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Friday, May 31, 2013

DOG ON IT: A Chet and Bernie Mystery

4 stars (out of 5)

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a sucker for books that involve cats and dogs. I never missed a single one of "The Cat Who..." mystery novels by the late Lilian Jackson Braun, for instance - I loved the antics (and murder-solving abilities of KoKo and Yum-Yum, the two Siamese cats owned by former newspaper reporter James Qwilleran. And one of my favorite books of all time is Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain.

So when one of my e-newsletters arrived from announcing availability of this book for $2.99 at, I read the description, noted the average of 4-1/2 stars from 448 customer reviews and didn't "paws" long before hitting the "Buy Now" button.

Still, there's always a bit of concern over wasting time and money (even if it's just a little bit) as I Fire up my Kindle and navigate to the first page. Will it be a clunker after all? That feeling hung around for less than three pages, I'm happy to report - that's when something I read made me chuckle right out loud. Okay, I said to myself - we're good to go.

The books are narrated by Chet, a lovable dog who's loyal to Bernie and very smart (but not smart enough to avoid flunking out of K-9 police school). He's owned by Bernie, a relatively small-time private investigator who has to scramble to have enough money for his breakfast eggs. They're called to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl who's gone missing and may (or may not) be the victim of a kidnapping. She turns up safe and sound, but days later she's gone again. Bernie's suspicious, and Chet's keen sense of smell tells him something's not quite kosher as well.

The search takes them to the desert, biker bars and abandoned mines, threatening both their lives at various stops along the way. Each step is described in typical doggie fashion by Chet, who does a pretty good job of figuring out what humans are up to even though he can't quite get a grip on emotions (smells, on the other hand, he's got down to a science).

The book is well written and the plot is for the most part plausible (if perhaps not the most gripping, edge-of-seat story I've ever read). Best of all, it's just fun; Chet's take on things can be a bit of a hoot - or should I say bark. All in all, an outstanding debut novel. Even better, it’s the first in a series, followed by A Fistful of Collars, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, To Fetch a Thief and Thereby Hangs a Tail. I’ve already read Fistful - but I’ll let you try this one before I start howling the praises of that one.

Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn (Atria Books February 2009); 324 pp.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

I've had great success, so far, with snagging no- and very low-cost books at sites like, and Part of that success, though, comes because I never fail to check the ratings of other readers as well as the track records of the authors before I forge ahead.

This time, though, there were only four customer reviews - and I'm always a little suspicious when every single one gave the book 5 stars (most writers easily can scare up that many friends and relatives who are willing to say wonderful things, after all). But the description sounded interesting, and Fishman has a strong background as a former editor at Doubleday and literary agent in New York plus two thrillers to his credit. Since the price through BookBub was was right - just 99 cents - I figured it was worth a shot. And I'm happy to say this one hits the target.

The story centers around the nation's winning-est inner-city high school football coach who loves his players more than life itself. When his star running back, who is headed for The Ohio State University [Go Bucks!!],is accused of rape, everything starts to fall apart. Then even worse things begin to happen that lead to the coach's financial wizard brother, who dabbles in a secret marketplace called the "dark pool" together with other money-hungry investors - some of whom apparently will do anything to avoid a financial crash-and-burn. Could there be a connection that is pitting brother against brother? Is there a future for the once-powerful football team and its coach?

The book is quite well written and I wouldn't hesitate to read another book by this author, but I gave it 4 stars for this reason: About 40% of the way through (I don't have page numbers on my Kindle Fire books), it suddenly struck me that unlike most other thrillers, I didn't feel compelled to keep going. At that point, I realized, I hadn't established much of a rapport with any of the characters. In fact, I could have put the book down and never opened it again without any great sense of loss.

I didn't, of course (my mama didn't raise no quitter), and after another couple of chapters, the action started to pick up and I grew enthusiastic enough that I polished it off without stopping. I was pretty sure what would happen in the end - and I was right - but exactly how it would happen, and to whom, kept me guessing right up to the last few pages.

The Dark Pool by J.E. Fishman; StoneGate Ink (January 2013); 323 pp.

Friday, May 17, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

Having just come off of reading a couple of heavy-duty mind-bending thrillers, I was close to excited about starting this one by the prolific Patterson and co-writer Maxine Paetro (she's perhaps my favorite of the ones he's been working with - especially of late when for the most part he seems to be sacrificing quality to get quantity). The books in his Women's Murder Club series are almost guaranteed to be heavy on the easy and breezy and light on the queasy - and that's just what I needed right about now.

