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Monday, June 29, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Refusing to watch a movie or TV series that's based on a book before I've read the book is a rule I've broken only a couple of times in my life, with this instance being the second that I can recall. My husband and I were faithful fans of the "Longmire" show that premiered in June 2012 (it starred Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips and ran for three seasons before being canceled, much to our dismay). 

And although ignorance of the law is no defense, I will say only that at no time did I realize that the TV shows were based on books. I came to that realization not long ago, and because I'm always looking for a solid series to read when nothing else is grabbing my attention, I decided to give this one a try starting with the first (another almost inviolable rule).

The book introduces Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming (interestingly, the cover art on the most recent release is of Taylor, the very capable actor who portrayed Longmire in the TV show). The sheriff's wife died a few years earlier, his daughter is off somewhere being a lawyer, and his best friend is Henry - the character played (equally capably) by Phillips. His staff, which includes deputy Victoria Moretti ("Vic"), whose marriage is at best shaky and who has a vocabulary that can best any truck driver I've ever known.

Walt has been sheriff for 25 years, and he's hoping to retire and turn the office reins over to Vic. But then, the body of Cody Pritchard is found near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation; a couple of years earlier, Pritchard and three other high school boys raped a mentally challenged Cheyenne girl and ended up with suspended sentences. At first, the death appears to be accidental; but then, another of the boys turns up dead. Could it be that someone is seeking revenge? And if so, who? After all, the suspended sentence angered quite a few people, including Walt's long-time friend Henry.

If it were simply a matter of solving the crimes, the book wouldn't need nearly as many pages. But there's much, much more here, including descriptions of the remote surroundings and in-depth looks at the characters and their backgrounds. Every once in a while there's a chuckle, as when I came across this line spoken by Walt:

"I had been raised a Methodist where the highest sacrament was the bake sale."

As was I, Walt (only in my church's case, it was the rummage sale). I also could relate to his list of vehicles to forever despise that includes the 1950 yellow Studebaker on which he learned to drive. Actually, I learned on a '57 Chevy Bel Air (stick shift on the steering wheel), but my dad bought a maroon Studebaker close to the same vintage for me to drive from our farm to school my senior year. The car didn't smell much better than the school bus I rode for so many years, but it sure was less crowded.  

In any event, the story winds through the wilds of Wyoming with a few twists and turns as to who the culprit might be (I confess to suspecting who about halfway through, though, and turns out I was right). The writing is amazingly good (and for the record, I also was amazed at how spot-on the TV adaptation was). For those who enjoy plain old Westerns (think: William Kent Kruger and C.J. Box) and getting to know the characters inside out, this series is a don't-miss. The rest are on my to-read list for sure!

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Penguin Books Reprint, May 2012); 400 pp.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


4 stars out of 5

I read the first book in the series featuring detective Ty Hauck, (The Dark Tide), a few years back - mostly prompted, I think, because of the author's association as a co-author of several books with James Patterson. I enjoyed it, but somehow the next two in the series got past me. Not long ago, this one - the fourth - caught my eye. It's been a long time coming for the author, too, who says this one was roughly five years in the making. 

Clearly, plenty of action took place in the two previous books (some of that action is referenced in this one, which is how I know I missed out). That said, while I sort of wish I'd read those other two, reading them prior to this one really isn't necessary.

Several chapters in, though, I began to wonder if I'd picked up the right book; the illustrious Mr. Hauck was nowhere to be found. It begins as whitewater guide Dani Whalen finds the body of a good friend in the water, an apparent kayaking accident. Dani isn't so sure that's the case, especially when a local character named Rooster - who runs a hot air balloon operation - tells her he saw something. He'll meet her the next morning to spill the beans, he says, but he never makes it. He, and the two couples he's taken up in a balloon, inexplicably fall from the sky to their deaths before he and Dani can get together.

Another accident? Yes, according to the local police chief, who also is Dani's stepfather. He insists that she back off and leave the investigation to the professionals. But Dani is stubborn; when she threatens to go to the newspapers with her suspicions, her stepfather throws her in jail, notifying her biological dad of her whereabouts. Her father, in turn, is a friend of Ty's (who also happens to be Dani's godfather), so he gives Ty a call to go get her.

All of this means that 16 chapters go by before Ty makes an appearance. Once he hears her concerns, he's skeptical, but in it to win it. When he and Dani do some sleuthing around, they find that the folks in the small Colorado town, mostly farmers and ranchers, are (as the book description says) "selling their souls to the devil" by selling their much-needed water to a huge energy company for use in its local fracking operation (how's that for a timely hot-button issue)?

