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Sunday, October 15, 2017

SILENT LIES

4 stars out of 5


If you enjoy reading about female characters who are totally consumed by angst, paranoia and self-doubt, do not - repeat, do not miss this book. Not only is there one such character here, but three - and until the end, it's virtually impossible to tell who's telling the truth. It's a story with a past that began five years prior to the present day, when Mia Hamilton has finally come to grips - almost - with her husband Zach's suicide. He died on the same day that Josie, one of his university students, disappeared (he was a professor); the claim was that he and his student were having an affair that somehow went awry. The unfortunate result, it appears, is that he murdered her and took his own life in remorse.

Despite a few misgivings, Mia never believed Zach was a murderer; and now, she's getting by at their London home with help from their young daughter, Freya, her close personal boyfriend Will and Zach's ever-loving parents, who live nearby. She's undergone training as a personal counselor, seeing clients in her home office, and her life after Zach is back on a track toward normalcy. That changes, though, when a young woman named Alison seeks her out and makes an appointment. Clearly, Alison is seriously disturbed, but she makes a claim that chills Mia to the core: She knew both Josie and Zach, and more to the point, she insists Zach did not kill himself. That said, she abruptly runs off, leaving Mia to deal with the fallout and start questioning Zach's death, and just about everything else she's come to believe in, all over again.

But can what Alison says and does be trusted? Just as Mia begins to think she's the real deal, something happens that make her think she's delusional. As Mia tries to separate fact from fiction, what really happened back then is revealed to readers through flashback chapters narrated by Josie, the student supposedly murdered by Zach (I've grown weary of this technique, in all honestly, but the author does it very well). After a number of twists and turns, everything comes together in a surprising end.

That ending was not, however, all that satisfying. I'm not totally sure why, except perhaps that I never really related to any of the three women (hey, that's just me, but I prefer my female characters to be strong and mentally stable, I guess). Still another reason is that I guessed wrong - make that way wrong - so maybe my let-down is just a touch of sour grapes to compensate for being fooled. The bottom line is that this is a well-written, easy-to-read book that I really didn't want to put down. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.

Silent Lies by Kathryn Croft (Bookouture, October 2017); 321 pp.

Friday, October 13, 2017

HER LAST DAY

4 stars out of 5

Finding a new series -especially one that shows promise - to me is akin to finding gold pellets in a stream. First comes the excitement of discovery, followed by the hope of more to come. Such is the case here, with the introduction of Sacramento, California, private investigator Jessie Cole. I won't say it was love at first word, but she's interesting enough that I look forward to future adventures.

As is the usual case with series heroines, Jessie brings "issues" to the table - most notably, the disappearance of her younger sister Sophie 10 years earlier. Since then, Jessie has become almost obsessed with finding her - or at least what happened to her - especially important since Sophie's daughter, Olivia, lives with Jessie and is for all intents and purposes now her daughter. When she's not focused on Sophie's disappearance, Jessie spends most of her time finding missing persons on behalf of her clients.

At the outset, one of those clients puts Jessie in a real bind. Hired to document a stalker, she ends up on the other side of the crime and facing prosecution (and possible jail time). Her one-time love interest, detective Colin Grayson, is still around, but for the moment, at least, their future as a couple doesn't seem to be in the cards. He's been hard at work trying to find the so-called Heartless Killer, who's kidnapped, tortured and killed numerous victims.

Almost out of the blue, Jessie is contacted by journalist Ben Morrison, who has a backstory of his own. A decade ago, he was seriously injured in an auto crash that left the driver dead and Ben with no memories of the accident or, for the most part, his past (except, I guess, his ability to write - apparently he's continued his newspaper career with only time out for recuperation). But now, triggered by bothersome but unexplainable flashbacks that include a woman who resembles Sophie, Ben wants to rehash her now-cold case, and it's important that he has Jessie's support.

He gets it, albeit reluctantly since Jessie questions his motives. And, she's got cases of her own to work on, including the possible kidnapping of a mentally disturbed young woman whose off-the-wall father is desperate to find. As all this plays out, chapters switch to what's going on with the very active serial killer; the only thing that's clear is that he will keep doing his thing until he's caught.

The action is almost nonstop, so I was happy to be able to finish the book in two days of spare-time reading (for the record, I'd have been even happier if I could have done it in a single day). Jessie is off to a great start -and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Her Last Day by T.R. Ragan (Thomas & Mercer, October 2017); 318 pp.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ORIGIN

5 stars out of 5

Perhaps I say this because when I got within a couple of hours of finishing this book nothing short of an act of God could have pried my hands off my Kindle, but I truly believe that of all the author's books I've read, I enjoyed this one the most. His always extensive research is borderline awesome here, and the plot was totally engrossing. While I might not call the action nonstop, there was more than enough to hold my attention right from the git-go.

A couple of other pluses: The central theme - the age-old questions of where human life came from and where it is headed - is thought-provoking (though I'm pretty sure Bible literalists will disagree). Both the plot and the action seemed more within the realm of possibility than in previous books - meaning I wasn't saying, "Oh, c'mon, get real!" throughout. As usual, the settings provided a ton of learning opportunities, all so well written that a devout non-lover of history like me enjoyed every word. One of those settings, in fact, was of special interest: the still-unfinished Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain - a structure that fascinated me as the subject of a CBS "60 Minutes" segment a while back.

The story begins as Robert Langdon, professor of symbology and religious iconology at Harvard University, is at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain) at the request of former student, billionnaire scientist and self-proclaimed athiest Edmond Kirsch. Here, Kirsch has promised, he will reveal a scientific breakthrough that will, by answering those two fundamental questions, render moot all organized religions. The event, with a guest list of hundreds, was coordinated by the beautiful Ambra Vidal, the museum director who just happens to be engaged to marry the future king of Spain.

But just as Kirsch is about to make his big pronouncement, something unthinkable happens; the crowd is thrown into a panic, Robert lands next to Ambra, and suddenly, the two of them are on the run. They don't know who to trust nor the real significance of Kirsch's botched presentation, but they're certain they must find the password that will unlock and release the program he intended to bring to the world before someone else finds and destroys it. 

Meanwhile, the man responsible for creating the panic is found to have ties to the Palmarian Church, an ultra-conservative offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church. That in turn brings up questions as to whether that group's arms extend into the Vatican and the Spanish government - and if they do, to whom. As a result, the issue of who can be trusted takes a few even more sinister turns that threaten the lives of Robert and Ambra. Unfortunately, their search of Kirsch's almost unbelievably high-tech Barcelona home yields only vague clues as to where the password may be, prompting the pair to set off once again - guided in large part by Robert's noted eidetic memory and the assistance of a very unusual "friend."

But can they find the password before someone finds them? Who, really, is behind the efforts to stop them? And what, if anything, is the significance of Kirsch's discovery? All I'll say is that it's a neck-and-neck race from the starting gate to the finish line - and you won't want to miss a second of it. Outstanding!