If that weren't enough, it's very neat that one of the consultants Patterson uses for the books is Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, medical examiner and coroner of Trumbull County, Ohio - the county in which I've made my home since 1962. You'll have to go to the credits to find his name, but I'm happy to see some positive light shining right here in my neck of the woods.

For those who might not know, the Women's Murder Club consists of Lindsay Boxer (a San Francisco police detective), Claire Washburn (a medical examiner), Yuki Castellano (a district attorney) and Cindy Thomas (a newspaper reporter). Each brings a different personality and different skills to the table, and when they gather around it, things can get very interesting (and murders can get solved). I've read most if not all the others - starting with 1st to Die - and enjoyed each and every one.

In between, I also enjoyed the relatively short-lived TV series starring the beautiful and talented Angie Harmon as Lindsay. And when I started this book I was surprised to learn that Lindsay is a blond - a fact I'd apparently missed through all those books. In fact, I thought Angie was a natural for the role. How on earth did I miss that?

This one begins with the earlier than expected birth of Julie, the daughter of Lindsay and her husband Joe. The baby is having some health issues, but a couple of new cases mean Lindsay has to return to work and leave the baby in Joe's capable hands. Yuki, meanwhile, is prosecuting one of the biggest cases of her career - a man who allegedly murdered his wife and daughter and has hired a killer attorney - and Claire is having problems of her own keeping tabs on a murder victim who's landed in her morgue. Cindy doesn't get a home free card either; the relationship with her police officer fiance isn't exactly smooth sailing, and things go from bad to worse after a beautiful intern joins the department.

As is always the case, everything (well, almost everything) works out by the end - and the "almost" parts leave the door open for the next book, of course. All in all, it's a fun ride that won't try your brainpower or your attention span (I could have finished it easily in half a day or less if I'd had that much available time). 

I do want to add something else, though, that troubles me considerably - the promotional tagline I assume comes from the publisher: "Lindsay Boxer must choose: stop a vicious murderer or save her baby?" I can't explain my objections without revealing too much about the story, so suffice it to say that while yes, there's a serious issue with the baby, the tagline is misleading at best and at worst a bit offensive to all the working mothers out there.

12th of Never by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro; Little, Brown and Co. (April 2013); 432 pp.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


3 stars (out of 5)

Put my feet to the fire and I'd consider giving this one 3-12 stars, but for now, 3's my story and I'm stickin' to it. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it - every time I had to put it down for a while I looked forward to opening it up again, at least sort of. But from the git-go, it just didn't grab me the way a thriller should (especially one from the usually talented author Nora Roberts, whose books I've enjoyed in the past).

My lack of interest mostly centered on the characters -- starting with Boston lawyer Eli Landon, who's been convicted in the minds of many of  murdering his wife even though he was never charged. In semi-disgrace, he returns to Bluff House, his family's home on Whiskey Island. There, he meets the offbeat Abra, who left a life in the corporate world and personal trauma behind to "find herself" on the island (of course, they quickly become an item). Thereafter, another murder happens and Eli becomes a suspect once again - and continues to be hounded by a Boston detective who's convinced Eli is twice guilty is bound and determined to prove it.

Problem is, not one of these characters is particularly credible, or even very likeable. Any detective who harassed private citizens to the extent this one did wouldn't be a detective very long. Abra is simply too "perfect" to be believed; in fact, I spent most of the book convinced that she was so goody-two-shoes that she just had to end up a villain. Despite his protestations of innocence and attempts to prove he didn't commit either murder, I just couldn't muster up much sympathy for the very stubborn Eli. Even the fairly explicit love scenes between Eli and Abra were, well, lackluster - mostly because I never felt much real chemistry between the two.

Then too, words and phrases kept appearing and reappearing, sometimes in the same paragraph - and although it's been said that repetition is the key to learning, it does nothing to boost the excitement level. In fact, it's downright boring, and it made me conclude that this tale could have been told more effectively in half the number of pages. Leave out some of the multi-talented Abra's endless accomplishments (good lord, is there anything the woman can't do?) and I was sure of it. At one point, in fact, I even envisioned her in the Yoga downward facing dog position while chopping apples with one hand, washing the dog with the other and balancing Eli's laptop on her upward-facing butt.

All along, I kept thinking (make that hoping) that I'd come to a few plot twists that would spark a little emotion - perhaps that one of the characters wasn't who he or she purported to be and I'd at least get to be surprised. Whether or not that happened I can't write here without revealing too much, so I'll just say that while this isn't an awful book and I'm not sorry I read it, it's not even close to a favorite.  

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts; Putnam Adult (April 2013); 495 pp.