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Monday, October 27, 2014


3 stars out of 5

My reviews of the more recent Stone Barrington books haven't been all that great - the plots have been thin (almost nonexistent, in fact). As for real action? Fuhgettaboutit. This, the 31st in the series, started off much the same, with typical British understatement of just about everything that happens. 

"Oh, someone has shot off your arm? Bummer. Might I offer you a glass of champagne before the ambulance arrives?" (my words, BTW). 

There also seems to be more in-bed action in this one; within the first few chapters, Barrington has well satisfied, or so it is claimed, no fewer than three different women in about the same number of days. And, there's a fourth so eagerly awaiting her turn that she can't help grabbing his crotch - in public, no less. 

From that description, one might assume I wouldn't care much for this one. In fact, it surprised even me by being, in the end, not all that bad, but still not good enough to earn 4 stars. Yes, the action is understated as usual, but at least there is some. The filthy rich attorney is in Paris for the opening of his new Arrington hotel and discovers that an old enemy - and a couple of new ones - are out to get him. 

Meanwhile, there's a heated Presidential election going on; the current First Lady is in the running to replace her husband as the country's chief. Both are close friends of Barrington, who supports her candidacy and contributed heavily to her campaign (besides that, he's been cohabitating with the woman who will become her chief of staff should she win). Should that happen, Barrington may have to find someone else since she'll be too busy and too far away - bummer.

The threats keep coming - at least one of them because Barrington does something stupid like wander off by himself (reminiscent of the women in horror films who choose to run down a dark alley to escape the ax murderer who's chasing them). How he survives that one is more than a bit unrealistic, and in true Barrington fashion, he just shrugs off the whole episode as another day in Paris. His only notable emotion (even in bed) comes when he actually gets angry enough to say he'd love to see one of his would-be killers dead.

There's a cliff-hanger at the end - suggesting the topic and location of the next book, I suppose. And I suppose I'll read it, hoping that it'll be an improvement on this one.

Paris Match by Stuart Woods (Putnam Adult, October 2014); 312 pp.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


3 stars out of 5

Both my husband and I are retired, and while I still work part-time from home as a freelance writer/copy editor/photographer, I'm always on the looking for ways to save money. When I found this book free with my Kindle Unlimited membership, I quickly hit the download button.

The author says his goal is to have at least one of the 90 "under the radar" websites he mentions motivate each reader to take action. In fact, I jotted down 16 on which I wanted to get more information. The rest? Most I knew about already or - as in the cases of categories like airfare and baby/child - I have zero need to visit (I don't fly, and our youngest grandchild is 14, well beyond the "child" stage). Travel is of some interest to us except for the flying part, but I'm familiar with all but one site in this category. The one that's new to me is just for Disney followers, but nope, although I was a big fan of Mickey Mouse Club as a kid (I was convinced I wanted to marry Tim Considine, the Spin of the "Spin and Marty" series), you won't find me sporting mouse ears any time soon.

Other categories should be of value to most folks, like coupons, clothes, grocery and time (time is money, after all). Also worthy of note is that of the 16 websites I wanted to try, 15 are up and running - meaning the listings in the book are as up to date as possible. And at the end of the book is a list of similar books the author has written, providing even more fodder for those who enjoy the thrill of saving a buck or three.

90 Money-Saving Websites by Blake Dresden (Amazon Digital Services Inc., January 2014); 101 pp.


4 stars out of 5

It's sweet, for the most part predictable and smacks of  "The Music Man," "White Christmas" and "Grease." In short, which it is at just 219 pages, it's a nice book to read before the holiday season. A friend at Goodreads recommended it just as I was looking for something to counter the somewhat downer effects of a heavy-handed war-action thriller, and when I learned it's free with my Kindle Unlimited membership, I downloaded it immediately (the regular price is $2.99).

When Trudie Parks, a former student of retired high school drama teacher Myrna Childs, learns that her beloved teacher may have terminal cancer, she contacts two of her best friends from way back then (Trudie is 38, unmarried and living in her late father's house). The three, all stars of the annual Childs-directed Christmas show, at the time were so close that they were dubbed "The Christmas Girls," although they've scattered to other parts of the country and rarely see each other. Moved to do something to honor their former teacher, the three decide to recreate the show 20 years after the fact. 