Butting heads with the big guns puts Ty, Dani and a few others in mortal danger on more than one occasion and pits them against local powers-that-be who are unwilling to jeopardize what has become an extremely lucrative arrangement. Will they get to the bottom of what's going on and nail whoever's responsible for all those deaths before they end up dead as well?

You'll just have to read it for yourself to find out the answer to that question.

One Mile Under by Andrew Gross (William Morrow, April 2015); 400 pp.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


4 stars out of 5

As I neared the end of this book - which I'd call a romance/mystery, I guess - I thought to myself, I'm enjoying this. But when I tried to determine why, my brain just couldn't spit out an answer. The mystery part is predictable (I suspected the "twist" by the end of the third or fourth chapter and yes, I was spot-on). The romance part is borderline sappy - but then I admit I'm not big on the lovey-dovey stuff unless you count the interaction between the dashing Roarke and Lt. Eve Dallas, characters from one of my favorite series penned by this author writing as J.D. Robb. In fact, this is the first book by Roberts writing as Roberts that I've read in a very long time.

Still, whatever the reason, the book is worth reading; I won't say I hated to put it down when the need arose, but neither did I ever consider not finishing it. It begins as Shelby Foxworth, the mother of an adorable, precocious three-year-old, starts to collect her life following the death of her husband in a boating accident. What she learns is a real shocker: Not only was he a cheater and liar, he left her with a staggering amount of debt. A would-be singer, she'd run away from her small-town Tennessee home to pursue a career and married the guy on the spur of the moment, and now she is forced to return to her family and start life anew.

As she collects things from her highly mortgaged Philadelphia house that's headed for foreclosure, she discovers a key in one of her late husband's jackets that appears to be from a safety deposit box. She runs to every bank in town until she's successful (begging the question in my mind as to why a liar and cheat would open a box he clearly wanted to keep secret under his own name). In it, Shelby finds not only a substantial sum of money which she uses to help pay down some of the debt, but documents that reveal her husband had, and no doubt used, multiple identities.

Back home in Tennessee, she's welcomed with open arms by her picture-perfect family that includes a policeman brother and good friends (well, most of them, anyway), and within days she meets - you knew this is coming - the picture-perfect guy. Needless to say, she's more than a little gun-shy at this point, so there's plenty of angst as she tries to sort out her feelings. Then, her past comes back with a vengeance as outsiders come to town - both good guys and bad - all believing that she knows more about her late husband's illicit past than she's admitted so far. Spice things up with a couple of murders and an ending that wraps everything up with a big bow, and there you go.  

That the ending is too neat and tidy, I suppose, is my biggest complaint (in fact, that description pretty much sums up the entire book). Still, as I said at the beginning, it's quite enjoyable, if only for the in-depth look at down-home-style family dynamics and relationships. From now on, though, I think I'll stick with the author's far more enjoyable J.D. Robb books.

The Liar by Nora Roberts (G.P. Putnam's Sons, April 2015); 501 pp.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


4 stars out of 5

This is the second full book in the author's series featuring retired college professor turned private investigator Ray Courage (a novella kicks the whole thing off). Like the others, I received it free in exchange for an unbiased review.

Whether that's entirely possible is a matter of debate in my mind; you see, I enjoyed the novella and first novel (Courage Matters) immensely. So when I opened this one, it was with every expectation that I'd enjoy it as well. Whether or not that had any influence on how much I liked this one I'm not sure; I do know it held my interest enough that I plowed through it almost nonstop (in fairness, that's not too hard since it comes in at just 216 pages).

About 13 years earlier, Ray lost his beloved wife Pam in an automobile crash that officially was deemed a horrific accident. In the morning of that day, the two had a nasty argument that resulted in her storming out of the house in an uncharacteristic fit of anger (exacerbating, needless to say, Ray's feelings of sadness and guilt). But now, out of the blue, he receives a couple of email messages from someone who claims to be Pam. Worse, the sender accuses him of murdering her and threatens to get payback all these years later. Could it be, Ray wonders, that she didn't die in the accident after all? And if she's still alive, could she really hate him that much - especially since he had nothing to do with her death?

But then the local police get wind of the emails (thanks to an alert from "Pam"), and a detective starts digging through the years-ago car crash and decides to reopen Pam's case to determine if the accident was, in fact,  murder. It doesn't take long, as you might suspect, for Ray to become a person of interest.

