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Wednesday, January 27, 2016


5 stars out of 5

This short "book" (67 pages) puts the spotlight on focused ultrasound, a medical treatment procedure involving "intersecting beams of high-frequency sound concentrated accurately and precisely on tissue deep in the body..." The noninvasive procedure is in various stages of development for healing more than 50 diseases and conditions such as Parkinson's and tumors of the brain, liver, pancreas and lung.

The goal, no doubt, is to ramp up awareness of the technology and the need to speed up the approval process for more applications and financial contributions toward the cause. In the interests of full disclosure, Grisham's friend and neighbor Neal Kassell, M.D., a neurosurgeon and proponent, founded the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (based in Charlottesville, Virginia), and Grisham is on the Board of Directors. It's equally important to note that the book is free for downloading at various websites including Amazon

Incorporating narrative and graphics, Grisham outlines the benefits of the technology and how it has the potential to improve both quality and length of life for cancer patients who qualify for treatment. More information, including a link to a video of Grisham's TEDx presentation, can be found at the Foundation's website (links are provided in the book).

Grisham calls this the most important book he has ever written. I call it highly informative and more than worth the brief time it takes to read it. 

The Tumor: A Non-Legal Thriller by John Grisham (Focused Ultrasound Foundation, January 2016); 67 pages.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


5 stars out of 5

The Elvis Cole Detective Agency is owned by Cole and partner Joe Pike (the secretive Pike doesn't want his name on the door). Cole, though, is the one who's hired to find a missing mother who has never recovered from the death of her son by a suicide bomber. The trail first leads to a seemingly run-of-the-mill house, but the inside tells a different story. As Cole knocks on the door, he hears helicopters and police car sirens - and a man inside runs out. Among the police ranks is LAPD officer Scott James and his dog Maggie, a military-trained German Shepherd who was seriously injured trying to protect her human handler during a tour of Afghanistan.

Those who read another of the author's books, Suspect, will remember James and Maggie (for the record, I loved that one too, giving it 5 stars as well). Here, in trying to catch the fugitive from the house, James gets a too-close look at a man thought to have murdered another man found inside the house. A large batch of explosives is found inside as well,  and evidence suggests that the missing mother may be somehow involved. A theory develops that the woman may be attempting to trade stolen explosives for the name of the person who killed her son.

Since Cole was at the scene (also trying to chase down the runaway killer), he finds himself a suspect - at the very least, some officers believe, he knows more than he's telling the police. James, however, leans heavily toward Cole's innocence, as (of course) does Pike, who's been called in by his agency partner to put his special talents into play. The story quickly becomes more complex, to the point that it's hard to tell the good guys and gals from the bad.

Except, that is, for James and Maggie. Just like in Suspect, I read several chapters holding my Kindle with one hand while biting the nails on the other as both handler and pooch are targeted by the runaway killer who's intent on making sure James isn't around to identify him.

All the main characters get a good workout here - as does Cole and Pike's friend Jon, a special ops mercenary, who's also invited to join the search and seizure party. But IMHO, it was Maggie who stole the show; I won't be surprised if she and her human partner get a book all their own before long (hint, hint). Will I read it? You betcha!

The Promise: An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel by Robert Crais (G.P. Putnams Sons, November 2016); 408 pp.

Monday, January 25, 2016


4 stars out of 5

At this point - having read too many books in the Stone Barrington series to count - I think I've finally come to terms with the things that started to bother me a few years back when the books got noticeably shorter and more boring (to the point that I began referring to the filthy rich New York lawyer as Stone Yawnington). In fact, I've rather enjoyed the last three, as I did this one. Where else will you find someone who, after just one look, buys an English mansion for 10-1/2 million pounds, then heads to an auto dealership to snap up a new Bentley and a new Porsche?

