Friday, December 21, 2012

Guest Post by Tony Viardo, CEO of the publisher Astor + Blue Editions

Kindle   B&N  kobo sony

Awhile back I posted an excerpt from Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista. The publisher of that book and many other wonderful books is Astor + Blue. Right now, Astor + Blue is having a Holiday Season Price Promo for Extraordinary Rendition for only $1.99. In fact, Astor +Blue Editions has put its entire first season’s list of e-book titles on a holiday promotional sale for $0.99 or $1.99The sale will continue through January 7, 2013. This is a great deal and if the excerpt from Extraordinary Rendition peaked your interest, now is a great time to get it. Who doesn't like a holiday sale? Their whole can be found here:

As a bonus treat, here is a guest post by the CEO of Astor + Blue, Tony Viardo. Enjoy.

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Digital Publishing: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?

So how many articles have we read about E-books and Digital Publishing this year? For anyone who generally follows the book world (rabid booklover, book-blogger, industry pro or casual reader), we’re literally inundated with the amazing numbers—“E-book sales up 125% (again) over the 175% they were up from last year’s 225% increase!”—and equally amazing technological announcements—“Next Fall, the new ZimWittyZoomDitty tablet not only updates your Facebook and Goodreads friends whenever you snort in disgust … it cooks dinner for you at the same time!”

This leads many to take at least casual stock of what’s going on/going to happen to the “Publishing World” as we know it.  And if your friends are like my friends (hardcore print book consumers), that stock is usually pretty morbid (sharp Greenwich Village angst not included): “Print books are doomed, so are brick-and-mortar stores.  Goodbye literary quality. Oh and some pajama-wearing techie living in a basement with a laptop is going to be the new Sulzburger; we’ll all have to bow down!”

If you (or that good friend of yours) fall into the mortified category, my take (for what it’s worth) may come as positive news:  E-books are not, and will not be, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas; in this case, the “Print World’s” bacon. Now, as the owner of a “Digital First” publishing house (Astor + Blue Editions, my opinions may easily be written off as self-serving and invalid.  But bear with me for a minute… these are fact-based observations and I might just make sense (Someone tell my mom and dad).

As someone who earns a living from publishing, I have to follow numbers and industry trends as closely as possible.  And while some see doom and gloom for Print, I see exciting developments for both Print and E-book formats.  What do the numbers show?  Digital book revenue is skyrocketing, print revenue is declining.  Natural conclusion?  E-books are killing print books. But not so fast.  Historically, Print revenue has always seemed to be declining (even before E-books were invented), but that doesn’t mean the book market is dying or shrinking.

We have to remember that in fact the book market is growing. Readership always grows because population always grows.  Every year, new readers enter the vast pool of the club that is “adult readership,” (despite Dancing with the Stars). And every year more readers are being born and theoretically being inspired by Ms. Crabtree’s elementary reading class.  **So why the decline?  Readership grows gradually, but the sheer number of books and book vendors grow exponentially, showing an investment loss almost every year. (Basic statistics: the widening universe makes it look like a shrinking pie when it isn’t).

So what does this mean?  If you look at the numbers (historically), revenue for print books may have declined, yes, but not more than “normal,” and not significantly more than it did when there were no E-books around. (This is arguable of course, but the long term numbers do not show a precipitous drop-off). The yearly revenue decline, if there is one, can just as easily be written off to economic conditions as to E-book competition.  Bottom line:  Any drop in print revenue that may be caused by E-books are not significantly sharp enough to declare that E-books are destroying print book sales.  (Hence no Grinch).

What may be happening, and what I believe is happening is that a whole new market for E-books is developing, while the print book market growth, like Publishing as a whole, is still growing at a historically gradual pace. (Boringly flat).  Come up with your pet anecdote here, but I believe that more new readers are entering the market (who otherwise wouldn’t have) because of E-readers; existing readers are consuming more books (both print and e-book) than they did before; and while it would seem that a certain print title is losing a sale whenever readers buy it in E-book format, this is offset, at least somewhat, by the fact that more print titles are being bought (that otherwise wouldn’t) because of the extra marketing buzz and added awareness produced by the E-book’s cyber presence.  All of it evens out in the end, and I believe, ultimately fosters growth industry-wide.

