Search This Blog

Friday, March 28, 2014


5 stars (out of 5)

No doubt about it: Books are expensive. Even discounted versions of books for ebook readers like my Kindle Fire can get very costly when you read as many books as I do. That's why I've signed up at websites that offer free and low-cost choices, like,, or (which are then downloaded from

More often than not, the selections are from lesser-known writers, and a number of the free offerings don't cost more than three or four bucks to begin with - sometimes for good reason. So as I've said before, it's always a good idea to check customer reviews before you hit the download button (reviews with ratings of 3 stars and below get most of my attention, because I'm more interested in why someone didn't like the book than reading gushing comments.

Way more often than not, I've done well with my selections. And when I find a real gem, I want to tell the world. This one, a winner of a Florida Book Award (one of two for author Michael Lister), is one of those gems. For the record, the annual Florida Book Awards, which honors the best work of Florida authors, is coordinated by the Florida State University Libraries and co-sponsored by several other relatively impressive organizations. Medalists in nine categories are announced each February.

It was that award, in fact, that clinched the deal for me; at the time, this book had only nine reviews, mostly 5 stars - and even I have enough family and friends who would gladly award my book top honors in exchange for a six-pack of beer. Of course, the description didn't hurt; this is the fifth book in a series featuring prison chaplain and former cop John Jordan. Also for the record, Lister was named the youngest chaplain within the Florida Department of Corrections back in the early 1990s and served as a chaplain at correctional facilities for nearly a decade, so I figure he's got a good handle on that end of things.

I'm always a bit leery, though, of not starting with the first in a series; will I be able to follow what's going on, and will the book stand alone? I'm happy to say yes to both those issues, and even happier to report that I plan to get my hands on the rest in the series as fast as I can.

Here, Jordan has come to retreat center St. Ann's Abbey in the Florida Panhandle to shore up his own emotions after a nasty previous case (which I assume happened in the previous book). It doesn't take long for strange things to happen - first the apparent murder of a young boy, followed by the ghastly death of a young woman who had been undergoing an exorcism at the hands of an elderly priest who is one of the Abbey's founders. When he becomes the prime suspect, one of the nuns asks Jordan, who is here to get counseling himself and is reluctant to get involved, to well, get involved.

There's no shortage of suspects as Jordan - who is Protestant, by the way - begins his investigation, including the chief of police, an attorney who represents a large corporation intent on getting the land on which the Abbey is located and a beautiful young novelist (you really didn't think there would be no potential love interest, did you)? Untangling the ties that bind all these folks together and finding the culprit doesn't do much to drive out Jordan's personal demons, but the process sure is a treat for readers.

Blood Sacrifice by Michael Lister (Pulpwood Press August 2012); 271 pp.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


4 stars out of 5

Depending on the source, this is either the 13th or 14th in the author's series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, and I've read them all. As I've mentioned before, I started reading these books because of a special "connection" - Pickett is my family name. I've kept reading them, though, just because they're very good.

This one begins as Joe, who's officially still a game warden but unofficially assigned to handle special projects for the state governor, is given the task of finding out what's happening at a huge ranch in a remote area of the Black Hills. The owner, Wolfgang Templeton, is known as a philanthropist but also is powerful and mysterious. And, he's surrounded by dangerous men, not the least of whom is Joe's old friend Nate Romanowski, a falconer who's been living off the grid for quite some time. Meantime, Joe's daughter Sheridan, a resident assistant at the college she attends, is dealing with a potentially dangerous student, causing concern for Joe and his wife Marybeth. 

When he starts checking out Templeton and his property, Joe quickly learns the man literally owns everyone in the county - including local law enforcement and quite possibly old friend Nate as well. Has Nate crossed over to the dark side? Will Joe make it out of this wilderness alive once it becomes clear why he's really there? Can he get to his daughter before she becomes the victim of a sniper?

The way these questions are answered, in fact, are why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5. Although everything moves along very quickly and it was hard to put the book down, parts of the plot - especially near the end - are more than a little contrived and hard to believe (an effort to set up the plot of the next installment, perhaps, or, as other reviewers have suggested, a rush to meet the publication deadline)? Still, it's a worthwhile read - just not the best of the lot. 

Stone Cold by C.J. Box (Putnam Adult, March 2014); 374 pp.

Friday, March 14, 2014


4 stars out of 5

There are so many books waiting to be read on my Kindle (or on my to-read list) that I don't pay much attention to the freebies offered through a number of services to which I subscribe, like But for some strange reason, this one got my attention back on Feb. 24, 2014. It had enough 5- and 4-star reviews at that I figured the author - once CEO of a General Motors Corp. division - couldn't have that many friends willing to boost the ratings whether or not it was any good. Since the book description was interesting as well, I decided to give it a shot.