In this case, Stone buys the house from the dying owner to keep it out of the hands of his unloved kids. Meanwhile, Stone's son Peter and his friend Ben, who are in the movie-making business, have released their latest effort - a story about a shady cult leader. The film is wildly successful (of course, since everything Stone and his offspring do is touched with gold); but a dangerous real-life "religious" leader is quite unhappy, insisting that the movie is based on him. He's mad as hell and isn't going to take it any more, but how far will he go to retaliate? 

Early on, a dead body turns up as well, supposedly a suicide. But here, too, there's more to the story than meets the eye. Could his death really have been murder? And if so, who did it and why? Leave it to Stone and his close-knit group of friends (one of whom has the FBI director on speed-dial) to get to the bottom of it - in between making a deal on another huge property and spending a good portion of time on the back of a horse (in proper attire, of course).

All these questions and more are answered here, and was happy to end the book with no cliffhanger. As has been the practice of late, the book is quite short (311 pages). And at this point, I do suggest that readers interested in this series should begin with an earlier book. This one stands alone well enough, but it seems to me my enjoyment was enriched by my previous knowledge of the backgrounds of the major characters.

Scandalous Behavior by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 2016); 311 pp.

Friday, January 22, 2016


5 stars out of 5

By the author's own admission, this book is both a memoir and a how-to. Now that I've finished it, I figure the actual book leans heavily toward the memoir side (a very entertaining one, I hasten to add). Some how-tos are here, though, and there are plenty more to be downloaded for free online.

The focus, as the title suggests, is on why and how the author became a keynote speaker - and why and how readers can do the same. Not by accident, that's a targeted audience, which begs the question of why a mid-70s, mostly retired, grandmother of four would have the slightest interest in reading it.

It should go without saying that at this stage of the game, I have no desire to shift gears and head off to foreign lands, as the very accomplished author has done, to earn a living by sharing expertise with audiences willing to pay me. That said, public speaking has played a role at just about every stage of my life - in fact, I just signed on again to help recruit volunteers for Ohio's long-term care ombudsman program, taking my presentation on the road to area clubs and organizations. Beyond that, I was privileged to have a father who, in addition to having a full-time job and penning several self-published books of down-home country poetry (mostly under the pen name of Slim Acres), spent close to 30 years as an "after-dinner" speaker. Many evenings after work, he'd take off to get behind the podium at a club meeting, alumni banquet or commencement ceremony. 

Neither of us ever made it beyond what the author calls the "cheap" circuit - more on that later - but I know I speak for him when I say we both had a heck of a good time. And that, in large part, is what attracted me to this book - and I certainly wasn't disappointed. The author doesn't pull any punches, laying out in interesting and sometimes humorous fashion his personal trials, tribulations and, of course, successes (right down to revealing his credit card balances at various points along the way). Topics, presented in relatively short chapters, range from charging fees to website deign to book marketing (and the need for aspiring speakers to write one in the first place).

Also explained is the difference between podium, motivational and keynote speakers, as well as the aforementioned "circuits" that are defined by income (the first, "free," describes most of my efforts). My dad fell more into the "cheap" category, and it's for sure neither of us ever dreamed of achieving "professional" status (keynoters who earn $5,000 and up per presentation). At the top of the heap is the "celebrity" circuit, but that one is reserved for folks like best-selling authors, movie stars, ex-politicians (whether in or out of favor) and and thus out of reach for most of us mortals.

Successful speaking requires repetition, hard work and unflagging determination ("Success is the accumulation of 10,000 tiny victories and 100,000 tiny failures," the author writes) and, I'll add, little or no fear of standing in front of hundreds of people and talking loudly enough that most of them can hear you. If you're among the latter group, this book won't do much to steady your knees; but if you've got those first three and a desire to earn money, it's worth your while to take a look. Be sure to check out the online worksheets as well; there are 12 at the website ( on such topics as Identifying Content Opportunities, Structure of a Keynote and Starting a Video Blog. Sign up at the site, as I did, to download any or all.