As they contact the classmates who were involved in the original production to bring about a reenactment, they come face-to-face with old rivalries, old dreams and (big surprise!) old romances. Will they manage to pull it all together, deal with their ghosts from the past and stage a smashing show? And, given their teacher's weakening condition, can they do it in time?

As I implied at the outset, there aren't many big surprises here - not that there's anything wrong with that. And I admit to feeling special connections as I read along. To begin with, the setting is a small town called Deer Lake, Ohio, just south of Columbus. As an almost lifelong Buckeye who grew up not far from our wonderful capital city, I've never heard of Deer Lake, although Deer Creek State Park is in the approximate area. But the subject matter struck close to home as well; both my husband, a retired high school English teacher, and our daughter, a middle school language arts teacher, have been heavily involved in high school play production (our daughter still is). 

For years, we've lived through all the excitement, last-minute glitches, personality clashes and anticipation of opening nights; and not a few of the classmates in this book - including the hometown clown turned well-known Hollywood actor - resonated in my own memory bank. I know firsthand how much work, time and frazzled nerves are involved - and I also know that no matter how apprehensive teacher-directors may be on opening night, parents, grandparents and friends will know for certain that the students they came to see are nothing less than Bing Crosby, Shirley Jones, John Travolta or Olivia Newton-John.

All that said, it was an enjoyable read for me. I do, however, have one tiny nit to pick: At one point, the author says one of the classmates attended "Perdue" after high school - to study engineering, if I recall correctly. Unless he secretly was taking classes in chicken plucking, though, I suspect he really went to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where the overall undergraduate engineering programs are ranked 9th nationally. 

The Christmas Women by Elyse Douglas (Amazon Digital Services Inc., September 2014); 219 pp.

Friday, October 24, 2014


4 stars out of 5

I've never been a fan of books about war (or movies, for that matter). But I do love a good action/adventure book, and with all the turmoil that's happening around the world these days, I'm not surprised that settings often are in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'm not thrilled about that, but when a book keeps me engaged throughout - as this one does - I'm willing to deal with it.

This is the 11th in the series featuring British MI5 agent Dan "Spider" Shepherd, and I've read and enjoyed quite a few of the others. Here, he's just come off a botched undercover assignment, only to learn that a young man he once mentored has been kidnapped in a remote part of Pakistan by al-Qaeda terrorists. Shepherd's controller, Charlotte Button, desperately wants to rescue him, but attempting that through the usual (and legal) channels isn't an option. So, she calls in a few chips - and then calls Shepherd and some of the Navy SEALS who were responsible for killing Osama bin Laden - to tackle the job. 

Needless to say, there's plenty of action, which is more than a little bit heavy on torture (one of the reasons I don't like war stories). As usual, the chapters jump back and forth among the various players - those doing the planning and those on the front lines of the action. In between, there's a ton of information on guns and surveillance equipment, the layout of a country most of us know little about and details of the thinking that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the covert operation is a success. 

In the beginning, Shepherd - fast approaching his 40th birthday - remains confident of his ability, but his MI5 psychologist suspects he may be losing his edge and more suited to a desk job. In the end, there's no resolution of that issue - but it did seem to me that Shepherd himself was less a focal person in this book than in those I've read previously. Perhaps that signals a change in his future similar to John Sandford's Lucas Davenport's "graduating" from street work to a less dangerous, but still important, supervisory role. 

Oh well - guess I'll just have to wait for the next one to find out.

White Lies by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton, August 2014); 384 pp.

Monday, October 20, 2014


5 stars out of 5

There are no words to describe the thrill of reading a mystery with a well-thought-out plot, impeccable language and not a single typo (at least not that I noticed). The late Dick Francis, father of Felix - who wrote this book on his own - never failed on any of those measures. And Felix, who co-wrote several books with his father before going it alone in four others, clearly has learned from his master's voice, churning out yet another winner in my book.

As usual, the topic is horse racing in Great Britain; in this instance, undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley is asked by the British Horseracing Authority, which governs the Sport of Kings, to do some sleuthing with regard to a trainer who's been banned from the sport for doping his horses. But then, Hinkley witnesses an unexpected murder - and the case takes a different turn. 

