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Saturday, February 28, 2015


4 stars out of 5

It's hard to believe there are 41 books in the J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts) Death series. I missed out on the very early years - the first, I believe, was published in 1995). What I know for sure is I'm always excited when a new one is released.

Except for this: New York police lieutenant Eve Dallas happens to be married to a man who's high on my Top 10 list of favorite heroes - the super hunky, uber-rich Irish rogue named Roarke. And every single time I get the latest book, I hesitate to start (honest!) simply because I'm so afraid he'll be bumped off. In most of the books, you see, the bad guys and gals have a nasty habit of targeting people close to Eve - and sometimes, they're successful. Eve herself may be hurt in the process, of course, but unless the series is coming to an end, I figure she's not likely to bite the dust. But Roarke is another story.

This latest effort is no different; set in 2060 - complete with 'droid cops, machines that can be programmed to spit out dinner and such that add to my enjoyment - Eve becomes the target of someone who's obsessed with her. The culprit goes on a murder spree, leaving cryptic messages outlining his or her special bond with Eve and explaining that the murder was committed on Eve's behalf.

But who's doing it? And even more important, who's next? Clearly, the killer is choosing victims that are related to cases Eve has worked on in the past - cases that might not have ended quite the way they "should" have - and has set out to make things right to impress Eve, the killer's BFF. The problem, of course, is that neither Eve nor anyone with whom she works (including her lovable, pink-obsessed partner Peabody) has a clue as to the killer's identity. Almost every step of the way, the killer is ultra-careful, leaving nothing behind except the messages to Eve. 

As Eve - with the help of her beloved Roarke and talented team members - try to identify the killer, it becomes a psychological battle more than a physical one. For whatever reason, Eve just didn't seem to have the fire that's driven her in previous books; some of the tension - and my concern that somebody close to Eve will become a victim - just wasn't there (hence my 4-star rating). Still, I enjoyed this one thoroughly, and yes, I'm eagerly awaiting publication of the next in the series (reportedly Devoted in Death, to be published Sept. 8).

Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb (G.P. Putnam's Sons, February 2015); 405 pp.

Monday, February 23, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Right up front, I'll say thanks to the author Ian Thomas Malone for inviting me to take a day trip with him by way of a very enjoyable book - which he provided at no cost to me in exchange for a review. But first, a bit of explanation is in order here; coming of age in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I know from experience that sharing a joint wasn't all that unusual. And I admit - now that I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has expired - that I did just that. Twice. The second time, though, was in the hope that I'd feel something I'd missed the first time around; but this one, too, was zero, zip, nada. Heck, I got more of a high from my Virginia Slims menthol than from the weed, so I figured there was no point and never again indulged.

LSD, on the other hand, seemed to offer lots more possibilities (as underscored by counter-culturist Timothy Leary's "Turn on, tune in, drop out" mantra of the mid-'60s).  But in fact, speed - other than the kind I enjoyed on my favorite roller coaster at Coney Island in Cincinnati - scared the bejesus out of me. Here I was, the product of a Midwestern farm, just starting an on-my-own journey to an unknown destination. I wasn't particularly beautiful, nor athletically inclined - so it was clear that brains would give me the best shot at a solid future. Simply put, my mind was just too important to mess with. 

But to this day, I wonder occasionally what the experience would be like. And thanks to this book, much of the mystery has been revealed. Here, I learned more about what happens to someone on drugs than in all my nearly 74 years combined as I tagged along on Malone's "trip" from beginning to end, with plenty of pretty cool stops along the way. I gleaned far too many nuggets of wisdom to mention without spoiling the revelations for other readers, although a few, such as this one, stood out: "One generally does not ask someone who is tripping a question and expect a coherent answer."  

The adventure takes place in Boston as Malone, a junior in college, and two friends decide to pop some acid, visit the Museum of Fine Art and then head for a theater to see "The Lion King" in 3-D. As one might expect, the adventures take on a life of their own once the drugs kick in (in particular, their experience in the museum bathroom was a hoot). By the time they got to the movie, I'd giggled out loud several times. Watching it brought the trio even more insights (although I suspect seeing Rafiki about to throw Simba off that cliff in 3-D would have that effect on me even without the drugs). 

Then, on what I believe was a Monday morning sidewalk (with a day-after nod to Kris Kristofferson), there's the coming back down; it's complete with an awareness of what was real, what wasn't, and - what the book really is about - self discovery. Knowing that Malone graduated from college a couple of years ago (apparently in one piece) and clearly - to me, at least - is an accomplished writer, I'd say he's put what he learned to good use. 

A Trip Down Reality Lane by Ian Thomas Malone (Limitless Publishing LLC, February 2015); 184 pp.

