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Wednesday, April 29, 2015


3 stars out of 5

This is a book I've had on my Kindle Fire for at least a year - probably two - but I just never got around to starting it. When I heard that it will be the basis for a new 13-episode TV series beginning June 30 on CBS, though, I decided to give it a go. First, I looked at the book reviews; to my dismay, as of late April there were 1,903 at Amazon, and an astounding 413 reviewers gave it the worst possible rating - one star - and the average is only three. Well, that's TV executives for you, I said to myself - who else would decide to take a book with that many lousy reviews and tout it as a must-watch series? 

Nevertheless, I was determined to read for myself, and now that I've finished, I learned two things: First, the book probably wouldn't make my Top 300 List of favorites, but it isn't anywhere near that awful. Second, those TV execs may be onto something after all. Think "Planet of the Apes" meets "Under the Dome;" it's got all the hot buttons including animals of every kind in every country - even domestic pets - inexplicably forming packs and turning on humans, who suddenly find themselves being hunted down in a world in which they once ruled supreme.

Enter Ph.D. dropout Jackson Oz, a young biologist (and conveniently, a chimpanzee owner, which takes on significance as the plot unfolds), who begins to notice a sea change in animal behavior. When a major "event" takes place in Botswana, he travels there from his New York City home to see for himself. He narrowly escapes being killed by what appears to be an unusually coordinated pack of male lions, and he saves a beautiful young woman named Chloe from the same fate. They, together with a few like-minded folks, conclude that this is the start of HAC, or Human-Animal Conflict. If the cause isn't found and soon, it could mean the end of the civilized world.

Needless to say, hardly anyone of any importance buys into the theory until it's almost too late, so the scramble to find the reason(s) behind the behavioral shift extends over years - giving Jackson and Chloe time to marry and have a son. Fast-forward to a later time, when the animal attacks have grown more frequent and more vicious (cue up "Twilight Zone"-style background music for the TV series and close-ups of Texas-sized incisors as noses and other human appendages are savagely removed). There's no shortage of action and more than enough blood-and-guts to make for great TV scenes (if the lions and dogs don't get 'em, the rats will) as the race to save the human race from extinction heats up.

I can't explain more without giving too much away, but the reason behind the animals' behavior and the actions required to reverse it are a bit of a strain on the imagination (not to mention more than a little "preachy"). And given what the scientists discover, the ending makes almost no sense to me at all. I'm guessing that's what prompted the dislikes from other readers; I know it's why, even though the book held my attention just about every page of the way, I gave it three stars instead of four.

That said, I'm glad I read it prior to the start of the TV series, and I plan to watch the series debut and see how it goes. I could be wrong, but my bet at this point is that this will be one of very few instances when the movie really is better than the book.

Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown and Co., September 2012); 417 pp.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


4 stars out of 5

As I've said in other reviews, I'm always looking for a good mystery/thriller series - one in which the stories are good enough that I'm happy to read them any time, but mostly to fill in gaps between other books - when I need something dependably enjoyable and easy to read. As luck would have it, I've found two winners in that department over the last couple of weeks - this one included.

I keep a running list of free and low-cost books I've downloaded as a result of membership in services like BookBub that specialize in that kind of thing; I cross them off as I read them and try not to get too far behind. This one, though, managed to slip through the cracks; I got it free back in 2013 and it's been stuck in the middle of my list ever since. When I noticed it's a legal thriller, it got my attention; when I learned it's the first in a series featuring criminal defense attorney Joe Dillard, I couldn't wait to get started.

I finished it in short order, picking it up every chance I got just because the story and characters reeled me in from the beginning. Set in Tennessee, it begins with the murder of a preacher (a cat brings part of the guy to his mistress as a gift, adding a touch of grisly to the murder). The preacher, it seems, had visited a bar known for its "girls," and one of them - a pretty young thing - is accused of the murder. The bar owner, herself a shady character, is rolling in dough and hires Joe to defend the girl.