So take heart Print fans, E-books are not the dark villain you think they are.  And here, I should correct my earlier analogy—that E-books are not the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  They may actually be the Grinch…in as much as, at the end of the story, the pear-shaped green guy ended up not only giving all the presents back to the singing Who-villers, he created a flash mob and started a big party as well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
review copy provided by Harper Perennial
Description from Goodreads:
MORANTHOLOGY The very best of Caitlin Moran – in the first ever collection of her writing

‘In HOW TO BE A WOMAN, I was limited to a single topic: women. Their hair, their shoes and their crushes on Aslan from The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (which I KNOW to be universal).

‘However! In my new book MORANTHOLOGY – as the title suggests – I am set free to tackle THE REST OF THE WORLD: Ghostbusters, Twitter, caffeine, panic attacks, Michael Jackson’s memorial service, being a middle-class marijuana addict, Doctor Who, binge-drinking, Downton Abbey, pandas, my own tragically early death, and my repeated failure to get anyone to adopt the nickname I have chosen for myself: ‘Puffin’.

‘I go to a sex-club with Lady Gaga, cry on Paul McCartney’s guitar, get drunk with Kylie, appear on Richard & Judy as a gnome, climb into the TARDIS, sniff Sherlock Holmes’s pillows at 221b Baker Street, write Amy Winehouse’s obituary, turn up late to Downing Street for Gordon Brown, and am rudely snubbed at a garden party by David Cameron –although that’s probably because I called him ‘A C3PO made of ham’. Fair enough.

‘And, in my spare time – between hangovers - I rant about the welfare state, library closures and poverty; like a shit Dickens or Orwell, but with tits.’

My Take:
Before picking up Moranthology, I hadn't read any of Caitlin Moran's work. Why? Who didn't tell me about her? Someone is in big trouble. I'm pretty sure someone was supposed to tell me about her before now.  

This book made me laugh out loud. It made me laugh so hard I cried. It made me laugh in that way that causes my kids to peek  warily around the door frame for fear that mom has totally lost it this time. 

I don't really know how to explain or review Moranthology, because there are so many varied pieces. I will give examples of some of my favorites - which means the ones that made laugh crazily and alarm my family.  

Just the title of this piece made me laugh: "I Am a Dwarf Called 'Scottbaio'". In this piece, Moran examines World of Warcraft and creates a character and then madness ensues.  As a long-time gamer, I could relate to her adventures or misadventures, however you want to characterize them. 

I loved the interviews of Keith Richard and Paul McCartney - these should not be missed. I also really enjoyed her reviews, discussions about, fan ravings, whatever you want to call them of Sherlock and Doctor Who.  Her interview with Lady Gaga was eye opening for me. I don't keep up with most pop artists and while I do enjoy her music, especially for working out, I wouldn't consider myself an actual fan of Gaga. The interview piece shed new light and did alter my perceptions of her. 

I found her stance on goody bags to be quite funny and not without a certain logic. Since I have given up having actual parties for my kids (now we just load up a bunch of their friends and take them to see a movie), it is no longer an issue, but I do see her point. 

My one and only complaint about Moranthology, is that Moran has forced me to really look at the plot of Downton Abbey, and while I will concede some of her points, I will never forgive her for making me look so closely at the plot line and forcing me to admit that it can be a bit silly sometimes. I. Will.  Never. Forgive. Her. Ever. 

The book isn't just funny stuff though. Moran also tackles economic issues, poverty, women's issues, parenting, drinking and even fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Moranthology and I will now add  How to Be a Woman to my wish list. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
digital galley provided by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:
1961 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house during a family celebration at their home, Green Acres Farm. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to Green Acres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivian, is her first clue.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers, play-acting and deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

My Take:
I have been meaning to read some of Kate Morton's work and The Secret Keeper turned out to be a great opportunity. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! Now, of course, I will be purchasing her other books. I love it when you find an author that really impresses you.

I enjoyed being pulled along on the search for the reason behind the crime that a young Laurel witnesses in 1961. As Dorothy draws closer to the end of her life, her daughter, Laurel begins to revisit that crime she witnessed as a child and decides she needs to find out what happened and why. Her sister shows her an old photo of Dorothy and a friend that they have never met and this is the catalyst for her search for answers. 

