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Thursday, June 29, 2017


4 stars out of 5

One of the joys of being part of the NetGalley book review community is finding great new-to-me authors. When it turns out to be the writer of a series, my happiness grows exponentially. Such is the case here; this is the third in the author's "Timber Creek K-9 Mystery" series. I did not read the first two, but I didn't need to in order to enjoy this one; the backstory tidbits included here are quite sufficient to bring me up to speed.

For the most part, I came to like Mattie Cobb, a deputy in Timber Creek and the star of the show. She comes from an abused childhood and has some baggage that at times gets in the way of her investigative skills, but in another way it helps her identify with the victims and their families. That comes into play at the start of the story, when a junior high student goes missing and in short order is found dead on a hill behind the high school.

There's another character I loved even more than Mattie, though - her K-9 partner Robo. He's a real sweetheart, and his tracking ability makes him invaluable in situations like this. But wait, there's more: Still another totally lovable character is a real gem - Cole Walker, the local veterinarian who is, off-and-on, Mattie's boyfriend. He's got two daughters who love Mattie (and vice versa), but also an ex-wife for whom Mattie is sure is still carrying a torch.

Their relationship is put to the test when, shortly after the first young girl is found and determined to have been murdered, Cole's younger daughter goes missing. From that point on, the race is on to find her - hopefully still alive - as well as identify and bring the killer to justice. Needless to say, Robo gets a good workout, performing like the trooper he is.

In short, this is a solid murder mystery with interesting characters that will leave you satisfied and your fingernails intact. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. It's a sure bet I'll be watching for the next installment.

Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima (Crooked Lane Books, August 2017); 320 pp.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Right up front, I will say this: Before you read this book - the second in the author's Collector Trilogy - read the first  (The Butterfly Garden). It's probably possible to read this one as a standalone, but I'm quite sure I would not have enjoyed it half as much without being privy to the background and characters from its predecessor.

And boy, did I ever enjoy it! While it's not quite as dark and grisly as the first, perhaps, it's not all that far off; the prologue, written years ago, hints that a serial killer has been born. Fast forward to about four months after an explosion that destroyed the above-mentioned Butterfly Garden, where many beautiful young women were held captive (in more ways than one). A few survived, but all are struggling to readjust to a normal life - if that's even possible given the horrors they experienced. Now, some of the FBI agents from Book I - Victor Hanoverian, Brandon Eddison and Mercedes Ramirez, to be specific - are tackling paperwork. Enter Priya Sravasti, whose sister was murdered several years ago. Someone, it seems, is tracking them wherever they go, leaving flowers at their doorstep. As a result, she and her uber-professional mother move frequently, each time hoping they won't be found. Problem is, the flowers appear to represent the flowers left on the young female victims of an apparent serial killer - a person presumed to have killed 16 girls including Priya's sister.

Now they've been found again; and as all this is happening, Priya gets a letter from Inara, one of the surviving Butterfly girls from the garden (the one who seems to have been the "leader" of the others). The two girls correspond and eventually meet, thus connecting the cases from the two books. They also connect with Eddison, whose sister Faith was kidnapped at age 8 about 20 years easier. She's never been found, a fact that continues to haunt him - and both he and Hanovarian feel a special, though somewhat strange, affinity with both girls. As the FBI team investigates with the hope of nailing the serial killer, they get with help from Priya, who just may be one of the killer's targets - perhaps even the most important one.

As with the first book, there's plenty of tension, even though I correctly guessed who the serial killer was fairly early on. Sections shift perspectives from characters - most notably the killer and Priya - but it's very easy to follow who's who. Especially noteworthy to me is the in-depth development of the main characters; although I'm not sure we'd ever be friends, I really felt I "knew" each of them quite well by the end. I suppose my favorite is Hanovarian, although I also enjoyed the heck out of Eddison (at one point, he's described as being "twitchier than a long-tailed cat on the front porch of a Cracker Barrel.")

How great is that?

The Roses of May by Dot Hutchison (Thomas & Mercer, May 2017); 302 pp.


5 stars out of 5

Note to readers: I read this book some time ago; the review has been held until today at the request of the publisher.

If I weren't already a huge Fiona Barton fan after reading The Widow (also a 5-star-worthy novel, IMHO), I sure would be after reading this one. Given that I have at somewhat of a life other than reading, I expected it would take a few days to wade through. In fact, it was so engrossing that I polished it off over just two days (granted, on one the only TV show worth watching was "Big Bang Theory" and on the second, I was so close to the end that I lugged my Kindle to bed to finish - something that happens once in a blue moon. But you get the point.

