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Thursday, July 28, 2016


5 stars out of 5 

The first handful of chapters of this book really didn't grab me, so I wasn't sure how the rest would go. But because I received a copy in exchange for a review, I stuck with it. And that turned out to be a good decision.

Anyone looking for fast-paced, constant action, though, won't find much of it here. There's an interesting plot - more on that in a bit - but it's the author's in-depth character development and expertise in turning a phrase that really reeled me in. Some lines made me chuckle, and even though our daughter-in-law is London-born and I can hold my own conversing intelligently with those from across the Pond, I admit to learning a few new British words (winkle-pickers? Who knew)?

I can't say I'd ever pick any of the characters for close personal friends, but I certainly got to know them inside and out. For openers there's Manon Bradshaw, a detective with the Cambridgeshire police; at 39, her biological alarm clock is about to go off and she's got little hope for a turnaround ("Two years of Internet dating. It's fair to say they haven't flown by.") On top of that, she's had a tough childhood, is estranged from her sister Ellie and thoroughly dislikes the woman her father married after her mother died. She gets by with a little help from her friends, most of whom are on the police force, like Davy, who hasn't got a bad word to say about anybody. 

But then Edith, the 24-year-old daughter of a wealthy family - the father is the Royal Family's physician, for goodness sake - goes missing. The police find some blood, her phone and car keys in her house, suggesting she left in a hurry and possibly not of her own volition. Aware that it's a high-profile case, Manon and her cohorts begin to track down clues, talking to those close to Edith including her parents, her boyfriend, a best girlfriend and a few other miscreants who appear to have ties to the girl. 

Chapters shift from the perspectives of major characters, and gradually, clues emerge as to what really happened. There are a few twists that kept me on my toes, and while I won't say the ending is particularly shocking, it did bring somewhat unexpected closure to an all-around good story. Definitely recommended!

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner (Random House, June 2016); 369 pp.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Ever since hearing about prolific author James Patterson's "BookShots" project, I've wanted to check out a sample. The concept, as I understand it from reading a couple of articles on the subject, is to produce thrillers that sell for $4.99 and are no longer than 150 pages. Some are written by Patterson alone and others, like this one, will be joint efforts with co-authors. 

From my own perspective, I truly believe book publishing, as I've known it for most of my life, is in a state of tremendous flux; hardcover versions, in fact, may well be in their death throes. So it is that I look with interest at any efforts to generate more sales. Several of my favorite authors appear to be trimming the length of their books and, in some cases, lowering the prices accordingly. Others are writing "prequels," or short stories/novellas designed to whet readers' appetites for the real thing. Just about everybody touts free sample chapters, often including them at the end of their other books.

BookShots fits into the any old-port-in-a-book-selling storm trend quite nicely (though to be fair, Patterson says one of the primary purposes is to target people who prefer books that can be read in one sitting and/or those who don't normally read much at all). In any event, when Amazon made this one available at no cost, I jumped at the chance. 

And I must say I'm impressed. Since I didn't start it until late one evening I wasn't able to finish before my usual bedtime, but an hour or so the following day was all it took. The story revolves around a family (mom, dad and two children) who have been stashed away in a safe house because at least one of them discovered a secret that likely will get them killed - any minute now. New details and background about how they got into the mess (and who might be after them) is revealed in each chapter, building up to an action-packed conclusion. Suffice it to say there's precious little extraneous material here; short, sweet and to the point is the name of the game. 

For anyone interested, there are a number of other BookShots out there, including on popular Patterson series' like Alex Cross, Women's Murder Club and Zoo (visit or to check them out). As for me, especially since I enjoyed this one so much, I'm going to try those I mentioned as well simply because I'm very familiar with the original books. In short (pun intended), BookShots looks to be a novel idea (another pun intended) that's likely to do very well. Time will tell!

The Witnesses by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois (BookShots, July 2016); 136 pp.

