Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


4 stars out of 5

There's no shortage of action in this, the third in the series featuring Dr. Gideon Crew - a thief turned scientist with a terminal illness that could take his life at any given moment. As one might expect, that means he's got nothing much to lose, so he's willing to go where no man has gone before.

And man, he does exactly that. I enjoyed it thoroughly - in some ways even more than the first two - but I warn that you'll need more than a modicum of creative imagination to get through it; some parts (make that most parts) cross over to the realm of fantasy. Still, it's fun, moves along quickly and, all in all, didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the series in the slightest.

This one begins as Gideon is brought in to steal a page from the Book of Kells, which is on display in New York City under seemingly impenetrable security. Of course, he pulls it off - only to deliver it to his "boss," the invalid Eli Glinn, who promptly dunks it in something to remove the text and drawings to reveal an ancient treasure map. But all that glitters isn't gold; rather, it's a long-hidden secret that could change the course of both Gideon and Glinn.

Together with a young, beautiful woman named Amy (with whom he was ordered to partner up), he sets off on a journey that traces those of ancient Greeks and takes them to never-before-seen territory. There, they discover - well, you'll just have to read the book to find out what - but suffice it to say the adventure nearly costs them their lives.

I wasn't sure whether a fourth book will be forthcoming, but after finishing this one, it's pretty clear there's one in the works. Count me among those on the waiting list!

The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing, August 2014); 368 pp.

Friday, January 23, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Let's get the nitty gritty stuff out of the way first: I obtained this book free (Kindle version) because I promised to write an honest review. So it shall be - and here goes:

Overall, this is an enjoyable book that moves along quickly; it's part action/adventure, part mystery and part romance (the latter of which isn't even close to my "thing," but more on that later). The main characters, Amber Wilson and Mark Staunton (Amber's boss) work at GenFun Laboratory in New York at which, among other things, varieties of mushrooms are being tested. When Amber, a lab assistant, accidentally knocks over one of the containers while she's trying to escape an office party, she panics and stuffs the ones that hit the floor into her purse. Not long afterward, she bumps into Mark, who sees a silvery substance on her face and wipes it off (hmmmm, could this be the first clue to a budding romance? Bosses I've worked with simply would have told her to wipe it off herself or said nothing at all).

Almost immediately, Mark is transformed into a party animal; he shocks and awes Amber with hugs and a big smooch, after which she hightails it home (I should mention that she's got relationship issues). Mark hangs around and ends up doing his lovey-dovey thing with the company CEO's daughter - never a smart thing to do. This time it turns so ugly that Mark is fired from his job even though he claims to not remember a thing (aye, maybe there's the rub; what self-respecting boss's daughter wants to be forgotten that fast)?

When she learns what happened, Amber - ever the alert lab tech - concludes that Mark's actions must be a result of exposure to the fluorescent mushroom dust. Instantly, I was reminded of one of my favorite punny jokes: Why was the mushroom a popular party guest? Because he's a real fungi! I groaned - and groaned again when the red-capped 'shrooms were likened to a part of the male anatomy (no doubt you can guess which one that might be). That image also made me rethink my love of whole mushrooms, but on the other hand I suspect that next time I need to chop them up I'll be chuckling every slice of the way.

Amber doesn't escape the company's wrath, either; she's shown the door for "stealing" the mushrooms. As she and Mark commiserate on their job losses and the odd effects on libido and sense of euphoria the dust triggered, they begin to recognize the potential for further development of some kind of drug even though it has no apparent effect on women. Instead of marketing it as a sex drug - how repulsive -  they theorize that it might have potential as an antidepressant. 

Ultimately, Amber and Mark decide to pair up to start a company and find more of the plants for testing. It turns out they came from New Zealand where (coincidentally, of course) Mark spent many years and thus is familiar with the territory. So, they gather up cash, a credit card and about a day's worth of clothing and set off in search of the source.

And that's where the trouble begins. Early on, they learn that a tribe of Maori mobsters is running  its own love scheme involving the same mushrooms. Recognizing a good thing when they've got it, the Maori don't take kindly to Mark and Amber, considering them a threat to the much-tattooed tribe's thriving business. Things quickly go from bad to worse as dead bodies start piling up - as does the possibility that Amber and Mark may be next on the growing list of victims.

