Monday, July 15, 2019

Review of Cold Stone Heart by Caz Frear

Image of Stone Cold Heart: A Novel
Author: Caz Frear
Release date: July 2, 2019
Publisher: harper Collins
Pages: 368
Caz Frear has done it again. The author of the critically acclaimed bestseller Sweet Little Lies (2018), has created another can’t miss summer hit with Stone Cold Heart, the sophomore edition of the Cat Kinsella detective mystery series.    
After a brief stint in the mayor’s office, Detective Constable Cat Kinsella is back at the London Metropolitan Police, wisecracking with her partner Luigi Parnell and trying to avoid the wrath of the boss, Detective Investigator Kate Steele.
But for Cat and Parnell, it’s serious business when a young Australian woman turns up dead after a party thrown by her new boss. The initial investigation of Naomi Lockhart's murder points to Joseph Madden, the owner of a coffee shop around the corner from police headquarters. Madden insists he’s innocent, that he was home with his wife Rachel at the time of the murder. When police question her, Rachel contradicts his alibi, swearing that she was home alone.
While the team builds its case against Joseph, Cat is tasked with getting to the heart of the Maddens’ marriage. Cat knows that one of them is lying—but the question of which one, and why, is far more complicated than she could have expected. As she tries to balance the demands of the investigation with a budding romance and unresolved family drama, Cat has to decide how far she’ll go to keep her own past mistakes buried.
Caz Frear grew up in Coventry, England, and spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to London and writing a novel. After fulfilling her first dream, it wasn’t until she moved back to Coventry 13 years later that the second finally came true in 2018 with the publication of Sweet Little Lies.
In Stone Cold Heart we witness the highly anticipated return of the unforgettable Cat Kinsella, the smart and sassy London Detective Constable. And like its predecessor this novel is spellbinding from start to finish. Frear effectively combines a family drama with a captivating psychological mystery, while incorporating effective descriptions of police procedurals. Blend all of that with an unpredictable and intelligently witty storyline and you’ve got a winner.
“. . . pretending I haven’t heard him over the incessant gurgle of the coffee machines and the insipid soft jazz. I’m nearly out the door now. Just a few more strides and I’ll be safely outside, away from Casanova’s attention and basking in the scents of a grimy London summer. Warm beer. Bus diesel. Raindrops hitting the hot pavements. Bliss.”
Our character, Cat Kinsella is a strong and feisty woman, who also happens to be an excellent detective. Her character’s sarcastic sense of humor is appealing on so many levels but most importantly her everyday imperfections allow her to stand out because she doesn’t let herself be defined by these shortcomings. This character continues to resonate with readers because of her struggles balancing a dysfunctional personal and family life with career. Although her personal development is less of a focus in this book, that minor fact does not diminish the novel’s appeal. If you haven’t read Sweet Little Lies, it is highly recommended to catch up on all of the happenings and to fully appreciate Kinsella’s multilayered and enchanting character. Efforts like this are rare in fiction publishing today, and Frear has succeeded in this sequel where many writers have failed.
Overall, Stone Cold Heart is masterfully written, and Caz Frear’s trademark sense of humor shines brightly; add in a character worth cheering for and plenty of mystery and suspense (that leaves you guessing to the final pages), and you’ve got the recipe for a sure thing bestseller.
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on July 12, 2019 -

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review of Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot

Image of Life with Picasso (New York Review Books Classics)
Author: Francoise Gilot
Release date: June 11, 2019
Publisher: NYBR Classics
Pages: 376
Francoise Gilot was just 21 when she met Pablo Picasso, four decades her senior. He had first seen the young artist in May of 1943, during the German occupation of France at a restaurant on the left bank of Paris, near Notre Dame. Picasso was captivated by her charm and intellect, while Gilot’s first impression of him was a little less than pleasing, “I was a little surprised at Picasso’s appearance . . . his graying hair and absent look—either distracted or bored—gave him a withdrawn, Oriental appearance that remined me of the Egyptian scribe in the Louvre.”
Gilot moved in with him in 1946, and during the following ten years they worked closely together. They never married, but they did have two children together. During their time together Gilot was often hassled on the streets of Paris by Picasso's legal wife, Olga Khokhlova, a former Russian ballet dancer, and Picasso himself physically abused her as well.
Eleven years after their separation, Gilot wrote Life with Picasso (1964), a memoir that sold over one million copies in dozens of languages, despite an unsuccessful legal effort from Picasso attempting to stop its publication. From then on, Picasso refused to see the children. All the profits from the book were used to help her children mount a case to become Picasso's legal heirs.
In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, who pioneered the polio vaccine, and they remained married until his death in 1995. Gilot lives in Paris and New York, works on behalf of the Salk Institute in California, and at age 98, still continues to exhibit her own artwork internationally. New York Review Books has recently republished her timeless memoir with a brief introduction by Lisa Alther. She is the author of six novels, a memoir, a short story collection, and the book About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter, co-authored by Francoise Gilot.
“I lay there in his arms . . . Until then he had been, for me, the great painter that everyone knew about and admired . . . From then on he became a person . . . Now my emotions and affections were involved. I had not thought before then that I could ever love him. Now I knew it could be no other way.”
Brutally honest but even-handed, Gilot openly describes her often-turbulent life with the volatile genius. Picasso is revealed as brilliant but calculating, a man who despised sentimentality and mostly sought to shock the senses. It is filled with emotional and often surprising disclosures about the man, his work, his thoughts and his contemporaries such as Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Giacometti, among others.
Evocative of the time and full of remarkably detailed commemorations of conversations between Pablo and his famous friends. Gilot provides a brilliant self-portrait of a young woman with enormous talent figuring out who she really wanted to become. She provides a detailed insider's view of the great artist at work and delivers a dynamic understanding of his inner thoughts. A captivating and monumental snapshot of a bygone era that still resonates 57 years after its first publication.
Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on June 14, 2019 -