Friday, July 22, 2016


5 stars out of 5

It's hard to believe this is the 16th book in the series featuring Gabriel Allon, perhaps my all-time favorite "hero." He's a sought-after restorer of priceless paintings, a spy, soon-to-be chief of Israel's secret intelligence service (albeit reluctantly) and, with his beautiful wife Chiara, the recent father of twins Raphael and Irene. So much do I love the books that I didn't even break a sweat at the thought of 544 pages - much longer than most books I read these days - and once I started, I admit to getting testy when something or someone interrupted my progress. By the end of the first few chapters, I knew this would be a 5-star-plus read for me.

That doesn't mean, however, that a few things weren't a bit bothersome - the first of which is that the emphasis is far more on politics and history than on the characters. Chiara barely plays a role, and even Gabriel doesn't seem to be at the forefront as much as in previous books. There is almost tedious detail about the relationships (pro and con) among various countries like Israel, France and Syria, and the author makes it abundantly clear what side of the political fence he's on. That's not all bad, mind you; even though I've crabbed about other authors' crossing the line of putting their personal political agendas ahead of the story - and this one comes close to doing just that - Silva manages to write around it all in such an interesting, totally engaging way that in the end it didn't matter a whit to me (the historical parts, in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed).

As the book begins, Gabriel hasn't yet assumed the mantle of intelligence chief; in fact, he's officially dead (not really, of course, but for all intents and purposes beyond the Israeli agency, he was killed off a while back). Just as he's about to be resurrected to take on his new responsibilities, ISIS sets off a bomb in Paris. With so many dead and wounded and the entire country in shock, the French government seeks help from Gabriel and his agency in finding out who was behind the dirty deed.

It's an offer Gabriel can't refuse, and he sets off on what could be his final mission before "retiring" behind a desk (assuming he survives, of course). Early on, he recruits and trains a multi-national Jewish female doctor named Natalie who will infiltrate the ranks of ISIS in the hope of getting close enough to the caliphate to learn what the next target(s) will be. In fact, the book is more her story than Gabriel's; she is to be transformed into a Muslim "Black Widow," - a woman who lost a husband at the hands of non-Muslim terrorism and wants nothing more than revenge (and the glory that will come when she dies as a martyr).

The story follows all that happens to her as well as the interaction among the government agencies that are involved. In between are chases that lead to blind alleys, shady characters doing their thing and horrific strikes, and threats of even more strikes, by ISIS terrorists. Can Gabriel and his team (with the help of the good doctor) bring whoever is running the ISIS show to his knees in time to prevent an even more horrendous disaster? I know the answer, and if you read this terrific book, so will you.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva (Harper, July 2016); 544 pp.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


4.5 stars out of 5

Aha - methinks I just found a great new (to me) series! This one actually is the eighth featuring private detective Leo Waterman, but it stands on its own very well. In fact, since I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to try and get my hands on a few of the earlier books.

The writing and the plot make this a plain old, hard-boiled, fast-paced detective novel in traditional fashion; no chapters shifting back and forth between past and present and no tense psychological drama or wishy-washy characters. I half expected Leo to crack, "Hey, doll, what are you doing in a joint like this?" at any moment. In fact, to my great amusement, he did utter some great lines (the best of which, alas, are a bit too ribald to put in print). And all that, IMHO, is a good thing. 

It begins as Leo learns from his long-time but now former squeeze, county Medical Examiner Rebecca Duval, that two unidentified and apparently unrelated bodies have been found in the trunk of a car, inexplicably covered by a huge coat that belonged to Leo's equally huge father. The two dead guys appear to have quite dissimilar backgrounds, raising even more questions, and Leo - particularly curious about how the coat got involved - sets out to ID the pair and find the connection. 

Enlisting help from Rebecca and a couple of other expert cronies, he finds links to a local "church" and a pastor who loves to make parishioners' hair stand on end with his sermons. His search for the truth leads to an out-of-the-way church camp with a lake (to which the title refers), a couple of trigger-happy bad guys and across-the-street neighbors who make the fights between Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard pale in comparison. Amid all these crazies there's plenty of action that kept me turning the pages (the book isn't very long, so I breezed through it in just a couple of days of spare time).