Origin by Dan Brown (Doubleday, October 2017); 480 pp.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MURDER OVER MOCHAS

5 stars out of 5

Easy to read, attention-holding and a wonderful way to take a break from my usual shoot-'em-up, gore-filled action books: That's my take on this fun book that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. If there's a downside, it appears to be the last in a five-book series that I wish I'd started from the beginning (although this one stands on its own just fine).

Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of cozy mysteries - but for one primary reason: It seems to be the rule that the heroine be downright obnoxious. She goes off on her own, never paying any attention to anyone - as well as  the kind of woman who, when chased by a bad guy with a knife, turns left into the dark alley instead of heading toward the well-lit, people-filled street to the right. 

Not so here. In fact, I quite liked Juliet Langley, a sometime musician and self-appointed private detective who manages Java Jive, a coffeehouse in Nashville. She's intelligent, assertive but not pushy, and actually listens to the counsel of friends (and yes, even police officers) before going off the deep end. That's not to say she doesn't have emotions, though; in fact, she's got plenty. For starters, she still hasn't come totally to grips with losing her romance with town police detective, Ryder Hamilton, who switched to her best friend and PI-business partner, Maya. She's also got mixed feelings about her current, much younger go-to guy, and conjures up visions of getting together with long-time friend and coffeehouse owner Pete. Mostly,though, she's furious with her former fiance, Scott O'Malley, who ran off with another woman, cleaning out their bank accounts and causing the downfall of the coffeehouse in Juliet's home town of Liberty, Indiana, that she and Scott co-owned (yes, it does seem she's run through an excess of male companions over a very short period of time, but then that's not necessarily a bad thing).

Needless to say, Scott's totally unexpected appearance at the Nashville shop  took both her and Pete by surprise - so much so that she punches him in the nose - and when he begs Juliet to use her PI skills to find his missing wife Mandi (the one he dumped Juliet to be with), she's dumbfounded. She's flat-out gobsmacked, though, when he drops dead right in the middle of the shop. When it's determined that he may have been poisoned, the local police become aware of the hostility Juliet's harboring toward the victim and consider her a person of interest at the very least.

With her reputation at stake, Juliet is intent on clearing her name and sees no alternative except to take the investigation into her own hands;  somewhat reluctantly, Ryder agrees to help. The place to start, they agree, is in Liberty - just a couple of hours from Nashville - where they quickly learn that Scott and his wife are "drug dealers" (a.k.a. pharmaceutical reps). Despite the potential for better-than-decent income, though, it's pretty clear they're living lives of luxury well beyond their means.

Are the drugs in any way connected to Scott's untimely death or his wife's sudden disappearance? If she's been kidnapped, is she still alive - and can they find her in time to prevent a worst-case scenario? Of course, I can't reveal the answers - but I will say it was a real treat finding them for myself. I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Oh yes - a personal note that gave this book extra-special interest to me: Like Juliet and the author, I'm Hoosier born (but Buckeye bred). Even more coincidentally is that I grew up in Union City - less than an hour northeast of Liberty. My favorite shopping excursions were to nearby Richmond, where for a time my late father - "Buckeye Poet" Harold Pickett (a.k.a. "Slim Acres") taught Business Law at the Ivy Tech Community College campus.

Small world!

Murder Over Mochas by Caroline Fardig (Alibi, October 2017); 235 pp.

Friday, October 6, 2017

SECRETS IN DEATH

4 stars out of 5

In some ways, I enjoyed this book more than others in the pile of 44 previous editions; for instance, I felt more "comfortable" - i.e., not on the edge of my seat waiting for something awful to happen to one or more of the main characters as I usually do. Besides that, I enjoyed the interactions among the characters here, some of which provided more insights into happenings in previous books.

Conversely, the overall atmosphere seemed a bit lackluster with not much real excitement. And, I confess I was a little bummed when I learned that my fairly early-on guess of the killer's identity was, in fact, not even close (I'm joking here, of course, since being a little surprised at the end really isn't a bad thing).

The saga begins as Lt. Eve Dallas meets up with a professional acquaintenance - a forensic anthropoligist - in an upscale bar (reluctantly for Eve, who isn't into the bar scene, especially a fancy-schmancy one). Just as Eve decides she's had enough, a woman staggers into the room from the downstairs, bleeding profusely. After crashing into a server who's carrying a fully loaded tray, she collapses on the floor. Eve and her companion rush to help, but they're too late to save her; the cut on her arm severed her brachial artery, assuring that she'd bleed out in minutes.

In addition to discovering that the bar is one of the hundreds of properties owned by her Ireland-born, uber-rich husband Roarke (one of my all-time favorite book characters, for the record), Eve learns that the victim is Larinda Mars, a major TV personality in the gossip trade - certainly not someone high on Eve's list of people to know, much less love. Still, murder is murder, so she and her department colleague, the effervescent Peabody, set out to investigate. Roarke gets a bit more involved in this case as well - he's not pleased that the murder happened in one of his properties, after all.

Early on, the team determines a possible motive: Larinda, it seems, has been raking in millions by blackmailing wealthy people on whom she's dug up serious dirt. As the number of victims grows, so does the number of potential killers - exponentially. Just whittling the list down to a manageable size is a daunting task, but necessary if they're to tag the culprit.

All things considered, this is another solid piece of work, and of course I look forward to the next. Here's another thought (admittedly wishful thinking at this point): How about a new series featuring that forensic anthropologist, Dr. Garnet DeWinter, and her capable assistant? Methinks there's plenty of room in the reading world for another Temperance Brennan (another of my favorite characters, BTW). I'd be a fan in a heartbeat!

Secrets in Death by J.D. Robb (St. Martin's Press, September 2017); 381 pp.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DEEP FREEZE

5 stars out of 5

I'd love to meet Virgil Flowers. There. I said it. He's long been a favorite character (this is, I believe, his 10th book). Actually, so is the author's other series hero, Lucas Davenport, but Virgil always won out (if only by a little bit). I'm not exactly sure why, except Virgil has that "bad boy" appeal - coupled with an irresistible offbeat - many would say irreverent - sense of humor.

But Virgil wasn't all that thrilled to get involved here, for a couple of reasons. First, he's still got a couple of days left on his week's vacation. Second, the case takes him back to Trippton, Minnesota, where a while back he dealt with members of a local school board who put a unique twist on the concept of education. Now, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent has been called in to help with the murder of a very wealthy, divorced businesswoman whose body literally was fished out of a mostly frozen river. On the suspected night of her death, she'd hosted a get-together of planners of their high school class's 20-year mid-winter reunion - and as Virgil somewhat reluctantly begins his investigation, he learns the planning committee members may have been closer to enemies than friends.

