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Saturday, April 22, 2017

YOU WILL PAY

4 stars out of 5

Sex, lies and yes, even videotapes - the stuff of which soap operas are made - all come together in coastal small-town Oregon in this rather lusty novel. Murder? Check. Incest? Check. Throw in an Elmer Gantry-like leader of a summer camp for teenagers that's been closed for two decades, and you've got a solid start to your summer beach reading.

Camp Horseshoe closed after two of the still-teenage female counselors,   a hired hand and a convict who escaped from a nearby prison went missing. Now - 20 years later - Lucas Dalton, detective with the local sheriff's department and son of the aforementioned preacher man, is investigating the discovery of what appears to be human scull in a small cave on the bank of the water at which one of the missing counselors, Eleanor (Elle) was last seen. Complicating matters is that Lucas was Elle's serious love interest at the time; also, several of the other female counselors, led by Jo-Beth Chancellor, reportedly tried to put the fear of God into Monica shortly before she disappeared.

Today, all the camp participants, including Lucas, have gone on with their lives (mostly successfully), but the secrets they buried all those years ago now threaten to bring them down. Semi-estranged from his preacher father, Jeremiah, and his beautiful ex-stepmother Naomi, Lucas has secrets of his own that he hopes don't see the light of day. But as all the counselors involved in the scheme to scare Monica decide to return to align the stories they will once again offer to police, they face a nosy reporter who's desperate to get the real story for an online tabloid - a woman who was just as nosy as a camper 20 years ago. 

Chapters switch from viewpoints of the characters in the present and that fateful summer at camp - a technique of which I'm not fond, but it does allow details to be released little by little that shed more light on what really happened. Admittedly, that got a bit hard for me to follow in that there are so many characters to remember; besides that, there seemed to me to be an excessive amount of repetition from one recollection to another (although to be honest, that probably helped my aging brain keep all those characters straight). 

Tying up all the loose ends in one tidy package also tested the limits of believability for me, but then keep in mind I was a church camper back in the day, and the closest I ever got to high drama was having a bit of a crush - as did most of the other female campers - on a young, super-cute minister-counselor. All that meant, though, was that we sang "Kumbaya, My Lord" louder than necessary around the campfire in hopes of getting his attention. Kinky sex? Murder and mayhem? Fuhgettaboutit!

If you're looking for off-kilter characters in creepy settings, give this one a try. My thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy to read and review. 

You Will Pay by Lisa Jackson (Kensington, May 2017); 416 pp.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ALL BY MYSELF, ALONE

4 stars out of 5

Well-developed, intriguing characters. Interesting plot, albeit with no mind-bending surprises. What's not to like?

Not much, from my point of view. No, it won't jack up your blood pressure nor keep you anywhere from the edge of your seat. In fact, it's about as close to a "cozy" mystery as you can get without actually crossing that line (although some readers might argue that it does). In short, it's a perfect summer read - on the beach or, in my case, while enjoying spring weather on our back deck as it comes (finally) to our little corner of the world in northeast Ohio.

Admittedly, it got a bit repetitive in spots, and there were a couple of incidents that challenged credibility. As the story progressed, the more it brought to mind the old game of Clue: Colonel Mustard did it with a knife in the library. Or was it Professor Plum with candlestick in the kitchen? Still, overall it was a fun read - just don't expect a complex psychological mystery that will keep you awake nights.

The Queen Charlotte, a new, uber-luxurious ocean liner, had just set off on its maiden voyage from the Hudson River to Southhampton, England. With a capacity of 100 passengers and a crew of 85, it is the newest ship in the fleet owned by wealthy Gregory Morrison and designed to be an upgrade on the ill-fated Titanic. On board are hoity-toity, wealthy passengers like 86-year-old Lady Emily Haywood, nouveau riche like William Meehan and his amateur-sleuth wife, Alvirah, guest lecturers like Celia Kilbride, a noted gems and jewelry expert and an international thief known as The Man with One Thousand Faces. 

Most of the chapters focus on details of specific passengers; Ted Cavanaugh, for instance, wants to convince the elderly Lady Em to return her famous Cleopatra emerald necklace to Egypt instead of the Smithsonian, as she plans. The necklace, he argues, was stolen from the country by her ancestors and should be returned to its rightful owner. 

But not long after departure, one passenger goes overboard. Then three days out, Lady Em is found dead - murdered in her stateroom - and the storied emerald necklace is missing. Are all these events related? Is the international thief really on board and if yes, who is he? Who's got the necklace? Are Roger Pearson, accountant to Lady Em, and Brenda Martin, her long-time personal assistant, really the loyal employees they appear to be? Just about everyone on board, it seems, is hiding some kind of secret; little by little, chapter by chapter, those secrets are revealed and lead up to the conclusion.

All By Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark (Simon & Schuster, April 2017); 337 pp.

Monday, April 17, 2017

THE BURIAL HOUR

4.5 stars out of 5

At 752 pages, I'm pretty sure this qualifies as the longest Jeffery Deaver book I've ever read - at least of the series starring forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme. What it is not, however, is the best of the bunch.

To be sure, though, it's very good; and despite my grousing that I'd be reading it for several days, I surprised myself by polishing it off in just two. And for the most part, I enjoyed the experience from beginning to end - starting with the kidnapping of a man from New York's Upper East Side witnessed only by a young girl even though it took place in broad daylight. The perpetrator left behind a miniature noose made from a musical instrument string. Rhyme and his co-investigator (and soon to be wife), Amelia Sachs, are called in; shortly thereafter, a video is posted online showing the victim as he is slowly being hanged. Stranger still is that his gasps for air are synced to music, and the video is "signed" by someone called The Composer.

Search and seizure efforts by Rhyme and Sachs are only partly successful, and the kidnapper gets away. But then, a near identical incident takes place near Naples, Italy (noose and all), and in the flash of a private jet, the dynamic duo - accompanied by Rhyme's faithful and tough-nosed caretaker, Thom - make their way to the City of the Sun. The Italian police higher-ups clearly resent help from the Americans, but as Rhyme and Sachs sift through forensic evidence and prove their worth, the Italians grudgingly accept their insights. 

Meantime, readers learn the kidnapper's identity through interspersed chapters written from his perspective. Then fairly early on comes another case as a young American living and playing hard in Italy is arrested for battery and rape. Rhymes and Sachs are asked by the defense to help with this one as well - to look for evidence that suggests someone else could have done the dirty deed. As they begin to work on both cases, they learn that the Italian prosecutor on the rape case is the same guy who's carrying a chip on his shoulder about interference from the American duo on the kidnapping case. Oops - not exactly the way to win him over.

The original kidnapping case leads to an Italian camp that provides sanctuary for the thousands of immigrants who have fled their home countries in search of a better life (clarifying the meaning of the book's title and adding an element of timeliness to the plot). Clearly, there's plenty going on here.

But sometimes, plenty is too much. The details of the plot, the number of characters and the geographic settings seem to go on and on unnecessarily and, alas, with a lot less interaction than I like to see between Rhymes and Sachs. On the plus side, the loose ends (well, perhaps all but one) are tied up neatly. And, clues led me to suspect that many of those details and characters are meant to lay the foundation for a future book or books, so I'm willing to back off a bit on my criticism. In any event, it's for sure I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment - love this series!

