Monday, January 26, 2015

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
Gallery Books: 1/27/2015
eBook, 416 pages
ASIN: B00J69Y52K

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed.
A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that the dragons are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong. Of course it can’t…
My Thoughts:

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly is a very highly recommended thriller for action/adventure junkies. In The Great Zoo of China Reilly opens with a scene that immediately lets you know that you are in for an action packed ride of the large scale creature variety.

Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a herpetologist and expert on crocodiles who is also a writer for National Geographic, along with her brother Hamish, a photographer, are invited to China to see The Great Zoo of China before it is opened to the public. Chinese officials have kept the existence of the zoo secret for years while building and planning it. Their goal was to create the greatest tourist attraction in the world. Along with a small group of VIPs, CJ and Hamish are flown to a secret valley without cages or enclosures. The Chinese have established electromagnetic domes to keep the zoo animals in while giving guests ultrasonic personal shields to keep the enclosed creatures at bay. We all learn quickly what animals are in the zoo.

CJ and the other guests learn that in November 1979, miners in a nickel mine broke through to a most unusual underground passageway and cavern. Inside was a large cache of eggs. In July 1981 one of the eggs hatched and a dragon emerged. The dragons are archosaurs, similar to pterodactyls. Suddenly mythical creatures from the collective historical past are real, alive, and thriving. We know from the opening that this visit will likely not end well and the guests will all be in danger.

Reilly fully  admits the fact that he loves Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and wanted to write a novel in the same vein in homage to Crichton.  He goes on to inform the reader that making a novel "fast and easy to read is not easy at all. It takes time and lots and lots of constant revising. If anyone says The Great Zoo of China is easy to read and only takes a few days to get through, then I will take that as a big compliment, because I worked hard to make it that way!" Reilly certainly succeeded in keeping the action moving non-stop and there are maps and diagrams throughout the novel to help you follow the action. I found myself compulsively stealing time throughout the day trying to find out what on earth happened next.

While I will concede that there  isn't a lot of character development, I wasn't really looking for that in The Great Zoo of China. Reilly delivered exactly what I wanted. I was hoping for a totally engrossing thrill-ride of escapism and non-stop action. This is a fantastic "stuck overnight at the airport book." That makes it very highly recommended for an action/adventure thriller. There is a lot of violence and bloodshed, but, ahem, here there be dragons...

In the past I have enjoyed Reilly's novels, but always noted that he went too over board in the use of exclamation points. I'm actually pleased to note that he was much stingier with them in The Great Zoo of China. Yes, of course they are there (real, live dragons are running amok!), but certainly their usage was much more restrained.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Gallery Books for review purposes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig
New York University Press: 1/16/2015
eBook Review copy, 280 pages

ISBN-13: 9781479840823

From the clamshell razors and homemade lye depilatories used in colonial America to the diode lasers and prescription pharmaceuticals available today, Americans have used a staggering array of tools to remove hair deemed unsightly, unnatural, or excessive. This is true especially for women and girls; conservative estimates indicate that 99% of American women have tried hair removal, and at least 85% regularly remove hair from their faces, armpits, legs, and bikini lines. How and when does hair become a problem—what makes some growth “excessive”? Who or what separates the necessary from the superfluous?
In Plucked, historian Rebecca Herzig addresses these questions about hair removal. She shows how, over time, dominant American beliefs about visible hair changed: where once elective hair removal was considered a “mutilation” practiced primarily by “savage” men, by the turn of the twentieth century, hair-free faces and limbs were expected for women. Visible hair growth—particularly on young, white women—came to be perceived as a sign of political extremism, sexual deviance, or mental illness. By the turn of the twenty-first century, more and more Americans were waxing, threading, shaving, or lasering themselves smooth. Herzig’s extraordinary account also reveals some of the collateral damages of the intensifying pursuit of hair-free skin. Moving beyond the experiences of particular patients or clients, Herzig describes the surprising histories of race, science, industry, and medicine behind today's hair-removing tools. Plucked is an unsettling, gripping, and original tale of the lengths to which Americans will go to remove hair.
My Thoughts:

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig is a highly recommended, fascinating look at the history of hair removal in the United States.

I am so glad a Rebecca Herzig didn't listen to her detractors and that she pursued writing this compelling history of hair removal. Plucked covers the various ways people have removed unwanted body hair, with the main focus on the U. S. In the U. S. today the deliberate removal of body hair is a widespread practice that is taken for granted, but the now seemingly conventional and commonplace act of removing body hair to obtain smooth skin is not even a century old. At the same time forced hair removal has been called torture and abuse (like for the detainees at Guantánamo) throughout history. Plucked also covers the changing social and cultural aspects of hair removal.

