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Tuesday, December 29, 2015


5 stars out of 5

So-called Millennials (a.k.a. Gen Yers) - those born between 1980 and 2000  - generally have been characterized as demanding as employees; if what they're doing isn't interesting, they aren't interested in doing it. A work-life balance isn't a right that's earned through years of employment - it should be theirs from the get-go. And since much work can be done anywhere, anytime, who cares about nine to five? 

But there's much more to their behavior than that; and this book lays it out in detail, based on research on Millennials from 22 countries including the United States. Knowing the subtleties of their behavior gives organization leaders an in-depth understanding of what's really going on - and thus become better at improving their places of work by knowing how to more effectively engage Millennials with their work, as players on company teams and as individuals more committed to the organization overall. 

Basically, what Millennials want isn't all that different from the older folks in the working world: An interesting, well-paying job among workers they like and trust, the opportunity to advance and have their work acknowledged. But consider these points:

63% of Millennials agree the demands of work interfere with their home and personal lives, in part because today's technology means they're reachable pretty much 24/7. And, only one in 20 believes that the number of hours employees spend at work is an indication of how productive they are.

Millennials believe in commitment to work, but that doesn't mean they won't leave if they believe the grass is greener elsewhere - meaning a better chance for promotions, advancement and appreciation, among other things. 

Of course, factoids like these don't tell the whole story - not by a long shot (hence the need for this book to be read by any employer who wants to get the best from this generation of workers). Each explanation of what Millennials want is followed by "The Point," a brief discussion of what organizations can do to get more bang for the buck. An example: Millennials want to know how they're doing. Managers should take heed, then, and provide Millennials with some sort of frequent feedback - even if it's just an acknowledgement that they've done the work. Chapters also include "Points to Remember" such as, "Millennials want to control their lives and work as much as possible," "Millennials don't want to be told precisely how to do everything" and "Millennials' technology knowledge can help keep the organization current."

Chapter 6, titled "How to Give Millennials What They Want...Without Going Bankrupt or Angering Older Workers," gets right down to the nitty gritty; it is, IMHO, worth the price of the book in and of itself. Laid out here are the specifics of how to attract, retain and engage Millennials through the three dimensions of people, work and opportunities (the latter includes feedback and communication, development and pay) complete with action plans for each. Follow this with numerous pages of references and suggested reading, and the result is gestalt (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). I thank the publisher, via NetGalley), for providing me with an advance copy for review. Good stuff!

What Millennials Want from Work by Jennifer J. Deal and Alec Levenson (McGraw-Hill Education, January 2016); 272 pp.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


5 stars out of 5

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, or so it's been said. And for sure, prolific writer Bibi Blair - grown daughter of perpetual Hippie parents Nancy and Mitch - is making the most of hers. Bibi's amazing story begins when she's diagnosed with a rare, incurable cancer - told by her doctors that she has no more than a year to live.

Not gonna happen, Bibi insists - and proceeds to make a remarkable full recovery unheard of in the medical community. But then, her life takes a different turn: From a soothsayer recommended by her surfer-dude father, Bibi learns that escaping death comes with a catch; she was spared only so she can save the life of someone named Ashley Bell.

From that point on, the story gets crazy - with chapters weaving in and out from the present to events of Bibi's somewhat offbeat childhood. Each chapter peels back clues as to what's going on, most of which fall into the realm of fantasy (well, maybe, but then again, maybe not). A big reveal somewhere around the 60% mark hits like a ton of bricks, and from then on, the story takes a turn toward the even more bizarre. The ending, which in many ways is unsatisfying, brings up a whole new dimension in and of itself that kept me wondering for several days after I finished the book.

The drawbacks? Maybe too many words; no matter how well crafted they are, some of the chapters seemed to drag on a bit. And if you don't like fantasy mixed in with reality - and perhaps not being able to discern which is which - this probably isn't the book for you. 

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (Random House LLC, December 2015); 578 pp.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This is the third in the author's Rosato & DiNunzio novels, I believe, but it's a first for me. And I must say that overall, it just didn't quite grab me. In fact, I waffled between 3 and 4 stars for my rating - but I rounded up just because I didn't not enjoy it. 

As I said, I'm not familiar with either Bennie Rosato or her law firm partner, Mary DiNunzio; and after reading this, I still don't know much about the latter, who is pretty much a DiNoShow in this one. Bennie takes front, center and side stage as she takes on as a client Jason, who's been charged with the murder of a guy he's hated since middle school. Back then, Bennie defended him when, at age 12, he was sent to a juvenile detention center after getting into a fight with the kid he's now believed to have murdered. Professionally bruised and convinced that she wronged him back then by failing to get him out, she's hell-bent on making sure she doesn't drop the ball this time around.

Complicating things is the murdered guy's uncle, Declan, with whom Bennie had a brief fling (think just one weekend) during that first case that left her madly in love. Claiming family responsibilities, though, he bailed, breaking her heart. Now that her client is charged with the murder of his nephew 13 years later, he makes it clear he's in no mood to get cozy again (unless, of course, she drops the client she believes is innocent). Somehow, she musters up the courage to tell him no (personally, I'd have told him to put his ultimatums where the sun don't shine, but maybe that's just me).

Actually, both court cases - the second one involving a murder trial - make for very interesting reading; it's the sappy romance part that pretty much turned me off. Hunky appearance notwithstanding, I just couldn't warm up to Declan - and most of me fervently hoped she wouldn't take him back in the end (of course, my lips are sealed as to whether or not that happened). All in all, this is a pretty good book, but it's nowhere near the top of my favorites list.

Corrupted by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin's Press, October 2015); 433 pp.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


5 stars out of 5

This is nothing short of a wicked good book. That said, though, I'm having a tough time calling it a "psychological thriller" as advertised. Yes, there's plenty of psychological stuff going on - and yes, the story is so gripping that it was an almost impossible book for me to put down - but it certainly didn't keep me on the edge of my recliner biting my nails.

It is, ultimately, an inside/outside look at the evolution of a codependent, dysfunctional married couple as seen through the eyes of Jean Taylor, the widow, plus police investigator Bob Sparkes, Kate Waters, a reporter, and single mother Dawn Elliot. As the story builds, the chapters shift to and from the various perspectives (a technique that's exceptionally well done here, IMHO). 

At the start, it's 2010 in London and Jean has just watched her husband, Glen, die after being hit by a bus. Four years earlier, Glen was accused of kidnapping and murdering Bella, Dawn's young daughter. Although he wasn't found guilty, he - and his wife Jean - since have become the targets of vicious media attacks. Enter Kate, who's out to land the real story by hook, crook or whatever else it takes. Almost behind the scenes, the detective - who led the original investigation - is trying his best to prove his fervent belief that Glen is guilty as charged.