As his investigation proceeds, Hinkley must deal with food poisoning of jockeys, a fireworks-laden steeplechase and a very real threat that jeopardizes the whole of racing in England. In the midst of all that are personal issues including his sister's dire cancer diagnosis, the threat of her son being convicted of dealing drugs and the ticking of his own biological clock (yes, apparently some guys have one of these, too).

The ending seemed a teensy bit abrupt, but on no way did that take away from an easy-reading pace that moves along quickly. In fact, my only disappointment is that it ended too soon; writing that flows this well and holds the reader's interest throughout is is short supply. Ah well, I'll just hope there's another one in the pipeline!

Dick Francis's Damage by Felix Francis (Putnam Adult, October 2014); 387 pp.

Friday, October 17, 2014


4 stars out of 5

No matter how old you are, it's hard to read when your eyes are dripping tears from laughing so hard. Even after stopping to dry off every few minutes, this is a short (168 pages) book that can be finished in a couple of hours tops. And if you're anywhere north of 55 years of age, I'm pretty sure you'll be cracking up through the whole thing just as I did.

Dr. Richard Lederer has written more than 35 books, almost all related to the
use (and misuse) of the English language - one or two of which I read years ago. Now that I'm over the hill myself (he's somewhere around 76, just a couple of years older than I), the subject matter of this one is of special interest to me. And knowing firsthand how funny the guy can be - and learning that his honors include International Punster of the Year and a winner of Toastmasters International's Golden Gavel - I couldn't pass it up when it was offered free through my Kindle Unlimited membership.

As the title suggests, this little gem is loaded with mostly humorous tidbits relating to growing older - from bumper stickers to puns to inspiring quotes such as (from Leroy Satchell Paige), "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?")

Many, from oldsters we all know and love such as George Burns, Will Rogers, Bill Cosby and Joan Rivers, inspire giggles, if not outright chortles:

"You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you can do while down there." 

"We could certainly slow the aging process if it had to work its way through Congress." 

"By the time you've lit the last candle of your birthday cake, the first one has burned out."

And my personal favorite:

"Going braless pulls all the wrinkles out of your face."

In all honesty, there are quite a few I've heard before, but that didn't mean I laughed any less; this is  a terrific collection of zingers on the aging process. I think I'll have to get a hard copy, in fact; reading it to my friends is sure to make me the hit of our Saturday afternoon golf cart posse to Walmart.  

The Gift of Age: Wit and Wisdom, Information and Inspiration for the Chronologically Endowed and Those Who Will Be By Richard Lederer (Marion Street Press LLC, April 2011); 168 pp.


3-1/2 stars out of 5

After reading countless books by Patterson and his co-authors du jour, I'm aware of two things when I open up the next one: It won't tax my aging brain or put me on the edge of my seat, and the pages will whiz by in a flash. This one, the seventh in the series featuring Detective Michael Bennett and his rather large family, fit that pattern perfectly.

Well, almost; I gave four stars to each of the other six, but I just can't muster up more than three for this one. Exactly why I'm not totally sure, except this one seems to be more of a mishmash of story lines, with an ending that sort of left things hanging and felt thrown together at the last minute.

Here, Bennett and his crew return to their New York City home; they've been spending time in witness protection after Bennett captured a crime biggie who was intent on payback. Shortly after his return, Bennett is called in by a boss who's carrying a grudge; instead of a pat on the back for bringing a top criminal to justice, Bennett is reassigned to what's called an "Outreach Squad" in Harlem. 

The ragtag squad members have been hardly working, but with a few carefully chosen phrases, Bennett turns them into professionals who are working hard (yeah, right)! Most of the calls to the squad are complaints from neighborhood residents that aren't even police matters, and when one speaks of seeing some well-heeled dudes having a strange get-together in an abandoned building, Bennett figures the caller is a nut case. That is, until a charred body turns up in that building - bringing a whole new meaning to barbecue spit.