More than anything else, this is the story of three women, starting with Kate, a print journalist who needs a great news story to revive a career that's increasingly giving up ground to the newspaper's online reporters. Then there's Emma, a home-based book editor who's dragging a boatload of emotional baggage, including semi-estrangement from a seemingly uncaring mother. And finally, there's Angela, who is unable to come to grips with the loss of an infant in the early years of her marriage despite having a couple of other children and a saint-worthy patient husband. Actually, I'll add a fourth woman; Emma's mother, Jude, plays a significant role here as well.

The story begins as a construction worker turns up the skeleton of a baby in the process of demolishing old buildings. Clearly, the infant was buried there years earlier, making identification a challenge. Ever the nosy reporter, Kate smells a big story, but the lack of available information means she'll have to do some digging of her own before she can get the major scoop she's hoping for. 

Somehow, she convinces her reluctant editors that finding the bones is just the tip of the iceberg, and she - together with a newbie reporter who she's been ordered to take under her wing (a totally forgettable character who adds almost nothing to the story, I must say) - sets off to investigate on her own. That connects her to Angela, whose newborn baby was taken from the maternity hospital shortly after birth and never found. Needless to say, Angela is convinced that the bones belong to Alice, her stolen baby girl.

Kate then begins to explore the neighborhood where the bones were found, locating and interviewing some of the people who used to live there. It is then that she meets Emma, who grew up there - thus bringing the Kate-Angela-Emma triumvirate to full circle.

Anything that happened in that neighborhood from that point on will stay in that neighborhood as far as I'm concerned - divulging much else would be giving away too much. Little by little, the pieces come together as long-hidden secrets are revealed and the mystery of the bones is solved. Admittedly, the ending seems a little too pat (and with one exception, expected), but the whole thing was very entertaining and worthwhile nonetheless. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for offering me an advance copy to read and review. Highly recommended!

The Child by Fiona Barton (Berkley, June 2017); 384 pp.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


4 stars out of 5

If nothing else, I'll give the author points for putting a unique twist on the lead character: Former trauma nurse Amelia Winn is deaf, the result of a hit-and-run accident that killed one of her patients in a hospital parking lot. Being totally unable to hear gives her a different perspective - and at times increases the tension - and gives readers a look at arguably the real star of the book, Amelia's lovable service dog, Stitch.

Her deafness really doesn't make Amelia herself more lovable, though, at least in my eyes. She's another of those headstrong females who questions the words and actions of every other character in the book (occasionally, even the dog) and is incapable of keeping her nose out of places she's been warned not to go - up to and including actually breaking the law several times over. But needless to say, without her interference there wouldn't be much of a story; and on the plus side, it was great to watch her regain confidence after falling into an alcoholic stupor for a time following her accident two years earlier (she lost her husband David, an OB-GYN, and stepdaughter Nora as a result of her alcoholic histrionics).

They haven't yet divorced, and Amelia - who narrates the story - holds out some hope that they might get back together, or at minimum, he won't try to stop her from seeing Nora. In the interim, she's been banished from her former home by her estranged husband and is living in a (where else?) remote cabin in the Iowa woods. On one of her relaxing kayak voyages on the local river, a restless Stitch discovers a body that turns out to be her former nurse friend Gwen. After placing a 911 call, the authorities arrive and she bumps up against another of life's complications; childhood friend Jake, who's now a police detective. From then on, Amelia's emotions hop on a does he/doesn't he, should she/shouldn't she roller coaster with David on one end and Jake on the other. 

Gwen's murder leaves her devastated, though, in part because she lost Gwen and most of her friends when she was drinking heavily. Now, she wants to get to the bottom of things not only because of the guilt she feels for not staying in touch with Gwen, but also because she's afraid the murderer thinks she saw him. Still, she tries to forget it all and manages to land a job at a cancer clinic as a medical records clerk, in the hope it will lead to a return to her beloved career in nursing. Even though David is friends with the much-loved head of the clinic, though, he's not at all supportive. So what's up with that, she wonders?

As the story progresses, Amelia's snooping leads her from one suspect to another to another to another. She pleads her cases to Jake so often, in fact, that he pretty much tunes her out, and conversely, his pleas that she butt out and let the police do their jobs fall on deaf ears as well (pun intended). Along the way, she finds evidence that someone may be stalking her, at best to discredit her and at worst to, well, you know.

Will Amelia identify the killer before the killer kills her? Will her insistence on ignoring his warnings to stop nosing around kill any chance she may have for romance with Jake? Truth is, I didn't care all that much how she fared, but the whats, hows and whys kept the story moving along quickly and interestingly from beginning to end. Good job!

