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Saturday, December 16, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

4 stars out of 5


If I discovered that my husband of a decade isn't even close to who he claims to be and his truth goes against everything I've ever worked for and believed in, would I hang around even for the sake of our kids? Until it happens to me, I can't say for certain, but I seriously doubt it. But get pregnant by accident not once, but four times? Oh, hell no!

Such were my reactions as I read this otherwise totally engrossing debut novel that already is, according to several reports, slated to become a motion picture starring Charlize Theron. But setting aside my feelings that a professional woman like successful CIA analyst Vivian Miller simply couldn't, and wouldn't, make this many dumb decisions, I really, really enjoyed this book and all its psychological drama.

Vivian, you see, is trying to ferret out a Russian sleeper cell. One fateful day, she makes a breakthrough - and discovers the photos of five spies who are operating in the United States. Great news, surely; and for four of the five, that's true. The identity of one, however, chills her to the bone - bringing her entire married life into serious question and threatening the lives of her family, including the four children she shares with her much-loved husband Matt.

Now that she knows, she must wrestle with what she will do about it; at least the first quarter of the book deals with her angst in trying to rationalize her decision either way. Once she makes it, of course, there will be no turning back, and her life - and those of her husband and young children - will be forever changed (for better or worse). 

Finally, she makes her choice, and from that point on, things turn exciting. Throughout, Vivian continues to fret over every word, action and facial expression coming from everyone around her, but the action is inescapable and the twists (most of them surprising) keep coming right up to the end. 

As other reviewers have said, the book is reminiscent of FX TV's popular series, The Americans; visions of stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys danced through my head throughout whether or not I wanted them to. I also can see potential for the movie, and it might be interesting to see how the story translates to the big screen. I'll probably pass, since I'm not much of a movie-goer (especially if I've read the book). As for the latter, I absolutely recommend it and offer sincere thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine Books, January 2018); 304 pp.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

TWO GIRLS DOWN

4.5 stars out of 5


I've always maintained that declarations of whether or not a book is well written shouldn't be soured by how much you love, relate to, or even like, the main characters - ttttthat's my story and I'm sticking to it. But when you do, it sure sweetens the whole experience - as was, happily, the case here. In fact, perhaps the primary strength of this book is the exceptionally well-developed characters.

The top two are Max Caplan, a private investigator and former cop who left the force under a cloud; he's divorced and has a smart, headstrong daughter named Nell. Complementing "Cap" is Alice Vega, perhaps more of a bounty hunter than private eye. She's single, extremely focused, somewhat psychic and weighs in with a hefty load of emotional baggage of her own. They come together when Alice is hired to find two young sisters who have gone missing in Denville, Pa. (not far from Philadelphia).

Vega,  asks Cap for help with the case, but he turns her down - claiming he's busy chasing a bad guy who's from New Castle, Pa. (which, for the record, isn't far from my own home in northeastern Ohio), but in reality more because he doesn't want to interact with his former cronies on the police force. Not to be deterred (she's intensely focused, remember?), Vega takes off and finds the guy, thus removing Cap's reason for not jumping into her own fray. Apparently, she's very good at what she does; at one point, she tells Cap that she expects to earn $50,000 for finding the missing girls - and she's willing to split it 50-50 with him.

Somewhat reluctantly, Cap recapitulates, making them something of a team (which, depending on the situation or who's thinking about it, can be for better or for worse). Clues ferreted out and followed up by Vega and Cap turn out to be productive enough that the local police and FBI opt to at least consider them serious players in the chase (albeit grudgingly). While there's never any romantic interaction between the two, the potential chemistry is there - if only in Cap's mind. When it comes to investigation, they're not always on an identical wavelength; here, score one for Cap, and there, the edge goes to Vega.

There's plenty of action as well as false leads and twists to make for a hard-to-put-down story with an ending revelation that I didn't predict ahead of time (neither did Cap nor Vega, at least until the last couple of chapters, so I don't feel too bad). When I finished the last page, I said two things to myself: First, this is a really good book; and second, I sure hope I'll see these two characters again. Meantime, a big thank you to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna (Doubleday, January 2018); 320 pp.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

THE WIFE BETWEEN US

5 stars out of 5

I read so many books - make that so many good books - that it's rare for me to say "Wow!" when I finish one. But by golly, that's exactly what I said when I got to the last page here. From the beginning, I was hooked - and spent the rest of the book trying my best to figure out how it would end. My efforts, however, went for naught; the closer I got to the finish line, the faster my theories were adeptly written out.

The story begins as Vanessa is living with her elderly Aunt Charlotte in a small apartment - dumped by her filthy rich, suave and debonair ex-husband Richard, who at one time was her raison d'etre; even her unexpressed wishes were his commands. Now, while Vanessa struggles to eke out a living and get her shattered life back together, Richard has found a new love - a beautiful co-worker he'll soon be taking as his wife.

But not if Vanessa can help it. Determined to prevent the wedding from happening, she stalks the bride-to-be, Emma, looking for a way to make contact, gain her trust and convince her that Richard isn't the prize she believes he is. That's easier said than done, though; Richard - a very controlling sort - is determined to "protect" his new love from the old one, a woman he's often claimed is a psychological mess and an alcoholic to boot. Even Vanessa has her doubts from time to time; is it possible that Richard is right and she's gone off the mental deep end as her mother did years ago? And even if she finds a way to meet Emma one-on-one, what can she say or do to make Emma believe she's not the one who's lying?

Needless to say, the twists and turns that follow are too numerous to mention here even if I wanted to spoil the story for other readers. Of course, I don't, so besides my earlier "Wow!" I'll just say this is one of the best books I've read this year and I highly recommend it. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (St. Martin's Press, January 2018); 352 pp.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

4 stars out of 5

I've now read four of the authors' Under Suspicion series, and quite honestly, I've enjoyed every one. Some of my enthusiasm, I know, comes from the media angle; I spent years in the industry, albeit on the print side of the desk - so if it involves news reporting, I'm all in. That said, holding my interest goes well beyond the setting; a solid story and relatable characters need to be in the mix as well.

