Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 10/14/2014
eBook, 416 pages

ISBN-13: 9780544262287

Readers of Erik Larson will love this tale of sex, greed, and the American dream: A huckster imports a tribe of Filipinos to Coney Island’s Luna Park, and two cultures collide.
The Lost Tribe of Coney Island unearths the forgotten story of the Igorrotes, a group of “headhunting, dog-eating savages” from the Philippines, who were transported to New York in 1905 to appear as “human exhibits” alongside the freaks and curiosities at Coney Island’s Luna Park. Millions of fair-goers delighted in their tribal dances and rituals, near-nudity, tattoos, and stories of headhunting.
Journalist Claire Prentice, who has spent years researching the topic, brings the story to life with her fluid prose and vivid descriptions. The book boasts a colorful cast of characters, including the disgraced lieutenant turned huckster Truman K. Hunt; his Filipino interpreter, Julio Balinag; the theme park impresarios behind Luna Park, Fred Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy; and Dogmena, a beautiful girl who became a favorite with New York’s social elite. The Lost Tribe of Coney Island  is a fascinating social history and a tale of adventure, culture-clash, and the American dream.
My Thoughts:

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice is a very highly recommended nonfiction account of Truman K. Hunt's use and abuse of a tribe of Filipinos, specifically Igorrotes, who were brought to America in 1905 and put on display at Coney Island’s Luna Park. As Prentice points out, "Ultimately, this is a story of a hero turned villain that makes us question who is civilized and who is savage." 

Although in the end only Hunt and the fifty-one Filipinos who traveled with him to America knew the precise details of everything that transpired between them, it is safe to say after reading Prentice's remarkable account that the Igorrotes were degraded and essentially became slaves to Hunt's greed. The fact that Hunt brought human beings from another culture to America and then was allowed to put them on display was in and of itself nauseating. Adding insult to injury was the fact that he stole and cheated them out of the compensation he said he would be providing to them.

"Savage or innocent, noble or childlike. The Igorrotes were like one of the distorting mirrors at the Coney funfair. How they were portrayed reflected the views of those looking at them more often than it gave a true picture of the Igorrotes themselves." ( Location 1653) Hunt insisted that they kill and eat a dog daily for the "show" even though dog was not a main staple of their diets.

"The sacrifice of a dog was an important Igorrote custom and, though they were reluctant to say anything at first, some of the tribe felt the daily dog feasts at Coney were undermining their cultural significance. Not only that, but their bodies couldn’t digest all of the meat that they were being given. On behalf of them all, the tribal chief approached Julio [the interpreter] with a request that they be allowed to return to a more varied and authentic diet of chicken, pork, fish, rice, beans, and vegetables, with occasional servings of dog." (Location 1257) This authentic portrayal of their diet, of course, would ruin the show Hunt wanted to put on and profited greatly from. 

It was really an embarrassment that the Human Society kept turning up to investigate complaints about the treatment of animals in the context of the Igorrotes. Here was a group of people who were brought to America, being taken advantage of, being treated like animals, and "living in squalor and being forced to put on a degrading show for the public and the only complaint this party had was about the treatment of the dog." It was disgusting that no one stopped Hunt and ended the abuse of human beings, let alone animals.

Prentice does an excellent job presenting the results of years of research and telling the story of this disgraceful side show spectacle. It is much to her credit that in The Lost Tribe of Coney Island all the information she uncovers is disclosed in a sympathetic and informative narrative that is nicely paced. It certainly held my attention right to the end, although it did have me shaking my head over what people will do to others. While this is a difficult book to read in terms of subject matter, it is a well-researched account that is presented in a very accessible format and should appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Prentice includes any additional information she has uncovered about the people involved in an Afterword. The book also includes: Acknowledgments, Notes, a Bibliography, Illustration Credits, and an Index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes.
TLC Tour

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Unforgivable Fix

The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods
Random House: 10/14/2014
eBook, 300 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345549280
Justice Series #3

Detective Mort Grant of the Seattle PD has finally decided to sell. The home where he and his late wife raised two kids feels too large and too full of old memories. His son is married and raising a family of his own, and despite desperate efforts to find her, Mort has lost touch with his wayward daughter. That is, until the day she walks back into her childhood home and begs for his help.
For the last four years, Allie Grant has been the lover—and confidante, confessor, and counselor—of one of the world’s most powerful and deadly men. But a sudden, rash move has put Allie in the crosshairs of a ruthless Russian crime lord. Mort knows of only one place where Allie will be safe: with The Fixer. 
As a hired desperado, The Fixer has killed twenty-three people—and Mort was complicit in her escape from the law. She has built an impregnable house, stocked it with state-of-the-art gear, armed it to the teeth, and locked herself away from the world. But even The Fixer may not be able to get justice for Allie when real evil comes knocking.

