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Thursday, July 30, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Whoa - what a terrific book! It's always a treat to find one that's this hard to put down and offers so many surprise twists and turns.

Actually, the plot itself has a familiar ring; two strangers meet up on an airplane, and, over a few drinks, begin talking about the ups and downs in their lives. For Ted Severson, the biggest "down" is his wife, Miranda; she's cheated on him with the contractor who's building them a mansion overlooking the ocean in Maine, and he's out for revenge. When he mostly jokes that he'd like to kill her, the other stranger. Lily Kintner, doesn't miss a beat. "I'd like to help," she says.

One discussion leads to another, as do the drinks, and before you know it, the wheels of a diabolical plan to get rid of Miranda are put into motion - masterminded by Lily, who - unbeknownst to Ted - has a past filled with more than a few dark secrets. As the plot thickens, readers get glimpses into what's happening (and happened) as each chapter shifts from the perspectives of the three major players and, later on, the detective who's trying to sort things out as he investigates a murder (the name of the victim I shall not reveal).

On a personal note, part of the action takes place in parts of Maine that my husband and I have visited; I was especially happy to see mention of the Kittery Trading Post in Kittery - one of my all-time favorite outdoor stores.

Suffice it to say there are more than a few surprises, and the author is a master at ending each chapter with a hook that made me salivating to learn more only to switch to a different character's perspective in the next one. That's tough to pull off, IMHO; usually, that tactic annoys the heck out of me. Not so here; it meant only that yet again, my long-suffering husband would have to wait a bit longer to get his dinner.

Definitely a winner in my book!

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (William Morrow, February 2015); 320 pp.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


4 stars out of 5

While I admit to growing a bit tired of the popular Bones
 TV show after 10 seasons, I certainly haven't given up; it's a sure bet I'll be watching the Season 11 debut on Oct. 1. For those who might not know, the show is inspired by the books by Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist like her TV and book counterpart Temperance Brennan.

The books have been around even longer; this is the 18th in the series, and I've read almost all of them. Without question, I enjoy the books far more than the TV show; the primary similarity between the two is that they both center around a somewhat emotionally challenged Brennan. Other than that, the twain rarely meets.

Here, she's struggling (still) with her feelings for police detective Andrew Ryan, who has proposed marriage. Not wanting to compromise her independence and still reeling after the betrayal by her ex-husband and father of her now-grown daughter, she keeps putting off a decision, making her the perfect poster child for avoidance behavior. In the midst of the waffling, she gets a visit from a strange woman named Hazel "Lucky" Strike, an amateur Internet sleuth who tries to solve cold cases. The woman brings a frightening tape recording she believes is the voice of an 18-year-old girl who disappeared a few years earlier and whose remains are anonymously stashed in Brennan's lab. The problem? The girl's parents - members of a radical and secretive religious group that's rooted in Catholicism - insist she's not missing; rather, she just ran off with a no-good boyfriend who also can't be found.

Given the lack of hard evidence, Brennan reluctantly does some sleuthing of her own, ending in the backwoods discovery of a few bones that may belong to the missing girl. More sleuthing turns up more bones - and questions of to whom they belong. Brennan gets lots of help from a local law enforcement guy (who's also pretty good in the eye candy department) and some from her own lab colleagues. But mostly, as usual, her headstrong personality demands that she follow the evidence - even if it leads to dangerous places and people and puts her own life in jeopardy.

I enjoyed this book, and, at just 320 pages, breezed through it in no time. I like the somewhat larger role given to Brennan's mother, and as usual, Brennan's sense of humor popped out here and there. And, I definitely didn't foresee the ending. Still, the whole thing seemed a bit on the "lightweight" side, with not quite as much emphasis on the forensics that never fails to grab and hold my attention. 

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (Bantam, July 2015); 320 pp.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

This is the first in the author's series of three (so far) featuring NYPD detective and intelligence officer Jeremy Fisk. I've had the first two for a while now  (next up is The Execution), and I finally found a lull in my stack of to-read books and decided to give the first one a whirl.

For those who may not be familiar with his name, Dick Wolf is the creator of TV's extremely popular and long-running Law and Order franchise (count me as a big fan who was upset at the cancellation of the original show). This is his first novel, and the first thing I'll happily emphasize is it does not read like a screenplay (but it would, IMHO, make a better-than-average motion picture). No, it reads like a book - just as it should - and a pretty darned good one at that.