As if trying to avoid the clutches of the police weren't enough, it seems other bad guys are monitoring everything Ray says and does and where he goes - possibly in an attempt to make sure he's charged with Pam's murder and possibly for other, darker reasons. Suffice it to say from then on there's plenty of action as Ray and his sidekick Rubia, a former student from his college days who runs a nonprofit to help troubled youth), try to ferret out the truth about what happened to Pam. 

Things get a bit hectic over the last few chapters (coming close to exceeding the realm of possibility, especially for a guy who doesn't spend a lot of time at the gym), but everything works out in the end (sorry, but I don't consider it a spoiler to reveal that the hero of an ongoing series survives). I assume (make that hope) there'll be a new adventure coming down the road - and for sure I'll be wanting to get my hands on it. 

Courage Resurrected by R. Scott Mackey (Big Hound Publishing, April 2015); 216 pp.

Monday, June 15, 2015


5 stars out of 5

There are so many books on my to-read list that I try - really - to mix things up; when I find a new-to-me series I love, I force myself not to run through every single one with nothing else in between. With this series, which I discovered quite recently, I stuck to that pattern and followed up the first book with something different. But an hour after that, I couldn't stand it; out came the next from this author's series featuring former backwoods Minnesota sheriff Cork O'Connor.

This time, a famous country-western singer named Shiloh - originally from Cork's neck of the woods in the Quetico-Superior Wilderness near the Canadian border - has gone missing. She left years ago to find fame and fortune and never returned, but her father, believing she may have come back, hires Cork to find her. Others, however, are intent on finding her as well, so a search party is formed that includes the father (who manages his daughter's successful recording company), a couple of FBI agents and a 10-year-old boy and his father from the local Anishinaabe tribe. 

Back in the small town of Aurora, Cork's mostly estranged wife, Jo - a lawyer who specializes in Indian affairs, gets involved by working with the local sheriff to ferret out information on their end. As issues that change the direction of their investigation turn up, the search team's body count starts to climb as they follow the path they believe Shiloh took through the wilderness. Clearly, someone wants her dead - but now the search team has lost contact with civilization and are themselves being stalked. Who will be the next victim - perhaps Cork? And can whoever is left find Shiloh before the killer does? 

There's plenty of action, starting at the beginning and finishing at the end, and it's is interspersed with interesting (to me, anyway), Indian stories and legends. There's also a bit of humor, such as Cork's observation when he notes that while the area is backwoods, tourism is in growth mode: Still, "In Aurora, a Lincoln Town Car would be as inconspicuous as a nun in a G-string."

Yes, folks, this book is another winner that makes me more eager than ever to see this series through to the end. 

Boundary Waters by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books Reprint, June 2009); 352 pp.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


5 stars out of 5

When author Scott Mackey asked if I'd be willing to read this book (and the follow-up, Courage Resurrected) in exchange for reviews, I did what I always do with such requests: Held off responding. My worst nightmare, you see, is having to give a less-than-favorable review (which more often than not happens as a result of less-than-impeccable grammar and punctuation). But being a writer (albeit strictly nonfiction) and professional copy editor myself, neither am I willing to pull any punches. After I'd read the description half a dozen or so times, though, it sounded right up my alley and I said to myself (and the author) what the heck - bring 'em on. Now that I've plowed through this one almost nonstop, I assure you my sleep has been quite peaceful.

At the heart of it all is Ray Courage, retired from college professorial duties in Sacramento, California. He lost his beloved wife in an accident years ago, their daughter is on her own and he's decided on a second career as a private investigator. Soon after he hangs out his shingle, he gets a visit from former main squeeze Jill Stroud (the two were together for a couple of years after Ray's wife died). Now, she's asking Ray to do some sleuthing on behalf of her father, filthy rich investment broker Lionel. Seeing Jill again brings back some good memories, and more to the point, Ray's hope, however faint, of reconnecting with his former love - so he somewhat reluctantly agrees.

Something isn't quite right with Daddy, Jill explains, adding that the man - not known for his warm fuzzy demeanor - won't be happy that she, nor Ray, is meddling in his affairs. She was right on the money, but Ray ends up determined to keep digging despite Daddy's hostility and warnings to back off. When one person close to Daddy is murdered, Ray decides to keep plugging away. When a second body turns up, his determination to see it through intensifies (bolstered by an intensifying re-relationship with Jill). There are plenty of starts, stops, twists and turns throughout, and while I admit to having an inkling of whodunit about three-quarters of the way through, the ending was a bit of a surprise. 