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central Publishing, April 2017); 752 pp.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE REMOVERS

5 stars out of 5

Any time I come off of reading a particularly intense, or intensely disappointing, book, my inclination is to reach for something that doesn't require lots of concentration and is dependably good. Now that they're available in Kindle format, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series fills both of those requirements admirably (this being the third of 27).

Those not familiar with the books may remember the motion pictures starring the late, great Dean Martin; four of them, I believe, were released from 1966 to 1969. The first book, for the record, was published in 1960 (Death of a Citizen), and Hamilton passed away in 2006. Reading the books now (or re-reading, since I read a couple way back when but have long since forgotten which ones) is interesting for two reasons: First and foremost, they're just plain good "secret agent" novels. The other is the time frame; it's fun to see what's changed over the years since 1960 (when I was a college freshman, BTW) as well as what hasn't. Hearing a woman called "baby" or noting Helm's preference for those who wear skirts- ideally with nylon stockings covering their legs - is reminiscent of the old gumshoe books of the '40s and '50s. The espionage game, on the other hand, is pretty much same old, same old.

And Helm is right in the middle of that game here. After enjoying a few years' respite making a living mostly as a photographer to support a wife and children, his wife Beth became quite unhappy to learn what he really did for a living in all those years before she came on the scene and realized he had a heart behind his shoulder holster. Unable to come to terms with that, she divorced him six months ago; and now, looking for something to bring meaning to his life once again, he's been reactivated. 

So has Beth, in a way; she's remarried, this time to an English gentleman who owns a large ranch somewhere outside of Reno, Nevada. Helm's kids live with their mother, as does her new husband's grown son. But now, she's reaching out - sending a note to Helm's boss, Mac, to say she needs her ex-husband's help. Mac passes along the message with one of his own: As long as Helm (code name: Eric) is going to be in the area, how about checking out a young, inexperienced agent?  As they discuss the assignment, they agree that Helm and his ilk are not considered "enforcers," but rather "removers" - from hence cometh, I smartly perceive, the title of the book.

The young agent, alas, doesn't have much to offer about his assignment except that he was tracking an enemy agent named Martell, who's now working for a local mobster under an assumed name. And wonder of wonders, the mobster just happens to be the man for whom Beth's husband used to work (most likely as - you guessed it - a remover just like Helm).

The plot gets thicker and the action picks up as the book moves along - coming to an end that signals a major change in the direction of Helm's life going forward. That, in fact, is one of the most enjoyable parts of this series - watching how events that happen in one book shape what happens in the future. Just for the record, the books I've read so far can stand alone, but I'm sure I'm getting the biggest bang for my bucks - as would other readers, IMHO - by taking it one step at a time. They're short steps, I hasten to add; I polished this one off in just one day.

The Removers by Donald Hamilton (Titan Books, April 2013 Kindle release); 240 pp.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

IF I RUN

4 stars out of 5


"...one step ahead of the shoe shine
Two steps away from the county line..."

From the start of this one, those lyrics from Simon & Garfunkel's "Keep the Customer Satisfied" ran through my head in this fast-paced, exciting book that I read in a single day (partly because it's only 318 pages long and mostly because it was very hard to put down). 

You see, Casey Cox is a woman on the run; her DNA has been found at the scene of the stabbing murder of her best friend Brent, a journalist. In truth (or truth as she tells it), she really was at the scene - meeting him at his apartment at lunchtime at his request - but what she found was his bloody body. Believing her story wouldn't be convincing to the police, she ran away in hopes of finding a new identify and a new life. She's also trying to escape some haunting memories of her own youth - memories that comprise another reason to be wary of talking to the police.

Enter Dylan Roberts, a former Army cop with three deployments and a nasty case of PTSD who'd love to get a job on the local police force. Turns out he also was a good friend of Brent, and when Dylan attends the memorial service, because of his background he's hired to track down Casey (with approval from the time-challenged local police). As the chase ensues, chapters shift from Casey's perspective to Dylan's; in most instances, I'm not a big fan of that technique - nor of first-person writing - but they really do work well here.

Despite her efforts to stay off the grid, Casey leaves a trail that's almost amazingly easy for Dylan to follow. The closer he gets to finding her, though, the more he begins to realize there's far more to her story than he's being led to believe - bringing into question what happened to Brent, who actually did him in and why. 

Meantime, a second story line comes into play as Casey - who now has a new identity - tries to get her new act together in an Atlanta suburb. A new friend, it seems, has a daughter who went missing a couple of years earlier. In the course of her new job, Casey inadvertently uncovers clues that could mean the daughter is still alive. Risking the loss of her precious anonomity, she sets out to learn the truth. The book comes to a riveting conclusion that brings closure to one of the two story lines (but I won't reveal which).

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book - but with two reservations. The first is that there's a doozy of a cliffhanger ending. This is the first of a two-book series (which I knew ahead of time and, under those circumstances, certainly expected some carryover business). But this goes far beyond that, literally forcing readers to get the next book (If I'm Found) if they want closure. And not knowing that was gonna happen till the end of this one made me very grumpy.

The second is that it's in-your-face clear from the beginning that this book belongs in the category of Christian fiction (which I didn't know at the time I accepted an advance review copy from the publisher based on what sounded like a great story). Mind you, I have nothing against organized religion; in fact, I consider myself to be somewhat of a student of it. Over the years, I've enjoyed, and learned much from, books on the history and beliefs of faiths from Baha'i to Judaism to the Society of Friends to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

What I do not want to read about, however, is some character's "search for the God I used to believe in" or, God forbid, proselytizing. Both are in here from the beginning, though thankfully, not in large doses (with a couple of exceptions). Still, it's more than I want to encounter, and I firmly believe potential readers should be made aware of this ahead of time.

If I Run by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan, February 2016); 318 pp.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE PREACHER: ACES AND EIGHTS

5 stars out of 5


Warning: Don't even think about speed-reading this book. Oh, you can try, but if you do, you'll miss a whole bunch of good stuff. I found that out early on, and after the first wave of "Oh drat - I've gotta concentrate on this one" hit, I settled back, took my time and enjoyed the heck out of the rest of the ride. 

This is, for the record, Book 2 in what Amazon lists as a two-book series featuring "The Preacher" - a one-eyed priest (Episcopal, I think), Vietnam veteran and professional gambler. When the publisher offered an advance copy for review, the description sounded like a sure bet. I didn't feel at a disadvantage for not having read the first book, either, although now that I'm done I'm pretty sure I missed out on another good thing (that book was a finalist for an Edgar Award).

