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Saturday, December 31, 2016

HIGH HEAT

4 stars out of 5

Honestly, my rating is closer to 3.5 stars (not possible on most book ratings websites) - but it's written well enough to round it up to 4. That said, those expecting much more than a book that reads like a TV show script most likely will be disappointed. It also helps, I think, to be familiar with the Castle TV show on which the book series is based; the supposed "author," Richard Castle, is the character, a mystery novelist, played on the show by Nathan Fillion. I was a big fan, although by the series' eighth and final season, the show had pretty much dissolved into just plain silliness and the main reason I watched was to see the hunky Fillion.

The same can be said about the books. This is No. 8 in the series; somehow, I missed out on No. 7, but I'm not really complaining. This one, like the No. 6 Raging Heat, which I did read, makes for a relatively fun and quick read (I polished it off in a single day). It's well written and the personalities of the characters from the TV show shine through, but as police procedurals go, it's not close to what I'd call outstanding.

Here, New York police captain Nikki Heat - who is based on TV show character Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic - has married Jameson Rook, the book series' name for the well-known, uber-wealthy mystery writer and title character played by Fillion in the TV show who serves as a police consultant (are you still with me)? At the station, Heat and her crew watch a video in which a woman is brutally murdered in the name of ISIS; the first task is identifying her (and perhaps her killers) by way of a fuzzy video. But at the end comes an even more ominous situation: Rook, the killers announce, is the next-in-line victim.

To complicate matters even further than they already are, Rook is gone much of the time early on, tagging along with a "rogue" Presidential candidate somewhat in the blustery style of current President-elect Donald Trump (with a bit of the aw-shucks, down-home country barbecue flavor of former President George W. Bush thrown in). Rook is, it seems, writing a pre-Election Day article on what he's really like. Having him away, of course, puts Heat on a roller-coaster of worry that she can't protect him.

Meanwhile, her mind is totally blown when she sees a "homeless" woman she's sure is her mother. But that can't be right - her mother was murdered years earlier, dying in Heat's arms. Unbeknownst to Heat at the time, her mother was a spy - and eventually, the murderer was captured and the case was closed. Now, of course, Heat's world has been turned upside down; and as might be expected by TV show fans, she won't rest until she finds the truth about what happened to her mother. 

The rest of the book centers around investigations of the videotaped murder, keeping Rook safe and, to a lesser extent, chasing down the story of Heat's mother. The ending, I must warn, is a cliffhanger; one part of the investigative efforts goes nowhere in this book. Judging by that, I'm thinking the next one in the series, assuming there is one, will delve into the silliness that made the last couple of years of the series so ho-hum.

Along the way here, though, I did get a special kick out of the part of the story that takes place in Lorain, Ohio - maybe an hour from our home and a city we visit at least once a summer to see and photograph the Lorain West Breakwater Lighthouse and the beautiful rose garden in Lakeview Park. In this story, it's described as a city full of bars that cater to steelworkers. 

"They're the kind of places that pretty much serve both beers," a Lorain police official tells Heat at one point.

"What does that mean?" Heat asks.

"Bud and Bud Light," was the response.

Yeah. My kind of town.

High Heat by Richard Castle (Kingswell, October 216); 304 pp.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

MURDER, STAGE LEFT

4 stars out of 5


What fun! And to think that until I had my Gestalt "Aha" moment, I was totally clueless. Let me explain: When I had the opportunity to request an advance copy of this book at NetGalley in exchange for a review, the description intrigued me; and somewhere in the vast reaches of my aging brain, the name "Nero Wolfe" rang a bell - but so faintly that I ignored it.

That was until I started to read it and looked up the book at Amazon to check page length and other necessities for my review. And then it smacked me in the teeth: Nero Wolfe is a private investigator made famous by none other than the late, great author Rex Stout. This book, in fact, is the 59th in the series - and the latest of a dozen or so written by this author, who was approved by Stout's estate to carry on the series. Aha indeed!

I'm pretty sure, though, that I never read any of Stout's books. I was a bit wary of starting this late in the game, but the description of this one says they can be read in any order, and I found that to be true of this one (although I do think I'd have enjoyed it more had I read a few of its predecessors). That also means I must judge this book totally on its own because I'm unable to compare it with others in the series. That said, I enjoyed it well enough that it certainly won't be my last.

There's no doubt Wolfe is the leader of the pack, but here, at least, he relies heavily on his assistant, Archie Goodwin (a far less pretentious and contentious individual, I might add). Wolfe rarely leaves his home, tended to by a staff that includes a nervously attentive personal chef who totes ice-cold beers to his master at the ring of a bell and himself tending to his vast collection of more than 10,000 prized orchids. In between, he solves complex cases no one else can (in a style a bit reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes or the Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child-created agent Aloysious Xingu L. Pendergast). Physically, he seems to be imposing; if I recall correctly, Wolfe is described as weighing a quarter of a ton and 5 feet 11 inches tall, so it's no wonder he doesn't get around much.

The language he uses is what I'd call downright pompous and stuffy - I read words I havent seen in ages, like "Miasma," "perspicacity" and "foibles." The time setting isn't clear, but since Wolfe, an avid reader, picked up copies of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Vance Packard's Status Seekers, I'm guessing it's somewhere in the early to mid-1960s.

Okay, down to the nitty gritty: This time, Wolfe is hired to investigate a "feeling" of the director of a new Broadway play, "Death at Cresthaven," that something terrible is about to happen. A bit skeptical but willing to take on the case in exchange for three extremely rare orchids for his collection, Wolfe sends Archie to the theater to pose as a theater critic from Toronto who wants to see the play and interview cast members to be better able to write a glowing review that will bring Canadians to Manhattan. In the process, of course, he hopes to glean insight as to what might be going on behind the scenes.

Truth is, Archie's efforts aren't all that successful; and then - on Archie's last day at the theater - the unthinkable happens: The director is found dead in the not-so-secret soundproof booth he uses to watch rehearsals and performances - all the while slurping down his ever-present cola drinks. To complicate matters, not long after that one of the actors is found unconscious; apparently, he attempted suicide using the same poison that killed the director.

Although it is widely believed that the aging actor killed himself in remorse for murdering the director, cast members tend to favor that writer from Toronto who has disappeared - none other than Wolfe's assistant, Archie. Of course Wolfe and readers know it can't be him - but if not him or the old actor, who? Therein lies the challenge. 

Whether Wolfe manages to rise to the occasion, and how, I can't say without giving away too much. I will say, though, that if it's lots of shoot-'em-up, nip-and-tuck, do-or-die action you're looking for, you won't find it here. Everything hinges on interviews, character assessments, interactions with cops who aren't fans of Wolfe's techniques but admire his capability to solve crimes and such. Quite honestly, that was more than enough to hold my attention and keep me turning pages on my Kindle!

