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Thursday, March 31, 2016


4 stars out of 5

For openers, there's no question that it's an extremely engaging, well-written book that held my attention throughout. That is, perhaps, except for the first half or so, which dragged on more than I would have liked. There's only so much of the "runaway woman haunted by her past who finds a potential new boyfriend but can't make herself trust him" I can take before saying, a la Shakespeare's Macduff, "hold enough." But then comes the first twist - and it's a biggie I wasn't expecting - and things really start to get interesting and stay that way till the end.

The runaway is Jenna Gray, who is so haunted by her memory of a horrific auto accident that takes the life of 5-year-old Jacob that she sets out for anywhere but where she is - ending up in a dank, run-down cottage on the coast of Wales. There, she begins her new life, finding some success by selling photographs and postcards of her writings in the beach sand. It is there that she meets the potential boyfriend - a local veterinarian - and the "should I or shouldn't I" drama kicks in.

Meanwhile, back in Bristol, police officers including Detective Inspector Ray Stevens and his protege Kate (who, BTW, doesn't get a last name - Evans - until near the halfway point, making me wonder until then if that was some kind of clue), begin to investigate the hit-and-run. Along the way, readers get an in-depth look at the detectives' personal trials and tribulations, all leading up to that first game-changing twist.

From that point on, it's almost impossible to put this book down. There are two more what I'd call major plot twists, although I must say I suspected what both would be ahead of time). There's a third whammy as well - although if I'm honest, I have to say even though it came as a surprise, it's a bit of overkill (so to speak) and a titch too contrived. Overall, though, I absolutely recommend this book, which I expect will be a winner when it's released on May 3, 2016. I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (Kindle Edition, Berkley, May 2016); 384 pp.

Friday, March 25, 2016


5 stars out of 5

From the beginning - when I first learned of this series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett - I was hooked. Pickett, after all, is my maiden name; and while it's not all that uncommon, it provided me with a link I simply couldn't resist. Add to that an interesting character, plots set in remote areas of Wyoming and surrounding parts, and when I finish one I eagerly await publication of the next.

This is the 16th, I believe, and yes, it's every bit as good as its predecessors - despite the fact that the topic is less than appealing to me. With all that's going on in the world today, the absolute last thing I want to read about - even if it's fiction and the good guys and gals win - is anything even remotely connected to terrorism. This one dives into those waters with both feet, with a terrorist cell that ultimately threatens the lives of Joe, his "off the grid" falconer friend Nate Romanowski and at least one person very close to Joe (not to mention the United States as a whole). 

Nate, it seems, has been on the lam for some time, trying to avoid capture by a government that would love to see him back in jail. Unfortunately for him, a couple of special operators finally catch up with him. But rather than put him in chains, they make an offer: Help us destroy a terrorist cell that's taken up operations in Wyoming, and we'll wipe out any hint of your criminal record.

With little choice but to agree, Nate reluctantly sets out to infiltrate the cell. When he meets the leader and learns the agenda, though, he has second thoughts about his mission. The goal is to destroy a government activity that threatens the freedom of this country's citizens - not the citizens themselves - and the activist in Nate finds it hard not to sympathize. But true to his word, Nate puts his personal feelings aside and sticks to the task at hand.

Meanwhile, outgoing state Governor Rulon (with whom Joe has a special working relationship) calls Joe in to request a last favor before he leaves office: Follow Nate into the Red Desert and find out what he's up to. Somewhat reluctantly, Joe agrees. But as if all this weren't enough, a giant and vicious grizzly bear has gone rogue and developed an affinity for human meat; and Joe's daughter Sheridan's college roommate cajoles her into joining a group of students out to save the world by helping with a clandestine "project" somewhere in - you guessed it - the Red Desert.

As with all the other books, this one stands alone just fine; but I will emphasize that it's best to start somewhere closer to the first if the series is new to you. A big part of the interest, at least for me, is watching Joe's family grow up over the years. With the first book, Joe became one of my all-time favorite book "heroes" - and he's earned his place on that list with every installment since. This may not be my favorite of the series, but it's well worth reading.

Off the Grid by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2016); 380 pp.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


4.5 stars out of 5

The author's series featuring forensic detective and quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme never disappoint - and I'm pretty sure I've read every single one (this is the 12th full novel, I believe). But for some reason, this one hit just a titch off the bullseye, prompting me to issue a 4.5-star rating.

I can't put my finger on a reason, except perhaps that Rhyme has stopped working on NYPD criminal cases - much to the dismay of his professional and personal partner, Amelia Sachs. Now, they lead almost separate lives, and Sachs is less than thrilled. Complicating the issue is the return of her ex-boyfriend, who's been in jail for a crime he insists he did not commit and wants Amelia to help him prove it (and in the process come back to him). Add in more complications with the introduction of an intern hell-bent on pleasing Rhyme: A young, attractive, intelligent woman who, like Rhyme, is in a wheelchair.

The book begins as Sachs is on one of her famous chases, this time to nail a killer as he runs through a Brooklyn department store. Just as she's closing in, she's distracted by screams: The maintenance cover on a working escalator, it seems, has inexplicably opened and a passenger has fallen in and landed on the still-running gears. She abandons her chase, opting instead to try to save - unsuccessfully - the accident victim.