Plucked is well researched and well written. While it is not a complete, thorough examination of every aspect of the history of hair removal, it is short, concise and entertaining enough to appeal to a wide audience as well as those who enjoy history texts.  

Introduction: Necessary Suffering
The Hairless Indian: Savagery and Civility before the Civil War
“Chemicals of the Toilette”: From Homemade Remedies to a New Industrial Order
Bearded Women and Dog-Faced Men: Darwin’s Great Denudation
“Smooth, White, Velvety Skin”: X-Ray Salons and Social Mobility
Glandular Trouble: Sex Hormones and Deviant Hair Growth
Unshaven: “Arm-Pit Feminists” and Women’s Liberation
“Cleaning the Basement”: Labor, Pornography, and Brazilian Waxing
Magic Bullets: Laser Regulation and Elective Medicine
“The Next Frontier”: Genetic Enhancement and the End of Hair
Conclusion: We Are All Plucked
Acknowledgments, Notes, Index

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of New York University Press for review purposes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Baltimore Blues

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman
HarperCollins: 11/29/2011 (reissue)
eBook, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0062384065
Tess Monaghan Series #1

In a city where someone is murdered almost every day, attorney Michael Abramowitz’s death should be just another statistic. But the slain lawyer’s notoriety—and his taste for illicit midday trysts—make the case front-page news in every local paper except the Star, which crashed and burned before Abramowitz did. A former Star reporter who knows every inch of this town—from historic Fort McHenry to the crumbling projects of Cherry Hill—now unemployed journalist Tess Monaghan also knows the guy the cops like for the killing: cuckolded fiancé Darryl “Rock” Paxton. The time is ripe for a career move, so when rowing buddy Rock wants to hire her to do some unorthodox snooping to help clear his name, Tess agrees. But there are lethal secrets hiding in the Charm City shadows. And Tess’ own name could end up on that ever-expanding list of Baltimore dead.

My Thoughts:

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman is the highly recommended first book in the mystery series featuring Tess Monaghan. This is a great time to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with Tess in anticipation of the release of the twelfth book in the series, Hush Hush, on February 24th.

Set in Baltimore in the 90's, Tess is a 29 year old young woman at loose ends. She is an ex-newspaper reporter who has been downsized due to the closing of the Star, the paper she wrote for. Now she has to make due with two part time jobs that she has based more on the benevolence of her extended family than anything else. She is working at and living above her Aunt Kitty's bookstore while she keeps busy following a physically demanding schedule of her own design. "This was Tess’s routine, her only routine since the Star had been shuttered. Six days a week she rowed in the morning and ran in the evening. Three times a week she lifted weights in an old-fashioned boxing gym in East Baltimore. On the seventh day, she rested..."(page 4)

When her friend and rowing buddy, Darryl "Rock" Paxton, asked her to follow his girlfriend, Ava, for a price, she acquiesces and begins watching the disagreeable young lawyer. She discovers that Ava is likely involved in several questionable activities and brings her discoveries to Rock. Right after this, Michael Abramowitz, a high profile lawyer at Ava's firm, is found dead and Rock is the suspect. Tess knows he is innocent, because Rock says so, but are Ava's constantly changing stories indicative of her role in the murder or is there some clue everyone is missing?

Tess is hired as a part of the defense team as a glorified gopher but she starts to look into the life of Abramowitz in order to discover who really murdered the lawyer. Soon things become more heated as more questions are raised and leads followed.

Originally published in 1997, Baltimore Blues is not only the first Tess Monaghan novel, is also Lippman's impressive debut novel. While I thought it got off to a slow, but pleasant start, it really takes about half way through and the pages just flew by. I liked the twisty revelations and the surprises the plot contained. Tess is a mouthy, feisty, likeable protagonist, one you will cheer on, even when you know she is making poor choices. The city of Baltimore is also a major character in Baltimore Blues.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been heralded for her thoughtful, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. She is the author of twenty works of fiction, including eleven Tess Monaghan mysteries. She lives in Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York City with her family.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Five Fires

Five Fires by Laura Lippman
Byliner: 10/21/2014
eBook, 28 pages

Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of What the Dead Know, The Most Dangerous Thing, and most recently, After I'm Gone, delivers a suspenseful short story with an unexpected twist in her Byliner Original, Five Fires.
Everyone in small-town Bellville is talking about a series of mysterious fires disrupting the typically tranquil summer. The authorities attribute them to heat lightning, but some Belleville residents are not so sure…
High-school student Beth, like everyone else in Belleville, has been following the fires – she has plenty of time between her monotonous day job at the deli and solitary nights at home while her mom works late. The fires aren’t the only unusual occurrence – Beth’s old friend Tara, who left town the year before after a mysterious incident, returns with no real explanation. Circumstances only get stranger when Beth unwittingly discovers clues as to what – or who – is the cause of the fires.