For the most part, I'm glad I did. I finished it in a few days with limited time available to read, and by the time I was done, I found it had accumulated 102 reviews at Amazon, 93 of them 4 stars or higher - so my 4-star rating is on target.

The book skillfully brings together high technology (in the form of artificial intelligence) and low (people still get killed by strangling, bullets and swimming with fishes), and more than once the late Mario Puzo's Godfather series came to mind. At the start, a Mafia-style guy named Alex Nicholas is murdered, leaving as his next-of-kin a third wife of questionable morals and a financial corporation CEO and straight-arrow brother Michael, who takes on the responsibility of settling Alex's affairs. Things get murky when Michael is contacted by his "deceased" brother via a computer software program as yet unknown by the rest of the world.

Slowly, Michael becomes absorbed in the shady world Alex knew (another nod to The Godfather, as expressed in Part III by Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.") And slowly, just as did Corleone, Michael Nicholas begins to enjoy the power of running a high-stakes business and the danger that comes with it. 

But if Alex is really dead, how is he able to communicate so effectively with his brother? After all, IBM's Watson was able to beat two very intelligent former winning contestants on "Jeopardy!" rather handily, but being able to make meaningful conversation with a human being and have a pretty good handle on what the future holds goes beyond anything that's available to man at this point - as far as anyone knows.

The book ends a bit abruptly and with no real resolution to how Alex has pulled all that off nor an answer to the question of the physical safety of Michael and his beautiful wife, Samantha. That was, no doubt, to ensure that everyone who bought this book will rush to get the next one, Death Logs In. I've seen nothing to indicate when that will be forthcoming, but I do know that if it takes very long I'll have forgotten what this one was all about - one of the pitfalls of those "cliff-hanger" kinds of novels (this one was published in December 2013). In comparison, every Godfather book left me wanting more, but each was an end unto itself. Hopefully, Simon will get his sequel out before I still care about what's to come. 

Death Never Sleeps by E.J. Simon (Simon/Zef, December 2013); 389 pp.

Friday, March 7, 2014


5 stars out of 5

After I read all of J.K. Rowling's beyond-wonderful Harry Potter books, I said to myself, "Self, no one could possibly top these as young-adult fiction, at least not in the fantasy realm."

T-h-h-hat's my story and I'm stickin' to it. But tell you what: John Connolly gives her a darned good run for the money. This, the first in a fantasy thriller series featuring 11-year old Samuel Johnson, conjures up visions of things almost more frightening than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or any of the other obstacles Harry and his pals ever encountered. And, it's written with lots of humor (mostly around the 6th- or 7th-grade level, to be sure, but then that's right about where my funny bone got stuck a long time ago so I can relate). Really.

The plot centers on young Samuel, who through no fault of his own runs into supernatural elements while he's out trick-or-treating (a couple of days early to get a head start) in his hometown of Biddlecombe, England. Some kind of portal, it seems, inexplicably has opened up that allows very nasty dead folks - the kind who live in Hades, if such a place exists - to return to the present. Of course, they aren't here just to see all the new technology; no, they're hell-bent, so to speak, on destroying the world as Samuel, his family, friends and loyal dog Boswell, know it (Boswell: Samuel's dog. Get it)? Thrown in the mix is Nurd, a surprisingly likable demon lord who got through the portal by no fault of his own and, also by no fault of his own, befriends Samuel.

Needless to say, Samuel has a tough time trying to convince the adults about what he knows is happening - that is, until they start seeing it for themselves. But then, what's a mother (or a cousin or a Vicar or a scientist) to do? Lots of mayhem, mangling and heads coming out of places no head should ever be ensues, with creatures both human and not losing their lives and dozens of limbs until a solution is found (thanks, of course, to the ingenuity of Samuel and a couple of his young human friends).

Interspersed throughout are links to footnotes, and while I didn't bother checking them until I'd finished the book, I'll advise readers not to miss reading them at the end. They, too, are humorous, but perhaps more important (at least to parents and teachers), they have considerable educational value, to-wit:

"Because atoms are so small, and are constantly recycled, every breath you take contains atoms that were once breathed by Julius Caesar and Elvis Presley. So, a little bit of you formerly ruled Rome, and sang "Blue Suede Shoes."

"Whenever someone uses the word 'glitch,' which means a fault of some kind in a system, you should immediately be suspicious, because it means they don't know what it is."


The Gates by John Connolly (Atria Books, October 2009); 308 pp.