Murder, Stage Left by Robert Goldsborough (MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Digital Original edition, March 2017); 250 pp.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

MALEVOLENT

4 stars out of 5

Okay, I admit it: I'm a sucker for a free book. But even when that opportunity gets dumped in my lap (or more appropriately, my inbox), I'm careful what I pick because I hate wasting my precious time on a loser. Well, I'm delighted to report that this one's a gem. Better yet, it's the first in what is billed as a three-book series, so now I can look forward to reading two more.

Featured is a mid-20s private investigator named Shaye Archer, who lives and works in New Orleans. She's a mystery herself; found beaten and horribly abused around the age of 15, she was adopted by a wealthy woman and counseled by that woman's close friend, an ultra-competent psychiatrist. Still, she has no memory at all of her life up to the time she apparently escaped from her unknown captor. Heck, she doesn't even know her real name, so she chose one for herself (though where on the planet she came up with Shaye is a total mystery to me; hey, maybe it will turn out she's related to Frank Zappa or Gwyneth Paltrow).

Even before she's got furniture in her small office, she gets a client. Emma Frederick, a hospital nurse, is sure she's got a malicious stalker - but since she's got no proof, the police aren't taking her complaints seriously. Worse, the stalker looks exactly like her former husband, even though it can't be him; when he turned violent and tried to kill her, she beat him to it - killing him in what the police determined to be self-defense.

In part because of Shaye's own experiences, she believes that Emma really is in danger, even though they both know it can't be her dead husband. But who could it be? When Shaye begins to dig into her investigation, the stalker clearly isn't pleased; suddenly, as those close to Shaye (and Shaye herself) become targets, the race is on to get to him before he gets to them. Along the way, Shaye manages to get on the good side of a "good" cop - one who believes Emma really is in danger but can't do much because he's stuck with a near-retirement partner who doesn't have the slightest interest in rocking the boat - or for that matter, doing any real work. And here's a big surprise: The good guy also is good-looking, single and not too far from Shaye's age. 

The action moves along quickly - and, for those who are sensitive to such things, sometimes in rather gory detail - all the way to the end. Well, almost; I probably could have done without the last chapter, which seemed to be tacked on as an afterthought. It did, however, set the stage for the next book in the series, and I'm certainly ready to pick up where this one left off. All in all, an impressive start!

Malevolent by Jana DeLeon (Jana DeLeon, July 2015); 243 pp.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

SAFE WITH ME

4 stars out of 5


It's rare that a book described as a "psychological thriller" really blows my mind - but this one screwed it up big-time. In fact, it's downright creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky from start to finish. That's even more astonishing given that not a single character is truly likable.

Therein is the psychological appeal; every character is flawed - demented, even; to what extent is revealed only as layers of the good, the bad and the ugly are peeled away when chapters shift from present to past and from character to character. Admittedly, that can be a little hard to follow; in fact, when I first started, my reaction was, "Oh no - not another one where I not only have to keep a bundle of names and relationships straight in my head but also the time period." But in very short order, the author's expert crafting of the story made that much easier (and no doubt it helped that reading as fast as I could because I couldn't wait to see what happened next meant I had little time to forget).

Anna, a U.K. postal carrier, lives alone in her family home and is struggling to overcome something awful that happened in her life 13 years earlier. One day, she watches in horror as an oncoming car hits a motorcyclist, causing him to be seriously injured and lose memories of his past. Anna is shocked at the scene, but she's downright horrified when she recognizes the driver of the car - it's Carla, the woman behind her years-ago trauma. As Anna comforts the cyclist, Liam, she formulates a plan to ingratiate herself with him and thereby ensure that Carla gets what should have been coming to her back then.

But as one might expect, best-laid plans don't always work out smoothly. Anna must deal with Liam's elderly, very protective grandmother (with whom he lives), juggling her mail delivery duties to give her enough time to spend with Liam and staying out of the prying eyes of a next-door neighbor who befriended her as a child. Then, of course, there's Carla; now known as Amanda, she meets with Liam to apologize for causing his accident and strikes up a relationship that threatens to drive Anna over the deep end.

It's a heck of a race to see the story as it evolves through the minds of all the characters - but saying much more would mean giving too much away. If I have any disappointment, it came with the ending; perhaps I missed something, but it seemed a bit confusing even though I read it twice (hence my rating of 4 stars rather than 5). That said, I admit saying "Wow" out loud when I reached the last page. It's an awesome debut novel I'm glad I didn't miss - so many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for allowing me to read it in exchange for an honest review.

And for those of you who weren't in the room with me when I finished it, I'll say it again: WOW!

Safe with Me by K.L. Slater (Bookouture, November 2016); 376 pp.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

THE GIFT

5 stars out of 5


It's safe to say I'm not as wildly enthusiastic about this book as others appear to be, but at the same time, there's no way I can in good conscience give it fewer than 5 stars. The official description claims - and I totally agree - that it's a compelling read. Once I started it, I didn't want to put it down till I'd reached the end. Really.

Jenna, a 30-year-old woman recovering from a heart transplant, feels compelled to meet the donor family despite warnings from her therapist, family and friends that it's not in anyone's best interests. But as she begins to grow strong enough to return to work part-time, she experiences strange dreams and sensations. Soon, she begins to believe that her new heart - which came from an accident victim named Callie - may have been installed with Callie's memories intact. Those memories are disturbing to Jenna, to say the least, suggesting that the auto accident in which Callie was killed may in fact have been murder.

After Jenna meets Callie's still-distraught mother and father and learns that another daughter - Callie's sister Sophie - apparently has gone missing, she vows to get to the truth in the belief that it will bring closure to the grieving parents. She visits Callie's former workplace and even gets to know Nathan, the fiance Callie left behind. On the surface, he seems caring and very much still missing his almost-bride - but here, too, Jenna has a nagging feeling that what she sees isn't what Callie got.

When Jenna tries to tell others about the messages her heart is sending, though, she hits brick wall after brick wall. Not her therapist, not her transplant doctor, not her former boyfriend and not even her own parents believe her. She's delusional, they insist - the result of the trauma she's been through and the potent drugs she's been taking to prevent her body from rejecting the new organ.

But the more she tries to fight off her feelings, the stronger they become; and the more she pokes around, the more she becomes convinced that something sinister happened. The problem with that, though, is that the closer she gets to the truth, the more she puts herself in danger - not only from over-taxing her new heart too soon after the surgery but also from whoever is responsible for Callie's death.

Needless to say, the story zips along quickly amid plenty of action, suspense and twists that kept my eyes glued to my Kindle screen as well as a ton of second guessing and hand wringing on Jenna's part (a titch over the top, IMHO). And by the time I'd reached the midpoint, Jenna had bitten her tongue so often that I figured if that rate continued she wouldn't have more than a nub left by the last page.

Everything comes together in an ending that surprises in many ways, but of course I can't reveal more than that without spoiling things for other readers. What I will say is if you like head games and being kept on the edge of your seat, hie thee hither and get a copy of this book. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read it in exchange for an honest review.