Fisk is reminiscent of other action heroes - Brad Thor's Scot Harvath comes to mind mostly, I suppose, because I recently finished the most recent installment, Code of Conduct. Even the plot has a somewhat familiar ring to it: the good guys and gals trying to catch the bad ones who may have ties to the late Osama Bin Laden and are out to do dastardly things to the American infidels. Usually, that's a bit of a turn-off for me; I'm well aware of the threat and know it's a hot topic,  but (maybe because of that) I'm less than enthusiastic when it's the theme of books I read for pleasure.

That said, author Wolfe manages to keep the concept fresh (and, thank goodness, doesn't set any scenes in Iran or Afghanistan). All the action, which heats up quickly, happens on U.S. soil and doesn't stop till the end. The whole thing begins as six passengers on an international flight to Newark, N.J, struggle with and subdue a would-be hijacker who apparently had planned to destroy New York City's new Freedom Tower before its official July 4 dedication. But all may not be what it seems; Fisk and officer (and love interest) Krina Gersten agree that the hijacker's confession may be a little too pat; could his actions be a diversion to cover up an even more serious plot? And if so, can they find out the real target in time to prevent a deadly post-9/11 disaster?

I've learned the answers, of course, but I'm not telling; if you want to know what happens, go read the book for yourself. My only "complaint," such as it is, is that the suspicions and conclusions Fisk reaches sometimes seem a bit beyond the human thinking process - but then maybe that's why they pay him the big bucks. But while that prompted a slight deduction in review stars, I'm glad I finally read this one, and for sure I won't keep the next one in the series on the back burner very long.

The Intercept by Dick Wolf (Harper paperback/Kindle, May 2013); 433 pp.

Monday, July 20, 2015


5 stars out of 5

It's always interesting to see what political hot buttons will set author Brad Thor on a conservative roll in his books featuring counter-terrorism operative Scot Harvath - this is the 15th in the series. Sure enough, expressed mostly through Harvath's musings, he hits a bunch of them here, ranging from the United Nations and CIA to the government's penchant for spying on citizens to the belief that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (i.e., if our enemies do it to us, why shouldn't we return the favor?) But agree with his philosophies or not - for me, it's more often not - he sure can write a heck of a story.

Just about ready to head out for a long-awaited, relaxing vacation with his girlfriend (well, as much as the adventure-loving former SEAL is able to relax), Harvath gets called back into action by the private firm for which he's now employed. He loves his work here because the company is able to color outside the lines when necessary; they get jobs done that those who must follow rules and regulations and function within official channels can't (such as torture and murder), and he's exceptionally good at what he does. 

Initially, the job involves a trip to a clinic deep within the Congo, where it appears there's been a cover-up of a mass murder. That leads to the realization that countries of the world - most notably the United States and Israel - are the targets of a terrorism plot involving the spread of a deadly disease. At the center of the plot is a secret committee whose members are beyond reach of the law of the land. Harvath and his team, however, are well acquainted with ways to circumvent such boundaries; still, learning the identity of those plotting to revamp and take over the world, tracking them down and ending the threat of human extinction puts Harvath's nearly super-human skills (as well as some pretty nifty technology) to the test. 

Yes, the whole thing is a little over the top in the believability department, but hey, it probably could happen (and besides, who today doesn't worry at least a little bit about bioterrorism)? If ever that were to come to pass for real, I just hope there'll be somebody like Harvath in our corner!

Code of Conduct by Brad Thor (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, July 2015); 368 pp.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This is the 34th novel about the life and loves of super-rich New York lawyer Stone Barrington. Although I enjoyed it more than some of the others over the past couple of years, I must note that I read it almost in one sitting - and on a day I was cooking dinner for friends, no less. In part, that's because it's just 320 pages; it's also because even when something happens that borders on action, no one gets the least bit worked up and it's easy to breeze through without fear of missing anything important. At times, in fact, the "excitement" happens when both parties hang up the phone.

Case in point: A typical conversation, as Stone - who apparently has become the target of mobsters - is warned to hole up in his fortified mansion.

"If I can't go out, then maybe I should have a dinner party. I don't do that often enough."  

All rightee, then. But don't misunderstand; such is the author's style, and - Lord help me - I've rather come to enjoy the laid-back way the characters approach day-to-day life, even when murder happens and friends' lives are threatened. This one begins as Stone is introduced to a man looking to do business in New York, with guidance from Stone's prestigious law firm, Woodman & Weld. Turns out, though, that the man is encroaching on the established territory of a few criminals - and they don't take kindly to the situation.

