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Tuesday, March 28, 2017


4.5 stars out of 5

This is something like the 17th book about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, and since I've read most of them, by now I consider Joe a good friend. There's another reason I love the guy: As those who have read my past reviews most likely are tired of seeing, Joe and I share a surname. In fact, that's what got my attention in the beginning. This one, though, is extra-special for another reason: It was released in the United States on my birthday (March 21). How cool is that?

But of course, name- and birthday-sharing aren't automatic guarantees of loyalty to any series; great stories are. One thing that's kept me going is that over the years, is that it's been fun to watch Joe and his family grow. By this time, daughter Sheridan has graduated from the University of Wisconsin, April is attending Northwest Community College, leaving only daughter Lucy still living at home. Joe's wife, Marybeth, is director of the Twelve Sleep County Library. Joe's job is going fine and all's right with the world.

Or not. At the opening, Joe is a reluctant passenger in a plane that's circling the mountains of Wyoming (way too close to the trees for Joe's comfort), looking for a hunter who's been reported missing. They spot what they think is him - along with three other humans - and the ending of that discovery isn't good. Back on the ground, Joe's also trying to track down a big poaching ring that's killing off elk, worrying about a blizzard that's about to hit and, worst of all, dealing with the realization that old enemy Dallas Cates (one-time boyfriend of April) has been released from jail. Because Joe was largely responsible for destroying the rest of the evil Cates family, he's concerned that Dallas's first order of business will be returning the favor.

When April's life is threatened, Joe knows for certain that he's right. But an attempt by local authorities to put Dallas back in jail goes south, leaving Joe and his family vulnerable once again. Toss into the mix appearances by Marybeth's totally irritating, gold-digging mother, Missy, and Joe's long-time friend, professional falconer and off-the-grid expert Nate Romanowski, and you've got the makings of another action-packed adventure.

So what motivated me to take this one down a half-notch from 5 stars? A few things needed a bit more fleshing out, IMHO; it's hard for me to believe Joe and his family - no matter how seasoned they are to misfortune and even the threat of personal danger - could have taken some of what happened to them so much in stride. Then too, Nate, while he still has his edge, just seemed a little too "normal" here; and not as much activity happens in the great outdoors (which to me is one of the pluses of the series). The ending, too, seemed a bit abrupt (almost as if the allocated word count had been reached and there was no choice but to stop or go back and chop somewhere else). Still, it's close enough to perfect for horseshoes - and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Vicious Circle by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2017); 377 pp.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Mesmerizing! But since the book seriously flirts with the paranormal - which I didn't realize going in - I'm both surprised that I liked it at all and astounded that I absolutely loved it. Fact is, if this one doesn't make the best-seller list, I'll consider it a travesty. 

Most chapters are named for various characters, a technique that usually doesn't work well for me, mostly because at my age I tend to forget who's who rather easily. It didn't matter a whit here, though - testimony, I think, to the author's ability to make each character unique and memorable as well as leave written breadcrumbs, if you will, that make the whole thing easy to follow. Early on, a 10-year-old boy named Miles Sandeski watches as his mother is murdered - a crime for which his father is charged. Miles knows better, but he's so young, and the story he tells so absurd, that no one believes him.

His father had, however, told his young son of plans he'd hidden for an ultra-dangerous secret machine that was never built - thought to have been stolen from the workshop of Thomas Edison. Miles found the plans and managed to heed his late father's warning until he was a grown man - a teacher, musician, inventor, husband to wife Lily and father of two children: A son Errol and younger daughter Eva. 

The inventor in Miles takes over his better judgment, and he builds the machine in the family's shed in back of their house on the river. Then one day, the unthinkable happens: Miles drowns in a flash flood, leaving Eva and her mother homeless. Eva, who nearly drowned herself, never really believes her mother's claim that the machine is responsible for her father's death.

Everything from that day forward is considered "After the Flood," and because Eva's mother insists someone known as "Snake Eyes" is out to kill them, she and Eva take to the shadowy streets below the bridges of thriving Ashford, Vermont. Now called Necco (after her favorite candy as a child), Eva and Lily live in an underworld populated by "fire eaters," or women who live off the grid at the river's edge and are known for inhaling herbs called the "devil's snuff." 

