Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Eerie. Unsettling. Chilling.

Those are just three of the descriptors that ran through my head as I rushed to get to the end of this book. How do I feel now that I've finished it? All of the above plus frightened, wary and - inexplicably - terribly angry. Above all, anger is the emotion that stuck with me for hours after I'd shut down my Kindle; and as I write this, I'm still not sure from whence it came.

I suspect some of it is rooted in the ending - or the lack of something more definitive (perhaps more to the point, more hopeful). After I'd followed the characters through horrific experiences - most notably a woman named Malorie and two young children - I guess I hoped to see more light at the end of their tunnel (although, in retrospect, that absence may well be exactly what the author intended).

Add to the mix my own angst - the depths of which I haven't felt since the early 1950s, when we practiced hiding under our classroom desks we were told would protect us against a possible nuclear attack - as I watch hatred build to unprecedented levels in my own country right now. A book review isn't the place to take "sides" - except to say that in this case, neither one is blameless - but I do admit it frightens the devil out of me to see what fear, or the perceived threat thereof, can do to human behavior.

And boy, there's plenty of that in this book. The basic story really isn't new; the general population succumbs to some kind of apocalyptic disaster, with most of the survivors trying to stay alive long enough to build a new world. Here, seeing unknown "things" appears to be driving humans totally mad, beginning in Russia and quickly spreading around the world. Once it reaches the United States, people begin taking it seriously as they watch people die hand over fist (sometimes done in by their own fists) until almost no one is left. One of those survivors is Malorie, who's alone and pregnant with nowhere to go and no one to trust.

The only constant seems to be that unspeakable horror is an eye-opening experience, and the commonly held belief is that anyone who wants any chance at survival must remain blindfolded or in a place where those inside never see the outside. So it is that Malorie stumbles into a house that's occupied by a handful of other wary survivors, all of whom are desperate to find a safe way out. Five years later, with two four-year-old children who have never seen the light of day (literally), Malorie decides it's time to make a run for it. The route she's been told it must take ends 20 miles down the river behind the house she's been living in - 20 miles she and the kids must travel while blindfolded. More than that I can't say without revealing too much - not even explaining the meaning behind the title.

Chapters shift from Malorie's voyage in the here and now to the past years of interaction with the other occupants of the house, and not an inch of either journey is the least bit pretty. Even so, the whole thing is so riveting that I hated to stop reading. It's short enough that I finished within 24 hours, but it will stick with me for some time to come. Read it - you'll see what I mean. Whew!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco, reprint edition, May 2014); 305 pp.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


4 stars out of 5

This is the fourth book in the author's series featuring Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel, who has lived in Manchester for about 10 years and works at the Longsight Police Station. I had no problem following the story as a standalone, but at the same time, hints here and there made me think I'd have enjoyed it more had I started at the beginning (something that's true of most series, IMHO, so I'm not picking on this one in particular). It's fast-paced with an attention-getting plot, and I thank the publisher for the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.

On her way to work one day not long before Christmas, Jessica witnesses an horrific car crash in which the driver is killed. In the boot (trunk), she finds the dead body of a young boy wrapped in plastic. Neither is readily identifiable (and the driver ain't talking), so she follows rather sketchy clues that lead to child's clothing buried in a remote spot. It turns out the boy has been reported missing and gets a name; but then other clues lead to a shed in a plot of rentable sheds where a list of children's names is found with the trunk occupant's at the top.

Problem is, there's no apparent connection among any of the children's names. So when another one on the list goes missing, Jessica and her police cohorts find themselves scurrying to get to the bottom of things before yet another one disappears. Learning the car driver's identity helps a little, but even then, progress seems to be moving at a snail's pace - especially since whoever's been taking children may have started well over a decade ago.

Meantime, Jessica must grapple with personal issues like a former boyfriend (one instance, I suppose, where reading previous books might have provided a bit more insight) and an intense dislike of Christmas - the only more objectionable holiday, it seems, is New Year's. But this time, the new year may bring a bit of much-needed closure to everyone involved. All in all, a satisfying read - and another solid series to add to my ever-growing list. Bring 'em on!