The Gift by Louise Jensen (Bookouture, December 2016); 320 pp.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

DEATH OF A CITIZEN

5 stars out of 5

In the early 1960s, James Bond pretty much ruled my world of books. My husband and I saw the first movie, "Dr. No," at a local drive-in theater, were intrigued, and then discovered the books by the late Ian Fleming that were written between 1953 and 1966. I loved them so much, in fact, that they are the only books I've ever read more than once.

That decade brought our attention to another popular series of books featuring U.S. government counter-agent Matt Helm. In all, there were 27 of them; in all honesty, I don't recall reading any, but my husband insists that we did, so I'll take his word for it. For sure we saw all four of the very campy, silly motion pictures starring the late Dean Martin as Helm (very loosely based on the books and fun to watch).

Within the past week, I discovered that some of the original Helm books, which apparently have been out of print for several years, have been released in Kindle format. This one is the first in the series, published in 1960; when I got an offer to buy it for just 99 cents I absolutely couldn't resist, if only to rekindle (pun intended) old memories. And what a delightful flashback it was!

Actually, it's a great story and introduction to a very interesting character; the fun part comes from signs of the times, like female characters who wear veiled hats and long gloves to dinner parties and whose "girdles" could be felt through their clothing by anyone who ventured to pat one on the derriere. Interspersed are lines from Helm like this: "I can see no particular reason for a female to appear in pants unless she's going to ride a horse."

Ah yes; back in the day, I'd have agreed. I grew up on a farm in the 1950s, when girls weren't allowed to wear jeans or slacks to school  - and in church? Wouldn't dream of it; hats and gloved hands clutching embroidered handkerchiefs appeared in every pew. But at home, the minute we hopped off the dusty school bus, we ran up the lane and into the house to change into the "blue jeans" we'd bought for $5.99 at Sears or Penneys - rolling up the bottoms into stylish cuffs before venturing back out to the roller rink.

But on to this story: It begins more than a dozen years after Helm's last assignment during World War II; he's a writer happily married with a beautiful wife, three children, and a lovely home in Sante Fe, New Mexico. His wife has no clue as to his former identity and work as a government-sponsored assassin; those who left that service alive were instructed never to reveal their pasts - lying, if necessary, to protect the secrets they all held.

And true to form, lie Helm did. But his happy bubble is threatened when at a party he sees a woman he knew (and worked and "dallied" with) in his past clandestine life. Their meeting is no accident, Helm correctly surmises when she sends him a "secret" signal that she's still on the job - and soon, the two meet up and he reluctantly agrees to help her with a new assignment from Helm's former boss in Washington, D.C. And it doesn't take long before at least one of the events of the past takes place again (go ahead. Guess).

As with many espionage stories, though, the truth isn't always as it seems; getting to the bottom of things turns dangerous for Helm in more ways than one. Much of the focus is on Helm himself as he deals with demons from his past and realities of his present and the impact of decisions he's forced to make that (for better or worse) threaten to change the course of the rest of his life.

Reading this was a real treat; now that others have been re-released, no doubt I'll be tackling another, and another, and another...

Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton (Titan Books, reprint edition, February 2013), 240 pp.

Monday, December 19, 2016

THE FIFTH PETAL

4 stars out of 5

To really enjoy this one, readers will need a taste for the occult. I'm sort of a mugwump on that topic, so I can swing either way depending on the time of day, whether or not I've had my morning coffee and how intriguing I find the material. To the latter end, I had few issues with this book; what happens stretches a bit beyond my conception of possibility, to be sure, but the whole thing was bewitching all the same.

This book is connected to another of the author's books, The Lace Reader, although the witching art of telling people's fortunes by looking at images in lace isn't the focus here. Towner Whitney, featured in the first book, appears in this one as well - together with her husband, John Rafferty, who is the chief of police in Salem, Massachusetts. While Towner plays an important part, it's her husband - called in when a teenage boy dies on Halloween night under suspicious circumstances - who takes the lead here.

Towner does, however, get the crystal ball rolling by wondering if the boy's death is in any way connected to the horrific murder of three young women in 1989; dubbed "The Goddess Murders," the trio were related to "witches" who were accused of witchery in Salem's early years and killed.

The daughter of one of the 1989 victims, Callie Cahill, a music therapist, has returned to town. She witnessed her mother's murder back then (she was 5 years old), and was found clutching a wooden five-petaled rose that left its mysterious mark on her palm. At the time, she recalls being saved from likely death by local historian Rose Whelan, a rather strange woman who many believe actually committed the 1989 murders (neither Callie nor John are among them, but they seem to be in the minority). Considered at best to be mentally unstable, Rose's mission in life always has been, and still is, to find the oak tree at which the original witches were hanged in the 1600s; those bodies simply disappeared, never to be found.

As the story progresses, lots of skeletons (mostly figurative) are unearthed in the history of prominent area families. Along the way, Callie meets an intriguing young man (and heir to a substantial family fortune) named Paul, who's helping restore ancient churches in Matera, Italy. She's enchanted, but her strange dreams make her wonder if  he's really who he seems to be. Scenes shift from Salem to Gloucester, overlooking the beautiful Cape Ann (one of my all-time favorite places to visit, by the way) to Italy to the unbelievably ornate home of Peter's parents. An abundance of Salem's history is woven into the story, and the ending - which wraps things up in an almost too-tidy fashion, IMHO - nevertheless is exciting.

I did find it a little difficult to keep all the characters and their relationships (potential and real) straight in my mind. And at times, the story seemed a bit disjointed - jumping from place and time and character with little or no warning. Much of the latter, though, may well be because I read an advance copy (thanks to the publisher and author, via NetGalley, for that opportunity in exchange for an honest review), and the formatting was not what I expect will be in the finished product. It's a thoroughly enjoyable book, though, and I'm giving notice now that I want on the list to read the next installment.

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry (Crown, January 2017); 448 pp.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

DARK FORCES

5 stars out of 5


It's been a while since I've read one of the author's terrific books featuring British M15 agent Dan "Spider" Shepherd - too long, I said to myself as I polished off this one (the 13th). Despite not being a fan of settings in countries where Americans are less than welcome, this series is so well written (and the main character so intriguing) that once I get off and running, the books are hard to put down.

As this one begins, Shepherd has been with M15 for five years, much of the time doing heavy-duty undercover work. Early on, he watches as an extremely on-target sniper escapes from a missile strike in Syria while his two companions - spotters - are blown to smithereens. Of course, Shepherd wants the one who got away, but there are no clues as to his identity or to what location he disappeared.

Back in London, he's gone undercover to infiltrate a gang that's involved with money laundering and murder; the plan is to get sufficiently entrenched in their good graces that they show him the guts of the money-laundering operation - thus allowing charges to be made that will stick and land them in prison for years to come.

But meanwhile, chapters shift to the perspective of Mohammed al-Hussain, a jihadist who's on a suicide mission. It's possible he and other IS cohorts are planning to come to London under the cover of the many refugees who are crossing borders to escape the strife in their countries. To that end, Shepherd gets help from an informant and puts his eidetic memory to good use once again.