In this one,The Preacher (readers never get to know him by any other name) knows his way around self-defense because of his Vietnam experience, and he's no slouch at the poker table, either. In fact, he's come to a high-stakes private game at a swanky Las Vegas casino to earn money to support his tiny congregation. Among the other players are a big-time televangelist and a couple of The Preacher's old friends (one of whom is a guy dubbed "Corner Pocket," who happens to be the chief investigator for the Clark County District Attorney's Office). Just as the betting turns serious, all hell breaks loose: two men with machine guns burst through the door, blasting away. The Preacher, the televangelist and the assistant D.A. escape injury, but the other old friend doesn't fare so well (nor does one of the two gunmen). The second hitman hits the ground running away - straight to the roof - where he hitches a ride on a waiting helicopter and escapes.

When the dust settles, the injured friend is rushed to the hospital, and The Preacher and other survivors are questioned by police. The gunmen left behind few clues, except for one oddity: On top of one of the dead bodies is a hand of cards - all aces and eights. Surely, that means something, all agree - but what?

At the hospital, The Preacher hopes his injured friend, whose name is Sam Goines, will regain consciousness and shed some insight on what happened back at the casino. Sam's beautiful wife, Maxey (who just happens to have had a years-ago fling with The Preacher), rushes to visit and is hopeful that first part happens as well. Suddenly, the plot thickens, and the hospital becomes the site of what will be several plot twists, more murder, mayhem and sleight of hand, a character who would give the late Howard Hughes a run for his money, a race to find an errant atomic bomb and yes, more of those hands of aces and eights. Saying much more would give too much away, so I'll just say it's an intelligently written, fast-paced story that hooked me from beginning to end.

When that end came, though, I learned that the author passed away in 2001, making me wonder why it took this long for it to be published. Further, a quick check at Amazon of the first, The Preacher, showed a May 2016 release date. My journalist's curiosity really kicked in then, prompting me to do a little sleuthing. Turns out the first one was published in 1988, followed by not one, but two others. The third, King of Diamonds, appears to have been released in 1989, and given how much I loved this one, I was interested. But good luck getting a hand on it; the only copy I could find has a list price of $184.19 - used, no less - so since I'm not that flush at the moment, I'm gonna pass. None of that is a big deal in terms of how good the books are, of course, but I'm a big believer in truth in lending.

Bottom line? This one's a winner, so if you're game, go for it!

The Preacher: Aces and Eights by Ted Thackrey Jr. (Brash Books, May 2017); 349 pp.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

ALIENATION OF AFFECTIONS

4 stars out of 5

Well, if I've learned anything after nearly 55 years of marriage, it's that when in divorce court, never trust a living soul. At this point, though, I'm in full agreement with the wife of the philandering husband in this, the second book in the author's Family Court series: I've invested far too much time in the one I've got to get rid of him now.

And in this case, that wife - Martha Grimm - is willing to pay handsomely to accomplish exactly that. But what she wants to avoid at all costs is suing her husband. When she puts that challenge to her attorney, though, the initial reaction is something like, say what? Putting their heads together - and realizing that no solution to their client's request means no fees - the attorney and her associates come up with the notion of putting the state's little-known (and probably never used) law called "Alienation of Affections" into play. As such, the firm can sue the wayward husband's mistress - herein known as "The Floozy" - thus taking the husband out of the equation and allowing for a trial by jury instead of the more typical judge's decision.

What happens behind the scenes in divorce court is revealed in this very short novel (I read it in one sitting and one-and-a-half glasses of a decent sangria). But most interesting to me were the characters, beginning with the Floozy, who's desperately trying to dress the part in court (using her paramour's credit card, of course) and the height-challenged judge who's just trying to get in 10 years so he can retire with a hefty pension for life. Then there's the Great Negotiator, a.k.a. Floozy's lawyer, who always delivers results (whether or not he'll manage that here I'll never tell). Even "The Dress" - the ill-fitting number Floozy picked for her day in court - plays a significant role.

All in all, it's a fun look inside the workings of divorce court. I thank the author for providing a copy for me to read and review.

Alienation of Affections by Portia Porter (Cheetah Press, August 2016); 141 pp.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

BEYOND JUSTICE

4 stars out of 5

Looking for a good legal mystery? Consider giving this one a try - seriously. Top-notch young attorney Hayden McCarthy has just earned her chops by pulling off an almost unbelievable win - a feat that doesn't go unnoticed by her hoity-toity law firm. But instead of a few days on a sunny beach or a hefty bonus, her reward is being assigned to a seemingly unwinnable wrongful death case. A young Mexican boy who attempted to enter the United States illegally was caught and stashed in a government-run juvenile detention facility in Texas - where he was murdered. Now, Hayden's firm has been asked to build - and more important, at least to Hayden's future career, win - a case against the government.

Add to the mix Hayden's roommate, who just happens to have a very hunky and eligible cousin named Andrew Wesley. And he just happens to be the son of an ambitious congressman. It goes without saying that Hayden and Andrew are wary of but attracted to each other. But even though Andrew claims to eschew his father's chosen profession of service to America, the fact that Hayden is going head-to-head with the government isn't exactly a relationship booster. 

Tracking down the facts she'll need to build her case takes Hayden from her job in Washington, D.C., to Texas and back - with plenty of dangerous turns in between. Although almost none of it takes place in a courtroom, there's plenty of action and legal details as Hayden tries to ferret out the truth.

So we have likable, well-developed characters, a story that's intriguing, timely (immigration) and believable. So what was missing? Although I certainly should have known, I failed to pick up ahead of time on the fact that this book falls into the Christian category - and there few things in this life I do not want to read about more than someone's religious "journey."

But wait, there's more.

Other than one horrific moment when I was convinced the book would end with Andrew's asking Hayden to marry him only if she agreed to quit the high-profile job she loves and stay home to be a proper mother to their kids, matters of faith were for the most part unobtrusive. In fact, what few references there were seemed to be inserted haphazardly, almost as an afterthought, sometimes where they really didn't seem to fit. It was almost as if someone said, "Oops, God hasn't had a mention in 50 pages - better throw one in!" 

And somehow, it strikes me that a "Christian" book should have more on that subject (or at least what was there should have been more fully developed). Ironic, isn't it, that the biggest downside (a mild one, I hasten to add) is that there wasn't enough of what I didn't want to read in the first place? But there it is.

That said, this is a very enjoyable book that's well worth reading no matter what side of the religion coin you're on. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for providing me with an advance review copy.

Beyond Justice by Cara C. Putman (Thomas Nelson, April 2017); 384 pp.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

VICIOUS CIRCLE

4.5 stars out of 5

This is something like the 17th book about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, and since I've read most of them, by now I consider Joe a good friend. There's another reason I love the guy: As those who have read my past reviews most likely are tired of seeing, Joe and I share a surname. In fact, that's what got my attention in the beginning. This one, though, is extra-special for another reason: It was released in the United States on my birthday (March 21). How cool is that?

But of course, name- and birthday-sharing aren't automatic guarantees of loyalty to any series; great stories are. One thing that's kept me going is that over the years, is that it's been fun to watch Joe and his family grow. By this time, daughter Sheridan has graduated from the University of Wyoming, April is attending Northwest Community College, leaving only daughter Lucy still living at home. Joe's wife, Marybeth, is director of the Twelve Sleep County Library. Joe's job is going fine and all's right with the world.