Think of the Children by Kerry Wilkinson (Bookouture, January 2017); 274 pp.

Friday, January 27, 2017


4.5 stars out of 5

If I had to describe this debut thriller in just one word, I'd choose "engrossing." From the beginning, when three young children in a home for orphaned and abandoned children witness acts almost too horrific for them to understand, I thought I might have trouble putting it down. And as the often-gruesome story unfolded, I knew I was right.

This is the first in a series featuring small-town Ireland detective Lottie Parker, who gets the call to investigate when a murdered woman is found in a cathedral. Not long thereafter, another body turns up - this one a man found hanging from a tree outside his home. Identifying the woman presents quite a challenge, but the man is known; and when it turns out that both victims have what appears to be the same tattoo on their legs, it becomes apparent that the two murders somehow are related.

The real-time story takes place from around Christmas 2014 to just after the start of the new year, but readers also get flashbacks to 1971 and some of the scenes witnessed by the children at the home. Lottie and her team, including her partner and occasional sleepover partner Boyd, turn up clues suggesting that the now-abandoned children's home is central to the case. Now, it seems, the property has been sold to a developer who plans to turn it into a multi-million dollar hotel and golf course - plans that seem to have become lost somewhere in the local government bureaucracy.

Just when dwindling leads make solving the two crimes far less than a certainty, yet another body turns up - this time a priest who, Lottie and her cohorts are told, was sent to the local parish "to find himself." This death, though, could be the turning point; surely, three murders in this small community over the space of a few days can't be a coincidence (or, to put it another way, as did one of the characters in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.") And so it is that Lottie really digs in, going deeper and deeper as the dots from past to present begin to connect.

After reading a ton of books "starring" female detectives, I've concluded that it's a requisite that they be flawed (think, for instance, J.D. Robb's popular Eve Dallas). Lottie is no exception; she lost her beloved husband to cancer and is trying to deal with a demanding career that includes a rather nasty boss (also a requisite, I think), three near-grown children and a mother she loves but from whom she effectively is estranged. What's more, Lottie has a long-ago connection of her own to the abandoned children's home - trauma that's never been resolved and that brings the possibility of harm to her own children as the current case moves to a surprising conclusion (a couple of them, actually - one very believable and the other, at least for me, not so much).

Now I've finished, and I'll say with no reservations whatsoever that I hope this book will mark the successful start of a series - if for no other reason than I want to follow along. Meantime, my thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read it in exchange for an honest review.

The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney (Bookouture, March 2017); 518 pp.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


5 stars out of 5

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." That time-honored line from Sir Walter Scott's "Marmion" kept running through my head as I read this book - a terrific standalone from the author of the popular Dismas Hardy series.

The story revolves around three married couples - Kate and Ron, Peter and Jill and Bina and Geoff. The first two didn't know each other until they meet at a dinner party at the home of the third. But just one meeting was all it took for Kate to become obsessed with Peter - leading to a one-time tryst. Kate gets what she wants and tries to move on with her life, which includes occasional long walks near San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge with her old friend and police detective, Beth.

But Kate's life certainly isn't all roses and clover; she and Ron have kids to deal with, he's having a rough patch at the law firm with his partner, Geoff, and Kate continues to wrestle a bit with her dalliance. Peter and Jill have sons with attitude problems; thankfully, Peter has longtime legal secretary Theresa's shoulder to cry on. Beth is trying to manage her hectic life on the force without alienating her daughter Ginny; as a result of one investigation, she takes a young victim under her wing who then becomes fast friends with Ginny, who has a good-looking, unmarried brother Andy (no surprise where that last one is going, but it's interesting to see how it gets there).

Gradually, what's going on in the lives of all these players is revealed; clearly, all of them are dealing with "issues" of some kind. Character development is a strength here, with layers of backgrounds and feelings peeled back as the story moves along (amid plenty of action, twists and turns, I might add). 