Then suddenly, Lily dies - an apparent suicide - forcing Necco to survive on the streets any way she can. Along the way she finds a boyfriend; just as he is about to reveal what could be clues to her past, he's murdered in the junk car in which they've been living. Now alone, she meets Theo, a talented high school senior who owes a potload of money to a man willing to kill to get it back, and Pru, a seriously overweight lady who serves up food in a school cafeteria by day and puts a whole new spin on night life. 

As these intriguing but incongruous characters come together in a tenuous, I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine sort of relationship, so do details of Eva's life Before the Flood. Several twists and turns later, Eva (and readers) finally learn what really happened. All I can say without giving away too much is this: If you start this book, get cozy for at least the last hour or so - from then on, you won't be able to put it down.

Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance review copy. 

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, April 2017); 304 pp.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


2 stars out of 5

It was a struggle, but I finally reached the halfway mark. And sorry to say, it's over and out.

Honestly, I don't remember the last book that bored me so much that I couldn't force myself to finish - and it's never happened with a book I received as an advance copy in exchange for a review. Under those circumstances, I feel that it's only fair that I tough it out to the end so I tend to stick with it no matter what.

Not this time - and I'm truly disappointed. This is a cozy mystery, for gosh sake, so I certainly wasn't expecting knock-down, drag-out action. It's also something like the 15th in a series, so my thinking is that somebody must be reading them. Last but hardly least, I was intrigued because I'm a knitting enthusiast (want proof? Come look through the afghans I've got stashed away in a closet - and they're just a fraction of the ones I've given away through the years). This story, the title suggests, weaves around the House of Lambspun, a popular knitting shop in Colorado - with the lure of a golf-course murder of a filthy rich old guy's trophy wife. Okay, said I, count me in. 

The murder, though, didn't even happen until a quarter of the way through the book - and precious little discussion of it had ensued by the time I hit 50% mark. The rest? Nothing but endless, excruciatingly repetitive conversations involving a very pregnant Kelly Flynn and her group of friends. I lost count of the times someone pointed out that Kelly is nine months pregnant but the baby - to be named Jack after her late father -  hasn't yet "dropped," that he's playing soccer in utero, that he weighs 6 pounds and could come at any time, that Kelly hates having to drink weak black coffee, that her carrying bag is made of fabric, or that she escaped morning sickness but her also-pregnant friend is suffering with it. When I was treated to a lengthy explanation (more than once, of course) of how lucky Kelly is that she's in such good hands because her obstetrician has scheduled check-up appointments every week now, I really lost it. Weekly check-ups for the last month - sometimes two - was standard practice back when I was pregnant with my first child more than 50 years ago. 

Supposedly, there are "delicious" recipes and a knitting pattern included, but I'm not all that interested in cooking now that there are just the two of us. And based on what I've been reading, my bet is that the pattern is for that tiny baby hat Kelly spent half the book working on. I've got zero interest in that as well, so neither was enough of an incentive to keep going. 

I do, however, feel compelled to mention that at the 36% mark, Baby Jack had in fact dropped. Ironically, that happened just about the time I decided to do the same to the book. 

Only Skein Deep by Maggie Sefton (Berkley, June 2017); 304 pp.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Oy vey - what a collection of unpleasant and downright disturbed (and disturbing) characters! But I guess that's the point; getting into their heads is what makes this a "novel of psychological suspense," as the official description rightly says.

It begins with central character and narrator Hannah Monroe, whose live-in lover, Matt, suddenly goes missing - totally. He's taken away every single item he brought to her house when he moved in plus anything even remotely associated with him. He's even deleted all references to him on Hannah's computer and cell phone; it's as if he never even existed. Hannah, an extremely successful (but clearly neurotic) accountant, starts going even more mentally bonkers as she tries to figure out what happened, why he left and whether he will return to her and when. The only way those questions can be answered, she reasons, is by confronting him personally. So, forsaking everything and everyone else in her life, she turns her own into a full-on awake nightmare as she tries to track him down. 

Let me amend that; with Hannah, there is no reasoning. Absolutely everyone, including her childhood friend Katie, Katie's boyfriend James (at one time Hannah's boyfriend), her mother, father and even next-door neighbors is out to get her and cannot be trusted. Her thoughts as she works her way through the why did he/they, why didn't he/they, why should he/they, why shouldn't he/they, etc., are outlined in almost excruciating detail in every chapter. About halfway through, in fact, I almost gave up - thinking I couldn't bear another 150 pages or so of her constant (and I do mean constant) second-guessing of everyone's motives for disrupting her very existence.