Then, along comes another investigation - this one at the insistence of the Minnesota governor - and Virgil is even more reluctant to get involved. Mattel, it seems, has paid a California lawyer to track down whoever's been buying up Barbie dolls - then modifying them to "talk" using, shall we say, very suggestive phrases and reselling them on the black market. Just for the record, being not even close to a fan of Barbies (Ken and Skipper? Not in this lifetime), I immediately gave the perps points for ingenuity despite realizing (of course) the gravity of the crime. 

The Barbie-doll lawyer isn't the most pleasant of women (that she keeps bugging Virgil to work harder to catch the culprits while he's busy on the other murder case is one of her less endearing qualities). To make matters worse, that murder is followed by a second - and now Virgil really has his hands full; dealing with two issues at once really puts his nose out of joint. As usual, Virgil works everything out in the end, taking readers along for another fun ride. 

Maybe it's just me, but I sense that Virgil seems to have mellowed a bit over the last couple of books (or at least, ever since he hooked up with girlfriend Frankie). Of course, no one can stay young and irresponsible forever - this, I believe, is the tenth book -  but I really do miss his feistiness. On the plus side, though, he's still got his chuckle-eliciting one-liners. When, for instance, Virgil is told that Amazon sells "sex toys" all of which are eligible for Amazon Prime, he doesn't miss a beat. 

"That's a relief. I'd hate to wait for three days," he quips.

Virgil, my man, you've still got it (and if you'd like to discuss that over a cold Leinenkugel next time you're passing through my part of Ohio, give me a jingle - I'm buying). Meantime,  many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Deep Freeze by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 2017); 399 pp.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

HIDE AND SEEK

4 stars out of 5

This is the third book I've read in the author's series featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace. Like the others, it's fast-paced and almost riveting - I'd have been quite content if I could have read the whole thing in one sitting. But truth is, I didn't actually "like" it much. Here's why: The only setting I hate more in books and motion pictures than an Afghanistan war zone is in a prison. And guess where most of the action takes place?

But that's a personal preference that shouldn't hamper other readers' enjoyment - especially long-time fans of the series - and when it's otherwise a very good book. The real focus is a question: How is it that the fiesty Helen is locked away? Well, it appears she's been disGraced - I'm assuming the details of her situation were laid out in a book I didn't read. She's now in jail awaiting trial for a murder she didn't commit; she was framed by her nephew Robert Stonehill (or so she claims). Her old department continues to run with someone else at the helm; some of her former colleagues think she's guilty and others - like her fiercely loyal friend Charlie - are working hard to gather evidence that proves Helen's innocence. 

None of them, though, can protect her from what she's dealing with now. Leah, a woman who occupied the cell next to Helen's, has been murdered in the night. The word on the block is that she was a snitch - clearly grounds for reprisal in the eyes of other innates. And a gruesome murder it was: Her eyes, mouth and other body parts were sewn shut and her ears stuffed with an unidentified substance - yet there were few signs of a struggle. The prison security chief is convinced that Helen somehow did the deed, so Helen tries to put her investigative skills to work on finding the real killer. In the process, she takes a real beating that lands her in the infirmary. Another murder happens in similar fashion, leading Helen to believe it may be the work of a prison employee rather than an inmate.

On the outside, still another force is working against Helen - Emilia, the reporter who broke Helen's pre-jail story. The woman left her old newspaper job, hoping to cash in on her scoop - and when she learned of the first murder, she became more determined than ever to keep dogging Helen and turn up more dirt to boost her own career.

While all this is happening, Charlie keeps trying to nail Stonehill, much to the dismay of her superiors, meaning she's jeopardizing her own career. Inside the prison, though, all hell is breaking loose, with Helen squarely in the middle of the action. Will Charlie be able to find Stonehill and prove Helen's innocence in time to save her friend? It's a race to the finish, taking readers on a wild ride.

As a final note, I'll say that this book certainly can be read as a standalone, although knowing what happened previously would have helped me get more out of the experience (I skipped one or two more recent books in the series including the one immediately preceding this one). That said, it's another excellent addition to the series and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Hide and Seek by M.J. Arlidge (Berkley, October 2017); 409 pp.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

GHOST ON THE CASE

5 stars out of 5

Heavens to Murgatroyd: How on earth have I missed this series? For sure, it's an oversight that won't happen again. The late Bailey Ruth Raeburn is a delightful character, and I'm already looking forward to her next sleight of body experience.

Bailey Ruth, you see, died in a boating accident years ago. Now, she's in Heaven, working for the Department of Good Intentions in 27-year-old form (her choice of age to remain forever and ever). She's also got impeccable fashion sense; part of the fun of the book comes as she chooses - and describes in detail - the outfit she's picked to fit each occasion.

Those occasions, though, provide the real story. Her job as an Emissary for the Department takes her to earth via the Rescue Express to help those in need of investigative intervention. On terra firma, she's able to travel invisibly to and from anywhere at will as well as appear as a human being (the latter ability is frowned on by the Department except in absolute emergencies). This time out (down??), she's sent to Adelaide, Oklahoma, her old hometown. It seems a young woman named Susan Gilbert has received a phone call claiming that her younger sister Sylvie has been kidnapped - and the fee for her safe return is $100,000. Susan is far from wealthy, but as the secretary to a filthy rich businessman, she has access to the safe in which he keeps at least that much cash on hand plus a few other valuables.

Aided by calls from the kidnapper telling her exactly what to do and when, Susan manages to steal the money - with the intent of confessing the theft to her boss and promixing to pay it back over time. But shortly thereafter, the businessman is found dead - murdered - and his safe is open and empty. The police investigation centers on Susan - especially when the box containing the money turns up in her car's trunk and other items from the safe are found elsewhere on her property.

Bailey Ruth, of course, is convinced that Susan is innocent and being framed - and she sets out to prove it. Her efforts put her back in touch with an old friend and police officer, one of the few earthbound humans who knows who she is and what she now does for a "living" (no doubt they have a history from previous books in the series). Together, they conclude that only a handful of people who were at a party at the murdered man's home the night of the theft could have had sufficient knowledge to pull off the murder and shift the blame to Susan. But which one? And is there a ghost of a chance that Bailey Ruth will figure it out before her own boss yanks her back to her Heavenly home and Susan is charged with the murder?

Ah, you'll just have to read it to get the answers to those questions. This is the perfect book (and series) to pick up when your head needs a break from psychological thrillers and heavy-duty murder mysteries. The publisher, via NetGalley, was an angel for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Ghost on the Case by Carolyn Hart (Berkley, October 2017); 268 pp.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THE MISTAKE

4 stars out of 5

I've read and very much enjoyed two of the author's other books - Safe With Me and Liar - so I was especially delighted to get my mitts on this one as well. All are rightly dubbed "psychological thrillers," and that alone is enough to get my attention. I do admit, however, that no matter how much I understand the hows and whys, relating to women who don't, won't or can't stand up for themselves just doesn't come naturally to me. It is, then, a testament to the author's outstanding writing skills that I not only finished the book with nary a single, "C'mon, woman, get your act together and hit the road," but completed it in two sittings just because I was so reluctant to put it down. 