Joe, however, is beyond ready to stop doing what he's been doing; his mother has Alzheimer's and is failing fast, and his estranged sister is a drug addict who's just been released from prison. On the plus side, he's got a loving wife, a former dance instructor who now helps out in his office, a couple of kids who seem more "normal" than my own two, and a excitable dog who pees on his master's shoe with regularity.

As Joe reaches a birthday, his only wish is to defend just one client who is innocent. As the story unfolds, it appears this young girl may make his wish come true. But haven't we all been advised to be careful what we wish for? 

There are some twists and turns and even more lawyers and judges who try to bend the law when it suits their purposes. The chapters shift from first-person accounts as told by Joe to third-person descriptions of what happened, is happening and may happen down the line. I won't say I was surprised at any point - much of the book is for the most part predictable - but the writing is solid and the story well thought out with insights into the legal process (a tribute, I assume, to the fact that the author holds degrees in both English and law). And yes, if you're asking, I plan to get my hands on the rest of the series, starting with the second, In Good Faith, as soon as I can.

An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, October 2012, a re-release); 360 pp.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Legal and medical thrillers always top my list of favorites, most often in that order. So when I got an email from eReader Cafe early this month informing me that this one - the first in a series featuring attorney Sasha McCandless - at no cost, I read the description and took the plunge. Worst case, I told myself, it will cost nothing to find out I don't like it; but on the other hand, it could open up the door to a solid series.

Now that I've finished it, I'm happy to report the best-case scenario won out, and I've added the rest of the books in the series to my want-to-read list. 

I must admit, though, that part of the attraction is the Pittsburgh connection. While I'll never be a Steelers fan (go Browns!), we live about 15 minutes west of the Pennsylvania border and have more than a nodding acquaintance with the city and its attractions, many of which are mentioned here. My taste buds kicked into high gear just thinking about one of those all-inclusive Primanti Brothers sandwiches (meat of choice topped with slaw and fries). Now that they're branching out, in fact, we'll be enjoying a new location closer to home in Boardman Township, Ohio, sometime this fall - although to my mind, at least, the satellite locations never will have the cachet of the original that's been going strong in Pittsburgh's Strip District since 1933.

This story begins with the crash of an airplane into a mountain, killing everyone on board.  Because the airline is a client of her successful and hoity toity law firm, Sasha, who is close to making partner, is tapped to be one of the lead attorneys who will defend the lawsuits that no doubt will follow. But early on, she begins to suspect the crash wasn't an accident; rather, some kind of device was installed on the plane that allows remote control from a smart phone.

Enter a federal air marshal (a relatively attractive single guy, naturally), who's investigating the disaster from a different standpoint. When they learn that a second plane crash is about to happen, they must dive full-on into finding out who's responsible and prevent another disaster. Meantime, Sasha's supervisor at the law firm - the one who heads up the client's legal team - meets an untimely (and suspicious) end, thus putting Sasha in full charge of the investigation. Things turn ugly when the bad guys realize full-on that Sasha and her air marshal buddy are getting too close; all I'll say about that is that it's a good thing she's well trained in a particularly effective defensive form of martial arts.

The book moves along quickly (I read it over the space of two days in spare time), but I'll point out that there's quite a bit of discussion of the ins and outs of legal procedure (which is of considerable interest to me but might be a bit of a drag for other readers) as well as detailed descriptions of Sasha's martial arts moves (interesting to me not so much). Also, it's important to keep in mind that this is a novel. Believing that some of the things described here could happen in the real world - among them installation of a device on an airliner that isn't detected at some point in the inspection process, that a barely 5-foot tall woman could overpower two gigantic thugs in seconds and end up with no serious injuries and that Sasha's air marshal seems to be the only one from the feds who is investigating the airplane crash - is a stretch. 

Overall, though, this is a solid debut novel in the series, and as I said before, I'm now up for finding out what happens in the next one (Inadvertent Disclosure). Stay tuned!

Irreparable Harm by Melissa F. Miller (Brown Street Books, April 2011); 456 pp.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


5 stars out of 5

On occasion, an author will offer me a free copy of his or her book on the condition that I share my opinion of it (for better or worse). Quite often, I respectfully decline - mostly because the topic just doesn't interest me much and partly because, as the saying goes, too many books, too little time. But when Mr. Sagnier offered this one, he made a strong case for saying yes; the book description and his writing creds gave the push I needed to say bring it on. 

