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Monday, March 30, 2015


4 stars out of 5

I'm pretty sure I read one of Clifford Irving's novels many, many years ago, although for the life of me I don't recall which one. Then, when he got embroiled in the great hoax - writing a fake autobiography of the reclusive Howard Hughes - I pretty much lost interest in the guy. Even after doing jail time, though, he never stopped writing - and from what information I can glean, he's always been pretty darned good at the craft.

As I've noted in many reviews, I belong to a number of websites that offer free and low-cost books in Kindle format. Not too long ago, I found this book, described as a "legal thriller," on sale for 99 cents (as we speak, it's going for $2.99 at Amazon). The plot sounded interesting, so I threw caution to the wind and blew my dollar on it. And what do you know? I really enjoyed reading it.

To be sure, I'd call it weird; while it describes the life of a man and woman in love - and includes a trial in which the man, an attorney, defends the woman's elderly parents in a court of law - the whole thing is woven around a place that could be likened to a communal Fountain of Youth. Set not in Florida but high in the mountains of Colorado near Aspen, the tiny town of Springhill fiercely protects a big secret: a water source that, apparently, allows them to live almost unlimited years while retaining their youthful appearance and mental and physical strengths. Along the way, their solidarity has been augmented by the passing down of a special language ("harping," for instance, means seriously discussing issues among themselves with the intent of persuading one to a different point of view).

Cool so far? Well, hear this: The townspeople's ruling committee agreed at the outset that 100 years is the limit; any person who reaches that milestone must agree to die voluntarily. Death is accomplished humanely (the ethics of euthanasia and assisted suicide aside), and all the denizens are okay with that simply because they get to live far longer than most humans and in much better shape. Everything, it seems, has remained true to plan for generations; but let's be honest: had it remained so, this book wouldn't exist. 

What happened is that Sophie Henderson, one of the townspeople and a committee member, met and fell in love with Manhattan attorney Dennis Conway, who visited Aspen to ski. Dennis, who has two young children and no wife, pulls up his New York stakes, packs up the kids and moves to Springhill to be with his love. Then, a local couple and friends of Sophie's parents are found dead, and her parents are accused of helping them commit suicide. Whether right or wrong from a moral standpoint, such assistance is against the law (this book was published in 1996, BTW) and the region's law enforcement insists that they be brought to trial. Dennis, believing them to be innocent, agrees to represent Sophie's mother, "Bitsy"; her father, Scott, himself an attorney, insists on representing himself.

From this point on, my lips are sealed; suffice it to say it was hard for me to put this one down. I even kept one eye on my Kindle while I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament, and I'm thankful that I managed to finish it before the Final Four games, when two of my favorite teams  - Kentucky and Duke - will take to the court and hopefully face off in the championship game.

The Spring by Clifford Irving (Simon & Schuster, August 1996); 288 pp.

Friday, March 27, 2015


4 stars out of 5

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of history - as in the classroom learning of it. I do, however, enjoy learning how things that happened in the past impact the way we all live and work today as well as details that likely won't be included in any history textbook. My first and only experience with this series featuring James Bond-like private detective Isaac Bell, The Striker, was a pleasant one (like this one, I gave it, the sixth, 4 stars back in April 2013). But books by too many other favorite authors intervened (including several of the author's Dirk Pitt novels), and I somehow never got around to reading another until now.

And I admit I probably should have read the 7th (The Bootlegger) before tackling this one, although from my perspective it stands well on its own. I've read other reviews, though, claiming that questions and situations happening in the previous book were either left unresolved or not included here at all, leaving them to wonder why the oversights. But I also learned (after the fact) that this book is set four years prior to the first book of the series (The Chase, 2008), which certainly could account for seemingly left-out references.

That said, I really enjoyed this one, despite more than a few situations that seemed a bit over the top (a hot air balloon incident, for instance). The plot, set in the late 1890s and early 1900s, centers on an attempt to bring down oil magnate J.D. Rockefeller and his all-powerful Standard Oil. I wasn't around back then, but I do remember Standard Oil, and the cities of Cleveland and Oil City, Pennsylvania, where at least some of the action takes place, are less than a couple of hours from my northeastern Ohio home (and I've spent time in both).