My Thoughts:

The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods is a not-to-be-missed, very highly recommended third installment of the Justice series, which features The Fixer.

Wowza! I unabashedly love the Fixer. The series by T. E. Woods begins with The Fixer followed by The Red Hot Fix, and now the latest, The Unforgivable Fix. The synopsis tells followers a modicum about what's happening with this third book of the series (Mort trying to move on and his wayward daughter, Allie, returning), but let me just clue you in that there is a bit more happening that will throw you for a loop, twist things up, and send every nerve in your body longing for The Fixer to get to work again.

It is good to see Lydia Corriger, a clinical psychologist, returning to work. While opening her practice again, she is asked by a friend to take on the task of providing a Ph.D. student some clinical experience. While her relationship/friendship with Mort is shaky, at least it's still there. Mort surprises her by introducing her to his long-lost and up-to-no-good daughter, Allie. 

Allie will likely annoy every fiber of your being, but just go with it because Lydia is experienced enough to read her like a book. In the end, though, even Lydia can't anticipate every move Allie is planning to make, especially when Lydia's distracted by the outcome of the therapy sessions her grad student is holding.

Now that I've declared my love of the series, I have to add the disclaimer that my feelings are based on reading all three novels in order. I'm not sure if I'd just jump into this third novel without having at least read the first novel for background information. My advanced reading copy didn't have a synopsis of the first two books, so I don't know if the final version will include that, but it will be worth your time to read the previous books. Woods is an excellent writer who propels her storylines forward by keeping the pace swift and the action moving. And, yes, there are some nice plot twists added into the mix.

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

TLC Tour

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Death in Vegas

A Death in Vegas by Christopher Meeks
White Whisker Books: 8/15/2014
Trade Paperback, 180 pages
ISBN-13: 9780983632993

In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. Is someone setting him up? He flees to find the answers.

My Thoughts:

A Death in Vegas by Christopher Meeks is a highly recommended crime novel in which a murder suspect becomes the investigator.

Patton Burch is attending the lawn and garden show in Vegas representing BenBugs, a company he owns that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardeners. He has hired a model, who calls herself Chatterly Langstrump, as a sexy lady-bug girl for his booth, hoping to attract business. It seems to be working, so when Patton sort of bumbles into Chatterly at a restuarant after that first day, they end up having dinner together... and end up back in his room when Chatterly is having an asthma attack and needs to lay down. The next morning, after nothing untoward happened the night before, Patton wakes up and discovers Chatterly is dead. Naturally, even when it looks like she died from an asthma attack, Patton is the main suspect.

Patton is sure that the police aren't really working on investigating who Chatterly really is, why she is using an alias, and who wants to kill her, so he goes rogue, after contacting his lawyer, and tries to run his own investigation to discover the answers. At the same time, when Patton tries to explain the situation to his wife, she doesn't believe nothing happened with the bug girl, so she takes off. The trouble multiplies when Patton discovers that the new financier for BenBugs that his wife has made an arrangement with has actually involved them in a money laundering scheme being investigated by the FBI. Hopefully he can find his wife and figure out the financing scheme too, while he's trying to discover Chatterly's identity and who killed her.

You can always count on Christopher Meeks for a well written novel; this time Meeks excells at bringing almost a farcical edge to the humor in A Death in Vegas. The comicality makes this crime novel feel more like a madcap adventure in an old comedy movie with Cary Grant, like  Bringing up Baby, or The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Patton is managing to investigate the murder and he is getting answers, but even when the action is getting tense, there is an element of humor right beneath the surface. Yes, this is a murder mystery, but you will find yourself laughing or smiling your way through this novel. (Actually, once you discover the bug girl is going by the alias of Chatterly Langstrump, you should realize that humor will have a large role in this novel.)

While I did enjoy this latest by Meeks, I must admit that Blood Drama is still my favorite book by Christopher Meeks - to date.

Thanks to Christopher Meeks for providing my review copy. As always I'm pleased to participate in a Virtual Author Book Tour too.

VABT Schedule and excerpt

Monday, October 13, 2014

The River Is Dark

The River Is Dark by Joe Hart
Thomas & Mercer: 10/14/2014
eBook, 234 pages
ISBN-13: 9781477825778 
In a small town along the Mississippi River, separate but nearly identical attacks have left two married couples brutally murdered in their homes. A young boy—the lone survivor of the killings—now lies comatose in the hospital. And the police’s only lead is the boy’s terrified description of the assailant: a “monster.”
Enter former homicide detective Liam Dempsey, whose estranged brother fell victim to the killer. Dragged into the investigation as a suspect, Dempsey vows to solve the case and clear his name. But two things stand between him and the truth: a web of local politics, and the grim secrets the victims held close. All the while, a murderer with boundless hatred continues to raise the body count.
As the troubled ex-cop tries to pull justice from the town’s emotional wreckage, he realizes that his could be the next life lost to the killer’s ruthless, twisted plan for revenge.
My Thoughts:  

The River Is Dark by Joe Hart is a highly recommended, fast paced thriller that will hold your attention right to the end.

