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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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


4 stars out of 5

A good bit of what happens in this book exceeds the boundaries of what I believe could happen in real life, but no matter; it's one of the most  intriguing and, well, just plain fun plots I've read in a long time - and I thank the publisher for making it available to me in exchange for an honest review.

It's almost impossible to describe what happens without revealing too much, but in essence it involves three grifters who manage to steal a couple of million bucks before Frank, the leader of the pack, gets arrested for a heist of a different sort. Now he's awaiting trial, and the money the other two thought they'd all share is blowing in the wind. Needless to say, they want their cut; grifters through and through, they're willing to do whatever it takes, including a double-cross that involves rigging Frank's trial, to get it.

But there's many a slip between the cup and the lip - too many to count, in fact. Just when I thought everything would go according to plan, a monkey wrench that altered the dynamic of the entire plot gets tossed in. Not until the end did I know how things would turn out; and even at that point, I learned that nothing's written in stone. Maybe that means there's a sequel in the works, but then again, maybe not.

I should add that according to the publisher, a less "sexually explicit" edition available. I can't imagine why that's necessary - I certainly wasn't offended by what little I encountered, and it seemed so unessential to the plot that I wondered why it was there at all. But if you object to that even a hint at kind of thing, I guess it'd good to know you can opt for a more chaste version.

Better To Give Than Deceive by Kobrinica Press (Kobrinica Press, December 2014); 252 pp.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


4 stars out of 5

First, let me get the "stuff" I wasn't crazy about out of the way. I'm not fond of first-person narratives, and I especially dislike present-tense writing. And while the ending wraps everything up in a neat and tidy fashion, it goes against the grain of  human emotion; nobody I know is able forgive and forget that fast.

Other than that, this one's a killer - starting with a first chapter that made me say "Wow! out loud  - really! It's so good, in fact, that I was almost happy when we weren't able to get the Ohio State-Maryland football game on TV - allowing me to keep my ears on he radio and both eyes on the book (the Buckeyes won, BTW).

At first, the short chapters (for which Patterson is known) zig and zag from person to person and time to time, and for a short time that was a little confusing. But that changed in short order as each one became a building block for the sometimes downright creepy plot and particularly gruesome murders that crop up along the way. The story begins as Detective Jenna Murphy has taken a job on her uncle's police force in the Hamptons, where as a child she was a regular visitor. She's accepted the job after leaving the Manhattan police under a cloud of suspicion, and this job, she believes, will be her only chance to salvage her much-loved career as a cop.

Aye, but there's something nasty lurking in the Hamptons; notably, a once-fabulous but now deteriorating house on the beach at No. 7 Ocean Drive. Rumor has it that it's cursed by way of long-ago murders that occurred there, resulting in its nickname of "Murder House." The locals have the good sense not to go there anymore, but then a couple of bodies are found inside and Jenna is on the case. That doesn't last long, though, as a suspect is arrested and the investigation becomes open-and-shut.

Ah, but if that were true, this book wouldn't exist, would it? Suffice it to say that Jenna - who's got some past demons of her own involving that house - isn't buying into the notion that the case is solved. To her dismay, though, she quickly learns that her continued poking around isn't appreciated by her police colleagues (especially not by her uncle). But as more bodies turn up, more clues are revealed that open new doors to Jenna's past as well as the culprit's real identity. Jenna isn't about to give up, no matter where the chase leads - which quite possibly could be to becoming a victim herself.

The Murder House by James Patterson and David Ellis (Little, Brown and Co., September 2015); 480 pp.

Friday, October 9, 2015


4 stars out of 5

As an avid reader with special interest in the mystery/thriller genre, I'm always on the lookout for a good series. In particular, I like books I can turn to when I've had my fill of blood and guts, mayhem and hard-boiled heroes who can kill five villains with their bare hands despite a broken leg and two gunshot wounds. I still want  books in the mystery category, mind you - I just want them a bit on the lighter side. As such, I count The Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun, The Burgler Who series by Lawrence Block and the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn among my go-to favorites (all of which, unfortunately, I've read by now).

Happily, this book, which I received at no cost from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review, fills the bill nicely. The heroine, Krissy Hancock, is the owner of Death by Coffee - a combination coffee shop and bookstore. She made her debut, if I read correctly, in Death by Coffee, which I have not read. This one stands on its own quite well, but little references here and there to incidents I assume happened in the predecessor suggest that I'd have preferred, as is my custom, to read the first one first.

Her little shop has been chosen as a meeting place by a book club, which is prepping for participation in (and winning) a book club competition. Yep, you read that right - I've never heard of such a thing either. They picked the place in part because the book they'll be reading was written by Krissy's father, even though by his own admission it's not one of his best. One night after all the club members and employees have gone, a man - one of the club members - is murdered. He was, it seems, bashed in the head by a teapot.

Krissy, a likable but downright nosy sort, begins to investigate despite warnings from the local police to butt out. Although she apparently helped police solve a different murder earlier - presumably the subject of the first book - this time out she's managed to become a prime suspect herself. Undaunted, she perseveres, putting personal relationships and even her life in jeopardy along the way. 

As for Krissy, I flip-flopped from relating to her as a person to, well, not so much. She insists no man looks good in a Speedo (right on), but she abhors all country music (whoa, Nelly)! My biggest turn-off came early on: Her favorite sweet treat is a cup of coffee with a chocolate chip cookie at the bottom of the cup. Gross! Also, some of the situations in which she puts herself even though she's a suspect made me think she's either incredibly naive or impossibly stupid, but hey - if I'm honest, I must admit that nosy me probably have done exactly what she did. More to the point here, though, is that it all works - making the whole thing quite an enjoyable read.