From the get-go, it's pretty clear that Glen is at best no innocent bystander; nonetheless, his wife is vehement in her belief that he did nothing wrong (Tammy Wynette would be proud). As the story moves along, it is almost remarkable to watch the changes in all the characters as new details are revealed from past and present investigations and recollections from the characters themselves. That progression, in fact, is the real story here - and the writing of it is superbly crafted.

Oh yes - a couple of extraneous tidbits: If it's London, apparently every situation calls for tea. But beans on toast? Seriously? Kidding aside, I highly recommend this book and thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy for review. It's a winner!

The Widow by Fiona Barton (Penguin Grouop USA LLC, February 2015); 336 pp.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Right off the bat, I'll admit fighting the urge to give this one 3.5 stars. But the plot seemed believable to me, the pace was fast enough to hold my attention throughout and better still, for the most part kept me guessing all the way to the end. At issue is the fact that I had a tough time relating to the main character; but in all fairness, my objection touches on a personal bias that really doesn't have much bearing on the quality of writing, so I upped my score to 4.

The story begins as Sarah Quinlan returns with her husband Jack to his hometown of Penny Gate, Iowa, after he learns that his Aunt Julia, who raised him and his rather wigged-out sister Amy, fell down the stairs and is in a coma. Jack, who's always been closed-mouthed about his parents (revealing only that were killed when he was a teenager), hasn't returned to the area since before he and Sarah were married 20 years earlier.

Soon thereafter, Julia dies, and details about Jack's childhood experiences begin to emerge. Sarah - a former reporter turned advice columnist - starts to dig deeper into the events of her husband's past. In the process, she unearths "secrets" surrounding the death of his parents that could put other family members - and perhaps Sarah herself - in danger. From that point on, it's a race to get to the truth before someone else bites the dust (as for how all that turns out, of course, my lips are sealed).

What turned me off, though, is that I have no sympathy for hand-wringing females like Sarah, whose angst jumped to 9.5 on the Richter Scale the second she concluded that her husband of two decades is a lying, cheating scumbag  - or worse - simply because he failed to tell her every tiny aspect of his past. He didn't share names of all the girls he dated in high school? Oh, the horror! Granted, there are a few relatively important things he probably should have mentioned somewhere along the way; but it's 20 years and two kids later, woman - get over it. Somewhere around the 50% mark, I decided the best ending for me would be learning that he'd kicked her sorry butt to the curb (no, I won't reveal that outcome, either).

That off my chest, this is a good, solid mystery that gave me plenty of motivation to keep reading (I finished it easily in a couple of days). I had suspicions about how it would all come together, but I had to wait till the final pages to find out for sure. For those who don't mind a goodly dose of melodrama with their suspense, I give it a big thumbs up, and I thank the publisher (via NetGalley) for providing me with an advance copy for review.

Missing Pieces by Heathrer Gudenkauf (Harlequin Digital Sales Corp., February 2016); 288 pp.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Utterly, positively, fascinating! As a student of human behavior with a big interest in marketing (and the interaction between the two), I devoured this book from Page 1 right through to the end. And boy, did I ever learn a lot.

The author, who has written several other books on this and similar topics, calls himself a "forensic investigator of emotional DNA." His professional consulting assignments, should he decide to accept them, involve figuring out what humans really want (or "desire") and coming up with ways the companies can provide it. The revelation that humans tend to see the world in different ways even though they're almost unimaginably similar, he says, is what the book is about.

Rather than focusing on so-called Big Data (is there anyone out there who hasn't learned what Baby Boomers, or "Tweens" are like as a group, for instance?), he zeroes in on the little things: Rituals, habits, gestures and preferences of individuals. Those things identified, the resulting "small data" can be compiled, projected to larger populations and - sometimes in combination with Big Data - used to generate a plan of action.

Using examples from consulting jobs at a number of well-known and diverse companies all over the world - names like Lego, Euro Disney, Pepsi and Jenny Craig - he provides explicit details of the investigative process, what he found, what he concluded and how the resulting plan worked out. The chapter dealing with we Americans' "political correctness" was, BTW, especially intriguing (not to mention spot-on). 

If you have anything to do with marketing, advertising, revving up flagging sales (or getting them going as a new business) or, like me, you just want to learn more about people, I highly recommend this book. Special thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for providing me with an advance copy for review. 

Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom (St. Martin's Press, February 2016); 256 pp.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Of all the book series written (or co-written) by James Patterson, those featuring police psychologist Dr. Alex Cross have remained at the top of my favorites list ever since the very first one (for the record, this is the 23rd). I'm happy to say this one doesn't disappoint. Also for the record, I was happy to see that it doesn't follow what seems to be a trend these days - books that are closer to a novella in length than a full-length book.

As is expected with any Patterson book, the chapters are short - another selling point for me simply because for someone like me with a touch of OCD, it's much easier to get to a stopping place when life intervenes. Put another way, having to close my Kindle in the middle of a chapter is almost as unthinkable as turning off the radio in the middle of my favorite Neil Diamond song (and no, it is not "Sweet Caroline" or "Forever in Blue Jeans").

As for the story, this one takes the good doctor, his lovely policewoman wife Bree, two of their kids and his 90-something Nana Mama to Alex's home town of Starksville, North Carolina (for Alex, it's the first visit in 35 years). His cousin, it seems, is on trial for the rape and murder of a young boy who was one of his students at the local school. Another female relative is defending the young man, who insists he's innocent, but she's having a tough time disproving the prosecution's well-documented evidence. 

Tracking down clues takes Alex to Florida, where he gets tangled up in a case involving murders of socialite women - the local police need his help, albeit a bit grudgingly; several chapters flip back and forth from these murders to the goings-on in the Tar Heel State. If all this weren't enough, Alex's daughter Jannie gets off to a running start toward a possible future, all to the delight of her proud father and stepmother. But then Alex and Bree's trains of investigative thought begin to hit pay dirt, threatening the future of the entire family.

The chase also challenges Alex and Nana Mama to confront their pasts, unearthing secrets that, for the most part, went dead many years earlier. The truths include the good, the bad and yes, the pretty hokey, but it all works out in the end and gives readers new and interesting insights into both characters. 

Cross Justice by James Patterson (Little, Brown and Co., November 2015); 450 pp.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Every now and then, I just want to sit back and be entertained. Mind you, I still want a good whodunit - I'm just not in the mood for blood and guts, big guns blasting in the desert or super-heroes (or heroines) who can take down a dozen martial arts professionals with one hand tied behind their back and the other in a cast.