Friday, February 20, 2015


5 stars out of 5

By the time I'd finished the first half-dozen chapters of this book - the third in the author's series featuring investigator Tessa Leoni - I was so freaked out I considered calling it quits. But under no circumstances should you interpret that to mean it's a terrible or poorly written story.

In fact, it's just the opposite. The book begins with an investigation of a spectacular crash of an SUV driven by Nicky Frank, who ignores extensive injuries to claw her way out of the wreckage. She was, she claims, desperate to find  a young girl named Vero who is presumed to be her daughter and a passenger in the vehicle. After an extensive but futile search for the child, the investigators, including police Sgt. Wyatt Foster, visit Nicky at the hospital where she's recuperating. There, they learn from her husband of 22 years, Thomas, that she has suffered two other recent concussions, is in frail mental health and - most important - is not and never has been a mother. Turns out Nicky is the client of Tessa's P.I. firm, and coincidentally, Tessa is in a relationship with Wyatt; so, he calls her in to help. 

Okay, so what's the freaky part? Well, in between chapters laying out the progress of the investigation are those told from Nicky's point of view; and  both what she knows and what she doesn't remember is downright frightening. A few more missing bits and pieces are re-conjured up in her memory each time she gets a chance to tell her story in print, and although I was certain everything would come together in the end, there are only dribbles of clues as to the how, when, where or who.

There are even a few appearances by the author's other series character, Detective D.D. Warren, who's recuperating from a serious injury that's sidelined her career. Her friend Tessa, it seems, is trying to coerce the detective into joining her firm, and handing her an assignment while she's got some spare time on her hands not only will go a long way toward accomplishing that, but may help Tessa and Wyatt get to the bottom of their investigation as well. I'll note here that I've read most of the Warren books (the most recent, Fear Nothing, earned 5 stars from me as well).

Much as I'd like to be more explicit, there isn't much more I can reveal without spoiling things for other readers except to say that Nicky's memories get darker and more twisted as her recollections return in odd pieces that in the end come together to form a rather horrific picture.

And that, my friends, is book review-speak for Read. This. One. Now.

Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner (Dutton Adult, February 2015); 398 pp.

Monday, February 16, 2015


4 stars out of 5

After the first couple of chapters, I was afraid I'd gotten myself into a sappy bodice-ripper - definitely not my cup of tea. The earmarks were there: Instant falling in love (forever, of course), gazing so deeply into each others' eyeballs that each could see what the other had for dinner and character names somebody must have stayed up all night to come up with (twins Raine and Roane, for instance). But hey, the setting is South Louisiana, so maybe the name game is different in that neck of the woods.

Bailey Browne, a lonely young woman who's prone to dreaming about a white knight who will sweep her off her feet, goes on vacation and finds him in older hunka hunka Logan Abbott. He confesses that his first wife True, (another of those crazy names), disappeared one day and hasn't been heard of since. Relatively unfazed, Bailey agrees to marry Logan (since his first wife hasn't been found, I'm not sure how he managed a second marriage without becoming a bigamist -  but then again, this is South Louisiana). At any rate, the couple returns to Logan's expansive horse farm, expecting to settle down and live happily ever after.

Of course, life rarely goes as planned. Early on, Bailey learns that all isn't what it seems in LA-la land, and there's even a rumor that her gorgeous husband may have been involved in his first wife's disappearance as well as in that of other women from the area who have gone missing over the years. At first, Bailey begins to doubt Logan's love for her, flipping between "How can I live with someone who won't reveal his innermost dark secrets to me?" to believing with all her heart that he's being railroaded.

Emotional histrionics aside, it was at this point that the plot really begins to thicken and the book turned into one I had trouble putting down (I read the last few chapters while watching the 40th anniversary of "Saturday Night Live" on TV, just to show how intent I was on finishing it). There are several intriguing characters (a couple of whom have relatively normal names), and the backgrounds of each are fleshed out as part of the race to unearth what really happened to all those missing women. Along the way, Bailey's life is threatened (more than once), there's a lot more horsing around as other bodies pile up.

And, finding out whodunit kept me reading with gusto to the very end. I will say that almost from the beginning I had two characters in mind for that role, and by golly, I was right (well, one of them was) - but really, that only added to my enjoyment of the book. If you like romance mixed with mystery, don't hesitate to give this one a go.