The woman in question is Rose Tinsley, whose younger brother Billy was murdered 16 years earlier. Because he'd been with her the day he chased a kite into the woods and never came out, she has blamed herself for his death. She works in a small library in Nottinghamshire County (which based on terminology and non-American English spellings I assume is somewhere in the United Kingdom). She lives in the family home next door to an elderly man and good friend named Ronnie; his wife and her parents are deceased, and she looks in on him every day. Also every day, she lives much like a hermit, suffering from almost debilitating paranoia and, on occasion, the return of the eating disorder she developed after Billy's death.

Background on the events of 16 years earlier are revealed in flashback chapters, where it's learned that a just-ready-for-university Rose fell in with a much older man with named Gareth, with whom she thought she was in love. Appropriately, I guess, she donned Rose-colored glasses when it came to his ultra-controlling behavior; in fairly short order, she was shunned by her long-time best friend Cassie as Rose acquiesed to Gareth's demands and rationalized them to be a sign of his love for her.

But one day in her present life, she returns home to find that Ronnie is in bad health. As the EMTs wheel him to the hospital, he whispers to her that she's not to go into his upstairs. As she's already demonstrated, she doesn't listen to advice from other people close to her, so of course, when she returns to tidy up his house, she can't resist heading up. When she finds a closed door, she can't resist opening it; and when she finds storage boxes there, she can't resist opening them as well. And what she finds there not only takes her breath away, but challenges everything she's believed in since her brother's murderer was tried and convicted - in part as a result of her testimony - and jailed.

That discovery sends Rose on a roller-coaster ride of emotions as well as the determination to find out what really happened to her brother. Could it be that the wrong man was convicted? Could her brother have been done in by someone closer to home? Here and there, the story does get a little too melodramatic for my taste, but the nonstop action - and the twists and turns - are enough to reel me back into the story until the surprising conclusion. 

My conclusion? Another winner. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Mistake by K.L. Slater (Bookouture, October 2017); 330 pp.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

THE SURROGATE

5 stars out of 5

Oh, baby, what a wild ride! Not that it wasn't expected; after all, I've read and thoroughly enjoyed both of the author's previous books - The Gift and The Sister - so I figured it was a given that this would be a winner as well. As it turns out, this may well be the best of the lot.

My "baby" reference wasn't an accident, either; at the center of the story is a couple - Kat and Nick - who are beyond eager to have a child. Unable to conceive, they've tried, with help from Nick's friend Richard, to adopt infants from other countries. But those fell through at the last minute, leaving Kat despondent and ready to try anything. Enter Lisa, Kat's best friend back in their school days. The two had a major falling out just before their graduation, so Kat is surprised and not altogether happy to see her. But when Lisa drops the bombshell that she served as a surrogate mother for another woman, Kat sees the possibility that she could become a mother after all. 

Lisa agrees to help her friend, and Nick puts up little resistance (not nearly as much as I'd have expected coming from your average husband, but then he seems to want a baby almost as much as Kat does). Successfully impregnating Lisa isn't the real problem, though - as readers learn from the chapters that switch between "then" and "now." Clearly, both Lisa and Kat have serious issues - secrets from their past that led to going their separate ways and staying apart for the past decade. And before too long, it becomes clear that Nick may have a few things in his background that he's been reluctant to share as well.

The action is almost nonstop, although it got a little bit bogged down when Kat's paranoia kicks into high gear (but then, you know the old saying - "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you"). The last few chapters bring one twist after another - none of which I guessed ahead of time, BTW - eliciting an out-loud "Whew!" from me at the bottom of the final page. 

As I proclaimed early on, this one's a winner, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological thrills. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Surrogate by Louise Jensen (Bookouture, September 2017); 345 pp.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

TRACE

4 stars out of 5

Where in the world is Joe Gunther? This is, as I understand it, the 28th book in the series featuring the commander of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. Admittedly, it's my first, and although I'll say it stands alone quite well, I had to wonder what happened to the star of the show. In fact, until at least the 60% mark, his limited appearances are for the most part by phone or video meeting; he's off to a private hospital to stay with his ailing mother to give his brother, Leo, a care-giving break. He does return to the fold toward the end, but even then, he isn't a major player.

Of course, maybe that's the norm for these books; but his absence really surprised me. And because I really liked what little I saw of him (he's got a cat named Gilbert, for gosh sake), I would have enjoyed getting to know him better. All the other police-related characters, in fact, are exceptionally well developed (and for the record, also very likable). 

Do not assume, though, that the story suffers in any other way. Actually, there are three story lines (more on that later), and each is intriguing enough to have made a short book in and of itself. There are quite a few characters to keep straight - no doubt they'd be familiar to readers of prior books - but once I got used to who's who, I was fully invested and wished I'd been able to keep reading straight through to the end (of course, life intervened, including the knuckle-biting finish to this year's "America's Got Talent" TV show in which the best contestant, IMHO, really did win, so it took me three days to finish).

Three cases land in the VBI's lap just as Gunther takes his leave, leaving investigator Sammie Martens to run the department. She personally handles the murder of a young woman, who just came to town and is rooming with the daughter of Beverly Hillstrom, the state medical examiner and Gunther's main squeeze. It looks to be a professional hit, and it's clear the woman had run and was trying to hide. But from what and whom?

Another colleage, Willy Kunkle, is puzzled when a child brings in three bloody teeth found at the edge of a local railroad track. Known as a bit of a department misfit (he's also Sammie's live-in companion with whom he shares a young daughter), he sinks his own teeth into the situation and finds a burned-out piece of electronics equipment at the site that in turn leads to the suspicion of sabotage involving U.S. military equipment.

Last but hardly least, colleague Lester Spinney is approached about an old traffic-stop case in which a state trooper and another man were believed to have killed each other. It's a closed case, but by a quirk of fate, it's been discovered that the motorist's fingerprints apparently were planted on the gun he used to kill the officer. Clearly, most everyone involved in the original case - including the police - aren't thrilled to have it reopened, but Spinney is convinced that the evidence was tainted and is determined to find out what really happened no matter where or on whom the chips fall.

Bit by bit, the investigative processes are revealed as each chapter offers highlights of each case. By the end, everything is resolved (no, I'm not going to explain further), and the department pretty much returns to normal operation. All's right with their world and they're ready for the next book (as am I, albeit with the hope I'll see more of Gunther). For now, I'll just recommend this book and say thanks very much to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Trace by Archer Mayor (Minotaur Books, September 2017); 326 pp.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

DON'T LET GO

5 stars out of 5

Prolific readers know what I'm talking about: That "afterglow" that happens when you've finished a knock-your-socks-off book and hate to spoil by starting another one. Such was the case with this book, which followed close on the heels of one of the best I've read in a while. But this time, I really wasn't worried; the author has long been on my list of favorites. And from page one, yet again, he didn't disappoint. It's an easy-to-read, super-engrossing story that moves along quickly with plenty of intriguing twists and turns along the way.