That's when the action - if you want to call it that -  begins, highlighted by a few murders, friends with bullseyes on their backs, anticipation of delivery of a fancy new airplane and [mercifully brief] reports of Stone bedding just about every eligible female he encounters including - be still my heart- a self-described "sex addict." The ending is gobsmackingly abrupt, leaving unfinished business that I suppose will be continued in the next book. On the plus side, since the last few were published within a few months of each other, I don't expect to wait long to find out.

Naked Greed by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, July 2015); 320 pp.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Sherlock Holmes, the well-known detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 1880s, has long been a favorite of mine. Of course, I read most of the novels and short stories many years ago and continue to "follow" his adventures in every motion picture and TV show that turns up (actor Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal in TV's "Sherlock" is a favorite). But until recently - when it was a special Kindle offer - I had no idea this book (or its predecessor, The House of Silk, existed. In fact, it was an Amazon Best Book of the Month in December 2014, and I learned that both books were approved by Doyle's estate.

It was the description, though, that reeled me in: The mystery "explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty, tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls." I stayed on hooked all the way to the end - an end that, for the record, pretty much blew me away. 

The story begins not long after the two enemies tumbled over the falls, effectively eliminating one of the criminals sought by both the Pinkerton agency and Scotland Yard. Now, another one has moved to the top of the most-wanted list, and it appears he fancies himself a worthy successor to Moriarty. Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase, who provides a first-person narration here, has come to Europe from New York in hopes of tracking down the criminal, named Clarence Devereaux. Chase meets up with Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, a dedicated Holmes aficionado, and they join forces on a search that takes them through unsavory parts of London and puts their lives at risk with regularity. 

The writing style mirrors that of Doyle (that is to say a little bit stuffy, but totally fun), and references to that author's works are too numerous to mention. I don't think it's necessary to have read Doyle's works to enjoy this book, but on the other hand, a little familiarity with them certainly enhanced my enjoyment. I'll also emphasize that this is not a book about Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson per se; the references to both are many, but neither makes a personal appearance (Sherlock, of course, was lost at the Swiss falls before this book begins).

In summary, this is the first book in a while that elicited a "Wow!" from me when I got to the end. I also learned that author Horowitz has written a James Bond novel (another all-time favorite character of mine) set for release in the United States in September 2015, titled Trigger Mortis. Big surprise - I'm heading to Amazon to pre-order a Kindle version as we speak.

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, December 2014); 309 pp.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


5 stars out of 5

This short story lays the foundation for Jonathan Kellerman's upcoming book, The Murderer's Daughter, set for release in mid-August 2015. Although I've been vocal about not being a fan of the so-called "prequels," I caved in this time simply because it's written by an author at the Top 3 of my favorites list.

At just 47 pages it took only half an hour or so to read, and I'm happy to say it's excellent. The story stands alone, but - as I'm sure is the intent - the ending left me wondering what will happen next.  No doubt I'll forget everything I read by the time I get the full book on my Kindle Fire, though (one of the reasons I avoid prequels), so I'll write a quick review that I can use to refresh my memory before I dive into the real thing.

The story begins in 1965 (put in my perspective, at that time our son would have been two years old and I was a stay-at-home mom), when a young man named Malcolm Bluestone takes a break between finishing a Harvard degree and starting law school to visit his older brother Steve in California. The two are far enough apart in age that they've never been close, but Malcolm admires Steve and his free-wheeling lifestyle as a movie "star."

So far, Malcolm has walked the more conventional path favored by his elderly parents - Jewish immigrants who fled Germany to escape the wrath of Hitler's regime - but he's also harbored a desire to veer off course and create his own walkway. While visiting his brother's movie set and witnessing an incident that shocks him to the core, he makes the decision to do exactly that: After all, it's the right thing to do.

The Right Thing to Do (short story, Kindle Single) by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine Books, July 2015); 47 pp.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

My expectations for books by James Patterson and his co-author du jour admittedly have been lowered over the past few years as a result of a few too many ho-hum entries, but overall, I usually end up enjoying them (for the most part, anyway). This one fits that description perfectly; there's nothing to stand up and cheer about, but neither is it anywhere near awful.

Early on, I had my doubts; I just couldn't get into it - mostly, I think, because the characters just weren't all that interesting. The book begins when attorney Trevor Mann's hot-shot journalist girlfriend, Claire Parker, meets a tragic but suspicious demise. She was working on a big story, but as journalists are wont to do, she never shared any details with anyone else including Trevor. Being clueless doesn't deter him from trying to get to the truth, however, and that effort leads him to the discovery of something so powerful that governments and terrorists alike would kill to get it - literally.

