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Friday, September 26, 2014


3-1/2 stars out of 5

The over-hyping of the wedding that never happened last season on the Castle TV show, I have to say, hit a sour note for me. And even though I'll tune in again this season, it won't be with anywhere near the same enthusiasm I've had in previous years. Unfortunately, I suspect that experience has carried over to the books as well. In large part, I'm sure that's because the books read like TV scripts and -- like the show -- are more fluff than substance.

So it is, then, that for the most part I ho-hummed my way through this, the sixth book in the series. About halfway through, I even considered not even bothering to finish it; but since I hate to do that with any book, I sneaked a peak at the reviews at -- and learned that 29 of the 35 reviewers gave it 5 stars. Say what? I asked myself, concluding that I'd better return to the book with a more positive attitude.

Did it work? Only a little. Sure, there were glimmers of the fun banter between Detective Heat and her writer/lover, Jameson Rook. One in particular made me chuckle out loud. After a rather nasty explosion, a message was found that simply read, "BYE HEAT." Rook's quip was immediate: "He left out the comma."

The story itself, though, never really jiggled any of my happy buttons. It begins when an illegal immigrant drops into the NYPD's lap -- almost literally -- seemingly from the sky. Heat and Rook are together again after a lengthy absence while he worked on a story -- which is good --  and she's looking at the possibility of being tapped for a task force that could jeopardize their future as a couple -- which isn't. To make matters worse, they can't agree on the prime suspect in the murder investigation; Heat is convinced a powerful city politician is behind it, but Rook (and some key members of Heat's investigative team) aren't so sure -- and her unrelenting passion to find proof that she's right threatens to destroy her relationships with Rook and her squad members. 

In the end, it wasn't a truly bad reading experience, but neither can I work up much excitement about it. Just like the TV show, I fear that this series may be past its prime.

Raging Heat by Richard Castle (Kingswell (ABC) September 2014); 304 pp.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


3 1/2 stars out of 5

When I get a request to read and review a book, as happened with this one, I have two concerns - the first of which is whether or not it will be written well enough that it's not a waste of time. Encountering errors in grammar, spelling and/or punctuation is a major turn-off; IMHO, anyone who can't muster up pretty close to perfection in that department has zero right to call him- or herself a writer.

The second, of course, is content: What's the story about? In this case, it touches a topic close to home - journalism and the power of the press. After spending a good part of my working life in that industry (albeit mostly at a for-business-only newspaper and a writer/editor of nonfiction), I have a long-standing personal interest in the subject. So it was that my answer to the request was, "Bring it on!"

The Foundation for a New America, which has loads of pull in Washington, D.C., is working behind the scenes to spark a war between the United States and China. Terrorist attacks are put in place, and several Foundation members - including the particularly nasty Michelle Dominique - are putting the wheels in motion that will get them elected to Congressional seats. As deputy director of the Foundation, she wields considerable power - and she doesn't hesitate to do whatever it takes to bribe, coerce, threaten and even kill to get what she wants.

What she wants includes gaining control of EMCorp, a huge media conglomerate headed by the elderly iron-fisted Ernest McDowell (think Tea Party meets Rupert Murdock). I don't know about you, but the mere thought that either of them could attain the kind of power suggested here scares the bejesus out of me, so thriller-wise, it was off to a good start.

McDowell happens to be the boss of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Emery, the "hero" of the story. He and a co-worker are assigned as embedded reporters on the George Washington, a warship stationed off the coast of China for the purpose of keeping a modicum of peace between China and Taiwan. But as the tension escalates, the ship is attacked and sunk - and Jack and his friend are captured by the Chinese. I won't offer any details, but since this is supposed to be the first in a series featuring the journalist, I don't think I'm spoiling anything by noting that Jack lives to tell about the experience.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Michelle issues sufficient threats to scare the crusty McDowell into ordering all his newspapers to change the slant of coverage to fit the goals of the Foundation, and Michelle doubles her efforts to gain control of the EMCorp board and dispose of anyone who opposes her or knows too much. Bodies start to pile up, Jack figures out what's going on and who's behind it, and the chase is on.

Happily from a technical standpoint, the writing is consistently good throughout. I did notice a word missing here and there; one character was asked, "How're you going?" instead of "How're you doing?" And, I reached for my red pencil when I read that "...the hospital had flexed their muscles..." Not likely; a hospital is an inanimate object and has no such capability. 

The plot was intriguing and relatively solid as well, although for the rest of my natural life I'll wonder what the bleep happened to that USB drive Jack wedged in a bar seat (if you want to know why, read the book). And here's another plus: Apparently, the author knows his single-malt Scotch. Early on, one of the characters enjoyed a glass of Laphroaig. 