The opening scene is of a frightened young boy trying to escape from a murderer. Then the action focuses on Liam Dempsey. Liam has just learned that his brother, Allen, and sister-in-law, Suzie, have been brutally murdered in the small town of Tollston, Minnesota where his physician brother had his medical practice. What he doesn't know until he arrives in Tollston is that another couple, who just happened to be best friends of his brother, was murdered that same week. A young boy has survived, but is in a coma.

The homeless man called Nut told Liam, “Wasn’t two weeks ago Jerry and Karen Shevlin were found the same way as the ones last night. Their boy was luckier, but not by much. Lost an arm from the elbow down and hasn’t woke up yet. Poor little bugger, he can’t be more’n ten or eleven.”
Liam set his cup down and turned to fully face the man. “You’re telling me there was a double murder here last week?”

While law enforcement won't specifically say that the two murders are related, clearly they are - but there doesn't seem to be a sinister connection between the two couples that would give anyone a reason to murder them. Liam was previously a homicide detective for the Minneapolis police department, so he inserts himself into the investigation after he is questioned as a suspect. Liam also renews his acquaintance with Dani, a friend of his sister-in-law. Dani and Liam begin to work together, with some assistance from the local sheriff.  From their investigation, Liam has good reasons to believe that more people might be in danger.

The River Is Dark sets a furious pace and leaps along to the end. It is well written and a perfect choice for anyone looking for that fast-paced thriller with gory details and a plot that moves at break-neck speed to the end. While there aren't many rabbit trails and false leads to spread the action out, the conclusion is nicely done. Most readers will connect with Liam as a character and want him to succeed.

This is a re-release of a previously published edition.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer for review purposes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stolen from the Garden

Stolen from the Garden by William Swanson
Minnesota Historical Society: 10/15/2014
eBook, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780873519472

On a July afternoon in 1972, two masked men waving guns abducted forty-nine-year-old Virginia Piper from the garden of her lakeside home in Orono, Minnesota. After her husband, a prominent investment banker, paid a $1 million ransom, an anonymous caller directed the FBI to a thickly wooded section of a northern Minnesota state park. There, two days after her nightmare began, Ginny Piper––chained to a tree, filthy and exhausted, but physically unharmed––awaited her rescuers. 
The intensely private couple lived through a media firestorm. Both Bobby and Ginny Piper herself—naturally reserved and surprisingly composed in the aftermath of her ordeal—were subject to FBI scrutiny in the largest kidnap-for-ransom case in bureau annals. When two career criminals were finally indicted five years after the abduction, the Pipers again took center stage in two long trials before a jury’s verdict made headlines across the nation. 
Drawing on closely held government documents and exclusive interviews with family members, investigators, suspects, lawyers, and others intimately connected to the case, William Swanson provides the first comprehensive account of the sensational Piper kidnapping and its long, eventful aftermath––and makes a case for the most plausible explanation for what really happened on that July afternoon.

My Thoughts:

Stolen from the Garden by William Swanson is a very highly recommended account of the 1972 kidnapping of Virginia Piper and the subsequent investigation and trials.

In 1972 when 49 year old Virginia (Ginny) Piper was kidnapped by two masked men from her home by lake Minnetonka in the Minneapolis suburb of Orono, Minnesota, her husband, Harry (Billy) Piper Jr., paid a $1 million ransom for her safe return.  After receiving the ransom, the kidnappers left information that Ginny could be found blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to a tree in a forested state park area outside of Duluth. Swanson recounts all of the details of the kidnapping, the search for suspects and the resulting two trials that failed to result in a conviction.

This is a fascinating book. Swanson explores and presents the information in a straightforward, concise format.  Between the FBI files and information from the surviving sons, and with a clear eye for details, he presents the final, but inconclusive results of the investigations. Stolen from the Garden is a riveting account of a real life cold case and is very highly recommended.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the
Minnesota Historical Society Press for review purposes.

Slow Road to Brownsville

Slow Road to Brownsville by David Reynolds
Greystone Books: 10/14/2014
eBook, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781771640497

In Slow Road to Brownsville, David Reynolds embarks on a road trip along Highway 83, a little-known two-lane highway built in 1926 that runs from Swan River, Manitoba, to the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up in a small town in England, Reynolds was enthralled by both the myth of the Wild West and the myth of the open road. This road trip is his exploration of the reality behind these myths as he makes his way from small town to small town, gas station to gas station, and motel to motel, hanging out in bars, drinking with the locals, and observing their sometimes-peculiar customs. Reynolds also wanted to see the country where the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Comanches, the Apaches, and other native groups lived and died and to look at how their descendants live now. He describes the forced location of the Cheyenne people, discovers the true story of the Alamo, and finds similarities between Sitting Bull’s tours and those of the Black Panthers. In the end, Reynolds sees hope, potential, and tolerance in this forgotten middle of North America.
My Thoughts:

Slow Road to Brownsville: A Journey Through the Heart of the Old West by David Reynolds is a recommended nonfiction account of an Englishman's travels and personal reflections as he journeys down Highway 83.