Enter Mary Higgins Clark, who's pretty much guaranteed to come through on that score, and this one - the second in the Under Suspicion series co-written with Alafair Burke - fills the bill nicely. It's well written in what I'd call "civilized" language, has a well-thought-out plot and believable characters and held my attention throughout. 

Like its predecessor, The Cinderella Murder (which earned 4 stars from me, BTW), this one features New York reality TV show producer Laurie Moran, who's trying to settle on the cold case to showcase in her next investigative series titled Under Suspicion. Just as she's about to make her pick, she's visited by the still-distraught mother of an almost-bride named Amanda who disappeared on the eve of her wedding in Palm Beach five years ago. The mother pleads with Laurie to do a show about her daughter, and after some checking around, Laurie agrees it's a great idea. So, she and her team head to Florida to recreate the pre-wedding activities at a posh hotel, reeling in members of the wedding party to be interviewed by show host (and Laurie's love interest) attorney Alex Buckley.

The actions and emotions of all the wedding participants are put under the microscope as Laurie, helped by her retired-cop father, start digging deeper into what really happened. As might be expected, just about every character comes under suspicion at one point or another right up to the end, when the murderer is revealed. I didn't guess the identity of the culprit beforehand, but neither was I surprised since they all had reason to at the very least dislike Amanda and most also had means, motive and opportunity.

If you like murder on the lighter side - even once in a while, like me - give this one a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

All Dressed in White by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke (Simon & Schuster, November 2015); 271 pp.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Will Robie is a paid assassin, working for the U.S. government in extreme secrecy throughout the darkest and most dangerous places in the world. He is highly successful, disciplined and never misses his target. That is, until one fateful day when he chokes.

His secretive boss, Blue Man, puts him on leave; and because there's some evidence that his sudden change is rooted to unreserved issues from his childhood, he heads back to his old home in rural Cantrell, Mississippi to confront the people and places he left 20 years earlier.

After he left home - and his lawyer father, Dan Robie - Will never went back and never had further contact with his father, who abused his son both physically and mentally. He soon learns that his father - who's since been elected the town judge - is in jail after being charged with murder. Is he guilty? Will doesn't want to believe it, but his contrarian father isn't talking and refuses any help from his son. 

Even though he's not even remotely close to his father, Will refuses to turn his back and leave (especially since his father now has a wife about Will's age and a young son - Will's much younger brother). As he begins to investigate, as he meets characters ranging fron seedy and dangerous, and a very different side of his old stomping grounds begins to emerge. Murders just keep piling up, and trying to track down the killers puts Will's own life - and that of his good friend and fellow assassin, Jessica Reel, who's sent to help him - in great danger.

Reading about the usually unemotional Will as he tries to sort out his feelings in what is for him a very different setting makes for an interesting story. Beyond that, though, the rest of the plot stretches the imagination almost to the breaking point (and almost to the point of my assigning the book 3 stars rather than 4).  The ending, too, was somewhat disappointing; some loose ends were left hanging - as might be expected - while others were tied up much too easily given the complexity of the situations. I enjoyed this book, but honestly, I'm hoping Will gets his mojo back in time for the next installment.

The Guilty by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, November 2015); 433 pp.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


4 stars out of 5

If nothing else, the latest adventures of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is a hoot. By the end of a handful of chapters, I'd laughed out loud at least twice and once the water I was dumb enough to be sipping as I read got snorted out my nose. Quite a few of the chuckles came at the antics of Stephanie's office cohort, Lula, who is always a trip to say the least. When it comes to length, it's practically a novella, making it a quick read (for anyone who wonders about such things, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America defines "novella" as 17,500 to 40,000 words, or roughly 100 pages).

As usual, Stephanie is working at making a living, this time by chasing down Ken Globobic (Gobbles), who lives at the Zeta fraternity house at Kiltman College and was arrested for beating up the dean of students. When Gobbles didn't show up for his court date, Stephanie and Lula head out to check the frat house, where very strange things seem to be happening and some of the characters are weird by anybody's standards.

When a particularly unpopular campus big shot gets bumped off, things get stranger still; this time, though, Stephanie's main squeeze, Trenton, N.J. cop Joe Morelli, is on the case. Morelli also is fighting demons of his own in more ways than one, threatening his relationship with Stephanie and opening up the possibility yet again for dilly dallying with her hunka-hunka security guy Ranger (for me, most of that scenario has been a yawn over the span of several books).

Also as usual, the scrapes Stephanie and Lula get into border on the ridiculous (but somehow seems to me to be part of the appeal), as does the plot (ditto). There are the expected near-misses on losing life and/or limb and bullseyes on totaling at least one of Ranger's fancy cars, all of which is in good fun. All in all, reading this is a relatively fun way to wile away a few hours.

Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich (Random House LLC, November 2015); 304 pp.

Monday, November 23, 2015


4 stars out of 5

The trouble with Harry is that he's agreed to work with his "Lincoln Lawyer" half-brother. I love both characters (Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller ), but if I'm honest, I'd have to say I wasn't as thrilled to see them working together as I thought I'd be. I'm not exactly why, except that while both share center stage as they go about their respective business, some of the shine (for want of a better word) that puts the uniqueness in their personalities just seemed a bit dull around the edges.

The story begins as the Mickster is defending a former gang member who's been charged with the brutal murder of a woman - according to the cops and prosecutor, an open-and-shut case. Haller, though, is convinced his guy has been set up; but to prove it, he needs a better-than-good investigator. Enter Bosch, who retired from the Los Angeles Police Department and in theory is available. Problem is, he doesn't want anything to do with Haller or his blustery, sometimes shady tactics; signing on with the defense would be tantamount to thumbing his nose at his former LAPD family.

Eventually, Haller wears down Bosch's defenses, convincing him to view the job as if he were doing his cop thing by finding the real culprit rather than helping to get a low-life killer out of jail (like beauty, intent apparently is in the eye of the beholder). And as he starts sniffing around, Bosch finds several holes in the investigation that make him think the case may be more open than shut - and his old cop instincts really do start kicking in.

So does the action, which includes a hit-and-run, scantily clad "businesswomen," more murders and the potential for blowback that could put the LAPD in the eye of a hurricane. As he gets deeper into the investigation, Bosch seeks help, and gets it, from a few former colleagues like former partner Lucia Soto even as he butts heads with a few other department cronies who are less than thrilled that he's joined the dark side.

All things considered, this book is very good, but not great. I look at it this way: After more than seven decades of eating, I still get a little antsy when different foods on my plate touch each other; similarly, I prefer that my characters lead separate lives (and books).

The Crossing by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co., November 2015); 401 pp.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


5 stars out of 5

When you've got a police chief named Dove Carnahan who jokes (or maybe not) that she was named for her late mother's favorite soap, what's not to love? Nothing, in my mind - nor was there anything not to love in the rest of this book (even though I was introduced to more dysfunctional families than I've seen since the days of Starsky and Hutch).