The Secret Keeper has multiple narrators, each with their part to play in the drama that was Dorothy's life.  The story is difficult to describe without giving away too much of the plot. The reader is given pieces of the picture from several different points of view and at different periods during Dorothy's life. I loved the way the  pieces of the story were woven together and I enjoyed the historical aspect as well. I don't want to give very much away, but I do love an unreliable narrator! It keeps things so exciting and makes predicting endings much more difficult. This was a great, entertaining read and I would highly recommend it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Things Remembered

Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven
review copy provided by William Morrow
Description from Goodreads:
 To face the future, Returning to her childhood home in the golden hills of Northern California means regret and pain for Karla Esterbrook. Yet she can't refuse when her ailing grandmother, Anna, asks her to help settle her affairs. After all, Anna raised Karla and her younger sisters after their parents' death twenty years before. But from the beginning a powerful clash of wills separated Karla and her grandmother, leaving them both bitter and angry.

A woman must let go of the past

Little does Karla know that a very determined Anna will do everything in her power to bridge the chasm between them--including helping a charismatic veterinarian out to win her granddaughter for himself. But can the past he healed? For Karla, opening her heart could lead to more hurt...or to love and reconciliation--and a passion of which she'd only dreamed.

In the tradition of Barbara Delinksy comes this poignant, moving story of the bonds of family, the strength pf love, and the power of forgiveness.

My Take:

I enjoyed reading Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven. It is a nice story about family and pain and forgiveness.  Karla is still working through many of her painful memories from childhood. She only half remembers some things and some of the things she remembers are memories of a child who had only a tiny part of the pertinent information. Many of her impressions of her family are from those vague memories of childhood understood with a child's capacity and often missing vital bits of information.  Instead of asking about certain events, Karla goes with her childhood memories and hurts and steels herself against further pain by closing herself off from her grandmother. 

This story is about family and all the ways we can perpetuate discord without even realizing it. I found it interesting how the characters seem to work against each other without seeming to notice what they are doing. I found many of the dynamics within the family - between the sisters especially -to be pretty true to life.  It seems like the family dynamic of your growing up years carries over into adulthood, despite best efforts to get past it. Once the sisters seem to all get on the same page about moving beyond certain mindsets and behaviors, things begin to work out better. I'm not sure I quite buy how quickly the youngest sister turned around, but I thought the book was a nice, heart-warming story that would be a great read around the holidays.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Fever by Mary Beth Keane
digital ARC provided by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:

Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless “medical engineer” proposed the inconceivable notion of the “asymptomatic carrier”—and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.

In order to keep New York’s citizens safe from Mallon, the Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island where she was kept in isolation from 1907-1910. She was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—spoiled by her status and income and genuinely passionate about cooking—most domestic and factory jobs were heinous. She defied the edict.

Bringing early twentieth-century New York alive—the neighborhoods, the bars, the park being carved out of upper Manhattan, the emerging skyscrapers, the boat traffic—Fever is as fiercely compelling as Typhoid Mary herself, an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the hands of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes an extraordinarily dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable character.

My Take:
Fever by Mary Beth Keane was such a compelling book. I started reading it just to get a sense of the book; I had intended to finish another book I was already reading first. That plan failed miserably. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop until I had finished the book. Another intriguing thing was that when I wasn't reading, but living my life, taking care of everyday things, I found myself thinking about Mary Mallon and how different her life was from my own. 

The world that Mary Mallon - or Typhoid Mary, as most of us know her - was a much bleaker, dirtier, tougher world than we inhabit today. Her New York is the New York of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, of the six and seven day work week, of morphine and opium prescriptions, of rampant fevers of various sorts, of little to no social services. 

Mary left her native Ireland after losing her family one by one. She was tough, and courageous and a hard worker. Mary is quick to see insult even when it isn't actually there. She is sensitive to others' views of herself and she is quick to anger.  She isn't the most sympathetic character, but as I read Fever, I did find myself feeling sympathetic towards her plight. While, Mary can be tough to like, I found her to be very human. Mary Mallon may not have been the most likable person, but she was a person and she had feelings and she wasn't treated very well by the authorities.

Mary's story was fascinating and I enjoyed learning about how the discovery of the "asymptomatic carrier" and how the Department of Health decided to handle the situation and all the subsequent problems. But I also enjoyed just reading about the New York of the time. The novel presents a very vivid and realistic picture of the way life was lived during the time period. 