As the end nears, it becomes clear that the terrorists have targeted somewhere in London as the site of a major strike that could kill hundreds. But where and when? And with what weapons? The answers to those questions keep the action moving along (interspersed with more than a little spewing of blood and guts) to the last few pages. 

I should add that this one struck me as a little bit different in that readers see a "softer" side of Shepherd as he ruminates on killing for killing's sake (or, put another way, whether or not the end justifies the means) and ramifications of his 18-year-old son Liam's decision to pass on going to university and instead join the army. 

Lots of meat and potatoes in this one - one of the best, IMHO!

Dark Forces by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton, July 2016); 433 pp.

Friday, December 9, 2016

CHURCH OF SPILLED BLOOD

5 stars out of 5

How refreshing: A straightforward, private eye-full of action, entertaining book with no head games, no flashbacks and no chapters that switch character POVs so often that I get neck strain. Thank you, Mr. Miles, and thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.

Jack Salvo is the P.I. here, and he's got a philosophical mind behind his shoulder holster. I mean that literally; one night a week - except when his investigations force him to be elsewhere - he teaches a philosophy class at a Los Angeles community college. Apparently, he got the boot from college before earning a Ph.D., so he can't get a teaching job at the likes of UCLA - but he's taken that in stride. Maybe that's because, unlike most of the philosophy professors I've known in my years as both a student and a university administrator (in the interests of full disclosure, there were only two), Jack has a great sense of humor. He described one female character, for instance, as wearing "a long, dark-green maxi dress slit up to her thighs far enough to ensure adequate ventilation to her neck."

So what's not to love about a guy like that? Not much, in my book - and the plot is pretty darned interesting as well. Jack is hired as a professional bodyguard for three Russian ballerinas who are visiting the United States and staying with an uppity, richer-than-God L.A. neurosurgeon and his wife. While taking a break from practicing at a local rehearsal hall, one of the girls is kidnapped (in return for trying to save her, Jack gets butt-tasered).  Understandably, that doesn't set well with the good doctor (nor, for that matter, with Jack). But then comes the unexpected; no ransom demand is forthcoming, and very soon the girl is returned unharmed.

And that, too, doesn't set well with Jack, who smells a rotten tyulka and decides to get to the bottom of things despite being fired from the bodyguard assignment. For help, he turns to his buddies, his computer and another of the ballerinas, to whom he's taken a bit of a liking. The trail to the culprits begins with dead bodies near the Hollywood Sign and ends in Mother Russia and the Church of Our Savior Built on Spilled Blood, a St. Petersburg landmark. 

Along the way, Jack shows off a few MacGyver-like tricks, runs afoul of the law on two continents (and of some really bad guys) and lands smack dab in the middle of the Russian Mole-Rat's den. Will he make it back home in one piece? My lips are sealed, except to say that if he does, I hope he'll show up in another book.

Church of Spilled Blood by Jesse Miles (Amazon Digital Services LLC, August 2016); 218 pp.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I SEE YOU

4 stars out of 5

If you're a person who follows a set routine day after day after day, this book likely will scare you into changing your ways long before you get to the end. For the rest of us, it's just another great book from the author of New York Times best-seller I Let You Go.

Like that one, I found it a bit hard to get into at the beginning. But by the time I finished a dozen chapters or so, I was hooked even though it's somewhat predictable in terms of format, with chapters that alternate from the points of view of two main characters and build up to a surprise ending. Well, make that sort of; there are a couple of surprises, but I guessed one of them early on and had an inkling in the back of my head about the other that turned out to be spot-on.

The setting is London, so readers will need to adjust to across-the-pond terms like "adverts" (advertisements),"takeaway" (carry-out food and drink) and "queing" (standing in line). That's something I thoroughly enjoy, by the way - I've got a London born-and-bred daughter-in-law, and I'm always looking for a word or phrase new to me to share with her (guaranteed to be good for a few shared chuckles).

Zoe Walker, one of the primary characters, is a creature of habit - taking the same trains and sitting in the same seat on her way to and from work every day. On her way home one night, she peruses the local paper as usual and sees something very much out of the ordinary: Her own photo in a classified ad listing for a website called FindTheOne.com. She's puzzled, of course; she's got two grown children, is divorced from a cheating husband, has a live-in significant other and zero interest in putting herself on the dating market. So how on earth did her picture get in there?

More than a little concerned, Zoe begins to follow ads in subsequent newspapers, finding a new female face each day. Then, she realizes some of these women have fallen victim to crimes ranging from theft to murder. Now, she's sure there's a connection - and that any minute now, she'll become a victim herself. Every man she sees becomes a suspect; maybe he will be the one who intends to harm her. She's quickly turning paranoid, but as might be expected, her family and friends think she's simply turning crazy.

Enter Kelly, a police officer who is investigating the theft of keys from a woman's purse when she fell asleep on the "tube." It turns out that woman is one who appeared in one of the newspaper ads seen by Zoe, who reports it and thus gets on Kelly's radar. Interspersed here and there are italicized comments from the unknown culprit, who utters dire warnings (in particular about why it's a good idea for folks to vary their daily routines), no doubt for the purpose of scaring the pants off readers and ramping up intrigue.

In the mix are other major characters, among them Simon, Zoe's boyfriend; Matt, her ex; Katie and Jason, the narcissistic children who still carry a grudge at their mother's dumping of their father and hooking up with Simon; Melissa, Zoe's next-door neighbor who owns a string of financially struggling cafes; and Isaac, Katie's newfound older boyfriend who gets off on the wrong foot with mom from the git-go. Backgrounds on each of the characters are revealed, giving Zoe (and readers) reasons to suspect them all. As the story moves along amid plenty of action, it's unclear whether Kelly, who has personal and professional issues of her own, will be able to take down the culprit before he or she takes down Zoe.

When it's all said and done? Most likely another best-seller for the author, and, IMHO, deservedly so. Many thanks to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Berkley, February 2017); 382 pp.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

TWO DAYS GONE

5 stars out of 5


Relating to this book was easy for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that much of the action takes place in parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio about a 45-minute drive north of our northeastern Ohio home. That alone - seeing names of cities, small towns and places in between that we've visited too many times to count - got my attention. The job of keeping it, though, falls directly into the hands of the author - and what a great job he did!

That said, it not a book to be skimmed; the writing is brilliant, but close to what I'd call ponderous. Some of that, no doubt is because one of the two central characters, Tom Huston, is a bestselling author and college professor and the other, Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Ryan DeMarco, is a well-read guy who in many ways doesn't fit the description of standard-issue cop. The two men have met and like each other, but circumstances here cause one to become a hunter and the other the hunted.