As I read, I kept getting flashbacks of sorts, finally realizing that Ray (and his former student and P.I. buddy Rubia) remind me of characters from somewhere else. Finally, I got my "aha" moment: It's Bernie Rhodenbarr, the Manhattan bookstore owner and occasional thief and his buddy Carolyn; they're impossible not to love in Lawrence Block's wonderful The Burglar Who series (I've devoured every single one). Unlike Bernie, Ray doesn't have sticky fingers (as far as I can tell, he's honest as the day is long) and Rubia and Carolyn don't share the same sexual preferences, but the personalities and the author's style of writing - including touches of humor here and there - seem quite similar.

BTW, for those who want to start at the beginning, there's an 85-page short story titled "Courage Begins: A Ray Courage Mystery Novella" that kicks off this series. It's not a prerequisite to this full novel, which stands alone just fine, thank you very much, but since the author was kind enough to send it to me, I zipped through it before moving to the main attraction. It's well done and provides a good introduction to the character, who is undertaking an "internship" before launching his own P.I. firm, so you may want to give it a go first. The only question I had when I finished was how a college professor with his background would ever, in a million years, come up with the notion of becoming an investigator. Well guess what? The answer turned up in this book.

The ending of this one also left the door open to plenty of possibilities for Ray's new career, too, so now I'm off and running toward Courage Resurrected. Stay tuned!

Courage Matters by Scott Mackey (Big Hound Publishing, February 2014); 233 pp.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


5 stars out of 5

This series is far from new, and in fact I've collected copies of a few because other folks have told me they're excellent. But for whatever reason (mostly too many other books on my to-read list), I didn't open one till now. And it took only a handful of chapters to convince me this won't be my last. And if you're a fan of C.J. Box's park ranger Joe Pickett or Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight as I am, I'm pretty sure you'll love this as well.

It's the first in the author's series featuring former Chicago cop Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor, who moved to remote Aurora, Minnesota, with his wife and three kids. He's part Irish and part Anishiaabe Indian, and Aurora, near Iron Lake, is at the heart of the reservation that includes a wildly successful casino. Cork now is dealing with a soon-to-be ex-wife (a local attorney who mainly represents tribal issues) and the loss of his job as town sheriff. He's moved out of the family home to a place that doubles as a not-fancy gift shop and restaurant. He's also unofficially dating Molly, a local waitress, with mixed feelings about it because he hasn't given up on getting back together with his wife.

But then, a prominent but very unlikable judge apparently commits suicide, and a young boy who might have information goes missing. An old Indian claims a Windingo - an unseen spirit that supposedly calls out the names of its victims - is behind it all. Cork basically dismisses that idea, though given his Indian background, not completely. In fact, he sets out to prove that the judge was murdered, putting his own life (and the lives of the people he loves) in danger. 

There's no shortage of action here, and the cultural information on the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe tribes really adds spice to the story. I can't say I was happy with everything that happened, but it all works and convinced me that this is a series well worth reading. Now my only question is, what took me so long? Answer: I don't know, but for sure I won't waste any time getting to the next one!

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger (Atria, August 1998; reprint June 2009); 352 pp.)

Sunday, June 7, 2015


3 stars out of 5

I've read and enjoyed a handful of books by Lisa Scottoline, but none in the last couple of years. When I saw that this one has a medical slant - and even more special to me, psychiatry - I just couldn't pass it up. But alas, it fell a bit short of my expectations; when it came time to rate it, I waffled back and forth between 3.5 and 4 stars, finally settling on the lower number because while it was very readable, there were just too many things that kept it from being great.

Before I decided to tackle this one, I did what I always do: Check reviews from other readers. One of the biggest complaints is that there's too much exposition regarding the workings of psychiatric care; while I tend to agree somewhat, it really didn't bother me much because - although I didn't learn much I didn't already know - I have a strong interest in the field. Rather, my biggest concerns are that the central character Dr. Erick Parrish, a highly regarded chief of the Psychiatric Unit of a hospital near Philadelphia and father (with an ex-wife) of a 7-year-old daughter, turned out to be an annoyingly obsessive person who, given his profession, should know better. As a father, his emotions are overwrought and over the top, but understandable; as a practicing psychiatrist, they cross the line into the realm of ridiculous a few too many times. 

Interspersed throughout are chapters written from the perspective of a sociopath - one who, I assumed, is out to bring Eric down. But who is it, and will the police (and/or Eric) discover the identity before it's too late? I read those chapters with great interest, looking for clues but found none; at best, those chapters simply outlined manifestations of sociopathic behavior, making me wonder why they were there at all.