Ah, but we're not done yet. After a short time at the squad, Bennett is called by an old friend who's pulled some strings to get him back to his old job to help capture a team of robbers who are hitting high-end jewelry stores. Of course, Bennett's offer to return is conditioned on his solving the case and bringing the thieves to justice within two weeks. Because Bennett has bonded so well with his new crew, he just can't force himself to abandon them - so he insists on investigating both cases simultaneously.

As if all that weren't enough, Bennett continues to deal with feelings for his children's "nanny" and housekeeper, the very Irish and beauteous Mary Catherine, the health crisis of a close family member and - whew! - the threat that he'll lose one of his adopted daughters to her biological father.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger - I told you early on about the story line jumble. All things considered (and clearly there are plenty of things going on here), it's not an awful book. But I'd at least wait till the paperback comes out and it won't cost as much.

Burn by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown and Co., September 2014); 433 pp.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


4 stars out of 5

Here's the scoop: I'm officially retired, but I still operate a home-based small business to account for my freelance writing/copy editing/photography services. And, those services include a monthly newspaper column on websites of interest to business. That gave me two reasons to download this book, which usually costs $1.99 but was free through my Kindle Unlimited membership. At 62 pages, I figured, how could I go wrong? The worst that could happen is I'd find a how-to book If I can mention in one of my columns.

Now that I've gone through it - which took at most 45 minutes largely because some of the websites mentioned are already familiar to me and others aren't particularly helpful to my business - I'll say it's more than worth the price I paid. If you're a business owner who needs help with things like identifying callers on your cell phone, finding out whether or not your emails were opened by the recipients or verifying that a job-seeker really earned the degree he or she claimed on the application, I'll even say it's worth the paltry two bucks, so by golly, go ahead and spring for it. 

The Most Useful Websites for Small Business & Entrepreneurs by Valerie McGilvrey (McGilvery ePub, December 2013); 62 pp.


4 stars out of 5

Not long ago, I was challenged to come up with a Top 10 list of all-time favorite book "heroes." Sandford's Virgil Flowers came in at No. 7 (though my ranking for 7 through 4 are pretty much interchangeable depending on how much I enjoyed the most recent book). Nothing in this one changed my mind - that fu**in' Flowers is still a hoot and this, the eighth in the series, is another winner.

What makes me love him so much? I'm not totally sure, except to say that unlike his boss, the richer-than-God Lucas Davenport (the main character in another Sandford series), ol' Virgil still has a hint (okay, more than a hint) of maverick in him. Then too, there are the wisecracks (although not always coming from Virgil), to-wit:

"It's darker in there than a black cat's ass in a coal mine."

"Coyotes don't eat dachshunds."

"It's a fu**in' Chihuahua. It's practically a fu**in' hamster."

And if that isn't enough, what's not to love about a guy whose favorite brewski is Leinenkugel?

As you might suspect, this one has gone to the dogs. There is, it seems, a whole lot of dognapping going on; at the request of a friend, Virgil starts a mostly unofficial investigation of the apparent theft of dogs from local owners in rural southeast Minnesota. Most likely, the theory is, the kidnappers are rounding up the canines to sell to medical labs for research purposes.

Then comes a call from boss Davenport; a local newspaper reporter has been found murdered, and this investigation is an official assignment. So, for the most part the other investigation goes to the dogs while Virgil follows clues to track down the killer and finds himself in the middle of a hugely lucrative embezzlement scheme involving, of all things, members of a local school district's board of education.

There aren't a lot of surprises here, nor are there meant to be; for the most part, the bad guys and gals are known pretty much from the git-go. The fun comes in the where, when and how of nailing down the evidence so arrests can be made (with not a few more dead bodies turning up along the way). 

I won't say this is the best-ever entry in this series, but it's still a hoot and, IMHO, well worth the relatively short time it takes to read.

Deadline by John Sandford (Putnam Adult, October 2014); 389 pp.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


5 stars out of 5

It's rare that I stray from my favorite thrillers and police/legal/medical procedurals, but when I saw this one offered free with my Kindle Unlimited membership, I took a second look. Maybe it was the first three words of the title - goodness knows I can identify with that phrase. Maybe it was the awards the book earned when it was published in 2013 (such as the 2014 IPPY Award for Best Personal Nonfiction Ebook). More probable, though, is the mention of rock-and-roll and names from a generation with which I'm intimately familiar. That - and the fact that I'd just shut the book on a very unsatisfying tome I wish I'd never opened - meant starting this one was accompanied by hopes for the best.