The story begins with the brutal murder of Huston's wife and three children in their home. When Huston goes missing, the assumption is that the mild-mannered, popular writer-educator who was working hard on a new book with a lead character loosely based on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolilta and Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee," somehow snapped. DeMarco doesn't quite see Huston's killer potential, although he wonders why the man has run away. But whether Huston is guilty or innocent, it's now DeMarco's job to find him and bring him in.

As the search progresses, DeMarco travels in and out of many places familiar to me like Erie and Linesville Pa., and Conneaut and Pierpont, Ohio. At one point, I was surprised to see a reference to the 1985 tornado that destroyed much of Albion, Pa., but - as I can personally attest - not before it wreaked serious havoc in and around my town of Niles, Ohio. 

It is character development, though, that takes center stage; little by little, we see into the hearts and minds of various characters - Huston and DeMarco in particular. DeMarco, for instance, is no stranger to tragedy; a traffic accident a few years earlier resulted in the death of his young son and, ultimately, the loss of his much-loved wife. His understanding of anguish, in fact, is one of the reasons he not only doesn't accept Huston's guilt and ultimately is willing to put his own career on the line to get to the truth.

It's rare that I give much credence to official book descriptions issued by publishers, but in this case, their word "masterful" is right on target. Kudos to the author, and many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read the book in exchange for an honest review.

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis (Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2017); 400 pp.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE

5 stars out of 5


Move over, Charleton - you no longer have a lock on that "cold, dead hands" thing. For the past couple of hours (as I write this), nothing short of that could have pried my Kindle out of mine. That's because once I reached the 60% mark in this book, give or take a percentage point or two, there was no way I was going to stop until I reached the end. Yeah, folks, it's that good.

When I first opened it, I admit to being a bit skeptical. It's another of those with chapters that shift perspective, and time, from one character to another to another - a technique of which I'm not a big fan. That's still true, but in this instance, it wasn't as bothersome as usual. I'm not sure why - maybe because there aren't that many perspectives to keep straight (only three), or maybe because the time frames are within fairly close proximity so I don't have to keep track of what century I'm in. Whatever the reason, the technique works well here. As is typical, each chapter adds new information to the story, building up to the conclusion.

The three perspectives come from high school senior Henrietta (Hattie) Hoffman, who excels at every role she decides to play, from daughter to student to actor. The latter role, literally, was her last; after a first-night performance as Lady Macbeth, she becomes a victim herself - stabbed to death in an old barn in rural Minnesota near her home. Another voice comes from Peter Lund, a new-to-the-system English teacher who has moved here with his wife, who insisted on moving back home to care for her dying mother. The third is Del Goodman, the local sheriff who has long known Hattie and her parents well, but now has to put aside all former assumptions and friendships to find the murderer.

Other characters move in and out, including Peter's stressed and increasingly distant wife Mary, Hattie's high-school boyfriend Tommy and Portia, her friend and stage rival. With the possible exception of Del, no one really is all that likable (at least to me); readers get an up-close-and-personal look at them, warts and all, as we follow the events leading up to the murder and try to guess who the culprit is and what his or her motivation was.

Beyond that, I can't say more without revealing too much. But I will re-emphasize, as I said at the beginning, that the whole thing blew me away. I thank the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for granting me the opportunity to read and review it in exchange for an honest review - and my honest opinion is that this one deserves a place on anyone's best-seller list. Or, put more simply, wow!

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, January 2017); 352 pp.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

CROSS THE LINE

5 stars out of 5


Woo hoo - another winner in the series featuring police psychologist Dr. Alex Cross! It's the 24th, for the record, and it carries on the series tradition in fine style with almost nonstop action and a plot that touches on issues in today's news.

At the outset, readers learn that a psycho on a fast motorcycle is getting his (or her) kicks out of gunning down drivers on secluded highways near Washington, D.C. Then comes the unthinkable: The department's chief of detectives - Alex's friend and mentor of his wife, Bree - is shot and killed on the streets of town. Both Alex and Bree are called in to investigate, and almost in a flash comes another puzzling case; this time, it's the mass murder of workers in a clandestine meth lab located in an abandoned factory building. Nothing's been taken, and zero clues are left at the scene; clearly, this is the work of professionals.

But professional what? Could they be from the ranks of organized crime who are trying to get rid of the competition? Are they mercenaries hired to do the job for some other unknown purpose? Could the killings here be in any way related to the motorcycle drive-by and murder of one of the department's own? As the investigation gets going, it's clear that someone needs to take charge, replacing the murdered chief of detectives. Alex gets tapped but isn't interested - and the job goes to his capable wife, Bree. Now, she's technically Alex's boss, and it's going to be tough to keep public and private lives separate, especially when they don't see eye to eye on what direction to take next.

Meantime, all the other usual suspects - meaning lovable family members like the indefatigable, live-in Nana Mama (Alex's grandmother) and three uber-talented, almost-grown kids - are woven into chapters here and there with the effect of lightening the mood. There's a surprise ending that comes against all odds, but it should make for an interesting next go-round. Bring it on!

Cross the Line by James Patterson (Little, Brown and Co., November 2016); 401 pp.

Friday, November 25, 2016

TURBO TWENTY-THREE

3 stars out of 5

TGIF (or, Thank God I've Finished). My rating of 3 stars is rounded up to the generous side from a "real" 2.5, but only because a few lines made me chuckle. Alas, the rest of this one came across as just plain silly.

And I'm truly bummed. I haven't missed reading very many in this series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. And while I admit the last two or three weren't as stellar as the others - how old must Stephanie get before she grows up and stops making goo-goo eyes at possible husband and cop Joe Morelli and the hunky, mysterious Ranger, for instance - the story itself and the fairly frequent yuk-yuks were sufficient to keep them enjoyable.

Not so here. When it comes to her love life, Stephanie's stuck at 30-something going on 14 (still annoying even though I long since resigned myself to the fact that this will never change). Her offbeat agency colleague and former streetworker, Lulu, has lowered her jokes gutter level, and other attempts at humor never get much beyond something that would make a fourth-grader giggle. Passing gas? Pooping in the street? People who don't look good fully dressed going naked in public? Spare me. Even the antics of Stephanie's Grandma Mazur, who's usually a shoe-in for a few belly laughs, fell flat this time.

The plot itself doesn't fare a whole lot better. Stephanie is called in to capture Larry Virgil, who missed a court date. Then he hijacks an ice cream treat-maker's freezer truck and is stopped, after which he takes off. When the truck doors are opened, out falls a dead guy, who is frozen and (wait for it!) covered with chocolate and chopped nuts. Conveniently, Ranger has been hired by the truck company's owner; it seems someone is sabotaging the business. So, he brings Stephanie in to help. Meanwhile, Lulu and her height-challenged friend Randy are trying to break into nude reality TV (who knew?) and Grandma - when she's not crashing funeral wakes - is getting down and dirty with a new boyfriend. Ah, will the action never stop?

Finally, it did - but from where I sat behind my Kindle, not quite soon enough. I can't believe I'm saying this because it's like saying goodbye to an old friend, but I think I've had my fill of this series. Over and out.