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf (Park Row Books, June 2017); 352 pp.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Way back in 1965, I saw the movie "The Collector," based on John Fowles' book of the same name. That story has haunted me to this day, when out of the blue will come a flashback to one of the disturbing scenes. I have no doubt that mental images from this book, the first in a trilogy, will stick with me as well.

It's definitely not for everyone, though. If violence (particularly involving young women), profanity and exceptional gruesomeness bother you, stay away. The writing really isn't all that graphic, but trust me, the pictures will come through loud and clear. 

In effect, the story begins at the end. Some kind of secret garden in which, apparently, kidnapped young women had been held captive was uncovered following a disaster that included an explosion and fire. A few survived, including one young woman who appears to be a sort of group leader; none of the others will say a word without her approval. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are charged with interviewing the reluctant witness - who at first won't even reveal her name - to try and piece together what turn out to be almost unthinkable circumstances under which the women lived and died.

Interview scenes are interspersed with recollections of the witness, who finally reveals her name as Maya. Slowly, other details emerge; young girls about the age of 16 have been kidnapped for years by a man they know only as the Gardener. He brings them to live in his beautiful, self-contained (and escape-proof) garden; but first, he tattoos intricate butterfly designs on their backs. Thereafter, they're fed, watered and expected to comply with his every whim, no matter how kinky. Add a couple of grown sons to the mix, and Maya's stories become a no-longer-secret recipe for unspeakable horror. But is she telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

For the record, I've got the second book in the trilogy, The Roses of May, and my first instinct was to move it to the top of my reading list. Now that the dust has settled for a day on this one, though, I'm rethinking; it might be better to tackle something a bit lighter and give my creeped-out brain a rest. Whew!

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison (Thomas & Mercer, June 2016); 288 pp.

Monday, June 19, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Without a doubt, this debut novel is going to hit the right notes for a ton of readers. For me, however, it fell a little bit flat. 

For sure, it's a solid plot and the writing is very good; and overall, I enjoyed reading it and give it 4 stars without hesitation. For the most part, what colored my experience, I think, is that I've read too many of late with a similar theme: A spouse/lover/child suddenly goes missing (or is accused of a crime, or both), and the remaining spouse/lover/parent desperately tries to figure out what happened while refusing to believe what others insist is true. Whether the chapters reflect the perspective of a single person (as is the case here) or alternates points of view among several characters, each one adds "clues" that crescendo to an ending that's intended to knock readers' socks off.

All that happens here as well, to a woman named Rebecca Pendle. In the midst of a seemingly happy married life, her husband Chris Harding suddenly disappears without a trace from Shawmouth, the small English town to which they'd recently moved from the hustle and bustle of London. That same day, 14-year-old Kayleigh Jackson went missing as well, leading authorities to suspect the two disappearances might be connected. In short order, many of the townspeople turn against Rebecca - as do some of her former friends and neighbors, who now taunt and shun her because she was close to a person they believe to be a pedophile or worse.

Rebecca, of course, still loves Chris and doesn't believe for a second that he's played any role in the young girl's disappearance. To escape, she relocates to a rather seedy "caravan" park; but even here, she can't get away from the rumors and things that go bump in the night. And little by little, clues crop up that make her begin to doubt how much she really knew her husband - for instance, the fact that he never told her he'd been fired from his job two weeks before he disappeared.

Rebecca narrates her attempts to ferret out the truth, which often take her to places she knows she shouldn't go and to people she knows don't want to see or hear her. The clues she picks up here and there, though, only add to her self-doubt, angst and paranoia. And here is where I really got bogged down. Admittedly, I come from a sturdy stock of female role models, but never in a million years would I allow myself to be victimized by other people's words or actions. Certainly, I can understand the emotional toll of not knowing, say, whether a missing loved one is alive or dead and the need to get answers; but only up to a point. Rebecca reaches that level early on and then drags it to an all-new high. By the halfway mark, I had a single nerve left - a frazzled one at that - and she was standing square on the middle of it. From then on, I remained interested in learning who did what, but I really didn't care a whit how, or even if, Rebecca herself survived.

But that, folks, is just me. As I said at the beginning, this is a solid effort that I expect - and hope - will do well. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for allowing me to read and review it.

Reported Missing by Sarah Wray (Bookouture, July 2017); 356 pp.