The book begins as an assassin begins to murder opponents of the huge oil conglomerate, one of whom is Bell's best witness in his company's investigation of Standard Oil's monopoly. That's followed by the sniper's detonation of an explosion that destroys the witness's independent refinery. 

The chase to find the diminutive assassin leads Bell around the world, from New York to the Midwest to the vast oil fields of Russia and puts the detective in many life-threatening situations that put his mental and physical skills to the test. Historical details are abundant, but at no time did I feel that they overwhelmed the story; in fact, they added to it and, whether they were fact or fiction, to my enjoyment of the book as well. Heck, I even learned a new word: inveigle. In case you're wondering too, it means to convince someone else to do something through coaxing and/or flattery.

The Assassin by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2015); 418 pp.

Monday, March 23, 2015


4 stars out of 5 

I'm a huge fan of medical thrillers - even more than legal and police procedurals, which I love. When Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs come out with new books, I'm chomping at the bit to get my eyes on them. This one was offered free on BookBub last April, and after reading the description I decided to take a chance despite a few less-than-glowing reviews (actually, the number of 5-star ratings far outweighed the 1-stars - 402 to 14 at the time of this writing, and the latter seemed to me to be so unusually nasty that I gave them short shrift).

Besides, I reasoned, the book is only 238 pages - an easy three-day read even if I don't have a lot of extra time. So, I added it to my collection - and there it sat until now, when I was in the mood for something I could finish rather quickly while I gathered up momentum to start something lengthier. I'd give it half a dozen chapters, I told myself, and if it didn't grab me by then, I'd fold up my tent and go elsewhere. But by golly, that tent never got unfolded; by the time I reached the 25% mark, I was caught up enough in the action that there was no question of stopping. 

The book is the first in a series about intern Jill Raney and her resident supervisor, David Levine; early on, she discovers strange goings-on at "her" hospital, a prominent fertility and genetic engineering facility. Two pregnant women unexpectedly die and a seriously malformed fetus is delivered. Then, another pregnant woman turns up dead - this one clearly murdered, and her body has been drained of amniotic fluid. By now, Jill is nearly frantic, but hospital officials deny that anything is amiss and maintain that the deaths are in no way connected.

Needless to say, Jill refuses to quit until she proves her point (along the way convincing David - now her lover - that she isn't hallucinating). The pace picks up steam as Jill collects the evidence she needs; but can she come up with sufficient proof before more people are killed - herself included?

I really enjoyed this book, but admittedly, I had a couple of issues. First, I was surprised that Jill wasn't given the boot way back when she began ranting about her findings, despite several warnings to back off from hospital officials. Yes, her darling David ran interference for her, but he's "only" a resident himself, so I can't imagine his word would carry more weight that of department heads. Also, Jill seems far more prone to overwrought emotions than I'd expect from someone who's survived the rigors of medical school and, as an intern, been there, seen that. To be sure, it's a treat to find medical professionals who have a heart behind their stethoscopes, but most I've seen are not knee-jerk reactionists (nor should they be).

The ending leads the main characters on a not-so-merry chase to catch or be killed, a chase that was exciting until I got to David's sudden rationale that "Doctors don't shoot doctors" (but killing them with bare hands instead is just dandy). When I got to that one, I actually laughed out loud. First, it isn't even logical; second, this is a matter of survival; if the only way out is to kill someone, I seriously doubt Hippocrates would give a rip what you had to use to get the job done.

All in all, the book is well written and kept me turning pages (well, okay, tapping a stylus on my Kindle Fire) far longer at a time than I intended each time I sat down to read. Next up in the series is Embryo 2: Crosshairs; I haven't decided whether I'll get it - too many other books in my want-to-read pile at the moment - but I'm keeping my options open because I'm pretty sure I won't be disappointed.

Embryo by J.A. Schneider (J.A. Schneider & R.G. Schneider, M.D., May 2012); 238 pp.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Quite a few books ago, I discovered this series because the last name of Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is the same as my maiden name. It's unusual enough that I simply had to check out the books - and quickly, Joe made my list of Top 10 favorite heroes. This is the 15th book in the series, and author C.J. Box remains at the top of his game - and yes, Joe is still on that list. And in this one, I found yet another personal tie-in; one of the characters, it seems, shares my March 21 birthday.

