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Friday, August 29, 2014


4 stars out of 5

This book was offered free at some time ago, but it got shoved to the back burner and then, alas, totally forgotten until it popped up again - this time as a freebie for KindleUnlimited subscribers (I signed up recently on a trial basis). When I read the description, I said why not - and proceeded to find it on my Kindle Fire and get started. 

And, I finished it in a single day, albeit one when the weather was questionable and I had a little extra free time - it's only 237 pages and very easy to breeze through. It's also quite good; although I'll take a big issue with the "Entertainment Weekly" claim that it's for fans of Robert B. Parker's "smart but tough-as-nails heroes," former boxer and book author Jack Rhodes makes for an interesting character. His wife, Sara, blew her head off with a shotgun just as he was starting to gain success as a writer. After a 15-month stint as a nearly drop-dead alcoholic, he begins to write again and becomes wildly successful with a series of mysteries about a serial murderer simply called the Killer.

This book, the first in a series, begins as all that success begins to go to hell in a handbasket with an especially grisly murder seemingly based on Jack's first book (he's now in the middle of writing the fourth). Problem is, the real murder took place before Jack's first book was published. Is it a copycat? Or did Jack's descent into an alcoholic stupor include acts so dark that even he can't remember? Then, a second murder is discovered - linked to yet another of his books - and (no surprise), Jack becomes Suspect No. 1 and goes on the run in an attempt to prove his innocence and, hopefully, prevent yet another murder that could be based on his in-progress novel.

All told, this debut novel is well worth the time I spent reading it. In fact, the follow-up - Killer in the Hills - is available free through KindleUnlimited, and yes, I grabbed it. Stay tuned!

Killer by Stephen Carpenter (Amazon Digital Services Inc.) 237 pp.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


4 stars out of 5

I've said it before and will say it again: I love mysteries and thrillers, and if there's an ex-cop private detective in there somewhere, so much the better. Zombies, on the other hand, just ain't my thing. But not long ago, I agreed to read the two (so far) "Zombie Attack" books by Devan Sagliani, and to my surprise, I enjoyed them. Even so, when an email came from Shana Festa asking if I'd read and review this one - her debut novel - I hesitated a bit before saying yes, wondering if I might be pushing my luck.

Not to worry: This is a zombie caper that's dead on. I put this one away in two days of very limited spare time (it's just 198 pages) and enjoyed it enough that I'll recommend it to anyone whose blood curdles and heart beats faster at the mere mention of the undead. 

It's worth noting that I was hooked after finishing the very first chapter - and that's a trick few established authors are able to pull off. It begins as Emma Rossi, a 37-year-old academic retread who's finishing up a degree in nursing and interning at a Florida hospital. Soon after she loses her first patient, she learns that an infection of another sort is running rampant - literally; hordes of once-humans have come back from the dead and are running around trying to take the bite out of all remaining humanity. That is came as a surprise did beg the question of how, in this age of instant information, the country could be almost totally overtaken so suddenly that nothing ever made the evening news - but this IS a work of fiction, after all.

Emma, her husband Jake and their Yorkie, Daphne, soon find themselves trying to find someplace safe where they can avoid being chomped alive (after which they'd pop up again in zombie form and set of on a chomping spree themselves). But safety is elusive; just when they think they've found a haven, someone (or several someones) who've been infected turn up in their midst and force yet another hasty retreat. The action is pretty much nonstop - there's no shortage of blood, gore and shock value here - but in between there's enough character development that readers are able to "connect," which bodes well for future books.

I did notice a couple of grammatical errors, and in one spot Emma's husband Jake is referred to as "Jack" (hey, sue me; I'm a copy editor by profession, albeit in the newspaper industry, so I just can't help myself). I also will emphasize that this number is on the low end of those I typically find in books by best-selling authors that have (supposedly) gone through extensive editing at major publishing houses. And there's no question that the author, a registered nurse, has an excellent handle on the English language.

