Monthly Archives: June 2013

Review of Giacomo Giammatteo’s A Bullet for Carlos

A Bullet for CarlosAfter reviewing Giacomo Giammatteo‘s Murder Has Consequences last week, I was brazen enough to ask him if he would send me A Bullet for Carlos. OK, maybe I passive aggressively suggested that if he was interested in a review he might pass a copy along, which isn’t quite the same thing but had much the same results.  He was kind enough to comply without even calling me out on my bad form. Thanks for that Jim.

Description from Goodreads:
Detective Connie Giannelli’s life has been torn apart several times. First when her mother died and then years later when she found out her Uncle Dominic was in the mob. Her life is about to be shredded again, and this time it could destroy her. 

Connie’s love of family and her badge are both threatened when an undercover drug bust leaves two cops dead and the drugs missing. Internal Affairs is looking for any excuse to take her badge, but she’s not worried about them finding the missing drugs—her secrets could prove to be far worse. 

Now Connie’s racing against the clock to figure out who killed her partners and took the drugs—dirty cops or Uncle Dominic’s friends. And she has to do it before IA pins the whole damn thing on her.

At this point I’m beginning to think that I aught to just preemptively mark any book by Giacomo Giammatteo as a five star, ’cause I’m just gonna love it. A Bullet for Carlos was no exception. Mr. Giammatteo somehow makes bad, bad men lovable. I adored Dominic, even though he was unquestionably dangerous and maybe even evil. Though I kind of think the things that made me love him also redeem him a little bit, as well as made me wonder if deeper exploration of other such evil characters (like Carlos) might reveal small redemptive qualities too. It definitely leads a reader to consider whether anyone can really be wholly evil, no matter how bad they appear on the surface or to an outsider. This same theme is further explored when good cops are left having to decide if or when they’ll choose to ‘cross the line’ for the greater good.

This is much more of a police drama than a mafia mystery, but I was THRILLED when Donovan and Mazzetti showed up as side characters. This was the first book by Giammatteo I’ve read that wasn’t part of the Friendship & Honor series and I was really afraid I’d miss Nicky and Frankie enough to sour my experience of reading it. No such thing. Connie and Tip were great characters on their own. If I HAD to choose I’d still take Nicky/Frankie, but I don’t have to choose so I’m free to enjoy both in future books. And I plan to.

I also rather enjoyed the cultural differences between New York and Texas. No big deal was made of this, but the small regional quirks were apparent. Different catch phrases, politeness levels, etc. It is yet one more testament of Giammatteo’s talent that he can take such small matters and somehow invest them with so much meaning, having a large impact on the feel of the book. It’s enviable really. My only complaint, beyond the fact I have to wait for more books, is one I’ve mentioned before and is JUST a personal preference. The main protagonist was a rapist and there were a few ‘tasteful’ rape scenes. By which I just mean they weren’t gratuitous or titillating in any fashion. They furthered the plot and weren’t overly uncomfortable, but they were there. I look forward to the continuation of this series. Definitely worth a read.

Review of Jacques Antoine’s Girl Takes up Her Sword

Girl Takes up Her SwordAuthor, Jaques Antoine, sent me a copy of his YA martial arts novel  and the continuing short story, . These are book 3 and 4 of the Emily Kane Adventures. I reviewed books 1 and 2, Girl Fights Back and Girl Punches Out (previously titled Go No Sen and Sen No Sen), last year and they can be found here. I also notice that book 1 is currently free on Amazon and, though not currently free, I’ve seen book 2 on the free list too.

Description from Goodreads:
High school graduation was never so dangerous as it turns out to be for Emily Kane. Defending herself against foreign agents is one thing, but when the threat comes from within Emily’s own family the violence rises to a new level, and the need to reconcile herself with her inner demons has never been so urgent.

Girl Takes up Her Sword is book 3 of The Emily Kane Adventures and I honestly think it’s the best yet. Emily has found her confidence and though she’s still trying to give the occasional kick against Granny’s fate she has largely accepted her place in the cosmos. And oh, what a place it is!

Emily is a strong, independent, self-assured heroine. So often in YA fiction authors present mixed messages on this front. A girl might have mad skills or some super power, but she doesn’t have the heart to really do what needs to be done. (The implicit message being that she is too soft or weak to really be strong after all.) There’s often some hero sidekick who actually saves her from dirtying her hands, thereby co-opting her presentation as a truly strong heroine. Antoine has the integrity to let Emily be as strong as she needs to be. Now, I’m not saying she doesn’t regret the things she has to do or even that she isn’t occasionally disgusted about them, but she also doesn’t back down from them or hesitate so long some man takes over for her. (And believe me she is surrounded by plenty of strong, well trained men.) I respect this immensely.

I only have two real qualms with the story and they are related. So it could actually be one multidimensional problem. Either way, I’m gonna sketch it out, but first let me say that I understand why the author wrote it this way. I see the message he’s trying to convey with it. I just thought it was a little too much for me to accept.

First off, despite being a senior in high school Emily is very much in charge in this book. In one way or another black ops soldiers take orders from her. Elite assassins take orders from her. Her sensei takes orders from her. Her mother takes orders from her. Her friends take orders from her. Her friends’ parents take orders from her. The Yakuza take orders from her. Burly biker dudes take orders from her. There is almost no one who has any control over her or even has the backbone to say ‘no’ to her. She is the top dog in all respects. The primary reason people backed down? They saw something in her eyes that made them give up. There are a lot of social dictums that this contradicts. It ignores basic social hierarchies, not to mention martial and military ones. I have a really hard time imagining that she’d succeed in the ‘take orders’ environment of a military academy, or even the military itself.