And they are. Mind you, I'd call all these books lightweights when it comes to blood-and-guts type action; in this case, there's just one murder - a mega-wealthy businesswoman is tossed off the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If that's not your style, you may want to pass; but that's perfectly okay with me. What's not, though, is that the romance parts in this one go way beyond sappy (for the most part accounting for my rating of 4 stars instead of 5). The rest of the story, though, held my attention throughout.

Here's the deal: Laurie Moran produces a popular TV show titled, appropriately, "Under Suspicion," which opens new eyes on cold cases. Although it's been only three years since that aforementioned woman took a header off the museum roof and the case in theory remains under investigation, Attorney Ryan Nichols, who replaced Laurie's now-estranged love interest, Attorney Alex Buckley, as the show's host, is hot to trot on taking it on. Ryan, as it turns out, is friends with and believes to be innocent the primary suspect in the case: The 20-years-younger fiance of the murdered woman, Virginia Wakeling. 

Laurie is reluctant at first - partly because she misses Alex terribly and is no fan of Ryan - but when further investigation reveals that several of the victim's family members, including a daughter, son and son-in-law, may have had means, motive and opportunity as well, she capitulates and the game is on. Aided by her father, Leo Farley, retired NYPD first deputy commissioner who now serves on an anti-terrorism task force, she begins to obtain requisite permissions, line up interviews and secure background footage for what looks to be another hit show.

But not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of airing dirty linen on TV - most notably the killer, who, needless to say, is dead set on remaining unidentified. If that means stopping Laurie dead in her tracks, so be it. Beyond that, if Laurie is able to survive all that befalls her and an hour later chow down on dinner and drinks (God forbid losing a reservation at a fancy restaurant), bless her heart. That kind of  intestinal fortitude makes me reasonably certain she'll make it to another day and another book - and I'll be waiting to read it.

Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke (Simon & Schuster, Novembeer 2017); 305 pp.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THE WANTED

5 stars out of 5

Private eye Elvis Cole and his partner, Joe Pike, make a great team - reminiscent of the late Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Hawk. Together, they can take on the world. But when they bump up against a trio of teens who specialize in upscale burglaries, they may have met their match.

For much of the first half of this book, Elvis takes solo center stage. He's hired by Devon Connor, whose son Tyson has been deviating wildly from his usual sweet self. It seems he's acquired some cash, expensive clothes and other high-end items, and his mother wants to find out if he's into the illicit drug business. As it turns out, it's worse; he and a couple of friends have been getting their jollies (and plenty of flashy trinkets) by invading the homes of the very wealthy, taking what they like and reselling what they don't want to keep.

With the cooperation of Tyson's mother, Elvis works out a deal through which Tyson will turn himself in with minimal consequences - but the deal goes south when Tyson goes missing. Around the same time, one of the teenage cohorts ends up dead - and while at first blush it looks to be a case of road rage gone horribly wrong, the bullets in the body tell a much different story.

Now, Elvis knows that Tyson and the third teen, an exceptionally maniculative girl, are sure to be the next targets of two highly accomplished hit men who apparently have been hired by one of the burglary victims. He calls in his partner Joe to help find the kids, but for a time the trail doesn't lead much of anywhere except to more dead bodies. When they finally start to close in on the teens, so, too, do the hit men. Who will get to them first results in a not-so-merry chase that kept me turning pages all the way to the end.

All in all, another excellent installment in this series - one of my favorites. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.

The Wanted by Robert Crais (G.P. Putnam's Sons, December 2017); 336 pp.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

CITY OF ENDLESS NIGHT

5 stars out of 5

Love this series; loved this book. From the first page on, I didn't want to put it down and, for the record, I read the whole thing in record time. 

While there's no shortage of action, though, this one - the 17th - focuses far less on the almost otherworldly side of FBI Special Agent A.X.L. (Aloysius) Pendergast. Maybe that's because his beloved ward, Constance Greene, isn't part of his life now; she's retreated to a monastery, apparently with no plans to return any time soon - and understandably, he's in a bit of a personal funk. But by the end of the book, he's picked up investigative steam - finding clues, digesting them and spitting out spot-on conclusions.

The saga begins with the murder of the daughter of a ruthless, much-hated technology billionaire. It's a killing with a gruesome twist: There's a body, but no head. The case falls under the purview of Lt. Vincent D'Agosta, who's less than thrilled that it landed in his lap in large part because he knows the whole thing will turn into a media circus. So it is, then, that he's not unhappy when his rather eccentric friend Pendergast turns up at the crime scene. 

A shortage of clues leaves both men scratching their heads - Pendergast less so, of course - and the situation slides downhill fast. Not only does another victim turn up (well, most of him, anyway; he, too, is headless), but a nosy newspaper reporter got a whiff of a Pulitzer and starts sharpening his pencil - to the point of coining the phrase to describe New York City that became the title of the book. 

Still, law enforcement folks try hard to squelch the rumor that a deranged serial killer is on the loose, but those efforts take a nosedive as more heads roll (literally). Now, there's little doubt that the murders are the work of one person (perhaps with a cohort); and it's up to Pendergast and D'Agosta to discover the why and, of course, the who - the sooner the better.

Meanwhile, the reporter's articles continue to rile up the general public (as well as spark a sub-plot scenario that, as an aside, to me seemed totally out of joint with the rest of the story). Near the end, the action takes a very serious turn toward the worst-case scenario, leading Pendergast on a not-so-merry chase that could result in no possibility of an 18th book.

If there is one, though, it's a sure bet I'll be chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. As for this one, three cheers to the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read and review an advance copy (via NetGalley). 

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing, January 2018); 368 pp.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

PROMISE NOT TO TELL

4 stars out of 5

This complex, intriguing story spans more than 20 years - from the time eight young children are rescued from certain death in a barn fire deliberately set by the leader of a cult to which their parents belonged to the present, when death once again stalks the survivors. Now, one of them - an artist whose work is in an art gallery owned by another of the survivors - commits suicide. Virginia Troy, the gallery owner, suspects the death was murder; to test that theory, she hires the private investigation firm owned by Anson Salinas, a former police officer and the man who rescued the children all those years ago.