Dove, who's 50, has a younger brother who hasn't been heard of for years, a sister who much prefers dogs to people and a beautiful but dead mother who was totally devoid of motherly instincts and was murdered brutally in her bathtub when Dove was a child. Dove enjoys her job in the rural Pennsylvania town, where serious crime isn't the norm. But then, a beaten-to-death girl is found in an old, still-burning mine sinkhole; turns out she belongs to the Truly clan of local rednecks and [mostly] petty criminals. 

To say family members are uncooperative when it comes to the investigation is an understatement; cooperating with police isn't even on their radar. In the middle of all this, the man who was convicted of killing Dove's mother gets out of jail and shows up, insisting he was innocent and threatening to make Dove's life - and her sister's - a living hell. Throw in news of the wayward brother, and things quickly get complicated.

Not, though, for the reader; the author is adept at showing us inside the lives and minds of all the characters - whether or not they're lovable (all I'll say about that is that nobody's flawless). There are some plot twists, one of which made my jaw drop; and while the ending didn't come as a total surprise, it certainly tweaked my heartstrings.

For me to highly recommend this one, then, is a no-brainer - and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review it. It's just too bad that the rating scale tops out at 5 stars.

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell (Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc., January, 2016); 288 pp.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Riveting. Haunting. Poignant. Disturbing. Enlightening. So did I enjoy this book? The answer is absolutely, but not in the usual sense; the official description reveals very little about the real story between the pages (to put it another way, Rizzoli and Isles it ain't). As other readers have noted in their reviews, the content came as a surprise - but for me, it was a difficult book to put down. Thankfully, it's short enough that I was able to finish it in one day. 

The thriller element is here, of course, but it plays second fiddle (pun intended) to a story of how the Holocaust played out in Italy beginning in the late 1930s. It begins when violinist Julia Ansdell, mother of 3-year-old Julia, is in Rome for a performance and visits an antique shop to look for old music to add to her collection. She finds what she's looking for - a book - and falling from between the pages is a real treasure: a handwritten waltz titled Incendio (fire). As a musician, she recognizes immediately the potential beauty and emotional impact of the piece, so she buys it and takes it home to Boston.

There, the fire soon threatens to consume her entire world; when she first tries to play the composition, it appears to transform her young daughter - but in a terrible way. Her husband and sister, though, suspect it's Julia who's changed; her late mother had a history of mental illness, after all. But even though she worries that they're right, Julia remains convinced that there's something evil in the music - so she sneaks away from her husband Rob and daughter and sets out to learn its history.

Her destination is Venice, where she meets up with her friend, a cellist in whom Julia has confided her concerns about her daughter's sudden tendency toward violence. There, they learn more about the composer and the dark side of the waltz's origin - and in the process put their lives in danger from those who want secrets from the past to stay hidden.

There's action and suspense as Julia tries to avoid being killed, but much of the book tells the tale of the composer - and that centers on rather graphic accounts of what happened in Italy during the Holocaust. It's a beautiful yet ugly story that's rooted in fact; in 1938, the Italian Fascist regime under Benito Mussolini enacted a number of laws restricting the Jewish population, and from that point on, life as a Jew in Italy turned horrific to say the least. Bringing that history to life and honoring those who were "heroes" is, the author says, a major reason for writing the book.

When I finished, I had a few questions about Julia's part of the story that I wish had been answered, but in the end they really don't matter much. Suffice it to say this book grabbed me at the beginning, and I expect it will be a while before it totally releases its grip on my mind.

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books, October 2015); 273 pp.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

I love to love books by John Grisham - in large part, I'm sure, because I'm a huge fan of legal thrillers - and almost without exception, that's certainly been the case. And happily, it's true here as well. I will say that for most of the first half I concluded this is meant to be a book of short stories or vignettes that take place in the life of street lawyer Sebastian Rudd. But while each "story" might be able to stand on its own, bits and pieces of each are connected to create (aha!) a whole book. And that's not easy to pull off.

Rudd really doesn't have a home base, unless you count a tiny, well-secured apartment and the heavily armed van complete with heavy-duty bodyguard/driver that serves as his mobile (and only) office. He's got a young son and an ex-wife lawyer whose primary goal in life, it seems, is to gain sole custody plus 25% ownership in a mixed martial arts cage fighter named Tadeo. Rudd's paid work, for the most part, consists of defending bad guys (and I suppose gals) other lawyers won't touch with a 10-foot pole.

Rudd doesn't love them either, but neither does he have much respect for insurance companies, government or the criminal justice/legal system. Even if his clients are guilty - and in fact, most of them are - when he wins (and that's fairly often), he derives satisfaction in knowing he's once again stuck it to the unethical powers that be and lived to tell about it.

Given the natural tendencies of his clients, though, that last part is subject to change at any moment. Early-on clients include a teenage boy who's accused of the grisly murders of two young girls (a case thought to be a shoe-in win for the prosecution) and defense of "his" fighter Tadeo who, after losing in the ring for the first time, pounded the hell out of a referee who happened to be in the ring at the time of the judges' decision. The pounding, caught on video, proved fatal - and now Rudd is the only thing standing between his fighter and decades in jail.

If I have a complaint, it's that there's a fair amount of repetition, although that's necessary to some extent to make sure readers connect the dots among the various "stories." Still, because there seems to be a little too much of it, I'm inclined to knock this one down to 4.5 stars. The ending also left the door wide open for a sequel, and since I thoroughly enjoyed this one, if that happens it's a sure bet I'll be in line to read it as well.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham (Doubleday, October 2015); 354 pp.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Two points to note here: First, this is a very short story, not a book. Second, it's not new; it was first published as "What Do You Do?" in George R.R. Martin's Rogues anthology that includes all-new works by a number of other authors. Recently - I suppose to capitalize on author Gillian Flynn's success with Gone Girl - this was released as a standalone Kindle Single. While I rarely read short stories, my love of Gone Girl prompted me to ante up $2.99 for this one.

At just 66 pages and a single chapter, it was a quick read. Happily, it also was quite good; starting to read it perhaps an hour before bedtime wasn't very smart. In the end bedtime won, but I finished it the next morning before my usual two cups of coffee were empty.

The story centers on a young woman who makes a pretty good living "servicing" men in a back room at a psychic reading parlor. When she ends up with carpal tunnel syndrome and for the most part is unable to ply her trade, she moves to the front of the building to hand out (pun intended) her take on auras. Not long thereafter (this is a short story, after all), she meets a woman who claims to be terrified; she's living in a Victorian mansion that has a shady history with her often-gone husband, their son, and her stepson. The latter, a 15-year-old terror, is intent on killing her.