The Foundation by Steve P. Vincent (Momentum, September 2014); 266 pp.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


3 stars out of 5

As a huge fan of the late Robert B. Parker's work - first and foremost, the Spenser series and to a somewhat lesser extent, those featuring Jesse Stone, I was really, really hoping this one would be as top-notch as possible given that Parker didn't write it. It's the 13th Stone installment and the first by Reed Farrel Coleman following several by Michael Brandman.

But while Brandman came close to capturing Parker's voice, Coleman falls a bit short. That said, if I could give it 3 1/2 stars, I would - I certainly didn't not enjoy it. The story line, in fact, wasn't bad at all; all my disappointment is focused on Jesse's dialogue - not quite as crisp and blunt as usual - and page after page of exposition that just seemed a tad excessive.

This one begins as Jesse, the chief of police in laid-back Paradise, Massachusetts, reluctantly heads for New York for a reunion of his former Triple-A baseball team. His once-promising career forever sidelined by a freak injury years ago, he has decidedly mixed feelings about digging up old memories. Those memories include the beautiful Kayla, his former girlfriend who's now the wife of an old teammate.

Just as the get-together gets going, though, Jesse learns that a young woman has been found back in Paradise, and the son of a leading town resident may have been kidnapped. Of course, he heads back (more than a little relieved to escape the New York festivities) only to find there may be a connection between his old teammates and what's happened in his adopted home town.

A handful of characters from earlier books make an appearance here as well - coworkers "Suitcase" Simpson and Molly Crane, for instance - but they, too, just don't quite reach the personality standards of older books. And, there's a cliffhanger ending which, I suppose, is intended to motivate readers to buy the next installment - but it was a big turn-off for me. Every time an author tries that technique, I feel manipulated, and that's not a feeling I enjoy.

My conclusion? This is a decent book that's worth reading on its own, but the relationship to Parker or Brandman is slim to none. So if you're looking for writing that's true to either of them, save your money. 

Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman (Penguin Group, September 2014); 342 pp.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


4 stars out of 5

When I read the description of this book at, it got my attention right away. The "hero," Jake Stankovic, is a relatively successful thief with a crew of two, but there's a big difference: Jake used to be a police officer. Then when I learned the author is a retired law enforcement officer with a number of writing awards under his belt, I started to think seriously. And when I was able to download it free as part of my trial membership in Kindle Unlimited, well, let's just say I got right to it.

As it turns out, it was a great decision. Jake, it seems, now has been a criminal longer than he was a cop. As the property-stealing business heads into a slump - meaning a big drop in income for the trio - Jake decides to make a move into the drug market with what he hopes is a quick deal. Not only is it not quick, it doesn't go as planned, leaving Jake to try to figure a way to salvage their financial investment. Then, something else unplanned happens: a woman he used to know (yes, in the biblical sense) back in his police days shows up on his doorstep. After spending a few years living a cutthroat life, she says she's come back to "find the good part of myself again." 

As if that weren't enough, the woman is the ex-wife of a detective from Jake's old department - and the detective has never forgiven Jake for stealing "his" woman and causing his ugly divorce way back then. Ever since, in fact, he's had it in for Jake big-time, and now he's caught wind of the drug deal and doubled his efforts to get even by putting Jake behind bars (or worse). As the action heats up, Jake begins to smell another rat; quite possibly it's emanating from one of his partners in crime, who's spilling his guts to the detective.

More details would give away too much, but I will say that there are a number of twists and turns; while some headed down expected paths, the destinations were not. The result? An intriguing, well-written story that's definitely worth reading, and the 246 pages fly by in no time at all. It's good enough, in fact, that I'm now checking out other works by the author (who also writes under the name Frank Scalise).

At Their Own Game by Frank Zafiro (Frank Scalise, January 2014); 246 pp.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


5 stars out of 5

As part of the "praise" for the book here at, another favorite author of mine, Stephen King, calls this "The best one yet." It may not be the best in the series that I've ever read, but it's sure close to the top. The only real downside was the monumental effort it took not to envision the comparatively scrawny Tom Cruise in the role of 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound-plus Jack Reacher in the 2012 movie of the same name. 

If it's action you want, you'll get an overload here. It begins as Reacher is called back into service for the State Department and the CIA, who inform him that someone has taken a shot at the president of France. The bullet was American-made, and the super long-distance shot could have been pulled off by less than a handful of snipers (even though it missed the target by a few hairs). One probability comes to mind immediately - John Kott, who, thanks to Reacher, spent the past 16 years in prison and was released recently.

Almost all of the time, Reacher works solo; but this time, he gets a rookie partner named Casey Nice (young and beautiful, naturally) - and it's hard for Reacher to forget thinking about a different female partner who bit the dust on his watch a few years earlier. Nice proves herself to be competent, which is nice, but he still doesn't want the same thing to happen again. 