Friday, June 16, 2017


4 stars out of 5

If the name Kellerman is on it, it's a pretty sure bet I'll like it. Over many years, I've devoured just about every book by Jonathan, his wife Faye, and their son Jesse. I've also learned, though, that collaborations don't always live up to their hype, and sometimes the first book in a series falls flat. But neither am I one to look a gift horse in the mouth: Pass up an opportunity to read an advance copy of anything written by favorite authors in exchange for an honest review? Just ain't gonna happen.

And honestly? I enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps most importantly, I really love the new character, Clay Edison, a deputy in the Coroner's Bureau (a bit of a twist on the standard-issue police detective). He comes with a few flaws - his brother is in jail, a serious knee injury put the kibosh on a possible superstar career in basketball, and he's got a shaky relationship with his parents. There's also no main squeeze, thus paving the way for him to be at the mercy of any gorgeous female character he meets. On the other side, while his degree in psychology doesn't put him anywhere near the big leagues, it does give him a leg up when it comes to reading people, whether they be co-workers (like his hypochondriac partner Zaragoza), victims or perpetrators.

As this one begins, reclusive former psychology professor Walter Rennert  is found dead by his daughter Tatiana (cue in that gorgeous female character). It appears that daddy simply fell down the stairs, but Tatiana insists her father was murdered. She continues to believe that even after the evidence reveals that his history of drinking and a bad heart are to blame. Clay, of course, is intrigued with Tatiana and agrees to take a closer look, to the dismay of his superiors who want the case closed.

As he digs deeper, he learns that Rennert resigned in disgrace when a coed was murdered by a mentally unstable participant in one of the professor's experiments. A few other clues throw more suspicion on the circumstances surrounding Rennert's death; and the deeper Clay digs, the more he wants to know about that experiment and precisely what went wrong. That, in turn, means Clay must call on one of Kellerman Senior's best-known characters, Dr. Alex Delaware, for help. The psychologist and LAPD consultant, it seems, had offered expert testimony at the trial of the young man who confessed to the coed's murder, who has since been released from jail. 

As an aside, Dr. Delaware has long been on my Top 10 list of favorite male characters, so I was happy to see him show up here. But I must say I thought he came across a bit snarky during his meeting with Clay, even allowing for the constraints of doctor-patient privilege. Then again, maybe it was just me; as I was reading that part, I realized I'd been so engrossed that I'd kept reading more than an hour past my usual dinnertime. 

In the end, as I said at the beginning, this is a very well written book with interesting, well-developed characters (especially Clay). Already, I'm looking forward to his next appearance.

Crime Scene by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman (Ballantine Books, August 2017); 400 pp.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Castle Rock, Maine, is the setting for this easy-to-read novella, an exclusive from Cemetery Dance Publications (more on that later). The story begins as 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson, in an effort to shed a few pounds in preparation for middle school, climbs to the top of Suicide Stairs. She does this often; but this time, the odd little man wearing a black hat she's seen for several days beckons to her. She finds him a bit off-putting (and maybe a little scary), but curiosity wins out.

Sitting together on a bench, the man shows her what he calls a button box, explaining the rather bizarre functions of each button. Then, he drops the real bombshell: The box, he says, is hers to keep. Once again, she's skeptical, but in the end she takes him up on the offer and heads for home, box in hand.

And her life will never be the same again.

So it is that I end my review, claiming that it's impossible to say more about such a short story without revealing too much. What I did find quite interesting, though, is the above-mentioned Cemetery Dance Publications (I've never heard of it before, and Gwendy isn't the only one with a curiosity gene). According to the website (, it was founded by co-author Richard Chizmar in 1988. In 1992, book publishing was added, with special focus on horror and dark suspense works (yeah, this novella is a perfect fit). At the site, I even found a just-published book by two of the many affiliated authors that's being offered for $2.99 for a limited time (The Halloween Children by Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss). Intrigued by the description (and unbeatable price), I headed to Amazon and snapped up the deal.

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance Publications, May 2017); 180 pp.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


5 stars out of 5

If I could change the title, I think I'd rename it Anatomy of a Heist. The writing is very matter-of-fact - nothing very thrilling or exciting - that begins with the theft of five one-of-a-kind F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the bowels of the Princeton University Firestone Library. From there, it follows the day-to-day (often minute-by-minute) lives of the thieves and those who want to find them and bring the manuscripts back to their rightful home. It's divided into sections, each of which details the relevant characters and events pretty much on a minute-by-minute basis.

"The Heist," the opening section, brings readers an up-close-and-personal look at the robbers and how they planned the job and carried off the loot. "The Dealer" focuses on Bruce Cable, owner of a popular bookstore on Florida's Camino Island who collects rare books and, despite having a gorgeous French wife who deals in antiques, is quite the ladies' man. That's followed by "The Recruit," which introduces Mercer Mann, a semi-successful novelist and current teacher at the University of North Carolina. She's desperately trying to get out of a writing slump, hoping to get published and sell enough books to pay off her massive student loans and live the life of a successful writer.