The First Wife by Erica Spindler (St. Martin's Press, February 2015); 352 pp.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Like the previous two books in the author's series featuring psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware - I believe this is the 30th - Motive falls a bit short of a 5-star rating in my book. Mostly, I attribute that to a few too many characters who seem to be included just for the heck of it (to throw readers off track, perhaps?) and an abrupt, somewhat unsatisfying ending. Ah yes, and one other thing: So many run-on sentences that I lost count in the first two chapters. I admit to being picky when it comes to grammar, but God made semicolons and dashes for a good reason.

But on the plus side, it's still Kellerman - and chalk up another better-than-decent one that brings together the good doctor, a consultant to the LAPD, and his good friend, police lieutenant Milo Sturgis. The latter calls Alex to help when a young woman is found murdered in her home. That murder is followed by the gunning down of a gorgeous and successful woman who's been in the process of divorcing her business partner husband for the past three years. 

The plot thickens when it appears that the killer may have set up fake dinners for two at the victims' homes after the fact, leading the investigators to a suspect who's a chef with a fiery temper (whoa, Nelly, what a concept!) who also dated one of the victims. New suspects pop up all over the place, from the chef to the ex-husband to the respective divorce attorneys, but solid evidence does not; perhaps that explains why the usual gruff but go-get-'em Sturgis seems to adopt an almost ho-hum attitude. Even his usually super-healthy appetite is a bit more subdued than usual.

Not the best I've read in the series (which includes every single one, as far as I know) but definitely worth a shot.

Motive: An Alex Delaware Novel by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine Books, February 2015); 353 pp.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


5 stars out of 5

A friend mentioned wanting to read this book, and after doing a bit of research, I decided to give it a try as well. It's been likened to other popular works, specifically Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, neither of which I've read (I'm embarrassed to say I've had Elephants for at least a couple of years and still haven't opened it despite rave reviews from friends). So I can't comment on the similarities, but no matter; as far as I'm concerned, this one is outstanding in its own right and can hold its own without comparison (and probably should).

The story, set in the late 1890s to early 1900s, begins when a traveling female magician who calls herself the Amazing Arden (in itself a bit unusual given the times), is captured by police officer Virgil Holt. After a performance, which Virgil happened to attend, a man was found dead near the stage. The man, it seems, is Arden's husband, and the murder weapon is an ax she used as part of her cutting a man in half illusion. Knowing she's a trickster, Virgil makes sure she's secured to a chair, fully intending to turn her over to authorities as the primary suspect.

Arden, meanwhile, is certain that if she's taken to jail she'll be convicted of the crime. So, she insists on telling Virgil her life's story in an effort to convince him to set her free (reminiscent of Scheherazade, who spun tales so interesting that the king, who had killed 1,000 women before her after a single night of bliss, would keep her alive night after night). As Arden's story unfolds, she learns (or, does she, as Virgil suspects, "magically" deduce?) that Virgil is flawed as well, but for a very different reason. Arden coaxes him to reveal that a bullet lodged in his spine cannot be removed safely and could kill him at any given moment - or never. As such, he believes he's likely to lose his job and his wife no longer will want him.

Most of the book is told by Arden, and it's quite a tale of intrigue that, for the most part, makes sense given the time period. A few things that happen seem a bit "off" to have happened that long ago, but then Arden isn't your usual refined lady of the 1900s - and, after all, she could be lying. Much more explanation here threatens to cross over into spoiler territory so I'll stop here - except to say there's an ending. That, too, is an open book; whether or not it's the "right" one is left up to you, the reader. Cool!

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2015); 321 pp.

Friday, February 6, 2015


5 stars out of 5

There's a darned good reason this book is on the New York Times Bestseller List: Simply put, it is totally, utterly one of the most engrossing books I've had the pleasure to read in a long while. It also was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for January 2015 - no surprise there, either - and add me to the list of those who will be happy to see this one get all the honors it deserves.

To describe it as a psychological thriller really doesn't do it justice given the inner- and outer-lapping lives of the six main characters. Where does one begin and another one start? Are any of them real, or are they just figments of one (or more) of the others' imaginations? After all, the book begins with Rachel on a commuter train - the same one she takes every day - stopping at one point at a row of houses in one of which she almost always sees a couple (she's named them Jess and Jason) doing "perfect couple" things on their perfect little deck.  

Until one day they don't; Rachel witnesses a scene that shocks her into reality (her version of it, at least) and she's compelled to call the police. From the outset, the story is told through the eyes of three of the main characters: Rachel, who once lived in this same row of houses with what she thought was a loving husband but now is occupied by her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby; his current wife, Anna, and Megan - the "Jess" of Rachel's train-ride imagination.

Then Megan turns up missing, and Rachel - who's more often drunk beyond the point of oblivion, has lost her job and is and still in love with her ex-husband - desperately tries to retrieve long-forgotten memories (if in fact they ever happened at all). The daily train ride quickly turns into a train wreck that's totally unavoidable, with readers being dragged along every mile of the way. And what a heck of a ride it is!