This book ends on a question mark - one of future survival - and those who want to find out what happens next will just have to wait till the next installment is published (according to the author, the next two will be Time of Death: Asylum" and "Time of Death: Crossroads").

Time of Death: Induction by Shana Festa (Permuted Press, May 2014); 198 pp.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


5 stars out of 5

Belonging to at least half a dozen websites that offer free/low-cost ebooks every day definitely has advantages - I've found some great books and new-to-me authors this way - but there's at least one downside as well: With so many possibilities, how do I choose what I'd like to read and be reasonably confident those I pick won't be truly awful?

So far, I've got a good track record; carefully reading reviews, especially the ones by readers who didn't much care for a particular book, helps immensely. Just one complaint about poor editing, for instance (i.e., errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and word choice) and I run the other way as fast as I can. 

This one is Book 4 in a series featuring ex-husband-and-wife lawyers Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez, and although it passed the initial sniff test with flying colors, I had reservations about starting in the middle of a series (especially since it wasn't free, although 99 cents through BookBub certainly wasn't bad). As it turned out, I'd have been happier to start at the beginning - some of the background information that shows up in this book was quite interesting, including that Mike used to be a priest, and I'd love to know more about that). But to the author's credit, at no time did I feel at a disadvantage by starting where I did.

This one begins as Mike gets a phone call from an ex-con former client who basically was the reason he and  Rosie divorced - they fought so much during the defense (they got the charges dropped) that they just couldn't stay together any longer. This time, a hot-shot venture capitalist has been murdered, found in a dumpster in a very seedy part of San Francisco. The former client, Leon Walker, was found passed out at the scene with incriminating evidence on his person - and the cops are insisting he's the killer. Leon insists he's not, and to complicate matters even more, he's a dying man - literally; he has only weeks, if that, to live and wants to clear his name.

Needless to say, taking on the case isn't a hit with Rosie (she and Mike have continued their professional relationship in their own law firm despite the divorce). But Mike prevails, and they take on what appears to be an impossible case. Not only is the evidence stacked against them, but the victim's family and venture capital firm partners stand united in support of his stellar reputation, both at the firm and as a husband and father.

What happens in the courtroom seems quite authentic (not too surprising since the author is an attorney), and I enjoyed the writing style of inserting what Mike was thinking before reading what he actually said. I admit I got a tiny bit weary of it by the end, though, so had there been another 100 pages it might reached my last remaining nerve. Thankfully, it didn't, and I enjoyed the story so much that I've made it my quest to finish the rest of the series ("The Confession," "Judgment Day" and "Perfect Alibi," in that order, I believe.

Good stuff - and a new favorite author!

Final Verdict by Sheldon Siegel (Sheldon M. Siegel Inc., January 2014); 432 pp.

Update: Not long after I wrote this review - and as I was looking for a good deal on the rest of this series - I discovered that they're all free for members of the new Kindle Unlimited ($9.99 per month). Since they offer a 30-day free trial, I signed up - and immediately downloaded all four of the remaining books in this series plus a couple of other books I've been wanting to read. I'm not sure if I'll continue with the paid version, though, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 8, 2014


4 stars out of 5

Since I've been keeping track at, I've read five other books by Karin Slaughter - all Will Trent novels. The most recent, Unseen, was less than great, but I enjoyed the others well enough to try this book, her first stand-alone novel. And by the time I'd reached a quarter of the way through, I was pretty sure I was going to struggle to finish it.

It really wasn't the writing; rather, it was the subject matter and time period. The 1970s was not my favorite decade, although I was rather happily distracted from all the nasty things going on in the world by trying to take care of a husband, two young children and returning to the workforce once our younger child, born in 1968, reached kindergarten age.

And this book is set right in the middle: 1974 in Atlanta, where clear lines are drawn among men and women, blacks and whites, gays and straights, Jews and everyone else; there's no air conditioning, no cell phones and men keep their women in line by beating the crap out of them. All in good fun, eh?