I would highly recommend Fever to all those who love a good historical novel, are interested in the history of medicine, or are interested in Typhoid Mary in particular. I would also suggest it as one of those books that help to give a sense of a time period and specifically New York City of the early 1900's. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Romanov Cross

The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello
digital arc provided by Random House via NetGalley
Description from NetGalley:

Nearly one hundred years ago, a desperate young woman crawled ashore on a desolate arctic island, carrying a terrible secret and a mysterious, emerald-encrusted cross. A century later, acts of man, nature, and history converge on that same forbidding shore with a power sufficient to shatter civilization as we know it.

Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.

Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of. Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.

The Romanov Cross is at once an alternate take on one of history’s most profound mysteries, a love story as unlikely as it is inevitable, and a thriller of heart-stopping, supernatural suspense. With his signature blend of fascinating history and fantastic imagination, critically acclaimed author Robert Masello has once again crafted a terrifying story of past events coming back to haunt the present day . . . and of dark deeds aching to be unearthed.

Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, a television writer, and the author of many other books, most recently the supernatural thrillers Vigil (which appeared on the USA Today bestseller list) and Bestiary. His articles and essays have appeared often in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, People, and Parade,and his nonfiction book, Robert’s Rules of Writing, has become a staple in many college classrooms. His produced television credits include such popular shows as Charmed, Sliders, and Early Edition. A longstanding member of the Writers Guild of America, he lives in Santa Monica, California.

My Take:

Epidemiologist Frank Slater gets himself in trouble with his military superiors because he makes an ethical decision that goes against orders. Amazingly, the court-martial awaiting him disappears and he has a chance to redeem himself when a different kind of crisis arises that needs his expertise.  There is an isolated island in Alaska where the permafrost is melting and exposing the graveyard of a small colony of Russians that had died there in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Slater must secure the site and test to see if the virus is still viable before anyone is exposed. 

Unfortunately for Slater, Port Orlov is a very small town and news travels fast. Before he has even had a chance to set up his camp on the island and start work, there is already a rogue element there ready to cause trouble. The three locals who are intent on finding treasure in the graveyard have no idea what they are getting into. Their actions would almost be a comedy of errors if it weren't so dangerous and in the end so tragic and ridiculously bungled. Everything goes wrong from the start, but that doesn't stop Harley Vane, the would-be leader of the gang, from trying to attain his goal.

The two separate groups, the scientists and the treasure hunters, are mostly unaware of each other for a good deal of the time, which makes for entertaining reading as they maneuver around each other pursuing their individual goals.

The saying "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" pretty much applies to Slater's mission in Alaska. The one positive thing about his adventure, is that he meets Nika, the mayor of Port Orlov. Nika is a great character. She is smart, independent, and brings out the story of the Alaskan natives. I really enjoyed reading her story and would be interested in reading more about this character.

There is a parallel storyline that details the last days of the Romanovs and the fate of young Anastasia. This alternate history is quite entertaining though tragic and it is a very inventive way to explain how the Spanish flu could have reached such an isolated place as Alaska. I loved that the author found a way to combine two very fascinating historical topics into one novel. Both are fun to read about on their own, but combine them, and you have twice the adventure, tragedy and trouble.

I think anyone who enjoys history or historical fiction, or in interested in the House of Romanov, epidemics and Alaska would enjoy this fast-paced, exciting novel.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Lincoln Conspiracy Review and Blog Tour

The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy L. O'Brien
review copy provided by Ballantine Books via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

 A nation shattered by its president's murder.

Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy.

A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him.

From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O'Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?

In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple's life in jeopardy--and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war.

Temple's quest to bring the conspirators to justice takes him on a perilous journey through the gaslit streets of the Civil War-era capital, into bawdy houses and back alleys where ruthless enemies await him in every shadowed corner. Aided by an underground network of friends--and by his wife, Fiona, a nurse who possesses a formidable arsenal of medicinal potions--Temple must stay one step ahead of Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Army's spy service. Along the way, he'll run from or rely on Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's fearsome secretary of war; the legendary Scottish spymaster Allan Pinkerton; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the photographer Alexander Gardner; and many others.

Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America's most beloved presidents--and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.

My Take:
"What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?" This question is a great starting point for The Lincoln Conspiracy. When the novel begins, the reader is introduced to Temple McFadden as he walking to the B & O Railroad station. The assassination of President Lincoln is still fresh in the minds of everyone, including Temple. Little does he know that he is about to be quickly drawn into a vast conspiracy that could have far-flung repercussions. At first the reader knows little about Temple except that he has a limp, uses a cane and is a police detective in Washington, D.C. Temple's past and his current situation as well as his true character are revealed as the novel progresses. Temple McFadden is a complicated character who has faults and weaknesses but strives to live according to a certain code. I really liked that the author didn't try to make him too perfect.