Ever the grammar vigilante, I'm compelled to say that the substantial number of run-on sentences really bugged me, although I admit that once I got half a dozen chapters into this one I really didn't give a damn anymore. And I also noticed that a job interview Rachel's landlady had arranged with a friend was mentioned quickly and then - even though it was pretty clear Rachel got drunk again and didn't make it - never was heard of again. Given the landlady's disgust with her tenant's alcohol abuse, I'm pretty sure she'd have been livid when she found out Rachel had blown yet another opportunity to improve her life. But you know what? I'm still curious, but I really don't care about that, either. 

I leave you with this advice: If you have only one book to read this year, make it this one. Wow!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead, January 2015); 326 pp.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


3.5 stars out of 5

This installment of James Patterson's Private series is a disappointment to me for a couple of reasons. First, it's co-written by Maxine Paetro, my first choice for quality writing in Patterson's stable of helpers - so I had fairly high expectations that, unfortunately, failed to materialize. Second, I've been waiting to see how long it would take for this series to start heading downhill like most of the others - and if this one is an example, I suspect my wait is over. As another reviewer insightfully pointed out, it's not terrible - but neither, IMHO,  is it anywhere near a contender for Book of the Year.

When I started to think about describing the plot, things got really muddled; there are several story lines going at the same time - so which one or two should I highlight? Let's see: Maybe it's the effort to keep an employee of the Private security firm and close friend of Private chief Jack Morgan out of jail; he's on trial but (of course) has been wrongly accused. Maybe it's trying to nail a couple of Las Vegas low-lifes who have diplomatic immunity and thus are able to get away with murder - literally; or maybe it's who will throw the next salvo in Jack's ongoing war with his evil twin, Tommy.

But wait, there's more - oh, never mind, I've forgotten what they are. Truth is, I pretty much gave up way back at the beginning when Jack's on-again, off-again main squeeze Justine revealed a telling tidbit about Jack's personality to one of his friends. Hey, sweetheart, you're a professional psychologist. Even if I couldn't nail you for a breach of confidence, I'd throw you out on your ear faster than you can say Ph.D.

As usual, several issues raised here, including Jack's feud with his brother and his relationship with the talkative and apparently fickle Justine, don't get resolved - no doubt an attempt to lure readers to the next installment. I haven't decided whether I care enough about any of the characters to tackle it, but most likely I will. All things considered, a bad Patterson book, generally speaking, still beats some of the other drivel that's out there. And besides, the book consultants include two from Trumbull County, Ohio (where I live): Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, medical examiner and coroner, and Chuck Hanni, a certified fire investigator, both of whom probably can be considered "regulars." If nothing else, I'm gonna stick up for the local boys!

Private Vegas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown and Co., January 2015); 385 pp.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Back in June 2014, I got this one free through BookBub - it sounded interesting and is the first in a series of seven, I believe. Set in New Orleans, the author is a New Orleans attorney, and the series has been nominated for both Anthony and Edgar Allen Poe awards. It's also relatively short - just 224 pages - and reader reviews are fairly positive. So what did I have to lose?

Not much, as it turns out. Right off the bat, one sentence made my day: "There were enough law books on the shelves to put new clients at ease." As a former legal secretary (albeit a long time ago), I get that. Really.

New Orleans lawyer Tubby Dubonnet, the "star" of the show, loves fishing, drinking and lots of other non-lawyerly things. His client list includes a transvestite entertainer and the doctor who has referred that same disgruntled entertainer to Dubonnet during a malpractice lawsuit (say what??). Tubby's also got the requisite ex-wife and a handful-minus two teenage daughters; now, he's got a new client, the manager of a local nightclub who, it seems, has been nailed for theft of a ton of marijuana. But right off the bat, the client insists on leaving a gym bag with Tubby - who discovers it's not full of marijuana.

The entire book is what I'd call laid back, with rather ho-hum dialogue and not much real action (although it does pick up a bit near the end. It's also a little tough to keep the characters straight, but that, too, gets easier as the story goes along. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the Kindle format is a little rough - no line spaces between paragraphs - but once I got used to that, everything moved along splendidly and the well-thought-out plot is quite enjoyable.

And that means yes, I plan to look into other books in this series; as short as they are, they're perfect for a quick "filler" read in between, say, a Stephen King and a David Baldacci. Good job, Mr. Dunbar!

Crooked Man: A Hard-Boiled but Humorous New Orleans Mystery by Tony Dunbar (booksBnimble, November 2013); 224 pp.