Saturday, July 30, 2011

235 (2011 #40). The Ringer

This book has an interesting premise.  Ed O'Fallon is just a Denver cop doing his job.  In the confusion of a no-knock drug raid at the wrong address, he kills a Mexican immigrant, Salvador, estranged from his wife and family.  Ed's sons, Jesse and E. J., play on an elite baseball team.  Salvador's son Ray, using his Mexican-American mother Patricia Maestas' maiden name, is a hot pitcher on another team in the league. He ultimately winds up as a "ringer" (a person who is highly proficient at a particular skill or sport and is brought in to supplement a team or group of people) on Ed's boys' team, the city champions, in the state tournament.  Gradually all these people realize who the others are.

The story is told from the points of view of Ed and Patricia.  Ed begins to doubt himself and is frustrated by the mandatory administrative leave.  Patricia has her own feelings of guilt, wondering if the separation she wanted (that she learns may have been unwarranted) might have led to Salvador's death.  She is pressured by her mother and Latino activists to sue the city of Denver.  All these themes and storylines are skillfully woven together.

The author does a masterful job making the reader understand and care about BOTH of these people and their families.  I loved the little touches, like Ed's trying to control his normal overenthusiastic coaching style while working with his young daughter Polly's T-ball team, his wife Claire always knowing where his misplaced items are, and Patricia's daughter Mia carrying around her John Elway doll, dubbed "El Johnway."  This made the characters more ordinary yet believable.

This book was a Top 100 semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2008.  You don't have to be a baseball or sports fan (I'm not) to understand or like this book (I did).

Author Jenny Shank grew up in Denver.  In the acknowledgments, the author indicates that this book was inspired by the shooting of Ismael Mena, a real-life botched no-knock drug raid death in Denver in 1999.  She's written numerous other pieces, including this review of Half-Broke Horses, but this is her first book. Well-written and well-paced, I'd definitely read another book by her.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[I received an advance reader edition of this book from the publisher, Permanent Press, in exchange for a fair review.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Sunday, July 24, 2011

234 (2011 #39). The Whiskey Rebels

by David Liss,
read by Christopher Lane

This is historical fiction set in Philadelphia, New York City, and western Pennsylvania, mostly in early 1792, but with flashbacks to the summer of 1781.

The book has two plots that ultimately intertwine in 1792.  Ethan Saunders tells his story, all set in 1792.  He is a former Revolutionary War spy who was accused of treason and lives a wasted life after - until he is contacted by the woman he loves, Cynthia Fleet Pearson, the daughter of his former spying partner, when she is in trouble.

The other story is told by Joan Claybrook Maycott, who is a young woman in 1781, beautiful yet capable, planning to write the great American novel.  She meets and marries Andrew Maycott, who trades his then-worthless war pension for land on the frontier in western Pennsylvania.  The two of them go through all sorts of horrors on the way to and in the frontier, and Andrew ultimately becomes a talented whiskey distiller.

The historical events behind the story are the financial Panic of 1792, and the whiskey excise tax that ultimately led to the Whiskey Rebellion insurrections in 1794.  Liss has built an exciting historical thriller that invents an incident leading to the former and tied to the latter.  While Ethan and Joan are fictional, the book is full of real historical figures such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr, and lesser-known-but-no-less-real people like William Duer, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, and James and Maria Reynolds.  As with all good historical fiction, I've been inspired to learn more about these real people and events.

Liss makes all his characters interesting, even minor ones (who aren't real), such as Ethan's associates Lavien and Leonidas, and Joan's ally Skye.  It was interesting that as the book went on, I found Ethan becoming more likeable, and Joan less so.  Ethan's character flaws became more understandable as I learned more about his background, and his wit was entertaining.  Joan's character flaws became more visible as the book went on, yet I could understand and somewhat sympathize with her motives, and she was a strong, intelligent female, particularly unusual for that time period.  Joan's story has an epilogue in 1804, but not Ethan's, which makes me think we could see another book featuring him.

Actor Christopher Lane reads the audiobook.  He is wonderful as Ethan, and creates a unique voice for every male character in the book.  Unfortunately, the women (not as many, fortunately) more or less sound the same.  Since the book is written in the first person from both Ethan's and Joan's viewpoints, I think Brilliance Audio should have found a female to read Joan's chapters (and provide her voice and that of other female characters throughout the book).  I think it would have made a more compelling audiobook.  In the plus column, though, Brilliance did provide music to signal the beginning and ends of discs (as well as a separate voice providing disc numbers), and repeated the last few sentences from the end of a disc at the beginning of the next.

I liked this book enough that I will seek out other works by David Liss to read.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This audiobook and a hardbound edition were borrowed through interlibrary loan.]

Saturday, July 23, 2011

233 (2011 #38). Hector and the Secrets of Love

by Francois Lelord,
read by James Clamp

This was an interesting little novel, about a psychiatrist named Hector who is hired by a big drug company to find a missing professor doing research for them.  The professor is studying the chemistry of love and creates a potion that can cause deep desire and attachment.

Hector's adventures take him to Southeast Asia (where author Francois Lelord now lives - there are other parallels between his real life and this story).  There he is torn between a waitress he meets named Vayla, and his love back home, Clara (who works for the drug company).  While jetting and scurrying around, Hector ponders and writes about the five components of heartache, as well as coming up with 27 aphorisms about love that he calls "seedlings."

While the plot was a bit unbelievable, this modern parable does have some things to say about love, and has a vague (plot-wise) yet satisfying (message-wise) conclusion.  It was especially interesting to learn some of the neurotransmitters of love and sex - particularly that dopamine is tied in with desire, while oxytocin promotes attachment.

British voice-over talent James Clamp read the French Lelord's (a psychiatrist in real life, and perhaps the model for psychiatrist Francois in the) book.  Clamp's delivery is choppy, but I understand the book is written in short chapters, so that may be fitting.  He also pronounces Vayla as "Viola," and it wasn't until I read some other reviews that I knew the latter spelling was incorrect.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[I received this audiobook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to my university library.]