As an aside, along with enjoying the adventure side of this book, I happily learned quite a bit about New Zealand, a country that's been on my want-to-visit bucket list for years. I had no idea, for instance, that eucalyptus trees grow all over the place but there are no koalas to munch on their leaves. Go figure. 

If I'm less than delighted with anything, it's romance part (but keep in mind what I said earlier - I'm not fond of bodice-rippers). My objection isn't that it's intrusive - in fact, it's quite well done. But when Amanda goes into hand-wringing angst, over-analyzing every word Mark says and turning cow-eyed when she so much as bumps up against his elbow, it's a little much for me. Chalk it up to old age and being married for 53 years, but I prefer my heroines a tad less sappy when it comes to affairs of the heart. That said, the action makes up for it, and in the end all the threads (including the romance) get woven together quite nicely to make the story complete with no hanging chads.

Except maybe one. Shalimar perfume by Guerlain, once recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive perfume in the world, is Amber's signature scent despite the fact that she spent quite a bit of time caring for her dying mother and doesn't appear to have much money. I consider myself far from poor, but unless I planned to eat a Ramen noodles every day for a year, there's no way I could afford it - so I'd love to sniff out her secret.

Oh yes, one last thing: As I neared the end of the book, I was struck by the notion that, with a minimum of tweaking, this would make a terrific movie. Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking Matthew McConaughey as Mark and a red-wigged Reese Witherspoon as Amber. Why not read the book and see what you think?

Love Poison by Pete Barber (Red Adept Publishing LLC, September 2014); 324 pp.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


3-1/2 stars out of 5

I got this one free from eBook Impresario several months ago - based on the description (which sounded right up my alley), the relatively large number of 5-star ratings at and the reported fact that it was a No. 1 bestseller in the United States and United Kingdom.

And make no mistake, it's a decent book; the story moves along quickly, stays interesting most of the way and I was eager to pick it back up after life's other tasks forced me to stop for a while. But on the other side of the review coin, it's somewhat predictable, more than a little bit contrived and the rush to the finish line, so to speak, was more like a mad sprint.

It begins when newbie attorney Teddy Mack, who wants nothing to do with criminal law in part because of his family history, is ordered by his boss to take the lead in his firm's defense of a man who's been charged with a gruesome murder. The task, it seems, is to get a plea bargain that takes the death penalty off the table and allows the mentally challenged defendant to get professional help (and, in the process, get the whole thing swept under the rug).

Although he really doesn't "get" it, Teddy adopts the "ours is not to reason why" philosophy that will keep his paychecks coming so he can pay down his student loans from law school. But then, a grisly murder of another woman - one who physically resembles the first - is discovered, and Teddy's client is believed to be responsible for that one as well. On top of that, the prosecutor is a hard-driving, take-no prisoners criminal attorney who's practically a shoe-in to become the city's next mayor.

As the facts (and still other murders) emerge, Teddy begins to question his client's guilt - but others question why Teddy is confused. That's when some of the contrived situations begin to pop up - as well as the "You're kidding, right?" incidents such as when Teddy inserts a disc in someone else's computer and, in doing so, "copied it to his hard drive" (or so the book claims). Um, no, I unless there's some technology out there of which I'm not aware, I think he'll need to put the disc to which the information was copied into his own computer before that can happen. In the end, all of that added up to result in a slightly lower score - but if you're looking for a quick, relatively interesting thriller, you can do a lot worse.

The Dead Room by Robert Ellis (Amazon Digital Services Inc.); 416 pp.

Friday, January 16, 2015


4 1/2 stars out of 5

John Jordan, the main character in this series, became a favorite "hero" of mine after reading two of the books (this is the 6th). This one somehow got lost in my pile of to-read books, but once I discovered the error of my [forgetful] ways, I hustled to correct it.

And after just a few chapters, I still loved the character, but the story not quite so much. I'm not sure why, exactly, except some of the subject matter - prison sodomy (Jordan is the chaplain at the Potter Correctional Institution in South Florida), gruesome lynchings and a mother on her deathbed - just isn't that appealing to me. That said, it was hard to put down.