Fiona, Temple's wife, is a smart, observant, intuitive, resourceful, independent woman during a time when it was still very difficult for women to be these things. I loved her sharp wit and her calm in difficult situations and her quick thinking. Fiona is one of those characters that stays with a reader long after the book has been finished and put back on the shelf. One of the many, insightful things said by Fiona is still true today - and probably always has been. This particular line just resonated, especially during an election year.
 "Money turns the wheel in America, not votes," Fiona would say whenever they strolled near the Treasury.

 There are so many private detectives, agents, independent agents, corrupt officials and businessmen, military officers and outright criminals in the story to keep the reader guessing as to everyone's ultimate motivation for their actions.

Temple has friends in some interesting places and I particularly enjoyed the sections of the novel that detailed his relationship with Sojourner Truth and the other abolitionists as well as the colorful characters who lived in Swampdoodle.  There are even run ins with Pinkerton and his detectives, including a female detective.

The line about money turning the wheels in America is very important for the whole conspiracy and the storyline in general. I loved how the author intertwined the real historical people with his fictional characters and many of the events in the novel happened or seemed like they could have happened as written. It was great fun and caused quite a bit of anxiety as I rushed through the final quarter of the book to find out how the conspiracy ultimately concluded.

The Lincoln Conspiracy would be a great book choice for anyone who likes history, historical fiction, thrillers, is interested in Lincoln or the Civil War.

About the Author

Timothy L. O'Brien ( is the Executive Editor of The Huffington Post, where he edited the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning series about wounded war veterans, "Beyond the Battlefield." Previously, he was an editor and reporter at The New York Times. There, he helped to lead a team of Times reporters that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2009 for coverage of the financial crisis.

Prior to becoming Sunday Business editor at The New York Times in 2006, Tim was a staff writer for the Times. Among the topics and people he has written about for the paper are Wall Street, Russia, Manhattan's art world, cybercrimes and identity theft, Warren Buffett, geopolitics, digital media, international finance, Hollywood, terrorism and terrorist financing, money laundering, gambling, and white-collar fraud. Tim was a member of a team of Times reporters that won a Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism in 1999.

Before returning to the Times in 2003, Tim was the senior feature writer at Talk, a magazine founded by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown. Tim was with Talk from 2000 until it ceased publishing in 2002. Before joining Talk, Tim was a reporter with the Times and, prior to that, The Wall Street Journal.

O'Brien, a graduate of Georgetown University, holds three master's degrees -- in US History, Business and Journalism -- all from Columbia University. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Hollow Man

The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris
review copy provided by Harper
Description from Goodreads:
"A twisting spiral of lies and corruption, a pitch-perfect portrait of contemporary London and a beguiling bastard of a hero-what a recipe for a great read." -Val McDermid

Waking up on Hampstead Heath in a crashed squad car, still drunk, with no wallet, no phone, and only a Masonic candlestick to remind him of the events of the night before, London police detective Nick Belsey has hit rock bottom. At dawn he checks in at the station to collect his things on what should be the last day of his career, but something in the overnight files catches his interest-a missing person report from Bishops Avenue, London's richest street. Alex Devereux-worth a fortune, never seen, lived alone-has vanished, leaving his Porsche in the garage and a suicide note on his desk. In Devereux's disappearance, Belsey sees a way out for himself: the opportunity for a new start by stealing the man's identity. It's a pity, however, that so many other people are looking for Devereux as well. Belsey quickly realizes that his would-be scam is about to be outclassed by a far more ambitious fraud, as the race to get to the elusive oligarch's fortune becomes a game with life and death stakes.

The Hollow Man is a tour de force of pace and plotting, and a vividly evocative love-letter to London. Oliver Harris is a sharp and stylish writer who has created a seductive, worldly, and cunning anti-hero. Nick Belsey is amoral and cynical but nonetheless deeply serious about his investigation, about a police officer's vision of the world, and about the quest for truth that haunts any good detective

My Take:

How to describe The Hollow Man? This is a tough question. In a word: Fun! This was such a great, fast-paced, crazy, whirlwind book. Make no mistake - Nick Belsey is no hero - but he is a great anti-hero. The quote above "a beguiling bastard of a hero" is pretty much a perfect description.