Back then, Anson adopted three of the surviving boys; one of them, Cabot Sutter (also a former cop), now works with his adopted father. Early on, Cabot and Virginia take a closer look at a few of the victim's paintings that depict the cult fire; they suggest that sociopathic leader Quinton Zane, who reportedly was killed in a boating accident years earlier, may in fact be among the living. Still other clues from the paintings suggest that the cult held many more secrets  - one of which is that cult members may have embezzled a substantial amount of money right under the leader's nose.

Apparently, those secrets aren't so secret anymore - and bodies of those who may have learned the truth are starting to pile up. Can Cabot and Virginia (who, surprise, surprise, have taken a strong liking to each other) get to the bottom of things before they themselves become victims? It's a race to the finish, with plenty of action and surprises right up to the end. 

Speaking of which, it makes sense to me that this book deserves at least one follow-up. If and when that happens, I hope the publisher will once again grant me the honor of reading an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Very enjoyable!

Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz (Berkley, January 2018); 336 pp.)

Monday, November 27, 2017

END GAME

4 stars out of 5

No doubt about it: Government-sanctioned assassins Will Robie and Jessica Reel have never fail to get the job done, even when it comes at great personal cost and a smattering of collateral damage. This time, though, their efforts border on overkill (pun intended).

Will and Jessica are returning to action after separate assignments that left them physically and mentally devastated. They've healed as much as humanly possible, but Jessica's mind is still reeling (another pun intended) -  leaving in limbo the "connection" they formed during a previous joint venture. They haven't seen each other for six months, but now they get called in to solve a surprising problem: Their elderly and much revered handler, known as Blue Man, went missing while on a fishing vacation in backwoods Colorado, where he grew up.

Their reunion is more or less amicable, but Will and Jessica are of the same mind when it comes to their mission - find Blue Man at any cost, including their own lives should it come to that. Needless to say, as they bump up against infestations of skinheads, neo-Nazis and other undesirables in this godforsaken territory, there's a good probability that's exactly how it will end. Throw in a few abandoned government bunkers and silos and it closes in on a sure bet.

But there's a bit of a problem, as I see it, is in the execution - and I mean that as a double entendre. Murders, quite a few execution-style, result in bodies piling up faster than pitchfork-flung hay in a mow (some of them deservedly so, others not). From a writing standpoint, the execution rather quickly dives into - and stays in - the realm of "you've got to be kidding." That Will and Jessica possess near super-human capabilities both individually and as a team is de rigueur in this series, but what they accomplish here stretches imagination beyond the limit, at least for me. But then again, in the end all's right with the world - except for a few issues that no doubt will carry over to the next book.

All things considered, if you're looking for serious kick-assction (I made that one up to avoid getting censored, so hopefully you get my drift), it would be tough to beat this book. And for sure, I'll be in line to get the next installment. 

End Game by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, November 2017); 416 pp.

Friday, November 24, 2017

COUNT TO TEN

3 stars out of 5

I've read and for the most part enjoyed almost all of the "Private" series (this is the 13th), but this one was a bit of a disappointment. Release of the book in November 2017 also raised a question: Earlier this year, I learned of upcoming publication of a book titled Private Delhi. I put it on my must-get list, but the release date came and went and I was never able to get my hands on it. When I saw this one, a "Private" set in Delhi with the same co-author, I wondered why there were two.

Apparently, I wasn't wrong about an original version. I found it listed on Amazon with a totally different cover, a different publisher, just eight customer reviews and available only through third-party sellers. I don't know what happened, but I'd have to guess there were serious issues that resulted in rewriting and reissuing. Curious!

As for this installment, I'm honestly not sure why it didn't quite measure up (especially when I'm assuming a rewrite was done to make improvements). For one thing, though, I admit it was hard to keep all the names straight. Because I always review books I read, I keep notes on the main characters - and thank goodness for that, because it's the only thing that kept me at least somewhat on track here. The story, too, was a bit hard to follow, with two different investigations going on which - when coupled with the confusing names - more than a few times left me lost and backtracking pages to see what I'd missed.

The "star" of this one isn't Jack Morgan, founder of the global investigation agency; rather, it's Santosh Wagh, whom Jack installed as head of the new office in Delhi, and his assistant Nisha Gandhe. Shortly after the opening, a bunch of human remains that are in various stages of being dissolved is unearthed. It seems the Delhi powers-that-be may be trying to cover the whole thing up, and Jack gets called in by another government official (an enemy of the aforementioned powers) to learn why the incident is being withheld from the press. After passing the baton to Santosh, Jack turns to other tasks and makes only the occasional reappearance.

Meanwhile, other mutilated bodies are turning up right and left (there's no shortage of blood and gore here, BTW), and questions arise as to whether they're connected to the original bodies or the work of a serial killer. As all this plays out, more questions crop up along the who-can-you-trust lines, further complicating Private's ongoing investigation. Everything comes together at the end, but not without serious disruptions in the (ahem!) private lives of Santosh and Nisha.

All things considered, it's not an awful book - but if you're a newbie to this series, I suggest that you start elsewhere.

Count to Ten by James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi (Grand Central Publishing, November 2017); 416 pp.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

HARDCORE TWENTY-FOUR

2 stars out of 5

When I opened this book, the 24th in the series featuring offbeat bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, it was not without a bit of trepidation. The previous installment, Turbo Twenty-Three, was so lackluster that I gave it just 3 stars (and grudgingly at that). Aside from the same old, same old characters who just can't seem to grow up, the story itself was borderline silly.

But alas, my hope of improvement just wasn't to be. Not only is Stephanie still trying to decide whose bed she prefers - that of her supposedly main squeeze, detective Joe Morelli, and studly security consultant Ranger - she adds yet another irresistable guy to her wishy washy list with the return of Diesel (a character who's made appearances in other books).