So let's get to the nitty-gritty. Napoleon Dumas, a cop in suburban New Jersey, got a double whammy right before high-school graduation; his twin brother Leo and Leo's girlfriend Diana were killed by a train. As if that weren't bad enough, his girlfriend - with whom he expected to spend the rest of his life - that same night dumped him and ran off, never to be seen again. Needless to say, "Nap" - who narrates the story - has been despondent to a degree ever since as well as determined that someday, some way, he'll find out what really happened back then. His only comfort over the years is his friend and mentor, Augie; the about-to-retire local police chief encouraged Nap to join the force and serves as a sort of surrogate father.

As the story unfolds, Nap learns that another cop who was part of the high-school crowd has been murdered - apparently a shoot-and-run during a routine traffic stop. But then comes a surprising revelation: Maura's fingerprints are found in the rental car believed to have been driven by the killer, who has not been identified. That gets Nap's attention big-time, prompting him to set out with renewed vigor to find his old love. It turns out to be a complex journey that circles around a clandestine club and a long-since-closed missile base and puts him squarely in the crosshairs of some very nasty people who will go to just about any lengths to make sure their secrets stay that way.

Anything else that happens I will keep secret as well, lest I spoil things for others. But I'll shout one thing from the rooftops: This book is not to be missed. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben (Dutton, September 2017); 361 pp.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

THE CUBAN AFFAIR

5 stars out of 5

The second I finished this book, my husband broke into a happy dance. Why is that, you ask? Well, most of the time when I'm reading I'm sitting across from him as he sits in his recliner watching the idiot box. And most of the time, that works just fine. But along came this character - Daniel Graham "Mac" MacCormick - who triggered giggles, snorts, chuckles and occasionally, outright guffaws from my side of the room. annoying the heck out of my usually sweet sweetie. A for-instance? Much of the book is set in Cuba, where the construction zones are dotted with "Porta-Juans" (okay, it might have been funnier in the moment, but you get the drift).

Needless to say, I did not share my husband's enthusiasm when I reached the end; clearly, Mac - a 35-year-old Army vet now runs a charter fishing business in Key West and narrates the story - has the same wacko sense of humor as I do. That's great, but what's even better is the  intriguing, action-filled plot that kept me thumbing through the pages of my Kindle and unwilling to put it down (yet another thorn in the side of my husband, who expected to be fed now and again).

The story, which takes place as the relationship between the United States and Cuba begins to "thaw," is timely, although the author does remind readers that the book was written before the current administration took office (it's set in the fall of 2015). It's also clear that he's done quite a bit of research, some of it on-site, much to the enlightenment of readers who appreciate history. That I, a person who literally switched my college major because I couldn't fathom taking another boring history class, was glued to the pages is perhaps the greatest tribute to the author's writing skills.

But I digress: The story begins as Mac is waiting in the Green Parrot Bar for a meeting with Carlos, a high-powered lawyer from Miami who's made a name for himself among anti-Castro groups. Turns out Carlos wants to hire Mac to participate in a fishing tournament in Cuba, but Mac isn't buying it. Carlos then ups the ante to $2 million for the job, making Mac put down his beer and agree to a meeting with Carlos's clients on Mac's boat. Turns out that one is the beautiful (and single) Sara Ortega, who claims her grandfather stashed a whopping $60 million in a cave before he fled Cuba during the Castro revolution. The fishing tournament, then, is just a red herring; the real prize is to find, and bring back to the States, the money -  less Mac's rather hefty cut, of course. 

Needless to say, the cash-starved Mac signs on (albeit grudgingly). His friend Jack takes the helm of the boat - now sold to the attorney and renamed to protect the names of the guilty - while Mac and Sara fly to Cuba under the cover of a U.S.-Cuba sanctioned tour of Yale faculty and grads. Needless to say, trying to steer clear of the clutches of the Cuban authorities is muy dificil; there's a fly in the ointment at nearly every turn and twist - quite possibly, Murphy's Law originated in Cuba - making it hard to know who to trust (if anyone) and forcing Mac to put all the skills he acquired during his two tours in Afghanistan to the test.

More than that I can't say without spoiling things for others. What I can say is that as I understand it, this is Mac's debut appearance in the reading world. He not only gets a big shout-out from me  - a more interesting, fun character I haven't come across in a while - but also my hope that I'll meet him again soon (hint, hint). Meantime, many thanks go to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille (Simon & Schuster, September, 2017); 448 pp.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

WICKED DEEDS

4 stars out of 5

Up to now, my only acquaintance with this author has come by way of "Infernal Night," a short story co-written with F. Paul Wilson for the David Baldacci-edited FaceOff in 2014. That's my bad; after reading this one - courtesy of an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review - I'll make that mistake nevermore. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which adeptly mixes mystery and history and sprinkles it with the paranormal.

The plot also centers around one of my favorite story-tellers and poets, the late, great Edgar Allan Poe, who makes several ghostly appearances. The book is, you see, the latest in the "Krewe of Hunters" series, featuring historian Vickie Preston and FBI Special Agent Griffin Pryce. Members have been recruited to this unique paranormal FBI team not only because of their investigative skills, but also because they are able to communicate with the dead. On their way to their new home in Virginia - which will serve as home base as Vickie enters the rigorous FBI training academy in Quantico - they opt for a quiet, romantic visit in historic Baltimore.

Peaceful stopover? Fuhgettaboutit. Griffin gets a call from the FBI powers that be informing him that they're needed to help with a "bizarre" case; horror writer Franklin Verne has been found dead in the wine cellar of a the Black Bird, a Poe-themed Baltimore restaurant (for the record, Poe is buried in the city). It appears the death is a suicide - a recovering alcoholic who went off the wagon and on a drinking binge - but his widow, Monica, insists otherwise. The case is complicated by the fact that not a single soul saw him enter the restaurant - nor did they see any of the three dead blackbirds that now surround his body.

As they begin to assist local police with the investigation, Vickie and Griffin get their first visit from Poe, who claims to want to help solve the murder because it might provide clues to his own death way back when (although several theories abound, exactly how he died remains a mystery). In fact, a chunk of the story is a history lesson; it's all put together quite interestingly, woven in and around the investigation and the ghostly dreams and sightings by the main characters.

But wait, there's more: It comes in the form of a second dead body, which turns up during a seance led by a very kooky and almost totally unlikable character who believes she's got a direct connection to the dead (Vickie and Griffin, though, aren't quick to agree). Now, the FBI is called in officially, and the race is on to find the killer before he, or she, targets someone else and possibly puts the future life of Vickie and Griffin in jeopardy as well.