And that brings me to another purpose of this book: Self-promotion. Throughout, the author never misses a chance to get in plugs for his books, videos, training programs and the like. Should you think that's not a Martha Stewart good thing, think again; in fact, it demonstrates that he's walking his talk and putting into practice exactly the principles he's advising readers to follow if they want to achieve similar success. If that includes you, run, do not walk, to get a copy of this book today.

My thanks to the author, via NetGalley, for approving my request for a free copy in exchange for a review.

Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker by Patrick Schwerdtfeger (Amazon Digital Services Inc., January 2016); 284 pp.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Way back in the mid-1960s - when I was a fairly young bride - one of our favorite shows was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. starring Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and a young David McCallum as cohort Illya Kuryakin. Fast-forward to today, when one of our favorite shows is NCIS - and one of the stars is a slightly older McCallum (now 82, I believe), who plays medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. So when I discovered that he's written a book - in my favorite genre, no less - dipping my toes in the water was just too tempting.

And I wanted so much to love it. But if I'm honest in my review, I have to say that although it's well written, my enjoyment comes closer to like than totally smitten. I'm not entirely sure why; but I do know that while the characters are well developed, I just never quite warmed up to any of them including the New York aspiring actor "hero" Harry Murphy (and certainly not the off-the-wall female agent he encounters along the way). That said, the plot is interesting - if a little complex - and there's a sprinkling of subtle humor throughout that's always a plus for me. 

At the beginning, Harry overhears a conversation among the three Bruschetti brothers - Sal, Max and Enzo - during which the aging Max announces plans for the family to retire their unlawful, but profitable, activities. When Harry learns that the disbanding plans include the murder of a man in London, though, he decides to make an impromptu trip across the Pond to prevent it from happening. Harry has, after all, just been paid for a mayonnaise commercial (conjuring up memories of Robert Klein's side-splitting routine about a marching band's tribute to the popular condiment), so money is not an object at the moment.  

He manages to save the day, but in the process he ends up with a ton of illicit cash and, thought to be a mob enforcer by both the British police and the bad guys, squarely in the crosshairs of a very dangerous man. From that point on, it becomes an ongoing and relatively entertaining case of who's chasing whom right up to the end.

All in all, this is a solid, easy-to-read book, and should you decide to give it a go, that would be just ducky with me.

Once a Crooked Man by David McCallum (Thomas Dunne Books, January 2016); 352 pp.

Friday, January 15, 2016


5 stars out of 5

When my request for an advance review copy of this book from the publisher was granted, I was very excited even though I knew it's the second in a trilogy. Then, I had second thoughts about starting in the middle, got my hands on the first, Broken Promise, and gave it a 5-star rating. I knew I wouldn't be at a disadvantage when I opened this one, but I also tried to attack it with fresh eyes. Would it do well on its own?

The short answer is yes; the author does a more than respectable job of presenting enough background that everything in this one makes sense - especially important given the large number of characters in both books. The longer answer, though, is that I do recommend reading first things first; I have no doubt whatsoever that my enjoyment of this one was enhanced by knowing the people and events in that first book. The same will be true, I expect, with the third. And, in case anyone is interested, an 82-page novella titled Final Assignment was released Jan. 12 that also deals with the upstate New York town of Promise Falls. I'm passing on that, as I did with the first few chapters of the final book, The Twenty Three, which takes up the last 5% or so of this one (in the ebook version).

Cliffhangers, however, are a totally different animal. The first two books in the trilogy end with at least one biggie, so unless you plan to read the follow-up ((or just don't give a hoot whether you find out what happens after the one you just read), my advice is to be prepared to tackle them all.

This one begins as a set-for-demolition drive-in theater screen blows up a week early, crashing down on cars and the occupants. When the daughter of one of those killed asks local private eye Cal Weaver to investigate a break-in at her father's house, they are astounded to find a secret room that seems to have been the scene of, shall we say, adult activities. Also apparently, some of those activities were recorded, as evidenced by signs that DVDs are missing - presumably the object of the break-in.