Trying to catch the shooter before he tries again - the conventional thinking is that the next target will be one (or more) of the world leaders who will be attending an upcoming G-8 summit - puts both Reacher and Nice within shooting distance of mobsters from various countries and, of course, whoever turns out to be the sniper. If it is Kott, the whole scenario could change on a dime; his reason for killing (and his intended target) could turn out to be very (you guessed it) personal.

Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child (Delacorte Press September 2014); 369 pp.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


4 stars out of 5

It's almost hard to believe this is the 22nd book in the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series - if I missed any, I'm not aware of them, so you could say I've been around from the git-go. I "watched" as they got hitched, Peter struggled early on with becoming a practicing Jew, they dealt with teenage sons and a new baby and now, a new life in a new place. 

In her most recent book, "The Beast," the author hinted that the couple might be thinking about moving from Los Angeles to be closer to their children and grandchildren. And that's exactly what they've done here, relocating to a small community in upstate New York where Peter is working for the Greenbury Police Department. 

Wen I finished the first couple of chapters, I had a vague feeling that something was "off." Both Peter and Rina seemed a bit unsure of how they feel about the change (Peter more so), and somehow it didn't feel quite right to me, either. Of course, going from a fast-paced big-city department to one where rescuing kittens from trees provides the big excitement of the day would make me question my decision as well.

Peter has partnered up with fairly recent Harvard grad Tyler McAdams, who's got money, a lousy attitude and a totally obnoxious personality. He's also got friends in high places, so like it or not, Peter's stuck with him (adding to Peter's trouble adjusting to the new surroundings). But then, a real crime is reported: valuable Tiffany panels have been stolen from a family mausoleum and replaced by fake versions. Not long thereafter, a female student from the local consortium of five liberal arts schools is murdered, and it seems there could be a connection to the theft. 

Since Peter has 30 years of experience in the homicide field, he's tapped to lead the investigation. That, in turn, leads to forays and encounters within the halls of academia and the world of ancient works of art, including pieces that may have been stolen by the Nazis. I must say the ins and outs were a little hard for me to follow - there was almost too much historical information and too many characters. I found myself re-reading pages here and there just to make sure I remembered who was who.

The move wasn't the only noticeable change, either; Rina takes on a much larger role here than usual. That's not a bad thing, mind you - in a couple of the older books, I actually wondered why her name was even in the book title. In a couple of spots, in fact, she actually outshines her husband in the sleuthing department. My guess? This will be the trend for future books, with Rina becoming as much a partner in Peter's career as she is in their marriage.

Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman  (William Morrow, September 2014); 389 pp.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


4 stars out of 5

As a huge fan of medical mysteries, I jumped at the chance to read this free with my Kindle Unlimited trial subscription. And when I learned it takes place in the Finger Lakes region of New York -- one of my favorite places to visit -- I was even more excited.

I'm pretty sure, though, that neither the town of New Canterbury nor Stanwick Lake are real - there are 11 Finger Lakes, and Stanwick isn't among them (our usual stopping place is somewhere along Seneca Lake in the Watkins Glen area, where, to our great delight, there must be at least 30 wineries within a 10-mile radius). But it's the thought that counts - and this story is set mostly at the New Canterbury University Hospital, where Dr. Jack Forester is director of the emergency department and trying to bring it into the 20th century in terms of services and equipment.

The prologue, which I understand has been rewritten since the first edition was published (this is the second), was intriguing; but after I'd read the first couple of chapters, I was a little concerned; the writing seemed a bit simplistic. Oh well, I said, I'll keep going and see how it goes. And I'm happy to say it turned much better and stayed that way right to the end (which didn't take long since it's just 302 pages).

Early on, it's clear there's a leadership battle going on; the new dean, Bryson Witmer, is a dude with an ego the size of Texas who won't tolerate a no from anyone, runs roughshod over the medical staff and takes no prisoners. Needless to say, that doesn't please Forester; and things go from bad to worse when his mentor (the former dean) is the victim of an apparent murder attempt that follows close on the heels of the deaths of two other key hospital professionals. All three, it seems, were not fond of Witmer and his practices, and their disposal conveniently clears his path to even greater power.

Enter the beautiful Zellie Andersen, an investigative reporter who has come to town do an in-depth story on the hospital. But as her interviews pick up steam, it's clear she's getting very different perspectives from Witmer and Forester. So who's telling the truth? The answer comes amid conspiracy and yes, more murders.

There were a few glitches along the way -- a handful of grammatical errors and what was described as a half-mile walk to a hotel that turned out to take considerably longer by car, for instance -- and the ending (where the action really picks up), leaned a bit toward the "you've got to be kidding" side. That said, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the sequel. At the end of this one, the author says it will be titled "Bedside," but as of this writing I'm still looking. Hope it turns up soon!