My Thoughts:

Five Fires by Laura Lippman is a highly recommended short story of suspense being offered as a single.

It's summer and high school student Beth is working at the deli during the day and spending nights alone as her mom works a late shift. The town of Belleville has been experiencing a series of fires that Beth, who is interested in a career in criminal justice, is following.  As Beth narrates the story, we quickly deduce that she suspects that Tara, who recently came back to town, is setting the fires. Tara isn't really her friend, so why is she always bothering Beth?

Obviously, there is a lot more to the story than meets the eye in
Five Fires. This is a very satisfying short story full of character development and slowly building suspense. Lippman manages to get you right inside her character's thoughts and includes a nice twist at the end.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Byliner via Netgalley for review purposes.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Watch Me Go

Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski
Penguin Group: 1/22/2015
eBook, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399172120
Douglas “Deesh” Sharp has managed to stay out of trouble living in the Bronx, paying his rent by hauling junk for cash. But on the morning Deesh and two pals head upstate to dispose of a sealed oil drum whose contents smell and weigh enough to contain a human corpse, he becomes mixed up in a serious crime. When his plans for escape spiral terribly out of control, Deesh quickly finds himself a victim of betrayal—and the prime suspect in the murders of three white men. 
When Jan, a young jockey from the gritty underworld of the Finger Lakes racetrack breaks her silence about gambling and organized crime, Deesh learns how the story of her past might, against all odds, free him from a life behind bars.
Interweaving Deesh’s and Jan’s gripping narratives, Watch Me Go is a wonderfully insightful work that examines how we love, leave, lose, redeem, and strive for justice. At once compulsively readable, thought-provoking, and complex, it is a suspenseful, compassionate meditation on the power of love and the injustices of hate. 

My Thoughts:

Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski is a highly recommended novel that intertwines the hard facts of a crime novel with literary character studies.

Jan Price, comes to visit Douglas "Deesh" Sharp in prison. Deesh is an African-American who has been charged with the murders of three men. Jan says she can provide proof that will exonerate him of the murder of jockey Tom Corcoran, but first she needs to know that he didn't kill the other two men. At this point Wisniewski alternates chapters between the perspective of the two main characters as they look at their past and the choices they have made that resulted in their meeting.

The first chapter is Deesh's story about riding along with two old basketball buddies, Bark and James, hoping to earn a little cash. When the three are paid a grand to dispose of a sealed barrel that, though it is never said, everyone knew contained a body. The three dumped the barrel in a wooded area and then hit the race track taking a gamble that they can win even more betting on the horses and then they can make a break for it. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control for Deesh.

Jan's chapters recount her dealings with the Corcoran family. Jan and her mother moved from Arkansas to stay with friends Tom and Colleen Corcoran, on their son Tug's horse farm, As Jan  hopes to become a jockey like her father, she also starts to realize she has feelings for Tug. There is a lot of information about horse racing and gambling included in Watch Me Go.

Wisniewski skillfully handles the nuances in developing the personalities of each of his characters. Although both characters make bad choices, I think you will come to understand why they made the choices they did and how they were both reacting to the actions of others around them. They were both desperate and afraid. Good people can have bad things happen to them, and tragically it can leave them lost and searching.

I thought the writing was brilliant, especially in how the characters were developed and in the clarity of their separate, distinct voices. I care very little for gambling or horse racing, which are very prevalent, but the information you need can easily be assimilated enough to allow you to appreciate the larger story without trying to bog yourself down in remembering detailed racing facts. Wisniewski also does an admirable job describing the setting.

There were a few minor glitches in Watch Me Go, but, as a whole this is a fine literary suspense novel in contrast to a boiler plate crime novel

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Penguin Group for review purposes.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Settling Earth

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns
Odyssey Books: 12/16/2014
eBook, 128 pages

ISBN-13: 9781922200167

Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant-The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers' attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.
Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities-these are themes explored in the book.The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.
My Thoughts:

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns is a very highly recommended collection of interconnected short stories set during the colonial settlement of  New Zealand.