Once I got going, I found it hard to stop reading, and I apologize to "my" Ohio State Buckeyes for keeping one eye on my Kindle and the other on their game with Army (admittedly made a bit easier during the second half, when the Buckeyes pretty much ran rampant up and down the field). My only suggestion, for what it's worth, is to put the brakes on exclamation points at the ends of sentences. In my mind, they're like laugh tracks on TV comedy shows; if you have to tell me when to laugh, it's probably not very funny (and in any case, I prefer to make up my own mind). That said, this may be my first "Krewe" book, but it certainly won't be my last. Well done!

Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham (MIRA, September 2017); 384 pp.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

COLD BLOOD

4 stars out of 5


Once again, I'll make a pitch for half-stars in book ratings. Because once again, my "real" rating is 4.5 stars - and that's only because I enjoyed it a teensy bit less than the others (this is the fifth in the author's Detective Erika Foster series). 

It stands well on its own, but as those who follow my book reviews well know by now, I always advise starting any series at the beginning, as I did. The bottom line, I guess, is that any time you've got emotionally scarred but likable heroes and heroines, murder and mayhem and an investigation that never loses steam from start to finish, what's not to like? My only reservation here is that in a few spots, the exposition almost seemed like an afterthought - something that wasn't written into the story where it should have been.

That said, the plot is unique, intriguing and fast-paced. Erika is called in to check out an old suitcase that's washed up on the banks of the Thames in London. To everyone's horror, it contains the body of a young man - not only dead, but chopped into smaller pieces so he'd fit inside the container. As Erika gathers her team to get the investigation going, another suitcase turns up - this time with the body of a young woman. She, too, has been whacked to fit, leading to the conclusion that a serial killer is on the loose. Small packets of drugs were found in the stomach of one of of the bodies - another confusing detail but one that ends up not only nearly bringing the police department to its knees, but an end to Erika's career (and very nearly her life).

From the beginning, readers see flashbacks that introduce two far less than upstanding characters named Nina and Max - misfits who have found each other (they're happy, but others who meet up with them are not so much). Chapters told from their perspectives offer highlights of their new life as a couple and are interspersed with those detailing what's going on with Erika and the investigation, all building to an exciting finish as everything comes together. I admit I'm not a fan of this perspective-shifting technique, but that's mostly because it's been done to death (so to speak). But when it's done well, as it is here, I also admit it's very effective.

Overall, this is nothing short of another winner. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read and review it in exchange for an honest review. Over the course of the series, Erika has become one of my favorite characters. Already, I'm looking forward to the next installment. 

Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza (Bookouture, September 2017); 378 pp.

Monday, September 11, 2017

LIES SHE TOLD

5 stars out of 5

Quirky? You bet. Intense? For sure. Headed for the best-seller list? Crossing my fingers, because IMHO, it should be.

The description at NetGalley piqued my interest, and learning that it's a September 2017 selection of the Book of the Month Club prompted me to follow through and request an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Happily, I got the nod, and, well, you already know my honest opinion. 

Now for a few details. Liza Cole enjoyed fame and fortune as the author of a best-selling book. But alas, it was fleeting; her most recent attempt was by most accounts a flop, and she's under the gun to produce something with the potential for success (or at least an outline thereof) within a month. She's also in a clinical trial of a fertility drug cocktail, a last hope that she'll finally get pregnant. Meantime, her husband David just isn't in the mood - it seems his best friend and law partner Nick has gone missing and in addition to being worried, he's buried in work as he takes on Nick's cases on top of his own.

It's hard to focus on writing, but Liza finally comes up with a new heroine, a woman named Beth. Unlike Liza, Beth has given birth to a still-infant daughter; like Liza, Beth is dealing with a husband who's lost interest (and, Beth believes, is cheating on her as well). Chapters shift from Liza's story to that of the fictional Beth, and - no real surprise here - it's not long before the lines begin to cross.

Then, two of the characters - one real and one fictitious - meet untimely ends. Beth has an angry confrontation with her husband's lover, who ends up in the East River. Liza's husband's partner's body is found, and to Liza's dismay, her husband is arrested for the murder. But are both Beth and David really guilty? Beth's motive is obvious - payback to the competition and her wayward husband -  but why would David want his best friend dead? Hmmmm. Maybe there's more to these women's stories (and the stories of the men they love) than we see at the beginning.

Nope, not gonna spill the beans. All I'll say is it sure was fun watching the plots thicken and unravel. Highly recommended!

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan (Crooked Lane Books, September 2017); 288 pp.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

ENIGMA

5 stars out of 5

Fully a score of books in this series has preceded this one, and despite my good intentions - they've been on my want-to-read list for quite some time - up to this point I've read nary a single one. Big mistake, but one I certainly won't make again. Ms. Coulter earned a spot on my list of favorite authors with The Devil's Triangle, her "A Brit in the FBI" series, and this one ensures that she won't be moving off anytime soon. Or, to put it another way, wow!

That the characters weren't familiar to me going in wasn't an issue; early on, I got the drift, and at no time did I feel lost (although I'll advise, as I always do, that it's best to start a series as close to the beginning as possible if only to see how the characters change and who comes and goes over time). Here, the most important people to know are FBI agents named Savich (Dillon), Wittier (Cam), Cabot (Jack) and Sherlock (if she has a second name, it slipped past me). There are a couple of plots going on at the same time, but even though they don't overlap much, I never got confused as to who's who and what's what.

The first story begins with Savich in the home of a very pregnant woman named Kara, who's being threatened by a man who's ranting about people out to get him and insisting he's an "enigma." Savich nails the guy, who then falls into a coma and is taken to a hospital. Kara soon follows - and gives birth to baby Alex. Then comes the unthinkable; the baby is kidnapped from the hospital right under the noses of the doctors and nurses. Further investigation turns up bizzare links between the still unidentified comotose guy, Kara and her baby - and leads Savich, Sherlock and their team to a grandiose scheme involving drugs of a very different sort.

While this is going on, a psychopathic bank robber somehow escapes just as he's arriving at his future home - a federal penitentiary. Whittier and Cabot get the case, following the convict and the people who helped him escape into the wilds of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Apparently, the convict, dubbed "Manta Ray," stole and hid some kind of safe deposit box before he was captured. Could it be that his new companions have an ulterior motive of their own for springing him?

The two investigations lead from U.S.-sanctioned Russian bankers (could that topic be more timely?) to the inner workings of a pharmaceutical firm to the highest echelons of the U.S. government. There's plenty of intrigue to go round, and the action rarely takes a break. This one's a don't-miss - and I heartily thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Enigma by Catherine Coulter (Gallery Books, September 2017); 496 pp.