In short, good job! Many thanks to the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read this book in exchange for a review.

Salvation Lake by G.M. Ford (Thomas & Mercer, July 2016); 226 pp.

Friday, July 15, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Former private investigator Finn Harding lost his license a few years back, but that hasn't slowed him down a whit. Granted, he has to be more careful about running afoul of the law, but he's been making a decent living by operating in the shadows of the underground. This time, he's contacted by the father of a son who was tortured and murdered some 30 years ago in Parkersburg, West Virginia. All these years later, the intent is to find the two who did the deed and who, at the time, were just 9 years old. Tried and convicted as adults, they spent only a few years in a juvenile prison before being released. Problem is, it appears they disappeared into the government's witness protection program and now could be anywhere in the world.

Finn is a bit torn because taking the case means he'll have to be away from his Cincinnati home, the young daughter he sees on weekends and an ex-wife who seems to be leaning toward reconciliation (he won't miss his Columbo-loving father, with whom he makes his home, nearly as much). Then too, he has ethical concerns over what the father intends to do to the pair after they're found; but in the end, the details of the murder are so gruesome that Finn sets his worries aside and agrees to help.

As expected, locating the pair isn't easy, given that their original identities have been wiped off the face of earth as we know it. So here and there, Finn enlists help from a few friends - all interesting in their own rights - who have ways of ferreting out background information on just about anyone anywhere. The search takes him from Parkersburg to Texas and Tennessee - and quickly puts him in the crosshairs of a female FBI agent who's determined to thwart his efforts and let the two sleeping dogs lie where they were planted lo those many years ago. 

That also means finding the pair will prove more difficult than it might otherwise be - and involves a lot of boring grunt work. Finn spends hours, for instance, watching a suspect's home for activity as he tries to make a positive identification ("Stakeouts are worse than anal fissures and church," he quips at one point). But eventually, he gets what he's after.

And that's the end of that. Or not: Although the culprits have been located, Finn learns details about their current lives that make him think twice about revealing their whereabouts to the murdered boy's father. He also learns he's not the only one who was hired; someone else has a vested interest in finding the culprits - someone who's perfectly willing and extremely able to take out anyone who gets in his way, including Finn himself.

For the record, this is the third in the Finn series, but it stands well on its own. In fact, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first, The Shadow Broker, which I received via NetGalley in exchange for a review. Somehow, the next one, Scar Tissue, got lost in my ever-growing stack of to-read books (an oversight I fully intend to rectify as soon as possible), but when the author offered me the chance to read and review this one, saying yes was a no-brainer. Admittedly, my interest in the series as a whole is heightened because I grew up not far from Cincinnati, and I really enjoy reading books set in places I know fairly well (now that I'm in the northeastern part of the Buckeye State, another favorite author is Les Roberts, whose P.I. Milan Jacovich lives in Cleveland).

This one hooked me with mention of Parkersburg, where my husband and I have spent a number of vacation hours as we poked our way in and around historic Marietta (just across the Ohio River). If anything, Book No. 3 is even better than the first one, and I don't hesitate to say this is one of the best series of its kind that I've read in a while. Highly recommended! 

The Prison Guard's Son by Trace Conger (Black Mill Books, July 2016); 236 pp.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


5 stars out of 5

From my days as a spring chicken to now, when I'm officially an old hen, one thing has been a constant: I love to laugh. And one person on whom I can count to make me yuck it up - whether via a syndicated newspaper column or one of his books - is Dave Barry. So when the publisher offered me the chance to read and review an advance copy of his newest effort, I said bring it on.

It is, thank goodness, rather short - I finished the whole thing in a couple of hours. Had it been much longer, I'm sure I'd have been banished to the basement while I read. Almost from page one, my chortles and guffaws started - annoying the heck out of my husband, who sat in his easy chair across from me trying to watch TV or read a book of his own. 

This time, Barry takes on Florida, where he's lived for 30 years. Much of that time, he says, he's been getting calls asking what's wrong with the Sunshine State, and the laughing has grown even worse since the 2000 Presidential election fiasco. So, he's decided to clear things up, taking himself - and now readers - to the best that Florida has to offer. He includes a brief but enlightening history ("...nothing much happened in the seventies, unless you count disco, which sucked as much in Florida as it did everywhere else," he writes).