Did I figure out whodunit? Well, yes and no - and I'll leave it at that. In conclusion, I'll note that the advance copy I received in exchange for an honest review includes a political joke that I suspect may be deleted from the post-election published version. If it is, that's too bad because it was doggone funny to me; but if it's left in, it's likely to trigger a Twitter rant from the other "side." Inquiring minds would love to know!

Fatal by John Lescroart (Atria Books, January 2017); 320 pp.

Monday, January 23, 2017


3.5 stars out of 5

If the thought of drones flying over your head to drop packages on your flower beds gives you the heebie-jeebies, just wait till you get a load of what they're doing here. The plot also touches on other hot-button issues of the day like how to get rid of nuclear waste and North Korea's potential for launching nuclear weapons in the direction of the good old U.S. of A.

Leading the charge on all counts is Marshall Hail, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics and a gazillionaire who makes his money by converting nuclear waste into a safe, long-lasting energy source. But along his path to success, his family was killed in a terrorist attack, and now he's out for revenge with the goal of annihilating every person on the FBI's list of Top 10 Terrorists. To accomplish that, he's rounded up a bunch of young people - mostly societal misfits - who are seriously adept at technology-related skills. He's also built an armada of ships, ostensibly to transport the nuclear waste, hat are equipped with weapons and drones of all sizes, shapes and abilities most folks would never believe possible.

High-up muckety-mucks in the U.S. government - including a female president - are aware of Hail (although not the extent of his toys). Cognizant that the last part North Korea needs to build its long-wanted missile is in transit, they make a somewhat reluctant agreement under which Hail will  deploy his drones - surreptitiously and anonymously, of course - to blow it up.

Because they don't fully trust Hail, they deploy a gorgeous female spy to get on his good (i.e., widower) side and infiltrate his mother ship, the Hail Nucleus, to keep them in the loop. But she, too, has an ax to grind against the world; to her own ends, she's desperate to capture the Russian bad guy who just happens to be providing said long-wanted missile to the North Koreans.

And so it goes till the end; chapters shift from settings in the United States, Korea and inside the Hail Nucleus. The race - and the chase - is on, and it's not until the end that readers find out who wins and who loses. There's a bit of levity here and there: When one of the government lackeys questions why operations names are "over the top" - Desert Storm, Rolling Thunder and the current one, Hail Storm - the response is that it's because no one wants to go before a Congressional committee to explain why "Operation Fluffy Puppy" should the deal go south.

All in all, it's an intriguing, well-thought-out plot, and I thank the author for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. Being honest, though, means I have to say the exposition is way overdone. It's obvious the author did a great deal of research in writing the book - which is commendable - but readers really don't need that much information to understand what's going on. I'd also suggest another run through by a copy editor - the number of misspellings, misplaced commas and other grammatical errors went way beyond my comfort level.

That said, if you're into technology and military action, this book is definitely worth a look-see.

Operation Hail Storm by Brett Arquette (Brett Arquette, November 2016); 354 pp.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


4 stars out of 5

A while back, I discovered Kindle versions of the 1960s Matt Helm books (there are 27 in all) and decided to work my way through at least a few of them. As I learned from reading the first, Death of a Citizen, they're both well written and very dated - and therein lies the appeal for me, a survivor of teenage years in the 1950s. It's quite a hoot to get the author's take, through the eyes of his government operative Helm; put another way, we've come a long way, baby. Consider this, for instance:

Describing a female companion, Helm notes, "Well, at least she'd had the decency to wear nylons. If there's anything that turns my stomach, it's a grown woman in bobby sox."

Or this: "For kicks, you might as well pat Joan of Arc in full armor, as a modern woman in her best girdle."

Ah yes. As one who remembers trying to wriggle into one of those rubber Playtex girdles (and worse, trying to extricate myself after sweating in what quickly became an up-close-and-personal sauna), that's just plain funny.