Or not. At the opening, Joe is a reluctant passenger in a plane that's circling the mountains of Wyoming (way too close to the trees for Joe's comfort), looking for a hunter who's been reported missing. They spot what they think is him - along with three other humans - and the ending of that discovery isn't good. Back on the ground, Joe's also trying to track down a big poaching ring that's killing off elk, worrying about a blizzard that's about to hit and, worst of all, dealing with the realization that old enemy Dallas Cates (one-time boyfriend of April) has been released from jail. Because Joe was largely responsible for destroying the rest of the evil Cates family, he's concerned that Dallas's first order of business will be returning the favor.

When April's life is threatened, Joe knows for certain that he's right. But an attempt by local authorities to put Dallas back in jail goes south, leaving Joe and his family vulnerable once again. Toss into the mix appearances by Marybeth's totally irritating, gold-digging mother, Missy, and Joe's long-time friend, professional falconer and off-the-grid expert Nate Romanowski, and you've got the makings of another action-packed adventure.

So what motivated me to take this one down a half-notch from 5 stars? A few things needed a bit more fleshing out, IMHO; it's hard for me to believe Joe and his family - no matter how seasoned they are to misfortune and even the threat of personal danger - could have taken some of what happened to them so much in stride. Then too, Nate, while he still has his edge, just seemed a little too "normal" here; and not as much activity happens in the great outdoors (which to me is one of the pluses of the series). The ending, too, seemed a bit abrupt (almost as if the allocated word count had been reached and there was no choice but to stop or go back and chop somewhere else). Still, it's close enough to perfect for horseshoes - and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Vicious Circle by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2017); 377 pp.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

BURNTOWN

5 stars out of 5

Mesmerizing! But since the book seriously flirts with the paranormal - which I didn't realize going in - I'm both surprised that I liked it at all and astounded that I absolutely loved it. Fact is, if this one doesn't make the best-seller list, I'll consider it a travesty. 

Most chapters are named for various characters, a technique that usually doesn't work well for me, mostly because at my age I tend to forget who's who rather easily. It didn't matter a whit here, though - testimony, I think, to the author's ability to make each character unique and memorable as well as leave written breadcrumbs, if you will, that make the whole thing easy to follow. Early on, a 10-year-old boy named Miles Sandeski watches as his mother is murdered - a crime for which his father is charged. Miles knows better, but he's so young, and the story he tells so absurd, that no one believes him.

His father had, however, told his young son of plans he'd hidden for an ultra-dangerous secret machine that was never built - thought to have been stolen from the workshop of Thomas Edison. Miles found the plans and managed to heed his late father's warning until he was a grown man - a teacher, musician, inventor, husband to wife Lily and father of two children: A son Errol and younger daughter Eva. 

The inventor in Miles takes over his better judgment, and he builds the machine in the family's shed in back of their house on the river. Then one day, the unthinkable happens: Miles drowns in a flash flood, leaving Eva and her mother homeless. Eva, who nearly drowned herself, never really believes her mother's claim that the machine is responsible for her father's death.

Everything from that day forward is considered "After the Flood," and because Eva's mother insists someone known as "Snake Eyes" is out to kill them, she and Eva take to the shadowy streets below the bridges of thriving Ashford, Vermont. Now called Necco (after her favorite candy as a child), Eva and Lily live in an underworld populated by "fire eaters," or women who live off the grid at the river's edge and are known for inhaling herbs called the "devil's snuff." 

Then suddenly, Lily dies - an apparent suicide - forcing Necco to survive on the streets any way she can. Along the way she finds a boyfriend; just as he is about to reveal what could be clues to her past, he's murdered in the junk car in which they've been living. Now alone, she meets Theo, a talented high school senior who owes a potload of money to a man willing to kill to get it back, and Pru, a seriously overweight lady who serves up food in a school cafeteria by day and puts a whole new spin on night life. 

As these intriguing but incongruous characters come together in a tenuous, I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine sort of relationship, so do details of Eva's life Before the Flood. Several twists and turns later, Eva (and readers) finally learn what really happened. All I can say without giving away too much is this: If you start this book, get cozy for at least the last hour or so - from then on, you won't be able to put it down.

Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance review copy. 

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, April 2017); 304 pp.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

ONLY SKEIN DEEP

2 stars out of 5


It was a struggle, but I finally reached the halfway mark. And sorry to say, it's over and out.

Honestly, I don't remember the last book that bored me so much that I couldn't force myself to finish - and it's never happened with a book I received as an advance copy in exchange for a review. Under those circumstances, I feel that it's only fair that I tough it out to the end so I tend to stick with it no matter what.

Not this time - and I'm truly disappointed. This is a cozy mystery, for gosh sake, so I certainly wasn't expecting knock-down, drag-out action. It's also something like the 15th in a series, so my thinking is that somebody must be reading them. Last but hardly least, I was intrigued because I'm a knitting enthusiast (want proof? Come look through the afghans I've got stashed away in a closet - and they're just a fraction of the ones I've given away through the years). This story, the title suggests, weaves around the House of Lambspun, a popular knitting shop in Colorado - with the lure of a golf-course murder of a filthy rich old guy's trophy wife. Okay, said I, count me in. 

The murder, though, didn't even happen until a quarter of the way through the book - and precious little discussion of it had ensued by the time I hit 50% mark. The rest? Nothing but endless, excruciatingly repetitive conversations involving a very pregnant Kelly Flynn and her group of friends. I lost count of the times someone pointed out that Kelly is nine months pregnant but the baby - to be named Jack after her late father -  hasn't yet "dropped," that he's playing soccer in utero, that he weighs 6 pounds and could come at any time, that Kelly hates having to drink weak black coffee, that her carrying bag is made of fabric, or that she escaped morning sickness but her also-pregnant friend is suffering with it. When I was treated to a lengthy explanation (more than once, of course) of how lucky Kelly is that she's in such good hands because her obstetrician has scheduled check-up appointments every week now, I really lost it. Weekly check-ups for the last month - sometimes two - was standard practice back when I was pregnant with my first child more than 50 years ago. 

Supposedly, there are "delicious" recipes and a knitting pattern included, but I'm not all that interested in cooking now that there are just the two of us. And based on what I've been reading, my bet is that the pattern is for that tiny baby hat Kelly spent half the book working on. I've got zero interest in that as well, so neither was enough of an incentive to keep going. 

I do, however, feel compelled to mention that at the 36% mark, Baby Jack had in fact dropped. Ironically, that happened just about the time I decided to do the same to the book. 

Only Skein Deep by Maggie Sefton (Berkley, June 2017); 304 pp.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

GONE WITHOUT A TRACE

4 stars out of 5


Oy vey - what a collection of unpleasant and downright disturbed (and disturbing) characters! But I guess that's the point; getting into their heads is what makes this a "novel of psychological suspense," as the official description rightly says.