I didn't really know what I'd be getting into when I started reading this one. I just picked it up because it sounded so different from what I had been reading recently. It took only a page or two and I was so intrigued by figuring out what exactly was going on with Belsey and then with the suicide of Devereux - well, I was quickly hooked. 

The basic story is pretty easily figured out: Belsey, a dirty(ish)*cop is broke, bankruptcy just around the corner, looking for a quick-fix to his problems -- and the fix doesn't even have to be legal. The seemingly perfect opportunity presents itself and then while trying to make it all work, hell breaks out all over the place. There are criminals, assassins, crooked politicians, dirty cops, youth in trouble, you name it, it's probably here. The plot twists are many and pretty clever. I enjoyed every minute I spent reading this one.

* [ the -ish because everything is relative in this book]

Friday, October 26, 2012

Extraordinary Rendition Blog Tour and Excerpt

Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista

I am looking forward to reading Extraordinary Rendition in the very near future, however, since I wasn't able to read it in time for the blog tour, I am going to post a small excerpt from this exciting new thriller as well as the press release. I am delighted to provide a brief glimpse at this story and I am anxious to read the rest of it. I hope it interests others as well. There are links to online purchase options at the end of my post. 


Thriller Examines Extraordinary Rendition
Action Pinpoints Issues in Constitutional Controversy

“Batista does it again when international intrigue collides with murder in Extraordinary Rendition! A high -priced Wall Street lawyer gets the shock of a lifetime...  law school never prepared him for this!  It's a fast ride--buckle up!"

--Nancy Grace, Attorney, TV Personality and NY Times Bestselling Author of Death on the D-List

When Ali Hussein—suspected terrorist and alleged banker for Al Qaeda—is finally transported from Gitmo to the US mainland to stand trial, many are stunned when Byron Carlos Johnson, pre-eminent lawyer and the son of a high-profile diplomat, volunteers as counsel.  On principle, Johnson thought he was merely defending a man unjustly captured through Rendition and water-boarded illegally. But Johnson soon learns that there is much more at stake than one man’s civil rights.

Hussein’s intimate knowledge of key financial transactions could lead to the capture of—or the unabated funding of—the world’s most dangerous terror cells. This makes Hussein the target of corrupt US intelligence forces on one side, and ruthless international terrorists on the other.  And, it puts Byron Carlos Johnson squarely in the crosshairs of both.

Pulled irresistibly by forces he can and cannot see, Johnson enters a lethal maze of espionage, manipulation, legal traps and murder. And when his life, his love, and his acclaimed principles are on the line, Johnson may have one gambit left that can save them all; a play that even his confidants could not have anticipated. He must become the hunter among hunters in the deadliest game.

Written by no-holds-barred-attorney Paul Batista, Extraordinary Rendition excels not only as an action thriller, but as a sophisticated legal procedural as well; tearing the curtains away from the nation’s most controversial issues.

Provocative. Smart. Heart-pounding. A legal thriller of the highest order.