That she remains fixated on getting laid (or not) is bothersome, but in previous books the one-liners have pulled me out of my funk sufficiently to say that for the most part, I enjoyed them. Not so here; as I said to myself a few chapters into it, I guess in one sense I'm happy that at my advanced age I'm still able to chuckle at seventh-grade bathroom humor. But what's in here kicks the level down to the kindergarten level (and really, isn't this supposed to be a book for grown-ups)?

As for the plot, silly doesn't begin to cover it. From tracking down an errant boa constrictor to exploding groundhogs to zombies who steal brains from the living and the dead (yeah, you read that right), the whole thing quickly goes from bad to worse and stays that way. A mix of cucumbers and cat pee wards off zombies is supposed to be funny? Only Stephanie's rotund work buddy, Lulu (who, we're told more than once, is fond of wearing skirts that barely cover her hoo-hah with a purple thong underneath), would come up with that one.

If there's a saving grace humor-wise - and honestly, even it falls short - it comes from the antics of Stephanie's funeral-loving Grandma Mazur, who lives with Stephanie's parents and has found a new man online she's determined to go visit. She, and Stephanie's long-suffering mother, manage to provide a few real chuckles in an otherwise hopeless mess of a story.

My conclusion? Whichever of the guys - Morelli, Diesel or Ranger - ends up with Stephanie deserves what he gets, and I really don't care to who gets the spoils. Stick a fork in me: I'm done.

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich (G.P. Putnam's Sons, Novembeer 2017); 304 pp.

Monday, November 20, 2017

ACCESSORIES TO DIE FOR

4 stars out of 5

Every once in a while, I do enjoy kicking back with a cozy mystery; there's usually a decent story with enough action to keep me interested while leaving my fingernails intact. The only downside, for me, is that the main character too often is borderline silly - never listening to anyone while she (it's almost always a female) sticks her nose into everybody's business and whines when something she says or does goes wrong. Thankfully, that isn't the case with former New York assistant District Attorney Irene Seligman. She's quite intelligent, sensible and capable of dealing with situations and people.

Except, that is, her mother Adelle; a more truly obnoxious character I haven't come across in a long time and will be content never to see again. She goes miles beyond the quintessential Jewish mother - and to the very end it remains a mystery to me why Irene agreed to leave her big city career and come home to Sante Fe, New Mexico, to "take care of" her. Oy!

But come home Irene did, and now she's operating a consignment shop selling high-end discards, many courtesy of Adelle's snooty friends. The store, called Irene's Closet, is in the historic Native American part of the city; and it is in this arena that much of the story takes root. Local jewelry-maker Juanita Calabaza is beside herself trying to locate her missing son Danny, who's one misstep away from gang life and drug addiction. Juanita fears that Danny stole a sacred tribal necklace, then sold it to a shady French artifacts dealer to finance his drug habit. She'd be happy to see the guy dead, she says - and prophetically, that's exactly what happens. Now she's in the crosshairs of the police, who consider Juanita their No. 1 suspect.

Irene, though, believes otherwise; no way her friend Juanita murdered anyone - her only goal is to find her son before he, too, turns up in the morgue. Meantime (while trying to placate her mother's constant demands - Lordy, what a pain she is), Irene's "friend" P.J. Bailey, a successful criminal lawyer gets into the act because he represents clients who insist they were ripped off by the French guy. I suspect Irene and P.J. are supposed to be in the throes of romantic tension, but I must say nothing either of them said or did made me believe there's any hope whatsoever for any such liaison. P.J. is far more likable than Adelle (but then so are at least half the people in the entire world), but still, I'd never allow his shoes anywhere near the underside of my bed.

There are plenty of false starts, chases and starts as well as very interesting information about local Native American history and customs. Since this is one of a series, I don't think I'll spoil anything by saying that Irene remains relatively unscathed at the end - ready, no doubt, for another adventure. I'm up for it as well - and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review this one.

Accessories to Die For by Paula Paul (Random House LLC, December 2017); 180 pp.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

THE ROOSTER BAR

5 stars out of 5

"O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!"
-- Sir Walter Scott

I lost count of the times that quote popped into my head as I followed the adventures (and misadventures) of law school students Todd, Mark and Zola. Just one semester away from graduation at the Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington, D.C., the friends realize their school is mostly a sham and they're hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt with no hope of getting meaningful employment even if they pass the bar exam (which, not insignificantly, most graduates fail to do).

On top of that, Zola's parents, who have been in the United States as productive, but illegal, residents for nearly a quarter of a century, are in danger of being summarily rounded up and kicked back to their native Senegal. It's a bleak outlook all around, to say the least. But then comes the discovery that their for-profit diploma is one of several owned by a filthy rich guy who also owns a bank that hustles student loans. So as they gather 'round a table at the neighborhood Rooster Bar, a plan starts to hatch - one that begins with dropping out of school.

In a very real sense, though, their plan is nothing to crow about. From the start - with the tactics they'll take to earn money to live on - virtually everything they do is illegal and could land them in jail if they're caught. It's also a seat-of-the-pants operation; as one door closes, they're forced to find another one that opens - and so it continues until the end, when everything that goes around, comes around. How they pull everything off  admittedly tests the limits of credibiity here and there, but it also provides a wild but enjoyable romp for readers as well as a chance for the author to put the spotlight on injustices (as he sees them) in the student loan industry and immigration policies. Kudos for another one well done!

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham (Doubleday, October 2017); 368 pp.

Friday, November 17, 2017

EVELYN MARSH

5 stars out of 5


I've never panned for gold, but I can imagine my delight at finding a nugget or two amid the rocks. Similarly, given the substantial number of books I read each year - some wonderful and some not so much - it's a treat to find a gem like this one.

The story is, if I may borrow the title of another novel and motion picture, an anatomy of a murder; after all, readers know from the start that the title character isn't new to the game ("Evelyn's first murder was an accident," the description reads). That at least one more follows, then, comes as no big surprise.

Discovering the who and why is what kept me reading almost nonstop (which didn't take long; at 185 pages, the book is closer to a short story than a novel). It's well thought out, riveting and reminiscent, at least to me, of Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." And that's a good thing.