Monday, September 4, 2017

YOU GET WHAT YOU PITCH FOR

5 stars out of 5

Ho-hum. Well, I didn't actually yawn, but my first reaction when this book turned up available for request on my NetGalley list of possibilities wasn't exactly positive. That's for two reasons: One, I'm not even close to a fan of sales pitches (think: door-to-door hucksters and telemarketers). And second, back in my much younger days I had a side business conducting employee development/motivational seminars. What could I possibly learn?

Ah, but there's that magic word: Learn. I may be a slightly gray 76-year-old grandmother of four mostly grown-ups, but I plan on going strong as long as I can. One of the things that keeps me hopping is my firm belief that when you stop learning, you stop living. Well then, I said, bring it on!

And by golly, I learned a lot - starting with (surprise!) "Pitching is not about selling." Besides that, I now know that a) The author is someone with whom I'd enjoy the heck out of tipping a few beers in a local pub and b) He could pitch me under the table in a New York minute.

That he's the perfect pitchster, though, isn't so unexpected; after all, he's got experience out the wazoo. In all likelihood, you've seen him do his thing as the TV "face" of OxiClean. You also may be familiar with his long-time pitch partner and friend, Billy Mays, who died in 2009 - after which the author, informally known as "Sully," kept the pitch perking along (although he now spends more time producing other people's pitches than doing his own shtick). Point is, he's been there, done that - and now he's spreading the wealth of his experience with other folks, encouraging them to follow suit. Better yet, he's done it in a manner that's interesting, informative and easy to understand.

As mentioned earlier, it's not about having a product to sell - unless you count yourself as a product, which is, in fact, the point. The take-away for readers is learning to control any situation, create fierce agreement and get what you want in life (hey, that would be a great subtitle for this book - oh wait, it is)! Anyone who wants to put in the effort to learn how can accomplish all that, he maintains, offering a set of 10 "Pitch Powers" that he explains in  detail. The first of these "superpowers" is "Know Your Acceptable Outcomes." How, exactly, do you want the situation to end (or put another way, what's your goal)? That settled, the question becomes, what will it take to get you there?

He lays out the fundmentals and, using personal examples sprinkled with humor, tells how he puts them into practice and what it will take for readers to do the same. He's also honest; nothing is a sure thing - meaning no matter how you approach a person or a situation, slam-dunk success won't always happen. And if you're not willing to practice, practice and practice some more, you might as well fuhgettaboutit. By the end of the book, you'll have a doggone good grasp of the techniques he used - still does - to become successful. If you pay attention and follow through, they'll be of help no matter whether you want to become a Home Shopping Network sales guru, navigate the corporate ladder or win the hand of a fair maiden (well, at least get her to talk to you).

Throughout, more food for thought is added by way of catchy but meaningful  snippets, such as:

"Facts tell, stories sell."

"Your audience isn't going to decide based on anything you say or do, but on how you make them feel.

"A lesson by example is always more effective than a lesson by lecture." 

"'No' is just 'yes' misspelled.'" Okay, okay, that one is gag-me-with-a-spoon hokey, but it's a point well taken nonetheless.

The bottom line is this: If you're looking to get in control of your professional and/or personal life, this book is a pitch perfect place to start. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Well done!

You Get What You Pitch For by Anthony Sullivan and Tim Vandehey (Da Capo Lifelong Books, September 2017); 246 pp.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

DEAD WOMAN WALKING

5 stars out of 5

Bloody well done, I say!

Without the shocking surprises, this would have been a good book. With them, well, it's out of the ball park. My proof? I had one eye on the pages of my Kindle Fire while I watched our Ohio State Buckeyes roll over Indiana University in their season-opening game. After that - and I hasten to add I'm not trying to make a political statement here - the same thing happened the next evening during my never-miss The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC (well, okay, I admit Rachel was off that night, but I also like her fill-in, Joy-Ann Reid). That never happens unless I'm so engrossed in a book that I just don't want to put it down.

I can't, of course, reveal any of those surprises, but I can tell you a little about what's going on. Jessica Lane has taken her sister Bella, a Carmelite nun, for a hot-air balloon ride over Northumberland National Park near England's border with Scotland as a birthday surprise. While the pilot is flying low, they watch in horror as a young woman is murdered. Not long thereafter, the balloon crashes spectacularly, leaving just one survivor - the one who saw the killer's face. Unfortunately, he saw hers as well, and he's not about to let her get away.

Meanwhile, the local police have identified the survivor as Jessica, but neither they nor the killer are able to find her. She could be badly injured or so confused that she doesn't know what happened or where she is, but now the police and the killer share the same purpose: Finding her. But could it be that they share the same end game?

Using a mix of flashbacks beginning 28 years earlier, the story begins to take shape as we learn bits and pieces of the sisters' childhood years. The flashbacks are minimal, each bringing the reader closer to the current time period and offering more clues with regard to the real reason behind the balloon crash (I've gone on record with my distaste for the over-used flashback technique, but tell you what: If it's ever been done really well, it's in this book, so you'll get no complaints from me this time out).

The race to find the missing woman is filled with tension that just kept building - and just when I was on my next-to-last fingernail, bam! The first twist hit the fan. OMG, did I really read that, I asked myself, flipping back a couple of pages to be sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. But wait, there's more!

For that, though, you'll just have to read the book for yourself. As for me, I'm, just gonna sit here for a day or two and let the whole thing sink in. Lest I forget, many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. My conclusion? Wow!

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur Books, September 2017); 368 pp.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY

4 stars out of 5

If you'd asked me around the 30% mark how much I was enjoying this book, my answer would have been that it would make a great last entry into the author's celebrated trip through the alphabet - titled Z is for Zzzzzzz. But somewhere around the halfway point, things started to pick up noticeably; by the end, it was considerably better than half bad - prompting me to bump up my rating to 4 stars from the 3 I'd expected.

So what accounted for my initial reaction? Right off the bat, I was put off by the flipping back and forth in time over a 10-year period as the backstory for the current action was developed. If the author ever used that technique in the past, I don't remember it, but it has become so over-used of late that at this point I almost cringe when I run into it even when it's done well, as it is here. And collectively between the then and now, so many characters made an appearance that it was hard for me to keep them all straight.

The action takes place in 1979 and 1989, and I noticed more than one anachronism. I was a fairly active follower of technology during that decade, and I'm pretty sure some of the equipment and processes mentioned in the 1979 accounts simply were not available at that time. I also noticed some errors that thorough copy-editing should have caught (never a good thing in my own professional copy-editor's eyes). Perhaps most distressing, though, is that the stars of the show, including private eye Kinsey Milhone and her elderly neighbor, Henry, exhibited almost none of the spunk and spirit I've come to know and love. 

To a certain extent, I should have seen it coming; the official description calls it the "darkest and most disturbing case report" from Kinsey's files. It takes place about a year after she narrowly misses death at the hands of killer Ned Lowe (a character from an earlier book). He's still on the loose, so Kinsey is always on the lookout, expecting him to show up and try again. To her credit, though, I'm sure that triple-checking locks, remembering to carry a gun and constantly looking over her shoulder would be enough to make anyone cranky.