Needless to say, the woman foresees an income opportunity and agrees to help. More than that I can't reveal, but it's a really good story for those who aren't put off by the world's oldest profession and a some rather explicit language.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (November 2015); 66 pp.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


5 stars out of 5

At first blush, it was same old, same old: Medical Examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta's colleagues don't respect her. Her investigative partner Pete Marino doesn't trust her. Her techno-wizard, filthy rich niece Lucy doesn't believe her. Her FBI profiler husband Benton Wesley won't confide in her. And a psychopathic liar, murderer and Lucy's one-time love interest is out to kill her. 

Or so the good doctor, whose mind has moved disturbingly toward the paranoid in recent books, is convinced. This time, though, she's right on the money with that last one. After nearly killing Scarpetta with an underwater spear gun somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle a couple of months earlier, it's a pretty sure bet old nemesis Carrie Grethen wants Scarpetta - and maybe Wesley, Marino, Lucy and her now-partner Janet - at the very least discredited professionally and at worst dead. 

As she investigates a death scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Scarpetta gets a text message, apparently from Lucy's secret phone line, with a video link to a film of Lucy, taken a couple of decades ago when she was an FBI rookie. Soon thereafter, Lucy's highly secured estate becomes the target of an intrusive search and seizure presumably designed to collect enough evidence to send her to prison. That's followed by the murder of the daughter of a Hollywood heavyweight in her own home. Wedged in and around all that are murdered cops, more revealing and incriminating old-time videos of Lucy, and, of course, lots more Scarpetta angst.

This time, though, the story is so intriguing that Scarpetta's fretting over not being the center of everyone's universe really didn't bother me much. As the plot thickened, I was far more worried about what was happening - and about to happen - to the others. More often than not, nothing is as it seems; just trying to keep all the head games straight in my own mind was a challenge, and hanging over it all was the fear that this time, someone might not live to see another book. All in all, it's an exciting book and, IMHO, one of the best in the series of late.

Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell (William Morrow, October  2015); 480 pp.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

My feelings about this, the 23rd book featuring former LAPD Lieutenant Peter Decker and his wife, Rina Lazarus, are somewhat mixed. I admit I haven't totally adjusted to their move from California to a far less hectic life in upstate New York, although they seem to be handling it fairly well at this point (the second book set in their new location). When I finished the previous book, Murder 101, I had hopes that Rina would take a stronger role on the crime-solving end from then on. And to a certain extent, in this one she does - but it still seems she's much more valued for making sure lunch and dinner are on the table and soothing her overworked husband's ego. 

This one begins when Peter, who now works at the Greenbury Police Department, is called in when the nude body of a young man is found in the woods. Killed by a single gunshot to the head with the gun near the body, at first blush the death is considered to be suicide. Peter gets some help from Tyler McAdams, a former Greenbury police colleague who's back in the area prepping for Harvard Law School finals (he earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard, is quite wealthy and, as readers are reminded many times over, isn't worried about passing his exams and therefore is able to help with the investigation despite Peter's insistence that he pay more attention to studying).

The body turns out to be a student in the Mathematics Department of Kneed Loft College, where he's considered a prodigy - working on (officially and unofficially) projects with real-world applications that could be worth millions. This is where things start to get a bit jumbled, at least to my totally math-challenged mind. No matter how  - or how often - the concepts are explained in "layman's" terms, I didn't really grasp a word anybody said (with one notable exception that I can't reveal without spoiling it for others).

In the end, though, understanding really isn't all that important, except that it does give Rina a chance to show that her brain is capable of cooking up more than a great brisket. In fact, it appears she majored in math in the brief time she spent in college (a bit too conveniently, perhaps) and thus, with a tiny bit of brushing up, is able to explain what the math students and professors are about. There's even a suggestion that she should return to school and get a degree in math (aha - do I smell the basis for another book)?

Maybe yes, maybe no, but when that next one comes to pass, count me among those who will be reading it. I'm still a big fan and I don't see that changing anytime soon; I've followed this couple from the time they first got together, and they're almost like family to me. Yasher koach!

The Theory of Death by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow, October 2015); 384 pp.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

The title of this book says it all: It takes place in Chicago, and if the story got any darker, I probably would have stopped reading after the first few chapters. It was unsettling, upsetting and, in some respects, unsatisfying - but it's also an outstanding work. Thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read it in exchange for a review.

Ray Nelson is more than a bit of a physical freak - never loved by his now-gone parents and shunned by neighbors in his apartment building. His drug-addicted sister, Stephanie, pops in from time to time (primarily to raid his wallet), and he mostly rebuffs the efforts of the young girl next door, Natalie, to befriend him. In essence, he's a virtual recluse; the only thing that seems to keep him going is something that just as easily could kill him: organized street brawling in the dark of the night, earning enough money to pay what few bills he has.

Over the years, he's tried to keep his sister out of trouble, and as he sees Natalie head into mid-teen years, he grows concerned about the bad neighborhood and what will happen to her in a place where tomorrow is no better than a repeat of oday. That takes a more sinister turn with the appearance of a white van whose driver is looking for - and finding - young victims. Ray wants to help his sister and is determined to protect Natalie, but he's got plenty of secrets in his own past that threaten his good intentions. There are several unexpected twists as the story unfolds, none of them pleasant (but then this is a dark mystery, after all).

The sadness and despair that permeate notwithstanding, this is a hard book to put down. I wasn't able to find a page count anywhere, but I finished it in three days of very little spare time for reading, so it isn't very long. The ending brings (surprise!) another smack in the gut, but also a tiny glimmer of hope. Is it enough? I'll never tell - you'll just have to read it and decide for yourself. 

Breaker: A Windy City Dark Mystery by Richard Thomas (Alibi/Random House, January 2016).

Monday, November 2, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Wow - what a wild, wonderful ride! This one's got "winner" written all over it - I didn't even have to think before awarding it 5 stars - so here's an extra-special thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for giving me the opportunity to read it in exchange for a review. 

As if a terrific, unique story weren't enough, it left me guessing all the way to the end as to how it would end - something that happens all too infrequently in most of the books I read in this genre (which, for the record, is a pretty hefty number). Even the ending - for reasons I can't say without screaming "spoiler alert" - left me with the slightly uneasy feeling that there could be more to come.

The book begins when a woman named Tanya Dubois turns up in a bar about 48 hours after leaving her dead husband at the bottom of their stairs. By then, she's called a "contact" from her past to get a new identity, dyed her hair and answers to the name of Amelia. In the bar, she's befriended by the bartender, Blue, who seems to understand Tanya/Amelia is on the run and offers to share quarters, at least for the short run.