In earlier days, Mercer was a frequent visitor to Camino Island and thus is familiar with its small tourist town of Santa Rosa, where Bruce's bookstore is located. When powers-that-be suspect that Bruce somehow may be involved in the theft of the manuscripts, which are insured for a whopping $25 million, she's considered the perfect "spy" and is offered the job of getting close enough to Bruce to learn his secrets. What they're willing to pay for her services is mind-boggling; but she wonders if its worth selling her soul as a snitch. Even if she can get over that hump, does she have what it takes to convince Bruce that she's just a curious, temporary island resident who has an interest in old books? And what if it turns out that Bruce has no secrets at all?

From there, the story unfolds bit by bit, section by section - always in a mostly narrative, little dialogue fashion. For readers, that means no nail-biting or edge-of-seat balancing, which may not sit all that well with those who demand knock-'em-dead action (nor will, perhaps, the lack of courtroom drama). But as with any writer worth his or her salt, the devil is in the details - and in that respect, Grisham is as good as it gets. It was fascinating to see how deftly he weaves together all the bits and pieces into the whole story that builds to the ending - which, as might be expected, is understated as well. Good job!

Camino Island by John Grisham (Random House LLC, June 2017); 304 pp.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


4 stars out of 5

As a card-carrying feminist carryover from the '60s, I've long been a proponent of concepts like gender equality and nonsexist language. That said, it's possible to cross the "roll up your pantlegs - it's too late to save your shoes" line at which political correctness becomes downright silly. Such is the case on occasion in this, a collection of well-known bedtime stories that have been revised for the modern generation. Still, it's amusing - and I got a kick out of all 11 stories that are in the version I read. Originally published in Great Britain in 1994, it's been updated and re-released, sent to me by our daughter-in-law who figured I'd enjoy it.

At just 89 pages, it can be breezed through in an hour or less - so for those enlightened individuals looking for a chuckle or two, I recommend it, taking into account the author's opening caveat: "However much we might like to, we cannot blame the Brothers Grimm for their insensibility to women's issues, minority cultures and the environment."

No, the good brothers did their thing long before Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women, so the only thing left for the author to do is clean them up.There's no point in detailing any of the stories just because the book is so short, but I'll cite a few examples to give you a better idea of what's going on. In "Little Red Riding Hood," for instance, the woodsman becomes a "woodcutter" or, as he prefers, a "log-fuel technician."

In The Emperor's New Clothes, the boy shouts to the crowd that the emperor is naked. "No, he isn't," the crowd fires back. "The emperor is merely endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle!"

Likewise, Cinderella's "sisters-of-step" are "differently visaged enough to stop a clock," and Cinderella has a "fairy godperson," a.k.a. "individual deity proxy."

And there you have it - at the very least, if you've set a goal for the number of books you hope to read this year, it's a quick and relatively enjoyable way to get there.

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner (Amazon Digital Services LLC, November 2010); 89 pp.


5 stars out of 5

At my age - almost old enough to be a great-grandmother but young enough to be happy that I'm not - I won't pretend to be in a hurry to do much of anything. But ever since I was a farm kid watching a star-filled sky on a blanket in our back yard, I've wanted to know more about how it all came about. Astronomy was my favorite part of science class, and I never missed an episode of late astrophysicist Carl Sagan's Cosmos - nothing short of fascinating stuff, at least when it's presented in a way that's informative, entertaining and, most importantly, understandable to a totally nonscientific person like me.

Needless to say, I gravitated straight toward this book. And in fact, it's very easy read; in short, to-the-point (and footnoted) chapters, topics are addressed like dark matter, dark energy and black holes as well as how planets, galaxies and other cosmic "stuff" get found. Everything is presented in a down-to-earth (so to speak) and often humorous manner. And eye-opening? Check this: "In the beginning, nearly 14 billion years ago, all the space, all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence."


The author, an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and director of the Hayden Planetarium doesn't preach, but neither does he hesitate to tackle current hot buttons, such as those who think chemicals are the enemy of humans. Citing scientific evidence that suggests otherwise, he quips, "Personally, I am quite comfortable with chemicals, anywhere in the universe. My favorite stars, as well as my best friends, are made up of them."

If I got nothing else out of the book, it is that we humans take ourselves way too seriously in the overall scheme of things. The author keeps things in mind-boggling perspective: At a relatively early age, he reports, he learned that more bacteria live and work in one centimeter of his colon than the number of people who have ever existed in the world.