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich (Bantam, November 2016); 305 pp.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NO MAN'S LAND

5 stars out of 5

Sometimes, I want to kick back and read a book or two just for the pure pleasure of it. Such is the case now, when the notion of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for two groups of relatives on two different days has had me stressed out for a month. So, I put my ever-growing stack of free-for-review books aside and turned to new entries by a few of my favorite authors.

And oh, what a relief it is! This is the fourth in the John Puller series, and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since I learned the release date. Now I admit it's a bit on the technologically far-fetched end of the spectrum (especially considering the backstory happened 30 years ago), but it came so close to the realm of possibility that I wasn't bothered at all. In fact, I hated to put it down, and on the day before the first of the two crowds was to arrive, I even put off making my delicious (if I do say so myself) deviled eggs for the half-hour I needed to finish it.

In the beginning, chapters flip between scenes from two story lines. In the first, a criminal named Paul Rogers is released after 10 years in jail; clearly, he's hell-bent on revenge for something that happened to him 30 years ago that turned him into nothing short of a monster. And just as clearly, he'll stop at nothing to get it. Meantime, Puller is notified that the case of his mother's disappearance back when he was 8 years old will be reopened. She was never found, and now it seems someone has accused Puller's elderly three-star-general father of murdering her. 

Puller, an Army special agent, and his brother Robert, an Air Force major, don't believe the accusations and want to learn the truth. The government, though, doesn't make it easy, putting roadblocks and cease-and-desist orders at every turn. But even though his brother's hands are tied and he's unable to follow through, John throws caution to the wind and refuses to give up (turning to his capable and attractive friend Veronica Knox for help).

As expected, the two story lines begin to converge; the Puller brothers' mother, Jackie, disappeared when the family lived at Fort Monroe, Virginia. And at that time, Rogers was at the Fort as well. The deeper Puller digs into the past, the closer it brings him to Rogers. It's a high-stakes race with an inevitable clash at the end - and the resulting fallout could be deadly. But for whom?

Honestly, I'd love to spill the beans, but I'm out of time. Gotta get that turkey in the oven stat!

No Man's Land by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, November 2016); 432 pp.

Monday, November 21, 2016

CHAOS

4 stars out of 5

Perusing other reviews of this book, the 24th in the author's series featuring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, I was a bit surprised to see a few naysayers. Yes, I agree the story moves along slowly (sometimes almost excruciatingly so) until the very end, where I, at least, got a jolt. Yes, the esteemed doctor remains what I'd call paranoid egotistical - everybody's out to get her but since she's so good at what she does, she somehow never quite understands why. But that said, in many ways the writing here is the best I've seen in the past few books. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

In the beginning, Kay is prepping for a high-level presentation with a professional colleague. As she and hunky FBI profiler husband Benton Wesley stroll toward dinner in an exclusive Harvard University club, she discusses the upcoming unexpected visit from her not-so-beloved sister Dorothy - and, in typical fashion, tries to discern her motive for coming. Dorothy, for those who don't know, is the mother of Kay's technologically gifted niece Lucy - the one Kay pretty much raised as her own. Lucy and her partner, Janet, have settled down to take over the care and nurturing of Janet's late sister's son, Desi. While they play a key role in the book, Lucy is noticeably absent for most of it (not a problem for me since she's probably my least favorite recurring character, but other readers might miss her).

Just as Kay and Benton are about to sip their first glasses of fine wine, though, they both get calls that mean dinner will go on the back burner. A mid-20s woman, it seems, has been killed under rather mysterious circumstances as she rode her bicycle along the Charles River. At first, it appears she was struck by lightning; but no bad weather anywhere near the area coupled with other suspicious goings-on prompt Kay to conclude the death is no accident.

Meantime, Kay has been getting strange threatening messages from an anonymous source dubbed Tailend Charlie - someone who seems to have inside information about Kay's life that aren't public knowledge. When she gets another not long after the young woman's death, Kay begins to suspect there may be a connection - a suspicion she shares with her husband and longtime friend, investigator Pete Marino (who got a questionable phone call of his own). Evidence from the murder and the messages begins to converge, leading to the horrifying conclusion that long-time psychopathic nemesis Carrie Grethen may be the instigator, if not the killer. 

Most of the story takes place over a couple of days, and many chapters are spent on processing the murder scene before the murdered bicyclist is even taken back to Kay's lab at the Cambridge Forensic Center (much less positively identified). As usual, there's tension between Kay and Benton, who necessarily must keep certain details of their cases to themselves even when those cases overlap. And in the end, the killer's modus operandi does turn out to be something a little far-fetched, but it's grounded enough within the realm of possibility that I found it both intriguing and a bit unsettling.

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell (William Morrow, November 2016); 400 pp.

Friday, November 18, 2016

RISE THE DARK

Absolutely electric! Hee, hee, see what I did there? No? Well, if you read this book, you will. And read it you should: It's a real sizzler.

I will, however, make two observations, the first of which is that the ending is a cliffhanger - definitely not something I like to get smacked in the teeth with when I get there. Yes, I knew there's a previous book featuring one of the main characters, but I didn't connect the dots and make the assumption that there'll be more until it was too late. The other is that the story touches on what I'll call the occult; some may find those bits a little hard to believe. As a result, my actual review is 4.5 stars, but since most review websites don't do half-stars, I rounded up to 5 because overall it's that good.

The title refers to the words attorney Lauren Novak wrote in her notebook just before she was murdered. She and her investigator husband, Markus, were in a small and offbeat town in Florida when it happened; Markus is sure who the killer is, but although he was in jail, he's back out and Markus is intent on tracking him down and getting revenge.

Meanwhile, up in Montana, it's lights out - literally. Sabrina Baldwin and her husband, Jay, moved to the remote mountain area after her brother - a high-voltage lineman like her husband - was electrocuted while trying to restore power. Jay was with him at the time and was so traumatized that he accepted a transfer that would keep him in the electricity industry but safely on the ground. When Jay is called out to help with a power outage, he returns home to find that Sabrina has been kidnapped.

And that's where the two story lines converge; turns out Sabrina's kidnapper is  the same man Markus believes murdered his wife. Markus and Jay don't even know each other, and they're coming at the situation from two very different perspectives. Standing in their way is a really nasty cult-like figure who's intent on destroying America's way of life forever by disrupting (you guessed it) the nation's electrical grid.

It seems to be a fair amount of research went into the writing of this book - I know I learned some new things. I also found one of the best lines I've read in years - one that's especially meaningful for someone like me who complains about the weather extremes here in northeastern Ohio but wouldn't leave it for the world:

"If you don't have to work to get through winter, what difference does spring make?"

Highly recommended - and I thank the author and publisher (via NetGalley) for providing me with a copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown and Co., August 2016); 401 pp.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

HER LAST TOMORROW

3.5 stars out of 5


The premise of this book sounded great: A 5-year-old daughter is abducted, and the father gets an email from the kidnapper saying he'll get her back only after he murders his wife. For that reason alone, I happily accepted the offer to read this in exchange for an honest review.