That's not to say, however, that she isn't at least partly right (bringing to mind that well-known joke, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you"). She's always, for instance, had issues with Katie, who appears to have developed a serious case of Hannah-envy back when they were kids. And Hannah's parents' relationship can't be called ideal (and certainly not conducive to their daughter's stress-free childhood). 

And make no mistake: it is Hannah's ad nauseam ruminating that is central to the psychological "pull" of the story. Little by little, layers of Hannah's mind and those of her friends and family are peeled away, giving up insights as to what they think is going on and prompting me to keep reading even though I was happy that all these misfits are confined to a single book with no chance to ruin others I may want to read.

So whose "reality" is real? Now that I've finished, I'm not sure I know the answer to that question - especially since the trip through the pages in many ways blew my own mind. If you want to chance messing with yours, give this one a try. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing an advance copy to read and review. Whew!

Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen (Berkley, April 2017); 352 pp.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Absolutely delicious! I'm speaking of the book, not the booze. I enjoyed every word of this one from beginning to end. And speaking of words, I must point out that you'll find no "e" in whisky here; the Scots, I've learned, spell it "whisky" while the Irish - and as far as I can tell, we Americans - prefer "whiskey." 

It was the title, in fact, that prompted my initial interest; our son was a devotee of single malt Scotch. He shared a number of varieties with my husband and I, although to be honest, those more strongly permeated with peat - one of the distinguishing characteristics - to me tasted rather like drinking a pile of watered-down dirt. Still, because of his enthusiasm, the topic was intriguing, and now I'm delighted to say the book tasted far better than that earthy Scotch. The story moves along quickly and interestingly, and now that I've finished, I'm looking forward to the next in the series (which I believe is Death Distilled, set for publication on Sept. 5, 2017).

This story begins when award-winning photojournalist Abigail Logan inherits Abbey Glen, a distillery in the Scottish Highlands, from her late Uncle Ben. It's largely operated by head distiller Grant (yes, he's a single, hunky Scotsman and she's also unattached). When she takes a couple of weeks off from her job to check things out - accompanied by her Wheaten Terrier Liam and good friend Patrick (a whiskey lover if ever there was one), she isn't exactly welcomed with open arms. The locals, it seems, share a  fervent belief that a woman has no place in a distillery. Even Grant, close friends with her uncle, seems to resent her presence; just about the only people who are happy to see her are trying to curry favor so she'll sell the distillery - which she has zero knowledge of how to run - to them.

But there's much more to the disdain than that; in short order, she gets anonymous threats - not the least of which is a still-dripping blood dead duck - and then a young male employee turns up quite dead in a large vat of whiskey. The suspect list is long - and, at least for a time, includes Abi herself. Not knowing who to trust, she puts her investigative journalism skills to work to try to identify the killer, all the while trying to decide what to do with the property (and the rest of her life).

It's a wonderful adventure , and short enough that it easily can be finished in a day or two. One of my favorite quotes, though, came after the book ended, to-wit:

"Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whisky and a dog to eat the rare steak."

Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for a review. Highly recommended!

Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet (Alibi, March 2017); 275 pp.


4 stars out of 5

Somewhere it must be written that heroines (or heroes) of so-called cozy mysteries must be the most obnoxious and interfering people on the face of the earth. I realize that without those characteristics, the plots probably wouldn't go much of anywhere - but boy, does it ever get under my skin. Gemma Doyle, the heroine here and co-owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in tiny West London, Massachusetts, is no exception (in fact, I'd go so far as saying she's more annoying to me than most). That aside, the story here is well thought out and moves along quickly, on the whole making for a book I really enjoyed (honest!)

That enjoyment comes partly because I'm a bit of a Sherlock Holmes aficionado myself, especially when he's portrayed spot-on by actor Benedict Cumberbatch - one of the reasons I was delighted to get an advance copy, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Then there's mention of a lighthouse (a favorite photography subject for both myself and my husband); and the fact that Gemma drives a red Mazda Miata  - one of my top three dream cars - made me decide she might not be so bad after all.