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review of The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone

Author: Chris Pavone
Publish date: May 7, 2019
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 384
Kate Moore is an expat mom being pulled in every direction, all the time—parenting that’s pulling her away from work, a perilous job pulling her away from her kids, and stressful professional travel pulling her away from her husband, from the damaged relationship she’s trying hard to repair. She’s also trying to remain relevant, clinging to an intelligence career that seems to be slipping away, with every day a chance to salvage it, or ruin it.
So when a suicide bomber arrives at the Louvre, it’s not someone else’s problem. And as Kate digs into the dangerous events unfolding across the City of Lights— multiple bomb threats, a missing CEO, her husband’s risky business move—she discovers that today’s citywide attack is not at all what it seems, and that the past she hoped she left behind might be closer than she thinks. Much closer.
Chris Pavone is the New York Times bestselling author of three award winning books that includes The Expats (2012), The Accident (2015), and The Travelers (2016). Since he burst onto the scene, Chris Pavone has continued to cultivate his craft and has become one of the elite writers of the thriller genre.
“After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sirens began to take on a new significance, triggering more vital concerns . . . These days, sirens could mean anything…The sirens are closing in . . . people finally begin to react . . . The bomb that Mahmoud is wearing under his windbreaker is the sort that can be easily identified . . . Everyone knows what this is. That is the point. The world has become prepared for this sort of thing, in the sorts of places where it makes sense. Places like here. Mahmoud is the delivery system.”
The Paris Diversion is the second installment in the masterfully crafted Kate Moore series and much like its forerunner it’s jammed with nonstop adventures and electrifying action. Unlike other books in the espionage-thriller category it’s almost a requirement to have read Pavone’ first book. The plot has links to The Expats and without prior familiarity might tend to be a little baffling to the casual reader. Because the story is told from several viewpoints and given the fact that a few of these are from peripheral characters the casual reader who does not have prior understanding might be confused about their roles.
However, once these viewpoints are understood the storyline transforms into a read that is appealing, absorbing, and intensely spellbinding. The twists and turns are never predicable, and the heart-pounding tension of The Paris Diversion effortlessly transports the reader through a labyrinth of hypnotic suspense, where nothing is ever what it seems to be.
The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on May 8, 2019 -

Friday, March 29, 2019

Review of Kushner Inc. by Vicky Ward

Author: Vicky Ward
Release date: March 19, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin Press
Pages: 320

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are the self-styled prince and princess of America. Their swift, gilded rise to extraordinary power in Donald Trump’s White House is unprecedented. In Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extra Ordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Vicky Ward investigates and debunks the many myths the couple has created, the most outlandish being that they are the only voices of reason in an otherwise irrational presidency.

Ward is a New York Times bestselling author who has penned several books that include The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers (2010) and The Liar's Ball: The Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World's Toughest Tycoons (2014). She is also a contributing editor and investigative reporter for several magazines that include HuffPost, Vanity Fair, and Town & Country.

In Kushner, Inc. Ward skillfully unveils a grim and disturbing portrait of entitled offspring, whose greed, inexperience, vanity, and voracious need for power has caused chaos in the world and may even threaten democracy.

Ward follows the couple from New Jersey to New York City to the White House, where their many ventures into policy-making and national security have mockingly ridiculed long-standing US policy and practice. Ward contends that the Kushners have methodically and unapologetically pursued an unchecked agenda that has increased their wealth. She holds Jared and Ivanka personally responsible for their actions and discloses their self-serving motivations and how these actions have advanced them into the highest levels of government where no one has been able to stop them.

“Jared is as sinister as Donald Trump is . . . He’s not a pussycat . . . well dressed, well put together, and always saying the right thing, doing the right thing . . .”

“the reason Ivanka Trump so badly wanted to become a Kushner was that she’d never had a close-knit family; it appeared that she never felt her parents . . . desired her presence . . .”

“Ivanka Trump was critical in promoting her husband as the smoother, softer counterpart to her father’s volatility . . . One person who knew the couple felt she was in charge of their marriage . . . Ivanka was always giving Jared input . . . on the smallest of details . . . but she also played the role of devoted, traditional Orthodox wife.”

In this meticulously researched book, Ward reveals that Jared and Ivanka are not just the president’s chief enablers: they, like him, also appear indifferent to the rule of law and basic ethics. Clearly written accounts of the Kushner’s political and personal dealings paint a shocking and realistic image of their alleged corruption, inexperience, and possible criminal activity. For those readers who have a pretty good general knowledge of the endless chaos and confusion surrounding the Trumps and Kushners this expose will not be shocking or surprising.

Overall, this book definitely stands out head and shoulders above many of the recent books on the Trump family. It is not just a repeat of the reports of events but is well written account of what actually happened. But be warned if you really want to be creeped out and want a sleepless night, enter the unsavory and often seedy world of “Javanka” where ruthlessness, egotism, and pure ignorance run rampant.  
This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 28, 2019 -