That's not all she shares; apparently, both women are trying to escape their pasts (for Amelia, we know it involved some very serious events that are hinted at through brief flashbacks). So, to throw a few more chinks in the wheels of those intent on finding them, they exchange identities. Amelia is now Blue (who says her name in her former life is Debra) and Blue becomes Amelia. The benefits of that switcheroo don't last long, though, since Debra has more than a few past secrets of her own (I'll just say she wasn't hiding out as Blue for no reason at all). 

Got all that so far? Well, hang on, because it's not over till it's over - and as I hinted earlier, maybe not even then. There's a lot more running, a few more identities and more clues to what really happened all those years ago that started the ball rolling. As I said at the beginning, it's a wild, wonderful ride. Not since Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train have I been this enthusiastic about a new book. Highly recommended!

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, March 2016); 320 pp.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


4 stars out of 5

In 2010, if my research is accurate, Scott Rothstein - managing shareholder, chairman and CEO of Florida law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler - received a 50-year prison sentence for masterminding a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme involving the purchase of fabricated "structured settlements." Rothstein "fingered" several others he claimed were involved in the scheme, including Stephen Caputi, author of this book. The Ponzi scheme, it should be noted, has been called one of the largest since the early 1700s.

Throughout the book, a copy of which I was provided at no cost in exchange for a review, Caputi maintains he had no knowledge of the Ponzi scheme, how it was executed or how much money was involved, even though in retrospect he admits he should not have carried out some questionable orders from his long-time friend Rothstein. And, because he knew nothing, he insists he was wrongly convicted. Whether readers believe him or not - clearly, the court did not, sentencing him to five years in prison - this book (which I received at no cost in exchange for a review) is worth reading if only to get an eye-opening look at what can be the harsh reality of life behind bars as well as the inner workings of at least one U.S. prison.

Caputi also describes his life before the fall - one filled with nightclubs, beautiful women and just about anything money can buy. He also paints a vivid picture of Rothstein, who was richer than God and routinely tipped champagne glasses with heavy-hitter names like Bush, McCain and Trump. What he doesn't describe, however, are details of the Ponzi scheme - understandable, I suppose, since spilling the beans in a book after the fact would suggest he really did know what was going on.

Along the way, he did make a couple of statements that to me were revealing, starting with, "Identifying and recognizing the upstream and downstream of payola as it flowed throughout the scammed infrastructure was second nature to me." Later, in reference to his 30 years in the nightclub business, he wrote, "One of my special practiced skills...was to read people and situations in an instant." It seemed to me, then, a bit of a stretch to believe he didn't have at least an inkling that something was rotten in Rothstein-land. On the other hand, they'd been fast friends for years (or so Caputi thought), and clearly, Rothstein was nothing if not a manipulator of people to the nth degree. 

Released from a halfway house in December 2014, Caputi says his goal today is working to bring about prison reform. To be sure, the picture he paints isn't even close to pretty: Spoiled food, withholding of "rights" such as exercise, showers and phone calls, the costs of sundry items like batteries that far exceed the going rate on the "outside" - not to mention cells for two barely bigger than a breadbox. Given my picky eating habits and claustrophobia (albeit relatively mild), I have no doubt I'd have become a total basket case within a day or two. In fact, Caputi came close on more than one occasion, so no wonder he rails about the lousy conditions - often in very colorful language, in case that matters to anyone.

That's not the only thing that's got a bug in his bonnet; he also tackles the issue of marijuana legalization (of interest to me because, with a couple of days of writing this review, voters will be deciding whether or not it will be allowed for both medical and recreational purposes in my state of Ohio). Privatization of prisons is another issue, as are legal reforms and overall government practices he says are designed to keep regular Joes and Jills (and their businesses) in line and make huge profits in the process. Through it all, he serves up tons of figures and statistics to prove his points. Some of them  I agree with and others I don't, but either way, it's all quite interesting and a makes for a very readable, thought-provoking book. 

I Should Have Stayed in Morocco: My misadventures with billionaire Ponzi-Schemer Scott Rothstein by Stephen Caputi (Twilight Times Books, October 2015); 304 pp.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Please don't misunderstand: I enjoyed reading this very well-written book, and I thank the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read it in exchange for a review. I just wish I'd been able to feel some kind of positive emotional connection to any of the characters.

The story begins as Zane Clearwater, a 26-year-old recovering alcoholic, is fired from his job at the Tulsa Zoo (Oklahoma). Upset, he goes off the wagon and blacks out, waking up to learn that his pretty much worthless alcoholic mother died when their trailer burned down. Luckily, neither he nor his 14-year-old step-sister Lettie, were in the trailer at the time. But he does remember being there that evening, and although he loves her, he and his mother certainly had serious issues. His blackout means he remembers nothing else; but in the back of his mind, he worries that he might have set that fire. As do the police, who Interview Zane and consider him a person of interest at the very least. 

Then, he gets an anonymous text suggesting that his mother's rather sketchy explanation of his late father - and other facts of her life before kids - were far less than honest. In fact, his real father not only may be alive, but a notorious local man with Cherokee blood, a very shady past and a nasty temper that resulted in his mother's running away and doing everything she could to hide the truth from her son and daughter.

As Zane tries to find out what really happened - and hopefully, in the process, find his father - he gets caught up with the attempts of Emmaline, his friend-with-occasional-benefits, to turn her talent for making pageant dresses for little girls into a starring role in a reality TV show (egad - the less said about that, the better). 

I can't say more about all that happens from there to the end of the book without revealing too much, but I will say that Zane's baby sister Lettie struck me as the only adult in the family. Mind you, nothing in my 74-year life so far has been close to the experiences of these folks, but on the other hand, I'm proud of my Tennessee "hillbilly" roots (and even the moonshiner we supposedly had in our family). Besides that, one of my grandfathers was said to have a Cherokee heritage; given all that, I expected to understand at least some of what the characters were going through. But, with Zane in particular, instead of sympathizing with his decisions and actions I ended up thinking that if he's going to be that stupid, he deserves what he gets. 

Thankfully, in the end he seems to have grown something of a backbone and all's as well as it possibly could be given the circumstances - but for me, at least, it just seemed too little, too late. That said, it isn't (or, IMHO, shouldn't be) necessary to fall in love with characters to realize the quality of a book. In fact, it held my attention throughout; the writing is solid (meaning few grammatical errors and typos, good transition and such) and the plot is both interesting and well thought out. Especially for those who enjoy the thrill of the chase and an up-close-and-personal look at life in a place where dreams and reality rarely meet, this one's a good choice.

Bloodlines by Lynn Lipinsky (Majestic Content Los Angeles, October 2015); 264 pp.