The book opens as Joe gets a call from local authorities saying they've found a near-dead young girl along a highway; she's been severely beaten, and it's suspected she's April, the adopted daughter of Joe and his wife Marybeth. Not long ago, the headstrong 18-year-old ran off with champion rodeo cowboy Dallas Cates, upsetting Joe, his wife and daughters Sheridan and Lucy.

Meantime, Joe's old friend and isolationist falconer, Nate Romanowski, has been freed from prison on the condition that he help the FBI track down Wolfgang Templeton, a billionaire who fled the country with Marybeth's mother after running afoul of the law. Nate's been warned to stay away from Joe, but as the story unfolds, the two are drawn close as seemingly unrelated events begin to interconnect (including the near murder of Nate that puts him in the same hospital as April and the disappearance of Nate's girlfriend, Olivia - the one with whom I share a birthday).

Angry over what's happened to April and Nate, upset by an apparently unrelated wholesale slaughter of potentially endangered wild birds and believing that April's rodeo cowboy is responsible for her beating, Joe sets out to find the truth - a truth that puts him in the crosshairs of an unbelievably nasty family and nearly costs him his own life.

This is another winner in the series, which I highly recommend. If possible, I think it's best to start at or near the beginning (Open Season, I believe, is the first, written in 2002), but readers of this one alone should be able to get enough of the background so as to not be lost. 

Endangered by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2015); 384 pp.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This is the fifth book in the Clifton Chronicles series, and - like the others - I enjoyed reading it. But up front, I'll say this: If you don't like abrupt cliffhangers that won't be resolved until the next book is published - in this case, I'd expect about a year from now - you won't be happy with this one. I've read that there will be two more to close out the series, and most certainly, I'll be among the readers (despite knowing full well by the time the next one is released I'll have forgotten everything in this one). And to those interested in the series who haven't read any of the others, I add this: Start at the beginning. This one, in particular, doesn't seem to me to do quite as well on its own.

Like the others, it follows the family - with emphasis on writer Harry Clifton and his wife Emma, chairwoman of Barrington Shipping, their son, Sebastian, and Emma's brother Sir Giles Barrington - from around 1964 to 1970. Home-based in London, they're all seasoned travelers, and the shipping line regularly travels to the United States. Sebastian, an up-and-coming bank official, proposes marriage to the beautiful Samantha, who is American - thus setting the stage for a very long-distance romance. Sections are divided up by character and time period; and throughout the whole thing, it's interesting to to see how everything and everyone is connected, whether by blood, business or enemies (or any combination of the three).

The book begins as Harry and Emma are traveling on the maiden voyage of the company's Buckingham - when it appears the ship is about to be blown to smithereens by a huge bomb (one no doubt intended to kill Harry and Emma as well). Since this happens at the start of the book, I don't think it's a spoiler to say the pair survive the attack.

Then, Harry visits his New York publisher to get good news and learns that another author, Anatoly Babakov, has been imprisoned by the Russian government, charged with writing a killer tell-all about his work with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. That's a travesty, Harry decides, and launches a campaign to demand his release and publication of the book that will require at least one visit to Russia that puts his own life at risk. Not content to be a sit-at-home wife, while Harry is busy fighting the Communist regime, Emma is kept busy fending off a libel lawsuit filed by long-time foe Lady Virginia Fenwick, Sir Giles's ex-wife.

Sebastian, meantime, runs headstrong into trouble with his proposal to the lovely Samantha. The plot thickens, as it were, when Sebastian's intended climb to the top of Farthing's Bank is thwarted when a rival acquires power that may allow him to accomplish his goal of bringing the talented Sebastian to his knees. While all this is going on, Sir Giles - a minister of the Crown who's looking to move up the governmental ladder himself - heads out on an official trip to Berlin (at this time, the Berlin Wall is standing) that doesn't end particularly well. 

