Sunday, August 12, 2012

Alex Kava Redeems Herself - And 2 More

Well, Alex Kava has redeemed herself.  Her 10th Maggie O'Dell (she also has 2 stand-alones), Fireproof, is a good, solid book.  Her 2 previous O'Dell's, Hotwire and Damaged, were really mediocre.  In fact, they were so mediocre (how mediocre were they, you ask?) that I made a vow to stop reading Kava's novels (perish the thought!) completely if her next one (Fireproof) wasn't decent.  I'll give any of my established authors a pass or 2, but 3? - nope.  So she saved herself (I'm sure she is thrilled to know this!).

This one centers around an arsonist in the D.C. area, a big shot, award-winning journalist, and his camera(wo)man.  You also have the usual cast of characters - R. J. Tully, her ex-partner, Julia Racine, a D.C. detective, Patrick, her recently discovered younger half-brother, and Benjamin Platt, an army medico and sometime boyfriend.  When an arson reveals a dead body, Maggie is brought in.  She is an FBI profiler and has helped discover and put away many serial killers.  Along the way, she has been captured, tortured, and left for dead.  She comes with a lot of psychological baggage that she has to deal with (or not) on an ongoing basis.  This all makes her an interesting protagonist.  She is skilled but definitely flawed.

Keith Raffel's 3rd book, Drop by Drop, A Thriller, is in digital form only (I don't know how much it costs on Amazon, but I know it's not too expensive).  His first 2, Dot Dead and Smasher, take place exclusively in the Bay Area (Palo Alto, mostly).  This one starts in the Bay Area but spends most of its time in Washington D.C. (it's just a coincidence that both this novel and Fireproof take place there - the next one being reviewed today definitely does not).  Sam and Rachel are very happily married.  She's an up-and-coming investment banker, and he's an associate professor of history at Stanford.  Plus, they have recently found out that she's pregnant with their first child.  Everything is great.  Of course, if everything stayed great, then it wouldn't be a thriller, and I probably wouldn't have had much reason to write this review!

Sam drives Rachel to the SF airport where she is heading out to visit several hot companies as possible investment targets.  When they drive up to the curb at SFO and get out, they run across Sam's graduate school roommate, Doug.  While they're talking, a woman drives in behind Sam's car and blows herself up.  Rachel and Doug are killed, and Sam is left completely bereft (cool word, eh?).

A month later, he gets a call from Senator Marty Vincent, who is the senior member of his minority party on the Intelligence Committee.  He offers Sam a job as his staff director.  He tells Sam that this is an opportunity to get back at the people who killed Rachel (Sam worked for Senator Vincent for 3 years as a legislative assistant a number of years earlier when he was preparing his Ph.D.).  After much angst and consideration, Sam consents to re-join the senator's staff.  The rest of the book takes place in D.C.  There are a number of  characters that greatly enhance Drop by Drop:  Jessie, who was Sam's professor at Stanford and who is now Director of the National Security Agency; Cecilia, who is the staff director for the majority party's senator on the Intelligence Committee; George, who was Rachel's boss and who comes to D.C. out of an alleged love of patriotism; and, of course, Senator Vincent.  Throw in your usual supporting cast of D.C. politicos and hangers-on, and you've got a fast-paced thriller.  I think that Keith has improved with each of his 3 books, and this one is definitely the best.  I liked both Dot Dead (#1) and Smasher (#2), but Drop by Drop elevates his game.  I also really liked the fact that he took his story out of Silicon Valley.  Keith is a local author (and another one of my interviewees), and I will be looking forward to reading all of his future books.

The last book in this troika (a Russian word meaning three of a kind - see, I have culture), which only calls for a very short review, is by Ann Lamott and her son, Sam.  It's called Some Assembly Required, A Journal of My Son's First Son.  Not surprisingly, it's about Ann's first grandchild.  Joni and I went to see them at Kepler's way back in April.  Ann, of course, has written a bunch of books - 5 non-fiction (including Some Assembly Required) and 7 fiction.  I had never read any of her stuff until this one.  I have to say that I enjoyed it.  It is mostly written by Ann, but Sam interjects quite a few quotes and also writes the forward.  The book mostly chronicle's the baby's (Jax) first year of life.  It has poignant moments and a lot of humor.  Would I recommend it?  I think so.  I didn't like it as much as I liked Regis's memoir from late last year, but I still liked it.  If you are an Ann Lamott fan, then I'm sure this book is for you.  If you haven't read her before, then I would definitely wait until it comes out in paperback and/or is reduced in price at Amazon.

NOTE:  I have one more blog with reviews to write, and then I will hit the author interviews.  So far, I have interviewed 8 of the 11 authors who have said yes with #9 coming this week.

NOTE #2:  When I reviewed Robert Harris's The Fear Index, I told you that the story is about an investment company that develops a computer that uses algorithms to determine what investments to make.  It seemed very space-age, science fictiony to me.  Well, last week I was reading the business section of the Mercury News and came across a company called Knight Investments (or something like that) that had a computer that used algorithms.  And, just like the book, the computer went haywire which led to the company having a major problem with it's investments.  A friend of mine, who is a many-decades stockbroker, said that having computers determine investments by using algorithms is common, and that institutional investors and large individual investors (just like in the book) are the usual clients.  Who the heck knew?

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