At the outset, I worried a bit as new characters were introduced one after the other. There's nothing much wrong with that from a writing standpoint, but the fact that I'm old and have trouble remembering why I'm suddenly standing in the middle of the kitchen (coupled with having to put any book down for sometimes a whole day because life interfered) means it's really, really hard for me to pick up where I left off. That said, by the time I'd finished the first eight chapters or so, things (and people) started to come together - and I was hooked.

The plot begins with a drug theft and the search for Josie, a recovering crack addict who's gone missing. The main character, Colin - himself a recovering alcoholic - is asked to help by the young woman's mother (who also happens to be Colin's girlfriend). Colin brings in his friend Joe, a policeman, and meets Mamadou, a former police officer in Senegal who now drives a limousine in Washington, D.C., and has an agenda for revenge against whoever caused the death of his daughter. 

Fairly early on, it's learned that Josie's boyfriend, Herbie, stole a rather large amount of drugs and paid for it with his life. Now Josie's life may be in danger because the baddies - led by a guy known as the Zulu - think she knows where Herbie stashed the drugs. There's more action on the high seas involving a couple of enterprising young women traveling on a cruise ship, on which passengers suddenly become almost deathly ill for no apparent reason.

There's plenty of action, of course, as Colin, Joe and Mamadou follow the trail mostly through the streets of the nation's capital city, that will lead to finding Josie alive and returning her to her frantic mother. Along the way, readers get to know most of the characters inside and out. Honestly, I can't say I found anyone to be all that likable (even Colin) simply because, I suppose, they're all flawed - some more than others. When one or two bite the dust (no, I won't reveal who, but this is a thriller, after all), let's just say I wasn't crushed. 

The writing, BTW, is outstanding; I might quibble over a couple of run-on sentences, perhaps, but overall, the author has more than proved his talent for turning a phrase (or thousands). I did notice an issue I assume to be a result of the Kindle format - in more than one spot, chapter headings were missing (meaning the text from Chapter 7 continued nonstop to Chapter 10 with no 8 or 9 in between). That was a bit bothersome to me simply because except in an emergency, I refuse to put any book down until I've reached a new chapter; I kept wondering why some chapters were like the Energizer Bunny - going and going and going - while my long-suffering husband kept waiting for me to reach a stopping point and start dinner.

Now that I've finished the book (and we've finally finished dinner), I'm happy to give it a thumbs up. In the acknowledgements, the author says that writing is "the only endeavor where I refuse to indulge in false modesty. I think I'm pretty good."

That you are, Mr. Sagnier - that you are. 

Thirst by Thierry Sagnier (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2015); 252 pp.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This one caught my eye a few months back when it was offered as a freebie through BookBub. A heroine who is a professional poker player and sometimes gets herself in too deep somehow sounded appealing, and while I've not read anything else by this author, she has enough writing creds that I decided to go for it. But then, it got stuck on the back burner until now, when I remembered to look through my list of downloaded books to see what turned up. After re-reading the description and checking other reviews, I spun the wheel - and by golly, it came up a winner in my book.  

The gambler, Anna Dawson (aka Johanna, Hanna, Jo, JoJo or whoever she needs to be on any given day), lives in Las Vegas with a small group of elderly guys (no, nothing kinky going on here) and an older woman who takes on something of a housemother role. As Anna is taking a financial bath with her latest bet on a sporting event - her track record in this area isn't all that great - one of her friends is murdered and another narrowly misses the same fate. Somehow, she must figure out a way to avoid broken kneecaps courtesy of her loan shark as well as help a sexy detective figure out who's trying to kill off her friends without letting him in on her gambling predicament.

Of course, there's romance involved - and the detective brings his own shaky past to the bedroom to complicate things a bit. And as Anna tries to figure a way out from under her debt, an alter ego makes another appearance that could change the course of her already on-the-edge life forever.