After the first half-dozen chapters that shift in perspective from the father to the mother, however, I decided I've never run into two more self-centered idiots (figuratively or literally). Thank heaven, I said to myself, they married each other and didn't spoil two families.

And for the most part, it went downhill from there till close to the end, when the kidnapper was identified (which was a surprise to me, and for the record, that's a good thing). Even though it isn't all that bad on the whole, I just can't in good conscience round my review up to 4 stars.

The reason for that, mostly, is that all the parents' paranoid thoughts, second-guessing and endlessly questioning why I'm doing/thinking/planning whatever and what the outcome might be (or not) got old almost from the git-go. To quote Nick, the father, "If I'm so sure of myself and my decision, why am I analyzing it constantly?"

Why indeed. In the acknowledgements, the author explains that the originally self-published book (2015) went through an editing process after the current publisher picked it up, during which 30,000 words were added. That is, I suggest, about 29,999 too many.

I will add, though, that the book is well written from a technical standpoint, and I re-emphasize that the premise is a solid one that I'm sure many readers will enjoy. For me, though, it fell a little bit short of really good.

Her Last Tomorrow by Adam Croft (Thomas & Mercer, October 2016); 256 pp.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

DARK WATER

5 stars out of 5


Oh my. Good thing I'm a fast reader. From the moment I booted up my Kindle Fire and opened this book, I didn't want to put it down. As it was, it took two days - although that's not bad considering all the other "stuff" I had to do in between. I'll give a special shout-out to my ever-lovin' hubby, who didn't blink an eye when I told him dinner would be a little later than usual tonight because I was too close to the end to stop).

Still another thank you goes to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. To that end, will "Wow!" suffice?

For everyone else, a bit of a plot description is in order. This is the third in the series featuring Detective Erika Foster (preceded by The Girl in the Ice and Night Stalker.  Here, she's serving at the Bromley Police Station in London, where she was transferred three months earlier. She didn't arrive without baggage; her police career is dotted with successes and failures, with one of the latter involving the death of her beloved husband, for which she's blamed herself ever since. She's an immigrant from Slovakia, and she's had to fight her own feelings of inadequacy that have been augmented along the way by some of her police colleagues.

Already, though, she's bored with her assignment that's limited to investigating organized crime cases. But as luck would have it, when she orders a search of an old quarry after getting a tip that a big stash of narcotics is at the bottom, something else turns up: The remains of a young girl. Almost immediately, the child is identified as Jessica Collins, who as a seven-year-old disappeared from her home 26 years ago. The case made big-time headlines back then, but no perpetrator was ever found.

It's an uphill battle to get assigned to the cold case, but Erika is determined to get it and keeps dogging her superiors until they cave in - albeit with orders to get it wrapped up as quickly as possible or else.  Erika manages to get the go-ahead to beef up her staff and turns to a couple of former co-workers to help (readers of those first two books will recognize them). But at the git-go, the case looks hopeless; the primary suspect who was cleared of the abduction all those years ago sued the city and won, making it nearly impossible for the officers to approach him again. The missing child's parents have split up, leaving the family in shambles. The original case detective, Amanda Baker, became a pariah, left the force and turned into an alcoholic hermit. And, when another suspect is identified, it turns out he died many years ago and is, obviously, unavailable for comment. As if that weren't enough, roadblocks keep popping up to impede the investigation that may be coming from a source closer to home.

Getting to the truth turns out to be a series of wrong and right turns, stops and starts - and a couple of big surprises. Only two things, in fact, could I count on, the first of which is that the next chapter would be even better than the one I was reading. The second? Any time two or more characters got together, one of them was sure to ask, "Would you like some tea?" Gotta love those Brits!

Dark Water by Robert Bryndza (Bookouture, October 2016); 368 pp.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

NIGHT SCHOOL

4 stars out of 5

There's a bit of a different feel to this one, the 21st, I believe, in the author's popular Jack Reacher series. That's probably because it takes place back in 1996, when Reacher is still in the army. He's got pretty much the same swagger, mental and physical capabilities, but he seems a little less, well, for want of a better word, exciting. Put another way, except for the obvious physical size differential, at times I actually could envision Tom Cruise in the movie role this time around.

The story, though, is no less interesting - even if it does happen when computers aren't yet the norm and the Internet is not much more than a gleam in Al Gore's eye. It begins as Reacher is getting another medal - one that will be kept secret and in that sense is rather meaningless. After the ceremony, he's surprised at being ordered immediately to "night school," which turns out to be something else entirely - the start of a clandestine operation. In the classroom are two other men, one from the FBI and the other from the CIA. Then, they learn the reason they're there: A CIA spy who has infiltrated a Middle-Eastern sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has passed on a message that "The American wants a hundred million dollars."

That's an almost unheard-of sum of money, setting off alarm bells as to what's being bought and sold and by whom. To help, Reacher reels in an extremely competent soldier and friend, Sgt. Frances Neagley. From the start, their investigation must be conducted in utmost secrecy - with less than a handful of individuals aware of what they're doing (one of whom is the President of the United States). Other characters enter the mix as needed, some of whom have motives that aren't exactly in line with the goals of Reacher and his team.

Along with a plain old good story, Reacher shows flashes of the character he will become in later books: A man who loves his country enough to die for it, but who at the same time is willing to deviate from standard practices when getting the job done requires thinking outside government-issue boxes. 

As always, it took me a few chapters to get used to the short, almost jabbing sentences (or, more accurately, sentence fragments - always like fingernails on a blackboard to a grammar freak like me). But also as always, the story grabbed ahold of all my senses and I quickly got into the rapid flow of things. All in all, another winner for the author - although I do hope he brings Reacher back to the here and now in the next one. Guess I just like my guys with a little more maturity under their shoulder holsters.

Night School by Lee Child (Delacorte Press, November 2016); 385 pp.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

THE SIGNALS ARE TALKING

5 stars out of 5

Consider me mind-boggled!


But it's not for the first time. That happened somewhere around 1970, when I tried to wrap my head around Alvin Toffler's Future Shock (followed by The Third Wave and Power Shift. Then came books by John Naisbitt, such as Megatrends 2000, and Faith Popcorn's Clicking: 17 Trends That Drive Your Business And Your Life. Yes, folks, I eat this stuff up. And now, thanks to an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, comes this one - and it's made no less of an impression. 

The author has developed a six-part process for forecasting - a way of evaluating new ideas being developed on the "fringe" (a.k.a. around the edges of society) that stand to affect us. Futurists, she says, listen to and interpret the signals that are "talking," looking for early patterns, or pre-trends. "Trends help us to understand change, which is an essential part of every organization's mandate," she writes. "Too often, leaders ignore the signals, wait too long to take action, or plan for only one scenario."