When the guard left, the iron door resonated briefly as the magnetic lock engaged itself. Byron sat in a steel folding chair. Directly in front of him was a narrow ledge under a multi-layered, almost opaque plastic window, in the middle of which was a metal circle.
Ali Hussein seemed to just materialize in the small space behind the partition. Dressed in a yellow jumpsuit printed with the initials “FDC” for “Federal Detention Center,” Hussein, who had been described to Byron as an accountant trained at Seton Hall, in Newark, was a slender man who appeared far more mild-mannered than Byron expected. He wore cloth slippers with no shoelaces. The waistband of his jump suit was elasticized—not even a cloth belt. He had as little access to hard objects as possible.
He waited for Byron to speak first. Leaning toward the metal speaker in the partition and raising his voice, Byron said, “You are Mr. Hussein, aren’t you?”
The lawyers at the Civil Liberties Union who had first contacted Byron told him that, in their limited experience with accused terrorists, it sometimes wasn’t clear what their real names were. There were often no fingerprints or DNA samples that could confirm their identities. The name Ali Hussein was as common as a coin. It was as though genetic markers and their histories began only at the moment of their arrest.
“I am.” He spoke perfect, unaccented English. “I don’t know what your name is.”
The circular speaker in the window, although it created a tinny sound, worked well. Byron lowered his voice. “I’m Byron Johnson. I’m a lawyer from New York. I met your brother. Did he tell you to expect me?”
“I haven’t heard from my brother in years. He has no idea how to reach me, I can’t reach him.”
“Has anyone told you why you’re here?”
“Someone on the airplane—I don’t know who he was, I was blind-folded—said I was being brought here because I’d been charged with a crime. He said I could have a lawyer. Are you that lawyer?”
“I am. If you want me, and if I want to do this.”
All that Ali’s more abrasive, more aggressive brother had told Byron was that Ali was born in Syria, moved as a child with his family to Lebanon during the civil war in the 1980s, and then came to the United States. Ali never became a United States citizen. Five months after the invasion of Iraq, he traveled to Germany to do freelance accounting work for an American corporation for what was scheduled to be a ten-day visit. While Ali was in Germany, his brother said, he had simply disappeared, as if waved out of existence. His family had written repeatedly to the State Department, the CIA, and the local congressman. They were letters sent into a vacuum. Nobody ever answered.
Byron asked, “Do you know where you’ve come from?”
“How do I know who you are?”
Byron began to reach for his wallet, where he stored his business cards. He caught himself because of the absurdity of that: he could have any number of fake business cards. Engraved with gold lettering, his real business card had his name and the name of his law firm, one of the oldest and largest in the country. Ali Hussein was obviously too intelligent, too alert, and too suspicious to be convinced by a name on a business card or a license or a credit card.
“I don’t have any way of proving who I am. I can just tell you that I’m Byron Johnson, I’ve been a lawyer for years, I live in New York, and I was asked by your brother and others to represent you.”
Almost unblinking, Ali just stared at Byron, who tried to hold his gaze, but failed.
At last Ali asked, “And you want to know what’s happened to me?”
“We can start there. I’m only allowed thirty minutes to visit you this week. Tell me what you feel you want to tell me, or can tell me. And then we’ll see where we go. You don’t have to tell me everything about who you are, what you did before you were arrested, who you know in the outside world. Or you don’t have to tell me anything. I want nothing from you other than to help you.”
Ali leaned close to the metallic hole in the smoky window. The skin around his eyes was far darker than the rest of his face, almost as if he wore a Zorro-style mask. Byron took no notes, because to do so might make Ali Hussein even more mistrustful.
“Today don’t ask me any questions. People have asked me lots of questions over the years. I’m sick of questions.” It was like listening to a voice from a world other than the one in which Byron lived. There was nothing angry or abusive in his tone: just a matter-of-fact directness, as though he was describing to Byron a computation he had made on one of Byron’s tax returns. “One morning five Americans in suits stopped me at a red light. I was in Bonn. I drove a rented Toyota. I had a briefcase. They got out of their cars. They had earpieces. Guns, too. They told me to get out of the car. I did. They told me to show them my hands. I did. They lifted me into an SUV, tied my hands, and put a blindfold on me. I asked who they were and what was happening.”
He paused. Byron, who had been in the business of asking questions since he graduated from law school at Harvard, couldn’t resist the embedded instinct to ask, “What did they say?”
“They said shut up.”
“Has anyone given you any papers since you’ve come here?”
“I haven’t had anything in my hands to read in years. Not a newspaper, not a magazine, not a book. Not even the Koran.”
“Has anyone told you what crimes you’re charged with?”
“Don’t you know?”
“No. All that I’ve been told is that you were moved to Miami from a foreign jail so that you could be indicted and tried in an American court.”
There was another pause. “How exactly did you come to me?” Even though he kept returning to the same subject—who exactly was Byron Johnson?—there was still no hostility or anger in Ali Hussein’s tone. “Why are you here?”