The story lines are a little dated as well, but only when it comes to more insignificant things like weapons and modes of transportation of choice (Helm is a more-than-decent photographer who uses real film cartridges and typically develops his own pictures, for example). But the action works in any decade, and there's plenty of that to go around. For the record, the books also are on the short side, so a dedicated reader should be able to polish one off in a day. 

This begins as Helm, whose code name is Eric, has been reactivated into the government organization in which he basically was an assassin after 15 years of living a comfortable life with a wife and family (his wife left him when she discovered what he really did for the government and decided she just couldn't live with a killer even if what he did was for a good cause). Here, Helm is sent to Sweden for the purpose of putting the "touch" on a man (or woman) named Caselius, an enemy agent. A man whose writing threatened to "out" the agent has been murdered, and his wife, who somehow survived the attack, is trying to carry on her late husband's work. As she collects information, Helm, under the guise of a professional photographer, tags along as she pursues her journalistic efforts. 

As in most spy stories, though, no one can be trusted - including the widow, Swedish police officers and tough guys who supposedly represent other government agencies. No one knows that better than Helm, and he's keenly aware that he must remain alert to threats from any direction, especially as bodies pile up and he gets closer to his target.

Given that many books follow this one, it's no spoiler to say that Helm manages to come through the experience still breathing (something that can't be said about several other characters). All in all, it's another fun book in a series I highly recommend.

The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton (Titan Books, Reissue edition, February 2013); 272 pp.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Jumping into a series after it's been up and running can be somewhat risky, but when I got the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, this one sounded so good that I threw caution to the wind and agreed. And happily, even though this is the sixth book featuring homicide detective Nan Vining, it stands well enough on its own that I never felt at a disadvantage. 

The rather complicated story, which has a bundle of characters to keep straight, begins with the discovery of a naked and very dead woman in the swimming pool of a very wealthy couple in Pasadena, Calif. The self-absorbed husband, Teddy Sexton, is blind; to get around, he has help from an amazing guide dog and a drop-dead gorgeous wife, Rebecca - who bears an uncanny resemblance to the younger dead woman. The situation takes a strange turn, though, when the owners first contact Nan's former partner and current main squeeze, Jim Kissick, instead of calling 911. Jim claims that's because he's an old friend of the couple, but Nan begins to suspect the relationship between Jim and Teddy's wife Rebecca goes well beyond "just friends."

It was at that point, I'm afraid, that Nan dropped several notches on my likability scale. Despite her long-time relationship with Jim - they've been thinking about marriage, for gosh sake - the second Nan learns that Jim and Rebecca at one time (and a very short one at that) were a couple and -  horror of horrors - he never told her, she concludes that their entire relationship has been based on a sham. I agree it would have been nice of him to tell her, but I simply can't relate to someone who would ditch an entire relationship over something that happened that long ago. Their breakup never got in the way of her competence as a homicide detective, though, so I'm willing to give her extra points for that.

Not long after the as-yet-unidentified woman is found, another dead woman turns up - this time at a lake in Central California after a lengthy drought lowered the water level. Nan is surprised once again when Jim, Teddy and Rebecca are brought in for questioning; it seems they all knew this dead woman many years ago. And when the dead woman in Pasadena is identified, it appears that the two cases somehow are connected with Jim smack dab in the middle - and Nan starts to believe that any future she may have had with him is history.

At that point, the investigation really heats up, both from Nan's end in Pasadena and that of two detectives (one of them a hunka-hunka) who are in charge of the Central California case. As details of both events begin to come together, it got so interesting that I stayed glued to my Kindle Fire till the whole thing was resolved (well, one thing wasn't, but no doubt that will be fodder for the next installment). 

Know what? I'm in!

Lying Blind by Dianne Emley (Alibi/Random House, February 2017).

Friday, January 13, 2017


4 stars out of 5

Generally speaking, I'm drawn to so-called "cozy" mysteries for one reason only: They provide refreshing respites in between the mind-bending murder mysteries and thrillers that constitute most of my reading list. So it was with this one, an advance copy I requested, and received, in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley. And like most others I've read, it's an engaging story and short enough that I finished it in one day. It is the second in the "Pancake House" series featuring shop owner Marley McKinney (the first is The Crepes of Wrath, which I have not read (a fact that had no bearing on my enjoying this one, BTW).