At about the halfway point, I turned to my husband Jack and said, "This reads a lot like a 322-page 'what I did on my summer vacation' essay, except that the vacation lasts for 25-or-so years."

More telling, however, is what I uttered next: "And guess what? I'm loving every single minute of it."

Let me be clear: I love music, especially the rock-and-roll I grew up with in the 1950s and early 1960s (although with the possible exception of disco, there's really no music genre I don't like at least a little bit). So when Weissberg starts around 1967 when he went to see Otis Redding in concert as a student at the University of Wisconsin - a concert that never happened because Redding and his band were killed in a plane crash - he had my attention. And as the names kept coming - they're sprinkled liberally throughout - that attention never wavered. Then, when he revealed that his favorite concert was by the late Roy Orbison (in 1987), I was totally hooked. Orbison is of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters, and to this day I'm grateful for the opportunity to see him live (on the revolving stage of the now-closed Front Row Theater in Highland Heights, Ohio) shortly before he died.

Weissberg begins with his early years as a radio personality, after which he takes readers through a long and varied career in the music entertainment business. Normally, I'm not fond of expose-type name-dropping - I consider that just a ploy to sell books - but it's done well here. The "good" guys and gals get mentioned (like B.B. King and Bonnie Rait) as well as the not so good, but at no time is there any flowery gushing over the good ones and the slamming of the others that I personally find rather disgusting. When he added Dionne Warwick to the latter bunch, in fact, I was hoping for some real dirt; I don't recall exactly what happened, but I do remember being glad we hadn't been able to attend when she came to nearby Youngstown, Ohio, a number of years back and totally alienated concert-goers with her unprofessional behavior.

In between are lots of familiar names and more than a few I've never even heard of (which is part of the point, since Weissberg's passion was introducing audiences to outstanding, but largely unknown, musicians). All in all, this is an interesting look at the music industry from one who's seen it from the inside.

Off My Rocker: One Man's Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissburg (Sandra Jonas Publishing House, November 2013); 322 pp.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


5 stars out of 5

Can a TV show get in the way of a book? Sometimes - and nowhere is it more evident for me than with Kathy Reichs' series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. The books spawned the popular Fox Network show, Bones,now in its 9th season. Even though the show rather loosely mirrors the books, I've watched it faithfully from the beginning.

Until this season, that is. I was growing a bit weary of it a bit last year - the plots were getting a bit far-fetched - but (SPOILER ALERT) with this year's season-opening killing off of Dr. Lance Sweets - played by John Francis Daley - I've pretty much given up. That disappointment, coupled with a so-so 16th book by Reichs, Bones of the Lost,prompted me to be a bit hesitant to open this, the 17th Temperance Brennan novel.

I needn't have worried. The only complaint I have with this one, and it's minor, is that there's a boatload of characters and it's a bit hard to keep them straight (which no doubt is due in part to my aging brain that has turned my short-term memory to scrambled eggs). Otherwise, it appears that Reichs is back in fine form.

This one begins as Brennan is called unexpectedly to consult with the Charlotte, N.C., Cold Case Unit. As it turns out, two young girls have been murdered, and it appears that, although the locations were thousands of miles apart, the killer is the same. In fact, the likely suspect is Anique Pomerleau, who kidnapped and murdered several young girls in Canada in a similar fashion several years ago. After nearly killing Brennan, who was chasing her down back then, she escaped and hasn't been seen since.

Being called in to help not only puts Brennan back on the case, but it hooks her up once again with her former police detective partner and lover Andrew Ryan, who dropped off the face of the earth after the untimely death of his beloved daughter. Now, they're forced to partner up again and deal not only with tracking down and catching a murderer, but finding common ground on which to build a new relationship.

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs (Bantam, September 2015); 337 pp.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


4 stars out of 5

It's always a pleasure to start a book when you know you're going to enjoy it. And in fact, I did. So why four stars and not five? 