At the same time, local Detective Barry Duckworth is continuing his work that began in Book One of solving the similar murders of two women (one recent and the other three years old) as well as the possible relevance of the number 23 that turns up in various crimes. When yet another murder happens, the investigations intensify - putting the lives of both Weaver and Duckworth in danger and, if they manage to escape that fate, leading them down paths that may twist together in a sinister fashion.

Call it another one well done - and if anyone is wondering, there's no question that I plan to read the last installment. There are just too many issues left to be resolved!

Far From True by Linwood Barclay (NAL/Penguin Group USA, March 2016); 480 pp.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


5 stars out of 5

For quite some time, I've been meaning to read something by this author, whose books tend to get rave reviews. So when I had the chance to request an advance copy of Barclay's Far From True from the publisher, I jumped at it and, to my delight, was approved. But then, I realized that book is the second in the Promise Falls Trilogy (at this writing, it's scheduled for release on March 8, 2016. Not wanting to be at a disadvantage by reading them out of order, I quickly got my hands on a copy of this, the first. 

And now that I've finished it, all I can say is, Wow! It's one of the best books I've read in a while - very hard to put down.

I should point out, though, that the book got very mixed reviews from die-hard Barclay fans; among other things, some noted that there are a number of characters and subplots that can be a little hard to keep track of. But in my mind, everything serves as a foundation for the next book. To that end, not all the stories are resolved here - the ending is a real cliffhanger - and in that sense, this one probably should be read with an eye to continuing with the trilogy. I knew that going in, and - since there's no question that I loved this one - the next installment already is loaded on my Kindle and I'm itching to get started. 

The story begins as David Harwood and his young son have moved back to his childhood home of Promise Falls, New York, mostly so David can get a more laid-back job with the local newspaper and have more time to spend with his son. Within days, the newspaper folds - and David is forced to move in with his aging parents with no hope of getting a decent paying job in the foreseeable future. Then, he discovers his cousin Marla - who hasn't recovered from losing a daughter in childbirth - taking care of a baby boy she believes is hers. He was, she insists, delivered to her porch by an "angel" - and she's not about to give him up.

Shortly thereafter, the real mother is found murdered in her home, and former reporter David begins to investigate. Meanwhile, other strange things are happening in the town: dead squirrels are lined up on a fence, an abandoned amusement park Ferris wheel gets three unusual riders and a rapist is wreaking havoc on the local college campus. Are all these things connected, and if so, how? Could David's cousin have murdered the baby's mother? And what possible message could those strung-out rodents be sending? 

If you want to find out, don't hesitate to tackle this one. Did I mention it's really, really good?

Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay (NAL/Penguin Group USA, July 2015); 512 pp.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


3.5 stars out of 5

Reading about the adventures of FBI Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, always is a treat. This latest installment, though, doesn't quite measure up to its predecessors. The first two-thirds of the book is outstanding; thinking it was finished at that point, I said to myself, "Well done," only to discover that the plot veers off in another direction. That final part is where I lost interest; the whole scenario, which ended in a major cliffhanger that more than anything else smacked of future sales enticement somehow seemed disjointed and implausible even by Pendergast standards. 

The adventure begins as the duo come to Exmouth, Massachusetts, to investigate the theft of a very expensive wine collection (Pendergast agrees to take the case only because he insisted that the client give him a bottle of extremely rare wine from a case that was left behind for a fee). Early on, they discover that the wine cellar has a much darker secret; a chamber hidden behind the wine racks in which a man was chained and most likely tortured many years ago (with a nod to Edgar Allen Poe). That discovery leads to another secret: That the fishing village harbors an even darker history that includes pillaging, covens of witches who escaped the 1692 trials in Salem and, of course, murder. 

All that history might have remained the subject of conjecture, but then a newly murdered body - carved with demonic symbols, no less - is found in the salt marshes that leads Pendergast and Greene - a la Holmes and Watson - to start connecting dots to the past. That's followed by another body that's unearthed under similar circumstances, and the links to history turn even more sinister. 