Marley and the other characters in this book - including her boyfriend Brett - for the most part are a likable lot, although I can't say I developed any real affinity for any of them. Marley just can't manage to keep her nose out of everyone else's business (not unlike most cozy mystery heroines, actually -- after all, without their overstepping boundaries and getting involved in situations where they're not welcome, there'd be no plot). Suffice it to say if I were one of Marley's neighbors, though, I'd be looking at moving someplace else.

Also as expected, there's murder without mayhem, love without sex, and a town in which hardly anyone drinks anything stronger than peach tea. Heck, just kissing someone you shouldn't have seems to be an unforgivable transgression in this burg. But after all, such is the stuff cozy mysteries are made of - and part of what makes them fun to read.

Marley, who used to live in Seattle, inherited the Flip Side restaurant in Wildwood Cove. Deciding to give it a go, she relocated, found a kitty companion she appropriately named Flapjack, and renewed her childhood acquaintance with Brett. But there's an older gal in town - Ida Winkler - who's causing trouble at every turn; Marley is certain the crotchety woman is behind the graffiti that's twice been painted on the shop's exterior. Shortly thereafter, Marley buys a lamp base at an antique store, but it's stolen almost from under her nose by - you guessed it - Ida.

When Marley goes to Ida's house to confront her over the theft, she finds the lamp base - along with a very dead Ida (the base, it appears, is the murder weapon). So when Marley summons the local police, she finds herself in the position of person of interest. Not good for business, Marley concludes; her shop will suffer when word gets around town that she's a suspect. So, she sets out to find the killer and establish her own innocence - even after the police and most of her friends advise her to ceast and desist.

Needless to say, those admonitions fall on deaf ears, and Marley plods ahead - turning up clues that all the professional investigators somehow miss. Predictably, her efforts land her in water hotter than she pours over the tea in her shop and put her very life in danger. Will she survive to see another pancake-flipping day? My lips are sealed (well, I'll open them in a heartbeat if she offers me one of those tempting treats from her shop, but I won't hold my breath till then). Meantime, if you want to find out, go read the book for yourself.

For Whom the Bread Rolls: A Pancake House Mystery by Sarah Fox (Random House LLC, March 2017).

Thursday, January 12, 2017


4.5 stars out of 5

Well, I'll be doggone. Just when I'd just about given up on what I've come to call the Stone Yawnington series comes this one - several cuts above the last few I've read. The character's name is Stone Barrington, for the record, and this is, I believe, the 40th in the series.

Author Stuart Woods churns the books out faster than you can say James Patterson, and admittedly, I've missed a few here and there. And although I've always used them as a respite of sorts in between more weighty tomes (i.e., those I get for free in exchange for reviews, which means I have to think about what I'm reading), I've grown weary of the banal banter and nothing-is-exciting attitude of all the characters - most of them filthy rich. Oh, there's a dead body in the wine cellar? Drat. I'll call my secretary to have it removed. While we wait, do you think this 1848 cabernet is the proper accompaniment for the dinner lamb?

All of that is in this one as well; it begins with Stone in Santa Fe with companion Holly Barker, an adviser to the U.S. President (also a Stone bestie, BTW). Within a short time, he writes a check for a Porsche and accepts an invitation from the former President - the husband of the current President who preceded his wife as President - to have dinner with a group of influential friends followed by (what else?) an opera.

The former President uses the meeting guise to entrust a reluctant Stone, a prominent New York attorney, with a package, the contents of which apparently have the potential to incriminate him and thus kill his wife's chances for a second term. Needless to say, other rather nasty individuals are interested in getting their hands on it as well - most notably, perhaps, an ultra-powerful and, if possible, wealthier-than-Stone businessman who is backing an independent candidate for a run in the next Presidential election. 

