversary on a yacht anchored off Costa Rica. But the action quickly switches to Iran where Rapp is unleashed to rescue his boss, who has been kidnapped by a revolutionary sect. While the book is undoubtedly timely and illustrates the quagmire of today's tangled mid-east political environment, I found much of the Iranian segments boring and filled with a collection of unfailingly nasty characters with confusing names. This book features a consistently violent Rapp without the showing the softer side of the CIA assassin that has been displayed in previous books. For this reason, I found the book less appealing than the other Rapp rousts. The book's epilogue effectively hammers home the theme of Rapp as a killing machine. Listeners who enjoy almost nonstop violence laced with a heavy dose of mid-eastern politics will find this a must listen. While narrator George Guidell is as masterful as ever, I would recommend that other readers give this one a pass.
John Sandford trots out a new detective, Virgil Flowers, in the Dark of the Moon. A bit player in one of Sandford's previous Prey books, Flowers holds his own as a down-home, good old boy detective tasked with solving a series of gruesome murders in rural Bluestem, Minnesota. The mystery roars along in typical Sandford fashion while Virgil's romance with the sister of the small town's sheriff heats up. I am no fan of romance novels but the steamy love scene in a secluded swimming hole is, well, hot until a sniper shows up to spoil the fun. While Sandford's usual hero, Lucas Davenport, is a sophisticated and suave solver of crimes, Flowers is more plodding, but no less heroic. Like Lucas in his early appearances, Flowers is a definite Tom Cat with an eye for the ladies. This fast-paced mystery contains one of the finest shoot-outs in modern detective fiction with Flowers coming off as a fearless fighter as he participates in a DEA raid on a drug lab. One of the most engaging features of the novel is the camaraderie among law enforcement types that permeates the book. Sandford has Lucas Davenport make only brief appearances in this outing, appearances in which Davenport generally comes off as annoyed at Flowers for bothering him too early. Still, Sandford has another winner with the Flowers character and I look forward to Virgil's next adventure. Before Sandford pens that one, I'd like to seem him resurrect one of his earliest and greatest crimer solvers, Kidd. Armed with today's staggering technology, a Kidd mystery would be irresistible.
Power Play fails to deliver the same thrills as Joseph Finder did in Paranoia, Company Man and Killer Instinct. The first half of the book spends too much time focused on the corporate background, which is marred by having too many power players for the reader to untangle or care about. The female CEO is a particulary bland character, who never really steps off the page as more than a stereotype. It's not until the bad guys arrive that the tale begins to gather momentum. The hero, Jake Landry, though, does not disappoint and brings the book to a rip roaring finish. A good read for people patient enough to wade through the corporate dribble that ruins the first half of the book.
This picaresque novel centers around the heroine's search for a baby left behind when her mother emigrates to America following a gentile attack on her Jewish family in Russia in the early 1920s. After making a cozy life for herself in America as the mistress of a gay actor and the actor's father, our heroine, Lillian, hears from a relative that the baby she left behind is still alive. Even though the relative may be lying just to get a piece of Lillian's cozy life in the Jewish center of New York, without hesitation, Lillian sets off to look for her baby--in Siberia. Her adventures make up of most of the story, which is strictly linear but features some well-described situations Lillian encounters in the search for her daughter. This is a decent, but not spectacular, read, as the heroine's actions--which consist of doing anything it takes to get to her child--are predicable. The look at life as a Jew in the early 20th century in New York is colorful and interesting as is the descriptions of her deadly stopover in Seattle and relelentess journey through Alaska.
What I liked: Tough, nice-guy hero supported by finely drawn characters I’ll remember for a long time. Lots of fine descriptive narrative also surrounds the novels backdrop scenes, which range from Venice, Italy to the North American high country
What I didn’t like: A convoluted plot that required a suspension of disbelief to accept and a flow chart to follow. The end result is a high-tech CIA thriller married to a Tony Hillerman mystery. The plot simply lacks the legs to carry this writer’s fine narrative skills.
What I’ll remember most: A wolf/dog hybrid named Irene—think Dean Koontz
A better book in the same genre: Nelson DeMille’s Nightfall
This book is a bore. A self-consicious first-person narration, too many cute metaphors and a story that moves like a glacier all bespeak of a first-time, not-sure what-I-am-doing author. The book lacks a sense of place or real feel for its characters. Save your credits for a more experienced author like John Grisham if you want a real Southern legal read.
Beautiful Lies is a dreary attempt to set an old style gothic romance into a gritty New York setting. It doesn’t work. The first-person narrator, a woman improbably named Ridley, gets caught up in the mystery of finding out her real identity after she rescues a young boy from a busy street and her story is plastered across the news. Complete with the obligatory mysterious handsome man who the heroine falls in love with and then begins to fear, the novel leans heavily on the 18th century writer’s technique of directly addressing the reader to the point that the listener simply wants to pull out the earphones so she will stop talking at you. The narrator is so self-absorbed, righteous and lacking in any perspective save her interest in herself that it is difficult to believe that she could be the successful freelance writer she is supposed to be. The other characters are as flat as paper dolls and the predictable plot dead ends with our heroine simply having the mystery explained to her by one of the bad guys and her parents. Alas, this thriller wanna be is not worth a listen.
In Cell, Stephen King finally dials in again with a thriller that matches the caliber of his earlier work such as The Stand. King’s premise plays off today’s overbearing reliance on cell phones and other technologies to create a “pulse” that results in a devastated nation of zombies. The zombies, however, work primarily as a backdrop to the survival of a group of “normies” who didn’t happen to answer a cell phone on the day the pulse was unleashed. Unlike some of King’s more recent characters, the “normies” are well-developed characters who readers can care about. And, instead of complaining about an unsatisfying ending, we should be looking forward to a sequel featuring this same fine cast of characters.
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