Along the way, readers get in-depth looks at the personalities of the main characters; and although much of their appeal is that they're quirky to say the least, they seem to veer off the deep end here. Tossing perfectly good lobster rolls in the trash simply because they couldn't figure out how to get them to their mouths? Prim, proper and disdainful of "modern" ways I understand, but for gosh sake, if they're intelligent enough to solve complex murders (and, presumably, are hungry), surely one of them could have dredged up the intestinal fortitude to ask for a fork.

Make no mistake, though, I'm still a fan of this series (and of the authors, both individually and as a team); Pendergast and Greene's eccentricities and peccadilloes in and of themselves are enough to keep the books on my must-read list.

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing, November 2015); 337 pp.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


4 stars out of 5

I've never met a cat of any size or type I didn't like (well, except maybe for those pitiful little hairless things) - so one of the annual joys of my life came at the release of a new book in the Cat who series by the late Lilian Jackson Braun. Ah, how I loved reading about the antics of Koko and Yum Yum, the Siamese buddies belonging to journalist "Qwill" Qwilleran. With around 30 in all, they provided a good run.

Until, of course, they came to an end. And since then, I've been hoping to find a mystery series (heck, I'd even settle for a single book) with a feline focus. And by George, I think I've got it. This book, which I received free in exchange for a review from the publisher (via NetGalley), is the seventh in the author's Cat in the Stacks series; now that I've finished it, it looks as if I've got some backtracking to do.

The location is Athena College in Mississippi, where the very likable Charlie Harris is a part-time librarian. One of the conditions of his taking the job - which he doesn't need for financial reasons - is that he be allowed to bring Diesel, his larger-than-usual Maine Coon cat, to work with him every day. That's fine with just about everyone except the new library director, a numbers-cruncher type who was brought in after his predecessor, thought to have been involved in some financial hanky-panky, abruptly disappeared.

Nobody much likes the new guy, in fact - certainly not Charlie nor his long-time friend and co-worker, Melba. So when the director's body turns up churned up in a library storage room, no one sheds a tear. Because of that, though, the list of suspects is fairly lengthy. When Melba moves to the top of the list, Charlie and his attorney son Sean get involved, helping the police with the investigation. Tension builds when other bad things begin to happen, including threats to Charlie's own life.

Not having had the benefit of reading previous books in the series, I confess to being a little disappointed that although Diesel is a loving monster of a cat with a sweet personality, he's much more of a schmoozer than a sleuth (put another way, he's no Koko or Yum Yum). That said, this is an easy-breezy story that I thoroughly enjoyed - and for sure I'll be watching for the next installment.

No Cats Allowed by Miranda James (Berkley, February 2016); 288 pp.

Friday, January 1, 2016


4 stars out of 5

This very dark psychological thriller, written by a former police officer and child protection social worker, generated positive buzz at - enough so that I decided to give it a go. And now that I've finished, I know I'll be moving on to the sequel (When Evil Calls Your Name).

It's a bit different in that readers know from the start who the bad guy is - Dr. David Galbraith, a much liked child psychiatrist with an affinity for molestation (some chapters are told from his perspective). He lives in South Wales with his wife and two young daughters, who cater to his every whim unaware of the soundproof cellar under their kitchen that's his secret "playground."

As local police are trying to corral a child molestation ring that's been operating for years - with evidence pointing toward Galbraith's involvement - seven-year-old Anthony Mailer goes missing. The boy, it seems, had been referred to Galbraith to help with behavioral issues presumed to result from the separation of his parents. The police, then, waste little time connecting the dots leading to Galbraith's door.

Proving his involvement, though, is another matter entirely. If the boy is in Galbraith's clutches, where is he? Will they find him in time? Meantime, Galbraith, who's totally obsessed with the boy, is doing everything he can to avoid detection and continue his evil ways.

It's impossible to call any book about child molestation "enjoyable," and readers who are squeamish about such matters may find it disturbing. But I found it to be a well-written thriller that held my attention to the end.

White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl (Amazon Digital Services Inc., May 2015); 286 pp.