Actually, one big event did happen in the '70s - Walt Disney World - and tourism hasn't been the same since as visitors began heading straight to the Orlando paradise, skipping the once-popular roadside attractions. Now, though, we learn what we've been missing lo these many years: Places like Cassadega, known for ghosts and all things spiritual; The Villages, the world's largest retirement community that's chock full of tricked-out golf carts; and Gatorland, the Allligator Capital of the World (no further explanation needed).

The places on the list are almost as offbeat as his humor, which is sometimes tongue-in-cheek and often irreverent - just the way I love it. Put another way, Dave, you've still got it - it's been 24 hours since I reached the end and I'm still chuckling. 

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry (G.P. Putnam's Sons, September 2016); 240 pp.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Stop me if you've heard this before: Angst-ridden female trying to put together pieces of a tortured past. Alienating those close to her (i.e., live-in-love, close relatives) because she can't come to grips with the death of a close childhood friend. Characters purporting to be friends who may have (gasp!) sinister intentions. Flashback chapters that reveal details intended to bring readers to the "brilliant twist" (the book's subtitle, not my words) at the end.

Yawn. The only thing missing is the word "girl" in the title (but hey, in my world, "sister" is close enough for horseshoes). Yes, it's a concept with which I've grown more than weary. So why 4 stars? Because I can't deny that the author has done it really well - at least after the first quarter of the book, during which I wrestled with the little demon in the back of my head that was screaming, "You've been there, done that, woman - pull the plug!" But the real me isn't a quitter (unless it really, really stinks), so I forced myself to carry on. And in the end, I must acknowledge that it's a more than worthy entry in the current formula craze.

Here's the deal: Grace's friend Charlie died unexpectedly a few months back, shortly after returning from a six-year disappearing act. Because Charlie's last words included "forgive me," Grace is flummoxed; what did she mean by that? Could she have saved her friend? When she opens an old memory box, some surprising details about Charlie's life pop out, turning Grace into even more of an emotional wreck.  You see, much of her life she's haunted by a bevvy of other childhood traumas - and, as the formula demands - she blames herself for much of those as well.

Fairly early on, Grace sets out to find Charlie's father; Charlie's mother, Lexie, has long refused to provide any details, including the guy's name. In that process, Grace meets Anna, who claims to be Charlie's sister - the daughter of that same man. Anna courts favor with an already overwrought Grace, even wrangling an invitation to move in with Grace and her boyfriend Dan (Lord have mercy - what could possibly go wrong with that)?

The rest of the book taunts readers with glimpses of characters who may or may not be out to get Grace (both mentally and physically). Admittedly, I never ran across that "brilliant twist," but there is an acceptable ending. It's not a Dickinson "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world," but rather closer to an "All's Well That Ends Well." Sort of.

All things considered, it's a well-written debut novel that deserves attention (and yes, that's a positive recommendation). But don't expect much of anything new and different - just same strokes, different folks.

The Sister by Louise Jensen (Bookouture, July 2016); 307 pp.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


4.5 stars out of 5

When I see books compared to multi-million dollar sellers, the hair on the back of my neck starts to curl; never yet have I found one that justified those claims. So when the author wrote to ask if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing this one - and I saw "If you love Dan Brown..." - my first instinct was to run the other way. But the fact is, the subject matter intrigued me (yes, I've loved all the Brown books). And when I learned the author, like me, is a native Hoosier, well, how could I say no?

Now that I've finished, I'm delighted to say I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The story begins as Jaqueline Quartermane, a relatively young, attractive (and uber-Christian) U.S. State Department lawyer, learns that her missionary fiance has been killed in Ethiopia. Amazingly unemotional under the circumstances, she decides to fight, not mourn; off she hops on a plane to go investigate. There, she meets up with a relatively young, attractive Jewish antiquities thief. They hit if off, although almost in the literal sense; being wanted by the law she can forgive, but his being a Jew turned atheist? Not so much.