While visiting Swan River, Manitoba, where his grandfather lived from 1905-1910, Reynold's learns that Highway 83 goes all the way across the middle of the USA to Brownsville, Texas. This planted the idea of traveling the route. He is curious what lies along Highway 83. What are the Great Plains and Middle American towns and cities like today? He wants to examine the history and current conditions of the Native Americans as he explores what he comes across on the highway. He also examines the history of the various cities, attractions, and areas he travels through. Reynolds grew up watching Westerns and road movies so this trip seemed like the perfect way to see the country he fantasized about as a child and compare the reality today to various other road trips that have been written about over the years.

"Whether 83 is the longest is contentious. One source says it is the fifth longest, but takes into account only the 1,894 miles within the United States. Only two other U.S. Highways still continue up into Canada (Highways 1 and 59). Neither reaches as far north as 83. Going south, once it leaves Manitoba and enters the United States, 83 travels through six states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, a narrow strip of Oklahoma known as the Panhandle, and Texas. From Swan River to Brownsville on 83 is 2,271 miles. "

The start of Reynold's book gave all indications that Slow Road to Brownsville was going to be a rather charming account of an Englishman exploring the sights along Highway 83, which it is to some extent, but it lost some of that charm for me when numerous people he encountered were seemingly always described by their enormous girth and as he repeatedly managed to tune into a talk radio program that espouses beliefs contrary to his own. I'm fine with accurately describing people and certainly weight is a factor, but it did grow rather tiring to consistently have weight alone as a main description. As for the rather strident talk radio host he intensely dislikes...  One mention, fine, two is enough. Beyond that it became annoying for me and I just wanted to say, "It is in your power to turn to another radio station."

Setting those annoyances aside, I really appreciated the inclusion of quotes from and pertinent descriptions mentioned in the numerous road trip books written over the years whose authors explored the same areas. As is my wont, I also always appreciate the inclusion of a bibliography and maps showing his route. The discography of music is a nice touch.

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


Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood 
by William J. Mann
HarperCollins: 10/14/2014
eBook, 480 pages

ISBN-13: 9780062242167
Who killed Billy Taylor, one of Hollywood's most beloved men?
For nearly a century, no one has known.
Until now.
In the early 1920s, millions of Americans flocked to movie palaces every year to see their favorite stars on the silver screen. Never before had a popular art so captured the public's imagination, nor had a medium ever possessed such power to influence. But Hollywood's glittering ascendancy was threatened by a string of lurid, headline-grabbing tragedies, including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the handsome and popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association—a legendary crime that has remained unsolved since 1922.
Now, in this fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William Mann draws on a rich host of sources, many untapped for decades, to reopen the case of the upstanding yet enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three loyal ingenues, a grasping stage mother, a devoted valet, a gang of two-bit thugs, the industry's reluctant new morals czar, and the moguls Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew, locked in a struggle for control of the exploding industry. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls and drug dealers, newly minted legends and starlets already past their prime, a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.
A true story re-created with the thrilling suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a master craftsman at the peak of his powers.
My Thoughts:  

Tinseltown by William J. Mann is a very highly recommended true crime novel and offers a solution to a 1922 Hollywood murder.

Opening with the discovery of William Desmond Taylor body, this nonfiction novel explores the decadence of 1920's Hollywood and offers a solution to the unsolved murder.
Billy Taylor was a prominent director at the time of his murder and was found shot in his apartment by his valet. Mann then explores the life of Taylor and the studio executives and the three women involved with him in some capacity.

This is a very thorough examination of all the suspects as well as the cover-ups and concerns over bad publicity by the studios. After the murder, Mann goes back in time sixteen months to set the history of those involved during that particular time in history. Mann carefully follows the leads and information his research uncovers. Between the inept police investigation and the involvement (and interference) of the studio in the evidence in an attempt to negate even a hint of scandal, any true investigation into the murder was doomed almost from the start. There were already too many scandals in the film industry at that time and they wanted to hide any evidence of yet another.

Mann is a proven researcher and he includes the details he uncovers into a seamless exploration of early Hollywood. This is an abundantly interesting and well researched exploration of a true crime that will appeal to those who like that genre.  Tinseltown will also definitely appeal to anyone who enjoys colorful and factual historical information about early Hollywood and this time of decadence, big scandals, and bigger cover-ups.

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