The chase takes Stone and Holly, who's out of the White House for a little mandated R & R, to other locations including Stone's fabulous home in Maine (it has its own airstrip, for gosh sake). That part, I admit, added to my enjoyment of the book; places like Rockland and Mount Desert Island - the latter home to Acadia National Park - are places from which I have treasured vacation memories (not to mention a ton of photographs). 

The best part, though, is the description of the clearly unqualified independent candidate, who some (including the author, I suspect) might say resembles the current U.S. President-Elect: "They'll trust me...I'm a wealthy man because I know how to get people to trust me," he boasts. 

"His chief talent seems to be the ability to tell people what they want to hear," comes Stone's assessment.

In all, it's a fun, easy-to-read book (I polished it off in less than a day of spare time) and one of the best Barrington books I've read. I think backsliding fans like me will find it entertaining.

Below the Belt by Stuart Woods (G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 2017); 332 pp.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


5 stars out of 5

It's always a pleasure to read a straightforward crime novel that doesn't have so many characters that it's impossible to remember who's who or chapters that flip back and forth in time so often that I give up trying to figure out what year it is. While I might take a bit of an issue with the description that calls it a "gripping thriller with an explosive ending" - especially since the ending didn't come as a big surprise to me - I really, really enjoyed this book. So much so, in fact, that I'm happy to know it's the first book in a new crime series that takes place in south Florida. For sure I'll be in line when the next one comes out.

Actually, I've never been to Florida, even though my husband and I have so many relatives and friends there that we could stay for free for at least a couple of months (all of whom, BTW, would break our kneecaps if we didn't cheer for the Florida State University Seminoles). So even if we haven't been there person, the ins and outs of Rookery Bay, a vast nature preserve dotted with brackish creeks seem somehow familiar and make the perfect setting for this book. And from the get-go I was intrigued by the main character, detective Tom Lange, who's joined the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He's hoping to do the best job he can under difficult circumstances (everybody resents a rookie, after all). He's also still trying to cope with the trauma of his childhood years; the only family he has left is an older brother Nick, who lives in the area as well.

Tom's first case comes with the discovery of an unidentified woman's body in a mangrove; the only clue is her butterfly tattoo. His boss, Lauren Blythe, is a seasoned detective who likes to be in control and is willing to cut a newbie only so much slack - even when it's likely that he's on to something. Stir in a medical examiner who, shall we say, won't win any awards for his sparkling personality, and Tom realizes early on that his opinion probably won't count for much. As if that case weren't bothersome enough, he not only must contend with a neighbor's abusive boyfriend, hints of drug dealing and prostitution but also his brother, who has a few issues of his own.

The near nonstop action and easy-to-follow plot kept me engrossed from beginning to end - to the point of being oblivious to what was on TV (well, except for the Alabama-Clemson national title football game - go Tigers)! I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review it. Well done!

Dead Gone by T.J. Brearton (Joffe Books, December 2016); 337 pp.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


4 stars out of 5

"One say or another I'm gonna find ya
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha..."

--Blondie (written by Debbie Harry and Nigel Harrison)

The lyrics of that old song ran through my head almost all the way through this book, which, for the record, I enjoyed. Still, now that I've finished, I'm faced with this question: How do I review a book that's exceptionally well written with a plot that's clever, intriguing and compelling but with a lead character who frustrated the heck out of me?

Let me explain. This is a story about the Rebecca, a victim of domestic abuse, both physical and psychological. Really, I "get" the difficulties victims face in escaping from situations like this and their inability to take charge of their own lives for reasons real or imagined. Rebecca, though, took all that to a whole new level - and in the beginning, I sympathized. But once the story started to pick up steam and she rationalized passing up every opportunity to extricate herself, I just couldn't help but say to myself at almost every turn of events, "Woman, what were you thinking?"

For instance, after Rebecca has been pushed beyond the limit of most humans and at one point confronts Solomon, her abuser, she thinks to herself, "I wanted to slap him in the face, to demand he stop this." 