It begins with central character and narrator Hannah Monroe, whose live-in lover, Matt, suddenly goes missing - totally. He's taken away every single item he brought to her house when he moved in plus anything even remotely associated with him. He's even deleted all references to him on Hannah's computer and cell phone; it's as if he never even existed. Hannah, an extremely successful (but clearly neurotic) accountant, starts going even more mentally bonkers as she tries to figure out what happened, why he left and whether he will return to her and when. The only way those questions can be answered, she reasons, is by confronting him personally. So, forsaking everything and everyone else in her life, she turns her own into a full-on awake nightmare as she tries to track him down. 

Let me amend that; with Hannah, there is no reasoning. Absolutely everyone, including her childhood friend Katie, Katie's boyfriend James (at one time Hannah's boyfriend), her mother, father and even next-door neighbors is out to get her and cannot be trusted. Her thoughts as she works her way through the why did he/they, why didn't he/they, why should he/they, why shouldn't he/they, etc., are outlined in almost excruciating detail in every chapter. About halfway through, in fact, I almost gave up - thinking I couldn't bear another 150 pages or so of her constant (and I do mean constant) second-guessing of everyone's motives for disrupting her very existence.

That's not to say, however, that she isn't at least partly right (bringing to mind that well-known joke, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you"). She's always, for instance, had issues with Katie, who appears to have developed a serious case of Hannah-envy back when they were kids. And Hannah's parents' relationship can't be called ideal (and certainly not conducive to their daughter's stress-free childhood). 

And make no mistake: it is Hannah's ad nauseam ruminating that is central to the psychological "pull" of the story. Little by little, layers of Hannah's mind and those of her friends and family are peeled away, giving up insights as to what they think is going on and prompting me to keep reading even though I was happy that all these misfits are confined to a single book with no chance to ruin others I may want to read.

So whose "reality" is real? Now that I've finished, I'm not sure I know the answer to that question - especially since the trip through the pages in many ways blew my own mind. If you want to chance messing with yours, give this one a try. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing an advance copy to read and review. Whew!

Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen (Berkley, April 2017); 352 pp.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SINGLE MALT MURDER

5 stars out of 5



Absolutely delicious! I'm speaking of the book, not the booze. I enjoyed every word of this one from beginning to end. And speaking of words, I must point out that you'll find no "e" in whisky here; the Scots, I've learned, spell it "whisky" while the Irish - and as far as I can tell, we Americans - prefer "whiskey." 

It was the title, in fact, that prompted my initial interest; our son was a devotee of single malt Scotch. He shared a number of varieties with my husband and I, although to be honest, those more strongly permeated with peat - one of the distinguishing characteristics - to me tasted rather like drinking a pile of watered-down dirt. Still, because of his enthusiasm, the topic was intriguing, and now I'm delighted to say the book tasted far better than that earthy Scotch. The story moves along quickly and interestingly, and now that I've finished, I'm looking forward to the next in the series (which I believe is Death Distilled, set for publication on Sept. 5, 2017).

This story begins when award-winning photojournalist Abigail Logan inherits Abbey Glen, a distillery in the Scottish Highlands, from her late Uncle Ben. It's largely operated by head distiller Grant (yes, he's a single, hunky Scotsman and she's also unattached). When she takes a couple of weeks off from her job to check things out - accompanied by her Wheaten Terrier Liam and good friend Patrick (a whiskey lover if ever there was one), she isn't exactly welcomed with open arms. The locals, it seems, share a  fervent belief that a woman has no place in a distillery. Even Grant, close friends with her uncle, seems to resent her presence; just about the only people who are happy to see her are trying to curry favor so she'll sell the distillery - which she has zero knowledge of how to run - to them.

But there's much more to the disdain than that; in short order, she gets anonymous threats - not the least of which is a still-dripping blood dead duck - and then a young male employee turns up quite dead in a large vat of whiskey. The suspect list is long - and, at least for a time, includes Abi herself. Not knowing who to trust, she puts her investigative journalism skills to work to try to identify the killer, all the while trying to decide what to do with the property (and the rest of her life).

It's a wonderful adventure , and short enough that it easily can be finished in a day or two. One of my favorite quotes, though, came after the book ended, to-wit:

"Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whisky and a dog to eat the rare steak."

Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for a review. Highly recommended!

Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet (Alibi, March 2017); 275 pp.

ELEMENTARY, SHE READ

4 stars out of 5

Somewhere it must be written that heroines (or heroes) of so-called cozy mysteries must be the most obnoxious and interfering people on the face of the earth. I realize that without those characteristics, the plots probably wouldn't go much of anywhere - but boy, does it ever get under my skin. Gemma Doyle, the heroine here and co-owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in tiny West London, Massachusetts, is no exception (in fact, I'd go so far as saying she's more annoying to me than most). That aside, the story here is well thought out and moves along quickly, on the whole making for a book I really enjoyed (honest!)

That enjoyment comes partly because I'm a bit of a Sherlock Holmes aficionado myself, especially when he's portrayed spot-on by actor Benedict Cumberbatch - one of the reasons I was delighted to get an advance copy, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Then there's mention of a lighthouse (a favorite photography subject for both myself and my husband); and the fact that Gemma drives a red Mazda Miata  - one of my top three dream cars - made me decide she might not be so bad after all.

It was also fun to watch the plot unfold as a result of Gemma's uncanny Holmes-like deductions - even when she continues to make them despite clear warnings that she would do well to put a sock in it. At one point when she discovers that someone may have been lurking outside her home, for instance, she muses that someone might be suggesting that she back off. Oh really - you mean someone like the entire West London police, or your best friend Jayne who co-owns the tea shop next to your bookstore, or the ex-fiance who dumped you because he no longer could take your meddling ways?

For better or worse, though, better folks than I have told her she's too nosy for her own good, so I'll move on to the story - and for sure it's a doozy. Amid a crowd of women on a bus tour who visit the book shop one day is a "street" woman carrying a paper bag. Gemma's intrigued, but the woman gets lost in the crowd and forgotten until later, when Gemma discovers what appears to be an extremely valuable magazine hidden on a shelf. Certain that the disheveled woman left it there, Gemma uses her powers of deduction to track her down. To that end, she's successful - but when she and Jayne enter her hotel room (the door to which is conveniently unlocked to allow Gemma and Jayne unfettered but surreptitious entry), they make a startling discovery: The woman is dead.

That, of course, only provides fuel to Gemma's sleuthing fires; and when she finds that she and Jayne are considered persons of interest in the murder, she's even more determined to get to the truth (being suspected murderers, after all, is bad for both their businesses). 

The lead detective on the murder case, Ryan Ashburton, happens to be Gemma's ex-fiance, who bolted outta Dodge to take a job in a larger town when they broke up. He's been back for a while now, which comes as a surprise to Gemma (a tidbit that, given West London's small size, made me conclude that her powers of observation are a bit selective). Thankfully, he doesn't believe Gemma is capable of murder, but after she sticks her nose in one too many places - and (gasp!) finds yet another dead body after sneaking onto someone else's private property, he's yanked off the case because his prior relationship has the potential to unduly influence his investigation (yikes, what took them so long)?

Lest I, like Gemma, be chastised for treading where I shouldn't go, I'll keep other details of the investigation - and the for the most part surprising outcome - to myself. The only thing I'll say is that this is an excellent series debut that I'm sure fans of cozy mysteries - and Sherlock Holmes - will enjoy. "The game is afoot" (Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange), so go for it!