As she's dealing with the not insignificant concern of personal ambush, Kinsey gets roped into a new case that's rooted in the 1979 murder of a teenage girl for which a juvenile was tried and convicted. He's now 25, just out of prison and once again living with his well-to-do parents. He's not happy to be back with an irritable father and all-forgiving wimpy mother, but neither are they: They've been sent a copy of a sex tape made 10 years earlier in which their son clearly has a leading role - and the sender is demanding $25,000 to not make it public. Both because of the personally damaging publicity and the real possibility that their precious son might be sent back to jail, the parents don't want anyone else to know about the tape - meaning the police - nor do they intend to fork over the cash. That puts Kinsey, who normally plays well with cops, in a bit of a bind - but she agrees to chase down the blackmailer.

Woven into the story are squirmishes, dalliances and other interactions between and among Kinsey's friends and co-workers, although much of that seems a bit lackluster compared to similar situations in previous books. As Kinsey investigates the case of the illicit tape, scenes shift back to 1979 and events leading up to, and including, the murder. Part of the ending is satisfying and another part isn't, perhaps paving the way for what is believed to be the final letter in the Kinsey Milhone series. And while I won't say this is anywhere near my favorite of the bunch - and yes, I've read 'em all - I really, really do hate to see them come to an end.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton (Marian Wood Books/Putnam, August 2017); 494 pp.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

MONSTER IN THE CLOSET

4 stars out of 5

Honestly, I don't think I've ever read a book that encompasses both the mystery/thriller and romance categories, and after finishing this one (which I truly enjoyed, BTW), I probably won't do it again. The thriller part is great - more than a few times I caught myself right on the edge of my usual seat at one end of our living room sofa. The romance part? SMH.

That's not because I'm anti-romance - heck, I've been married for 55 years, although I suppose some might say that's an argument for both sides of the equation - nor is it because I didn't like the characters. In fact, I liked them all a lot (except for the bad guys and gals, of course). But mostly, that sappy stuff tends to leave me cold when it's on paper. Here, my thinking was more like hey, it's the 21st century - any two people your age I know would have booked a room by now, especially when one of you, shall we say, gets aroused every time the other one of you as much as burps.

So, I'll concentrate my review on the thriller part, and it's pretty much all good. A young girl named Jazzie came home to find her mother lying on the floor dead - and the murderer rummaging around in the closet in the room. She hides behind a chair and - to her terror - sees who it is. About a month later Jazzie, who hasn't spoken a word since the day of the murder, and her little sister Janie are sent to an equine therapy facility. There, they meet Taylor Dawson, who's come from California for an internship after graduating college with a degree in psychology. 

At the facility, Taylor meets Ford Elkhart, the hunky son of the facility's owner (almost instantly, they become the two who really, really need to get a room). But Taylor has other issues; as a young child, her mother told her that her absent father was a terrible, mean person who someday would return to do her harm. She's since learned that her mother lied big-time, and she's desperately trying to find her birth father. Meanwhile, Ford's good friend and private-eye Clay Maynard has spent years trying to find the daughter he never knew, stolen by his spiteful ex-wife (hmmm, does two and two make four)?

Much of the tension happens when the murderer - who's been on the loose - begins to suspect that Jazzie could identify him. He finds out where the girl is, and his big question is whether she's shared her secret with anyone else and if so, with whom. How he answers that question threatens the lives of Jazzie, Taylor and several other fine folks.

Throughout if all, a number of other people are "connected" in various ways, with backstories that need to be kept straight (for the most part easy to do). Ultimately, they come together in an all's well that ends well finish.

I should also say that the entire book takes place over the course of a couple of days, making some of what happens a little tough to swallow. I'm pretty much willing to accept love at first glance. Believing that people who are willing to almost instantly forgive those they thought for years had done them wrong is a bit of a stretch. But when Taylor is injured during a squirmish, goes to the emergency room for stitches and the whole thing - from squirimsh to release - takes a total of two hours, it was all she wrote. I've known plenty of folks who had to visit an ER, and not a single one - not ever - got sprung in less than half a day.

My conclusion? Very enjoyable book. My thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monster in the Closet by Karen Rose (Berkley, August 29, 2017); 508 pp.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

DEATH DISTILLED

5 stars out of 5


Guid gear comes in sma' bulk

This Scottish phrase says it all about this wonderful book, set in Scotland: At just 240 pages, it may be a small "package" - but it's put together in a really big way. Not convinced? Consider this: What's not to love about a place where folks think nothing of drinking whisky at 10:30 in the morning?

Truth is, I was hooked on the author's "Whisky Business" series when I read the first installment, Single Malt Murder (many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read advance copies of both in exchange for honest reviews). This one, the second, stands well on its own, but my suggestion is to start at the beginning simply because the first one is so delightful.

Professional photojournalist Abi Logan, who inherited the Abbey Glen single-malt whisky distillery in Balfour when a close relative died, is back in town after three months on assignment. She's accompanied, as always, by her rather large wheaten terrier, Liam; almost from the time they hit the ground running, Liam finds some human bones that turn out to be, perhaps thankfully, really, really old - perhaps connected to old-time whisky runners who plied their dangerous trade in the area generations ago.

Then, she runs into a stranger named Rory Hendricks, who turns out to be a mostly over-the-hill rock-and-roll star who's here to do a solo benefit concert for veterans and a man on whom Abi had a monster-size crush as a kid. Not everyone, though, is thrilled to relive the heyday of his band. In fact, he may be the target of someone who already has done away with a couple of other former band members who died under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Complicating things is that Hendricks is dead set on making up for lost time with a daughter he didn't know he had until recently (and she's less than thrilled with the getting-to-know-you thing). Abi wants to help protect him, of course, but he isn't always cooperative and she has trouble telling him no.

As if that weren't enough, Abi is trying to set up a charitable foundation in honor of the relative who left her the distillery (most of the money from the sale of very rare whisky found at the distillery will be used to fund it). And, Abi's friend Patrick begs her to hold an extravaganza at the distillery for a group of visiting Japanese whisky-loving visitors - an event strongly opposed by Grant, head distiller and strong contender for Abi's heart. Can Patrick, and the rock star's daughter, an art gallery owner who wants to organize the event, convince Grant that it's all worth the time and trouble? And if Rory wants to attend so he can be close to his daughter, can the local police - with a wee bit of help from Abi - unearth the murderer and keep them both from becoming victims?

The answers to those questions remains right to the nail-biting end, and as for what happens, my lips are sealed. All I'll say is the same thing I said when I finished the first book: Absolutely delicious!

Death Distilled by Melinda Mullet (Alibi, September 2017); 240 pp.