Say what? He's committed atrocities against you and darned near everyone you love, and the punishment you think will bring him around is a slap? Gott im Himmel, lady! Nothing short of dismembering his nether-parts and feeding them to pigs would have worked for me - and I don't dare put in print what I'd have done to the rest of him after that!

In the end, though, the review came easily, because I firmly believe reviews should be based on the quality of writing and the complexity, originality and flow of the story - not whether or not characters are "likable" or behave the way I want them to. And on those criteria, the author did a super job. Even when I wanted to shake the stuffing out of Rebecca, I shook my head and kept going - simply because I was totally engrossed and couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. And that, my friends, is the essence of any really good book.

As for the plot (a very clever one, I hasten to add), Rebecca has found a new life in Wales with her veterinarian husband and young daughter about 10 years after that uber-controlling fiance, Solomon, was found guilty - based on her testimony - of murdering one of her male co-workers. Solomon went to jail, but now he's out - and suddenly, Rebecca's life is turned upside down. When she's in her bedroom, she hears a phone ringing and follows the sound to find a phone that she didn't put there. The message is frightening at best: Solomon says he will force her to witness 10 crimes - one for each year he spent in jail - and she must choose the victims. The message announcing the first ends (as do the others) with these words: "You are a Silent Witness. Talk to the police and you die."

Chapters switch from character perspective (Rebecca, Solomon, and entries in Rebecca's secret diary) and time period, building up background and leading to an unexpected, and for the most part, satisfying, ending. Well done, highly recommended, and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Witness by Caroline Mitchell (Thomas & Mercer, December 2016); 338 pp.

Friday, January 6, 2017


5 stars out of 5

If you have time to read no more than a handful of books this year, make sure this one of them. Yes, it's that good.

And to think I almost didn't read it. To get it, in fact, I broke one of my cardinal rules: Never trust gushing praise about a book when it comes from other authors. But in this instance, as a subscriber of email from David Baldacci, I got a message saying he'd read, and highly recommends, this one. 

Just delete the message, the law-abiding side of my mind advised. Ah, countered my more adventurous side, but it sounds good, and besides, Baldacci is one of my top five all-time favorite writers. What the heck, I finally decided - I'll go to NetGalley and see if an advance copy is available for review. If it is, I'll request it; if I'm approved, I'll take it as a sign from God.

Well, apparently, somebody up there loves me; it was on my Kindle the same day as my request. I'm joking about the love from on high, of course, but I'm not kidding when I say I absolutely loved the book. In fact, I breezed through it almost nonstop over a couple of days - eager to find out how it ends yet not wanting it to end. The story drew me in from the start, and the well-developed characters are so real it's hard to avoid loving (or in some instances, despising) every single one. The only thing that's hard to believe, in fact, is that this is a debut novel. 

The setting is the small Australian town of Kiewarra, a couple of hours from Melbourne, where Federal Agent Aaron Falk plies his trade of solving financial cries. Aaron, who grew up in Kiewarra, has returned after 20 or so years to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Back then, a young  female friend drowned under suspicious circumstances, and when Aaron became the prime suspect, Luke provided an ironclad alibi. But many local folks weren't willing to believe Luke's story, much less let Aaron off the hook; life turned so uncomfortable that Aaron's father insisted that he and his son pack up and leave, vowing never to return.

Now Aaron's back and Luke's dead, but it seems local folks have clung to their old, unpleasant beliefs. Worse, Luke now is on a hook of a different sort; by all accounts, he killed himself after taking the lives of his wife and son - leaving only their infant daughter alive. But Aaron isn't so sure that's what really happened; and when he gets his head together with a local detective, he learns the detective has doubts as well. Aaron's intent was to stay just a couple of days, wanting to make a relatively hasty retreat from the drought-destroyed land and bad memories. Urged on by Luke's distraught parents, who have taken in their surviving granddaughter, Aaron agrees to give it a week - after all, he's got some vacation time coming - just to help with what's being deemed an unofficial investigation. 