Elementary, She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany (Crooked Lane Books, March 2017), 320 pp.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

LAST BREATH

5 stars out of 5

Gruesome murders. A possible serial killer on the loose. Unrest and a big shake-up in England's Bromley Police Department. And that's just for openers in this, the fourth in the author's series featuring Detective Erika Foster. What more could any mystery lover want?

Nothing, says this mystery lover (and lover of this series in particular) - except possibly a few additional chapters to give me more time with my nose in these pages and/or a very short wait till the fifth installment is published. Meantime, I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an advance review copy of this one.

The beginning finds Erika in a sort of informal personal relationship with fellow police officer James Peterson and no longer working on the Murder Squad. But when the dead body of a woman who had been horribly tortured turns up in a dumpster, Erika wants her old job back so she can take the lead on the case. The powers that be aren't exactly hot to trot on the idea - Erika isn't known for mincing words - but after another surprise twist (and the discovery of a possible tie-in with an eerily similar murder a few months earlier), her wish is granted, at least temporarily.

All the investigative team can figure out is that the killer apparently is stalking his victims online and using an online dating service to lure them to him. Finding who and where he is, though, proves far more difficult; even learning the color and make of his car isn't much help - it's one of the most popular in all of England.

The story moves along quickly, and I love how new bits of information on the characters are worked in as the action becomes more complex and exciting (I finished the last quarter of the book nonstop just because I was totally wrapped up in what was happening). I couldn't wait to get to the end but didn't want it to end, if you know what I mean.

I know reviewers aren't supposed to use quotes from advance copies without checking them against the published version. But I've noticed what may be a trend, especially among British authors, to work in a reference or two to the current political situation here in the States. This won't appear on my review at Amazon after the book is released, but it's just too good to not mention here (I'll also say it is my fervent hope that it makes the final cut). As one police department character questions whether to allude to a serial killer in a news conference, the response is this:

"...I think there's enough other crap happening in the media right now. People are more concerned with who is President of the USA. Will another bogeyman faze them?"

From where I sit, oh heck no.

Last Breath by Robert Bryndza (Bookouture, April 2017); 281 pp.

Monday, March 13, 2017

MURDER AT THE FOURTH

3 stars out of 5


This book's official description says the "truth contorts to a climax that will leave readers breathless." Oh, I beg to differ. In fact, I've got plenty of wind left to shout this: I hate cliffhangers. Not slightly, not even a titch - especially when they're of this magnitude. No doubt some folks will say I have no right to complain since I got it free through one of the free/low-cost book services to which I belong, but that's my issue and I'm s-s-sticking to it.

I chose to download it for two reasons: First, it was a murder mystery - my genre of choice, and second, the lead character's surname is Pickett - the surname I was born with. It was the same thing that attracted me to the popular series by C.J. Box featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett; I've read every single one of those and loved them all.

This one, not so much. Besides the monumental cliffhanger - and trust me, it's a doozy - there were just too many things that were turn-offs, starting with misused apostrophes and other grammatical glitches such as the mention (several times) that a male character was expected to be "discrete" in his philandering. Yikes - more than enough to drive this writer/copy editor up the wall. 

And while I rather liked Jenny Pickett - a retired Miami police detective now living in small-town Forest Pines, Montana - in several instances she simply came off sounding stupid. She knew giggling at a funeral isn't appropriate? Well, since she's pushing 50, I should hope so. And she "couldn't help but notice" that a possible suspect was nervous? Oh, gosh, might that be because he turned pasty white and dropped his coffee on the floor, cup and all? Big whoop - I think a four-year-old would have picked up on that one.

Ah well, it is a cozy mystery, after all, so perhaps I should go a little easier. So there's this: The story itself is pretty good. Jenny is single, and beautiful (of course), and the town of Forest Pines is so laid back that the novice sheriff, Steve Calder, has had an easy go of it. But all that changes when a dead guy with a bullet hole in his head turns up on the fourth tee of a local golf course. Faced with leading a real investigation, Steve turns to the vastly more experienced Jenny for help (and oh, did I mention that Steve, who's only 29, has a serious crush on the much-older Jenny)?

As the investigation begins, several possible culprits turn up, including a husband whose wife played hanky-panky with the victim and a store owner who owed the victim a bundle of money but couldn't repay. Toss in a couple of the victim's mistresses and a wronged wife, and you've got the makings for an intriguing race to the finish. In between were some chapters detailing why Jenny retired and left Miami; interesting background, I suppose, but I never understood the relevance to anything that happened in this book.

Actually, until I reached that last fateful chapter, I found the book to be engrossing (it's very short, so I easily finished in one day). The bottom line is this: If you've got no problem with being forced into buying the next book to find out what (IMHO) should have been included in this one, go for it - it's quite enjoyable.

I do, and I won't.

Murder at the Fourth by Duncan Whitehead (UOL, February 2016); 147 pp.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

THE WOMAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

4 stars out of 5


In 2015, one of the 123 books I read was Mrs. John Doe, the first in a series featuring Nora Baron, wife of CIA operative Jeff Baron, actress and drama teacher at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y. (where, for the record, our son earned his master's degree). I enjoyed that one, so when I got the chance to request an advance review copy of this second installment, I didn't hesitate for a second.

Nora's actions in that first adventure apparently impressed her husband's boss at the CIA so much that he picked her to lead the mission here. That seemed a bit of a stretch - I've heard how insular those CIA folks are, after all - until I learned that this job would require Nora to pose as a TV news host. All rightee then, I said - she may not have a lot of journalistic chops, but she certainly should be a shoe-in for portraying her assigned character.

The script goes something like this: A beautiful and talented Russian theater star, Galina Rostova, has contacted the CIA to seek asylum in the United States in exchange for information she claims is critical to U.S. security. Getting her to the States, though, won't be a walk in Central Park; Nora and her team must travel to Venice - where Galina is starring in a stage production of Chekhov's The Seagull - ostensibly to do a profile of the actress. At some point during the fake interviews, Galina is to be whisked away to a plane that will take her to freedom - far from the Russian general (and lover) she insists is a dangerous man who will stop at nothing to stop her from leaving him.

Not surprisingly, that old best-laid plans thing rears its head early on, most notably in the form of a snowstorm that effectively shuts down the entire city, its airport and waterways - and nearly drops the curtain on the escape plan. Meanwhile, Russian agents, who possibly suspect that a defection is in the works, begin to pop up stage right and left and anywhere else they're not wanted. Even though he's working primarily behind the scenes, Nora's husband Jeff gets involved as well, taking cues from his wife and doing what he can to keep Galina and everyone on the CIA team alive and the mission on pace.

All of that is complicated by a few twists that suggest some of the situations may not be as described and characters not as honest as they claim, so it's touch-and-go as to who will make it to the final bows. I'll never tell, though, so you'll just have to read it and find out for yourself.