Evelyn Marsh can lay claim to being a "normal" housewife; at age 49, she's been in a somewhat boring but comfortable marriage for 25 years. Now that their two children are grown and out of the house, she's looking into selling the artwork she's been giving away all those years - encouraged by friends and family (except perhaps for her successful lawyer-husband, who's content to have a stay-at-home wife with a nice hobby).

What follows is a story of betrayal and awakening of inner emotions that most likely lie within all of us. Are we all capable of following a course of action as Evelyn did? Probably. Would we? Probably not - at least I'm pretty sure I wouldn't. But on the other hand, I'm willing to concede that anything is possible.

Just because I know folks who would be upset by sexually graphic language, I'm compelled to note that there's a little of that in here. As one who's way too old not to have heard those words before, I'll call this one a winner and thank the author for sending me a copy to review. 

Evelyn Marsh by S.W. Clemens (Kindle Press, March 2017); 185 pp.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE MIDNIGHT LINE

5 stars out of 5

By now - the 22nd book in the series - Jack Reacher seems like an old friend. And like most old friends, he's welcome to visit my home any time he wants. Thankfully, though, he's not the real deal and I don't need to feed him; at 6 feet 5 and not far from 300 pounds, this former West Pointer wouldn't make it much beyond breakfast on what we've got in our fridge.

Speaking of West Point, the academy provides the impetus for this story. On his way to nowhere in particular from a short stretch in Hawaii at the end of summer, Reacher ends up on the shores of Lake Superior. In a small town there, he stops at a pawn shop and finds a ladies' West Point class ring from 2005 - with a price tag of 40 bucks. Given all that the owner went through to get that ring, Reacher figures she didn't relinquish it under normal circumstances. So, he makes it his mission to track her down and, if she's still alive, return it.

Turns out, though, that she wasn't the one who brought it to the pawn shop; a few physical encounters later (Reacher 1, bad guys 0), all Reacher can get is the name of the man who did. That trail winds its way to Rapid City, Iowa, and a man named Arthur Scorpio - a guy the local cops and feds have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to put behind bars. He owns a laundromat with a suspicious back room, but despite stakeouts by local law enforcement like Detective Gloria Nakamura, enough evidence to get a search warrant hasn't turned up.

As an aside, Scorpio's colorful description is an example of one of the reasons I love these books: He was, "Maybe six feet two. Maybe a hundred and sixty pounds. But only if he had a dollar's worth of pennies in his pocket."

Eventually, Reacher manages to learn the name and background of the woman he's searching for. That in turn leads him to a close relative and former FBI guy Terrence Bramall, who's now a private investigator. They end up in remote Wyoming, where of course Reacher and Bramall find themselves on the receiving end of even more physical encounters (hey, that's another reason I love these books). The rest of the story isn't pretty (figuratively and literally), and it also puts a spotlight on issues facing way too many returning U.S. veterans. No doubt that's a big part of the point; the book is dedicated to Purple Heart recipients.

That's about all I can say without revealing too much, although as usual, Reacher's considerable survival and intuitive skills get a good workout. The story seems a bit darker than some of the others, but everything gets resolved at the end. That is, perhaps for one thing: Did that person who got tied up in Scorpio's back room ever get out? Inquiring minds would love to know.

The Midnight Line by Lee Child (Random House LLC, November 2017); 384 pp.

Monday, November 13, 2017

TWO KINDS OF TRUTH

5 stars out of 5


Harry Bosch isn't getting any younger, and signs that he's even more fed up than usual with his life in general - and the Los Angeles Police Department in particular - are everywhere in this, the latest installment in one of my favorite series. A big part of his discomfort stems from learning that one of his LAPD cases is coming back not only to bring into serious question all his other cases, but to threaten his future as a volunteer who now helps solve cold cases at the San Fernando Police Department.

On the whole, I'd say this one is not my pick of the litter - it falls a little bit short of making my heart go thump-thump. But on the other hand, just when I was feeling just a bit disappointed, along comes Mickey Haller - the "Lincoln Lawyer" of the author's other popular series who's also Harry's half-brother. They've made crossover appearances in other books, but this time, the interaction seemed to last longer and boosted my interest right back to the top of the scale once again.

This one begins as Harry is starting to work on an SFPD cold case of a woman who disappeared 15 years ago, leaving behind an infant. She was never found, and because of the baby, it's assumed she was the victim of foul play. Just then, he gets a visit from LAPD representatives, including his former partner Lucia Soto. As he expects, the news isn't good; Preston Borders, who's been on death row for 30 years, has come up with "evidence" he insists will clear his name and get him released from jail. That evidence also implicates Harry, who handled the case way back then - and it's damning enough that his enemies at the LAPD are determined to reopen the file and investigate.

Meanwhile, back at the SFPD, a new case comes in; father-and-son pharmacists are shot to death in their mall store, with all the characteristics of a mob hit rather than a robbery gone terribly wrong. Immediately, Harry gets deeply involved in this case as well, taking on a role unlike any he's ever played before. As all this is going down, the LAPD investigation that calls Harry's actions on that long-ago case into question starts to heat up, he ups and calls Mickey - who's more than ready to put his sometimes out-of-the-mainstream (and always fun to read about) investigative and courtroom skills to work. But Mickey's methods almost always leave a bit to be desired on the ethics side, and let's just say that adds tension to the already somewhat strained relationship between the two.

In the end, everything comes out in the wash, although not everything ends up spotless. That's just fodder, I'm thinking, for the next go-round. Woo hoo - bring it on!

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Co., October 2017); 417 pp.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

ENDURANCE

5 stars out of 5

Almost every review of this book, I'll bet, will begin something like this: "When I was a kid, outer space was fascinating...I dreamed of being an astronaut." I wholeheartedly agree with the first part; it was true of me then - back in the '50s when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was founded, and it is true now that I've reached septagenerian status. But beyond that, flying 900 feet in the air under a parasail firmly attached to a heavy cable is about as high as I ever want to go (and don't care to go ever again, thank you very much). Besides that, just thinking about stuffing my body into one of those capsules that carry astronauts to and from terra firma makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Truth is, I'm quite content to read about other people's experiences - and this account is one of the best I've encountered since Tom Wolfe's 1979 classic, The Right Stuff. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Wolfe's book served as the impetus that turned Kelly's life around - from a kid who had no plans for his future and didn't much care for education to one singularly focused on a very lofty and difficult-to-reach career goal and knew education was the key to reaching it. 