But was it an accident? If not, how on earth could the escalator cover have popped open all by itself? As it turns out, the NYPD has a serial killer on its hands - one who apparently has the ability to take control of "smart" technology that's become commonplace in today's society. Throughout, the specter of just how safe we all are from the "stuff" we all want and claim to need but over which we really have little control hangs over our heads. By the end, I was giving serious thought to disconnecting everything from my Kindle to my garage-door opener.

As usual, the action is almost nonstop as Rhyme and Sachs and their teams are brought together by commonalities in the cases on which they're working. Also as usual, there were a few almost-chuckles, usually stemming from Rhyme's droll sense of humor. In one of his classroom sessions, for instance - he's now spending some time teaching - he welcomes a student who claims to be a novelist because he (Rhyme) once was the subject of a "series of novels based on cases he'd run." In fact, he muses, he even wrote the author to complain about "misrepresentations of real crime work..."

The plot notwithstanding, I'd really, really love to know how much the manufacturer of well-known outdoor wear (e.g., jackets) has paid publishers (and/or authors) for product placement. It's not just in this book; I've seen mentions in several books of late - one of which hammered the brand name home in at least 20 places. Conceptually, it's not a bad idea; unlike TV commercials that can be zapped through with recording devices or ignored via trips to the refrigerator, readers are pretty much captive sets of eyes. But doggone it, hold enough; more than one or two mentions is intrusive and, at least by me, not appreciated.

The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central Publishing, March 2016); 480 pp.

Monday, March 14, 2016


5 stars out of 5

For years, I've insisted that nobody can touch Stephen King for getting my full attention within the first few pages (if you don't believe me, read the first chapter of Mr. Mercedes. Well now, Mr. King has some serious serious competition: In this one, author Matthew Quirk writes an absolute killer of an intro. No doubt, I said to myself as I kept reading several more chapters, I'm gonna love this one.

When I agreed to read it (thanks to the offer from the publisher, via NetGalley, for the advance copy in exchange for a review), I admit to having second thoughts. Quite honestly, I've grown a bit weary of stories about Special Ops guys gone rogue, now wanted by government leaders who once fell all over themselves praising their accomplishments - leaders who most likely are themselves corrupt. I still feel that way, and this book saddles up that template from start to finish. But in this case, boy, what a ride it is in between!

John Hayes, a Special Operations superstar, apparently betrayed his soldiers while on a deep-cover mission overseas. Now, he's back in the United States and on the run, trying to avoid being captured or killed by the very folks who sent him on that mission. One of his colleagues in other missions, Thomas Byrne, exchanged his weapons for life as a surgeon; but he can't escape his past and the guilt he continues to feel. The two old friends meet up now under very different circumstances - if Byrne finds Hayes, he's to capture him. But as readers might expect, nothing is ever black and white. The two old friends - made enemies by the government they both trusted - do find each other; but the story Hayes tells is quite different from the one Byrne has come to believe.

So who's telling the truth? That, too, isn't exactly black and white. The action turns explosive - literally - as the two try to work out their differences and ferret out what really happened and who the "baddies" really are. I'll admit the super-human action got a little wild and crazy from about the mid-point on (shades of Ian Fleming's Thunderball and Clive Cussler's NUMA Files series), but the writing remained top-notch throughout, with at least one twist I didn't see coming. So even though I was thinking "Movie!" for the second half of the book, I couldn't wait to get to the last page.

Will there be a follow-up? To be sure, that seems like a good bet. If that happens, it's a sure bet I'll be in line waiting to read it!

Cold Barrel Zero by Matthew Quirk (Hachette Book Group, March 2016); 384 pp.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


5 stars out of 5

This is the author's debut novel, and now that I've finished it, I'm sure it will mark the start of a successful writing career. Like the theme or not, it's hard to avoid getting reeled in by the highly charged interaction between married couple Charlie and Sal (one a high-powered corporate lawyer and the other a stay-at-home spouse). It's an outstanding, emotionally charged work and for that, I give it 5 stars without hesitation and thank the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy for review. 

But a thriller? In my mind, not so much. In the Prologue, readers learn right from the git-go who did what to whom. From there, the chapters start at the beginning of the relationship, moving forward to reveal how that ending came to be from the alternating (and very different) perspectives of Sal and Charlie. As one might expect, the tension is palpable and kept me turning pages as fast as my Kindle would allow; but at no time did I suspect that the ending would be anything other than what it was.

And, as immersed as I was in the well-crafted story, the subject matter - disturbing levels of physical and mental abuse - got in my way. One character was intent on justifying behavior for which, IMHO, there is no justification - not ever. The other tried hard to justify tolerance of that behavior; but while I fully understand the reasons for turning the other cheek (largely thanks to the author's flair for writing), the concept of sticking around and taking that kind of abuse, especially when a young child is involved, just isn't in my mental wheelhouse. 