The more he and the detective poke around, though, the more the suicide/murder theory unravels - and suddenly, the loose ends begin to reach back all those years ago to when Luke's faithful buddy stood up for him. In retrospect, did Aaron and Luke's friend kill herself, or was her death a result of something more sinister? Could the events of the past really be tied to the here-and-now murders of Luke's wife and son? If so, how? And who?

The story moves along quickly, with chapters interspersed with Aaron's "recollections" of what happened back then. Little by little, everything comes together, building up to an exciting, and for the most part surprising, ending. I was left wishing there was more to read, but also with the thought that Aaron would be a great character for a series (what say you, Ms. Harper)?

The moral to my own story? Some rules, it seems, are meant to be broken. Get this one - you won't be sorry.

The Dry by Jane Harper (Flatiron Books, January 2017); 336 pp.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Oh my, my. What a wild ride - all the way from Astounding to Zero cool!

My choice of descriptor words is on purpose - a nod to the main characters in this book, twins Ava and Zelda, so named by their father for the order of their entrance in the world at birth (never mind that he got it wrong). It's also a nod to the plot itself, as a grown-up and gone-missing Zelda leaves a trail of alphabetical clues for sister Ava to follow in a quirky and potentially deadly "game."

Two years ago, Ava left the Antipova family vineyard, which isn't doing well, mostly because of a betrayal involving her twin; they haven't spoken since. She also was eager to get away from their mother, who's not so gradually being overtaken by dementia and alcoholism. The twins' father barreled out years ago and has remarried, an act not since forgiven by either girl. 

So Ava heads to Paris, where she finds a new life, a new French boyfriend and happiness at the tender age of 25. But then, her world comes to a crashing halt: She learns that Zelda has died - apparently the victim of a fire that destroyed the barn on the family's property in New York's Finger Lakes region (more on that later).

Not long after Ava returns home, though, she begins to suspect that Zelda isn't dead after all. Soon, she begins to get text messages from her sister, which appear to be clues related to her disappearance - beginning with the first letter of the alphabet. Aha, Ava concludes - Zelda's up to her old devious tricks. As she tries to deal with her totally dysfunctional family (her father returned on a temporary basis when he learned that Zelda had died) that includes her father's obsessive mother and Wyatt, the boyfriend she left behind.

It takes a while, but forensic evidence determines that the human remains inside the burned-out barn are, in fact, Zelda's. The situation is intensified when local police conclude that Zelda's death wasn't an accident - the barn doors were locked from the outside - and a prime suspect is identified. But the messages Ava is getting from Zelda suggest something else is afoot; should she let the police in on her secret or follow her twin to the ends of the alphabet in the hopes of getting to the truth?

Once that decision is made, the book revvs up into high gear - capturing and holding my attention for the rest of the drive even during crucial college football playoff games (although dividing my time between the book and TV did get a little easier, I'm sorry to say, once "my" Ohio State University Buckeyes got thoroughly trounced by Clemson in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl).

Now that I've finished the book (most of the time keeping half an eye on the Rose Bowl), I see the whole picture. Truthfully, I had a bit of trouble believing the whole thing could have been accomplished as efficiently (for want of a better word) as it was, but in the end it really doesn't matter. The whole thing is far more a study in character development and interaction than murder mystery - and what intriguing characters they all are.

My enjoyment of the book was enhanced, I admit, by the setting. One of my favorite places to visit is Seneca Lake; my husband and I have spent many wonderful days relaxing and doing our photography thing at Seneca Harbor Station, hiking the awesome Gorge Trail in Watkins Glen State Park, "touring" the NASCAR track (in between races, visitors are allowed inside) and, not insignificantly, sampling as many wines as we can from the dozens of vineyards in and around Seneca, Cayuga and Keuka lakes. When I head out for morning walks here in my northeast Ohio neighborhood, I often wear the T-shirt I bought at Keuka College mostly because I figured it would be a conversation starter (I was right).

But I digress. In summary, this is a great debut novel - one I hope (and expect) will do very well. Many thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (Random House, February 2017); 352 pp.