Because of the time period, the author gets away quite nicely with playing the name-dropping game; and because I was a relatively young adult at the time, they're familiar to me as well (Nikita Khrushchev, Harold Wilson and Barry Goldwater come to mind). As for style, the books in this series always remind me of the Stone Barrington series by Stuart Woods (and is it just me who wonders if it is by coincidence that the Barrington name shows up in both authors' books)? In any event, both authors are British, so here - as in Woods' series - everything is matter-of-fact and the characters just don't get very excited no matter what happens. Someone got bumped off? Too bad, old chap, but let's have a spot of tea and get on with it.

Mightier Than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer (St. Martin's Press, February 2015); 415 pp.

Friday, March 13, 2015


3 stars out of 5

I discovered this book through eReaderIQ Daily, where it was offered free not long ago. The description sounded interesting, so I did what I always do next - check the reviews at There were only a dozen, all with the highest possible rating. While that always gives me pause (as I've said many times before, I could round up that many friends and family members and ply a couple of sentences and a handful of stars out of them with a six-pack of beer), I decided what the heck and went for it.

About a month later I was looking for something relatively short to read while waiting for a new book from a favorite author to be released, and I turned to this one (it's just 205 pages). Before I started, though, I looked at the reviews once again. This time, there were 16  - 14 of them 5-star and two that were awful (one reviewer deemed it so bad he or she couldn't even finish it).

That didn't cheer me up, but if I've learned anything over my many years of reading, it's to not put a lot of stock in extremely high or extremely low ratings. And sure enough, I put this it square in the middle rating-wise. It's not great, but neither is it terrible; put another way, after reading it from beginning to end, I don't feel it was a waste of my time.

Based on what others said, I expected to find a ton of grammar, spelling and punctuation errors (a huge turn-off for me and one reason I hesitated to start the book, BTW). But while I did notice a few glitches (the main character "wrecked" his brain trying to understand and put "bate" on his fish hook and another came along "baring" bad news, for instance), for the most part all the technical stuff was where and how it should be.

Rather, what kept me from awarding a top-notch rating was in the story itself. A senior intelligence officer with the Bureau of Counter Spying Activities whose hobby is tracking the results of a national lottery learns, quite unexpectedly, that he's become a target for assassination by his own agency. He manages to survive the attempt and goes underground to try and ferret out an explanation for his sudden fall from grace. In the process, he uncovers the theft of millions of dollars from the lottery - and the race is on to see whether he can learn who's behind it before they find him again.

It's an intriguing plot, but it's carried out in a convoluted and confusing manner with writing that's a bit too ponderous for me; even after I finished the book, I had little sense of how the theft really was carried out. When I  read at one point, for instance, that "hundreds of thousands" of lottery forms were stored on two CDs, I had to wonder how that could happen; heck, I can't even fit half the photos I took on a two-day vacation on four CDs, let alone just two. The chapters jump around from various characters' perspectives as well, and it was hard for me to follow who's who. At no time did I make any meaningful connection with any of the characters, nor did I really care much beyond plain old curiosity what happened to any of them including the "hero."

That said, I was able to glean a general idea of what was going on, albeit mostly in the last couple of chapters and the epilogue. That was sufficient for me to conclude that this one's neither winner nor loser and most likely will be enjoyed by those who enjoy complicated plots. And besides, you know what they say: Different strokes for different folks.

Dangerous Bet: A Conspiracy Thriller by Jack Gardner (Amazon Digital Services Inc., February 2015); 205 pp.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


4 stars out of 5

I really do try to keep track of all the books I want to read, but sometimes one slips through the cracks. Such is the case with this, the 19th in author Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. Released in early November of last year, it got lost in my shuffle and I didn't discover it until I saw a reference to it online in connection with the TV series produced by Amazon Studios, wondered how I'd missed it and then discovered, to my delight, that I had it after all.

It's a don't-miss series, IMHO, and this latest installment certainly didn't change my mind. Here, Harry (real first name: Hieronymus) has returned to the Open-Unsolved Unit of the LAPD after a year's absence to recuperate from a serious injury incurred in the line of duty.  He's been partnered with youngish newbie Lucia Soto, expected to show her the ropes before he cashes in and officially retires in a year or so.