I also take issue with a part of the book's official description - though I emphasize that it has nothing to do with the importance of the issue or the quality or relevance of the book itself:

"They say every marriage has its secrets.
But no one sees what happens behind closed doors.
And sometimes those doors should never be opened…

"Sal and Charlie are married. They love each other. But they aren’t happy. Sal cannot leave, no matter what Charlie does – no matter how much it hurts."

No, No and NO. Although I can't speak for the United Kingdom (the setting for this book), groups and individuals in this country too numerous to count are working hard to raise awareness that love and abuse shouldn't appear in the same sentence. Even more important, those doors need not be shut, but rather opened wide, if for no better reason than to encourage and support victims like Sal, who believe they "cannot" leave. In fact, leave is exactly what they must do - the sooner the better. Suggesting otherwise, especially for the purposes of promoting a nonfiction work, to me is extremely off-putting. There are many other ways to "sell" the appeal of this timely and expertly written story, and my hope is that the publisher will find one of them.

Between You and Me by Lisa Hall (HarperCollins Publishers, March 2016); 2603 KB).

Monday, March 7, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Every once in a while, I feel the need to "unwind," mentally speaking, by reading something that doesn't challenge my brain cells. To be sure, I still prefer that it be in my favorite genre - murder mystery - but I want to be able to breeze through it somewhat mindlessly.

I've exhausted several series that filled that bill - such as the late Lilian Jackson Braun's Cat Who books and The Burglar Who series by Lawrence Block. But as I finished up yet another dank, dark thriller - making it three or four in a row - I just couldn't face another one. What's a worn out reader to do?

The solution - this book - suddenly appeared in the list of freebies available at Amazon from one of the many daily services to which I subscribe (e.g., BookBub, BookGorilla, Lendle). Even though it's the second in the series, the premise sounded exactly like what I was looking for. For openers, it's short (175 pages); even if its awful, I reasoned, it won't take long to muddle my way through.

As it turns out, it's exactly what the book doctor ordered; I enjoyed it enough that I'm looking forward to the next, Body in the Woods. As the subtitle notes (in addition to being dubbed a "cozy mystery,") the story centers on The Reverend Annabelle Dixon, an Anglican priest who's 5 feet 11 inches tall with a curiosity surpassing that of her church cat, Biscuit, and a borderline unhealthy love of sweets. She lives in the small village of Upton St. Mary, Cornwall, England, where she is the vicar of St. Mary's Church.

When Annabelle pays a visit to the parish's newest resident, Sir John Cartwright, she gets a nasty surprise: He's quite dead. Clearly, given the scenario, it's murder. So, she calls in the local police, which includes the single, attractive Inspector Mike Nicholls (for those who don't know, Anglican priests are free to marry, so the possibility of romance plays a bit of a role here as well).

From that point on, giving any details would spoil the whole thing (given that it's so short), so the only thing I'll say is that it's not necessary to read the first book to enjoy this one. Bottom line? You won't find anything remotely disturbing or psychologically deep here. It's just, well, cozy - with a touch of whimsy thrown in. The last part of the book includes a few recipes for sweets mentioned in the story (cupcakes, macaroons and baklava) as well as a goodly portion of the next one in the series.

Murder at the Mansion by Alison Golden and Jamie Vougeot (Amazon Digital Services LLC, October 2015); 175 pp.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

NYPD Red 4

4.5 stars out of 5

Red is, for those who don't know, an elite NYPD task force that caters to the exceptionally well-heeled. When the crime is of a sensitive nature (meaning, often, that the political powers-that-be want it wrapped up in plain brown paper and buried under City Hall before the press gets wind of it), the team - notably Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald - is called in to do their thing. As the title suggests, this is the fourth book in the series, all co-written by Marshall Karp. I hope that writing team sticks together for the future, because so far, the series has been a winner in my book.

This one continues that streak; it's interesting, with several easy-to-follow story lines and kooky characters (one described as a person who "couldn't sell a five-dollar cure for the clap if it came with a four-dollar coupon") and just plain fun to read.

The various scenarios emerge early on, starting with the murder of a beautiful star on her way to a fancy schmancy movie premiere in Manhattan. She's shot while in her limo, and a multi-million dollar necklace is yanked off her neck - a one-of-a-kind piece designed by an egotistical, self-centered (to put it mildly) jeweler to the stars who loaned her the piece for the gala.

Just as Zach and Kylie begin to sink their teeth in the case (and Zach wrestles with issues involving his live-in love, an NYPD psychologist), they're summoned to the mayor's office. Expensive, highly specialized medical equipment is disappearing from the borough's hospitals; hospital officials, concerned that news of the thefts would scare away patients (especially since it appears to be an inside job) want the thieves corralled quickly and on the QT.

As if that weren't enough to keep the team occupied, Kylie's husband - a talented scriptwriter with a serious drug abuse problem - has left rehab for the umpteenth time and is missing. With the two NYPD cases taking almost every second of their free time, will she and Zach be able to find him in time to save him (again)? Will Zach be able to save his relationship with the woman he loves?

Short chapters (and, at 332 pages, a relatively short book) make it easy to put it down when life intervenes and the whole thing go quickly, so readers will get the answers in short order- and all in good fun. 

NYPD Red 4 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp (Little, Brown and Co., January 2016); 332 pp.