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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.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

THE KILL SIGN

4 stars out of 5

Generally speaking, I'm a start-at-the-beginning kind of reader when it comes to books in a series. So when I was offered a chance to read an advance copy of this one (the fourth in a series featuring security specialist and private investigator Jamie Sinclair) in exchange for an honest review, I hesitated - but only for a moment. Simply put, the description just sounded too intriguing to pass it up.

And happy to say, I made a good decision. I still stand by my general advice that it's better to get in on any series from the start, but I certainly didn't feel left out with this one, which stands on its own just fine. 

Jamie is an interesting character in and of herself; the daughter of a former military bigwig turned powerful state senator, she's got an ex-husband and in this book, two hunky guys falling all over her (reminiscent of Stephanie Plum, the Janet Evanovich character who, even after all these years, is torn between two lovers, as the old song goes). Truth is, that waffling back and forth - particularly since it's coming from an otherwise strong, extremely independent woman - never fails to get on my nerves in that series, and it does here as well. But a fast-moving plot loaded with knock-down, drag-out action made up for it by grabbing and holding my attention throughout.

At the beginning, Jamie seems to have settled on one of the hunks - military police officer Adam Barrett. He's stationed in Beauville, Mississippi, where Ray Walther, who took a chance by hiring Jamie at his PI firm years ago, is located. Now, she's got her own investigative firm near Washington, D.C., but she's flying down to the coast in hopes of hooking up with Adam as well as seeing her mentor (and her close friend, Ray's pregnant wife, Corinne) again.

To say things don't go as planned would be an understatement. At the git-go, as Jamie and Adam try to get away from a mandatory military party on a riverboat, a dirty bomb explodes. Because they had fled the boring party and headed for privacy on another deck, they escaped the brunt of the blast in which several were killed. But then, Jamie catches a glimpse of the bomber and recognizes him. Her desire to get to the bottom of things - and Adam's military responsibilities to that same end - put an instant kabosh on romance and set the pair on an investigation fraught with danger.

Enter Marc - the other hunka-hunka who also is part of the investigation, and the romantic tension begins to build. As for the case, the more Jamie learns, the more she suspects some kind of connection between the bomb and her former mentor, his new partner and even his wife. Are their lives in danger? Or could any or all of them (gasp!) be involved in a more sinister way? The chase is on complete with wrong turns and dead ends, and Jamie, Adam and Marc find themselves fighting not only for the lives of her friends, but their own as well.

Conclusion? Very enjoyable, and I've already put the next installment of this series on my to-watch-for list.

The Kill Sign: A Jamie Sinclair Novel by Nicole Christoff (Alibi, December 2016).

Thursday, November 3, 2016

PLAID AND PLAGIARISM

3 stars out of 5


The checklist I use when I'm composing a book review includes how reluctant I am to shut down my Kindle when other duties call - and on the other end, how eager I am to start reading it again. On that score, this one falls a bit short. It's certainly not a bad story, but I just couldn't work up much enthusiasm for it.

Honestly, I'm not sure why. Admittedly I'll never be a huge fan of "cozy" mysteries, but I do enjoy them now and again. I love books and bookstores (one of my favorite series is Lawrence Block's The Burgler Who, with Barnegat Books owner Bernie Rhodenbarr), and this book focuses on the four new owners of Yon Bonnie Books. The setting is the smallish Scotland community of Inversgail, a country of interest to me thanks to a wonderful daughter-in-law who was born and raised in the United Kingdom. There are even wee touches of humor here and there and it's the first of a series, all coming together to make the book a seemingly ideal choice for me - hence my quick acceptance of an advance copy (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Janet Marsh is one of the four bookstore owners who has returned from Illinois to Scotland, where she lived with her now ex-husband (a.k.a. The Rat) until about five years ago. She starts off in something of a confused state when she learns her former house won't be ready to move into as planned. Then, she learns it'll be even longer because it's been vandalized for the second time. As if that weren't enough, there's still another delay when the body of local advice columnist (a.k.a. "Agony Aunt") Una Graham (a.k.a. "Ug") is found in the shed behind Janet's house - the shed The Rat built that Janet always hated anyway.

The other owners include Janet's 38-year-old daughter Tallie (short for Natalie), a lawyer back in the states, Janet's old friend Christine Robertson and journalist Summer Jacobs, Tallie's former college roommate. They begin the transition to full-time owners with the help of former owners Kenneth and Pamela Lawrie as well as pursue plans to create a tea room and small bed-and-breakfast in the space next to the bookstore. Janet learns that the neighbor next door to her not-yet-ready-to-move-in house is an illusive but well-known author, and the bookstore itself becomes a haven for a mysterious old woman who sits in the shop for hours tending to her knitting and not once uttering a word. Meanwhile, there's an upcoming annual Inversgail Literature Festival, and two of the bookstore owners take on even more work by agreeing to serve as judges for what seemed to me to be an astounding number of entries given the size of the community.

Whew! Wound in and around all this is the four women's unflagging determination to find the murderer; in between all their other activities they keep notes on their investigation in the Cloud and bug the heck out of the local police detective (himself a curious and not particularly likable person, BTW).

All in good fun, right? It should be, but to me, not so much. There are a few too many characters for me to keep straight, a few too many Gaelic words and phrases that kept me a bit confused, and the banter among the four store owners never really clicked in my [non-Scottish] brain. By about the three-quarter mark, I really didn't care who the culprit was (but that said, yes, it was a surprise, and that's a plus). All things considered, I'm sure this book will have appeal to many readers, and there's plenty of potential for the series as a whole. But wheesht - it didn't quite do it for me.

Plaid and Plagiarism: The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series Book 1 by Molly MacRae (Pegasus Books, December 2016); 336 pp.