In the stifling room, Byron began to sweat almost as profusely as he had on the walk from the security gate to the prison entrance. He recognized that he was very tense. And he was certain that the thirty-minute rule would be enforced, that time was running out. He didn’t want to lose his chance to gain the confidence of this ghostly man who had just emerged into a semblance of life after years in solitary limbo. “A lawyer for a civil rights group called me. I had let people know that I wanted to represent a person arrested for terrorism. I was told that you were one of four prisoners being transferred out of some detention center, maybe at Guantanamo, to a mainland prison, and that you’d be charged by an American grand jury rather than held overseas indefinitely. When I got the call I said I would help, but only if you and I met, and only if you wanted me to help, and only if I thought I could do that.”
 “How do I know any of this is true?”
Byron Johnson prided himself on being a realist. Wealthy clients sought him out not to tell them what they wanted to hear but for advice about the facts, the law and the likely real-world outcomes of whatever problems they faced. But it hadn’t occurred to him that this man, imprisoned for years, would doubt him and would be direct enough to tell him that. Byron had become accustomed to deference, not to challenge. And this frail man was suggesting that Byron might be a stalking horse, a plant, a shill, a human recording device.
“I met your brother Khalid.”
“At a diner in Union City.”
“What diner?”
“He said it was his favorite, and that you used to eat there with him: the Plaza Diner on Kennedy Boulevard.”
Byron, who for years had practiced law in areas where a detailed memory was essential, was relieved that he remembered the name and location of the diner just across the Hudson River in New Jersey. He couldn’t assess whether the man behind the thick, scratched glass was now more persuaded to believe him. Byron asked, “How have you been treated?”
“I’ve been treated like an animal.”
“In what ways?”
As if briskly covering the topics on an agenda, Ali Hussein said, “Months in one room, no contact with other people. Shifted from place to place, never knowing what country or city I was in, never knowing what month of the year, day of the week. Punched. Kicked.”
“Do you have any marks on your body?”
“I’m not sure yet what your name really is, or who you really are, but you seem naive. Marks? Are you asking me if they’ve left bruises or scars on my body?”
Byron felt the rebuke. Over the years he’d learned that there was often value in saying nothing. Silence sometimes changed the direction of a conversation and revealed more. He waited.
Hussein asked, “How much more time do we have?”
“Only a few minutes.”
“A few minutes? I’ve been locked away for years, never in touch for a second with anyone who meant to do kind things to me, and now I have a total of thirty minutes with you. Mr. Bush created a beautiful world.”
 “There’s another president.” Byron paused, and, with the silly thought of giving this man some hope, he said, “His name is Barack Hussein Obama.”
Ali Hussein almost smiled. “And I’m still here? How did that happen?”
Byron didn’t answer, feeling foolish that he’d thought the news that an American president’s middle name was Hussein would somehow brighten this man’s mind. Byron had pandered to him, and he hated pandering.
Ali Hussein then asked, “My wife and children?”
No one—not the ACLU lawyer, not the CIA agent with whom Byron had briefly talked to arrange this visit, not even Hussein’s heavy-faced, brooding brother—had said a single thing about Hussein other than that he had been brought into the United States after years away and that he was an accountant. Nothing about a wife and children.
“I don’t know. I didn’t know you had a wife and children. Nobody said anything about them. I should have asked.”
It was unsettling even to Byron, who had dealt under tense circumstances with thousands of people in courtrooms, that this man could stare at him for so long with no change of expression. Hussein finally asked, “Are you going to come back?”
“If you want me to.”
“I was an accountant, you know. I always liked numbers, and I believed in the American system that money moves everything, that he who pays the piper gets to call the tune. Who’s paying you?”
“No one, Mr. Hussein. Anything I do for you will be free. I won’t get paid by anybody.”
“Now I really wonder who you are.” There was just a trace of humor in his voice and his expression.
As swiftly as Ali Hussein had appeared in the interview room, he disappeared when two guards in Army uniforms reached in from the rear door and literally yanked him from his chair. It was like watching a magician make a man disappear.


Paul Batista, novelist and television personality, is one of the most widely known trial lawyers in the country. As a trial attorney, he specializes in federal criminal litigation. As a media figure, he is known for his regular appearances as guest legal commentator on a variety of television shows including, Court TV, CNN, HLN and WNBC. He’s also appeared in the HBO movie, You Don't Know Jack, starring Al Pacino.

A prolific writer, Batista authored the leading treatise on the primary federal anti-racketeering statute, Civil RICO Practice Manual, which is now in its third edition (Wiley & Sons, 1987; Wolters Kluwer, 2008). He has written articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The National Law Journal.

Batista's debut novel, Death's Witness, was awarded a Silver Medal by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). And his new novel, Extraordinary Rendition, is now being published—along with a special reissue of Death’s Witness—by Astor + Blue Editions.

Batista is a graduate of Bowdoin College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and Cornell Law School. He’s proud to have served in the United States Army. Paul Batista lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.


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