It was also fun to watch the plot unfold as a result of Gemma's uncanny Holmes-like deductions - even when she continues to make them despite clear warnings that she would do well to put a sock in it. At one point when she discovers that someone may have been lurking outside her home, for instance, she muses that someone might be suggesting that she back off. Oh really - you mean someone like the entire West London police, or your best friend Jayne who co-owns the tea shop next to your bookstore, or the ex-fiance who dumped you because he no longer could take your meddling ways?

For better or worse, though, better folks than I have told her she's too nosy for her own good, so I'll move on to the story - and for sure it's a doozy. Amid a crowd of women on a bus tour who visit the book shop one day is a "street" woman carrying a paper bag. Gemma's intrigued, but the woman gets lost in the crowd and forgotten until later, when Gemma discovers what appears to be an extremely valuable magazine hidden on a shelf. Certain that the disheveled woman left it there, Gemma uses her powers of deduction to track her down. To that end, she's successful - but when she and Jayne enter her hotel room (the door to which is conveniently unlocked to allow Gemma and Jayne unfettered but surreptitious entry), they make a startling discovery: The woman is dead.

That, of course, only provides fuel to Gemma's sleuthing fires; and when she finds that she and Jayne are considered persons of interest in the murder, she's even more determined to get to the truth (being suspected murderers, after all, is bad for both their businesses). 

The lead detective on the murder case, Ryan Ashburton, happens to be Gemma's ex-fiance, who bolted outta Dodge to take a job in a larger town when they broke up. He's been back for a while now, which comes as a surprise to Gemma (a tidbit that, given West London's small size, made me conclude that her powers of observation are a bit selective). Thankfully, he doesn't believe Gemma is capable of murder, but after she sticks her nose in one too many places - and (gasp!) finds yet another dead body after sneaking onto someone else's private property, he's yanked off the case because his prior relationship has the potential to unduly influence his investigation (yikes, what took them so long)?

Lest I, like Gemma, be chastised for treading where I shouldn't go, I'll keep other details of the investigation - and the for the most part surprising outcome - to myself. The only thing I'll say is that this is an excellent series debut that I'm sure fans of cozy mysteries - and Sherlock Holmes - will enjoy. "The game is afoot" (Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange), so go for it!

Elementary, She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany (Crooked Lane Books, March 2017), 320 pp.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Gruesome murders. A possible serial killer on the loose. Unrest and a big shake-up in England's Bromley Police Department. And that's just for openers in this, the fourth in the author's series featuring Detective Erika Foster. What more could any mystery lover want?

Nothing, says this mystery lover (and lover of this series in particular) - except possibly a few additional chapters to give me more time with my nose in these pages and/or a very short wait till the fifth installment is published. Meantime, I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance review copy of this one.

The beginning finds Erika in a sort of informal personal relationship with fellow police officer James Peterson and no longer working on the Murder Squad. But when the dead body of a woman who had been horribly tortured turns up in a dumpster, Erika wants her old job back so she can take the lead on the case. The powers that be aren't exactly hot to trot on the idea - Erika isn't known for mincing words - but after another surprise twist (and the discovery of a possible tie-in with an eerily similar murder a few months earlier), her wish is granted, at least temporarily.

All the investigative team can figure out is that the killer apparently is stalking his victims online and using an online dating service to lure them to him. Finding who and where he is, though, proves far more difficult; even learning the color and make of his car isn't much help - it's one of the most popular in all of England.

The story moves along quickly, and I love how new bits of information on the characters are worked in as the action becomes more complex and exciting (I finished the last quarter of the book nonstop just because I was totally wrapped up in what was happening). I couldn't wait to get to the end but didn't want it to end, if you know what I mean.

I know reviewers aren't supposed to use quotes from advance copies without checking them against the published version. But I've noticed what may be a trend, especially among British authors, to work in a reference or two to the current political situation here in the States. This won't appear on my review at Amazon after the book is released, but it's just too good to not mention here (I'll also say it is my fervent hope that it makes the final cut). As one police department character questions whether to allude to a serial killer in a news conference, the response is this:

"...I think there's enough other crap happening in the media right now. People are more concerned with who is President of the USA. Will another bogeyman faze them?"

From where I sit, oh heck no.

Last Breath by Robert Bryndza (Bookouture, April 2017); 281 pp.