In this book, Kelly, who holds the American record for consecutive days spent in space, tells it like it really was - both in his personal and professional life. For those who might not know, he is the twin brother of astronaut Mark Kelly, also the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011. The prologue of the book hooked me immediately: now back on earth for 48 hours, Kelly was suffering the effects of a return to gravity after a year of looking down on civilization as we know it from the International Space Station (which he notes is today the longest-inhabited structure in space by far and the largest peacetime international project in history).

That's impressive in and of itself, but along the way - maybe because I spent my youth in the throes of the Cold War, crossing my fingers that school desks would protect me from a nuclear blast - I was blown away by one comment in particular: That Kelly found himself heading to space with two Russian companions, all of whom not that long ago might have been ordered to kill each other. Now, their very lives depended on total cooperation and trust.

Chapters shift from Kelly's pre-astronaut years to his experiences on four space flights including his final mission aboard the ISS. Although I'm sure he left out plenty of classified details, he pulls no punches when it comes to describing what it's really like in a confined space in zero gravity (right down to how human waste is contained and what happens to any of it that isn't). Some happenings are day-to-day routine and others have the potential to make the writing of this book not a happening thing, but all share a common bond: not a single one is boring. I finished the book as fast as I could, and when I got to the last page, I wished there were more to read. As I said at the beginning, space - and Kelly's part of exploring it - are nothing short of fascinating.

Now that his in-space voyages have come to an end, to Kelly I say thank you for your service and your wonderful book. Oh yes, and one other thing.

Live long and prosper!

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly (Knopf, October 2017); 400 pp.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NOW YOU SEE ME

4 stars out of 5

Looking for a new murder/detective series and love characters who have "issues?" This just may be a good place to start. It's the first installment featuring 34-year-old FBI Special Agent Jess Bishop, who brings sins of the past to a whole new level. To that end, she reminds me a bit of J.D. Robb's Lt. Eve Dallas, although Jess tends to be more melodramatic, devoid of emotion and on the whole rather unlikable. Still, she's a hard-working, get-the-job-done detective and an intriguing character I'd like to read more about.

She and her former partner, Jamison Briggs, parted on shaky terms; her current partner, Alex Chan, is a good detective but about as companionable as our next-door neighbor's pooch who growls every time he sees me. Jess isn't fond of him either, but she's adjusting; as the story begins, the two have gone from their Washington, D.C., base to Louisiana. In a bayou there, the torso of a woman has turned up. The head is missing - and since it appears to match the MO of other murders, the agents are concerned that they're on the trail of a serial killer who may be keeping victims' heads as trophies.

Then what to her wondering eyes should appear but Jamison - back from an undercover job and ready for reassignment as Jess's partner. There's a lot of mutual hand-wringing and head games as the two try to come to terms with their earlier break-up and Jamison's new love interest, but professionalism (and an obvious like for each other) eventually win out. As for Alex, he doesn't seem fazed by losing his shotgun-riding status - to him, it's just another crappy day in paradise, I guess - and anyway, enough headless bodies keep turning up to keep his and everyone else's minds on finding the killer.

In the middle of all this, Jess meets Matt Ramsey, a smooth-talking, exceptionally hunky FBI agent who's determined to make an honest woman out of her. True to her emotion-shunning personality, though, he pretty much has to stalk her to get her attention - and even when he succeeds, he isn't able to hold it for long. That's partly because as evidence piles up, a worst-case scenario rears its ugly head: could it be that the murders are somehow related to the sordid past Jess has spent all of her grown-up years trying to hide?

The whole thing was a wild ride all the way to the end, when a few strands are left dangling to whet appetites for the next book. Overall, this definitely was an enjoyable experience for me, though my enthusiasm was dampened a bit by repetition and typos (the latter, I trust, will be corrected before the book is released; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review) as well as a few glitches in the story. As hard-nosed as Jess is, for instance, it's really tough to fathom how she (or anyone else) possibly could go out for a run hours after cutting her bare feet by stepping on glass shards. Ouch!

Now You See Me by Kierney Scott (Bookouture, November 2017); 318 pp.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

THE GIRL WHO LIVED

5 stars out of 5

My first encounter with this author came via Jack of Hearts, a recent entry in his series featuring detective Jack Stratton. That one made a favorable impression - I look forward to the next one, hint, hint - and when I ran across this new standalone, I considered giving it a try. When I read the description, I was convinced that reading it would be a good idea - so even though it was just days before the release date, I requested, and was approved for, an advance copy (thank you).

In fact, it turned out to be a great idea; my concern that I might not get it finished on time vanished after a handful of chapters. NFL and college football games came and went unwatched, Lawrence Welk got recorded, and I even skipped at least one lunch because I couldn't bring myself to put it down. A 5-star rating? A no-brainer.

The book's title reflects the title of another book - one written by the mother of Faith Winters. Ten years earlier, Faith's beloved sister Kim and two others died violent deaths, reportedly at the hand of her father, who then committed suicide. Faith, who was present at the time, managed to hide out in the dark woods. She escaped certain death, yes, but she  was left with deep psychological wounds. Faith's mother, a therapist, worked through her own grief by way of writing a tell-all book about the daughter - Faith - who survived.

Faith continued to bury her anguish by way of alcohol, temper tantrums and other behavioral no-nos, which in turn landed her in a psychiatric hospital. But now, close to the anniversary of the murders, she gets the okay for release - on the condition that she return to the hometown in which all the blood was shed and participate in group therapy programs. No matter what she tries, though, she's not able to shake off the trauma of her past - nor her belief that the father she loved did not commit the awful crimes. That's because she'd seen another person at the scene back then - an unknown man she calls "Rat Face."