As for me, I've put this series on my to-read list and now await publication of the next one.

Death By Tea by Alex Erickson (Amazon Digital Services, November 2015); 320 pp.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This book had me hooked from the minute I learned that lead character Nora Baron teaches acting at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. That's where our son earned a master's degree (in applied mathematics, and I hasten to add he didn't get that talent from me), so it was instant rapport. Alas, none of the action here took place on that beautiful but traffic-challenged island (well, at least on the Long Island Expressway), although Nora's previous on-stage and teaching experience does indeed play a major role. 

Happily, I remained interested throughout the many twists, although I will say I guessed fairly early on the identity of at least one baddie as well as a couple of other plot details that were revealed as the ending neared. Finding out whether I was right or wrong - plus an interesting plot - kept me reading as often as my free time would allow (and for the record, my guesses were right). It's a solid, well-written story, and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for granting me the opportunity to read and review it in exchange for a review.

The story begins as Nora is notified that her husband Jeff has been killed in an auto accident in England, where he'd gone on a business trip. Immediately thereafter, she flies to London to identify the body and claim the remains, and as she leaves the morgue, she's mugged by a man intent on stealing her purse. Shaken, she returns to her hotel only to get a strange message she interprets as an instruction to head for France. She goes there on the run, and from that point on, she stays on the run till the very end - trying to get to the truth while avoiding getting arrested or killed.  

As I turned the pages, I was somehow reminded of the Carol Higgins Clark Regan Reilly series, which, BTW, I love. I'm not sure why that comparison came to mind, except that this is my idea of great vacation reading; at just 276 pages, it flies by in no time and left me, at least, happy I'd taken the time to read it.

Mrs. John Doe by Tom Savage (Alibi, October 2015); 276 pp.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


4.5 stars out of 5

Have I mentioned that I have a truly warped sense of humor? Nothing is sacred to me when it comes in the form of a joke - not life, nor religion, nor death. And trust me, not one of those three topics gets short shrift in this book (I'd give it 4.5 stars if that were possible).

Because I enjoy the dark side of funny, it stands to reason I love Christopher Moore's books. Back when I read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, I giggled so hard and so often that I had to move away from my usual reading spot lest I further annoy a husband who was trying his best to read a book of his own. This time, my intent was to read Moore's latest, Secondhand Souls; but a good friend and fellow Moore fan advised me to read this one first and I paid attention.

The whole thing begins as Charlie Asher is enjoying his life with a beautiful wife and infant daughter. But suddenly, everything goes to hell in a handbasket - somewhat literally. People begin to drop dead, and he "sees" people and things no one else does. Soon, he learns he's become a designated Death Merchant - a person charged with collecting the souls of the dying, keeping them away from the Forces of Darkness that threaten to take over the world so Charlie can transfer them to the bodies of other living folks. It's a dirty job, as his Death Merchant instruction book (and the  title of this book) say, but somebody's got to do it. Actually, Charlie is a natural for the job; as a Beta Male, he's described as leaning toward timidity and paranoia - both tendencies quite evident at least in the early parts of the book - but on the other hand, he'll "never be a bug splattered on the smoky windscreen of dull imagination."

The book follows Charlie as he tries to better understand and deal with his rather bizarre fate. Sometimes, he's called upon to explain his strange actions (not to mention his daughter Sophie's suddenly acquired pair of humongous black bodyguard dogs and his every-so-often sightings of shadowy "beings" that pop up from the San Francisco sewer system).  Like everything else, those explanations are served with a big dose of humor:

"So, from what you guys are saying, there are thousands of humans walking around without souls?" a lady friend asked.

"Millions, probably," Charlie replied.

"Maybe that explains the last election," was her retort.

Ah yes, definitely my kind of book.

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (William Morrow, reprint edition, October 2009); 400 pp.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Always on the lookout for a good series, I found this book on sale at Amazon and zeroed in on it. Now that I've finished it, I'm almost sorry to learn that there's only one more that's currently available (the next is Her Final Breath, which I definitely plan to read). Yes, there's also a short story (Kindle Single), but I've said on many occasions I have zero interest in those things no matter how much I love the author's work. If that practice brings in some extra bucks for the authors, so be it, but suffice it to say none of those bucks will come from me.

This one introduces Tracy Crosswhite, a Seattle homicide detective who (understandably) never got over the murder of her younger sister Sarah some 20 years earlier - her body never found. A suspect who confessed to the murder was tried and convicted and remains incarcerated, but Tracy has had doubts about his guilt and some of the evidence that was presented all those years ago. 

As she investigates another case involving the death of a young stripper, her sister's body is unearthed - literally - so she returns to her former home in the Washington State mountains. Discovery of the body brings even more into question, and with a little help from an old but rediscovered attorney friend, she focuses on getting to the truth no matter who gets hurt along the way. 

This certainly isn't the best murder mystery I've ever read - I've gone through so many that I'm not even sure what is - but it certainly held my interest throughout; I was even a bit annoyed that I was forced to put it down for two days when good friends from out of town popped in for a visit (good thing I love them dearly). But the minute they left  - well, as soon as we'd washed the wine glasses and put away the leftover pizza - the first thing I did was open up my Kindle to see how the story ended. And for the record, it got even more exciting the closer I got to the finish line.

Now I'm off to see about getting my hands on the sequel, and after that I'll just have to wait till May 2016, when the third is slated for release (In the Clearing).

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer, November 2014); 418 pp.