Final Mercy by Frank L. Edwards (Pascal Editions, 2nd edition, February 2013); 302 pp.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


4 stars out of 5

Hard to believe this is the fifth installment that I've read in Patterson's Private series, and nothing here has changed my opinion that this is the best series he and his various partners are serving up (this one is co-written with Michael White). It's also easy to read; I polished the whole thing off in one day of spare time (admittedly on a Saturday when college football games dominated the TV and I was able to keep one eye on my Kindle Fire and the other on the action). I'll also point out that the last 12% is a three-chapter preview of Burn, the next in his Michael Bennett series that I believe is scheduled for publication a couple of weeks from now (that's Sept. 29, 2014).

For those who don't know, Private is a high-tech, highly successful investigation agency with offices all over the world (hence Private Berlin, Private L.A., etc. In this one, Craig Cristo has formed a new office in Sydney, Australia, with the help of the drop-dead gorgeous and highly experienced Justine, who also happens to be the main squeeze of Jack Morgan, founder/owner of Private. As they throw a big bash to kick off the opening, a young Asian man - complete with bullet holes and a few missing body parts - stumbles onto the scene (pretty much putting the kabosh on the party spirit).

As it turns out, it may have been a kidnapping gone awry, and the man's father (who hates the police) believes it's related to the lucrative world of imported drugs and wants Private to do their thing. That gives the new company some serious business, but as if that weren't enough, a friend of the New South Wales Police Department, turns up brutally murdered.  That investigation leads to the discovery that she's not the first - nor is she the last, since more murders start happening in fairly rapid succession.

As with the others in the series, this one is relatively predictable and won't challenge anyone's gray matter  - making it perfect for reading on the beach, by a cozy fire or, as in my case, cheering on "my" Ohio State University Buckeyes (and in any case, preferably with a glass of wine in hand). 

Private Down Under by James Patterson and Michael White (Grand Central Publishing, August 2014); 368 pp.

Friday, September 5, 2014


4 stars out of 5

If I had to pick two fiction genres that are of virtually no interest to me, it would be religion and romance. So what the devil am I doing with a book like this? Well, it's mostly because I didn't say no: The author asked me to read it and give it a review (and it was available free through my Kindle
Unlimited membership). When I read the basic description - knowing that I do like to take a break from my usual crime/legal/medical thrillers every once in a while - I reckoned there's no time like the present.

There's plenty of religion here, but of course the "love" in the title doesn't refer to your typical smushy-face will-she-put-out-or-not tommyrot. While there is an either-or component, it's two men who claim to be the second coming of Christ. Needless to say, they don't feel the love for each other, with each insisting he's the one telling the truth as he travels around trying to gather followers. So which one is the real deal, and which will emerge triumphant in the battle for souls?

Personally, I wouldn't have been swayed by either one; I do unto others because to me it's the right thing to do, not because I'm trying to earn a place in some afterlife utopia (or, conversely, trying to avoid going to a place with a hell of a reputation). So in that sense, it was virtually impossible for me to relate to either character. On the other hand, if history has taught us anything, it's that it is all too easy for masses of people - particularly those who are unhappy with some or all of their lots in life - to latch blindly onto a charismatic someone who speaks what they want or need to hear. Reading the book with that in mind - combined with awareness that with effective marketing (which includes everything from packaging to public speaking) all things are possible - gave me a different perspective.

The philosophies espoused by the two are easy to understand. One says no one shall have access to the Kingdom of Heaven without unconditionally accepting the returned Savior (thus cutting anyone of a different faith out of the action). The other maintains that the only true Golden Rule is to "Render my creations more holy than whence they were found." Nothing else matters, leaving the Pearly Gates pretty much wide open otherwise. 

As the race to the finish heats up - culminating in a political candidate-style debate - a number of interesting characters make an appearance, from an attractive female attorney who specializes in defending nasty folks who deserve to be behind bars to a scraggly homeless man to a gay couple (one of whom earns a more-than-decent living as a political speechwriter). The characters' names, though, are worthy of note: David Shepherd (the speechwriter), Margaret Magdela (the attorney), Thomas Acostes (a reporter), Rev. Philip Pharis and Jabez Gethsemane, to name a few. The biblical associations are obvious, making me smile.

The book isn't very long, but it's not one to be breezed through; everything has a meaning (often, more than one) that's not to be missed. As with the characters' names, humor is interspersed throughout. At one point, I laughed out loud - bringing to mind one of my favorite (and funniest) books of all time, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

I found less than a handful of grammatical errors, but no more than I typically find in top-selling books these days (the notion of someone "peaking" down a woman's blouse, however, did elicit a giggle). That aside, it's very well written and is, perhaps sadly, an on-the-money commentary of what ails society today. Definitely worth reading!

The Second Coming: A Love Story by Scott Pinsker (Scott Pinsker Publishing, June 2014); 238 pp.