Actually, there are several story lines going on at the same time in this one, including the impending death of Jordan's mother (to whom he isn't terribly close, but it's still his mother, for goodness sake). At the same time, someone has been sexually abusing inmates, but a new prison wardon - intent on replacing Jordan and is insisting that he stick to his chaplain's duties - has put the kibosh on nvestigating. Meanwhile, a prisoner escapes and can't be found, a couple of mutilated bodies thought to be the victims of lynching turn up, and Jordan's Sheriff father is desperately trying to win a primary election (whew!) 

That's a lot to wrap your head around in one book, but believe it or not, it all comes together - in just 211 pages, no less. Admittedly, it's a little hard to keep all the players straight, but in the end, the whole thing makes sense (even a serious romantic issue gets resolved, at least for the time being). I'll also say that while this book can stand alone, I think I got more out of it because I've read at least a couple that preceded it.

I'm also a bit curious about this: According to Lister's website (, he's written eight books in the John Jordan series. I've found the first six, but search as I might, I haven't been able to unearth Nos. 7 or 8. If anyone out there has a clue where I might find them, please let me know!

Rivers to Blood: A John Jordan Mystery Book 6 by Michael Lister (Pulpwood Press, January 2014); 211 pp.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


3 1/2 stars out of 5

After two rather disappointing precursors to this, the 32nd Stone Barrington novel, I really wasn't expecting much from this one. But after the first several chapters, I found myself rather enjoying it. That's not to say much has changed; most of the "action" is back-and-forth banter and a ho-hum attitude to most everything that happens, including real action when someone gets bumped off ("Oh say, did you know your brother has been murdered?" "Yes, I just heard - bloody nuisance. Shall we have dinner at the club later?")

The story here, though, did seem a little more interesting to me than other recent books. The Presidential election is over and the filthy rich attorney Barrington, who provided both funding and advice for his friend Kate's campaign, is tapped to help post-election (no, I won't reveal whether she won or lost). Then his old friend with a shady past Eduardo dies, naming Barrington co-executor of the will and millions to be distributed to various family members. One of those just happens to have had a long-ago relationship with Barrington - one that almost turned deadly - and now he has to deal with her once again. Thrown in the mix are a political expose that threatens to take down some heavy-hitters, highly valuable paintings that may be forgeries and a couple of murders.

Through it all, Barrington never fails to pair the perfect wine with dinner and match his necktie with his pocket handkerchief. If he's let anything slide, it's the frequency and number of his bedmates; I really didn't keep count, but I think only a couple got between his sheets this time. That's okay with me, since his sexploits are probably more boring than the conversation.

If you're among the throngs who have all but given up on this series, I think this one is a cut above the last few and you might consider having a go at it. But I'd also suggest waiting till the cost comes down or borrowing it from a library; even if you end up loving it, it's almost too short to be called a book and really doesn't seem deserving of a full-size price tag.

Insatiable Appetites by Stuart Woods (Putnam Adult, January 2015); 310 pp.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


3 stars out of 5

This is the second in the series featuring Dr. Gideon Crew, whose talents range from fine art theft to a Ph.D. in something akin to nuclear physics to physical prowess that surpass just about any human I've ever known. And while the esteemed Dr. Crew comes across in this one as a man who may have a heart behind his shoulder holster, it's just not believable enough for me to ante up more than 3 stars - the same as I gave the first book, Gideon's Sword.

This one takes off with a bang - literally- when a nuclear scientist apparently goes off the deep end, holding a family hostage and killing one of them. Turns out he's been done in by radiation, and the powers-that-be conclude that he was involved in building a nuclear bomb that will be detonated in a major American city in ten days. Of course, Gideon, a special agent when he's called upon (albeit a reluctant her  - he'd much rather be fishing), is coerced into investigating, finding the culprits and preventing a disaster so big the United States might never recover.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say Crew cuts to the chase and saves the day - there's a third book in the series, after all - but the investigation takes him across the country and back to places like a religious fanatic's commune in the wild and a big-city Islamic mosque. There's plenty of action, of course, with guns blasting, fists flying and objects that go boom in the day and night. In the midst of trying to identify the bad guys and fighting them off, there's even a hint of romance. As I said before, the action parts in particular aren't very believable, but at the same time, it makes for never a dull moment.