Monday, October 26, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This marks the 35th book in the author's Stone Barrington series and, as has been the custom of late, it's a quickie at just 320 pages (although in fairness, the last couple have been even shorter). I also must admit that I've taken to calling the filthy rich, New York-based attorney "Stone Yawnington" simply because the action - what there is of it - is so understated that it's barely noticeable.

Maybe I've become used to it by now, though - I've read almost all of the books in the series - because this one surprised me by being quite enjoyable. Yes, the dialogue still borders on banal, but the story is interesting and (dare I say it) even a bit exciting in spots.

It begins as Barrington's majordomo, Joan, informs him that she forgot to put a board meeting of one of his companies on his calendar - and oh by the way, it's to take place at noon the following day in Rome. With not the slightest hint of annoyance, he takes 5 minutes to arrange his travel, have his clothing and personal airplane for his return trip shipped to Rome and reserved a table for dinner that night complete with his choice of wine (okay, I'm kidding about that last one, but you get the point). His eleventh-hour reservation means he's relegated to the last available seat on the plane, poor baby, but things begin looking up when a beautiful woman is seated next to him. Just before take-off, as Barrington's always-good luck would have it, not one, but two seats open up in first-class - and he and his lovely companion move to more comfortable space. They get to know each other during the flight -- and for the record, by Chapter 5 they know each other really well (wink, wink).

The story, though, is the reason for the board meeting: The one-item agenda is to vote on purchasing a site for a new Arrington hotel (named for Barrington's late wife, who was richer than God). Approval is readily given - why the board couldn't have looked at photos and voted by phone is a mystery to me, but hey = I'm not among the rich or the famous.  Barrington then contacts his hotel developer associate and gives the go-ahead. Another developer had started building a hotel on the site, but that project was abandoned, so plans call for utilizing the existing framework for the new Arrington.

But then, disaster strikes; almost before the ink is dry on the site purchase agreement, a mysterious fire destroys the existing structure. A little digging (pun intended) turns up evidence that the fire is a warning; apparently, new construction falls within the purview of the local Mafia, and in particular, an especially nasty character named Leonardo Casselli who's wanted in the United States. Leo, it seems, wants to make it clear that his palm must be greased by anyone encroaching on his territory. A few other "accidents" happen, and the chase is on to track down and arrest Casselli before he kills Barrington, the law enforcement heavyweights who have joined him and/or, of course, the fair lady who is the current apple of his eye.

As the more recent Barrington novels have gone, this is one captured my attention a bit more than most; if nothing else, it would make a good read on an airplane trip (even if you're sitting in coach) or wait in a doctor's office -  I finished it easily in a single day.

Foreign Affairs by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 2015); 320 pp.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


4 stars out of 5

The plot of this book sounded intriguing, but honestly, at first I was even more interested in the setting. Having grown up in southwestern Ohio a little more than an hour's drive north of Cincinnati, I have fond memories of the Queen City. Most  came from many visits to the wonderful Cincinnati Zoo and Coney Island amusement park rather than in the city's downtown, although later in life I recall going back to conduct a seminar for nursing home administrators at the College of Mount Saint Joseph. And I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Cincinnati Reds.

Happily, though, I never bumped heads with the city's Homicide Division where police specialist Sonora Blair does her thing. In this, the first of a series of four books with Blair as the main attraction, the single mother of two gets a call that sends her to Mount Airy Forest to investigate the gruesome murder of a college student. He was, it seems, handcuffed to the steering wheel of his car, liberally sprinkled with gasoline and (yuck!) set on fire while alive. The victim, Mark Daniels, manages to utter a few clues at the hospital before taking his final breath, but it's nowhere near enough to bring about an arrest.

After meeting Mark's brother, Keaton (a hunky elementary school teacher; oh golly, wonder where that will lead), more clues emerge that suggest the killer - believed to be female - might have tagged the wrong brother. Worse, she's still out there, and it soon becomes apparent that she's now set her sights on Keaton and Sonora; both begin getting troubling messages and phone calls that suggest they, and their loved ones, could be in real danger.

The action starts at the beginning and doesn't stop till the end, making it hard to put down. Sandwiched in between are details of Sonora's life, some of which are not all that pleasant. Somehow, the killer seems to have obtained some of those details, giving her a bit of a psychological advantage.  I'd have to say the conclusion wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be, but it works (and obviously Sonora lives to see another book, so in that regard, all's well no matter how it ends).

I'll also note that when I requested and received this book from NetGalley at no cost in exchange for a review, I didn't realize it was first published about 20 years ago and apparently is being released in 2015 in ebook-only format. That said, I didn't notice anything here that seemed out of date (perhaps the reissued version has been updated - somewhere between then and now about 100 pages went missing). It's certainly good enough that I won't hesitate to try the others in the series - according to the description, the books can be read in any order, but I'm pretty much a stickler for first things first so I'm glad I started where I did. 

Flashpoint by Lynn Hightower (Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller, October 2015); 321 pp. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


4 stars out of 5

One of the most successful continuations of the works of a popular author who has passed away is, IMHO, that of Felix Francis, son of the late Dick Francis. I used to love reading the father's tales set in Great Britain's horseracing scene (most often steeplechase), and I was very sorry to learn of his death in 2010 at the age of 89. 

Felix Francis, a physics teacher, helped his father with both research and writing (as did, reportedly, the late Francis's wife and Felix's mother, Mary, who died in 2000). So in 2011, when Felix wrote his first solo book, Gamble, I wasn't too surprised that it wasn't much of a departure from earlier books Felix had co-written - nor were the three others that preceded this one.

Now that I've finished it, consider me still happy. This may not be the best of the Felix-written bunch; except for the main character, British Horseracing Authority undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley, none of the other characters ever really developed much of a "personality," although the plot moved quickly and held my attention throughout. Hinkley, by the way, also appeared in the Felix Francis-written Damage, published in 2014, but the two books stand alone.

This one begins as a popular winning jockey reveals to Hinkley that he's lost at least one race on purpose; but before he can spill the rest of the beans, he dies in what's being called a suicide. Meanwhile, Hinkley - who has come to the jockey's home to learn more - ends up locked in the jockey's super-hot sauna. Apparently, the jockey decided he didn't want his secret to get out, but then, overcome with remorse, he offed himself.

Managing to escape from the killer heat (that's not a spoiler - you wouldn't really expect the hero to die in the first few pages, did you?), Hinkley decided to do more investigating and discovers a few more irregularities of race-fixing and illegal wagers. And suddenly, he finds himself in the crosshairs of someone - or more than one someone - intent on silencing him forever.

Also of interest to me is that one of the locations where action takes place in the book is the Cayman Islands - interesting because that's where the elder Francis was when he died (he had a home there). 