As the story unfolds, Eric meets 17-year old Max, who's got a druggie mother and a grandmother he adores; so when she dies, he's devastated. He's also got an OCD personality, needing to tap his head and recite a few words every 15 minutes on the dot (in a Gestalt "Aha," the apparent source of the book's title). The good doctor is concerned about the young man's mental well-being and takes him on as a private patient, seeing him at home. But when Max's supposed girlfriend is murdered, he goes missing. Could Eric have missed the signs that Max is capable of murder? Ever more concerned, Eric tries to find the boy and ends up a suspect himself.

I also got a bit weary of all the issues that plagued Eric - from custody battles over his daughter to his house being torn upside down by police carrying out a search warrant . Often, I thought of Michael Corleone's line from "The Godfather": "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in." Just when you think things can't get any worse here, the temperature of the hot water Erick is in already climbs higher. Combined  with his obsessive personality, by the time that water reached the boiling point, I said enough, already - I don't much care much whether it cools off or not.

If you enjoy medical thrillers, this really isn't a bad choice; I'll simply say that it's not Scottoline at her best.

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline (St Martin's Press, April 2015); 446 pp.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


5 stars out of 5

This is the third book I've read in the author's series featuring Tennessee lawyer Joe Dillard, and I continue to be amazed at how much I'm enjoying them. This is the best so far, IMHO - I didn't want to put it down (just ask my husband, who was forced to eat an extra-late dinner one day because I had just a few chapters left to read). 

Dillard has moved from a defense attorney to the prosecutor's office, but from both sides now he's had to deal with the same hard-nosed, unfair and vindictive criminal court judge. When that judge's body turns up charred and hanging from a tree, Dillard isn't exactly crying, but then he finds himself at the center of the investigation. The son of his son's best friend, it turns out, is the prime suspect (the judge, it seems, had done his daddy wrong). Worse, the young college student has, in a panic, given critical evidence to Dillard's wife, who in turn destroyed it - thus committing a potentially criminal act that puts Dillard square in the middle of an ethics dilemma.

A second story line follows a young girl who loses her entire family - then most of another - and a third focuses on the sudden disappearance of a young woman who recently joined the district attorney's office. There's even a fourth as Dillard struggles with his unsuccessful defense of a client who was convicted and has just been executed - a client Dillard continues to believe was innocent. 

All these situations are brought to closure by the end, of course; some happily, others not so much, depending on who you're rooting for. And, a big change at the end makes me eager to read the next installment (not that I wasn't already). Bring it on!

Injustice for All by Scott Pratt (Phoenix Flying Inc., December 2013); 367 pp.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


4 stars out of 5

So much did I enjoy the first book in the Alex McKnight series - A Cold Day in Paradise - that I just couldn't wait to start this one, the second. But while I enjoyed it enough to give it a 4-star rating, I have to say that if I were to be super-honest, it's probably closer to a 3.5; it just didn't quite measure up to its predecessor.

Mostly, I think, that's because the story just didn't excite me very much. Yes, former cop McKnight still lives in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan - one of my all-time favorite places to visit. But this one takes place in the dead of winter (I like cold weather and even snow, but winter weather here in Ohio is a walk in the park compared with what happens up there, where, we were told, UPS deliveries to Mackinac Island come by way of the frozen lake - a more direct route than the roads ). My other complaint, though relatively minor, is that while I love tough guys who can both dish it out and take it, there are limits on what any human body can withstand - and anything that exceeds those limits becomes (to me) unbelievable.

The story begins as winter sets in with a vengeance, and a woman from the local Ojibwa tribe seeks out McKnight's help in getting away from an abusive boyfriend - a nasty guy who had a run-in with McKnight when they played ice hockey on opposing teams a day or two earlier (McKnight's friend Vinnie LeBlanc, also an Ojibwa, recruited him to serve as goalie). McKnight lets the woman stay in one of the cabins he rents out to fishermen (and presumably women) and snowmobilers; but the next morning, she's nowhere to be found. 

Unhappy that he didn't do more to help her, McKnight sets out to find her - with help from his new "partner," Leon Prudell, who's hell-bent to pair his name with McKnight's on a jointly owned private investigation firm. McKnight isn't at all amenable to that concept, but getting rid of Prudell turns out to be almost as difficult as finding the woman and the abusive boyfriend. Their relationship does, though, provide a bit of much-needed comic relief from the cold and physical tribulations that plague McKnight throughout the book.  

All in all, this is an enjoyable book and certainly didn't change my mind about reading all 10 books in the series. Still, I'm hoping the third one will be on a par (or better than) the first. We'll see!

Winter of the Wolf Moon by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur Books Reprint, April 2007); 288 pp.