But alas, no one - not even the police - believed her then, nor do they believe her now. Even when she spots him once again, everyone thinks it's all in her twisted mind. Everyone, that is, except Rat Face, who learns that Faith has spotted him again. Now, he - and possibly his partners in crime - must do whatever it takes to keep from being identified, including making sure that this time, they leave no witnesses. Several twists and turns lead to an exciting conclusion (I won't say it's totally satisfying, but the loose ends get pretty well tied up). In short? Very well done and highly recommended.

The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson (Greyson Media, November 2017); 329 pp.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

THE FIRST ONE TO DIE

5 stars out of 5

Four things I gravitate toward when I have a spare 15 or 20 minutes: Playing word puzzles on my smartphone, seeing what my family and friends are up to on Facebook, looking for a snack in the kitchen cupboard and polishing off another chapter or two of whatever book I'm reading. Accordingly, one of the ways I know I'm loving the book I'm reading is when the other three options go by the boards.

That certainly was the case here - so besides being a little hungry, I'm now faced with major catching up to do on my phone and Facebook.

This is the second book featuring South Wales detective partners Alex King and Chloe Lane, and I admit I didn't read the first, The Girls in the Water. No matter; at no time did I notice any "holes" that made me wonder what had gone on before. As this one begins, Chloe is bunking with Alex and contemplating a more permanent hookup with another department detective. Alex's mostly estranged mother has taken a turn for the worse health-wise, and a young woman named Keira North took a fatal fall from an open window during a party. The latter looks like an accident, but to Alex and Chloe, it doesn't pass the smell test.

As they begin to investigate, they quickly learn that four of Keira's housemate friends may not be as innocent as they appear. And then - just when they start to think they're on the right track - another one bites the dust. Yet another cog hits the wheel when a young woman ends up in the hospital following an overdose; that case, too, lands squarely in the laps of Alex and Chloe. 

Could it be that someone is trying to wipe out all of Keira's housemates one by one? If so, why - and perhaps more important, who? And while no one thinks the murders and overdose cases are connected, the way things are going, anything is possible. The result is that Alex and Chloe are led in many directions, providing twists, turns and surprises for readers as well.

All in all, this is a very well-written book with interesting characters - and a series I've put on my must-read list going forward. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review it.

The First One to Die by Victoria Jenkins (Bookouture, November 2017); 346 pp.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

STOP LICKING THAT

4.5 stars out of 5

No matter what the generation in which it happens, parenting ain't for sissies. My indoctrination - the first of two - happened way back in 1963. Unlike the author, we got one with outdoor plumbing and one with indoor; and they were nearly five years apart instead of just two. Still, with the exception of not having ultrasound readily available during pregnancy, many of her experiences with childbirth and rearing mirror mine - and, I suspect, those of most parents, at least if they're honest about it.

Right up front, though, I'll warn that this book isn't for everyone; the language is both colorful and frank. I know women, for instance, who would jump in a vat of hot oil before allowing their kids to watch them pee (or, for that matter, use the word "pee" in front of them). So if that describes you, well, perhaps you should skip this one. As for me, I was rocked by several belly-laughs throughout; like the author, I've got a mouth like a truck driver (with apologies to those drivers who are far more well-spoken than I). Also like the author, while I tried really hard to keep my lips zipped around our kids, sometimes (okay, make that fairly often), the heat of the moments got the better of me.

The book begins with a somewhat bawdy description of her pregnancy and then moves to some of the more, shall we say, enlightening mileposts that happened once her first kid made an appearance (somewhat rapidly followed by a second, bringing even more complications and yuck-yucks from me). And even when I couldn't identify with a specific behavior - honest to God, neither of my kids ever licked anything more potentially mess-making than a three-scoop ice cream cone - the concepts hit bullseyes for me just about every time. And always, the focus is on loving, nurturing and protecting her boys - how could any mother argue with that? 

There's a bit of more serious "stuff" sprinkled around, including dealing with her parents' split for a rather unconventional reason. She also emphasizes that the book really is about her, and how difficult, yet important, parenting is for her. The only time I took any issue at all is when she spanked one of her sons. Not a Martha Stewart good thing? Agreed. But it happened only once and she immediately concluded that spanking is a no-no. Now, though, it's way past time to stop dwelling on it; a one-and-done certainly won't scar the kid for life.

There's a helpful appendix with parenting tips here as well - making the whole thing both entertaining and educational. Thanks, Ms. Mitchell, for sending me a copy to read and review - good job!

Stop Licking That by Karin Mitchell (Amazon Digital Services LLC, February 2017); 277 pp.

Friday, October 27, 2017

ARTEMIS

5 stars out of 5

Okay, I'm Jazzed.

Finally - a heroine who's independent, feisty and could give MacGyver a run for his money. That much of the time Jasmine ("Jazz") Bashara skirts the edge of the law makes her all the more interesting. Throw in a kinky sense of humor that doesn't let up from start to finish, and I'm in it all the way.

Jazz, now in her mid-20s, has lived in Artemis - the first and so far only city on the moon - since early childhood. Residents live and work in five self-contained spheres called bubbles that have numerous fail-safes to protect residents from an unfriendly moon atmosphere. People come from all parts of Earth to live and visit (tourism is big business, and trips from Artemis to Earth take half a dozen days or so). Jazz herself is from Saudi Arabia, brought by her father, who practices the welding trade in his adopted city. They aren't particularly close - for openers, he's a practicing Muslim and she has no interest in any kind of religion.

Because it's forging new territory, life on Artemis isn't as fully regimented as is Earth; some rules, for instance, like no firearms (or fire of any kind, for that matter), are more stringent, mostly for safety reasons. In addition to her regular but peon-type job, Jazz has been smuggling goodies up from Earth for quite some time. But because she's almost desperate to earn lots of money (called "slugs" on Artemis) so she can move out of her coffin-like living quarters and eat food that isn't reminiscent of Soylent Green, she's hoping for something closer to a windfall.