I've read and enjoyed quite a few of the books featuring emotionally and physically scarred Lt. Eve Dallas. Mostly because of her background, she's hard-nosed, driven and has a tough time understanding the "people" aspects of life. Except for her filthy rich, hunky Irish husband Roarke and her co-worker Peabody, she doesn't trust much of anyone. That, of course, is a large part of why she's such a good police detective.

This one begins with the murder of personal trainer Trey Ziegler, and it appears to be overkill. Not only has he been conked on the head with a hefty object, he's been dragged into bed and stuck through the heart with a kitchen knife. As Eve and Peabody start digging, they quickly learn this guy isn't exactly a nice guy. He's a narcissist, woman-hater and worse - or, as Eve puts it, a real "scumf***." Even as the suspect list grows, the detectives find it a little hard to work up much sympathy, reckoning - as do almost all of those suspects (and me) - that he had it coming.

All this happens during the Christmas holidays, when she and Roarke host a huge bash with hundreds of guests, loads of gifts to buy and wrap and decorations, food and drink to be finalized. And here, I suppose, is where one of my rating stars bit the dust. No, Eve never fully gets enthused about her forced involvement in all the planning - the bulk of those tasks fall to the uber-capable Roarke and Summerset, the man who runs their mansion's household. That said, she seems to have lost her edge; in this book, she comes across as a softer, gentler Eve - and I'm not sure I like her that way. She's becoming more tolerant of all the things she used to abhor, and her relationship with Roarke is far less volatile and downright cuddly in spots. She even goes somewhat soft on Summerset, whom she's always had a contentious relationship.

As a result, there's a noticeable lack of tension and action - with lots of pages devoted to the party planning and repeated discussions of the nasty personalities and behavior of the victim and the prime suspect, in particular. With previous books in the series, I was always a bit worried that something awful would happen to Eve, Roarke and/or one of the main characters. Here, at no time did I envision such a threat; in retrospect, the whole thing seemed more of a caper than a serious investigation. 

Festive in Death by J.D. Robb (Putnam Adult, September 2014); 390 pp.

Friday, October 3, 2014


3 stars out of 5

Based on the description and rave reviews, I picked this book with some degree of excitement when it was offered free through Kindle Unlimited. The term "psychological thriller" always gets my attention (my undergrad degree is in psychology, and while I didn't pursue that as a profession, human behavior remains a huge interest). Beyond that, it's based in my birth state of Indiana, where the author spent 20 years as a counselor in the Department of Corrections. Within the first couple of paragraphs, mention of sycamore trees and U.S. Route 40 (the former found all around me as a kid and the latter less than 30 miles from home), had me hooked.

Unfortunately, the hook never went any deeper. At least twice, I told myself to give it up, something I absolutely hate to do. Then, I convinced myself that if I could make it past the halfway point, I'd be able to stick with it. That I did - but all in all it wasn't a very pleasant experience.

On Nov. 23, 2000, 100 inmates captured 12 prison guards in the laundry dorm of the Indiana Penal Farm, and dorm counselor Tom Hemmings has been tapped to handle "negotiations" and get the situation under control before the worst happens. But he's not just dealing with the inmates' protest over lousy services; they're also members of rival gangs, and the guards are in labor unions that are at loggerheads as well. 

Truth is, that bodes well for a terrific story, so just why it failed to hold my interest is hard to pin down. The writing is impeccable - it reads more like prose than a typical thriller novel (which I admit for me was more of a curse than a blessing). The many characters got a bit confusing, and somehow I just couldn't envision a prison counselor - much less guards and least of all prisoners - speaking in such a profound, esoteric manner that it was tough to wade through and didn't sound realistic coming from most of the characters. Until near the end, the story jumped around from place to place, usually forcing me to back up a few pages to determine whether the situation was present or past. And finally, although this alone had little bearing on my like or dislike, this is perhaps one of the most thoroughly depressing books I've read in a while.

All that said, at the time of this writing, 28 of the reviewers at had given it 5 or 4 stars. All I can say, then, is it simply wasn't my cup of tea. If it sounds like it's yours, I urge you to read what others have to say before you decide. 

The Siege: A Psychological Thriller by James Hanna (Sand Hill Review Press; 1st Ed., February 2014); 276 pp.