Having little choice if she wants to get to the truth, she agrees to team up, and that takes them on an eventful, sometimes life-threatening journey to several ages-old countries as they try to solve the mysteries of ancient markings and thwart a religious conspiracy that could jeopardize the world as they know it. 

As all this takes place, readers are reminded of the subtitle; at the heart here is the "real" story of Christopher Columbus and his voyages to the New World. Chapters shift back and forth from the days of his youth-to-adult life and the present day, slowly bringing together the connection of the secrets of Columbus to the present-day attempt to show the world that the promised Messiah of the Apocalypse has arrived.

The excellent writing held my attention throughout, and I got an extra kick here and there out of some really great lines: A burly old barkeep's grin, for instance, "could have been the model for a warning poster in a dental office." By profession, I'm a writer/editor - but writing like this reminds me that while I love reading fiction, never in a million years would I even attempt to produce anything that can't be corroborated with facts. But since I'm never without my editing hat (and I'm a stickler for such things), I have to note I ran into an occasional typo and even an entire repeated paragraph.

For others who may be interested in reading this book (and - dare I say it - if you love Dan Brown you should give it a go), I also offer the following advice:

Allow plenty of time. Put another way, this ain't a James Patterson; you won't be able to skim through it; the detail is endless and borders on excruciating. Fairly early on, I gave up trying to remember much of anything except the characters' names (and even that was a tough go because several of them hail by more than one). A little of that, I admit, is attributable to my advanced age; hey, I routinely can't find where I put my glasses, so how could I possibly expect to recall that an inverted "S" with a colon next to it signifies that what follows is to be interpreted exactly the opposite of what it says? Instead, I relied (rightfully) on the author to provide the "connections" that led to the somewhat surprising ending.

Keep an open mind. If nothing else, this book is about religious history - rooted in fact, yes, but also in folk lore and the author's vivid imagination. So if you're a Christian Bible literalist as is our heroine Jaqueline - "I believe that every word of scripture happened just as it was written," she huffs at one point - be prepared to get your panties in a wad now and again.

The Virgin of the Wind Rose: A Christopher Columbus Thriller by Glen Craney (Brigid's Fire Press, October 2013); 407 pp.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


4 stars out of 5

Talk about perfect timing! This book, set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, makes a great lead-in to the 2016 Olympics, set to begin there Aug. 5. In fact, I read chunks of it with one eye on my Kindle and the other on our TV set, so I wouldn't miss swimming, gymnastics and track-and-field trials.

Hopefully, though, none of the events of the book - most of which take place within a couple of weeks of the Olympics - will be replicated at the real thing. The story actually begins a couple of years earlier at the World Games, when Jack Morgan's international security and consulting firm, Private, is hired to help make sure things go off without a hitch. Almost unnoticed amid all that action is the death of two young children, who mysteriously contracted an Ebola-like virus. 

Now Morgan is back in the "Marvelous City," teaming up with the beautiful and super-qualified chief of Private's Rio office. He's actually there to protect the two teenage daughters of a client - a filthy rich guy who's company won bids to help build the Olympics venues. The daughters, it seems, are volunteers in the city's favelas - extremely poor neighborhoods interspersed among those filled with million-dollar homes. As bad luck would have it, the girls turn up missing - and Jack's capable team now has the new, near-impossible task of finding them before it's too late. 

As all this is happening, another potentially deadly scenario is taking place unbeknownst to the kidnapping. Someone connected to the earlier World Games, it seems, has decided that no bad deed shall go unpunished. As the two story lines begin to merge, Jack and his team are charged with a new, and potentially far more deadly, challenge: Preventing a deadly threat to the Olympics and the city as a whole from becoming reality.

It's an interesting, fast-paced book, but a modicum (or more) of predictability means it probably won't keep you on the edge of your seat. Still, this is probably my favorite series of the Patterson book empire; already, I'm looking forward to the next location.

The Games by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan (Little, Brown and Co., June 2016); 400 pp.