Here are a few other revelations (to me, at least):

*One pound of plutonium generates 10 million kilowatt-hours of heat energy - enough to power a human being for 11,000 years "if we ran on nuclear fuel instead of grocery food."

*Apparently, Sagan was on to something: Our galaxy contains more than 100 billion stars, and known universes have some 100 billion galaxies. 

*There are more molecules of water in an 8-ounce cup than there are cups of water in all the world's oceans. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach.

*Einstein was a badass.

Say what? There's a story behind that last one, but you'll just have to read the book to find out what it is. And with that, I'll end my review with a favorite quote from the book:

"The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them."

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (W. W. Norton & Co., May 2017); 208 pp.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Easy to read and enjoyable, this is one I'd pick to take with me to the beach or on vacation. It's got enough of the chill factor to keep me near the edge of my chair without scaring me out of my wits. Recently separated from her husband and with a small daughter named Joni, Anna Graves has just returned to her successful call-in radio show after several months on maternity leave. She gets along well with her much-loved co-star, Nathan Wheeler, but less so with her new producer, Heather. But all things considered - which includes a psychologically troubled, off-putting mother and a father who committed suicide - Anna is getting it together.

That is, until it comes apart in a dramatic way. One day as she's walking on the beach with Joni, a teenage boy runs toward them with what Anna believes is clear intent to harm her and/or her daughter. Anna pulls a wicked-looking comb from her purse and, in the tussle that ensues, the boy is stabbed with it and dies. The police, and for the most part, Anna's family and friends, believe she acted in self-defense; the family and friends of the victim - who live on the "other side of the tracks" near the docks - believe otherwise.

For the most part, Anna is coping; but then, new details about the boy's death are revealed, followed by text messages she receives from someone who claims to be the "Ophelia Killer" who murdered seven boys in the town some two decades ago. That person, who seemingly was content to stop at seven, was never identified. In fact, Anna's late father, a journalist, was working on the case when he died. Could it be that he or she is back? And could Anna and her daughter be in danger? In trying to sort things out, Anna strikes up a relationship with an unlikely person - one who may or may not be on her side.

Toward the end, the action begins to heat up, as new details come to light that lead to the killer's identity (I suspected who was involved, but wasn't sure exactly how). And I never really warmed up to Anna despite all that was happening to her; some of what happened stretched the limits of my believability, and further, when heroes and heroines do things that are just plain dumb (the movie version is the scared-silly female being chased by a monster who heads not for a crowded street corner but rather into a dark alley), my sympathy factor drops to zero. All in all, though, this is a very good book - and I thank the author and publisher (via NetGalley) for providing me with an advance copy to read and review.

No Turning Back by Tracy Buchanan (Crooked Lane Books, June 2017); 352 pp.


5 stars out of 5

Loving this one crept up on me, but once it got me in its clutches, it didn't let go till the end. I say that because for the first half-dozen chapters or so, I had to go slowly and reread parts because I just couldn't keep the characters and time frames straight. I attribute much of that to the aging process - I've transitioned from a multi-tasking whiz to one who must make a to-do list each day and then forgets where I put it. The chapters here shift back and forth, and on top of that focus on the past and present lives of two women (with plenty of other characters, both relatives and friends, thrown in). So until I got them all straight, it was a bit of a struggle (hence my actual rating of 4.5 stars).

But the book also is a great example of why it's important to keep plodding away. The story was intriguing (and well written) from the beginning, and once I was comfortable with the who's who, I was totally hooked. Had anyone interrupted me during the last quarter of the book, in fact, he or she would have incurred wrath comparable only to what happens when someone tries to make conversation before I've had my morning coffee.

The two women are Claudia Bishop and Zoey Drake, who are total strangers but share dark pasts. Claudia was brutally attacked, after which she became pregnant. For the most part unable to come to grips with what happened, her marriage falls apart, leaving her with daughter Raven, who is torn between wanting, or not, to know the identity of her birth father. As Claudia tries to build an audience for her blog, she inherits a crumbling old house and begins to renovate it in hopes of creating a fresh start for her and Raven.

Zoey, meanwhile, is trying to deal with a tragedy of her own; during a home invasion, she was severely injured and her parents were murdered by men who were looking for something valuable they believed her father, a homicide detective, had hidden. With help from her late father's step-brother, who took over her care, and down-and-dirty martial arts training, she survived the physical injuries. But the psychological trauma never went away, and now, bolstered by her physical prowess, she looks to quell the "red hunter" in her - the rage that's been building up ever since she lost her parents. 