Then, he  meets up with a teenage genius named Owen, one of Claire's sources who apparently has a working knowledge of what went down and why both he and Trevor now are in the rifle sights of some pretty nasty dudes. The truth, they believe, will set them free and needs to be told, but is there anyone they can trust? Who are the real players, and how far up the political ladder is the one who's really pulling the strings?

In the end, the whole thing smacked more of a romp through the park to me than the serious, danger-filled action adventure it probably is supposed to be. For my part, I'll call it a reasonably entertaining, non-brain taxing read for the beach or to hold in one hand while you're cooling your toes in a backyard swimming pool with an umbrella drink in the other. And that's the truth.

Truth or Die by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (Little, Brown and Co., June 2015); 416 pp.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


4 stars out of 5

One of the free and low-cost book services to which I belong offered this one free back in March. The description sounded interesting, the reviews were decent, and it was a Best Book of the Month and a No. 1 Best Seller in the Legal Thriller category at Amazon. Besides that, the author has some serious writing chops (including several other books and more than 20 episodes of the JAG TV show on CBS (that alone upped him a few notches on my admiration scale - I really enjoyed that show).

Besides that, this book is subtitled "Jimmy ("Royal") Payne Legal Thriller Book 1, and I'm always looking for new, solid series to fall back on when nothing much else on my to-read list turns me on.

When I finally got around to starting it, I learned that it features a down-but-not-out semi-sleazy lawyer who defends low-life, has an ex-wife he still loves, judges and other law enforcement folks who hate his guts and a vendetta against the man who killed his son in a hit-and-run...stop me if you've heard this one before. Shortly thereafter, I came across this tidbit:

"The Jack Daniels swirled between the ice cubes like molten lava through porous rocks." 

Uh-oh, I said to myself - this could be a huge mistake. 

Thankfully, that wasn't the case; in fact, the writing is excellent and the story turned out to be interesting (if a titch on the predictable side). It begins as Jimmy is coerced into bribing a crooked judge; he's successful, but the fallout puts Jimmy in the cross hairs of his peers on just about every side of the desk. Meanwhile, his ex-wife, a police officer, is engaged to a talk-circuit blowhard who blasts Mexican illegals every chance he gets (the setting is California, where large numbers cross the border every day).

Shift gears to the other side of the line, where a beautiful Mexican mother and her 12-year-old son who are trying to get into the United States become separated. Jimmy, who's on the warpath to find the Mexican man who was responsible for his son's death, bumps into the boy and ultimately promises to help find the missing mother. Now, with the boy in tow, Jimmy is running not only from the U.S. cops - a warrant has been issued for his arrest - but also some rather nasty Mexicans intent on putting him six feet under (maybe less depending on how much time they have). The chase leads to a powerful ranch owner who has his hands in everyone's pocket - and who may not be the upstanding businessman he makes himself out to be. Will Jimmy find the boy's mother and the man who killed his son before he gets himself thrown in jail (or worse)?  

The only real complaint I have is that the transitions need some serious work - switcheroos from setting to setting happen with little warning (one, in fact, occurred in the same paragraph). And while I know the boy had a tough life and gained street smarts, he seems wise way beyond his years when it comes to knowledge of all things American (heck, even at my advanced age I have no clue how to find porn channels on TV or work someone else's iPod with zero instruction). 

All in all, though, it's an enjoyable adventure, and everything gets wrapped up by the end. At that point, I was left with a bit of a puzzle. The book is listed under the "Stand-alone" section of the author's writings, which suggests it's not, in fact, the first of a series. So why does the subtitle call it "Book 1?" Hmm - inquiring minds want to know.

Illegal by Paul Levine (Nittany Valley Productions Inc., March 2014); 386 pp.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

First impression: Damn, the man sure knows how to write a dynamite first chapter!

Last impression: Another outstanding book featuring my all-time favorite character, Israel's not-so-secret agent Gabriel Allon (the 15th in the series, I believe) - but it falls a wee bit short of 5 stars.

That said, Daniel Silva may be the only writer on the planet who can make me want to read stories involving Hezbollah, al-Qaeda or the IRA. This book takes off where the previous one ended, with Gabriel planning to take over as chief of "The Office" - a role that presumably with put the brakes on in-the-field action. He's also preparing for fatherhood once again; his younger, beautiful wife Chiara is close to delivering twins (Gabriel's young son from his first marriage was killed in a terrorist explosion).

But as one might expect in the world of espionage, nothing is a sure thing. An English princess (loosely based on the late Princess Diana, the author says) is killed while on a yacht by an assassin linked to the IRA. Against his will - Gabriel wants to finish restoration of a major painting and spend the final weeks with his wife before the twins arrive - he's coerced into joining forces with Christopher Keller, an Englishman who is being recruited as a spy for M16. 