Front Runner by Felix Francis (G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 2015); 381 pp.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


4 stars out of 5

One of my favorite don't-miss TV shows is Bar Rescue, currently airing on the Spike channel on Sunday nights. That's not because I want to see feisty host and bar turnaround expert Jon Taffer get into shouting matches with the owners of the bars he's trying to rehabilitate (although I admit that makes it more fun), but rather because I'm interested in learning the whys of the business  - or what Taffer calls the "science" behind the changes he advises. Although I've never been employed specifically in marketing, I've been involved to varying degrees in just about every job I've ever had - and I love to learn about human behavior, particularly as it relates to advertising and sales.

That's why this book caught my eye, and I thank the publisher, through NetGalley, for the opportunity to read it in exchange for a review. Given all the changes that cut through retail sectors today - mostly as a result of the Internet and social media, the author - a consultant in the areas of retail marketing and shopper insights - maintains that retailers must adopt multi-channel customer-driven strategies if they are to survive. Then, he tells them how to do just that, using plenty of examples backed up by in-depth research.

I will note a couple of things up front: First, the lion's share of the examples are based on companies outside the United States, and second, most involve the grocery sector - the author's special area of expertise. That said (actually, he said it too), the data can be applied to other retail environments and, for the most part, American businesses. No matter where they're based, retailers today need a better understanding of shoppers and must engage both their rational and emotional sides, the author says - but the ultimate goal is shopper happiness, accomplishing that while operating in several channels at the same time. Not an easy feat to be sure.

Mountains of data on shopper behavior is available (or can be), but retailers aren't necessarily utilizing it all that well. And, some of the commonly used data - like socio-demographics - isn't always reliable. I loved the author's example of two men, both born in 1948 in England, both married twice with kids and in high income brackets. It's easy to conclude, then, that their preferences in lifestyle, food and clothing would be similar - that is, until you learn that one is Prince Charles and the other is Ozzy Osbourne. Hmmmm - I'll take a wild guess and say they're not likely to shop for underwear at the same store. More to the point, a one-size-fits-all marketing approach to eliciting their happiness is beyond useless. 

Chapters zero in on a variety of topics, such as private-label brands, self-scanning, loyalty cards, in-store scents and, the one that interests me most, music. Music has direct impact on revenue, shopping behavior, staff morale and brand image, the author notes, but emphasizes that choosing the right music is an art (especially given that it involves not only genre, but tempo, pitch and volume). Each chapter concludes with two key questions: What can you do to make your shoppers happy?, and, Which marketing strategies can retailers apply? Those answers are followed by extensive lists of references (a.k.a., source material). This is, IMHO, a scholarly work that certainly could serve as a textbook in a college retail marketing course; but it's very easy to read and packed with information that's bound to be helpful to anyone with an interest in retail marketing.

Retail Marketing Strategy by Constant Berkhout (Kogan Page, November 2015); 288 pp.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Before all else, I must thank the publisher (via NetGalley) for granting my request to read this book. But after I finished and began to write a review, the notion struck me that with no formal education or work experience in the health-care industry (unless you count an undergrad degree in psychology more than 30 years ago), for me to comment on anything written by such an accomplished professional as Dr. Lee probably qualifies as the height of chutzpah. So in my defense, I'll offer an explanation.

As a long-time (now retired) journalist, I've written about various facets of the business of health care many times. But more to the point here, for the past 10 years or so I've been a certified volunteer long-term care ombudsman for the state of Ohio, which is in the ongoing process of moving toward "person-centered care" - a relationship-based approach that honors and respects the voice of elders and those working most closely with them. Although this book doesn't address long-term care in particular, the concept of empathy certainly fits with the Buckeye State's efforts to better serve those who are in that system - and I wanted to learn more.

And learn I did. It helps that there's no "healthcare-speak" here; yes, there are many references to studies as well as graphs and several pages of source material, but the "meat" of the book comes through loud and clear. In essence, it outlines the need - and the opportunity - for health-care institutions to rethink their approach to caring for patients. The trend toward specialization has come at the expense of a holistic approach to patients, the author asserts; in fact, the more sophisticated the care, the greater the likelihood that patients will feel they're really not being cared for. Of course, the end result still counts a lot; but the goal shouldn't be simply to save lives, but also to see from the patients' eyes, assure (and reassure) them that the care they're getting is the best possible given their health circumstances and alleviate their suffering - and notably, the latter goes beyond physical pain. 

Competition, the author notes, is a major driver in the need to  shift the focus to understanding and meeting patients' needs. Patients now can choose their health-care providers, and even the loss of a few patients has the power to make or break a hospital or clinic. But while cost always will be a major factor in patients' decisions of which provider to choose, studies have found that other factors - like the belief that staff members are courteous and really care about them - rank higher in patients' minds than expected bugaboos like the length of wait to see the doctor and ease of getting in and out of the parking lot. 

Needless to say, this kind of shift in mind-set and actions isn't easy; running a heath-care facility in just about any setting is a business, complete with the seemingly impossible task of trying to satisfy a number of special-interest groups from patients to all levels of staff to family members to the CFO  (if you don't believe that, I invite you to follow a nursing home administrator around for a day or two) . But institutions that offer coordinated and empathic care that elicits trust from patients, the author argues, are better equipped to increase market share and retain good personnel. Several examples of excellence in health-care provider settings that are working are cited here, with explanations of how and why they're successful. 

One such institution is the Cleveland Clinic - about which I can speak from personal experience. When my husband needed rather complex cardiac surgery about five years ago, we opted to go there based on its stellar reputation in that field. Both of us were impressed with the facilities, the technology and afterward, the outcome - in our minds, the best possible given the circumstances. Oh yes, and one other thing: The friendly, caring attitude of everyone from the surgical staff to check-in clerks at the intake desks to red-jacketed greeters who stand ready to answer questions. Each time he's returned for routine maintenance since then, we've marveled at how people in such a huge, busy place can make us feel as if we matter. Because of that,  we're more than willing to make the hour-and-a-half drive instead of switching to cardiac care closer to home; exactly the point, I believe, that the author is making here: When care is empathic, the sum of the parts really is greater than the whole.

What needs to happen for institutions to make the shift is presented, including ways to measure effectiveness and reward excellence (no surprise to me, but financial incentives isn't the best approach). The author concludes with a 10-step directive, which includes making the meeting of patient needs as efficiently as possible the highest priority, with empathic, coordinated care as a core component. In short, I would recommend this book to anyone who is involved in health care, whether as a professional, a care-giver or someone like me who simply is interested in ways it can be improved.

An Epidemic of Empathy in Healthcare by Thomas H. Lee, M.D. (McGraw-Hill Education, November 2015); 224 pp.