Descriptors like "probable," "plausible" and "possible" are used to generate concrete ideas about what's over the horizon. "We must think of trends as signposts that can illuminate the conditions we will likely encounter at some point in the future, even if that future is a century away," the author explains. "Organizations must track them if they are to create their preferred futures...seeing trends is a matter of looking for emerging changes at the fringe, within organizations, and in our societies."

In a nutshell, if it's possible to put it there, the book is about the importance of not being surprised by the future, offering a method for creating a path that leads to sustained success. Unlike some of the books mentioned above, it's not a list of what we can expect to happen in the next 10, 20 or 50 years; rather, it's a way to help ensure that organizations will be going strong throughout all those years to come.

Along the way, the author explains finer points such as the difference between something that's "trendy" and a "trend." No doubt it's a silly analogy, but if I interpret it anywhere near correctly, an Erector set is (or was) trendy, but the fact that children love to tear things down and build them up again is a trend that's likely to continue indefinitely. Harness your company's future to the first, and you may be out of business the minute a newer kid hits the building block; on the second, and you're likely to stay ahead of the curve.

Roadblocks to identifying the signals are discussed as well, such as the "duality dilemma" between left- and right-brain thinking (put another way, creativity vs. logic) and the need to look at things from both sides now. This I understand; I identify far more closely with the logic side, which most likely explains why I've enjoyed relative success as a journalist (just the facts, ma'am) but couldn't write a novel if my life depended on it. It's also, I'm thinking, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much; everything is laid out in an orderly, easy-to-understand manner.

That includes, for the record, a glossary of concepts and terms and a chapter-by-chapter list of footnoted references at the end. Highly recommended for anyone interested in expanding leadership skills (or like me, simply interested in the topic).

The Signals Are Talking: Why Today's Fringe Is Tomorrow's Mainstream by Amy Webb (Public Affairs, December 2016); 335 pp.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

CAT GOT YOUR DIAMONDS

4 stars out of 5


Let's set the record straight right away: Two things are guaranteed to spike my personal barf-o-meter. First is extreme heat and humidity; when the temperature turns upwards of 75 degrees Fahrenheit, I turn into a shrew. Second is dressing animals in human-like clothing (well, make that any kind of clothing). Never once has a bonnet or ruffled collar come anywhere near any of my furry darlings.

So given that this book is set in New Orleans, where 95 degrees signals a cool-down, and the main character is the owner of Furry Godmother - a shop that sells glitzy animal costumes and high-end home-baked treats - what on earth would tempt me to read it? Big hint: The word "cat" in the title. Puppies and other baby animals are cute, I admit, but if you want to melt my heart, put a kitty of any size in my arms. Still another reason for my requesting this book is that every once in a while I love to "cozy" up to a mystery book that isn't full of murder, mayhem and gore. And this, the first of a series, filled the bill purrfectly.

For that, a big thank you to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.  

The heroine is Lacy Marie Crocker, a native of the city, who's returned home after a disastrous romantic hook-up. She's got a cute shop in the ritzy Garden District, but she's struggling. She doesn't want to take money from her well-heeled parents and banks won't give her a loan, but for the present, she's making do with an investment from a local jewelry store owner.

Out of nowhere, disaster strikes; first, she has a run-in at the store with a very unpleasant character. Shortly thereafter, the glitter gun she was using to bedeck an order of tutus for Shih Tzus is the weapon of choice in the murder of that same character. Well gosh - guess who becomes the prime suspect?

Along with that comes a string of jewel thefts from local shops (for gosh sakes, how many jewelry stores could there be in one district)? And all that brings in the requisite potential love interest, Detective Jack Oliver. As expected in a book of this type, they alternate between serious attraction and silly bickering - and yes, there's the threat of another romantic interest in the form of the hunky brother-in-law of Lacy's best friend.

Despite Jack's constant badgering to stay out of his investigation, Lacy doesn't comply (a woman's got to do what a woman's got to do to clear her name, right)? Besides, she's got a business to run, orders to complete and an independent itch to scratch. Of course, that leads to all kinds of potential and real danger and intensifies the bickering with Jack (no doubt I'm in the minority, but the human cat-and-mouse games that seem to go with the cozy mystery genre are far more annoying to me than entertaining). But all's well that ends well - one of the pleasant aspects of cozies - so overall it's a cute, enjoyable and very well-written book.

Also enjoyable is that each chapter begins with a "Furry Godmother's Secret; my favorite is the "Secret to a happy life: Keep your friends close. Sometimes they bring wine." At the end are recipes for making some of the pet treats mentioned in the story (reminiscent of Murder at the Mansion by Alison Golden and Jamie Vougeot, another enjoyable cozy mystery.

Cat Got Your Diamonds: A Kitty Couture Mystery by Julie Chase (Crooked Lane Books, November 2016); 304 pp.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE

5 stars out of 5

It doesn't matter which of the author's series it is - the one with "Lincoln Lawyer" Mickey Haller or this one with private investigator Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch - when the latest edition is released, I want it - and I want it now. This one is no exception, and my 5-star rating says Mr. Connelly remains solidly on his A-game.

Of course, one might argue that with one, you get the other; in an earlier book, they - and readers - learned they're half-brothers. Ever since then, one has made at least a cameo appearance in the other's books, as is the case here. But there's no question that it's Bosch at center stage - and working two parallel story lines, no less.

The first story begins as Bosch, a former Los Angeles Police Department 30-year police detective turned PI who now works part-time (think: free) for the budget-challenged San Fernando Police Department, is asked by a former LAPD supervisor that one of the supervisor's clients wants a meeting with Bosch. The elderly client has written Bosch a check for $10,000 for the meeting - regardless of whether Bosch agrees to take on the job. As it turns out, the 85-year-old Whitney Vance is filthy rich (Howard Hughes is his godfather, for gosh sake), not in the best of health and, as far as the rest of the world knows, will pass on to the great beyond with no heirs. That last point, however, is in question; it seems a long-ago encounter with an older Mexican girl may have resulted in a child, and Vance wants Bosch to find out for sure before the old guy, well, croaks.

In Bosch's other life as a part-time detective, a serial rapist dubbed the Screen Cutter is on the loose and racking up victims. Never one to pass up a challenge, Bosch throws himself smack in the middle of that investigation, hoping to find the perp before he strikes again and - if profilers got it right - escalates to murder. Meantime, the premise is that no female in the San Fernando area is safe, perhaps including Bosch's own daughter.

Needless to say, with two cases moving along at the near-speed of light, the action doesn't let up much. The often irascible Bosch has the expected run-ins with other law enforcement characters who don't quite see things his way, and his part-time job is threatened when he goes against orders to use SFPD resources on the case he's working on as a PI. But never fear. Bosch will prevail - with more than a little help from his half-brother. And at the end, readers get a glimpse into what the future holds for Bosch (well, at least the immediate future; with a guy like him, that's about as far ahead as anyone - including Bosch himself - can predict. And that's just fine with me.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co., November 2016); 401 pp.