As far as I can tell at this point, there's one more book left in the series, The Lost Island. I do plan to read it, hoping that a couple of issues left dangling in this one will be resolved (and also hoping it will be at least a cut above the first two).

Gideon's Corpse by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing, January 2012); 371 pp.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


3 stars out of 5

I opened this book, which pits a nearly starving writer against powerful Mexican drug cartels, with fairly high expectations. Although it's the first I've read by the author, I've been meaning to try one of his popular Nick Heller books. So when the opportunity arose to get this one, I jumped at it even though a number of reviewers said it's not one of Finder's best efforts.

The story begins as Danny Goodman, who has had custody of his teenage daughter Abby since his ex-wife's untimely death from cancer, finds himself unable to pay the tuition for her swanky private school. Then, the father of Abby's best school buddy, Jenna - who's filthy rich and wanting to keep his daughter happy as well - insists on lending $50,000 to Danny so he can keep his daughter in school. Danny is reluctant to accept, but after Abby throws tantrum after tantrum at the notion that she'll have to go to a "regular" school, he accepts - with every intention of paying it back.

But almost to the minute the money is transferred to Danny's account, he gets a visit from a couple of DEA agents, who inform him that he's accepted drug money. His only choice, they insist, is accepting an undercover assignment that will help the government nail Danny's new family friend and benefactor. If he doesn't, they threaten to indict him for accepting the money - and make it clear it's a fight he can neither afford to undertake nor win in court.

Danny also is forced to lie to his remarkably young psychiatrist girlfriend, Lucy, as well as Abby and his rich friend as he undertakes his assignments - a couple of which would mean, were he caught - possible torture and death and, perhaps, the same to Abby and Lucy. But as one might expect, nothing is as simple as it seems; as he manages to pull off one assignment after the other, Danny also uncovers far more than just drug deals - information that puts everyone involved in a whole different (and in some cases, more deadly) light. 

The story moves quickly, and it's certainly not lacking in excitement. So why just 3 stars? First, some of the things that happen stretched the limits of my imagination a little too much; and second, there are too many little glitches. While I can't reveal some because it would spoil things for other readers, I offer a few examples:

Abby also had a stepfather, and it was he, and Abby's late mother, who put her in the school and willingly paid the hefty $16,000-per-semester tuition. After the mother's death, if the stepfather was a jerk who refused to continue paying the tuition (admittedly, Abby didn't care much for him), it should have been noted.  

I know teenagers are prone to whining - my two long-since-grown children once were that age, for goodness sake. In fact, my daughter and I still laugh at my refusal to buy her a third pair of Jordache jeans back in the '70s because they cost $42 - a small fortune back then. But I know plenty of folks who have had to pull their kids out of private schools when the economy tanked, and it's really hard to believe Danny was unable to say no just because Abby had a hissy fit (she had another one because she doesn't have a smartphone, but that's another story...)

Despite being almost totally broke, Danny cracks open a bottle of Sancerre at home with his girlfriend. For the record, the least expensive bottle of the brand I could find online is about $20 - and even that is about twice what my husband and I are willing to pay for a bottle. Still, I accepted it - or assumed that Lucy had bought it for them - until I learned how embarrassed Danny was over having to take an under-$10 bottle from Trader Joe's to his richer-than-God friend as a gift. Hey, buddy, I'd have drunk the Trader Joe's myself and given him the Sancerre. 

At one point, Danny is forced by the DEA to slip out of the swanky private home in Aspen where he's a guest of the rich guy and walk in the cold about half an hour at 6 a.m. If he's caught, he's supposed to claim he needed coffee. Excuse me, but this house stocks enough cross-country skis to outfit half the country  - God forbid any of the guests would have to rent - but there's no coffeepot? Yeah, sure, I'd believe that alibi.

The rich friend's daughter is said to be vulnerable because she has no driver's license. So how is it that, a couple of chapters later, she's driving around and around the block looking for a parking place?

Anyway, you get the idea. By the end, I was having so much fun finding little inconsistencies like these that I almost didn't care what happened to the characters. Still, the book is worth reading and held my attention (even if sometimes for the wrong reason), and I'm still planning to start working on those Heller books when I get a chance.