The trail leads to Eamon Quinn, who excels at making highly destructive bombs that kill lots of innocent people; apparently, he was hired to blow up that yacht, so the two men set out to learn who put up the money for the hit. The chase takes them to a variety of settings, most of which have appeared in previous books, where they go gun-to-knife with a variety of characters (ditto). The whole thing seems to be a wrap-up of everything that's happened before in a neat and tidy (well, sometimes, messy) bow, thus freeing up Gabriel to take over a desk job and, perhaps, paving the way for future books with new M16 agent Chris Keller in the lead role. That being the case, you bet I'll be reading them - but make no mistake: He'll never top Gabriel as my favorite character.

And that, I suppose, is why I couldn't quite muster up 5 stars; there were just too many characters and too much description of past situations (although, I admit, they were necessary to the tidying up process). Then too, the almost total absence of the Chiara was noticeable - I think I may have missed her even more than Gabriel does. I'll also note that there seems to be a bit more emphasis on politics than usual - on U.S.-Israel relations, for instance (for a while, I suspected Silva was channeling another of my favorite writers, Brad Thor). But clearly, Silva has done extensive research on the subject, and for the most part, the political insights enhanced the story (and goodness knows, tensions between the US. of A and Israel have been strained of late).

On the plus side, Silva's writing goes way beyond excellent (as usual), and I enjoyed the occasional touches of spy humor:

Chris to Gabriel as they abduct an errant bad guy: "I hope he'll fit in the trunk."

Gabriel: "We'll slam the lid on him a few times if we have to."

In the end, Silva has put forth yet another excellent work. Now I can't wait to see how Gabriel transitions to his new roles of team leader and dad to twins (SPOILER ALERT!!) Irene and Raphael.

The English Spy by Daniel Silva (Harper, June 2015); 496 pp.

Friday, July 3, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

If you're looking to make a fairly sure bet on a horse, it's a good idea to put your money on one that has performed well in previous races. If you're a writer looking for another winning book, the principle is the same: Look to your previous successes. So it is with this one, where Mr. Mercedes meets Misery.

Well-known author John Rothstein created a wildly popular nonconformist character named Jimmy Gold who, in the final book - written years ago - "sells out" for an establishment career in advertising. This puts an already over-the-edge guy name Morris Bellamy so much "misery" that he robs and murders the elderly writer. In so doing, Morris discovers not only money in the safe, but also a pile of notebooks filled with, presumably, at least one more unpublished Gold novel. And who should end up involved in tracking down the killer but three of the characters who did the same back when the driver of a Mercedes plowed through a crowd of job-seekers at the City Center Massacre (retired police officer Bill Hodges, Holly and Jerome).

I should note that this book stands alone, but there are enough references to Mr. Mercedes that it's probably a good idea to read it first if you haven't already. I did - giving that one 5 stars - but long enough ago that I didn't even remember the names of the three "heroes" and even less about their actions in that story.

Those characters don't show up anywhere near the beginning here, though. After Morris kills Rothstein and steals the loot, he hides it in an old trunk that he buries under the roots of a tree near the house in which he grew up. Then, he ends up in jail for many years after being convicted of an entirely different crime. Meanwhile, the trunk and its contents are discovered by young Peter Saubers, who now lives with his mother, father and sister in Morris's old house. Since his parents desperately need money (his father was seriously injured when that Mercedes plowed through the crowd), Pete decides to surreptitiously mail the $20,000 or so he found to them in installments. Along the way, the young man also realizes that the old notebooks that were in the trunk may be worth far more than the cash.

Of course, what can go wrong will, and in this case, it's that Morris gets an early release after 35 years in prison - and all he can think about is getting his hands on the notebooks over which he's obsessed for all those years. In fact, they're far more important than the money; could it be that author Rothstein has made Gold see the light and return to his wild-child ways, thus, in Morris's eyes, righting an egregious wrong? 

But alas, once Morris digs up the old trunk, it's empty. From that point on, it's a race to see how it all plays out as Morris follows the trail, Pete tries to keep himself under the radar and his family safe and Hodges and his two young friends have a bumpy ride to the rescue. All the characters are well developed as are the details of how their lives intersect (sometimes in almost too much of a coincidence), but I must say I wasn't all that thrilled with the teenage Pete (nor, for that matter, his younger sister). I know they had to fend for themselves amid the trials and tribulations of their parents and are quite intelligent, but in many ways they seemed grown up far beyond their years - hence my actual rating of 4.5 stars even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King (Scribner, June 2015); 448 pp.