Then along comes her big chance, in the form of filthy rich businessman Trond Landvik. He's consumed with the notion of putting Artemis's huge aluminum smelting operation out of commission so he can buy it at a fire-sale price and take over. Knowing her proclivity with a blowtorch (some skills she bothered to learn from her father) and willingness to color outside the lines, he offers Jazz a monumental amount of slugs if she can disable the company's four "harvesters" that gather rocks from the moon for use in the smelting process.

Needless to say, things don't exactly go according to plan, and Jazz and her cohorts more than once find themselves between a rock and a hard place (literally). Telling more would ruin the story for others, though, so you'll just have to read it to find out who wins and who loses. 

What I will venture to say is that I liked this book even better than the author's previous book, The Martian, which also earned 5 stars from me (and FYI, each of the two books stands totally alone). Admittedly, Jazz can grate on the nerves a bit, although overall I enjoyed the heck out of her sense of humor. And as was the case in The Martian, the technical stuff is both educational and fun but can be a bit overwhelming at times. 

But in the end, I loved it. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Artemis by Andy Weir (Crown, November 2017); 320 pp.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

THE WHISPERING ROOM

5 stars out of 5

When I finished The Silent Corner, the first book in this series featuring FBI agent Jane Hawk, I loved it so much that in my review I urged the author to hurry up and finish the next one sooner than scheduled. He must have heard me, since he beat that original date by a couple of months. And oh boy, am I glad he did!

This one can stand alone, although I'm sure I enjoyed it more for having read the first. That one had plenty of action, but here it's almost nonstop, meaning I was "forced" to put other chores on the back burner so I could keep reading (honestly, I think it's even better than the first, and I gave that one a 5-star rating). The prose is pure Koontz, with each turn of the phrase artfully crafted. The focus of the plot - really, really bad guys and gals who are using nanotechnology to turn human beings they don't like into well-controlled automatons - may be a bit "out there," but on the other hand, as one of my favorite comedians, Judy Tenuta, used to say, "It could happen."

In the first book, Jane's husband Nick reportedly committed suicide - but Jane knew better and vowed to get to the truth. That in turn put her at odds with the FBI and even higher-up powers, forcing her to go on the run and put her young son Travis in hiding. Early on, she seeks help from a respected journalist - hoping he's someone she can trust (it's nearly impossible to discern who's had the technology implants, making Jane's quest to take down the instigators all that much harder). At the same time, a much-loved Minnesota school teacher inexplicably commits mass murder by driving her homemade bomb-laden car into a crowd (killing herself as well). When Jane learns of the incident, she immediately suspects that the woman was "guided" by an outside force.

At the same time, local Sheriff Luther Tillman has suspicions all his own; wanting to find out why the normally sweet teacher would commit such a horrible act, he visits her home and retrieves a few items. Shortly thereafter, her home goes up in flames, adding fuel to Luther's belief that something is rotten in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Jane and Luther lead separate investigations for a while, but as might be expected, their trails eventually come together. From that point on, there's no going back - and they must cling to the hope that the way forward won't end with either or both of their deaths. 

Mysterious and spooky and all together ooky, this book is a must-read for anyone who loves thrillers spiked with a tablespoon of science fiction. Love it - and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz (Bantam, November 2017); 528 pp.

Friday, October 20, 2017

CRAZY LIKE A FOX

4 stars out of 5

When I opened this book on my Kindle, I was eager to start my first by this author even though it's not in the Sneaky Pie Brown cat series I've been wanting to sample for quite some time now. But when this one began with a lengthy list of character descriptions - not just of people, but hounds and foxes - my heart sank a little. I'm not young any more, and my short-term memory isn't even close to what it used to be. How on earth, I said to myself, will I ever keep all of them straight?

And at first, that really was an issue; flipping back and forth to the lists to jog my failing memory would have taken too much time and distracted me from the story (it probably would be easier on a "real" book, though I wouldn't have wanted to do it there, either) - so for the first several chapters I felt more than a bit lost. That the switch from people talking to animals talking isn't clearly delineated made it even more difficult; I'd be halfway down a page before realizing that the conversation I'd just read was between a couple of pooches or owls, not people.

The story, though, not only is well crafted but interesting to me because I know (make that knew) next to nothing about fox hunting. An extensive glossary of terms at the beginning was helpful, but then again, I forgot most of the definitions once the story got going. But I decided to forge ahead and not worry that I couldn't always remember who's who and what's what. And by golly,  I'm glad I did. Not only did I learn that the state of Virginia is a hotbed of fox-hunting activity (I thought it to be a sport in which only the English partake), but the intricate plot caught me up in intrigue and the thrill of the chases as well as perspectives on topical issues such as race relations, politics and drugs. There was humor as well; consider, for instance, this description of a particularly talented cat:

"Her marvelous ears could hear a rat piss in cotton."

Now about that story: Around 1954 - the year I was 13, in case anyone thinks I was lying about being old - an accomplished fox huntsman and noted ladies man named Wesley Carruthers (better known as Weevil) disappeared, never to be found. Rumored to have stolen valuable jewelry from one of his also-rumored lovers, it was assumed that he'd been murdered even though his body never turned up. Fast forward 60 years to a museum near the Jefferson Hunt Club in rural Virginia, when an etched cow horn goes missing from a display case and someone "sees" Weevil at the scene. When his distinctive horn echoes at a hunt, all kinds of questions emerge - not the least of which is whether or not ghosts really exist.

Along the way, readers meet a cast of colorful characters like "Sister" Jane Arnold, master of the hunt club; Tootie, a young heiress who gave up on a prestigious college education (and was disowned by her richer-than-God father) to find her true calling working with hounds and horses at the club; and Yvonne, Tootie's former supermodel mother, who's in the midst of dumping her cheating husband and hoping to make a new life near her daughter. 

But the overriding issue, so to speak, is Weevil: Who is he, really, and why has he come back? While I correctly guessed the who part fairly early on, the why eluded me until all the details were wrapped up cleverly at the conclusion. My own conclusion? Well done! And many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Crazy Like a Fox by Rita Mae Brown (Ballantine Books, October 2017); 305 pp.

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.