For the record, I did find a few run-on sentences and other grammar glitches, the latter of which may be a result of transition to the Kindle format, but for the most part they didn't stomp too hard on my journalist/copy editor sensitivities. I did find it interesting that parts of the book are set in Pittsburgh - not far from where I live. As for the whodunit and why, it came mostly as a surprise except for one important part, which I'd guessed but didn't know how it fit in till the end.  

Speaking of the end, I suppose it was a foregone conclusion given that Anna moves on to another book, but it didn't make me terribly happy. That said, now I'm looking forward to Book No. 2 in this series, Against the Spread. Game on!

Against the Odds by Mara Jacobs (Copper Country Press LLC, September 2012); 276 pp.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Well, the first thing I'll say is wow! It's been a long time since I really, really didn't want to put a book down - and even longer when I actually put off something important (like cooking dinner) so I could have a few more minutes to read. Okay, you say, then why just 4 stars?

In fact, the dropping of the 5-star rating was decided somewhere around the 80% mark; all the loose ends were tied up neatly by the end, as far as I could tell, but somehow the final package wasn't quite as satisfying (or believable) as I'd expected. And, as other reviewers have said, there's a truckload of characters to keep track of; except for those who appear with some regularity, it was a little hard to remember who some of them were when they popped up after a multi-chapter absence.

Ah, but that first 80% had me hooked every word of the way. Truth is, so did the rest - even if I wasn't totally happy with the ending, I couldn't wait to get there. The book begins as a man who calls himself the Stranger suddenly appears, cornering "innocent" people who are going about their daily lives. Once he's got their attention, he shares a bit of information and saunters off leaving the recipients almost in shock. That happens to Jersey suburb dweller and attorney Adam Price, who has a beautiful wife, two lacrosse-loving sons and what appears to him to be the good life.

But those few words, and the realization of his wife's deception, turns Adam's world upside down. When he confronts his wife, she not only doesn't deny it - she runs away, leaving a cryptic text message that she wants to be left alone for a few days. Adam doesn't buy it, especially since she packed up with no word to the sons for whom she lives and breathes and absconds from the teaching job she normally wouldn't skip out on for the world. Unbeknownst to Adam, other people are having similar experiences; suddenly, they're told that the Stranger knows a deep, dark secret; for some, that knowledge turns out to be deadly. For Adam, all it does is raise more questions - and he sets out to find the answers (and, of course, his wife).

There's a fair amount of reliance on technology here (of the Big Brother is watching you variety), and if you're one of the few folks left on this planet who think none of this can happen, hopefully your eyes will be opened and you'll at least take a closer look at the security features on your smartphone. 

The Stranger by Harlan Coben (Dutton, March 2015); 396 pp.

Friday, April 3, 2015


4 stars out of 5

James Patterson's NYPD Red series - this is the third, as you cleverly might deduce from the title - has been a good one so far, and this one holds up its end of the tradition quite well. At the center of the action are Detective Zach Jordan and his partner (and one-time love interest) Kylie MacDonald, who are part of the elite task force that is charged with protecting the rich and famous. And it's hard to believe they come any richer than the billionaire Hunter Alden Jr.

Alden's chauffeur, who also served as a father figure to Alden's son Tripp, is murdered, putting the Alden family in a spotlight they don't want. Tripp then turns up missing, but his richer-than-God father refuses to even consider that he might have been kidnapped and tries to thwart any police investigation by throwing around his political and financial clout. Zach and Kylie, however, aren't buying it, and the chase is on to find out what happened to the kid without ruffling the family's gilded feathers (or getting themselves killed).

Throughout it all, Zach has to juggle his feelings for Kylie, who's married to a drug addict who keeps backsliding, and Cheryl, a psychologist who took Kylie's place after Zach lost her while they were training at the police academy. Yeah, that part is pretty sappy, but I'm sure the idea of keeping two beautiful women on the string will appeal to a lot of guys.

There are lots of twists and turns (both right and wrong), and I'm delighted to say one of them actually caused me to gasp and say to myself, "Wow - I didn't see that coming!" And that, my friends, doesn't happen very often. All in all, another good read. Keep 'em coming!

NYPD Red 3 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp (Little, Brown and Co., March 2015); 359 pp.