This is an exceptionally well written collection of stories that, when read together, capture a time and place through the eyes of many different characters all living during the 1800's in colonial New Zealand. Burns deftly captures the time, place, and characters so completely that I felt I had been transported back in time. In keeping the stories short, there was as much implied or left unsaid as was clearly explained.  At the end of the collection I felt like I had just finished a short novel where each chapter was written through the eyes of a different character.

Many of the stories feature women and the difficulties they faced in the settling of a new land. Motherhood is a theme, as well as the difficulties women faced when married or unmarried during this time and place. Many of the choices the women had to make were difficult and that is clearly presented even if as a fact rather than expounded upon. There is a sadness permeating the stories. There is some colonial superiority present but it is tempered with the smart addition of the last story, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, which features the reflections of a Maori native.

In the end I found this to be an excellent collection that should be well received by fans of the short story or those who appreciate historical fiction. The quality of the writing alone should merit some attention from many readers. I really appreciated the whole picture created by the interconnection of the stories told by each new character.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Rebecca Burns via Netgalley for review purposes.

YouTube Video

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Whipping Boy

Whipping Boy by  Allen Kurzweil
HarperCollins: 1/20/2015
eBook, 304 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062269485

The true account of one man's lifelong search for his boarding-school bully
Equal parts childhood memoir and literary thriller, Whipping Boy chronicles Allen Kurzweil's search for his twelve-year-old nemesis, a bully named Cesar Augustus. The obsessive inquiry, which spans some forty years, takes Kurzweil all over the world, from a Swiss boarding school (where he endures horrifying cruelty) to the slums of Manila, from the Park Avenue boardroom of the world's largest law firm to a federal prison camp in Southern California. While tracking down his tormentor, the author encounters an improbable cast of characters that includes an elocution teacher with ill-fitting dentures, a gang of faux-royal swindlers, a crime investigator with "paper in his blood," and a monocled grand master of the Knights of Malta. Yet for all its global exoticism and comic exuberance, Kurzweil's riveting account is, at its core, a heartfelt and suspenseful narrative about the "parallel lives" of a victim and his abuser.
A scrupulously researched and richly illustrated work of nonfiction that renders a childhood menace into an unlikely muse, Whipping Boy is much more than a tale of karmic retribution; it is a poignant meditation on loss, memory, and mourning, a surreal odyssey born out of suffering, nourished by rancor, tempered by wit, and resolved, unexpectedly, in a breathtaking act of personal courage.
My Thoughts:

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by  Allen Kurzweil is a very highly recommended account of a man ostensibly searching for a bully. What he finds in his search  is much more interesting and satisfying.

When Kurzweil was 10, he attended Aiglon College, a British-style boarding school located in the Swiss Alps, above Geneva.  When there one of his roommates, Cesar Augustus, took delight in tormenting him. Kurzweil shares several incidents that traumatized him during this one year of his childhood and how the specter of Cesar loomed large in his adult life. He still remembered the verbal and physical  torment Cesar put him through and his emotional pain was still present.

As an adult, Kurzweil decided to do some research to try and discover what happened to Cesar and what he did with his life. There was, also, always present the idea of payback, or confrontation of Cesar for what he did to Kurzweil.

What Kurzweil discovers is far more interesting than even he could have imagined. Cesar was part of a huge global banking scam that swindled millions of dollars from unsuspecting clients. It was run by the Badische Trust Consortium and Cesar was part of the group of scam artists, many posing as European aristocrats, who ran the con. Several members, including Cesar, had been imprisoned for their felonious deceit. "The consolidated rap sheet of the Badische gang included embezzlement, racketeering, arson, forgery, fraud, extortion, perjury, check kiting, probation violation, grand larceny, assault and battery, and domestic abuse."

In the end this is less a book about searching for Cesar, the bully, and more the story of researching Cesar and the members of the Badische Trust Consortium. There is a satisfying meeting/discussion with Cesar. Kurzweil ends with an enlightening revelation/discovery about freeing himself from the memories of his bully.

This well written, detailed account, while partially a memoir, is most certainly an engaging true crime thriller as Kurzweil researches the Badische scam artists and their crimes through the court records, etc. he is given access to use in his search. Even though his research began as a search for his bully, he found a much more interesting story in which Cesar is a bit player. Yes, he is a scam artist, but he is not the most interesting character in the search. I found myself hoping he would be able to find and confront his bully, but what Kurzweil discovers is so much more and made for a fascinating, intriguing nonfiction account of his search.
Whipping Boy includes 16 pages of black-and-white photos and  83 images.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
HarperCollin for review purposes.

New Yorker Article