Early on, they're assigned a case from several years ago, when the victim of what appeared at the time to be a random shooting - a member of a Mariachi band - finally dies and the bullet that was lodged in his spine is removed. Soon, the investigation takes on political significance as well as a possible connection to a fire during which several children died - and Bosch's new partner just happens to be the sole survivor. Throw in a robbery that occurred within a couple of blocks of the fire and minutes after it started, and suddenly dots appear that may need to be connected.

Needless to say, the investigation hits dead ends, roadblocks and even threatens to derail the careers of Bosch and his partner. But the train ride is an exciting one, and while I won't say this is the best I've read in the series, it was good enough to keep me reading every chance I got until I reached the end. Without going into detail, I'll also say that while the investigations concluded, Harry's situation left little doubt that there'll be a follow-up (and for sure I'll be watching for it).

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co.,November 2014); 401 pp.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Despite the fact that I never read more than one book at a time - ever - my goal is to have a really good book series waiting in the wings just in case I finish a book but don't have another that interests me. That's complicated a bit because I also hate re-reading a book, no matter how excellent it was (the only exception to that rule was the James Bond series by Ian Fleming).

Over the last couple of years, favorites like Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who series, the series by Spencer Quinn featuring Bernie and his lovable canine companion, Chet, and the John Jordan Mystery series by Michael Lister have played the fill-in role quite nicely.

But then there were no more. So now what? Enter a fellow reader at, who wrote a great review of one of the Logan McRae books by Stuart MacBride. All the books in the series, he said, are well worth reading (I believe there are 10, but don't quote me on that). The subject matter fit my requirements like a glove; good old-fashioned police procedurals featuring McRae, a detective sergeant. Intrigued, I did a bit of research and - prompted by my online friend's review - set out to give the first one a try (did I mention I always try to read the books in any series in order)?

Turns out this one, the first, is the author's first novel  - he's written several other books - and for his effort, he earned the Barry Award for Best First Novel in 2006 (he's won at least a couple of others since then). Well, I said to myself, looks as if this series might be a winner. Taking a deep breath when I learned this one comes in at a hefty 457 pages, I took the plunge.

And darned if it isn't a winner. I admit it got a titch boring right about the halfway mark, but I know some of that stemmed from the unusually nasty ice, snow and below-zero winter temperatures that had kept me and my husband practically housebound for days. The other downer was the city of Aberdeen, Scotland, the setting for the book; the only thing worse than the weather here in northeastern Ohio was the weather over there - and neither was making me happy. In the acknowledgements section, the author himself alludes to the grim surroundings, saying, "Aberdeen's really not as bad as it sounds. Trust me..."

In fact, this book begins in winter, and yes, the weather is awful. McRae has just returned after recovering (for the most part) serious injuries incurred on the job. He's greeted by one of the worst possible crimes: The mutilated body of a three-year-old boy is found in a ditch. And don't think it won't get worse; another child goes missing, then another - and unless the perpetrator is identified and caught, it's pretty clear there will be even more. 

The investigation is impeded by leaks to a particularly aggressive reporter who tries to ingratiate himself with McRae, giving co-workers cause to suspect the detective himself. Along the way, McRae must deal with his own emotional issues - an apparently disgruntled ex-girlfriend who happens to be the forensic pathologist, and a fiesty but attractive co-worker who's in the running for next-girlfriend status, at least as far as McRae is concerned.

The case takes on a number of twists and turns - mostly unexpected - as the race continues to find the serial killer before yet another child goes missing and the story concludes with a bang-up ending. Some of the language was a bit hard to decipher (thankfully I've got a daughter-in-law from London, so I understood most of the otherwise strange-to-me terminology). And, I even learned a few new words, such as "beturded" - used here to describe a parking lot after a dog left a deposit in the middle of it. Gotta love it.

All in all, it was quite an enjoyable read. But as for the author's claim that Aberdeen (Granite City, to which the title refers) really is a place I'd like, I'll reserve judgment  until I've read the second book in the series, which yes, I plan to do next time I hit a lull on my must-read list. 

Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins, February 2009); 467 pp.