Suspicion by Joseph Finder (Dutton Adult, May 2014); 401 pp.

Monday, January 5, 2015


5 stars out of 5

This marks the third book in the author's Dublin Murder Squad series (so far there are five). Although it's really not necessary to read them in order, when I finally decided to listen to friends and give the books a try, I opted to start with the first. I love the first two, In the Woods and The Likeness - giving them both 5 stars - and if I could give this one 6 stars I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Mostly, I continue to be amazed at how, thanks to the author's remarkable writing skills, the characters grow on you; love them or hate them, by the time you finish a book you'll know them inside out. More to the point, even the smallest detail somehow relates to the story, allowing readers to learn how what happens affects their lives past, present and future.

This one, my favorite so far, is rooted in 1985 in the Faithful Place neighborhood of Dublin. On one fateful night, Frank Mackey - now an undercover detective - planned to run away from his dysfunctional family with his girlfriend Rosie, never to return. But Rosie never shows up at the rendezvous site - nor anywhere else - and Frank has no choice but to believe she decided to head for their England destination without him. But now, 22 years later, Frank's sister Jackie calls to tell him that Rosie's suitcase has been found in an abandoned building. Did she leave it behind on purpose? Did she really go to England, or did something happen to her? Even though Frank has an ex-wife and a 9-year-old daughter, he's never forgotten his beloved Rosie - so he returns home for the first time in all those years.

And of course, all those reasons he's stayed away for 22 years - every nasty one of them - come rushing back. When Rosie's body is discovered in the same building as her suitcase, things turn even darker (if that's possible). Frank's father's alcoholism and sadistic bent, his mother's snarky attitude and apparent tolerance of his father's behavior, the hatred among the brothers and sisters - all return with a vengeance even after all those years. But even in the midst of all this turmoil and memories of the past, he's determined to find out what really happened to Rosie on that fateful night.

I may change my mind after I read the next two books in the series, but for now, I'll say if you must choose only one to read, make it this one. 

Faithful Place by Tana French (Penguin Books Reprint edition, July 2010); 440 pp.

Friday, January 2, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Being a fan of both a book series and a TV show that's based on that series isn't always easy - especially when both are well done. Even though I've enjoyed the books far longer than the TV series, it's nearly impossible, for instance, to read the books without envisioning Angie Harmon as Jane Rizzoli (a perfect casting, IMHO, which of course exacerbates the difficulty in maintaining separation). And even though FBI Special Agent Gabriel Dean, Jane's husband in the book series, doesn't make much of an appearance in this one (regrettably), a mere mention of his name brings back memories of the talented Billy Burke, who played Gabriel in the show.

The other confusing issue is that the books are, for want of a better descriptor, grittier than the show. That's perfectly understandable, of course, but when things get edgy - such as with the growing tension between Jane and her good friend, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles (played by Shasha Alexander on the show) - I found myself thinking as I read, "Ah well. In another few pages they'll be hugging each other as they dance around Jane's mother's kitchen table."

But that isn't to be here. And when it comes to whether that's for better or worse, I'll pick better; even though I enjoy the show, I much prefer the books. And this one, which seems a bit darker than some of the others, is a gem. The chapters move back and forth between events that took place during a South African safari a half-dozen years ago, when all but one of the tourists don't return home, and the present day as Jane and Maura are called to a crime scene. Well-known hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott has been murdered, gutted and strung up like an animal killed in the wild. As the investigation intensifies, possible links to similar murders turn up - leading to the suspicion that what happened on that ill-fated safari may be connected and a serial killer is out there.

Meanwhile, Maura is trying to cope with a conflicted relationship with her estranged mother, who is incarcerated and apparently now has a terminal illness and wants to see her daughter. And while Jane is no stranger to family dysfunction - her father, who left her mother for a bimbo half his age, now wants to come back home, much to Jane's chagrin - she has little sympathy for Maura's inability to shut the door to her past and move on.

That's an issue that doesn't get resolved here, nor does Jane's mother's resolve to take her husband back for the good of the family  (sorry, no dancing around the kitchen table). But that leaves the door open for revisitation in the next book, and that part is fine with me. Bring it on!

Die Again: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books, December 2014); 353 pp.