On a related issue is the fact that, with the exception of David, every single person she encountered gave in to her mysterious charm. ‘Oh yea, I drug your son into a lethal battle and he witness a couple people die.’ Does this mother get angry? Nope. ‘Oh, sorry your son got shot defending me.’ Does this mother get angry? Nope. ‘Oh, I’ve kicked your ass, and your ass, and your ass?’ Do these previously inflated egos get angry? Nope. ‘Oh, 2/3 of your biker gang got blown up for their association with me?’ Here let me make it up to you, you can call me Princess. ‘Oh, you’re a high ranking Yakuza who’s been insulted in public and demand restitution?’ Bow to my noble continence instead. Ok, in every example the circumstances are explained and it is very obvious that Emily is supposed to have an almost paranormal charisma about her (this is a large part of the story), but I don’t think it felt very realistic in the end.

Like the previous books Antoine’s writing is crisp and easy to read. The fight scenes are meticulously detailed and the martial techniques clearly explained. There is a lot of focus on the mystic aspect of training and unlike the previous books this starts to have a concrete effect on the events of the story. If you like strong female protagonists, martial arts, mysticism or just an interesting read. This is worth picking up.

The High Road to the Mountain Gods

Description from Goodreads:
With the help of her “Granny,” Emily Kane had the strength to fight off the black-ops teams hunting her. Now she needs to find some relief from Granny, and to reconcile herself to the violence she had to unleash. She hopes to find spiritual renewal in the crowded pantheon of the Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal. But the spirit of violence is not far behind her.

The High Road to the Mountain Gods picks up at the end of Girl Takes up Her Swordand sees Emily trying to find some mental peace in the tumultuous circumstances that are her exceptional life. I really enjoyed the picture of Kathmandu that was painted, the way various mystic traditions were allowed to coexist, and the unexpected twist at the end. I think a reader would be able to follow it even if they hadn’t read the previous books, but would certainly get more out of it if they had.

Review of Giacomo Giammatteo’ Murder has Consequences

Murder has ConsequencesGiacomo Giammatteo sent me a copy of Murder has Consequences, book two of the Friendship & Honour series and sequel to Murder Takes Time, which I reviewed last year. I also noticed that there is a Goodreads giveaway running at the moment to win a copy. 

Description from Goodreads:
It’s easy to give your life for someone you love. It’s much harder to kill for them. Nicky Fusco For a select few people, friendship lasts forever. Nicky Fusco and Frankie Donovan were friends like that, but that was years ago. Now Frankie’s a detective in Brooklyn’s Homicide department, and Nicky is a reformed hit man. But when Frankie gets in trouble–and the law can’t help him–he turns to Nicky. The problem is that Nicky promised his family, and God, that he’d go straight.

Warning: I’m about to do some gushing. I simply adore Nicky ‘The Rat’ Fusco and his family, Frankie ‘Bugs’ Donavon and his cop partners, and Giacomo Giammatteo’s writing. I just do.

Nicky is such a complex character. On the surface he comes across as a little simple, but he’s really quite sharp. He tries to pass himself off as no threat, but he’s actually one badass mother f_cker. On one hand he seems a little naive about his reputation (and in general), but he’s actually more than aware of it and wiling to use it to his advantage. He’s not afraid of anyone…anyone but his wife. He’d do just about anything to stay on her sweet side. He’s a straight up cold killer, but also a dedicated Catholic and amazingly sweet in his own way. He’s willing to go to great lengths to commit acts of heroism, (despite being a remorseless killer/torturer) but is also completely unwilling to seek any accolades for them—denying them even. He thoughtlessly uses outdated and even derogatory racial terms (Mick, Dago, etc), but doesn’t seem to actually be a racist. He happily befriends people that the territorial disputes say he should avoid. He’s a walking contradiction and I’m a little in love with him.

You don’t get to know Frankie quite as well, since you only get a 3rd person POV for him, but he has more than a few contradictions of his own. He’s a good New York homicide detective who grew up among The Connected of Little Italy and still has more than a few lasting connections. This causes him more than one moral conflict. Frankie grows the most in this book though and he provides some of the most human emotions.

Giammatteo’s writing is worthy of about as much praise as I could throw at it. It’s smooth and unhurried. He seems to be a master of creating atmosphere and emotions with very little. The way Nicky’s narrative always includes what streets he takes to get somewhere (seemingly pointless information) gives a very clear indication of how important the city and his connection to it is to him. His frequent side notes of what Angela made for dinner is a strong reminder of how the familiar dishes stir his most pleasant memories, further reinforcing the importance of his connection to the town and people in it. But my absolute favourite is all the small ways he reminds himself how much he loves his wife and why. She is his light, his anchor, and seeing a man who is otherwise quite cold willing to openly express his affection is really evocative.

I was a little disappointed that the antagonist was, among others things, a sexual predator. The subject matter was as tastefully handled as such things can be, but the older I get the more aware I become of how often such themes show up in fiction and the less forgiving of it I become. But this is a personal preference kind of remark and one of very few complaints about the book.

I wouldn’t say it was necessary to have read the first book, but it would probably help. Events from Murder Takes Time are referenced and some of the character descriptions are pretty light, since you’re expected to know who these people are and how they relate to one another. Both books are well worth reading though.

I have much the same thought every time I finish one of Giammatteo’s books. (Well,thoughts if you count how perfect I think his name is for someone writing fiction based in and around Little Italy. I hope it’s real, but I don’t know.) Reading the Friendship and Honour series makes me regret giving some other books five stars. It’s just on such a higher plain of awesomeness.

The afterward says that there will be a third on out next year. Given the ending of this one I have a pretty good guess what it will be about, plus I suspect it’s going to tie in with A Bullet for Carlos. I can’t wait! I really just can’t wait.