The Woman Who Knew Too Much by Tom Savage (Alibi, March 2017); 242 pp.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE

5 stars out of 5

Woo hoo - it's The DaVinci Code meets Indiana Jones - what a doozy of a book! Now that I've finished, seems to me it would make a great movie as well (hint, hint). Should that ever happen, though, my advice, as always, is to read the book first.

Actually, this is the fourth in the authors' "A Brit in the FBI" series. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit apprehensive about how much I'd enjoy it for that reason; would I be lost because I hadn't read the first three? No doubt I missed a few nuances because of my unfamiliarity, but I needn't have worried: the book and I got along famously - to the point that I nearly cheered when heavy duty winds blew out our cable TV, Internet and landline phone service for a few hours, giving me the perfect excuse to finish the last few chapters with no interruptions.

And did I mention it's a doozy? It's got everything I could ask for: almost nonstop action, likable characters and borderline impossible technology that threatens the planet's very existence. Although this book is way better, at times I was reminded of James Patterson's Private series (most of which I've enjoyed as well). That, I think, comes from the similar focus on a team and banter among the various members, all of whom enormously like and respect one another.

The characters here form the Covert Eyes team - a group of FBI special agents that includes Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine. They get a surprise call asking for help from an elusive thief known as the Fox (real name, Kitsune, and I gather she appeared in a previous book or books and isn't exactly a friend of Nick or Mike). After she stole an artifact that has ties to the Ark of the Covenant from an Istanbul museum, she explains, the client who hired her is trying to kill her and she's hiding out in Venice. Moreover, she claims to have overheard a conversation suggesting that a recent and very deadly Gobi Desert sandstorm didn't happen by accident.

Intrigued in large part by the notion that someone out there may be controlling the weather rather than saving Kitsune's hide, Nick and Mike and the team convince their supervisors of the need to find out what's really going on. Right from the start, what they find is danger; apparently, Kitsune didn't exaggerate - someone really is out to get her, and they'll be quite happy to take down Nick and Mike in the process. Clues lead from New York to Venice to the Gobi Desert to the Bermuda Triangle, passing too close for comfort to some very unsavory characters including a particularly nasty set of twins.

All told, it's an exciting journey loaded with near super-human efforts, espionage, a touch of what some might call the supernatural and, of course, that weather control thing. Already, I'm all ready for the next installment! A huge thank you to the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of this one in exchange for an honest review.

The Devil's Triangle by Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison (Gallery Books, March 2017); 512 pp.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

THE BONE BOX

3.5 stars out of 5



Don't get me wrong. I've never not enjoyed a book in this wonderful, long-running series, and this one is no exception. But from the git-go, things just seemed a bit "off" to me - not the least of which is the interaction between former Los Angeles Police Department detective Peter Decker and his wife, Rina Lazarus. Maybe it was because they're both semi-retired now, living in the lovely upstate New York community of Greenbury, home to the Five Colleges of Upstate consortium. Rina works at the consortium, and Peter for the local police department - lots of fodder for stories, I'd think - but Peter, at least, appeared to be more annoyed than excited when a new, clearly complicated case came along that required his attention.

It all started with Rina, who found some unearthed human bones while walking along a trail in the nearby woods. Instead of hopping on the investigation bandwagon, though, Peter immediately flies off the handle and berates Rina for taking a walk by herself. Now, as I approach 55 years of living with a husband of my own, I do get that we both have become a bit more on edge with each other (a psychologist most likely would have a field day ferreting out the reasons for that, I'm sure). But for gosh sake, Rina is a fully grown, intelligent woman, Greenbury isn't even close to a high-crime area and the bones were buried there long before Peter and Rina arrived. Put another way, Peter's hissy fit just didn't fit the "crime," at least at that point.

Later is another story. As other human remains turn up in the same spot, suspicions turn to the real possibility that a serial killer may be on the loose - with the possibility that he, or she, could strike again. The search for more bodies, and of course whoever put them there, intensifies as Peter and his super-capable (and very likable) partner, Tyler McAdams, start digging. As clues lead to faculty, staff and students at the Five Colleges, Peter asks for Rina's help; please tune in, he says, to what's being spread through the campus grapevine. At one point, the investigation takes the couple back to Los Angeles, where they lived for the bulk of their married life - and a reunion with and help from Peter's former LAPD partner, Marge (making me yearn for the good-old days, I might add).

Throughout, Rina must find time and energy for her role of maintaining the family's strong Jewish heritage - an even tougher job now that Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, is upon them. Prepare a buffet for 150 students? No problem. Another one to wrap up the first? Piece of cake (or more likely, apple strudel). Rina does get offers of help - even from Peter, who mostly grouses about the cost and enormity of the undertakings - but generally speaking, she's on her own to pull off the events successfully while still trying to help with the investigation.

The ending, too, was a bit puzzling to me. I reread it more than once, and I'm still not certain who did the dirty deeds (not even whether it was just one person). Yes, a few supposedly involved individuals are in jail and another is in the hospital, but specifically who did what and when continue to elude my comprehension. My only choice is to assume that was done on purpose - a set-up for the next book, perhaps - but all things considered, it just didn't sit well with me.

My verdict? Peter and Rina are like old friends to me, so no matter what this book's shortcomings, I was sad when I got to the final page. That means that even if it's not one of the best of the bunch, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

The Bone Box by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow, February 2017); 432 pp.

Friday, March 3, 2017

EYES WIDE OPEN

4.5 stars out of 5


First and foremost, I'll describe this book as a brief autobiography of a remarkably talented and successful individual. From the first page to the last, I was captivated and amazed at what the author has accomplished. Beyond that, I couldn't agree more with his premise that "Your life is not happening to you. You are creating it...tell yourself that others control your choices and you will choose not to choose."

He should know. He and his two sisters were born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina, which was diagnosed when he was 13 years old. By age 25, his eyesight was totally gone. Instead of bemoaning what he no longer could see, though, he concentrated on controlling his own destiny. In this book, he describes how others can do the same.

Much of that process, he says, comes with the realization that we don't see with our eyes, but rather with our brains. "Living with your eyes open and living eyes wide open are very different," he posits - and outlines how readers can follow his example. The most meaningful take-away for me, I think, is that, "You will never control tomorrow, but you can always choose whether to act today, and how."

Each chapter has a different focus. Chapter 2, for instance, deals with tackling fear in the midst of crisis  (I can only imagine how terrified I'd be at the mere thought of losing my eyesight); Chapter 4 discusses the elusive line between "acceptance" and "surrender." Interspersed throughout are pearls of wisdom such as (one of my favorites), "When you assess your self-worth with reference to the judgments of others, you make a fundamental and costly mistake...you will never find self-esteem in others' eyes."

Everything is laid out in an orderly, easy-to understand fashion, although the explanations in a couple of spots were so complex that by the time I finished reading I'd forgotten what the point was (that said, keep in mind that at my grandmotherly age and keep-the-show-on-the-road Aries mentality, I tend to have the attention span of a flea). I'd also expect that outer-directed folks who believe the world is conspiring against them and there's nothing they can  do to change things won't get it at all.

As for me, I found the book uplifting, motivating and well crafted. I thank the author and publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read the book in exchange for an honest review. 

Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly by Isaac Lidsky (TarcherPerigee, March 2017); 315 pp.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY KILLER

4 stars out of 5


This is the third book in the Under Suspicion trilogy, and it's a good one (as are the first two, both of which I read). The only thing that threw me for a loop is the ending - which was confusing and made me wonder what I missed. And alas, if this really is a trilogy, I guess I'm never going to find out.

As in the previous books, Lorie Moran is the producer of Under Suspicion, a reality TV show based in New York that showcases cold cases. This time, Casey Carter parks herself in Laurie's office after being released from prison, where she served 15 years. She was convicted of manslaughter in the death of her well-known philanthropist and well-connected fiance Hunter Raleigh III, and over all those years she's vehemently denied her guilt. Because Casey claims to have been in a drug-induced sleep in the living room while her fiance was shot upstairs in his bedroom, she's been dubbed the "Sleeping Beauty"killer."

But if Laurie will agree to do her story on the TV show, Casey believes, her innocence can be proved once and for all. Laurie is apprehensive, but Casey persists - even bringing in case files and naming five possible suspects who had motive and opportunity to kill Hunter. Learning that others, including Casey's mother, are apprehensive about putting the spotlight back on Casey, Laurie's doubts increase.

Besides that, she has another concern in that she's just lost her trusted and popular on-air host, lawyer Alex Buckley, who's also her boyfriend. Laurie's boss brings in Ryan Nichols, a former federal prosecutor whose know-it-all attitude rubs Laurie the wrong way right from the start. But finally, when Casey mentions a tidbit that wasn't in evidence nor mentioned at trial, Laurie decides Casey just may spent 15 years in jail for a crime she did not commit.

Of course, Casey and her capable crew gather information from the five suspects Casey mentioned as well as other family members, a few of whom reluctantly agree to be interviewed. As the facts begin to come together, though, Laurie starts to suspect Casey may not be as innocent as she claims.

Everything comes together at the end, of course (well, except for the part I mentioned at the beginning). Other than that, it's an intricately woven, intriguing story that won't give you nightmares and makes me sorry to see the series come to an end.

Check out my reviews of the first two in the series:

The Cinderella Murder

All Dressed in White


The Sleeping Beauty Killer by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke (Simon & Schuster, November 2016); 320 pp.

Friday, February 24, 2017

DUPLICITY

As someone who was in the newspaper business for more than 16 years of my adult working life (and have continued since retirement on a freelance basis), any time I can get my hands on a story about someone else in the industry, I'll give it a serious look. Throw in a little mystery, a little murder, and by golly, bring it on. Such is the case here; lead character Julia Gooden is a successful crime reporter in Detroit, and murder makes headlines from the beginning. 

Early on, I was reminded how much life in the Motor City mirrors that of Youngstown, Ohio, where, ironically, the newspaper for which I served as managing editor for 14 years is located. Youngstown, too, was decimated by steep declines in the steel and auto industries and continues to struggle to get back on its feet. Ah, I said - another "connection" to this book solidified.

This is the second in what I presume will be a continuing series (I also read and enjoyed the first, The Last Time She Saw Him). Here, Julia is separated from her husband, Assistant District Attorney David Tanner, but in part because they have two young sons, they're trying to get back together. Julia has been chasing a story about elusive gangster Nick Rossi, and now, he's finally going on trial in a case her husband is prosecuting. But as a key witness for the prosecution is escorted up the courthouse steps to testify, a bomb goes off - killing the witness as well as several innocent bystanders and putting David in the hospital.

After that incident, Julia's boss orders her off the case, but she vows to keep investigating on her own with help from Detroit Police Department Detective Raymond Navarro (not incidentally, her boyfriend prior to her husband). She turns to her sources and ferrets out information on Rossi - she's convinced he ordered the bombing - that lead her to dangerous places and people who would be happy to see her rubbed out of the picture. Along the way, there's plenty of action (some of which, IMHO, seemed a bit too tightly choreographed, almost to the point of unbelievability). A number of nexpected twists, though, kept things very interesting.

In hindsight, despite our career and Type A personality similarities, I realized I never totally warmed up to Julia herself. Mostly, I think, that's because she insisted on putting herself in situations any other person as intelligent as she is would have had sense enough to stay away from (especially when she's got young kids). On the other hand, there's her friend Navarro; without question, he's a keeper.

In all, the book is well written and entertaining, and I'll be watching for the next installment. My thanks to the publisher for once again allowing me to read an advance review copy.

Duplicity by Jane Haseldine (Kensington, March 2017); 352 pp.

Monday, February 20, 2017

ROBERT B. PARKER'S REVELATION

5 stars out of 5


Read: U.S. marshals Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.

Think: John Sandford's Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers in the Old West, where horses are rode hard and put away wet, proper ladies wear long dresses bolstered by frilly petticoats and the new-fangled telegraph is considered a cut above carrier pigeon (albeit begrudgingly).

Add in cold-blooded killers, loose women and seasoned lawmen whose questions rarely exceed four words (answers, just one), and you've got the makins' for a mighty fine shoot-'em-up novel.

This is, I believe, the ninth in this series started by the late, great Robert B. Parker, who passed away in 2010. I admit it's only my second - I read Bull River in 2014 - and it was 4-star-worthy. This one is the better of the two, IMHO, although I warn readers it leans heavily toward the grizzly. No question that it held my attention throughout; I had to fight the urge to stay up an hour or so later than usual to get it finished in one day.

Virgil and Everett have settled down in the small western town of Appaloosa. Virgil is sweet on girlfriend Allie, though not to the point of tying the knot. Thanks to a generous out-of-town benefactor, Appaloosa is an up-and-coming place, and Allie has just opened a dress shop - calling it Mrs. French's because she believes her late husband's last name sounds elegant.

Meanwhile, a dastardly man who goes by the name of Driggs is languishing in solitary confinement in a prison not too much of a fer piece from Appaloosa. His only solace, as it were, comes from reading the Bible the prison warden's beautiful wife gave him (and other prisoners) - and his favorite is The Book of Revelation (aha moment: wherefore cometh the title of this book). Because of his reputation as a cold-blooded killer, the handsome, West Point graduate Driggs is given a wide berth by the other prisoners. But then one night the unthinkable happens; Driggs and a handful of other prisoners escape, kidnapping a woman in the process. Finally, he's free - and he's hell-bent on tracking down the men who, during a heist of major proportions, betrayed him, left him for dead and are the reason he's spent so many years behind bars.

It is then that Virgil and Everett are called in to take up the chase - and what a chase it is. Every single one of the escapees is as dangerous as they come, although clearly Driggs holds the top spot in the bad guy department. The two marshals will have to muster up all the investigative skills they have to find and capture their targets - and dead or alive matters not. Ultimately, the trail to Driggs leads back home, but can they get there in time? I won't spill the beans other than to say there's more than one twist near the end that I didn't see coming. 

Yee, haw!

Robert B. Parker's Revelation by Robert Knott (G.P. Putnam's Sons, February 2017); 333 pp.