Not. I'm not entirely sure why, except maybe it brought back somewhat uncomfortable memories of my own years in college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Jews and blacks (and no, they weren't called "blacks" back then) had separate fraternities and sororities and Women's Lib was just a glimmer in Betty Friedan's eye. At any rate, the story centers on Kate Murphy, a young widow who has joined the Atlanta Police Department just after the brutal murder of one of their own - the latest in a string of similar murders. She's got three strikes against her: She's new, she's female and she's beautiful. The women on the force can't relate to her - they're having enough trouble taking the heat from the men themselves - and the men make it clear they don't want her there.

Forced to wear ill-fitting uniforms and accept insults hurled at her from every angle, Kate isn't sure she'll make it right from the start. Still, she manages to develop a bit of camaraderie, albeit grudgingly given, with the sister of the cop who was with his partner - the most recent officer killed - when it happened. Together, the women form a sort of alliance to investigate on their own, risking the ire of other officers if their behind-the-scenes efforts are discovered (if not outright dismissal from the force). Those efforts take on even more relevance when the evidence takes them to surprising places and revelations that will rock their own belief systems and the police department to the very core.

Obviously, I kept going despite my hesitation early on - and I'm very glad I did. No, I never quite adjusted to all the negative attitudes and scenarios, but at the same time they were crucial to a story that got much more interesting the closer I got to the end - the last quarter I polished off nonstop just because it was that good. Was I happy with the ending? Well, yes and no; but all I'll say is some things take longer to change than others.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte Press, June 2014); 417 pp.

Friday, August 1, 2014


5 stars out of 5

This is the first of Berry's books featuring the now ex-Justice Department agent Cotton Malone I've read, and, to a certain extent, that put me at a disadvantage: It's pretty clear that some of the characters have a history with Malone to which I didn't feel privy. That said, this book manages to stand on its own fairly well.

After the first few chapters, two thoughts came to mind: First, that this one would be filled with lots of historical information - as was another excellent Berry book, The Columbus Affair; and second, that this would be a sort of Da Vinci Code meets Will Robie (a character in a series by another favorite author, David Baldacci). Nothing I read from that point on changed my mind.

At issue here is the question of whether or not U.S. states have the right to secede from the Union (to which a relatively recent Supreme Court decision answered no).  At the center of the controversy is the possibility that the right to do so was, in fact, written as a sort of addendum to the U.S. Constitution by the founding fathers in a long-hidden document  - a document known to President Abraham Lincoln, who ignored it in order to preserve the Union and thus allowed the Civil War to begin. 

Into the mix early on comes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - more commonly known as Mormons - as remains of an early expedition are uncovered to reveal that those Mormon pioneers were murdered. The ensuing investigation brings Malone into action - he's called by his former boss to locate and bring home a missing agent. This puts him at loggerheads with two formidable enemies: A very powerful U.S. Senator and high-ranking Mormon leader who has an agenda all his own which, not coincidentally, has to do with the issue of secession - as well as a dangerous  member of the Danites, a group of radical Mormons who will stop at nothing, including murder, to achieve their goals.

The historical information is well-researched (and at the end, Berry explains which parts are factual and which were concocted by him for the novel). If anything, there's a bit too much of it; I thoroughly enjoyed learning things about Lincoln, the Civil War and the Mormon religion, but it did get to be a bit much throughout the last few chapters. Also, if you don't like books that jump from place to place every chapter or two - the action takes place in at least three locations around the world - you may not care for this one. But the biggest annoyance factor for me is that Berry doesn't always make clear his antecedents; many times I had to reread a paragraph more than once to figure out who was talking or being described.

Overall, though, my nitpicks are minor, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book; although I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've taken a book to bed to finish, that's exactly what I did here. I liked it so much, in fact, that despite my near-insistence on never going back to read earlier books in any series, I just may have to give a few of these a try. 

The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books, May 2014); 449 pp.