What neither woman knows, however, is that the house Claudia and her daughter Raven now occupy is the same house in which Zoey and her family were living on the fateful night of her parents' murder. Slowly, as secrets of the past are revealed (some surprising to me, others not so much), their lives come together and the tension builds. 

The ending is filled with suspense and action, and all the loose ends are tied (or at least wrapped up so tightly that it's unlikely they'll unravel again anytime soon. This is a suspense novel not to be missed - I thank the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read an advance review copy.

For the record, I read this book sometime in March. When I get advance copies of books, the occasional publisher will ask that all reviews be held till the day of official release. I dutifully comply, jotting the publication date on my calendar. But I'm always afraid somehow I'll miss seeing it - and that's exactly what happened this time (the book was released in mid-April). My apologies!

The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger (Touchstone, April 2017); 368 pp.

Friday, June 9, 2017


5 stars out of 5

I do not like them, Sam I am.

Short stories, that is. With few exceptions - most notably Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and Guy De Maupassant's "The Necklace" - I tend to avoid them like the plague.

Well, okay, that worked until 2014, when I ran across FaceOff - a compilation of short stories, each co-written by two well-known members of International Thriller Writers, that pair up characters readers have come to know and love. That one, edited by David Baldacci, was nothing short of a gem. So imagine my excitement when I learned of this one - a follow-up that is set apart by the joining of one male and one female writer. Never thinking I'd be approved, I requested an advance copy at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. To say I was over-the-top excited to get it is an understatement.

Now I've finished. And just like its predecessor, I'm giving it a resounding 5 stars and a strong recommendation that other mystery/thriller lovers give it a go. Does that mean that every single one of the stories in this collection knocks it out of the ball park? No; although I enjoyed them all, some are better than others - and chances are, there'll be a wide variation in the picks of the litter among other readers as well. This book's greatest value in my mind is because of its uniqueness. Where else, for instance, will you see how Lee Child's rough-and-tough Jack Reacher interacts with Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan (she of the uber-scientific mind)?

Settings, time periods and concepts are all over the map, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to a castle in Scotland to ancient Alexandria. There's murder, theft and fantasy. I was delighted to find some of my favorite characters - among them Lucas Davenport, Joe Pickett and the aforementioned Reacher and Brennan - as well as a few others with whom I wasn't familiar (more's the pity, but that's been rectified now).

The whole thing is edited by Child, and at the beginning of each story is a quick peek at the writing process. Some authors knew each other beforehand; others did not. But what comes through loud and clear is that each and every one of them put considerable effort into turning out a great story - no throwing ideas or characters up against the wall to see what sticks here, folks. Every one is well thought out, intriguing and plausible (well, given the particular combination of characters). Some are deadly serious, while others serve up bits of humor. For instance, puns run rampant in “Footloose” by Val McDermid and Peter James, in which dead folks are distinguished by their feet (or the lack thereof). The victims "must be hopping mad," one character deadpans. 

And then there's my personal favorite, from “Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta (the longest story in the collection, BTW): As the characters discuss the ungodly frigid weather, one quips, "...the whole witch is cold today. You know what I mean?"

Take a sec. You'll get it.

There's no real point in summarizing all the individual stories here; each has considerable merit, but my point is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, thereby making this a significant work. Another big benefit, for me at least, is the opportunity to get acquainted with authors I've heard of but for whatever reason never read. 

All that said, here's the cast of characters and authors (the whole thing is edited by Lee Childs):

"Honor &..." by Sandra Brown and C.J. Box (Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett)

"Footloose" by Val McDermid and Peter James (Tony Hill and Roy Grace)

"Faking a Murder" by Kathy Reichs and Lee Child (Temperance Brennan and Jack Reacher)

"Past Prologue" by Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry (Jamie Fraser and Cotton Malone)

 “Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell (Liz Sansborough and Rambo)

“Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta (Jeffrey Tolliver and Joe Pritchard)

“Dig Here” by Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross (Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck)

 “Deserves to be Dead” by Lisa Jackson and John Sandford (Regan Pescoli and Lucas Davenport)

“Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice (Lucan Thorne and Lilliane)

“Getaway” by Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille (Bennie Rosato and John Corey)

“Taking the Veil” by J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader (Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw)

My final word? Don't miss this one!

MatchUp edited by Lee Child (Simon & Schuster, June 2017); 464 pp.

Monday, June 5, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Bill Price and his teenage daughter, Summer, are still trying to cope with the sudden loss of their wife and mother, Julia, who fell to her death about a year and a half earlier. Not wanting to alienate Summer as she continues to grieve, Bill gives her a bit more rein than usual - not forcing the issue if she stays out a bit later or sulks around the house. That leeway comes into serious question, though, when Summer and her best friend Haley go missing. 

Days later, they're found in a city park; Haley is dead, and Summer has been beaten to an unrecognizable pulp but is still clinging to life. In the hospital ICU, she begins the slow process of healing - her father and his sister, Paige, by her side almost every minute. Once in a while, she tries to speak - and the word she utters seems to be "no." She also knocks the stuffed animal Bill brought to comfort her - the one she refuses to sleep without at home - on the floor every time he places it in the bed with her. What, Bill wonders, is up with that?

Bill also questions the efforts of the local police, who he's convinced aren't doing enough to find out who did this to his precious daughter. For solace, he turns to Paige and his ever-so-slick friend and next-door neighbor, Adam. But mostly, he rants, yells, cajoles and berates the lead police detective on the case (that is, when he's not running off to badger someone he suspects is the culprit). Each time he gets himself in trouble for sticking his nose into police business, he apologizes - and then turns around and does it again when a new suspect (to his mind) turns up. 

As the investigation continues, new information is unearthed on almost every page (clearly not fast enough for Bill, but it seemed plenty fast for me). Much of it sheds new light on Summer, leading Bill to reflect on how much he and his late wife really knew their precious daughter.

Especially given that at least one major twist happens near the beginning, that's about all I can say without giving away too much. The story is interesting and straightforward (the chapters don't shift back and forth among characters and/or time period, thank you very much), the action moves along quickly and the loose ends are pretty well tied up in the end - making for a very enjoyable experience overall. Many thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for the opportunity to read an advance review copy.

Bring Her Home by David Bell (Berkley, July 2017); 464 pp.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Warning: If you're bothered by settings in war-torn countries, or refuse to believe (even when it's mostly fiction) that the U.S. Government is capable of wrongdoing, or don't like endings that may not bring total closure, this probably isn't the book for you. On top of that, I dare anybody to speed read through this one; it took me the better part of five days to finish, although in fairness, we were enjoying the company of a house guest for two of those days and I barely was able to finish half a dozen chapters then. And that brings up another point: Don't even think about zipping through this one. It's as close to tedious reading as I've seen in a while although, as evidenced by my 5-star rating, well worth the effort.

Although he's written a number of best-sellers, this is my first Scott Turow novel. And based on other reviews, it sounds as if it deviates from the courtroom-focused work (almost none of the action takes place there) - so I suppose some who are more familiar with his past work than I might disagree with my very positive opinion. To be sure, there's a court involved - the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where lead character, former prosecutor Bill Ten Boom, has been chosen to take on prosecution of whoever is responsible for the massacre of some 400 men, women and children in a Roma Refugee camp in Bosnia in 2004. That prosecution, however, depends on first determining not only who did the dirty deed, but whether or not the deed actually happened.

"Boom," as he's called, arrives with some baggage of his own; Now 2015, at age 50, he's without a wife, has two grown sons with whom he has a somewhat shaky relationship, and in many ways, he's looking for some direction in his life and hoping to find it here. A survivor of the massacre, himself a bit on the shady side, claims that heavily armed men showed up in the middle of the night and forced the Gypsy residents - refugees from Bosnia - into trucks that dropped them off in a nearby cave with instructions to stay put. After the trucks took off for parts unknown, the cave suddenly exploded - burying all the refugees. The survivor, a man named Ferko Rincic, reluctantly agrees to provide testimony before the court as to what happened.

Ferko is assisted by a drop-dead gorgeous attorney named Esme Czarni, who claims to have come from Gypsy stock. As Boom and his team of experts begin to gather evidence, they begin to suspect there's much more going on than anyone - including top muckity-mucks in the U.S. government - is willing to admit. The investigation takes Boom far from the courtroom, including to Bosnia and Washington, D.C., and puts him directly in the sights of the very dangerous and elusive Laza Kajevic, a Bin Laden-type character who once led the Bosnian Serbs and remains in hiding as a most-wanted war criminal.

I'd say the whole thing is a merry chase, except that there's not much merry about it (well, I'm overlooking a couple of Boom's fairly graphic but seemingly mutually enjoyable liaisons with a couple of lovely ladies). In the end, all the details are pretty well sorted out - none of which I can reveal, of course, leaving me no option besides referring you to my first-paragraph caveats and saying that I'm really glad I read it. 

Testimony by Scott Turow (Grand Central Publishing, May 2017); 497 pp.